There’s an expression in the flying world that when your bucket is full you start to get behind the aircraft. Essentially, your mind is like a bucket. When you are sitting at home watching television your bucket is nearly empty, in other words you’re not really using a lot of your brain space. Introduce multiple, complex tasks whilst keeping your hands and feet doing other tasks and your bucket fills up fast. Compound your mind with further tasks with competing priorities and all of a sudden your bucket is full and other less important tasks or simple problems start to trickle over the edges of the bucket, resulting in simple calculations turning into very difficult and delayed ones. It is at this point you can easily get behind the aircraft, i.e. your brain is up to where your aircraft was ten seconds ago. This is a dangerous place to be in and is the reason why fighter pilot selection is brutal in weeding out those who don’t have a big enough bucket.
At a stage in the flight where the bucket was over half full, my testing officer had just taken control of the aircraft as we levelled out at 200-feet above the ground. “Put your hood on”, came the command so I strapped on the ‘hood’, which is like a cap with a giant flap on the front which covers your peripheral and top half of your frontal vision so that you can only see the instrument panel and nothing outside (unless you take a sneaky peek). This is strapped on to simulate getting caught in cloud and is used to practice, or in this case to test, your ability to fly using the instruments alone. “Handing over, emergency diversion to the Sunshine Coast please.” Being so polite, how I could I say no to Captain Cool, so I took back the controls and started the commanded procedure. I was at 200-feet, potentially 15 seconds from my very own crash site, and with no outside vision (fortunately Captain Cool was keeping an eye out for me) asked to do an emergency diversion procedure, which involves drawing approximate track lines on a map, tuning and announcing on the correct frequencies after finding them in the reference books, and adjusting the flight plan, all whilst avoiding hills that were twice as high as I was. I could feel the bucket filling fast. Whether it was due to the absolute calmness of my testing officer or just well delivered training, I remained in control and successfully got us both out of that little predicament. After about fifteen minutes, I removed the hood and we continued onto the Sunshine Coast airport to conduct a few circuits and then headed for home. Captain Cool tried to get me off balance on the way back with a few more emergency scenarios as well as setting me up in a position where if I wasn’t on my A-game and knowing exactly what was going on around me I would have breached airspace restrictions which would have resulted in a swift failure. Responding to each problem appropriately then heading for home, Captain Cool was still making himself out to be someone who could fall asleep during a grand final footy match and didn’t say another word for the rest of the flight. After landing, I taxied the old bird to the flight line and shut it down. “Pack it up and I will see you inside.” I started to get the feeling he liked to keep me on edge. After over three hours in the air covering almost every mortal possibility a flight could throw at you, I secured the aircraft and walked back to the briefing room with wobbly legs, mentally fatigued but still on alert for Captain Cool to throw any curly questions at me when I got inside.
As I sat down in front of the person who could make or break this test for me, he inquisitively asks, “What happened on the approach into Gympie?” All I could say was, “I think it was just nerves”. I knew it wasn’t, but I had no other excuse for that one key stuff up in the whole test. “I think you did well and made the right decisions. I’m going to pass you, well done.” The sincerity in his words was felt right through me as I stood up and shook his hand. Captain Cool smiled and walked out of the room to get all the paperwork sorted. I sat back down and breathed deeply, feeling excitement running through my drained mind as I thought about how I was starting to tick off the things I wanted to achieve in life. The next thing was sky diving and I thought why not use my new licence to take me to the skydiving field as a reward to myself for achieving what I set out to do. I could fly some of my mates down too, I thought. And I could show them how I easy it is to kill us all on take-off!