Fighter pilot Rob “Waldo” Waldman had survived six-hour combat missions in Iraq and Kosovo, so he figured that ferrying an F-16 from Spain to South Carolina was no big deal.
The problem was 3,500 miles of ocean and Waldman had claustrophobia. His commander had needed six volunteers to fly home.
“Like a fool,” he says, “I volunteered.”
Now here he sat in a morning briefing, with a pounding headache, head spinning, anxious and miserable after a sleepless night, talking himself out of bailing.
“I’m tougher than that,” he thought. “I’m no coward.”
Waldman thought that if he admitted his phobia, they’d rip the wings off his chest. So he strapped on his gear and headed out with five wingmen. His anxiety grew.
In the cockpit, he asked himself this: If I take off in this plane, I cannot say with 100% certainty that I won’t freak out and have a panic attack. And if I do, then I’ll become a serious safety hazard, not only to myself but to my wingmen as well. Is it really worth that risk? Fly or abort?
“One, this is Two,” he tells his squadron commander.
“Uh, yeah. Uh … Two needs to abort.”
“Two’s aborting, sir.”
“Yes sir. Uh … I am feeling, uh, pretty sick. Not sure I can make it all the way home. I didn’t sleep last night and feel like crap.”
“OK, guys, shut ’em down and meet in 10 minutes.”
After 65 combat missions, this is the only flight Waldman ever aborted. He braces himself for mockery.
To his amazement, none comes. They regroup and fly in one hour.
When making a go/no-go decision, ask yourself three questions:
- Why am I on this mission?
- What are the consequences if I bail out?
- If I abort, will I be shirking my responsibilities and commitments?
— Adapted from Never Fly Solo, Rob “Waldo” Waldman, McGraw-Hill.