One perfect summer morning an advanced student was checking oxygen and stowing charts, food and water for a much anticipated cross-country flight. Noticing the way I stared at my feet while he was bustling around, he asked if I was alright.
“Oh yeah,” I muttered. “Didn’t get much sleep last night, but I’ll be fine.”
He stopped momentarily. “Are you sure?”
“I’m OK.” That wasn’t half-hearted enough to dampen his enthusiasm, and neither of us mentioned it again. I snapped into FUNCTION mode the moment our launch began and stayed sharp (or thought I did) all throughout the usual tribulations of a long flight. Then, feet back on the ground a half hour before sunset, fatigue caught up with me and I melted down onto one knee. The shade of that wing looked so inviting after all day high in the sun, I crawled under to wait while he tidied the cockpit. Because even sitting seemed too much work, I lay back on the still warm ground, inhaled the soft evening air and promptly fell asleep – only seconds after rolling to a stop!
Had I been sufficiently safe as pilot in command? If our flight lasted an hour longer or I’d had even less sleep the night before, would I have still been alert prior to landing? Maybe, but it’s hard to say yes with any conviction. Also, how might additional stresses, such as dehydration have further affected my ability?