Are pilots true multitaskers?

Discussion in 'Pilot Training' started by Natti Notti, Sep 21, 2021.

  1. Natti Notti

    Natti Notti Filing Flight Plan

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    I am in my first 47 hours of PPL training flying PA-28-161. My instructor says my stick and rudder skills are pretty good, I do good landings and engine out procedures but there are other areas where I consistently fall behind like power off stalls, class D comms, work in the pattern where I have to listen to ATC, repeat back and maintain the flight. I just feel I don't fully control the things around me. My instructor tells me I make good decisions (go around, 180 turn back home when entering IMC, etc) but we both acknowledge my execution lags. As soon as I focus on comms I am late on my first downwind landing step. The other day I forgot to retract flaps after soft field take off, being preoccupied with keeping my Vy. Or when I messed up controls during forward slip. I feel this is because I can't effectively multitask and ultimately staying ahead of the airplane. Are good pilots true multitaskers? How can I improve and get better at this?
     
  2. Kritchlow

    Kritchlow Final Approach

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    It’s fairly well shown that multi-tasking is a myth. There are drills that show 2 or more things can be accomplished faster, and more accurately when done one at at time rather than at the same time.
     
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  3. Natti Notti

    Natti Notti Filing Flight Plan

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    Yeah, I read about this recently too. There was an experiment which showed regular folks did better on multitasking activities, then those who consider themselves as capable multitaskers. This gives me some hope that I can achieve my dream to be a capable pilot one day.
     
  4. Matthew Johnson

    Matthew Johnson Pre-Flight PoA Supporter

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    I can't directly correlate this to flying (though I suspect it still holds true), but when I teach car control/driving a vehicle beyond it's tire's limits I definitely see a difference between someone very new at performing the task (read seeming task saturated and unable to do other mental tasks at the same time) and someone more experienced (read able to hold a conversation about an unrelated technical or personal topic while sliding a car around). My take-away is that when initially learning a new skill/controlling something unfamiliar most of the control actions require conscious mental thought thus making multi-tasking difficult to impossible. After some extended exposure to the new skill, there is some magical transfer of that need for conscious thought/effort to control the vehicle to the subconscious which leaves the conscious brain free to do other tasks.

    Basically, the conscious part of the brain is not a multi-task capable thing so the key is to get enough experience to push the vehicle control task to the subconscious and leave the rest of the brain available to handle communications and/or planning. In other words; keep at it, the task saturation that you are experiencing is likely only temporary.

    Edited to add: I am noticing this same thing holding true as I am going through IFR training: the heading/altitude control is becoming much more automatic and the comms/buttonology is mostly now able to happen at the same time, and often I can still hold a conversation with the CFII. Initially none of that was the case.

    Additional edit to add: These realizations happened after driving for an event where the folks riding along were given the freedom to ask us drivers to do whatever tricks the passenger could think of on a wet asphalt surface; at some point a passenger asked if I could spin the car one rotation one direction, then one rotation the other - my response was 'I don't know, but I will try'. After that worked on the first attempt, the passenger asked how I did it/what I did with my hands and feet, and I had to admit that I have absolutely no idea other than I told the car what I wanted it to do (and still have no idea).
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2021
  5. Daleandee

    Daleandee Pattern Altitude

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    It's about learning something in your head and getting the muscle memory in your body. That's the reason we must practice often or we'll get rusty and forget how something is done. No doubt a major part of the reason for a flight review is to find the areas where we are getting slack and get back in the groove. A good review will usually teach you something you didn't know, or didn't know well.

    If you don't practice a skill such as a go around procedure and that skill gets rusty, when it is needed you will be quite busy having to think about the procedure instead of having it freshly committed to memory.

    Don't beat yourself up too much. If flying was easy anyone could do it ... ;)
     
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  6. 455 Bravo Uniform

    455 Bravo Uniform En-Route

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    Excellent comments!
     
  7. Clip4

    Clip4 Final Approach

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    Great, your CFI is telling you what you are doing wrong and not telling you what you need to do to fix it. No, it isn’t multitasking.

    1st you need to identify the steps for each of the tasks you wish to accomplish in the correct order and then learn memorize the steps, learn to manage the tasks and use ADM to fly the plane. This means planning to do each step in advance (anticipate) when they need done. (Step 3 is next and I am deciding to do it at this spot so it’s completed before it needs to be done). At your hours power off stalls should not be mentally fumbling around.


