The Right Stuff
The time has come to drive into the sunset towards a remote flying oasis located in beautiful Del Rio, Texas. As my Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) start date approaches, I found it necessary to reflect on some of the qualities needed to perform to my potential during this 10-month program designed to turn somebody with no flying experience into a professional military pilot.
One of my friends asked me the other day, “What is your purpose for flying?” While I have many reasons for pursuing aviation, my immediate purpose is simple: I am going to UPT to develop my mental and physical skills under pressure and to continue developing my character and leadership in a high-paced team environment. In other words, I am doing this because I want to see if I have ‘the right stuff.’
The right stuff is another way of describing the skill, character, awareness, and commitment needed to maintain the high standards expected of Air Force pilots. Further, the best student pilots consistently work hard, produce quality work, display initiative, have integrity, and exude a positive attitude. I am going to pilot training to see if I have what it takes to excel under intense pressure and competition.
Keeping these traits in mind, there are several questions I would like to answer ‘yes’ to upon completion of the training program to help determine whether or not I developed ‘the right stuff’. These questions are not necessarily asked to measure a pilot’s competence, aptitude, or leadership ability. Rather, they are personal in nature; guiding questions to help focus my mind on the person I hope to become:
Am I prepared to sacrifice my life in order to preserve and defend the freedom and wellbeing of my family, friends, and country?
Did I give 100% positive energy and fighting effort towards becoming the best officer, teammate, and pilot I can be?
Am I a safe and trainable pilot with a proven understanding of fundamental procedures and knowledge?
Do I have the skills, desire, work ethic, and selflessness necessary to be a combat mission ready pilot?
Do I have the mental calmness and physical control under pressure to safely eject from a high-performance aircraft?
Do I have the aeronautical decision making required to effectively analyze an emergency situation and take proper action to save my teammates and myself?
Do I have the integrity and discipline to conduct the appropriate checklists to the full extent, each and every time?
Did I overcome my deepest fears?
Do I have the self-awareness and acceptance to recognize my mistakes, and the commitment to fix them?
I encourage you, no matter what phase of life you are currently in, to ask yourself the hard questions. Doing so compliments goal setting very well, as it reminds you that the journey to greatness is just as important as the outcome! When I think about both my short and long-term goals, I understand It is not achieving the end goal that is most important. It is who I will become as a result of pursuing the end goal that truly counts. At the end of this year-long journey I hope to have developed into the person who can confidently answer ‘yes’ to each one of these questions. I hope to look in the mirror and see a man who has ‘the right stuff’.
*Note: The Right Stuff was a nonfiction novel written by Tom Wolfe in 1979 that chronicled postwar research with experimental/high-speed aircraft of the United States Air Force. The book recounts the dangers and frustrations experienced by those involved with NASA’s early accomplishments. Specifically, it captured the mindsets of test pilots and Mercury astronauts John Glenn and Alan Sheppard. This blog post is intended to allude to their story, as many of the founding fathers of aerospace exploration were able to execute at peak performance under substantial amounts of pressure.