Rod's Recommended Reading

by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

     If you enjoy books that provide interesting and practical information on human behavior, then Sway is the book for you. This is an excellent book for understanding how our decisions (in particular, our aviation decisions) are affected by common but potentially serious cognitive errors.
     The book opens with one of the most detailed discussions I've seen on the failed decision making strategy used by Captain Jacob van Zanten--the captain on a KLM 747 flight (4805) that crashed on the island of Tenerife in March of 1977. As you may recall, Captain van Zanten took off without a departure clearance on a limited visibility runway and crashed into a Pam 747 that had not yet cleared the runway. Ultimately, the KLM crew was held responsible for the accident and the story behind the Captain's failed decision making process is one every pilot should study.
     It turned out that Captain van Zanten was in a hurry to depart and ultimately fell victim to several cognitive errors: loss aversion, value attribution and diagnosis bias, to name a few.  When you read about his overwhelming desire to depart the airport and how easily he surrendered the basics of good decision making, it will make your knees shake. My did, especially when I read that the good captain was one of KLM's most respected and highly seasoned pilots as well as the head of safety for KLM airlines. Yep. Head of safety. The underlying moral to this chapter is that no one--no, not even experienced pilots--are free of the temptation induced by these common cognitive errors.
     This is why flight experience doesn't confer immunity to these types of errors. Instead, extensive flight experience can increase a pilot's awareness that these errors exist as well as helping a pilot understand how these errors affect the decision making process. If you're a neophyte or a seasoned flight deck crewmember, you'll find something (many things) of great value in this book. The other chapters in this book are non-aviation in theme, but are still relevant to the aviation decision making process.
     Add this book to your aviation library. It's a fun and easy read and well worth your investment in time reading it.


FROM THE GROUND UP,  the Autobiography of Fred Weick

     Recently, someone sent me a book titled, From the Gound Up , by Fred Weick. Most folks who are familiar with the Ercoupe know that Fred Weick was its creator. This book is about Fred Weick and his life in aviation. I found it absolutely fascinating and informative. I wish I could say that it was available at every used book store, but it’s not. This explains why it is so darn expensive to purchase. In fact, used copies cost approximately $70 while collectables run about $140. Nevertheless, you might still find a cheap copy or even be able to borrow one. The search will be well worth the effort, especially if you’d like the historical overview of how general aviation came to be.
     One of the fun aspects of this book involves the historical insights into how our aviation system evolved into its present form. For instance, in one narrative Weick describes how acetylene torch (light) beacons were established every three miles at night to light the route between emergency landing fields (which were established 25 miles apart in the early 1920s. The implication here is that a pilot can easily see a lighted object at a distance of three miles at night in inclement weather. It’s not much of a stretch to sense the historical origin of the "three" mile visibility requirement that is so common in today’s Class E airspace below 10,000 feet MSL. You also get a hint as to why 25 miles was chosen as the maximum distance a student pilot can fly without having a solo-XC endorsement on his or her student pilot certificate. These are just a few hints as to the historical origins of numerical values common in today’s modern airspace system. 

     Of course, the Ercoupe was a very popular airplane in its day because it was easy to fly. It was also an easy airplane in which to learn to fly. It was easy to fly because it had a two-flight control system (elevator and aileron) instead of three controls (elevator, aileron and rudder). When Fred Weick was testing the precursor to the Ercoupe (the W-1), he experimented with controlling the airplane laterally by using only aileron deflection (he took his feet off the rudder pedals of the W-1 [Weick-1] when doing this). This worked fine but did produce a slip. He tried another experiment by locking the rudder surfaces of the W-1in place instead of letting them deflect (weathervane) slightly as the airplane slipped. He discovered that the airplane slipped less with the rudder surfaces locked instead of letting them free float. This should make sense since the locked rudder acted to essentially increase the “effective” aerodynamic surface area of the vertical stabilizers. (Note: the W-1 had twin rudder surfaces just like the Ercoupe has today.) Increased vertical stabilizer surface means that the airplane slips less when a turn is made with ailerons only.

