“How about a cross-country flight instead of a typical check-ride?” Lieutenant Ganser suggested, grinning as he knew the answer before he even asked. The way my eyes lit up only confirmed the presumed response.
You see, in the Navy, before you can fly as a qualified aircrewman aboard any aircraft, you first must complete a check flight – a thorough applied examination of all the assigned aspects of one’s potential role on the airplane. That means not only knowing your own equipment for your specific job, but also, in most cases, all the circuit breakers and emergency procedures on the plane. It’s a wealth of knowledge that can take months to complete.
As I completed my qualification to fly on carrier-based ES-3s, an electronic intelligence collection platform that is now extinct in today’s fleet, I had anticipated with some trepidation my check flight. Not that learning the electronic safety measures was all that challenging; I’d long ago figured out the art of memorization. Nope, it was the “rite of passage” that went along with the check ride that worried me. The actual “exam” portion of the ride, you see, wouldn’t probably last more than 15-20 minutes. The balance of that flight, however, usually consisted of the pilot demonstrating his skill not only at aerial acrobatics, but his egoistic ability to make the novice aircrew puke. Rumor had it that Lt. Ganser was unusually adept at that particular competency.
Yes, I jumped at the chance instead for a cross-country flight. That meant: 1) a fairly straight and level flight, and 2) an expense-free weekend at an airshow, where one signs autographs, talks about the plane, and generally receives celebrity status. Hmmm….where do I sign, right?
So, early the next morning, we climbed into the four-seater and off we headed from Naval Air Station Coronado, California enroute to Missoula, Montana. And what a weekend it was!
Of all the interactions in Missoula, however, one has stuck in my mind for the past fifteen years. A young man walked up wearing a faux letter bomber jacket over a Top Gun film t-shirt. As he swaggered over, peeling his mirrored sunglasses from his face, he looked skeptically at our Shadow aircraft. Lt. Ganser glanced over at me and rolled his eyes.
“What’s this plane’s angle of attack?” the young man asked.
Stone-faced, Lt. Ganser responded, “I’m not sure I understand your question.”
The young man repeated himself.
“Nagle, this one’s all yours,” my pilot chuckled as he turned and walked away.
I stared at the young man. Oh, he was completely serious in his question. No sarcasm or wisecrack intended on his part.
Now, “angle of attack” for an aircraft has several different applications, none of which are specific to that type of aircraft. Regardless, as I attempted to explain the term to the young man, he simply wasn’t buying it. Finally, in total dissatisfaction, he about-faced and marched away, frustrated by my seemingly irreverent answer to what he believed was a fairly straightforward question. As he departed, I could hear Lt. Ganser laughing hysterically on the other side of the plane.
I was reminded of the Missoula Airshow experience last week when listening to a group of business leaders “talking shop” at a local coffee shop. Oh, they new all the business jargon. ROI. Adhocracy. Bandwidth. 360. Bleeding edge. Peer management. Transformational. And yet, in the 10 minutes I overheard, very little of substance was expressed by any of them. Instead, they were simply throwing around terms to sound knowledgeable and erudite.
You see, we’ve all been in situations in our lives where we allowed our interest in learning to be overshadowed by our fear of revealing how little we knew at the moment. That’s what prompted the young man in Missoula to ask his question and stubbornly refuse to acknowledge he had misused a term. Same with the coffee shop business men last week.
So, the next time you aren’t confident about a particular topic, don’t simply resort to “term-dropping.” Instead, simply ask a question. A simple question. And even if you think you’ll look like a fool doing so (which you likely will not), realize that true knowledge is gained through acknowledging where our own experience and intelligence end and new information can be acquired.