F. Scott Fitzgerald may have said it best, “the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Behavioral economists refer to this as cognitive dissonance.
In 2017 my Piper Cherokee went into the shop for an engine overhaul. For those unacquainted with piston aircraft, the engine manufacturer recommends for a complete overhaul or replacement after a specified number of hours, in my case 2000. Although not mandatory, flying beyond the time recommended can significantly increase the “pucker factor” and most pilots adhere to this recommendation unless specific factors indicate otherwise. Anyway, I chose an engine shop with an outstanding reputation and just so happens to be close to home. A couple months and several thousands of dollars later, I had a mostly new engine.
On an agreed upon date that the plane would be ready, I had a friend fly me out to the engine shop’s airport to fly her home. As I mentioned, the shop has an outstanding reputation and before reinstalling the engine on the plane, the shop runs the engine on a stand to confirm the engine operates well under all (well mostly all) conditions. However, prior to launch, I opened up the cowl and visually inspected my new engine. Not being a mechanic nor an engineer, I made certain that everything “looked” right. Were any screws missing? Was everything tight? Was there oil? Did the mechanics forget to remove anything from the engine compartment (screwdrivers, rags, etc.)? Did the overall fit and finish appear in order, etc, etc? Once I was satisfied, it was time to close up the cowl, drag it out of the shop’s hanger, start her up and fly. Although aircraft mechanics are very well trained and licensed by the FAA, we all know anyone can made a mistake and that not all mistakes are caught (in time). The first flight with a new engine is a test flight and on that day, I was the test pilot. I started the engine, paying particular attention to how it turned over, the sound and smell. Yes, it really is true that many times you can smell danger. Then the engine run up. Bring the rpm’s up to 2000, check the mags, left only and a drop in rpm’s of 25, then the right and a drop of 35, within limits. Fuel pump cycled on and off, vacuum pressure in the green, alternator cycled on and off, all engine instruments in the green, fight controls checked, and fight instruments checked and set. Time to go. Taxi out to the runway, make the radio calls, line up on the runway centerline, full power and off we go. Down the runway the airspeed indicator comes alive, all engine instruments in the green, the sounds are as they should be, back pressure on the yoke at 60 and into the air. All is going well. In the air its several turns around the airport, fling close in. Should the engine fail, be within gliding distance of the runway. A few more turns, all appears well, time to go home. All went as expected, no hick-ups.
The other day, while at the airport, a friend was to test pilot a Pitts, a small, powerful, fully aerobatic piston plane. I watched as he pre-flighted the plane. Chris is hands down the most skilled pilot that I know. He can make planes do things that simply amaze us mere mortals. Anyway, this day, Chris was test piloting a plane that hadn’t flown in 5+ years, sporting a newly overhauled engine. Once he was satisfied with his ground inspections, he climbed into the cockpit, started her up and taxied for takeoff. We watched as Chris took to the air with his usual finesse and once airborne, circled the airport to assess the operational characteristics of the plane. Coming in for landing, with the throttle back, the engine popped and coughed. It was clear the mechanics needed more time clearing the gremlins from this ship. Once on the ground, Chris explained to the mechanics that the throttle linkages appeared amiss and that the engine had sputtered in flight. There really is a reason they are called test flights!
On a test flight, or for that matter on any flight, a pilot’s responsibility is to hold two opposed ideas firmly in their mind at the same time, while retaining the ability to think clearly. You need to operate the controls normally, while simultaneously running what if scenarios through your mind and planning for the unexpected.
Today’s investors could learn from this mindset. Interest rates are rising, but when will they peak? Inflation is at multi-year highs but declining. Corporate earnings are solid, but for how long? Everywhere there is uncertainty and volatility. But just like a test pilot, now is not the time to come unglued. Now is the time to follow the plan while we simultaneously plan for the unexpected.
As always, we thank you for your business and for your continued trust.
Jack P. Cannata