The Fear Factor

The Fear Factor

Hello everyone,

I am a private pilot with a little over 100 hour total time and am currently working on my instrument rating. I am now finding myself much more timid than before in regards to my flying.  I feel like I am a good pilot but the fear of something going wrong is gettting to me. 
I recently boucht a Cessna 172 and am still getting used to it so that might be a contributing factor.  Another factor is a book I'm reading called "The killing Zone".  In case you haven't heard of it, this book is about how pilots with 50-350 hours flight are the most likely to kill themselves in a crash.  I have learned alot by reading this book but frankly, it has scared the sh!t out of me.
I am hoping that this anxiety is a common feeling among pilots with relatively low time and hope maybe someone has advice on ways of coping with it.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Rich

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Re: The Fear Factor

Rich,
Those unfortunate souls you speak of, the 50-350 hour group, that are now pushin up daisys, probably became very proud of there accomplishments becoming a pilot. Had just enough time under there belt to get into trouble, not enough experience to get'em out. That fact that you recognize the fear, timidness, cautiousness, or whatever you want to call that feeling that promotes situational awareness; IT'S A GOOD THING.

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Re: The Fear Factor

Another factor is that maybe the reality has sunk in that once your instrument rating is complete, there are very few restrictions on the weather in which you are approved to fly in. It is up to you to decide, which can be very scary.

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Re: The Fear Factor

Rich,
I think that "fear factor" that you're referring to is what allows most of us to talk about "what he did" instead of everyone else talking about "what I did"
I started flying in '82.  When I got my student ticket, I was all kinds of excited.  When I told a very experienced, well seasoned pilot friend of mine, whom I thought would share in my excitement, very somberly said "Congratulations! You've got a license to go out and kill yourself.  When you get your Private, you'll be able to take your friends with you."  and he walked off.  I was kinda surprised & bewildered...a little later it sunk in what he was really telling me.  Obvioulsy, that really stuck with me, as did a couple of other things he'd told me....like "You can NEVER have too much dual" 
I also subscribed to the "NTSB Reporter" for awhile"  reading about the errors that others made...it was rare that the cause of an incident was something other than "pilot error".  I'm pretty sure this helped keep "over confidence" in check".
Always keed a little bit of that "fear factor" with you, it's healthy.
Enjoy your flying!!
Michael

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Re: The Fear Factor

Rich,

I think the information that the others gave you is solid.  Also it's healthy to feel this way for now. 

<I am hoping that this anxiety is a common feeling among pilots with relatively low time and hope maybe someone has advice on ways of coping with it. >

Nevertheless in response to the above request, we all cope differently.  It's also very difficult to enjoy something when you are feeling too much anxiety.  if you are too scared, it is hard to think .  That's unsafe. 

If you feel it's getting that way, you need to talk with someone, perhaps an experienced instructor with good people skills. Perhaps some other professional.

I find one good thing to do to cope is to establish personal minimums.  Talk it over with an instructor that knows you best and work it out.  It's worth the time and money.

Also, since you own your plane you have an opportunity to learn about it and get confidence in its condition.  Periodically, review your emergency procedures, checklists and personalize them for you. While flying keep an eye out for forced landing places and challenge your self to make judgements on whether you can glide to them.

I've seen "panic buttons" installed on the panel of some planes.  That's for the pilot who panic, it gives him or her something to do (that won't make matters worse) and also give pause to realize he is panicing and that's not very helpful.  Your training should kick in.

After taking my check ride for my instrument rating, the examiner said "Congratulations, you now have a ticket to kill yourself!"  Sound familiar.  They are deliberately wanting you to think about your limitations.  "A man needs to know his limitations!" - Dirty Harry?

It's OK to feel confident when you are aware of the risks, plan ahead, have contingencies thought out for each trip.  In other words make it a defined risk and not some vague fear.

One time after maintenance was performed on my plane, I was debating with a fellow pilot what to do as a post maintenance flight test.  You'll rarely see maintenance guys fly your plane after they work on it.  They did there own testing to satisfy themselves that it is safe, but as an owner/pilot I felt I needed to do the same thing.  The other pilot, who had much more experience than me, advised me to consider each flight - as a test flight not just those after maintenance is performed.

So, this should tell you your concerns are normal and you can and should do something about it.

Tailwinds..., Blue Skies...., and my two cents

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Re: The Fear Factor

I think Barry hit it when he referred to not going flying with some "vague fear" in the back of your mind.  If you feel anxious but can't pinpoint the cause, that is pure anxiety, or fear of fear.  Analyze what COULD actually go wrong--hey, if you do what you were trained to do, about the only thing you have to worry about is engine failure, and you were even trained how to handle THAT!  Define your fears, face them, and you will be more confident because you'll know that you have been trained to handle them. 

