Have you ever been working through your pre-flight protocols, only to feel a nagging sense that you’d rather spend the day on the ground? Determining your personal preparedness for a flight should be as much a part of your pre-flight checks, as is the process of checking over the aircraft itself.
It just so happens that a checklist exists that pilots are urged to use prior to any flight. It’s known by the acronym IMSAFE, and its use should bring to every pilot’s attention his or her state-of-well-being for safely undertaking any and every flight.
The I stands for Illness. If you have one, ask yourself if it can impede your ability to fly. A cold, a flu, allergies are some of the common afflictions that should make it obvious that a cockpit is not the place for you until the worst of their effects have subsided. Lump headaches, joint pain, or a bad back into this category too: a throbbing forehead, or an aching back won’t get the best out of anyone acting as a pilot-in-command.
The M stands for Medications. If you’re on any, you’d best know not only their side effects, but if you’re even legally entitled to be operating an aircraft under their influence. An altitude of 10,000 feet is not the place to find out that your prescription – or over-the-counter – drug is going to make you feel drowsy, dizzy, nauseous, or give you heart palpitations. Both prescription and non-prescription medications should be cleared by your aviation medical examiner before you step into a cockpit.
The S stands for Stress. It can be an insidious affliction. Sometimes you don’t realize its extent until you look back at it once it has finally relented. But when it blankets you, it can cloud your view of the bigger picture, affecting your behaviour and your decision-making. Should you go flying if you’re going through a divorce, or your finances are under strain, or your kids are getting themselves into heaps of trouble? Some might say that flying is their “stress relief.” If the latter is the case, then that’s a good thing. But that’s not the case for everybody. Don’t fly if you know you can’t focus your full attention on what you’re doing.
The A stands for Alcohol. It doesn’t belong in your bloodstream if you’re going to fly. Everyone should know the “eight-hours bottle-to-throttle” rule. But be realistic. Alcohol affects people in different ways, and its aftereffects can linger longer than some might realize. It can not only slow you down mentally, it can make you drowsy, give you a headache, make you susceptible to disorientation, and hasten hypoxia. Be smart: if you’re going flying, your blood alcohol concentration should be .00 percent.
The F stands for Fatigue. If you just spent a long day at the office, and it’s the end of a long week, then a Friday late afternoon isn’t necessarily the best time to fly your four-seater, for the three-hour jaunt to the cottage. And if you know the value of sleep, you’ll also know the value of how a rested body and mind contribute so well to mental sharpness. Flying should be fun. Most anyone will tell you that it’s more fun to do things when you’re alert. So why waste a flight by being tired. If you’re going to be a pilot, then you should think the way an athlete has to think: rest before you have to perform.
The E stands for two things: Eating and Emotion. Like the aforementioned athlete, you have to eat well to perform well. Proper nutrition may, in fact, be the most under-valued concept amongst pilots. Donuts don’t feed your brain and body: proteins and carbs do. Coke and
coffee don’t feed your brain and body either: electrolyte drinks well-balanced in sodium and minerals do. Nourish yourself the way an athlete does. If you’re flying an airplane, you have to perform at a higher mental and physical level. So, learn what it takes to fuel yourself for better personal performance.
Emotions get in the way of clear thinking. We’ve all heard about road rage and of the irrational things that red-misted people do at the steering wheel of their cars. Imagine the consequences of carrying such anger – even a fraction of it – into the cockpit of your airplane. The distractive force of anything that has made you mad will hammer at you when your hands are on your control stick or yoke. Do you believe that you can think clearly when you’re mad? Think a second time. The same can be said if you’re depressed or faced with a lot of anxiety. In times like these, step away from your airplane, and wait until the mist has subsided from your psyche. Because, until it’s gone, it’s going to psyche you out.