Dead Pilots Didn't Ask for Help

While working towards my private pilot’s license, my flight instructor talked about the kind of pilot you don’t want to become. 

A dead one.

Most folks who want to fly are high performing, successful people. 

And, they have egos.

Egos that may not want to admit they need help.

Even if they know they need it, they may not ASK for help.

Ugh, I thought.  That’s not me!

(Slightly cringing here.)

I’m thinking – I’m not going to be the pilot who dies because they are so proud, they can’t ask for help.

For some context, I learned to fly a Cessna 172. It has 4 seats and feels like driving a ’67 Volkswagen bug in the sky.

 After months of flight training with my instructor,  a major step towards getting my license is my first solo flight.  The pilot in training must fly by themselves to a destination at least 50 nautical miles from where they take off, land the plane, turn around and come back home.

Up to that point in my training I flew with my flight instructor right next to me with duplicate controls.  

Planes are like driver’s ED cars.  Remember those!

They have the same set of controls in both front seats. Each pilot can completely control and fly the plane allowing you to learn in real time about the mistakes you are making. For example, if I am lined up for a landing and my angle is going to crash me into the ground, my instructor pulls back on their yoke repositioning the nose for a softer, better landing.

Without my instructor in that seat, there is no one who can correct a mistake or miscalculation.

The only other time I had flown by myself was when my flight instructor surprised me midair, told me to land the plane and pull up to the tower.  She explained that she was getting out and that I would continue my take off procedures without her which meant I would take off and land ALL ALONE.

Terrified doesn’t come close to describing what I felt.

I’m not proud of this – but I shamelessly begged to do it on another day.

Obviously, I survived.

And, I learned I can function terrified.  That is an important insight!

Flying is like a 3D highway without flying lanes.  A big part of flying a small plane is staying in the correct airspace (think freeway) while looking for and avoiding other small planes.  Big planes fly in a different class of airspace, so they aren’t the problem.

To help pilots do that, professional air control folks working in airport towers volunteer to provide radar assistance when asked.  It’s called flight following.  After you exit the airspace where you take off, you contact the next tower in your route and ask for flight following. If they agree to provide it to you, you push some buttons so they can see you on their radar screen.  You need to talk, fly, look for traffic and operate your radio all at the same time.

Making it a little more stressful, the professional air traffic control guys talk fast. 

Really fast. 

In my training, it wasn’t uncommon for me to ask them to repeat their directions to me 3 times.  As a lieutenant in the Fire Service, I spoke on the radio every shift. I thought this would be the easy part!   

Add the stress of my first solo and you can see where this is going, right?

As a female who spent most of my time in male dominated careers (litigator, firefighter) I know first hand the feeling of not wanting to be seen as the weak link.  If I ask for help, my co-workers or boss will think less of me, think that I am less capable.

Yet, asking for help is a lot like vulnerability.  We love it when others show authentic vulnerability but feel if we show our vulnerable selves, it will look weak.

When someone asks me for help, I get excited!  I never think less of them. I think they are brave and courageous. 

Weird, right.

On the way to my first solo landing, my flight following guy kept asking me a question, when I would respond, someone else told me I was on the wrong channel.


I'm trying to fly, keep speed steady, stay level and on course, scan for other planes and get the radio to the correct channel. 

I couldn’t find the channel!  I talked and nobody could hear me!

Uh oh.

The little airport near the San Juan Islands that I was headed for had no tower to communicate with so pilots spoke onto the airport channel as they were doing their approach maneuvers so any other planes in the area would understand you were there and what your plan was.

Typically, no one responds so I would never know if anyone could hear me or not.

I landed still scared that I wouldn’t get my radio to work on the return flight.

Did I ask for help?  Didn’t even occur to me.

Who would I ask?

I suppose now looking back I could have parked my plane and sought out someone on the airfield or called my flight instructor on my cell phone.


Instead, I took off headed back and luckily the tower where I was to land, heard me and gave me directions I understood in nice, slow, clear English.

Of course, I never figured out what happened with the radio.  I did confess to my flight instructor.

And, I’ve never forgotten the lesson.

Ask for help.

People love to help.

Do you also hesitate to ask for help?

I am still a work in progress but MUCH better than I used to be. I currently have five coaches who advise and help me.  I have a fitness coach, a couples therapist, a business coach, personal therapist and a coach who works on my physical energy.  

Who do you ask for help? What part is scary and what part isn’t?


Big hugs,

Lt. Shannon

P.S.  I need your help.  If you know of a successful, funny leader who wants to uplevel their performance under stressful conditions  and do it connecting with other amazing people, reach out.  I am creating an in-person group series beginning in the Fall.  Who knows maybe you could get in some reps on that asking muscle. :)

Stay connectedĀ 



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