Major fears:
1) stall/spin in the pattern: DON'T skid--you KNOW how not to do it, so just do as you were trained!  Try it at altitude with an instructor and you'll see how HARD it is to actually induce a spin.  Fly your plane by the numbers in the POH--they have a large margin of safety built in!

2) loss of control in IMC:  if your inst. training is scaring you, you are NOT required to fly in actual IMC just because you have the rating.  Get it, keep it current, but if you're fearful of IMC stay OUT of it.  The rating can be your ace-in-the-hole when you need it.  Not everyone is able to keep things sorted out under actual IMC--some are more prone to vertigo than others.  It is a known medical fact (I am one of those!).

I could go on and on, but as Barry stated, "know your limitations"--and trust that inner voice when it says "hey dude, this just doesn't feel right".
Now go fly and quit worrying!

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Re: The Fear Factor

One final note; Michael said that the cause of  incidents was rarely  something other than pilot error, and this is true.  But, it's not like the guy pulls himself out of a pile of scrap aluminum and says, "gosh, I never knew this thing wouldn't fly when I banked 45 degrees and kicked it on around the base-to-final turn".  Those pilots had to make a conscious decision to commit an error and that's where you have to be tough enough on yourself to "go by the book". 
Some "DON'Ts" that will keep you out of trouble, yet you'll hear of pilots doing them often (Murphy's law says if YOU do it, you will be a victim):
1)  DON'T overload--there is NOT an extra 150 lbs of load built into a C-172.  Still it is one of the safest planes built.
2)  DON'T buzz your friend's house-"what could possibly go wrong...just a shallow dive and then pull up gradually". Believe the stories even if you still can't understand where the danger is.
3)  DON'T fly low over the countryside--yeah, it's fun--if you like not being able to pick a good field if it quits...or getting tangled up in high tension wires.
4)  DON'T fly at night if you're not comfortable in IMC.

Read your "Killing Zone" book and then learn from it--if it killed someone else, don't do it.

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Re: The Fear Factor

Fear is interesting. Sometime it comes and goes in waves.

A little helps with a healthy respect for flying and being prepared.

A lot isn't good - and can come from several places, but review where You're at - Reasonably new pilot, a little experience, and after going through almost constant training for your private and then instrument rating You have been spending a lot of time on proceedures, how to do things right, then what to do when they go wrong, and reviewing all the things that can go wrong. You have been concentrating on the negatives almost constantly.

Then You're reading a good bed time book "the killing zone" and like reading NTSB reports which are informative and to be learned from - sometime we forget the whole reason many of us fly in the first place - is because we ENJOY IT!

I suggest taking small breaks - remember to enjoy your flying - go for some sightseeing flights or whatever- don't forget your training, but don't concentrate only on the negatives and all the bad stuff.
Then go back to your training with a little fresh approach, and remember You ENJOY this stuff.

Many of Us go through the same phases - and it helps to take a flight once in a while just for FUN.

On "accidents"  -  its been studied that usually an accident happened not just because of one mistake or misjudgement, but rather a series of bad judgements or missed opportunities, where the pilot had more than one opportunity to correct the situation before it progressed to "too late".  With that in mind keep a fresh open mind, follow your training, and establish your own minimums - what you'll accept as go or no-go.

If  the "wild cards" or unknowns start cropping up - one can be a consideration, two a reason for action, and the third in a row usually puts you at or near an emergency situation - its been restated differently, but use you're ability to look for trends and Your opportunity to break the chain of an accident, it will help to have a fresh mind at the time.

But remember to enjoy your flight - that's why you're doing this.

0.01

Ken Wanagas

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Re: The Fear Factor

My instructor said, "In God we Trust.  But lets drop that nose and give Him a couple of extra knots to make his job easier."

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Re: The Fear Factor

I would like to thank everyone very much for all of your excellent inputs.
The "fear factor" hasn't been as bad in the couple of flights I have made since posting the message.  I also spoke with my CFI, as well as some other pilots about thie issue of anxiety.  I must say I was comforted in knowing that it is a common feeling among pilots.  Another step I took was to double check my preflight and to get back to using the checklist...all the time.
These steps have all but eliminated the fear factor for now.  It almost seems as if all I had to do was vent to everyone about the issue. 
Again, thank you all for your advice!

Rich

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Re: The Fear Factor

This is an excellent thread. I'd like to reprint this in the Cessna Owner magazine, unless any of you object. I use first names only and no identifying information.

Jennifer

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Re: The Fear Factor

Rich,

I remember having a similar conversation with a trusted CFI when I had about the same number of hours you have. He said that something "happened" at about 200 hours - things became clearer and fell into place for him.

And the same happened to me. Maybe it is a combination of training, experience and confidence, but I became much more comfortable in my flying at about that point.

