Vulnerability alert! I debated wether to share this or not, and I initially decided not to… but then I got a few DMs from discouraged pilots, so I thought it was time for me to open up about a mistake I made while flying last week. No pilot wants to admit they aren't perfect, so here goes nothing.
This past Thursday-Sunday was my OE (Initial Operator’s Experience on the A220) flight with a checkairman. Days 1-3 of the trip went pretty well, and then things got a bit interesting on Sunday flying from SLC to SFO. There was still a lot of OE information to talk about, so the checkairman taught me basically the entire time we were not in sterile flight deck (sterile flight deck is when only essential topics pertinent to that phase of flight should be discussed; cruise flight is not considered sterile flight deck).
With plenty of flight time remaining, but my head still trying to absorb all the information we had just discussed, I had the captain fly the aircraft (basically monitor the autopilot at this point), so I could load the approach, brief it, and get my landing data numbers set. It’s been a loooong time since I have flown to San Fransisco, so it took me a bit longer to read through all of the company pages and essential information for this airport. No biggie. We were all set up for an approach on runway 28L when the approach controllers changed our runway to 28R. Also, usually not a big deal. Except that I am not very fast yet at re-loading approaches and runways, etc.
The checkairman took over the airplane again so I could get the practice of loading everything in, but I was feeling incredibly rushed! By the time I was done loading and briefing the approach, we were on downwind. We did the appropriate checklists and then were on base to final. We were cleared for the approach before my head was really in the game, and I forgot to do one very important step when flying with the autopilot on—- I forgot to set a lower altitude for the autopilot to fly. So when I went to descend the airplane, nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing happened. Then I realized what I had done. But it was too late. We were too high to make a stable approach.
I know go-arounds are talked about like it’s no big deal, but when you do it with a plane full of passengers, it feels like a big deal. Of course none of the passengers knew exactly why we did a go-around, they just knew that we did. I was so embarrassed! How could I let myself get rushed like that? Why did I forgot to put in a lower altitude? I have never forgotten to do that before. Doubts about myself and my piloting abilities began to creep in. And I could have let those negative thoughts take over, but I still had to take care of my passengers and my airplane. So I pushed them out, told myself it was okay to do a go-around every now and then, and I kept flying the airplane. I flew a beautiful approach to our original runway 28L and did a nice softish landing.
The checkairman said he was glad that happened so we could practice the go-around maneuver from a higher altitude (we were still about 2,000’ above the airport field elevation). This maneuver is very rarely ever done out of the sim. He wasn’t upset that we did a go-around, especially since I am still learning, but I was upset at myself… which I’m sure every pilot feels when they have to do a go-around.
After all the passengers got off the airplane and I had a moment to myself, I had 2 choices. I could wallow in my error and let it consume me. I could listen to those negative thoughts that said I’m not good enough. Or I could accept the fact that perfection is IMPOSSIBLE, and even though making mistakes sucks, it is part of the learning experience. Instead of dwelling on my mistake, I found the positive—-
I learned how important it is to set in a lower altitude when cleared for an approach. I learned the importance of doing a go-around when the approach isn’t set up perfectly. I learned the importance of slowing down/not letting ATC rush me and how I should have asked for help in loading the box as I am still new at this whole A220 thing. But most importantly, I reminded myself that it is okay to make a mistake every now and then. Though it may seem as though every other pilot is perfect, they just aren’t. They make mistakes too.
So if you are feeling like you are not good enough because your flight lesson didn’t go as planned or because you had to push your checkride date back because you just weren’t ready, DO NOT give up. No person or pilot is perfect. We all make mistakes, but most of us don’t share them. If you make a mistake, you are not alone. I am rooting for you! So please, pick yourself up, find the positive, move on, and remind yourself that you are a badass pilot and that you can do this. I love you!
Until next time, Happy Flying.