    Radios. You are not staying ahead of the plane and deciding where you are going to make radio calls. You have to give yourself time to talk first then do the task.. Announce downwind well before you enter, announce base and final well before you turn. This way you aren’t multitasking.

    For ATC, you have failed to learn Aviation vocabulary and ATC procedure. Until you do you will always suck because you don’t know what You are supposed to say, where you are supposed to say it and what and when ATC will give you directions. You are so fixated on trying to figure out the controller is saying you quit flying and probably lose situational awareness.

    1. AIM controller glossary in the AIM. Read and study.
    2. ATC procedures VFR pilots. YouTube lots of videos.
    3. Listen. https://www.liveatc.net/
     
  8. bflynn

    bflynn Final Approach

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    Nobody is a multitasker, our brains just aren’t wired for it. But we can learn to be task switchers, to be able to change between multiple tasks quickly, a crucial skill in the cockpit. I believe that’s what most people think of as multi-tasking.

    I think the secret to being a good task switcher is to be very familiar with the work, such that you can switch to a task and very quickly recognize what the status is. For example, looking at your airspeed, knowing how much to adjust it by, doing that in a half second and moving on. No doubt it takes practice.
     
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  9. Velocity173

    Velocity173 Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    The experts say it’s not multitasking but in aviation you are doing two things at once. Some are better at it than others.

    When I did ATC I’d get yelled during approach training because I couldn’t talk and write at the same time. Couldn’t talk and type at the same time either. It was frustrating. My brain didn’t have the ability to do both at once. Don’t call it multitasking, call it rapid switch tasking If you will but I couldn’t do it. Over time, my brain adapted because it is necessary to do both of those things at once.

    IP training in the Army brought on another mental challenge teaching methods of instruction (MOI). I was required to talk through a maneuver while I was doing it. Describing a maneuver after landing was too late. Problem is, doing both at once only made me do the maneuver poorly and my description of the maneuver was incomplete. I couldn’t do both at once effectively. But, doing that day in and day out, by graduation time my MOI was fluid and aircraft control was solid. My brain adapted.

    Ask anyone who’s instructed students and they’ll tell you the obvious, all brains don’t process at the same rate. I always found it fascinating to see the differences between students. One student might be able to talk to ATC with no degradation in aircraft control while another, as soon as they open their mouths, altitude and heading are all over the place. I used to have a student that when ever I asked him a question while he was on the controls, he’d reply “say again sir?” It was like a defense mechanism that his brain used as a delay tactic to catch up with the task at hand. It was hilarious. Every time he did that.

    So in my experience, I’d say that the vast majority of people can eventually be trained to do more than one thing at once. Like I said, if you don’t want to call both things as multitasking, don’t. One might be more muscle memory with rapid switch backs but over time you should get better at doing both.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
  10. Huckster79

    Huckster79 Pattern Altitude

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    Just practice practice practice. Others have used the word muscle memory and that’s spot on. True multitasking is a myth but flying a plane is not multitasking it’s accomplishing a single but complex task- flying the plane.

    you can walk down a sidewalk and talk on your phone… why? Because you walk with muscle memory not conscious thought. Some flying tasks will get like that.

    think back to your first few hours - it took concentration just to hold altitude on a perfectly calm vfr day… as time goes on one holds altitude without much conscious thought.

    keep at it- you got it.

    One thing I did back in the day was sit in the plane eyes closed and reach for my knobs n switches… this helps a bit relax once flying.

    just fly fly fly. I almost have up when I hadn’t soloed in 23 hours, 500 hours later I’ve traversed the country and flown mountains in my 85hp Cessna 140- you can do this
     
  11. jordane93

    jordane93 Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Dude, you have a whole 47 hours of experience. Just keep practicing and you will get better!
     
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  12. Brad W

    Brad W Line Up and Wait

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    I do think that's right. It's kinda how my brain works....do one thing, then do another.

    I guess it's already kinda been pointed out by others in this thread but i think there's some semantics going on with this statement though.
    task saturation and memory are key. I see this with my teenage son all the time. He takes after my wife I think.... if focused on a task his "Ram" memory dumps and he completely forgets the next thing that needs doing.
    There's some skill or intuition or something that comes into play deciding how long to do the one thing before moving onto the other thing...and even in deciding what the next priority is.

