Pilot Personality

I would be fascinated to read any comments you all may have on this. I’ve noticed that a lot of pilots have a personality trait or a state of mind that allows them to become calmer, more logical and more focused when under duress or in emergency circumstances, whereas others might panic. The worse the situation, the calmer they get. I also see this in firemen, police officers and physicians, but it’s very prevalent in pilots. I have this trait to an extent, in my field (which isn’t aviation) and I think I acquired it from experience and gaining confidence in skills. Obviously, this is a good trait to have in aviation but I was wondering what the process actually entails. Of course, the calmer one is, the more control one has, which is needed for survival in some cases, but…

  1. What goes through one’s mind while this is occurring? (I realize this depends on the circumstances but there must be something similar across the board.)
  2. Is it a natural ability or is it acquired?
  3. Can it be taught? How?
  4. What is that little Magnum P.I. voice in your head actually saying?

Really? I thought being egotistical was their main trait. :slight_smile:

I think this is a trait in more than just pilots. It’s in anybody who has to deal with potentially life threatening decisions, even if not on a daily basis.

Last weekend I was driving on the freeway when an idiot decided he didn’t want to take the exit after all so he cuts into my lane just a couple of fee in front of me, forcing me to the next lane over. There was no panic on my part - I had to do something and do it quickly. I know this has happened to several of my friends also. In an emergency, many people just do what has to be done. The panic, fast heart beat, and resumed breathing doesn’t come until after the emergency is over.

Ran across this article from msn and careerbuilder today about the most life-threatening jobs per 100k workers. Pilots and Flight Engineers were number three, behind fishermen and loggers.

Fly the plane.


Proper training always helps. All the natural ability dont’ mean a hill of beans if you don’t have the proper training. Without training, it’s all luck.

Fly the plane


“Fly the plane” seems to pretty much sum it up. Thanks for direct answers to an indirect question.

I like how in many of the conversations here everyone seems to want to discuss and understand, and consider all possibilities of all aspects and perspectives of everything. This is a good thing. :slight_smile:

There is an interesting book called “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales where he analyzes many responses in high stress situations and draws some conclusions. Fly the Plane is a variation on his main conclusion, which is “Be Here Now”, that is, focus you attention on the present and tune out all of the flight or fight response noise in your brain. Clearly much easier said than done.

Thanks, CAFlier, I’ll check it out. My pilot friend has that same philosophy about life too, not just flying.

Just reserved it at my library. Thanks

just started to read “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales; he really has great insights into “who lives, who dies, and why”. to quote one of his sources “…If you’ve tallied a lot of experience in dangerous, iffy environment without significant calamity, the mental path of least resistance is to assume it was your skill and savvy that told the tale.” Gonzales goes on to say, “That same trap kills a lot of experienced …” risk takers.
see tinyurl.com/3daema for some insights and a review.

Hey Gretnabear,

Is that Gretna La.?

There is an obvious relation to the types of personalities involved in these jobs and the people who fly I think. A lot of “type-A” people who like to be in charge and make things happen. I work full time as a Paramedic and moonlight as a Pilot and find a lot of similarities… Most of these people are not able to throw their hands in the air, give up, and just walk out of the stressful situation (especially the pilots).

The best advice I ever got was during my internship. My preceptor told me that no matter what was going on around me, I had to be thinking; “Duck on a pond”…

What he meant was when you look at a duck on a pond they are calm, cool, and collected. Not a feather out of place, barely a ripple… (on the surface) But what are their feet doing?? Kicking like hell!! Doing everything out of sight and behind the scenes to get their butt to safety.

Would it be wrong to say that some people are “born” to be pilots, or firefighters, or Bullfighters? Sure… But certain personalities are probably drawn to stress for the same reasons that they are good at it… They like the pressure and excitement of what they do, and they work better under pressure!

Where can I find this post? I never got a chance to read it.