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The Humble Arrogant Pilot

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The Humble Arrogant Pilot

Pilots are arrogant, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Confidence is what you feel inside while arrogance is what others interpret you to have. The fearlessness given off by a pilot’s aura is projected onto others when they are completely confident in their decisions and in an emergency situation, their ideologies never waiver. Pilots need confidence, but they have to earn the right to be arrogant.

Pilots need arrogance as they walk across the tarmac, knowing that there are thunderstorms brewing at their destination, a tricky MEL onboard that they have to deal with, and busy airspace they have to worm their way through. Pilots have to project outward arrogance to make others believe that there is no doubt that they will get there safely, but a good pilot’s internal confidence bows down to humility and contemplates the safety of each action.

There are reasons why aviation attracts those who contain a higher level of arrogance, but the pilots who thrive and stay safe in the aviation industry learn how to have humble arrogance. A 2004 NASA study found a thread of commonality in pilots (Amy Fitzgibbons, Donald Davis and Paul Schutte. Pilot Personality Profile Using the NEO-PI-R. Langley Research Center, VA). Pilots scored high in being conscientious, competent, dutiful, self-disciplined, and assertive while generally keeping emotion out of the cockpit. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a storm brewing inside their brain, it means that outwardly, they control themselves and the situation. Of all the scores, assertiveness rated the highest among all personality traits. The high scorers are dominant, forceful and socially ascendant and this is where the pilot herd is sorted into those pilots you love flying with and those that give other pilots ulcers. Whether it’s in the cockpit of a commercial airliner or in the cockpit of a Cessna 152, arrogance, when applied to another personality trait, is the difference between life and death.

The Humble Arrogant PilotThe assertiveness characteristic, often interpreted as arrogance, can be used for good or evil. Those pilots that gather and use all the information that is provided to them, including input from their crew, will process and acknowledge their own limitations as well as the equipment they are flying and assertively conduct a safe flight. They speak up and demand that each action abides by their safety parameters. They will put safety before dignity and admit that the weather is too bad, the runway is too slippery, or the crosswind is too strong. They will have humble arrogance and they will assertively abide by the code. They will tell their passenger(s) they can’t go, tell crew scheduling they’re too sick, or tell themselves that a certain situation is beyond their safety circle. The humble arrogant pilot will survive and thrive because their thought process has empathy. It’s not just about them; it’s about making decisions that will keep everyone safe.

The other kind of assertive arrogant pilot will draw conclusions based on their own thoughts, regardless of other input, and make decisions based solely on their own instinct and image of themselves. Since they are not actively present in the situation, their decisions often result in bad outcomes. They will chant to themselves, I know what I’m doing because I’ve done this before, but life and events don’t have carbon copies. Sure, one time he made it through icing conditions and lived to brag out it. What he doesn’t know today, even though the weather briefer and other pilots were trying to tell him, is that the icing conditions are at all levels this time, not just one. This time, the ice might follow him all the way down to the ground and the arrogant pilot will tell himself that it just can’t be happening because he assumed he could just do it again. His pilot’s license says IFR rated so he flies IFR, even if it’s a little wet and colder…I can do it because my license says I’m an instrument rated pilot.

Thankfully, the separation of the pilot herd is disproportional. The majority of pilots will continue on with humble arrogance and they will be a joy to fly with. They will keep themselves and those around them safe while having fun. They will laugh and tease about what life hands them and will wake up each morning excited to see what happens next. The minority will continue onward on the backs of these humbly arrogant pilots. It will be the good copilots and the shear will of life that will keep the other pilots moving onward until their demise. Too often, after an accident, people shake their heads at the sadness, but aren’t surprised at the outcome. It’s bound to happen, but no one is bound to their arrogance. Arrogance is fine. Earn it. Use it. But, never use it alone. Always be a humble arrogant pilot.


  • Ray says:

    Please excuse my French. This is total BS. I have over 40 years of Military, Civilian, and Airline flying experience and I can unequivocally state that the “arrogant” personality type is the last kind of person you want to see in the cockpit. The arrogance is nothing more than a cover for their lack of piloting skills, systems knowledge, or [good] decision making abilities. I am currently flying a 12 day trip with a F/O that could not be considered anything less thanks arrogant and he has yet to demonstrate anything close to competancy. The finest aviators I have known exhibit exactly the opposite traits of those the author describes in this article.

  • Rad says:

    Ray, I guess English comprehension was not your strong point in school? Trigger down, snap! 😉
    Good article!

  • Doug Norinski says:

    What a BS article. +1 for Ray’s post.

  • […] my head in shame at what the airlines have become. The formula for failure is simple; take away pride and all you have left is disdain. Take away pride, and the new generation of potential pilots, who […]

  • Ajay Ramakrishnan says:

    Flying is all about discipline. It is all about staying ahead of the aircraft by using your knowledge, experience and lastly your skills to interpolate abstract data like meteorology, aircraft performance, personal skills and abilities with the mission/ flight / task at hand.
    Arrogance is an individualistic trait and can be present in competent as well as in incompetent pilots. One must differentiate between the two.
    Personally I would prefer a competent pilot (humble would be nice but arrogant will do), rather than an INCOMPETENT but down to earth one. Please remember, a pilot does something that most of his fellow men don’t do – He Flies. He must have pride in this fact.

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