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


Playing music in the present

Like every Friday in these last two months, I have been wondering whether to come back to my orchestra. I have been taking a break since last Christmas.

Rehearsals in the school’s theatre

They are a lovely bunch of people who have fun when playing music together. When I joined, they accepted me with open arms, and they were my first group of friends I made in Berlin. The conductor instead seemed (at least in particular moments, near important concerts) more focused on results and concerts. Most musicians managed to ignore or absorb his prompts and the atmosphere remained usually calm and pleasant.

However, as I sometimes play the drums (mostly replacing the first drummer, rarely on my own initiative), I felt more exposed, because the conductor only recently (realised?) told me how he needs the drummer’s role to be: he/she should be his closest musician, because most of the orchestra tends to listen to the drummer instead of paying attention to him directly. I find this a clever idea; but I don’t feel able to fill that position. My dearest memories with the orchestra are the ones when I am in a pleasant harmony with my fellow players, like a jazz ensemble, mumbling music together, listening to each other – and these moments were invariably interrupted by the conductor, who desperately wanted my focus back on him, in order to regain control over the speed and dynamics of the whole orchestra. I felt woken up from a dream, sometimes too rudely (well, anyone woken up from a dream would see it as rude, I suppose).

I thought about that a lot and finally realised that the role he needs is not the role I have in mind for myself, and my attempts to walk in his direction both exhausted me and were objectively unsuccesful. Therefore I said I needed a break and left for now six months.

What I love is to play music in the present. That means to play music with attention and concentration, becoming aware of notes, of details, of my fellow musicians. The time for the future is before and after the playing session – not during it! – it is the selection of pieces for an upcoming concert, and the careful comments after the repetitions. But without playing in the present, there is no music, there is only a lot of stress when you realise how uncertain is the piece – and after playing, you can’t see the things who went well, because they are initially hard to spot, so few in the middle of a lot of mistakes and uncertainty. Everyone could say that the piece is not ready; but it takes a careful ear to spot the little improvements, that are the minimal, crucial building foundations for further work.

If I were a more skilled drummer, or a cooler-headed horse, I wouldn’t have suffered that much under the strain. But repetitions were my time for drums practice, not for judgment. I felt sometimes that a repetition was in fact as stressful as a concert. I still fear that, therefore I think I’ll skip rehearsals one more time tonight.


On acting, on roles

I had planned a book review for today, but either it is too long since I read the books I’d love to talk about, either I borrowed them and can not go through my bookmarks to find the excerpts I cherished the most.

So, let today’s post be a reflection on acting and on the roles you can build, or have to fit in, as a human being. I have been fascinated by how the actors of Sherlock have created such rich characters, full of little details and vibrant from emotions, but without identifying themselves in them (you can see how they appear outside of the stage, and even briefly when they pop out of their character’s role on stage. Intriguing). I wondered how it would feel to keep being a given character in real life, and concluded that it would not be possible – as much as a statue or a painting are not as alive as the subject they represent. The way in which these actors carefully build their own characters, line by line, gesture by gesture, is the most artificial way that I can imagine. No one could create his/her image for the public like this, without feeling the varying gap between the character’s personality and his/her own, and suffering from it. There would never be room for truly natural behaviour, as everything would have to be considered by the mind-director before being executed.

Still, I find that the acting process is able to generate extremely valuable insights in one’s own personality. A particular ease or difficulty in acting a line tells much on how one built him/herself during the years; and the stage offers a relatively safe place to test  changements, because it is not you, rather your character who is in the spotlight.

Let me conclude with my love for the backstage – for the basement where the statue stands – for the closeness of actors beyond their characters – for the privilege of knowing how a magic trick (let it be a play, a concert, a dance show, a cooking recipe!) comes to life – for the sweet, subtle pleasure to be among the magicians.