Competent and Confident In Your Flying


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1having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully.




2feeling or showing confidence in oneself; self-assured.


In our world as pilots, competence is seemingly a Yes or No answer. You are or you aren’t, right? Sort of. 


Who determines your level of competence? If you say the FAA (or designee), you would be right shortly after your are signed off for a given type of operation (LSA, PPL, IFR, Tailwheel, Glider, etc.), but beyond that YOU are the person that determines if you are competent to fly a given mission. Flying is a perishable skill; just because I could execute a flawless wheel-landing or shoot an instrument approach six months ago, doesn’t mean I can today. 


Oh sure, the FAA has currency standards, but that is a one-size-fits-all solution. We all (FAA included) recognize that we should have our own personal currency requirements to suit us and the given situation.


The bottom line, competence is still a Yes or No answer, but since you are the one who decides, it becomes somewhat subjective. 


What about confidence? Much like competence, this one is on you, but it isn’t a decision, it is a state of mind.  For pilots I would draw the distinction that competence is how you actually are and confidence is how your feel about how you are. You might think of under-confidence as your early warning system that you may be out of practice. If you aren’t feeling particularly confident maybe your competence is borderline.  


Because confidence is a wide spectrum we seek to keep it in balance. Over or under confidence is a bad thing.


We also need to accept that it is not realistic to always be 100% comfortable. If that were the case, no one would ever get past their first solo with knees shaking and feet bouncing off the rudder pedals.


Since much of this is personality driven, the only thing you can do is to recognize how you perceive yourself and manage accordingly. If you are naturally self-assured then know you need to be more conservative in your decision-making and vice versa. 


Are you so cocky that you might some day find yourself in a situation where you are “writing checks your body can’t cash”? Or are you so spooked you are on the verge of near panic every flight? Neither scenario is particularly healthy or sustainable.


In both of these situations, there is one common solution. Fly more. The more you fly, the higher your level of competence. This will act to help balance confidence in a way that is good no matter your predisposition.


It is not rocket science, but having the self-awareness of how you show up might be the difference between a good and bad day out there in the wild blue yonder.


By Brent Owens

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