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Slow Down!

I sat in the glider's forward cockpit with my instructor Jimmy in the back seat. We'd just pulled the glider into position on the runway and were waiting for our hookup to the tow plane. As I started calling out the before-takeoff checklist, I knew other gliders were in the area, so I was a bit nervous about sitting on the runway.

"Controls, ballast, airbrakes, trim…"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down!" Jimmy interrupted. "It's been a couple weeks since you've flown and you're a little rusty. Take your time and be thorough."

I took a deep breath. "OK, I'll start over. Controls: free and correct; Ballast: none required and none installed; Seatbelts: secure; Instruments: altimeter set to field elevation; Trim: set for takeoff; Canopy: closed and latched; Airbrakes: cycled, closed, and locked."

"That's better," said Jimmy. "Ready when you are."

I signaled the tow pilot by waggling the rudder and soon we were off. Whatever else I learned that day, the lesson that stuck with me was "slow down."

Fellow pilot and blogger John Spiteri in one of his posts quotes his instructor Simon as saying "You can't rush aviation." Very succinctly put.

On the other hand, legitimate time sensitivities do arise in flying. One afternoon I flew my club's Cessna to nearby Reid Hillview airport, a busy training hub, to pick up my friends Tim and Janine for a short day trip. After I'd pulled the airplane out into the taxiway and got them strapped in, I was running my usual careful, unhurried checklist, when a man in a ground vehicle pulled up alongside and frantically held up four fingers and pointed behind me. I turned around to see four airplanes stacked up on the taxiway with nowhere to go so long as I sat there. In my lack of haste, I'd made an impressive snarl of ground traffic. Needless to say, the ground controller was a bit curt when I finally called for my taxi clearance.

How could I have maintained my usual thoroughness without delaying everyone else? Well, I could have loaded my passengers and accomplished all checklist items prior to engine start before pulling the airplane out onto the taxiway. If the area behind the airplane was clear, I could have even started up in the tie-down spot. A number of ideas occurred to me when I assessed the situation after the fact.

Instrument flying, with its high workload, also seems to impose urgencies, but these too can be minimized by careful planning in advance. Using the low-workload periods such as engine run-up and cruise to set up avionics and gather needed information greatly reduces the workload of approach and landing. And if I'm still feeling rushed, I can always throttle back or even request a hold or a delay vector until I feel caught up.

Even in emergencies, or perhaps especially then, prioritizing critical tasks and seeking help from all available sources including avionics, passengers, and ATC can lower workload and buy me time to make careful decisions rather than making things worse through rash action.

In my early flying, I often felt rushed and "behind the aircraft" simply because my skills hadn't yet transferred to "muscle memory" (or more accurately, brain-stem memory), but over time I've found that it almost always is possible just to slow down and enjoy the ride.

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