One November day in 2015, the pilot of an amateur built aircraft failed to visually check his fuel level during the preflight inspection. At the time, he guesstimated his flight would only take about 1.5 hours and that he had more than 3 hours’ worth in the tanks. About 10 miles from his destination, the engine sputtered and died and he was forced to make an off-field landing. Post-accident investigation revealed only about a gallon of unusable fuel remained in the wing fuel tanks.
This pilot got lucky: he managed to walk away relatively unscathed. In a more tragic example, almost the entire Brazilian Chapecoense soccer team, as well as several support staff, were killed when, according to a preliminary report, their chartered Avro RJ85 ran out of fuel, and crashed in the Andes. Apparently, the pilot failed to include appropriate fuel stops in his flight planning.
Whether due to oversight, distraction, or miscalculation, these pilots took a gamble on getting to where they were going without physically checking or topping up the fuel. They both paid dearly for this mistake.
There is a reason this word is in quotes. It is because multitasking is a myth. Our brains simply aren’t designed to perfectly concentrate on more than one thing at a time. Before anyone protests too much, please note the emphasis here is on the words “at a time.” What most people think of as multitasking is really “task switching” between several different tasks in very short intervals. While experience and training definitely help to speed up a person’s ability to “task switch” efficiently, human beings are incapable of applying 100 percent of their concentration to more than one thing at a time. When we try to literally do everything at once, each task only gets a percentage of our full concentration. Said another way, this also means each task is getting shorted our full concentration. As Murphy often dictates, the thing getting the least attention typically has the biggest potential to bite us. So, while you are simultaneously receiving instructions from ATC, running the landing checklist, configuring your plane, and watching out for traffic in the area, you are really task switching from one aspect to another to accomplish everything.