“…Flat Rock Air Tac, Tanker 800 at the Initial Point.” OK, let’s see how long it takes him to get his act together and get me in there to drop on the target…then these other pilots will see a master at work, muses Delbert! “Tanker 800, Flat Rock Air Tac…proceed to the right shoulder of the fire …descend to and maintain 6500 feet MSL, altimeter setting 29.92… stay outside the F.T.A. until you reach the bridge over the river…contact me when you arrive.” “Tanker 800 copies.” Jeezo Beezo, now he is sending me on a 20-mile detour around the outside of the fire. Let’s see…I can cut across the heel of the fire between here and there and save myself about ten minute and I’ll beat the other tankers to the target area. He, he, he…step back and watch the master at work, rookies! Here we go. Holy smokes, where did that helicopter come from? That was close! I’ll bet he’ll be spending some time at the laundromat tonight cleaning his tighty whities! Dang, all these radios a blaring in my ears, a man can’t concentrate! I’ll just turn them down so they aren’t so distracting. The smoke is getting’ really thick in here. I’ll drop down and get under it. Sure is a rough ride here in this smoke. Another couple of minutes and I should pop out of this smoke and be lined up with the bridge. Ah, smoke is starting to thin out…WHOA! That was way too close! What the heck was that jack wagon C-130 doing going in the wrong direction down here? Man, this place is way too crowded with aircraft for my taste. I’m going to line up on the fire line, make my drop and get the heck out of here. Look at all them guys in yellow shirts, right where I’m gonna drop…look out below! Wait! What? There must be a power outage. The screen in this simulator has gone black! Typical government snafu. What? The Training Coordinator wants to speak with me in his office? Right now? Training. We’ve all been going through it since we were taught to not mess our diapers. That has worked out pretty well, for most of us anyway. Although training is the common term being used these days, I personally prefer to use the word learning. Training, at least to me has a derogatory implication. We train our dogs to use the outdoors as their restroom and not the family room couch. The “pain vs. reward cycle” of Dr. Pavlov’s dogs will attest to a time honored method. This type of “training” works on canines, but has somewhat limited success with humans. (We do have a rebellious streak that is inherent to our species, do we not?) So, what is the solution that we humans have developed that works for us? When the worst happens, training matters.It has been proven that when we are faced with an emergency/unexpected situation, we will revert to what we have done in the past. You can call it muscle memory, subliminal reflex or training recall, but it all points to the fact that we rely on what we have learned or have been “trained” to do in tough situations. During times of stress or unexpected action, the procedures that we have done before will immediately come to the forefront of our minds. There have been many documented cases where a pilot is faced with a dire emergency and has completed a complex series of actions to correct or mitigate the emergency. Many times the pilot does not remember going through those procedures and in some cases cannot exactly repeat those procedures in the aftermath of the event! Conversely, when we have not experienced and practiced a set of procedures to correct a problem, we are extremely susceptible to making a mistake. Or worse still, we may freeze and do nothing. Both of which may have dire consequences. Not good! Good training and redundant practice will help to alleviate the possibility of failure to act in an emergency. Training can also help to identify bad habits we may have acquired without knowing it, if we pay attention. Why Training Matters As aviators, we are constantly learning. Every flight is different from all other flights we have experienced. Sure, the overall task workload may be very similar but we are never doing the exact same things in the cockpit over and over again. Training (learning), especially for aviators, has always been critical to flight safety. Almost all training syllabi for flight procedures have been written to address some flight characteristic or to avert concerns dealing with weather. A conscientious pilot will want to know all he/she can about the aircraft they are flying and how it will react in every situation. There are lessons to be learned during training that have been learned the hard way by someone less fortunate than you. There is a saying within the aerial firefighting industry that I feel sums it up pretty well: “The rules, regulations and guidelines we have today were written with bent aluminum and blood!” Ah, the learning curve in aviation is steep and the consequences of inattention can be dire. As aviators who are involved in the more hazardous segments of our industry, it is critical to our survival to have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, always be thinking ahead and constantly practice our standard operating procedures, as well as those encountered during an emergency. Don’t just practice until you get it right…practice until you can’t get it wrong! This will insure you will have the correct skill, procedure, muscle memory or whatever you want to call it when the excrement hits the fan. When time is compressed and you are up to your eyeballs in alligators, you cannot afford to sit there and try to think things through. Paralysis by analysis during these times may cost you your life. So, the next time you are going into the simulator for some recurrent training or pulling up a chair at some seminar, remember – the lessons you learn today may save your butt tomorrow. Pay attention. Think things through to their obvious conclusion. And above all practice your emergency procedures until you can’t get it wrong. It is the least you can do to show respect to all those who have gone before you and paid the ultimate price so that you could learn the lesson. Don’t be like the Delbert in the above example. Check your ego at the door and learn your lessons! Stay safe out there. Clear skies and tailwinds always. Bickham out.]]>