    There's an important lesson to be had here. Suppose you take your feet off the rudder pedals in one of today's rudder-equipped airplanes and enter a turn. This obviously results in a slipping turn entry. However, the slip angle will be greater than it would be if you were able to lock the rudder surface in place. Therefore, if you wanted to see how this airplane would slip with a locked rudder (no, you aren't going to lock the rudder in place, either), simply apply enough rudder pedal pressure in the direction of turn to simulate a locked rudder surface. How much pressure you'd apply can't really be known by you unless you stare at the rudder surface as you enter the turn, but this isn't the point. The point is that you'd slip less when using ailerons for turning with a locked rudder surface.

      Here’s the payoff in the previous paragraph. In the 1950s, manufacturers began putting spring-type rudder and aileron interconnects on smaller airplanes to keep the machine coordinated in a turn and during a turn entry. Since these springs weren't very strong, they didn't really work all that well for coordination in steeper/sharper turns. They did work fine for entering shallower turns. Why? I posit that they displaced the rudder enough (generally speaking, of course) to simulate locking the rudder surface in place while "entering" a shallower turn.
Getting back to the ease with which people learned to fly an Ercoupe, consider the following. Years ago I soloed someone in an Ercoupe at John Wayne airport with approximately 4.5 hours of dual training. This student had no prior flight training at all. This book contains a passage (above) indicating that nearly the same minimum solo time was required for solo with a group of students in the Ercoupe in the 1940s. The point here is that the Ercoupe is an amazingly simple airplane to fly. If I were starting out learning to fly today, I'd purchase an Ercoupe and learn in it. I'd obtain my private certificate at 40 hours (easily) then transition to a 172 in two hours. It would save me thousands of dollars. And no, there’s absolutely no downfall in learning to fly a simple airplane first, then transitioning to a more complex machine later. None whatsoever!
     So what happened to the Ercoupe? It turned out that immediately after the war (circa-1946), the ERCO company was in full “Ercoupe” production mode (30-40 airplanes a day). Then again, so were all the other aviation companies making smaller airplanes. Eventually the general aviation market experienced a glut of machines and sales slowed. When orders diminished significantly, the ERCO company was unable to handle the slow down. Eventually ERCO ceased production of the Ercoupe and sold the rights and tooling of the machine. According to Weick, this was one of the greatest disappointments in his aviation life. The airplane never made a comeback.


HOW WE DECIDE (a book by Jonah Lehrer) 

     If you want to learn a little bit about how your mind works—what pilot doesn’t?—then please consider reading Jonah Lehrer’s book, How We Decide.
     As the title suggests, this is a book about the decision making process. While Lehrer doesn’t speak to pilots directly, there’s nothing about the psychology presented here that isn’t relevant to the cockpit. After all, psychology is psychology regardless of where it's applied. As a reader, you have to make the connections yourself from the material presented. This is, however, what we should always strive to do when reading non-aviation material.
     For instance, Lehrer offers one of the best explanations as to why our intuition is chemically based—based on the uptake or inhibited-uptake of the neural transmitter dopamine in our brain. Dopamine can help us make better decisions, even on the level of intuition.
     When dopamine uptake increases within our neural matter, we feel an increase in pleasure (after all, many "feel good" drugs increase dopamine uptake in the brain. Then again, so does jogging, listening to music [I think karaoke is the exception here] and thinking happy thoughts). Reduce the amount of dopamine uptake and we feel less pleasure. The sensation of pleasure is dependent on the activity of our neural transmitters.
     It turns out that when we make a good decision (one that rewards us or will reward us in some way), we feel pleasure that results from an increase in dopamine uptake in the brain. A decision that leads to negative consequences might inhibit dopamine uptake, depriving us of this increase in pleasure.
     Lehrer maintains that the increase or decrease in dopamine uptake occurs on a level far below that which the conscious mind can recognize. In other words, it’s our subconscious mind that detects the reward or loss pattern first, long before our conscious mind recognizes it. When we begin moving in a direction that might reward us (let’s say we have this unexplainable feeling that we should abort the takeoff), we might experience a slightly positive emotion associated with this thought. We don’t know why we feel we should abort the takeoff, but we do have a positive feeling about it. This is our intuition at work. It's how dopamine generates the intuition that we often describe in metaphysical terms. Now we can describe it in bio-chemical terms.
     Take a look at the following three pages as Lehrer explains this concept in a famous experiment known as The Iowa Gambling Task.



