It’s not how you fail; it’s how you get back up. I want pilots who have failed and showed the strength to recover and succeed. If they don’t have scars, they don’t have character and when the shit hits the fan, they won’t know what to do and will cave. I want the ones who failed, got back up and moved forward.
Who is better? Western trained fighter pilots or products of the Russian system. Most fighter pilots know that Russian and ‘Eastern trained’ pilots are not as capable as Western trained aviators. We all likely agree that NATO would win handily in any air battle with Russian forces.
None of us live long enough to make all the mistakes so learn from others. In fighter aviation, flights seldom go as planned. We can learn from mistakes of others so that we don’t make them ourselves instead of pointing fingers and ridiculing others. I choose to learn. June 4, 1985, I was on the wing during a formation takeoff of CF-18s when my flight lead could not get airborne, aborted but could not stop in time and ultimately ejected as the aircraft exploded. He lived fortunately. It turns out that a simple pilot-induced trim setting error prevented the jet from getting airborne.
There was so much to learn from this, primarily to avoid distraction from media and outside attention when flying, to always be vigilant, especially when we change procedures and habit patterns, that it is okay to make the small mistakes so that I don’t make the big ones and finally, to trust my instincts when I sense that something is not quite right. Lots to learn each time we fly.
One of the key lessons that I have learned over the years as a test pilot is that the success of any team or organization is contingent on strong leadership with core values. Teams need an environment of trust as well as a transparent and ‘safe workplace’ to openly identify challenges and get to the bottom of problems, most importantly, learn from each other’s mistakes. With these traits, we can create powerful, effective, and ultimately very successful organizations. One of the most serious threats to an extremely cohesive functional team is toxicity. Toxic leadership can destabilize the ability of a test flying unit to operate safely. A toxic work environment erodes the ‘team’ and in the world of experimental test flying (maybe one of the most dangerous environments that exists), it can kill people.
40 years ago, I was involved in the crash of a 2 seat CF-5 attempting a landing on a snowy runway. My instructor in the front seat was severely injured, I luckily walked away without a scratch. The life lessons that I took from that accident helped shape my life and flying career for the many decades after. I learned how ‘good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment’. I learned about Crew Resource Management and how everyone gets a say in decisions regardless of their experience level. I saw how Elasticity came to help save us though often said in Hollywood terms about ‘Ice running through their veins’. The value of ‘Sets and Reps’, getting extra simulator time and practice is crucial. When something life threatening happens, getting back in the saddle as soon as possible gets us past self-doubt and messing with our minds. Finally, as a young fighter pilot, I was reminded that we only get one life and not to waste it. All those lessons from a single crash landing. Invaluable yet sadly very expensive at the cost of a $Million fighter jet.