Developed Fear

Hey Guys,

Just a quick question. Do you ever sometimes get scared to fly? The other day I watched a pretty scary video about a single engine crashing and it kinda spooked me. I never rush my checklist and really try to be attentive to the aircrafts when working. When I’m instructing everything is fine and I’m able to perform the duties of my job, but for the past week I’ve just been on edge.

Is this normal for most pilots? I wanted to ask another instructor at my job, but then again I didn’t want my school to be worried.

Lack of fear breeds complacency. We always have to be aware that lack of discipline or attention on our part may have fatal consequences. And there’s an element of fear tied into it. That being said, courage is not the absence of fear… you know how the rest goes. The best thing you can do is get back in the saddle and keep going.


I’m going to disagree with Sergey on this one. I don’t believe fear has any place in the cockpit, particularly at your level. I think everyone agrees you need to have a healthy respect for aviation and always be vigilant of the risks involved but I honestly would not call that fear. Trust me I’m no hero and there’s plenty of things that scare me (I recently tried mountain biking, that was scary!). I’ve had my share of emergencies and malfunctions (even as a student) and I can honestly say I was never afraid. Concerned? Sure but def not fear. Fear leads to things like poor decisions and paralysis. I’ve seen both and trust me neither is good in the air.

You say you saw a video of a crash and that’s what’s got you “on edge”. Were you not aware of the potential risks before that? Do you not have confidence in your training and abilities? If you do then what is your fear? Not trying to dissuade you in any way but this could be an issue moving forward, particularly when more and more people will be putting their lives in your hands. I know one pilot who made it all the way to Capt while suppressing these feelings. One day we found our selves in a somewhat precarious situation. They rolled up into a ball in the corner. The next day they quit flying forever. Actually that situation did frighten me pretty bad. My fear was what if the FO they were flying with did the same thing also?


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Geez that’s crazy that the captain just froze like that.


Not really crazy. We’d all like to believe we’ll rise to the occasion when we have our “Sully” moment but the reality is until it actually happens you never really know for certain.

I hope James (and anyone else who reads the above) doesn’t take my response as accusatory as that was not my intent but I again don’t believe fear has a place on the flightdeck. Most people don’t like to talk about it but while aviation by far is the safest mode of transportation there are some inherent risks and pretending they don’t exist is foolish and reckless. A great deal of pilot training pertains to dealing with emergencies and malfunctions and trust me they do happen. While your training is essential to addressing any situation that arises, how you respond to the situation is equally important. Fear can lead to panic and panic is never a good thing. The single worse thing any pilot can do is turn a small problem into an emergency. One of my first instructors at the airlines was a former Navy instructor. He taught me they have a saying, regardless of the emergency (with a few exceptions like losing one engine flying a twin) “wind your watch” (ok I know not everyone wears a watch these days and those that do many don’t wind but it’s an expression). The meaning is before you start freaking, grabbing switches or doing anything else, take a few seconds, sit back, breath and assess. Sounds simple but it’s true. There is literally nothing they throw at you in airline training that needs to be rushed. That’s the other military saying you’ll hear, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Anyway I’ve gone off topic slightly but the point is none of this matters if you freak.

The solution is good training, vigilance and confidence in your abilities. If you don’t have that then you need to do something about it. Additional training, studying or maybe just chair flying the possible scenarios. Maybe just try and find the source of the fear but it does need to be addressed.


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Ya your right, I guess we can practice emergencies but we know we have the safety net of it not being a real thing, but until we are put in a situation who knows how we will react


No, I do not ever get scared to fly. Now of course I have a healthy respect for flying and do not approach too confidently, but I do not get scared. Watching a video about a crash should not have spooked you, not somebody at the level of being a CFI. You should watch videos like that with the mindset of what can you learn from them, but I wold not expect you to be on edge for a week about it either. This is something that you need to get in check or it will haunt you for your entire career.


I would argue that what we teach our Sailors and Marines about fear is valid here. Fear is not a weakness. Fear demonstrates humility and the awareness that something is going wrong or could go wrong and death could result. A calm response to fear is a self-taught behavior.

In the intensive care and emergency medicine world where I have spent most of my professional life, we like to play a game called “What will kill my patient next?” When you have any spare time, you simply look around for something that could go wrong and run it to ground. By doing that you are removing all the little common things that might go wrong. Truly unanticipated things do happen, but by keeping a low-level of controlled stress in place at all times, you are less likely to be “asleep at the wheel” and stunned/paralyzed when things take a turn for the worst. I am only a new student pilot, but I find that doing the same thing in the cockpit Is a worthwhile use of time and can fix small problems before they become big ones.

Like Adam, I am also a little off topic at this point. But I would point out that heroes who make good choices in dire situations are not magical. They are built over many years. Every hero you ever read about is described by the people around them as always being very good at what they do - caring about others and doing their job well. They took their responsibilities seriously. Most true professionals I know have a preoccupation with failure. They are constantly looking for things that might break and fixing them with preventive measures. I would say that by watching videos of aviation accidents and studying what went wrong, you are Instilling a little bit of healthy respect for the machine and the elements and hopefully you will keep those in mind when in the right or left seat. So maybe don’t call it fear if that sounds pejorative to you. Maybe call it anticipatory stress and if you learn something from it, that’s commendable.

Lastly, as is pointed out often on this forum, jobs like aviation and I would argue medicine as well, are not for everyone. The basic job description involves responsibility for other lives…literally life and death decisions daily. If one finds that level of responsibility for others disabling, another line of work may be more suited to their temperament.

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