Mission planning: The flight should plan together as a team to produce a smoother mission equipped to overcome contingencies or problems. Simple plans with realistic and focused tactics have a higher chance of succeeding than complex plans with little margin for error or room for contingencies. Flights should be planned to minimize the workload through the use of user-friendly, organized products, such as a communication-card with frequencies listed in sequential order. Even the way a pilot folds a map prior to the flight can reduce in-flight distractions and give the pilot more time to think and react to other situations.

Know the capabilities of your flights: Are you flying with a new wingman? What are the currencies of everyone in your flight? The flight commander should be the key to answering any questions regarding personnel issues, capabilities, currencies and problems. Task saturation demands proficiency in the basics of tactical flying.

Briefing: The "on-time" briefing has the most impact on the flight and should be the melding of mission planning information, tailored to the least experienced pilot, and not an introduction to the plan. A disjointed and rushed briefing (or a briefing that ends right at "step" time) usually equates to a flight filled with multiple "helmet fires." By the way, if you're eating lunch during the flight brief, then you're most likely missing critical bits and pieces of the brief that could prevent a helmet fire.

Preflight: Slip your start, check-in, taxi and takeoff times to accommodate last-minute changes. Disruptions to pacing and habit patterns increase task saturation.

Ground operations: Review your game plan for such things as takeoff emergencies where critical actions must be accomplished with little time for analysis. Thinking through your game plan (otherwise known as "chair flying"), before you really need to set it into motion, can increase your chances of not having a mishap.

Proficiency: When was the last time you accomplished an emergency procedures simulator or cracked open your Dash One? Did you really accomplish situation emergency procedures training last month? Know your jet! Remember, you're responsible for your own proficiency and knowledge, and during an emergency is not the time to discover you're not as proficient on things as you need to be.

Personal life: Are you fit to pull high Gs? If you're 3 percent dehydrated, then your G-tolerance is cut in half. You should have a personal fitness program, including proper nutrition (a balance of carbs, proteins and good fats), and you should be getting enough pilot rest to maintain a high degree of alertness and beat fatigue.

Communications: Flights should anticipate radio changes and use clear concise 3-1 communication. This will help prevent missing critical information and avoid task saturation.

Cross-checks: At low altitude, anticipate checking "near rocks" and "far rocks" prior to accomplishing any other tasks and use an effective crosscheck between your heads-up display and round-dials. This can reduce helmet fires in poor weather or at night.

Training rules: If you anticipate a training rule violation about to occur then don't be afraid to "knock-it-off" before a violation or mishap occurs. Believe it or not, training rules violations have been the cause of several mishaps in the past few years.

Weather: Anticipate weather changes so you're not caught without enough fuel to divert. Pressing the fuel for one more pass or engagement can only cause stress on the return to base.

Gut feeling: This actually may be your most reliable anticipation cue in the jet. The human body is able to detect stimuli long before the mind has consciously put it all together. So, trust your gut feelings. If the hair on the back of your neck is standing up, then knock-it-off and check six.

Distractions and fixation:
If you're distracted in the cockpit or find yourself fixated on something, then stop, look around and check six.

Always have an out: Always have a back-up option to execute for all aspects of the mission to include such basic actions as formation overshoots, weather aborts from low altitude, or unusual attitudes at night with night-vision goggles. Having an out is key to risk reduction.

Risk assessment: Just ask the question, "Can I live with the consequences of my next action?" It's that simple! You don't need a computer program or chart to make basic risk assessments and decisions.

See and avoid: Midair collision avoidance and controlled flight into terrain are at the top of the list for non-engine related fighter mishaps. Anticipate where you expect to encounter close-calls between both civilian and military aircraft and then force yourself to clear your flight path. If you're terrain masking in mountainous terrain, then you need to have your eyes focused outside the cockpit and not on the radar display.

Night flying: Even with night-vision goggles, processing and recognizing data at night is more difficult than night vision itself. Keep your night tactics very basic to process information more effectively. If you operate with the same mentality as in the day, then the chances of making a mistake are significantly greater.
Know and respect your limits: If you are pressing your limits, back off the intensity of the mission and reassess. You can always flex to an alternate mission that is less demanding, such as basic intercepts or instrument training. If you're the flight lead and notice your wingman is consistently having an issue, then knock-it-off and find out what the problem is before continuing the mission.
Don't let your guard down: The mishap database is full of reports for mishaps that occur on return to base -- most of the time because the intensity of the mission dropped significantly and the pilot relaxed and stopped paying attention. It's easy to let your guard down and take a break. But keep the focus; you can relax once you're back on the ground.
-- Lt. Col. Edward Linch