In life, it is often said, “attitude is everything!”

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“In life,” it is often said, “attitude is everything!”

After all, keeping a positive outlook can really help one as they go about their day to day tasks. Looking on the bright—or sunny—side of things often eases a tough day. When everything seems to be crumbling and not go anything like you had hoped (for instance—your last attempt at a steep turn, or a “soft” soft-field landing!) how we respond to it will certainly have an effect on those who surround us—and ourselves.

Whatever happens in life, keeping a good attitude can make all the difference. Having a bad attitude, however, can end up breaking us.

“In life,” it is often said, “attitude is everything!”

It also turns out that this adage ends up being true whenever we go flying.

Proof of this can be found in an equation that all of us have learned and memorized from our earliest days of flying. It goes like this:


How often have you heard your instructor say “Watch your attitude?” Well, it is for good reason! Of course, it isn’t for quite the same reason that your Mom had when she used to warn you about a certain something with that “Motherly” tone of voice. You know—the one that she used on you when you refused to eat your broccoli! Rather, your instructor is appealing to the “equation” that we learned so early in our flight training—and to the very subject of our discussion here.

Last year at Oshkosh I can remember a number of pilots who sported fun T-Shirts that smartly gave this equation in a humorous pictorial form. What’s better, this shirt neatly linked together the sound of your Mom admonishing you to eat your broccoli with this important element of the flying world!

You see, these shirts have a drawing or a photo of an attitude indicator, and then just below it the phrase “Watch your Attitude!” They sell like crazy! I can hardly wait until someone comes up with the idea to link a button on the shirt to a battery pack that when pressed will utter the “watch your attitude” phrase in a voice that sounds just like Mom! Just imagine the sales then!

That aside–one of the most amusing things about these shirts is that attitude indicator is typically drawn showing the blue on the bottom, and the brown on top! This should not happen! (Unless, of course, you are doing aerobatics. That, however, is another story for another day!)

Now, before I go too much further, I want to take you back to the basics again. Yes, in time, that attitude indicator will be a much bigger part of your flying. This will become particularly apparent when you enter the world of instrument flying. For now, however, I want you to go back to grade school. Don’t stare at the attitude indicator. Now don’t go ignoring it entirely, but do not place your eyeballs on it in such a steady and laser like gaze that it starts burning holes in your instrument panel!


Well, back to the basics. Remember that as a VFR pilot, you are supposed to spend the most of your time looking outside. You see, that is where all of the other planes will be in their VFR worlds, and missing them is contingent on your eyeballs being outside! (By missing them I mean “not colliding” into them!)

The various flying “attitudes”—as we all should know by now—are not based on the way that you feel in the morning. Rather, our attitude when flying is based on the way things look outside. Where exactly are my nose and my wings relative to that horizon that I see in the distance?

If you don’t know this, then you are likely in big trouble!

The secret to good flying is maintaining a good attitude!

Now that said, let us not forget about the second part of the equation. Power is also an important component. Having a degree of strength gives us the ability to let that attitude act! (Ha! Get it?)

Put the nose in a certain position relative to the horizon, and your plane will behave a certain way. If we put the nose too high with not enough power, then we end up in a stall—as the saying goes, the houses get smaller. However, they will only do this for a little while, and then they will get bigger! Put the nose too low with too much power, and we are soon screaming along at the redline mark on our airspeed indicator. Doing this too much is certain to send pieces of our plane in every which direction—but mostly down. Down as in kind of like the broccoli that you would throw on the floor in a vain attempt to get your dog Fido to eat it.

(“Hmmmm…” you may have wondered, “if Fido won’t eat the broccoli, then can it really be all that good for me anyway?”)

It is important to memorize the various attitudes and the corresponding power settings that your instructor shows you. Watch where your nose is relative to the horizon, and be able to see small changes in the order of half degrees. Your airspeed indicator, Altimeter, VSI, and all those other performance instruments will then do exactly what you want them to be doing. They will become obedient to your every wish, instead of you seemingly having to constantly chase them and try to make them behave.

In fact, don’t forget that if you spend too much time chasing the instruments (too much head inside!) instead of keeping that attitude outside alright (more of the eyeball out!) it may turn out that your attitude Indicator ends up showing blue on bottom and brown on top.

This is just like those funny T-Shirts! Should you find brown on top, I can guarantee you that you will hear your instructor sounding very much like your Mom!

“Watch your attitude!”

Always strive to keep the sunny side up, (well, blue, actually!) and you will likely find that many things in flying—like in life—will go so much the better!

Aaron Doherty

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