Posted 4 years 304 days ago ago by Randy Mains
In life it’s good to know what you have control over and what you don’t, which of course is true in aviation too. I have an aviation story that illustrates my point when I tried to convince an aviation psychologist that I’m a dog.
Upon reaching the age of 62 pilots at Abu Dhabi Aviation were told they would need to pass a psychological evaluation as part of their six-monthly Class 1 medical to maintain their ATP licenses. The idea of a psychological evaluation seemed ludicrous to me after 42-years in aviation further exacerbated knowing it was a money spinner for the government so I decided I was going to have some fun and try to convince the psychologist I was a dog.
When the new rules were enacted targeting 62-year-olds, our flight surgeon, Dr. Ron McCulloch, told us “It’s simply a way to fill the financial coffers. Because the Director General of Civil Aviation in the United Arab Emirates has ruled that pilots can fly up to the age of 65 they somehow feel they have to do ‘something’ different in the medical evaluation process, hence the psychological eval.”
“But a psychological evaluation? I said perplexed. Come on doc…”
He just shrugged, “I know, Randy, I know. It’s absolutely crazy but you know how things work in this part of the world.”
He needed to say no more.
Paul Braithwaite was the first pilot at Abu Dhabi Aviation to reach his sixty-second birthday, the first guinea pig. We pilots coming up to that same age thought we’d go to school on his experience as a way to give us a ‘heads up’ on what we could expect in the psychological interview.
Paul told us he was asked about his childhood, his relationship with his mother and his father and was shown a picture of sea meeting sky and asked what the different colors of blue meant to him personally.
The whole thing was laughable,” he told us.
Armed with the knowledge of what Paul had gone through, my psych eval came on an extremely hot day in July. I knocked on the doctor’s door until I heard someone say, “Come in.”
I entered to see a semi-balding Lebanese doctor at his desk scribbling on a piece of paper. He didn’t look up. I stood opposite his desk for several long moments hamming up my dog role by rocking back on forth on my sore paws, sore because of the searing heat on the pavement outside.
Without looking up he finally said, “Please, sit down Mr. Mains.”
I said, “Sit?”
“Yes, yes please sit.” I sat down in the chair opposite him.
Still not looking up he said, “So, how are you today?”
“Fine, but my paws are incredibly sore from the terrible heat outside and dodging taxis, cars, pedestrians and trucks to make my way here.”
Seemingly unfazed at my strange answer he said, “OK, then, tell me a little about your Dad.”
“Well…he was a mongrel.”
“A mongrel?” he said looking up slowly.
“And… your Mom?”
“Well…of course she was a bitch,” I said studying my nails.
He paused for a moment, mulling over my answer now eying me very closely. “So… I assume you must have had a pretty traumatic childhood then?”
“Heck no! I had a fantastic childhood. Dad and I would run all over town. We’d chase cars and taxis, catch Frisbees in the park, play with the local children.
And Mom, well she was a real beauty, very attentive. Heck, she’d lick my fur every night for at least a half-an-hour until I was fast asleep. No, I’d say I had a wonderful childhood.”
“So, then…you think you’re a dog?”
“Nope. I know I’m a dog.”
And how long have you known you’re a dog?”
“Ever since I was a puppy.”
His jaw visibly dropped.
“Mr. Mains, I would like you to lie on the couch?”
I had to think quickly about that. “Sorry doc you know I can’t do that.”
“And why not?”
“Because I’m not allowed on the couch.”
“Ok,ok, let’s move along to the picture interpretation exercise then.” He reached into the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a blank piece of paper, placed it on the desk in front of me and asked, “Tell me what you see in that picture?”
That’s when I ended the charade, leaned forward in my chair and said, “Come on doc you and I and everyone else knows this psychological evaluation is just a way to collect more revenue. You see an opportunity to add another hoop we must jump through to pass our six-monthly air crew medical. I’m curious, how much does this portion of the exam cost anyway?”
“My fee is two hundred-fifty Dirhams,”
I stood up, opened my wallet and placed the bills in front of him saying, “You know doc, I’ve been in aviation for forty-two years almost to the day and it’s my thinking, and the thinking of the other pilots who will be visiting you for this exam, that if no one has figured out over the years if we are mentally fit to fly in that timeframe, well, someone has seriously dropped the ball. So, I will leave now and what you decide to do about either passing or failing me or any of the other pilots who come in to take this exam, will of course be up to you. But we all know what’s going on here.”
I turned to leave his office placing my paw on the doorknob then, pausing for several seconds as if thinking about something, I returned to the white piece of paper lying on the doctor’s desk.
“And regarding what I see in that piece of paper you placed in front of me….” I reached down and spun it around 180 degrees, “You can’t fool me. It’s obviously upside down,” then turned on my haunches and left his office.
Psychological testing for all 62-year-olds flying in the United Arab Emirates was discontinued three weeks later. Upon hearing the news I felt like baying at the moon…along with the rest of the old dogs in our pack.
About Randy: Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected]