“Chopper down,” the radio sputtered. This was a first. In the worst way. After all, this was supposed to be an ordinary mission. There was no added danger this night. There certainly was no reason to have expected this.
“We have to go get them! I’ll start running the ‘Before Takeoff Checklist,” the flight engineer suggested excitedly. This was difficult to stomach. There are some guys who just want to get into the ‘action’. He was one of those guys. I, on the other hand, was not. I remember my uncle, who was in the Navy, describing how once a helicopter caught fire as it landed on the ship. He recounted how so many guys ran towards the fire. A Sunday stroll was the pace he chose. That always stuck with me.
“Sir, do you want me to let them know the helicopter needs to be destroyed once everyone is clear?” asked the aircraft commander. The unit commander was on board this particular mission. He sometimes sat in the back of the helicopter to make sure he didn’t lose touch with what’s really going on as he only watches the missions on a screen most other days. Again, I was shocked. Wow. This is getting real, really fast.
The flight engineer pushed again for achieving ‘hero status’ in one mission, so finally I addressed him. “Look, we don’t even know what happened. If they were shot down, it probably isn’t the smartest thing to go fly into range of that weapon, is it?”
Confusion like this was relatively rare. But as pilots have a knack for analyzing past mistakes to avoid making them again, we knew what to do. We called it the ‘conservative response rule.’ This was a helpful tool to use in cases of disagreement among the crew. Basically, past aircraft mishaps revealed that when there is disagreement, the more conservative option voiced should be followed until more data can be gathered.
In the above example, one crew-member wanted to fly, the other wanted to wait. The more conservative idea was to wait, therefore we waited. Waited only until more information was available.
That’s the key to this rule. Even the name ‘conservative response rule’, brings to mind always doing the conservative thing, but that’s a severe misunderstanding which can hamstring entire missions. There are times during flights that being aggressive and daring is the right decision. The point of this rule is to make sure everyone is in agreement that selfless bravery is called for. If there is not agreement, stick to the conservative course of action until more information is available.
What’s the practical application to grounded life? Outdoor activities come to mind. How many times have we been with friends and disagreement shows up about what to do next? Say, climbing a mountain as a storm is brewing. Some want to continue, because they say the storm will surely pass. Others suggest turning back. Friendships have been lost over such situations.
As for me, I say stick with the pilots. Turn back or at least wait a while to see how the storm develops. Dead aircrew are longing for you to learn from their mistakes.
Unlike other ‘lessons learned’, this one has a specific audience. Within each of our friend groups, there are those who are natural leaders. If this is you, next time there is disagreement, put this rule to good use. Besides enhancing your status (rightfully so), it just might keep people and relationships intact.