Pilot Flying and Pilot Monitoring

On the wave of aviation themed posts, I add one more about the coordination and workload split between pilots. I have no direct experience nor reports, so my considerations are more around the mental model than actual practice or official guidelines.

Here are my sources for this post: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_flying – itself sourcing https://www.skybrary.aero/articles/pilot-flying-pf-and-pilot-monitoring-pm – and a few posts from https://aviation.stackexchange.com/ .

My summary is as follows: there is no way for a pilot alone to fly the plane while keeping track of everything and also communicating (not even during emergencies and especially not during emergencies), which implies that there is no way for a pilot alone to bear the responsibility about the flight. That responsibility is then shared in the form of an agreement of division of labor: one is the Pilot Flying (airplane controls) and the other is the Pilot Monitoring (monitor the flight management and aircraft control actions of the Pilot Flying and carry out support duties such as communications and check-list reading). That’s an effective way to handle the sum of tasks – even if the roles could not be swapped.

What makes the model really great for me is that it clearly sets the modes of switching between the two roles, based on the skills equivalence of the two pilots. First of all it removes ambiguity, so that there is no risk of any “oh I thought you were on this”, which would clearly lead to life-threatening situations for a flying airplane (and is the main, probably only, reason that this protocol has been developed). Of course I see that in other situations there is no equivalent damage to avoid – but still, I value the clarity of the model in more ordinary settings, even only to remove extra effort of fixing things or catching up.

I have been often in the situation where tasks had to be distributed among people, but much less often in the situation that roles were swapped with a clean handover like the one described in the PF/PM procedures. I’m getting close to this at work right now and the ultimate joy is not so much that it is happening, but that is explicit and agreed upon.

Airbus A380 cockpit.jpg
By Naddsyhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/83823904@N00/64156219/, CC BY 2.0, Link


Wanting – what it means

I’ll write a short post, even if my thoughts on the topic are long and winded.

I’m often not comfortable with the word/concept of “wanting” and I use it very rarely. I definitely avoid using it when talking about objects or even food.

I have noticed that most people I know use the word to mean “I have a goal and I will achieve it” or at least “I’m invested in something”.

For me both sentences are not well translated by “wanting” that thing. I may set a goal for myself and achieve it, but I notice that my success either depends more on the favorable context than my ability to overcome issues (sometimes there are very few and it’s not really a matter of any effort or even willpower), or when the goal requires new/better skills, I work on those, and that’s the focus.

I may be invested in something, but not because there is any personal result, rather because I care about the thing and work on supporting it.

In both situations, a personal goal doesn’t raise (nor is the product of) strong emotions. I feel much more push and adrenaline when it’s about a shared objective with positive outcomes for more people/etc than myself.

Writing this brings me to think that my thoughts around “wanting” may be the sign of more profound schemas that are not centered around the self (for a set of reasons that I’m currently researching). I’ll keep working on this.

Phugoid and mental setup

It is a quite technical post, and I hope I get my metaphor through. Bear with me!

The concept of phugoid comes from airplane flight and has been identified as a basic aircraft mode of motion, that oscillates between nose-up and nose-down, in a cyclic motion. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phugoid .

I initially felt a similarity with my own mental states, but I could not feel that my own mental states converged towards smaller oscillations as it was described for commercial airplanes, whose very shape dampens the phugoid.

I kept reading and found a more detailed explanation at https://aircraftflightmechanics.com/Dynamics/ModesofMotion.html, that made clear that commercial aircraft are DESIGNED+REQUIRED that phugoid motions get damped, while not-commercial aircraft (military, but experimental designs too) are subject to phugoid motions that diverge, and need to be handled as devices that are not going to stabilise themselves.

I took some time to carefully read through the article. I needed some time to realise that my own mind actually has a diverging phugoid mode.

It was liberating! I got the hint that I needed to handle my mind as something that is not inherently stable. No judgment, no expectation, no sadness, no nothing – just an established instability I have to deal with, and I am ready+willing to deal with, like a skilled pilot.

Bilingual in areas

Recently I read an article about bilingual people’s brain activity according to language spoken/read. I honestly don’t remember much of the methods nor conclusions, but I thought about my use of languages, and it’s quite evident that I’m not even fully bilingual when I consider the two languages I learned as a child. Especially back then, each language belonged to non overlapping environments (home, school, books, movies…), and even growing up, each environment kept its language or at least its strongly preferred language.

That’s why I don’t see myself as bilingual in the sense of being able to use any of the two languages interchangeably. Not to mention the two more languages I learned later in life, that are even more markedly domain-specific.

Dolphins with hands

During a recent conversation, a friend told me “Imagine how powerful/effective a dolphin would be if it were fitted with hands it could control, it would probably make humans look stupid in comparison, as it could finally make use of its great intelligence”.

I tried to take a breath before answering, but I immediately thought “Are you implying that dolphins are living massively below their potential because of their hand-less bodies? Do we even understand how their lives and world views are? Are we maybe unaware of something important that we could learn from them instead?”

Then my thoughts took a turn towards “Why always evaluate animals’ performance using normal-human standards as the goal, and judge them as less developed, or worse, that they would live better if they were more human-like in their actions and aspirations?”

Then I only answered out loud: “Isn’t it the usual human focus at play? I bet the dolphin chosen for the experiment would be bullied because it’s not human but dares to challenge humans’ achievements, probably bullied harder if it’s smart, or more cruelly, if it’s not that smart for human standards, as if it were the proof that all dolphins were overestimated in their potential? Like what happens to neurodivergent people? I don’t wish to dolphins to be treated like this.”


Difficult to pick words in this time and place. I feel that speaking about my thoughts like I did in recent posts is irrelevant in light of how other people’s lives are and will be devastated. I am not scared for myself or my future – no matter what happens, and (sadly!) not due to my actions, my life will not be hit as badly as the lives of so many people. I feel lucky, but I wish someone else received my share of luck and opportunities.

I am overwhelmed and speechless, but I don’t want to isolate myself from what is happening. I find that staying calm and positive in such times is either the product of an exceptionally stable mind, or of an aggressive (to the point of looking inhuman) filter on inputs. I struggle talking about this, as strong emotions and projections make the discussion derail, leaving me more confused than before.

Mind garbage collection

Here is one more post for the series “short posts about big topics”.

This time I will describe a behaviour of my mind that can be compared to the garbage collection feature of programming languages. For a computer program, it is a way of removing objects from memory when they are no longer used. This can happen behind the scenes or be manually controlled, and is necessary to avoid memory being saturated by items no longer in use. For a programmer, it is an art in itself to be able to juggle a collection of items that would overflow the available memory, by having at each instant only the item or part of item that is actually needed.

I noticed that my mind is able to do this decluttering work too, but at two conditions: the task has to be properly completed (more on “properly completed” below) and the stress level has to be low. This has some impractical implications: long-haul or non-progressing tasks stay in memory until they are complete, because the cost of recalling everything about a suspended task is high, and considered higher than keeping the task in memory as is; the mind’s threshold for “properly completed” is quite high, so tasks need more work/time/attention than average to be allowed to leave memory; and last but the most critical of all, if I’m stressed I actively keep in mind more inputs than usual, to counteract my mind’s emergency garbage collection (which can’t properly keep really important tasks), and I rely more heavily on tasks’ completion to prove myself I’m still functional, both of which further extend the time an item stays in memory and makes overflows happen faster and more often. This is another way of describing the behaviour of my mind, which shares similarities with the “fragile autopilot” metaphor.

I didn’t describe this mechanism to receive feedback about how to change it. Of course a major review will make sure that the mind always has free space for new tasks, but at the cost of too many other features/behaviours that I consider fundamental in allowing myself to consider this loose puzzle of body and thoughts as “myself” (there is more about that, but for another time). I am actually able to function and even shine, when the conditions are favorable; I just recently started the process of identifying those conditions, and I have no practice about making my needs clear, so for the short/mid term I will have to live with memory management issues and temporary workarounds. It’s not that bad, because I know how crashes look like, but it’s surely a lot of work. Thanks to all the people who are patient with me during this phase, and thanks for all supportive inputs 🙂


One more post of the series “short posts about big topics”.

Today’s topic is predictability. As a disclaimer, I want to say that I was often able to hide it and looked like I was ready to improvise, while I actually had rehearsed the possible two or three scenarios in advance. So much for being praised for credible masking. I don’t think I would have acted differently back then, because looking “normal” was pretty much a requirement from the outside world, not something I voluntarily decided to burden myself with.

But I want to come back to the topic. Predictability took for me one main shape, that is the ability to rehearse written music in my various orchestras and choirs, and being able to exactly predict what was going to happen, because it was literally written down note by note. In choir music it’s how it is written – rarely you get only your own notes, while the norm is to get the full four-voice score. It is a supreme joy to see all the notes on the paper become notes in reality, and me being able to read a few bars in advance, sometimes more, sometimes waiting for a specific section to sing a specific part, and melting when that finally happens, at the precise time, not earlier, not later. When it comes to orchestral/band music, the opposite is the norm, that is, each gets their own notes, only the conductor gets the full score. In a few occasions I was able to read the full conductor score and I got the same profound satisfaction about seeing notes on paper, and soon afterwards hearing them played by exactly those instruments.

Percussion notes, SBO rehearsals (2017)

Another, apparently unrelated, area where predictability reigns, is track driving. I was only once on a F1 track for a day of “Freies Fahren”, and as a passenger, I must say I enjoyed all of it – I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I had to drive myself (so many decisions to take!). As a passenger I took one lap to learn the bends of the circuit (and got surprised+scared once), and from that moment onwards it was pure enjoyment. I knew in advance how each curve would feel, and looked forward for each of them, instead of notes, acceleration and bits of drifting (we were often excused, as the weather was rainy and the track slippery). I can’t really tell if I liked predictability more than the actual driving, but I want to confirm that it was one of the rare experiences I remember as entirely positive and safe. The track is indeed very large and meant for much higher speeds than an ordinary car can achieve, and the surrounding gravel/dirt areas are much larger than any road would offer, so I felt way safer than in everyday traffic. It was movement, in a form that made so much sense to me – much more than moving my own body.

Spa-Francorchamps track, in the BMW Motorsport division colors

This is to say that I need at least one area where things happen as I expect them to, and get really upset if they don’t. I know that many people can rely on a bunch of processes and people to be consistent in time, and therefore are ready to accept surprises and unpredictability elsewhere; in my case, as many of these areas are not predictable, I need some other processes/people to be consistent, and it sometimes comes out as demanding, or at least unexpectedly demanding. I used to apologise for it and hide my needs, and I don’t do that anymore; still, it looks odd, but I stand my ground.

There is much more to say about this topic, but these two examples are the shiniest and clearest I can think of. I may write more in a further post, and would happily respond to comments to this post. Until next time, take care!