    Regardless what it's called, I do think that flying exercises the "multi-tasking" parts of the brain and you can improve with practice. I feel like I'm not nearly as good at it (with non aviation general life things) as I was back when I was most active flying. The training for my instrument rating really helped a lot.

    How to get better?
    Without knowing specifics the one word that comes to my mind is relax. There's more than one way to do almost everything. Don't get so stressed about doing things in a particular way or in a particular order...just relax and do what needs doing...
     
  13. Daleandee

    Daleandee Pattern Altitude

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    In the very small amount of Psychology that I learned and managed to retain I was taught that this is exactly how it works. I remember being told that the brain can only do one thing at a time but that it can switch between tasks at an incredible rate to appear to be able to perform multiple things at the same time.
     
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  14. Tarheelpilot

    Tarheelpilot Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    No. We switch tasks quickly. As we gain experience we learn where to look for information and then become more efficient at quickly switching between observations to get the data necessary to fly the airplane.

    A big part of learning to fly is knowing when and where to sample the data needed to fly. Only inexperienced pilots are looking at everything all the time.
     
  15. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Touchdown! Greaser!

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    There is no substitute for endless repetition in learning to fly. It’s referred to as the Law of Exercise…that which is done most is best retained.
     
  16. schmookeeg

    schmookeeg En-Route

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    Yeah I think we're task switchers who are very good at prioritizing focus and have specific training against fixation

    This post brought to you successfully from I-880 at 75mph
     
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  17. eman1200

    eman1200 Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    I'm able to read aviation related forum posts while laughing and rolling my eyes while having my morning poop all at the same time. that's kinda multitasking, no?
     
  18. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I don’t know…I’m only rolling my eyes and pooping while I type this.
     
  19. luvflyin

    luvflyin Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    No. You can't just sit there. You have to be doing something with your hand:D
     
  20. eman1200

    eman1200 Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    I’m scrolling, I’m scrolling!!
     
  21. airdale

    airdale Pattern Altitude

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    Actually, not magic. Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman's book "Thinking Fast and Slow" gave me a theory that makes sense to me both in the context of sports car racing and the context of flying. He describes two mental systems. System One is the fast one, often acting before we even realize what's happening. System Two is the slower, deliberative one where problems are considered and solved.

    For me, proficiency involves training and reinforcing System One to handle as many tasks as iit can. This takes time, but it is critical because System Two easily becomes overloaded --- aka "getting behind the airplane." I saw this in racing, too, where after a break I was able to do everything I could do before the break but most of the actions were just a jot slower. System One had forgotten how to do the braking and simultaneous throttle blip, clutch and downshift, so System Two had to do it -- slowing things down. The problem for me is that my System One will, over time, forget things that it has learned. This loads System Two up with enough small tasks that the risk of overload increases. For the OP, it's the other side of the coin. His System On has not yet learned enough, leaving his System Two struggling at times. So, @Natti, have patience. Keep at it and as your System One gets better at flying, proficiency will come.

    Read the book. It will help.
     
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  22. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Touchdown! Greaser!

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    :yeahthat:
    I was waiting for someone o say it was about prioritization.
     
  23. Brad W

    Brad W Line Up and Wait

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    very interesting way to look at it, airdale
     
  24. wilkersk

    wilkersk Pattern Altitude

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    I agree with the previous replies (I too have read "Thinking Fast and Slow"). If you want proof of that, watch other pilots change freqs on the com radio while hand-flying. The ones that stare at the come panel as they key in each digit will most likely end up in a turn in the direction of the hand they're using.

    That seeming ability to "multi-task" you're speaking of is all about "muscle memory" Its about reinforcing those actions in the "thinking fast" part of your brain, so that you're no longer consciously thinking about each step.

    Keep at it, you'll get there. The more often you fly the more likely it'll happen sooner for you.
     
  25. chemgeek

    chemgeek Pattern Altitude

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    I think the behavioral literature clearly shows that no human is a multitasker. Rather, we are "task-switchers." It takes a great deal of discipline and training to switch multiple tasks fast and efficiently enough to handle multiple synchronous tasks. Like instrument flying. Any instrument pilot has experienced task saturation, when the urgency of multiple tasks begins to overwhelm the ability to switch between them quickly enough.
     
