The Art of Presence When Flying

I’ve noticed something in my life that also applies to flying and wanted to share it with you.  It is the power of presence.

I have a busy distracted mind at times. I am sure you do as well.  What does this mean and how does it apply to flying?  I have found that some of my worst flights were when I was not present.  When I was thinking about something that was coming up, being worried about something, being tired and sleepy, not being rested properly, or being in pain. All these examples take away from being present in the cockpit.  Not being connected to the present moment leads to a bad flight regardless of the weather conditions, aircraft, or passenger influence.


Being present when flying an aircraft is important because it helps the pilot maintain situational awareness and make quick, accurate decisions.  When you are present you feel the helicopter moving, you hear the sound of the engine, and you hear the sound of the wind around the bubble.  All of this information is talking to you that you can’t hear when you are distracted.  When you are present, you hear the radio calls for the first time, you see when your fuel gauge is getting low, and you see what your speed and altitude are by developing a good scan to keep you present.  In the event of an emergency or unexpected situation, being present allows you to take in as much information as you can to deal with the challenge successfully. Being present and alert can help prevent accidents by detecting signs earlier than if you were distracted or not present.

One key time that you need to be particularly present is when starting an engine.  Having things in the wrong position can lead to a hot start or overspeed. This happens fast.  The larger the aircraft, the larger the bill.  When you are distracted by your phone, passenger, or thoughts, this could lead to making mistakes. 


So what can we do about it? Here are a few things that you may find helpful to stay present while you are flying.

  1. HABITS:
    Good habits and training make your responses less effort, more smooth, and therefore you are able to take in more information with ease.  When you are trying really hard, this takes you out of the present moment and your focus becomes much narrower.  This fixation lowers your awareness.

    Checklists help pilots stay focused on the task at hand and ensure they don’t miss important steps.
    Pilots should constantly be aware of their surroundings, including the aircraft’s location, altitude, speed, and heading, as well as weather conditions, terrain, and other traffic in the area. Using a proper scan inside and outside will help you be aware of your surroundings. Regularly checking all the instruments, gauges, and systems in the cockpit will keep your head in the aircraft.

2. Dealing with STRESS:

The better you deal with stress the more present you will be. Address and lean into your problems.  Using a computer analogy, this cleans up your RAM and allows you to process more.  If you have something that you are struggling with, take care of what needs tending to before you go flying(if you can).  You can’t force it but problems are distracting and will most likely clog up your mind when you are flying.

Being prepared allows you to do your flight with more ease, have less stress, and therefore allows you to be more present.  The more you plan ahead the easier it gets.

Don’t push it. Pushing it creates more stress.  Give yourself extra time so that you are not under the stress of being late.  For some, this isn’t an option but you can always control how you respond to the stress of being late.

When you are not present, you are thinking about something else.  You are distracted.  You can be distracted by things internally and externally.


Internal distractions can be your thoughts if they are taking you away from flying. Or they can be strong emotions that are clouding the situation and you are flying IFR from within.

An example of an internal distraction is worrying.  I’ve seen it many times when a pilot makes a mistake during a test flight.  Their preoccupation with what happened prior prevents them from being present and able to deal with the current task at hand.  In those tough situations, you have to be able to let go of the past and stay tuned into the here and now and do the best with what you got.

Technology, people, and the environment can all be external distractions that pull you away from the task at hand.  One major external distraction that is worth mentioning is phones. 

Phones are wonderful hey?  Such a great piece of technology that can also be wonderful at distracting you.  Don’t let that little device pull you away from the task at hand with all those dings, bings, and rings as it is designed to do.  Turn the phone off or at least DO NOT DISTURB.  Everything wants access to our minds and our attention.  Protect yourself.  Turn the stimulus down.


Rest, Sleep, hydration, and food.  These go without saying.  If you don’t have these taken care of, you will experience micro drifts of consciousness.  Some of my least present days were due to a lack of making sure these were taken care of.

Check-in with yourself.  Take a breath and be present.  You can do this before you fly and when you are flying.  Use all of your senses.  See outside, hear the engine(s) and the wind, feel the controls, smell…all of these will bring you back to the present moment.


Like every skill, practicing being present throughout your day will make being present when you are flying easier. 

Here are a few tools that you can use when you are on the ground to work on presence.

  1. Close your eyes.  Focus on your breath.  Take 10 slow breaths and focus on where you feel the breath.  For some it is the nose, for others, it is the mouth, throat, lungs, or stomach area.  Open your eyes and observe everything with a wide view.
  2. Perhaps you are already a meditation pro, but if not it may really help to try meditation or mindfulness.  This helps you clear your “monkey mind” that is full of distracting thoughts. 
    If you constantly catch yourself with your mind distracting you all the time you may want to consider doing some practical meditation and other techniques to help you with this process.  If this is something you are interested in, feel free to reach out and I am happy to work with you through various techniques that I have found useful.  


As shown above, being present can really help pilots when flying and when not flying.  One huge benefit of being present is that you may start to enjoy the flight more. Taking in the views and being present is much better than having your mind drift off to all the problems that you have.  When you look around at the beauty of the earth and realize how privileged you are to fly, you will enter into a state of presence and gratitude.  From this place you make better decisions, you are more in flow and life is easier. 

This is why I think being PRESENT is one of the most important traits that pilots can operate from.  Noticing when you are not present and developing ways to stay present will allow you to be a better pilot and maybe, just maybe, a better person when you are back on earth as well.

I hope you found this helpful and if you would like to work more with me and learn more, please reach out to me at

Take care & enjoy the skies.

Luke Yanik

Aerial Recon Ltd.