Setting aside the technical missteps Kennedy made that night, let’s consider the possibility that he also might have been a victim of a more insidious danger—dangerous thinking. Kennedy might have fallen prey to some of the hazardous attitudes that can cloud judgment, sway decision making, and blur the clear view of risks.
One hazardous attitude is machismo, the attitude that makes pilots tell themselves, “I can do whatever I set my mind to, and I’ll prove it.” Another is a sense of invulnerability. Sometimes, the reasoning goes, “I’ve seen other pilots take off in worse conditions than this, and nothing ever happened to them.” In other cases, it might sound
like this: “I’ve always been able to get myself out of scrapes before.” In any case, the pilot who feels invulnerable ultimately thinks “Nothing bad is going to happen to me.”
Hazardous attitudes like these, and others that demonstrate impulsiveness, resignation to fate, and rebellion against authority, are as potentially dangerous as flying with an invisibly cracked propeller: It might not happen on this flight or the next, but eventually the hidden danger will become all too obvious—all too late.
Some of the most challenging "‘intangible" lessons that instructors sometimes have to teach is the danger of hazardous attitudes. Many students take longer to break hazardous attitudes than they do to learn the most advanced flying skills. When it comes to hiring professional pilots at airlines or elsewhere, hiring officials may spend more time trying to detect potentially dangerous attitudes in a pilot than anything else. That’s why airline job interviews include not only technical examinations but also questioning by experienced pilots and psychologists.
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