Aviation is the greatest teacher in my life.
From the moment I stepped into Doss Aviation for Initial Flight Training, to recently completing Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals, I have learned invaluable life lessons. My time as a student in the T-38C has come to an end. Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing a series of blog posts covering some of the most important lessons learned in the jet. The best part is, every lesson I learned in the T-38 directly applies to some component of life. The first lesson learned is…Crosscheck.
I will never forget the first crosscheck I learned. It was learned the hard way as a 15 year old building hours towards my driver’s license. This lesson came on a three-lane highway driving from Orlando to Tampa, when I attempted to shift from the left lane to the middle lane. I failed to realize the car in the right lane wanted to do the same. We were on a collision course to the middle lane when my dad yelled out, “Look outside!” As I turned back into the left lane, I realized my failure to check for any vehicles in my blind spot. This mistake sparked a conversation on where to look and how frequently to look for traffic. “Look front, look back, look left, look right!” He repeated over and over. He didn’t call it a crosscheck at the time, but that’s exactly what it was. To this day, when I am on a heavily congested highway I will hear a little voice in my head say, “Look front, look back, look left, look right.” This simple crosscheck got me out of a lot of trouble on Florida, Colorado and Texas highways.
As I progressed through Pilot Training and IFF in the T-38, my instructors have introduced faster, more sophisticated, and technical crosschecks to help me be a safer pilot and more aware wingman. By having a quick, effective, and repeatable crosscheck, pilots are able to be on parameter, execute their objectives, and identify when a dangerous situation is developing. In advanced aircraft, there is definitely information overload. It is all about knowing when to look where, and what pieces of information matter at that moment. There is no possible way a pilot can process every single piece of information the aircraft and its sensors are delivering. For this reason, a well refined crosscheck (knowing the triggers for when and where to move your eyes around the cockpit) makes a pilot much more effective. When a pilot has a good crosscheck, it means their ability to shift focus from one parameter/system of the aircraft, to another, process the information, and back again to a different instrument/system in a few seconds is consistent and accurate. During times of task saturation or channelized attention, my instructors would say over the intercom, “Crosscheck”. This word was a trigger to keep my eyes moving, or to move my eyes to different information.
Life, like flying, requires a well-developed crosscheck. You cannot be so caught-up with work that you neglect your health and relationships. When things at work sap all of the attention and time out of you, it is crucial to crosscheck friends, family, health & wellness, and your mental state. Getting channelized with one aspect of life is generally a recipe for disaster. However, there are certain times in the aircraft when a pilot simply does not care about a certain piece of information and reduces his crosscheck to a few specific things. For example, when a pilot is landing the plane, the crosscheck is “Aimpoint, Airspeed, AoA”. At this time, the pilot generally doesn't care about their time on target, weapons, etc. Similarly, there may be times in life (final exams, high intensity training courses, playoffs) when your attention and focus have to shift towards the highest priority tasks at hand. To succeed at these high priority tasks, lower priority tasks cannot be crosschecked as frequently or with the same level of attention. When the higher priority tasks wind down, it is essential to readjust the crosscheck to include all tasks. After crushing final exams, finishing a tough training phase, or winning the championship, it is important to rebalance the crosscheck to include everybody along the way who helped you, anything you missed while you were getting it done, and time for rest and recovery. No matter what phase of life you are in, always be mindful of your crosscheck. Remain present, understand your priorities, and keep your crosscheck moving!
Thank you for taking a few minutes of your time to explore this concept with me. I truly hope it helps you on your Grind to Fly. Standby for my next blog post where I discuss another valuable lesson learned during Pilot Training and IFF in the T-38C.