Learning to Fly: Deteriorating Conditions


I feel as if I have a bit of a unique perspective on this game. I started playing EVE Online in late 2006 and at the same time I prepared to get my pilot’s license out of game. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are many parallels between the two. In this series of articles I explore these similarities and highlight problems that capsuleers may not even know they have.


When I was first learning to fly I was in a class of sixteen and seventeen year olds. We were all still young and only half of us even had our driver's license. This probably explains why our instructors would try to ‘scare us straight' with regards to aviation safety. One day, they sat us all down (all ninety of us) and told us to look around at each other. It was like something from a movie. They told us that by the time we were thirty, one of our classmates would be killed in an aviation accident. At the time we sat there silently, the dangers associated with flying mostly being lost on us, the invincibility of youth still strong. However, every pilot has their “Oh Shit!” moment when they finally realise they are very mortal. Mine is illustrated in the previous article in the series.

Fast forward three years to when I was nineteen and that discussion we had became a reality. My friends and I were preparing to watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead, and we had gotten word that one of our company aircraft had disappeared off radar. We did not know who was in the plane, if they had landed safely in a field, or if they were severely injured. An hour later the phone rang and the person on the other end told me that the pilot was a friend of mine. In fact, she was in that very room when we had gotten the ‘Scared Straight’ talk. The plane was a write-off, the three occupants were killed.

It really hit me hard. I had known people who had died before, but nobody who had been killed in a plane. The topic of the year quickly became “Why?” She was a commercial pilot who had been working on her instrument rating. There was an instructor in the plane who also had his commercial licence, and a current IFR rating, and there was another student in the back seat who had similar qualifications to the pilot. The actual causes of the crash are still largely unknown, but there were a variety of factors cited in the TSB report.


Chiefly, they had planned to go flying in icing conditions in a plane that had only the most rudimentary anti-icing capabilities. By coincidence they were flying the same type of aircraft I wrote about previously; however, the incident in question had more to do with the topic of this series — that is, pilot decision making. There are many parallels to be drawn between what happened to myself and what happened to my colleague. We were both on training flights practicing routine items and made a series of decisions that led us both into unfavourable and potentially deadly situations.

This is all amplified when you're flying into deteriorating conditions. In my case it was a transition from a high energy state to a lower one, and in her case it was a transition from visual flight in no icing, to instrument flight in icing conditions at night. There's an old saying that I've taken to heart since I started flying:

Its better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.


The major point of this series is to illustrate what goes into pilot decision making (PDM), and why it’s important for us as capsuleers. To illustrate my point I will discuss a fight I was in a couple weeks back. 

We had just had our first corp meeting in over a year and had planned a (drunk) roam afterwards. Our CEO called for hellcats (armor Abaddons), so of course we all showed up in the shiniest subcapital we had. I showed up in my 2 billion ISK Bhaalgorn, we had another deadspace Bhaalgorn, a faction fit Vindicator, a spattering of navy faction battleships, a few triage Archons, a couple command ships, a Devoter, an over-zealous Revelation, and the odd man out: an Abaddon.

So we took our overpriced fleet to a titan and decided to drop on a 12-man tier 3 fleet to get a few quick kills. We did, and got a couple, but decided to wait for our cyno Devoter to cycle down. In the meantime, we got tackled by a slowly growing hostile fleet. So we stayed and fought. Fast forward to nearly 3 hours later, and our dozen faction battleships were trying to hold the line against ~80 enemy ships.

When you're sitting on a titan with a few shots of whiskey in you, surrounded by people who are eager to drop multi-billion ISK ships "for the lulz," it is really easy to click 'Bridge'. But there comes a time when you suddenly realize that you really don't want to lose that ship. And that perhaps all those decisions you made previously had brought you to a point where you couldn't exactly turn back. Some quick trickery and scheming saved a couple of the more expensive ships, but the end result was still disastrous.


Of course we laughed about it afterwards, but we had still lost horribly. So... what went wrong? In hindsight it was a classic case of deteriorating conditions. We slowly got more and more committed to the fight, and our enemy were slowly bringing in more and more ships. Oddly enough, the three examples I've given all had the potential to turn deadly, and all three did so over a relatively long period of time, where the people experiencing it could clearly see what was happening yet made little corrective action. We all knew that things were turning South, but we kept flying headlong into the ever-looming brick wall.

I think that most people can sense an impending welp. Perhaps your voice communications are a bit quieter than usual. Perhaps your Fleet Commander is raging a little bit harder than normal. Perhaps he even says "Don't Worry, I Got This." In large-scale battles it can quickly become apparent when there's a lot more white triangles than yellow ones appearing on the field, a telltale sign even to the untutored eye. But for the keen observer there are a lot of earlier, subtler signs leading up to a welp. How many times have you said "incoming welp!" or something similar in corp-chat before you even contact hostiles?

So why is it that so often people find themselves making all the decisions that they really know they shouldn't? It is probably a combination of several factors, not the least of which are arrogance, indifference, or perhaps even ignorance. These three are most likely the largest contributing factors, and I don't think it is too far-fetched to say that most of us have probably experienced all of them. 

Is there a time when its better to stay on the ground than go flying? Is there a time when its perhaps a good idea to bring a cheaper ship? Past events clearly dictate that answer is "yes." Perhaps a better question to ask:

In deteriorating conditions, can you still see far enough ahead to change course?

I have been playing EVE since late 2006, with a preference for nullsec warfare. I am currently a member of Nulli Secunda. In real life, I started a career as a pilot in 2007, and many of my articles discuss both flying, and EVE Online.