   There are many other great lessons for pilots in this book. One in particular involves the concept of risk aversion. This is a must read for anyone who flies an airplane. As pilots, we are much more likely to engage in risk seeking behaviors to prevent losing something (losing face, losing time, losing money, etc.) compared to gaining something of equivalent value. Lehrer’s explanations and examples will certainly help you understand this concept much better. 
     So click the title above and buy this book, study it and increase your understanding about the inner workings of your brain and mind. How can you go wrong? You can get it for 19 cents at Amazon!


By Rod Machado (Originally Appeared in AOPA Pilot Magazine)

   The best lessons I’ve ever learned about the mental game of flying an airplane didn’t come from studying books on aviation psychology. Instead, they came from reading history.
   One such book I recently picked up at the used book store is titled Submarine Commander by Paul Schratz. I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t put it down once the reading started. That , of course, made driving a real challenge. So the book was parked in my lap until I parked my car, after which my eyes hardly left the tome at home.
   Submarine Commander is about Captain Schratz’s exploits as the skipper of a Pacific-based submarine during the Second World War. The first thing you learn about Captain Schratz is that he’s a mischievous and playful fellow with sufficient brain power to keep him out of trouble with his superiors and the Japanese.
   During one inspection at sea with a particularly stern and grumpy admiral, he was instructed to maintain a specific depth—something that is apparently quite challenging in churning seas and subs of that era. Unbeknown to the grumpy admiral, a disguised potentiometer directly controlled the depth meter needle for just such an occasion. Schratz had a crewman covertly manipulate the knob, performing a near perfect depth hold, much to the frustration of the admiral. Doesn’t that sound like the time you updated the altimeter setting just to maintain altitude in a steep turn?
   One time, before heading off for a Pacific deployment, Schratz tells his wife not to worry about him because he’s always been lucky. As you read the book you realize that there’s a good reason why fate was always on his side. As playful and mischievous as he was, he was also a fanatic about training his men properly and thoroughly. In nearly every history book I’ve ever read, when a leader says he’s lucky, you can simply strike that word and replace it with the phrase well prepared.
   I knew this book was full of useful aviation lessons when I read Schratz’s comment about the character of a boat. He says, “The character of a ship is the character we impress on her.” So true. It’s a lesson that speaks to those of us flying two- to six-place airplanes.
   Think about it this way. The passengers on board behave the way we impress upon them (i.e., train them) to behave. If you want a silent cockpit during takeoff and landing, then you have to teach your passengers to avoid unnecessary chat during these times. Perhaps you make the point with humor by warning them that failure to comply might result in everyone wearing an oxygen mask for the duration of the flight.
   Then there’s the business of actually driving the sub. Schratz says, “The art of diving, like flying by the seat of the pants, involved getting the feel of the boat, heavy or light overall, forward or aft. Some learned it instinctively; a few never got the magic touch.”Sounds like the difference between a Sean Tucker and someone who can’t keep the airplane on the runway in a five-knot wind doesn’t it?
   Perhaps the single most important lesson in this book occurs during an early deployment when as a young ensign Schratz first encounters the sub’s executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Reginald M. “Reggie” Raymond. Schratz writes, “From that instant I realized that he was a very special person, the most dynamic and inspiring naval officer I would ever know. Every detail of that first meeting is still clear, even the furniture in the room. There was no doubt in my mind that somehow knowing him would change my life.”
   One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life is that it’s difficult to grow smart, skilled and wise unless you’re exposed to someone who’s intellectually, spiritually or emotionally bigger than you. If you feel you have nothing to learn from anyone or that no one has anything to teach, it’s unlikely that you’ll progress much beyond the moment you adopted that point of view. This sums up what I believe made Paul Schratz an effective and admired submarine commander. He knew when others had something to teach him and he took the time to learn from them.
   So, read aviation psychology, but take the time to read history, too, especially biographical history. Both can make you a better pilot.


