Let’s be honest. Airline pilot is not a profession that screams creativity. We’re perceived more as left-brain people. And quite frankly, our passengers want a left-brain person at the pointy end of the airplane. Passengers want their airline pilots to all be Chesley Sullenberger’s. I understand.
Pilots themselves want their fellow crewmember to be left-brain people. We can certainly do without the emotions of a left-brainer dominating in the middle of an engine failure when bells and whistles are sounding in the cockpit.
But during the course of my career, I have never met a more diverse group of creative thinkers then those of my colleagues. Perhaps because the profession demands such a high degree of rigid, left-brain thinking, we escape to the right-brain when away from the cockpit. I have flown with singers, guitar players, farmers, film makers, children’s book illustrators, state representatives, pharmacists, financial advisors, airport owners, attorneys, wine specialists, jewelry salesman, tour operators, dive masters, reality TV stars, boat captains, and authors.
And if you consider that safely operating an airplane requires sound judgment, that fact alone spawns creativity. Judgment is the creative catalyst for appropriate decision-making skills. Not every decision in an airplane can be solved through the use of a checklist. Some emergencies are not by the book.
Consider the 1989 crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. The total hydraulic failure of the DC-10 was not supposed to be a possibility, but it happened nonetheless. If it weren’t for the leadership of the captain and the creative coordination of the other crewmembers, many more people would have lost their lives that day.
The act of controlling a machine in a dynamic, 3-dimensional environment requires special cognitive skills in order to multi-task and make decisions quickly in rapid succession. Many of these cognitive skills are reinforced through the necessity of repetitive training so that they become instinctive, but others require the use of creative problem solving.
Some of the best-known pilots were creative problem solvers. Remember Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission? With only seconds of fuel remaining, a computer screaming potential overload, and the trajectory taking the astronauts away from the planned landing site, Armstrong relied on creative thinking to manually set the lunar module onto a safe surface area of the moon. The rest is history.
What am I really saying? Quite simply: Airline pilots can be creative. With the help of right-brain activity, I’ve written a book that I think readers will enjoy. Maybe I should also consider a landing on Mars. Never mind…. I don’t have enough of either brain.