“Cautious to Cocky;” Avoid the “6C Progression!”

“Cautious to cocky” is a normal human adaptive behavior, built into our human DNA. This is how humans conquered the globe expanding to 8 billion and wedging many less adaptive creatures into extinction. Experiences that are initially “weird” or “scary” inevitably become the “new normal.” This is a process called “normalizing.” As pilots,  “weird” or “scary” soon becomes “every day OK.” We have to be wise enough to stop at “confident” rather than proceed all the way to “cocky.” Needless to say “normalizing” paves the way directly into an accident. Where and how do we draw a sensible line to maintain safety? What level of confidence is appropriate?

Normalizing is “a process where a clearly unsafe practice comes to be considered normal if it does not immediately cause a catastrophe.”

It is almost impossible to draw a safety line independently without an objective standard (consult industry-accepted “Standard Operating Procedures“) and/or an external trusted arbiter for advice.  If you are in doubt (thank goodness for introspection and metacognition), trust your instincts and consult an outside source; this is why mentoring is so valuable. This is the only way to stop our natural progression all the way to stupid (take it from a guy growing up with several brothers). The smartest people in the world (NASA’s “High-Reliability Theory”) are the poster children for “normalizing” something incredibly stupid. If they can do it, it is even easier for us. Awareness of this problem should always be kept in the front of our awareness. Humility is the antidote. Stop at “confident,” and leave the “incredibly stupid/cocky” for YouTube stars. Fly safely out there (and often)!

This blog is directly drawn from Todd Simmons's presentation at Redbird Migration 2022. The accident he describes was covered in detail in AOPA ASI's ‘Real Pilot Story from the Field’ series about his Carbon Cub crash. https://youtu.be/NGt6TmkYdUw

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About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.

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