Also, I think it is possible to focus TOO much on the negative. I had to give up reading the NTSB reports - much preferring columns such as "I learned from that", and anything Rod Machado writes.

You sound like the kind of pilot I like to fly with.

Tailwinds,

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Re: The Fear Factor

I am an instrument rated pilot with approximately 800 hours over the last twenty five years (most in the last ten years). Have owned a 172 for the last ten years.
I love to fly, but sometimes have the slightest bit of apprehension, which I regard as a good thing. If I go long periods of not flying, the apprehension can easily develop into a fear. I overcome this by finding an instructor, and polishing up my skills dual. I give it whatever time it takes!
In addition to this, I focus less on the ntsb articles, and more on the positive fun stories.
There are several pilots I know, that I suspect have quit flying because they have not found a way to overcome this same situation. Threads like this are excellent, as they help put things into perspective. There is comfort knowing that what you are experiencing is not necessarily uncommon.
I would imagine a great number of pilots choose not to admit having experienced this.

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Re: The Fear Factor

I have to jump in on this one as the thread hit a chord with me.

I own a sharp, low time 172.  I have 140 hours now...and...no PPL yet!  All requirements are done except for the solo cross country.

A little background:  I started soaring at 16 and loved it.  I ran out of money before college and never finished.  Now, at 38, I have the resources to do all of those things I put off.  I started my PPL just about two years ago now.  I flew a lot initially and soloed within a couple of months (it was a non event).  I had no trouble with any of the training and my primary instructor had no trouble with my sign off.  I've flown several hundred mile dual cross countrys, two solid IFR most of the way.  I normally fly out of Class C but have been into Class B.  I didn't have a problem with any of this.  I also have 5.6 hours solo to the practice area and to another airport I was signed off for.

A little over a year ago I reserved my favorite 152 for my solo cross country.  It was a perfect, no wind CAVU day.  I had the plane running and was listening to ATIS when an apprehension came over me.  I sat there for a few minutes trying to figure out what the problem was.  I couldn't think of anything but the apprehension grew.  I shut the plane down and went to the parking lot to think about it.  I didn't want to fly....

I never overcame this apprehension.  Since that time, I've been soloed four more times and have flown with several instructors.  Not one instructor could find anything wrong with my flying or my judgement.  I have noticed that my patterns have gotten sloppier (stall/spin fears) and that I can't bring myself to do steep turns or stalls easily; when I can choke one out I am very nervous and break out in a sweat.  I even had a stage check with a DE who told me I would have passed my PPL with no trouble.

So here I am having not flown in four months (ok, so the weather in western NY has a lot to do with this).  I miss it every day.  My plane sits in the hangar with me going out to visit it and keep it clean.  I am about as frustrated as I can get yet I don't know what to do at this point.  I plan on flying again when the weather clears, partly to scratch the itch and partly to see if my feelings have changed since I flew last.

I have plenty of time, plenty of exposure, a good plane and some solo time away from the pattern.  Anyone experience this before or have any ideas?  I'm near the give-it-up point but I know that I'll regret that worse than killing myself in an airplane!

If this were Dear Abby I'd sign "Anonymous," but, what the heck,
Gary

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Re: The Fear Factor

Dear Anonymous Gary...

You might give some thought to getting some spin training.
Get an instructor that you're comfortable with and one that's comfortable with spins...maybe even an instructor that does a bit of aerobatics.
Have him/her demonstrate a spin.  See and understand (first hand) what it actually takes to make the plane spin.  Being told is one thing...being there is another.  Then you can give it a try...be careful..they can become fun (for some of us)
I know I was scared sh....oops...spitless befor my first one.  About the 3rd time, it started falling into place and it was fun.
Once you actually know how to get into a spin....you have a MUCH better understanding of how NOT to do one.
....at least that would be my opinion...
I think we all have had our unexplainable moments at one time or another

blue skies...go have some fun!!
Michael

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Re: The Fear Factor

Hi Rich:

I know what you mean.  I was always confident behind the yoke until tragically, my uncle/flight instructor crashed and all four were killed.  The tragic part, was the airplane fell into Lake Michigan, 3 miles off shore and the NTSB is not mandated to go after private aircraft in water.  So, what caused a 34,000 hour pilot to fall out of the sky?  To this day, we do not know what happened.

My uncle could tell stories, in those 34,000 hours of flight time...of getting the plane back on the ground in various emergencies.

I stopped flying for 7 months.  I could not get my mind off of his crash and it could happen to me.  But, then I decided, that his crash is one in a million and I know that he would not want me to stop flying.

After getting the log books to the aircraft he rented...there were many discrepancies and lack of maintenance abound in the logs.  So, I just needed to develop confindence in my equipment.  I had another A&P Mechanic look thru the log books and confirm that everything is up to par.  Also, looking at the majority of NTSB reports...most are pilot error.  What happened to my 34,000 hour uncle was clearly an inflight structural failure, which he could do nothing about.

