Every year, at least a few pilots die as a result of attempting to get their airplanes off the ground too soon. In aviation lingo, they become victims of “premature rotation.” It happens for a variety of reasons, but most often it occurs when the airplane is heavy, the weather is hot and humid, and the end of the runway seems to be approaching rapidly.
Whether a pilot chooses to pull on his stick prematurely may have something to do with whether he is more like a tamarin or a marmoset. For those of us who grew up in New York and could tell you the difference between a Pennsy Pinky and a whiffle ball but think that tamarins and marmosets are, perhaps, different flavors of jam, you should be informed that they are, instead, cute little monkeys.
The two different breeds can be difficult to tell apart, but if you are in the monkey business you will know that tamarins are a bit larger on the whole, while diminutive marmosets have larger incisors.
But beyond their physical appearance, their personalities differ as well. In 2005, some researchers decided to give both species a task in which each monkey had a choice between taking a small reward immediately, or waiting for a variable period of time for a larger reward. It turns out that marmosets waited significantly longer for food than tamarins. The researchers hypothesized that, while these differences might be explained by social behavior, brain size, or life history, it was more likely due to their feeding history. Tamarins feed on insects, requiring quick, impulsive action, while marmosets rely on slow-flowing gum from trees. As a result, marmosets evolved to have better self-control.
Patience, or the lack of it, may be partly responsible for premature rotation. On hot and heavy days, the key to successful liftoff is to hold off until the airplane is capable of climbing. That requires patience as well as confidence in your airplane. The airplane may “know” when it’s ready, but the pilot may not. If the airplane isn’t ready when the pilot thinks it should be, there’s trouble in River City, or wherever you happen to be trying to get away from. You have not developed the airspeed needed to become airborne. Airspeed is a bit like capital for businesses. You need a certain amount of it in order to get your business off the ground, and lack of it is the primary reason businesses fail.
Whether or not a pilot miscalculates weight and balance, or neglects to calculate it at all, the pilot will know he or she has rotated prematurely when the airplane refuses to climb when commanded. And depending on how much runway lay ahead, the airplane’s reluctance to leave the ground can ignite a moment of panic in the pilot. That’s because airplanes generally do not have much in the way of brakes, and they are difficult to slow down quickly. The end of the runway may be the beginning of a more permanent ending if you slam into a berm, drainage ditch, poplar tree or a giant panda reserve.
Psychologists often see patience as the choice between a small, short-term reward or a more valuable long-term reward. Most humans, and most animals in general, lean toward smaller, short-term rewards, which in the case of pilots, means that they make the choice of getting off the ground quicker as opposed to waiting to get closer to the end of the runway in order to ultimately live a longer life.
There are some who argue that the ubiquity of internet browsing has created a generation with less patience. If you’ve ever wondered why video streaming services give you the option of skipping the advertisement after 5 seconds, it is because research has shown that few people who use the internet will wait more than a few seconds for a video to start before switching to another site altogether. Rather than use your large motor skills to grab a dictionary off of a shelf and suffer the slings and arrows of having to leave the comfort of your chair and use your hard-earned first grade alphabet skills, the internet will take you to the definition of any word in under 3 clicks, or about a second.
Theories abound relating to the reasons some people appear to be more patient than others. Like everything else, it is likely a combination of nature and nurture. Regardless, few can deny that patience is almost always a virtue. If you are a tamarin, however, you might die of hunger if you don’t act quickly when your food flits by. Flying airplanes requires the ability to make quick decisions, especially when the fit hits the shan. But, in both taking off and landing, the two most critical phases of flying, it makes more sense to slowly suck the gum from the tree.