Former Blue Angels pilot shares life lessons

Published 4:47 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2017

This week Capt. Donnie Cochran shared with Rotary some of his experiences as a former Blue Angel pilot. He spent 24 years in the Navy, then transferred many of the skills he acquired to the business world. He worked three years for United Parcel as a flight training supervisor and 10 years at Coca Cola as leader of the corporate aviation department.

Selected in 1985 for the 1986 air show. He had to clear a series of interviews with a selection committee of 16 officers who interviewed each applicant. He began the process in March and was selected as a finalist to go to Pensacola for flight practice in the summer.

He has flown in three of the six different positions, and was fortunate to be able to fly with the Blue Angels for three years rather than the usual two, due to the transition from an old aircraft to new.

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During his years as a Blue Angel, he flew 300 precision air show, has flown an F-18  at 380 knots, 300 feet above the ground and often within 36 inches of the next airplane.

Today he has a new mission as a motivational speaker, whose main goal is to share the valuable lessons learned in his amazing journey.  He relates them to what it takes to be a leader in the business world today.

He showed videos of flight preparation, where he had to coordinate all his movements and communicate each action to the others. Before takeoff there are a series of checks they run through. Then, when all is ready, they give a “thumbs up,” sign and say, “UP we Go.”

Another video showed some of the maneuvers, including inverted flying.

He spoke of the five C’s of trust, and teamwork, touching on the need for Collaboration in any challenges faced today— all working toward the same goal. In addition to collaboration, he spoke of the necessity for Communication — staying in sync with others. “Are you clear and concise and direct in what you say? Is it said in an uplifting tone of voice?”

The next “C” was Courage, necessary for any area where bold action is required. Sometimes you have to have tough conversations. He questioned, “How stable are you when the going gets rough? Do you overreact?”

Then there are Confidence and Character. Do you walk the talk?  Do you have mastery of the skills to do the job? It is all followed by Commitment.

“Will you be there when the going gets rough?” In today’s environment the going gets rough.

He stressed that no one of us is more important than the rest of us, and he praised the plane’s maintenance teams as “heroes.”  Everyone needs to feel they add value.

Cochran recommends keeping a positive mental attitude, and not to lose sight of the objectives. “If you lose sight, you lose the fight,” he cautioned.

He closed by advising that in all you do, develop mental toughness and embrace life changes.