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  26. Mrtibs

    Mrtibs Filing Flight Plan

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    To build the muscle memory you should "chair fly". Plan out a profile where you felt you lost situational awareness and chair fly the profile in your chair. You can stop the "chair fly," review items you missed then "chair fly" it again. This way you can fly the whole sortie or problem areas 4 or 5 times to build the muscle memory.

    "I just want to wish you good luck, we're all counting on you!"
     
  27. David Megginson

    David Megginson Pattern Altitude

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    Humans don't multitask; we task switch. Flying is about focusing on one thing at a time, but never getting stuck there for more than a few seconds before moving on. That takes practice — no one starts out that way. And it will get even more challenging when you go on to IFR.

    (Update: reading through other replies, I see I wasn't the first to point this out.)
     
  28. Daleandee

    Daleandee Pattern Altitude

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    As a builder of experimental airplane I've done a few "first flights" on the builds. One of the techniques I use before considering a first flight is to sit in the plane and rehearse the flight making all the motions required at the approximate point in time (airplane noise is optional). Doing this with the eyes open and closed helps familiarize one to the cockpit environment.

    In a previous plane I made an error during ground testing while doing taxi test on the runway. The brake and flap lever were very close together on the left side of the cockpit. When I came to the end of the runway I reached to pull the brakes and got flaps instead. Wound up rolling onto the grass at the end of the pavement. No harm or foul but I was then aware that I was not ready for first flight and had more rehearsal to do.

    As so many have said ... do it enough and the task will become natural and easily recalled.
     
  29. Brad W

    Brad W Line Up and Wait

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    Ah yes...I did a good bit of that chair flying back in the day and I really believe it helped.
    A coworker also lent me a set of cassette audio tapes that assisted "chair flying" the radio work. Did that while commuting to/from work and it was helpful too.
    Gotta remember this when i start back flying again....do a little chair flying.
     
  30. woodchucker

    woodchucker Pattern Altitude

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    Only 47 hours. You will get much better over time. Keep in mind that during training you are having a million things thrown at you at once. I always equated a private pilot lesson as running a 5k or something. Was totally spent each time.

    So keep learning. Keep improving. You will get there. I’m slowly working on my IR after some 300 hours and it’s even worse. Trying to brief an approach and look up the next frequency and oops 60 degrees off course. I’ll get there. So will you.

    One last thing: don’t be frustrated by mistakes. We all make them. Usually small things. Rarely a mistake is made that causes the plane to fall from the sky. When working with a cfi we briefed a soft field takeoff and then I failed to fly the brief by forgetting to add the notch of flaps. Stuff happens.
     
  31. Pi1otguy

    Pi1otguy Pattern Altitude

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    "Multitasking" is a bad methodology for many of us. I prefer the approach that older pre-2000 computers used, task switching.

    Develop a flow across the panel plus misc items that works for you. Imagine going across each one giving it a bit if time (some more than others) before moving on. Rinse, repeat.
    The exact pattern will vary depending on your flight situation and is highly personal.

    Think back to learning to drive and the task switching around checking mirrors vs what's out front vs predicting the actions of cars and peds.

    I've done these as part of safety training at work and found they ignore the reality that most things we do have a passive phase.
     
  32. Ashlyn Maria

    Ashlyn Maria Filing Flight Plan

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    Hey @Natti Notti, I feel your pain. I'm a 32 hour ppl student training in a Cub. I got very frustrated at 15 or so hours because I would forget to start my descent at the numbers trying to juggle comms, throttle, airspeed and my CFII's instructions. Thankfully, he caught on and told me to focus on my approach and he'd make the calls. Now I can make calls without losing ten kts of airspeed lol. Here are some things that have been helping me.

    1. Everything everyone else said.
    2. Focus on one thing at a time and build incrementally. Ask your CFI to make your radio calls for a few hours so you can focus on nailing the pattern and approach.
    3. Write your calls on paper. Decide how you will call the 45° downwind entry, write it down, and say it the same way every time. Manage all your calls this way and soon they will happen without much effort. Practice calls when you're driving. Every bit of practice outside your lessons will show in the airplane.
    4. Know the acronym and checklist for every task the ACS requires. Memorize how to enter and recover from a power on stall. If there is no acronym or checklist, memorize the steps. Memorize everything anyway.
    5. Get a study buddy and join (or start!) a study group. There's nothing more conducive to learning than teaching someone else and learning from others who are at a similar level as you. Plus, it's free!

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