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The phrase "aviate, navigate, communicate" is commonplace among pilots, as a reminder to concentrate on flying the aircraft first, with navigation a secondary focus, and fitting in communication when it won't interfere with those other things.

Military pilots have other things to distract them from the primary focus on flying: tracking the target they want, keeping an eye out for other threats (not just collision threats), managing EM emitters or countermeasures, &c. Flying into a bad situation due to "target fixation" is not uncommon.

Do military pilots have any kind of drill, phrase, mnemonic, or teaching aid to set priorities for their flying, like "aviate, navigate, communicate"? To be clear, I expect they use that phrase for 'normal' flying, and I'm curious to know if there's an extra mnemonic about their combat-specific priorities; maybe something like "wingman, threats, targets".

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"aviate, navigate, communicate" is applicable to 99.99% of military flying, but that 0.01% is where it gets interesting. – GdD Feb 29 at 13:44
I don't know if the military does this, but when I flew GA aircraft my instructors always told me "fly the airplane" first, no matter what. The only exception was a fire - then priority became put the fire out, then fly the airplane. – Tim Feb 29 at 14:53
In the UK, initial military flight training is in fact contracted out to non-military training organizations, so it would be rather surprising if the initial training methods and objectives were significantly different for military and non-military students - especially since one of the justifications for the subcontracting was that they were not different. – alephzero Feb 29 at 15:11
The military and civilian community overlap significantly. They largely use the same curriculum for basic flight skills. – Tyler Durden Feb 29 at 16:06
I imagine this is one of the phrases that came to civilian flight training by way of military folks moving in to the civilian realm as instructors. Even in the context of "Wingmen, Threats, Targets" you're still operating under the overarching theme of Aviate (Wingmen - remain in formation, don't hit each other ; Threats & (air) Targets - evade or engage, again without hitting each other), Navigate ((ground) Targets - finding your way to them ), Communicate (Wingmen - Issuing/acknowledging orders ; Communicating with C&C/ATC, etc.) – voretaq7 Feb 29 at 20:25

I am a Naval Aviator and have commanded a flight training squadron. We actually teach that very phrase. Aviate, navigate, communicate was one of the first things I learned, and it has served me well over the years.

It applies no matter the situation. The target fixation example you gave is a good one. Getting an aircraft where it needs to be to put a bomb on target is clearly in the navigate realm. It is superseded by not flying into the ground...which is in the aviate realm.

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+1 for that last line. – David Grinberg Feb 29 at 16:42
In a combat situation, the "aviate" is a bit more complex than normal flying because energy management is part of aviate (in a sense, it's similar to the mindset of glider pilots) – slebetman Mar 2 at 6:05

I am a former USMC helicopter pilot and after 20 years I still remember that very phrase - and used it to teach my kids to drive. Yes, it is a phrase used by military pilots and, given its value, I am sure it is used by pilots in general. The general concept is "don't fly into something or fly into a situation where your wings/rotors get ripped off because you were trying to talk to someone or figure out where you are as opposed to where you are supposed to be." If you aren't flying the bird, nothing else matters. If you are flying the bird but don't know where you are/are going, then nothing you can tell others matters.

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@Andy - I always tell my kids, there is more than one way to get anywhere. If you miss your exit, don't come to a screeching halt in the middle of the interstate (as I have actually witnessed someone do) just to get over to the exit lane, or otherwise freak out. Drive safely to the next exit and turn around, or come up with an alternate route. This falls squarely into the same advice - operate the vehicle safely first, then worry about the route. Clearly, this also means you should be planning ahead so you know where the exit is, but there can be many reasons you don't actually exit there. – GalacticCowboy Feb 29 at 16:54
In the car realm, "aviate" means driving the car safely - including keeping a safe lookout to make sure you don't run into anything, navigate means just that - navigation - if you miss your exit, don't panic and start looking at the back window at where you wanted to be, just drive the car and when convenient figure out how to get back to where you need to be. Communicate.... tell other drivers what you're doing through turn signals or tapping the brakes when you see a slowdown ahead. – Johnny Feb 29 at 16:56
@Johnny Great point. I didn't really address Communicate, but many accidents and other problems occur when you do something unexpected. – GalacticCowboy Feb 29 at 17:52
@GalacticCowboy relevant (Louis CK): youtube.com/watch?v=CQSRPMFDTSs – Wayne Werner Feb 29 at 22:12
@Johnny: While I agree with both you and Taylor's answer, and while this isn't about street safety in the first place, let me suggest to put the operation of turn signals into the "aviate" / "driving safely" section, as "non-optional communication". Not communicating in an airplane for a minute or two is not that much of an issue. On the street, you don't have that much separation to work with, so flash those lights, early and always! "Communicate" is about telling your passengers what you're doing, or talking to them, full stop. It's somewhat hard to drive safely without turning lights. – DevSolar Mar 1 at 12:49

In my airforce this is also a useful technique that is thought to assist in handling emergency situations, at least initially. Often it would be followed by other models to assist in dealing with the emergency. It reminds you not to get so distracted by "handling the emergency" that you end up flying into the ground or not routing to a safe area to land or eject. Once you have control of the situation communicate your problem and intentions to ATC who can assist and/or get emergency vehicles on standby. So similar to the previous answers but with more emphasis on an emergency situation.

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