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Buttinsky

Anders and I sat in the runup area as he set up our club's Cessna for some IFR practice in VFR conditions. I would be acting as safety pilot. It would be good experience for me, too, since I had an instrument proficiency check (IPC) coming up soon.

"OK, now how do I fly the departure with this GPS?" Anders asked rhetorically as he punched buttons. Our club's two airplanes have different GPS units, so it's always an adjustment switching from one to the other. After returning from a long trip in our Bonanza, he was shifting gears.

"You'll need to use OBS mode," I said.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "I know you need it when taking off in the other direction, but doesn't it do the right thing in this direction?"

"Nope," I said. "If you don't use OBS, it'll sequence you directly to the next fix without following the departure procedure."

"Hmm, OK," he said and continued his setup. I silently reminded myself of my sole responsibility for the flight: watch for traffic and terrain.

Soon we were cleared for departure and on our way, with Anders under the hood. Reaching the first waypoint, he turned to heading 040 as required by the departure procedure.

"Now you need OBS mode," I said. "See, it wants to send you directly to the next fix."

Anders pushed the OBS button and twisted the knob to set the desired course.

"It's not changing the course," Anders observed.

"No, it's not," I agreed. "Have you selected the right navigation source?" I asked. We both looked and saw that he had.

"Why isn't the course changing when you twist the knob?" I asked, puzzled. I looked at the terrain ahead. "It wants to send us through Mission Peak."

"Well, that's not going to work," Anders said.

He tried rebooting the unit, but now it complained about missing altitude data. "I think she's dead, Jim," he concluded. "You want to try clearing the flight plan and entering it again?" Anders asked.

"OK," I replied and twisted, bumped, and scrolled my way to the flight plan. I deleted it and started reprogramming from scratch, while Anders monitored what I was doing in his scan. Once I got the departure procedure entered, I started programming the approach procedure for our destination.

"No, you're done," he said. "I just want the departure procedure to see if it works."

"Almost done," I replied, deep in the button pushing.

"No, just switch back to the moving map. I want to try changing the OBS course."

I hesitated briefly. "Um, OK," I said and complied. There was no improvement.

"Let me switch the Nav source," I said, hovering over the avionics stack. "You can still use the VORs."

Exasperated, Anders said, "I'm the pilot!" reminding me of my role. He said it with a smile, but his message was clear.

"Sorry!" I replied and backed off. He was right, of course. I knew better than to interfere with the PIC's flying, but for some reason I just couldn't help myself.

"Well, with the GPS like this, we're done for the night anyway," Anders said. He called Norcal Approach and canceled IFR, telling them we were returning to San Jose. As we approached the airport, I acknowledged my transgression.

"Hey, I apologize for my Buttinsky tendencies this evening," I said. "I'm usually much better about that."

"Yes, you are!" Anders agreed, more puzzled than annoyed at that point.

After we landed, we discussed the needed repairs to the GPS and chuckled a bit about my little outbreak of "Cockpit Resource Mismanagement."

That evening, I did a little soul searching to see if I could spot the source of my behavior. In the past, whenever I've had a "control freak" moment, it's almost always been because of some concern or anxiety. I realized that part of me was anticipating my IPC and was fixated on control in the IFR environment. Troubleshooting the GPS put that part of me over the top and I lost track of my role. Rather than just doing what Anders asked, I wanted to take control of the situation.

I'm always amazed at the insights I get into my own psyche just by flying airplanes. In the end it was a valuable lesson.

Even if it was at my buddy's expense…

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