Hasard Lee is an F-35 pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and has flown 82 combat missions. He has the distinction of being the only fighter pilot to employ two different types of jets in combat on the same day. Hasard is a content creator with one of the largest defense channels on YouTube – with over 54 million views and a reach of 290 million people. Hasard has a book coming out in May 2023, The Art of Clear Thinking: A Stealth Fighter Pilot’s Timeless Rules for Making Tough Decisions. In this conversation, Hasard shares the rules for making tough decisions.
[2:44] Hasard joined the Reserves in 2020. He still flies once in a while. Most of his time is devoted to writing his upcoming book. Hasard’s father was a physicist in the Department of Energy so they moved from Livermore, CA, to Los Alamos, NM, and Washington D.C. for his job. Hasard went to his first air show when he was five. He has pictures of himself in an F-15 with a helmet on.
[3:59] Hasard got the flying bug when he was five. He memorized all the jets and was passionate about them. When he was 12, a friend of a friend of his father’s took him up in a Cessna 152 and Hasard got a little bit of yoke time. After that, he was hooked and he knew he wanted to fly in the Air Force. He started taking steps in high school to make it happen.
[6:11] The happy place for fighter pilots is in the cockpit, flying. But developing systems for training fighter pilots on the F-35 is one of the best things Hasard has ever done. The F-35 is the most expensive weapons system in history and will probably fly into the 2070s. The training tech included simulators on laptops, VR goggles, and high-end simulators, all setting pilots on the right path for the next decades.
[9:03] Joining pilots of different jets into one program is like a merger. And most mergers fail! Hasard contrasts the competencies of A-10 pilots for close air support for troops on the ground with the F-16 pilots that do much of what the F-35 pilots do, and the F-22 and F-15C pilots. Part of Hasard’s job was to create the syllabus, building from the lowest common denominator of what the pilots knew.
[11:54] Hasard planned his book to be entertaining and to incorporate some of the principles he learned as a fighter pilot. Most chapters have a story from Hasard’s time flying and a story from history or the business world. He breaks it down through ACE: Assess, Choose, and Execute. That’s how fighter pilots make decisions. It’s developed from John Boyd’s OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
[12:44] Hasard explains assessing and prioritizing the information that comes before you using laws of power: exponential growth, diminishing returns, and knees in the curve; how to make decisions based on expected values; and execution. The number one thing is being prepared. Start with visualization, or “chair flying” from the beginning to the end in your mind, and plan how to handle contingencies.
[18:07] How do you learn to evaluate the odds? With debriefs. A pilot will go fly for an hour and then debrief that flight for two to six hours and pick through everything that has gone right and wrong to sharpen their mental model and make it more in line with reality. Check your ego at the door. Call everything out.
[19:55] This needs to be done better in the civilian world. Spend time with your team and write down lessons learned after every project in some sort of document that everybody can reference. After every flight, Hasard writes down in a little notebook three things he could have done better. Then, the next time he has a similar flight, he reads those notes to prepare. Leaders: are you doing this enough?
[22:43] We’re all leaders. When it comes down to being a good leader, you need four things: Competence in your job and a level of competence in jobs that report to you, Caring, Conviction in the vision of what you do, and in the boundaries you will not cross, and Clarity for solving problems. With these four characteristics, you can get a team to move quickly in a certain direction.
[25:21] Everything is predicated on how well you sleep. You perform better and make better decisions. It’s hard for fighter pilots to get enough sleep because they fly at all hours. A noise machine in the bedroom helps. Sleep is an exponential benefit to what you do. It will help every aspect of your life from your relationships to how well you see the world to solve problems. At least eight hours is optimal.
[28:25] Self-care, such as nutrition, sleep, hydration, physical therapy, and psychology are being emphasized now in pilot training. The evidence is getting out there. It just needs to be a priority. Generation Z is prepared for it by not smoking.
[31:30] Being a fighter pilot is not a one v. one cage match or Top Gun with four aircraft. Pilots work with hundreds of aircraft operating together. They deal with the space domain, the cyberspace domain, people on the ground, and aircraft ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance). It’s a force package of 100-plus assets working to create the best team possible. And the enemy is just as smart.
[33:06] Advice for younger people who want to be fighter pilots: You don’t need to have perfect vision anymore! You can have Lasik or fly with contact lenses or glasses. If you want to be a fighter pilot, apply!
[33:44] Hasard has noticed that in the military, everyone has similar values, along a range. The business world is more of an open ocean and you have to be discerning to figure out where a person is coming from and their intentions, and how well they execute. When you hire someone, they haven’t been through OCS or the Academy and pilot training. They don’t think like the military. Hiring is a challenge.
[36:35] Hasard has a “Never Again story.” When he was a lieutenant learning to fly an F-16 he was doing high-aspect BFM with a colonel with 25 years of experience. Hasard wanted to impress the colonel. He pulled up to vertical at 245 knots — six knots too slow! He fell out of control. He was able to get the jet under control at 2,000 feet. He learned small changes in input can make very large changes in output.
[42:06] Closing quote: Remember, “Clarity affords focus.” — Thomas Leonard