What does it take to be a great pilot and what attitude should a pilot possess?

After a rather long absence, I am back writing my blog again about life lessons from cockpit, thanks to Muhammad Nazri who is currently undergoing his flying training. Nazri posed the following questions and rather than answering directly to him, I thought of posting the answers in the blog so that the others could read them as well. The following are his questions:

a) What does it take to be a great pilot and what attitude should a pilot possess?

b) What kind of habit that a pilot has to instil in ourselves so that it will become a routine and discipline that can make us to be a better pilot?

c) Compared to yourself in the old days and young pilot nowadays, do you notice if there is any gap or lack in skill, knowledge and discipline in fresh pilots and if there is any, can you describe why and how to encounter it?

d) What does it take to be a great pilot and what attitude should a pilot possess?

The above are powerful questions and very subjective. If I were to ask different pilots I would probably get different answers. One can solicit views from different people, and the answer would again be different. A passenger’s view of a good or great pilot would be different from the ground staff’s view, another different view from someone who works closely with pilots compared to someone who is not directly involved with pilots. I guess that it is in everyone’s mind that a good pilot is someone who is cool, calm, collected and confident under pressure and they are absolutely right with the above views.

I too agree with the above view plus a few more of my own perceptions that are based on my own experience after being in the profession for over 30 years as a management pilot, instructor, trainer and line pilot. The following are my views:

  1. State of mind. If one were to ask me the difference between a great pilot and an average one, I would dare to say that it is in his “state of mind.” The first thing a great pilot must have is a good, positive mental attitude. He must be disciplined, confident, relax and focus in what he is doing. There is no substitute for a strong discipline. When he is flying, he is on his own and if he is in command of the airplane, there is no one to tell him what to do or what not to do. He therefore has to be disciplined and follow a set of rules, which is the “standard operating procedures.” Discipline will also make him knowledgeable, meticulous in his work and has the attitude to continuously learn from his experiences.
  2. Beliefs. Next is in his beliefs. It is basically a guiding principle, what pilots think to be true; his feeling about what is certainty in life. It is assumptions he has about himself, other people, his work, and the world. His beliefs could be limiting or they could be empowering to him. In flying a pilot faces challenges all the time, perhaps much more compared to someone working on the ground. If he believes that he cannot do something, there is a good chance that he will behave in such a manner that will cause him to fail, by not trying hard enough (give up), or by doing things to sabotage himself in some way. It is therefore necessary to have beliefs that will empower him to carry out his tasks well, and for him to be able to overcome all obstacles that he is faced with.
  3. Skills. A great pilot has to be skillful. This is his bread and butter. He should be able to fly the aircraft well. By flying the aircraft well I mean with great accuracy and precision. He should not settle for a mediocre performance. He should strive for perfection and this takes a lot of hard work, practice and discipline.

The above to me are qualities of a great pilot. The following diagram will illustrate these qualities.


From the above diagram which one is more important of the three? Well to me all are important and necessary. However before one could acquire the skills, one has to have the right mental state and empowering beliefs. With these two qualities acquiring the necessary skills becomes easier. By having the above qualities he will also become more confident of himself. However he has to always remind himself and be careful of the tendency of becoming over-confidence. I have seen people who become so over confident of himself to the point of being obnoxious in his behaviour. To prevent this from happening, another quality that a great pilot must have is “humility.” This comes from knowing oneself, your strengths and weaknesses and respect for others, be they your working colleagues or any man on the street.

If you are a great pilot and you know about it and you are humble about it, you can walk tall and gain respect from your working colleagues and whoever that you are dealing with. You will truly enjoy this profession and will be forever remembered.

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