So, I got my CFII and got back in the air.  He gave me an in-depth BFR...must say...I was shaking a bit during the stalls.  But, it did give me confidence and I remain flying today...knowing that my uncle would want it that way.

Continue to fly and each time you will develope confidence.  One thing my uncle always told me is that a little anxiety is good.  The airplane does not care how many hours you have.

Blue skies and Tailwinds!

Trevor

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Re: The Fear Factor

Gary,

We're all complicated creatures and I don't know you from Adam.  Nevertheless, could your fear have nothing to do with flying and something else in your life has changed that is manifesting in a fear of flying by yourself.  For example, something happen to shake your self-confidence in some other area of life?  Someone you know die recently or get injured in an accident?  Lose a job?  Fear of success or achievement?

Good luck and hope you don't giveup. 

By the way how are you maintaining that C172 without flying it?

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Re: The Fear Factor

<HTML>I've been flying since 1971, 33 years now, and when I hit those spells where I don't fly much, I find myself getting nervous when I start flying again.  For me it's the worry of forgetting to check something, so I start using check lists (with a 172) and flying by myself so that I won't be distracted by some well-meaning, chattering na-bob of a passenger.  Turbulence is another thing that bothers me more than in the past.  I like it nice and smooth so I can concentrate on what I'm doing in the cockpit, navigating, reading the map, scanning the horizon....etc., etc.... Years ago I didn't mind being bounced around like a ping-pong ball..heck it was fun..but not now.  Maybe I'm just getting old.  "Old" is the opposite of bold in the saying.."There are Old Pilots and Bold Pilots, but no Old, Bold Pilots."  The more often I fly and take trips ..even short trips, the more confidence I re-develop, so for me anyway it's a matter of getting out to the airport and flying, flying, flying. The more I do it, the more I remember how much fun it is, and why I still love doing so much. 

just my 2 cents.</HTML>

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Re: The Fear Factor

Thanks to all.  I have been advised to go up with the Chief instructor and do some spins-not sure I want to, though.  When the weather clears, and my schedule allows, I plan on going up again to see if some of the fears have dissipated.  This is very frustrating for me as I really do love to fly.

I put my plane on leaseback for IFR training.  With the extra cost of insurance for leaseback it's not financially a plus but with the plane flying I think I'm staving off more expensive repairs which might be incurred from sitting.  It has become a favorite and is flying regularly.  I know, and trust, all of the pilots who fly it and they're not inclined to beat it up.  There is one retired CFI who takes it weekly for three to four hours.  If my plane isn't available he doesn't fly that day.

My fears are mostly internal and are largely unwarranted however I don't want to fly solo again until I get them under control.

Thanks again,
Gary

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Re: The Fear Factor

Gary-

If you're not comfortable with spin training - then don't do it, either at all or at least untill you're ready and want to (make sure - sure that your aircraft is capable of spins - many regular planes don't handle spins very good all the time).
That's concentrating on the negative aspects again. On an additional note - some instructors have suggested - "I'll show you a wing over, or lets practice spins" - not all the aircraft they were using were capable of those things and some found out the hard way, which ended their career, Others that I know of have practiced emergencies intensly - to the point they created a real emergency - and some of them were good instructors. I have had an instructor many years ago who was "a good instructor" - "you'll be a good pilot if you survive his instruction". Unfortunately that was before I knew enough about weather and planes to not appreciate this guy - luckily I lived long enough, learned, then got a new instructor - but not before this instructor put us both in some real life threatening situations.  Fly like you have been taught, use your proceedures, and if you're not comfortable doing something - especially if it seems like you're pushing the limits of the plane or yourself then don't do it - at least untill you have more information and - and - feel like you're ready for it.

Go back to flying within your personal limits and remember to have fun. If you want to take some dual instruction then by all means do so - but it doesn't always have to be "intense" - take dual, follow proceedures, and enjoy the flight.

I've taken dual occasionally so I could "sightsee" - a point I advised the instructor of before we left the runway, and it was an enjoyable flight.

Ken Wanagas

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Re: The Fear Factor

You will be fine..
my very good instructor once reminded me that human beings weren't meant to fly and have every reason to be worried when at altitude.  it is good to be a little scared.
that said why fly if you are always spooked? answer: it does get better and easier
same instructor said "you know, there will come a time when flying is relaxing!" ( yea right! i'm sweatin here!)  he was right again..i worry more before i fly now than while i fly (once i'm airborne i figure just play it out!)
just remember that there is a finite but acceptable risk associated with leaving the ground, but as a pilot you just be sure you don't add to that risk with mechanical, fuel, navigation or pilot errors.  have fun!  steve

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