Pilot Performance - The Right Stuff!
by Henry K.

There is a mystique and sense of awe surrounding pilots and flying where it is generally believed that pilots possess special skills and unusual abilities. This is reinforced by the heroic images of pilots and the perceived element of risk and danger of flying by the general public. The image of the great daring of the fighter pilot remains with us today, reinforced not only through the media but also by pilots themselves. The early aviators were indeed courageous and daring, if not also bold and reckless, as they were breaking new ground and testing the limits of new technologies, equipment, and human capabilities. They were not unlike business entrepreneurs and innovators who led industrial and economic development with bold and daring ventures to create new business opportunities.

Pilots must be superb strategists and decisive leaders.

Pilots today may well be motivated by the exhilaration and adventure of the experience of flight, however, there has been a transition from the entrepreneurial to the professional in aviation skills as well as in organization leadership and management. Advances in technology and the increasing sophistication and reliability of aircraft systems have placed the current pilot in command of an aircraft in the position of strategist, and decision maker. Flying an aircraft involves effective planning, forecasting and ongoing monitoring of performance, accurate interpretation of information from a variety of sources, excellent judgment, and the decisive and flawless execution of procedures and maneuvers.

The pilot in command is responsible and accountable for the safe operation of the aircraft, the concerted actions of the flight crew, and indeed, the lives of the passengers and crew. The professional pilot has the required certifications for the position as defined by aviation authorities, and possesses the skills and proficiency to assume command of the aircraft and flight crew.

The pilot in command is a leader, a coordinator, a decision maker, a strategist, a captain, and a master of his or her craft, with a personal responsibility and commitment to effectiveness. This is not unlike the leader of an organization or work unit charged with the responsibility for charting an effective course of action within an environment that is challenging, changing rapidly, with multiple competing demands, and with the ultimate personal responsibility for success or failure.

Personal responsibility and commitment

Pilots do possess the abilities to execute complex skills in guiding an aircraft through an ever changing and three dimensional environment. This competence is achieved through a thorough understanding of the flight environment, the mastery developed through training and personal discipline, extensive experience, an ongoing and critical flight awareness, and continuous learning and performance improvement. The right stuff is about adventure, courage and risk taking. It is also about mastery, skill and proficiency, accurate judgment, decisive action, and very high levels of human performance.

The men and women that serve as pilots on airlines, charters, commuter flights, bush runs, and in flight training and general aviation are indeed a special breed, as are their flight crew members, ground crew and support staff. All share a courageous spirit of the adventure of flight as well as a profound sense of responsibility for safety, performance, and flawless execution. The ‘right stuff’ is about assuming command and taking personal responsibility for the effectiveness of your performance, and that of your team and supporting group. The ‘right stuff’ is about being ‘at cause’ and confident in an uncertain and ever changing environment and executing competently, with the "successful outcome of a maneuver never in doubt."

Pilot Performance TM - Superior Performance and Adventure


Henry K. is a private pilot, author, artist, actor, whale watcher, fly fisherman, tour guide, seasonal server and surfer residing in Tofino, B.C. Canada, as well as a contributing editor to The CEO Refresher.

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