If you like to read, then let me recommend some of the books I've read or am currently reading to you. As an aviation writer, I'm always looking for ideas that will help pilots, especially ideas that come from outside traditional aviation literature. These might be ideas taken from The Memoirs of Ulysseys S. Grant or from books on how to drive submarines. I do read a lot and I recommend that you do the same.
    Don't have time to read? Well, read on and see what's possible.
    If you'd like an idea about how much reading you can do in one year, then check out Louis L'Amour's book titled, Education of a Wandering Man. L'Amour, a voracious reader, says that he counted the books he read in one year and they totaled 129. Louis L'Amour, a man who knew how to make use of his time, also said that he read 29 of those books while standing in line.
    So I hope you enjoy these recommendations.


THINKING, FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman
If you have an interest in psychology, then Kahneman's book in a must read. The book's main premise is that our mind can be considered (modeled) as having two basic functions. One function is the fast-thinking, or reflexive part in which much of our intuitive thinking takes place. The other is the slow-thinking, logical or contemplative part that deliberates and ponders ideas. This division is a practical means for helping us understand how our mind works.
    For instance, one of Kahneman's ideas that is useful for pilots is the concept of substitution. This is a brilliant idea that has immediate value for anyone making decisions in airplanes. Simply stated, when you ask yourself a difficult question (or someone asks you a difficult question), the fast-thinking part of your mind wants an answer quickly. When a quick answer is not forthcoming (because the question deserves and requires deliberation by the slow-thinking part of our mind), then it "substitutes" a simpler question in its place, all without your being aware that this has happened. For example, suppose you ask yourself, "Am I proficient enough to make this particular flight?" That's not necessarily an easy question to answer. You have to think about it carefully. This is why the fast-thinking part of our mind might substitute the question, "How an I feeling about this flight?" These are two entirely different questions and the latter one doesn't provide you with the information that would help you make an informed decision about your proficiency. If you are not aware that a substitution has taken place, then you might make a less informed decision about this flight (I've written an article on this in this month's "January's" AOPA Pilot, too. Please read AOPA Pilot for a more complete description of this concept).
    That said, this book does deal with a few abstract corners of psychology that might not be directly useful to you in the cockpit (I still find these ideas fascinating and worth studying, nevertheless). So let me give you Rod's Reading Rule #1: If you're reading a section of a book you don't enjoy or don't believe is useful, then skip to another section of the book. It's absolute nonsense to operate on the principle that you have to read a book from beginning to end to get something out of it. The fact is that many writers put their most powerful and practical information in the front half of the book and fill up the aft end for cosmetic balance (have you ever wondered why most books are about the same size?). No, Kahneman didn't do this, but other folks do (I've read Kahneman's entire book twice and it's well worth the investment of time).
    So read a book with the intent of taking something away that's useful, even if this means reading only one chapter. Your objective is to turn a book or a portion of a book into useful behaviors. Don't read a book with the intent of saying, "Look at me, I read a book." If you want a pat of the head, skip the barber shop and sign up for dog grooming. Long ago I stopped reading books or finishing books that weren't interesting. The last thing I want to do is waste my time on a book that doesn't educate me.

One last thing. While you may be a purist (and I do respect this), I write in all my books (the way books were originally intended to be used). Above is a picture of some of the notes I've made in Kahneman's book. Nearly every page has one or two notes on it. Some have many notes. I use a five star system to help me calibrate the value of a particular underlined item or note. Rarely do I issue four or even five stars. I issue many two-star highlight, some three-star highlights, but I can count on one hand the five-start ratings I've given a particular idea over the last year. But that's just me.

Here's a more detailed example of my book-note system:

And here's an example of an idea that generated four stars:


More to come every week, Rod.

Rod's Message to You
Flying is a transforming experience. If you'd like a good reason to get your son or daughter involved in flying, please read my article titled, "Reluctant Moms and Dads."

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