What I learned trying to fly a plane

There’s a scene in Get Smart where Max fights with the KAOS agents while they’re on a plane. It turns out that both of the pilots on the plane were agents, and Max comes back to the passengers and asks “does anyone know how to land a four-engine jet?”

And that was the premise for an activity I went to a couple of weekends back. in pairs, we had to keep a 737 in the air for 20 minutes, get it onto a particular heading and altitude and deal with any challenges that are thrown at you. In a simulator.

We had 5 minutes to read an instruction manual on how to fly a 737, then we had to sit down, and shortly afterward, the autopilot failed and we were off to the races.

The first thing you notice is how much information is available. There are screens, buttons levers everywhere. Your mind is racing, thinking of any frame of reference you might have for being a pilot; movies, shows, anything.

Then you have to work out how you are going to make sense of the information that’s coming in, and how to make decisions based on that information. You can wait, and see what happens, but the plane is already doing whatever it’s doing, and the longer you wait, the worst a situation can get.

As you think you’re understanding the basics, you get system failures. This is where we went wrong – each of us thought the other had the plane under control, we both went to the booklets to see how to fix the failures, and what felt like moments later, we were hearing some kind of attitude warning.

So then we learn the importance of pushing down the uncertainty, going back to basics on communicating with each other, dividing up the tasks, and continuing to make sense of all the information and the decisions.

And we made it!

20 minutes later, we were still in the air, where we were supposed to be, and the exercise’s mythical landing device takes over and brings us to safety.

A great learning experience, and one I’ll keep coming back to.

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