Instructor-induced stupidity

First, a quick recap: this past weekend I had two flights planned. One of them went off OK, the other didn’t. My original plan was to fly 706 down to Louisiana with the boys to see my mom, grandmother, and family in Houma, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria. However, David and Tom were both working each day of the long weekend, so that wasn’t going to work. Instead, I planned to take Matt for a $100 hamburger, then take all 3 boys to Atlanta to eat at Ted’s on Monday after Cotton Row.

Matt and I flew to Anniston and had a fantastic meal at Mata’s (thanks to Bo for the recommendation!)  That gave me the opportunity to practice hot starts, which are a little tricky with fuel-injected Lycoming engines, at least until you get used to them. Sadly, the weather on Monday worsened before we were able to go anywhere, and this weekend is looking pretty crappy too.

Anyway, enough about that. This week’s FLYING LESSONS newsletter was typically excellent– it put a name to a phenomenon I’ve both seen and demonstrated: instructor-induced stupidity.

That the pilot raised the landing gear even while continuing to flare and touch down suggests what may really have been going on was a condition I call Instructor-Induced Stupidity. I credit a student of mine with coining the phrase “instructor-induced stupidity” to describe the tendency of a flight student to defer decision-making or responding to aircraft indications when there’s an instructor on board.

As a student pilot, it’s natural to defer to the instructor; after all, that’s why you’re there. If you read the entire article (which isn’t very long), you’ll see that the possible outcomes of IIS include gear-up landings, unsafe maneuvers, and general tomfoolery. It is fairly easy to unlearn this habit during initial training, but I can see how it might persist when flying with a new instructor, or in a different type of airplane, even with a well-experienced pilot. I did it once on my private-pilot checkride; the examiner called for a power-on stall, and I gave her one, all right, of such degree that we got to see the chevrons (see this video at about 0:22, except that I was pitching up, not down). The hell of it was, I knew better: a classic case of induced stupidity.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to flight instruction, either; I’ve seen it many times when teaching otherwise intelligent and capable people about Exchange, Windows, and other related topics, and I’ve seen it in consulting engagements too: sometimes people seem to just lose their decision-making ability and judgment when placed in a situation where there is someone who (at least on paper) is more knowledgable or experienced. Maybe a better phrase for it would be “authority-induced stupidity”.

To counteract it, you have to remember to own what you own: when you’re pilot-in-command, or in charge of an Exchange deployment, or responsible for planning an event, don’t turn off your brain just because an authority is present or involved. Like so many aspects of human behavior, this is easy to say but harder to do!

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