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Lessons Learned: Even the Best Laid Plan Can Completely Fall Apart

Proper planning is essential to the success of any type of flying.  Even if you are just going out for some VFR fun you need to make sure you are prepared for the weather as well as any NOTAMS pertaining to where and what you plan to do.  But as anyone who has flown very much knows, even the best laid plan can quickly fall apart.  That is just the nature of aviation.

A few weeks ago I got to witness just such an occurrence happen to someone else only a day before it happened to me.

A friend of mine had planned for a pretty complex mission involving three aircraft and two parachutists getting off at least six jumps.  She had thought through the situation well and had developed a pretty solid plan to accomplish all of the necessary training in the safest way possible.

As is wont to happen when you fly planes that are more than 40 years old, maintenance issues complicated the execution of the plan.  Ultimately, the plan really fell apart when it was discovered that one simple phone call had not been made and thus precluded any of the jumps from taking place.  That meant that my plan for the next day just got more complicated.

I now had to develop a plan to get those jumps off while still accomplishing all of the other objectives I already had for my flight.  I developed just such a plan and everything was in order to get it done.  The planes were even working well and it looked like it would all go off without a hitch.  Silly me to think that would actually happen.

Occasionally we plan for the day flights to pass off their planes to the night flights without shutting down the engines.  There are a number of reasons for this, but the short version is that it saves a lot of work for our maintainers while still allowing us to get two different groups of flights.

As we stood there waiting for the morning flights to land, two aircraft landed and taxied off while the third plane went around for one more approach.  I hoped that it was not our plane, but it was, so we were left waiting for another ten minutes while the other two crews took over their aircraft and got ready to fly.  The problem with this situation was that my plane was supposed to do the first set of jumps, with the other jumps to follow after.  With my plane taking off a good 15-20 minutes after the time we were supposed to take off, the whole plan had just been tipped upside down.

Fortunately, I work with a bunch of great professionals and we came together to modify the plan in a way that would still get the mission accomplished.  As the mission commander I laid out the new plan with the new times we would utilize and the rest of the formation confirmed the design of the new plan.  There were still a handful of delays and a couple of miscommunications with the air traffic controllers that led to some wasted time, but in the end all of the jumps were accomplished and as much training as possible was completed.

This just reaffirmed the importance of contingency plans when putting together a flight.  Even if you are flying alone it is important to have a plan for when unexpected weather rolls in, or when the engine starts to run a little rough and you need to land quickly.  If these situations have been considered long before takeoff, then they will be far less stressful when they come along.  It will simply be a matter of implementing those solutions that have already been discussed.

The other important reminder from this situation is the value of flying with professionals.  People who take their job seriously will put in the effort needed to be personally prepared to fly.  They will not wait until the day of a flight to look through the pubs, but will study them well beforehand.  They will ask questions of those with more experience and try to learn from their previous mistakes.

One of the greatest benefits of working with experienced professionals is the level of situational awareness that they possess.  As you become more experienced as an aviator you are able to take on more of the situation and better understand the picture around you.  In this case, the crews of the other aircraft were able to look at our delay and understand how that would affect the mission as a whole.  They were able to provide valuable insights to me as the mission commander that made it possible to come up with a solid plan that would work for everyone involved.  They were not simply sharing their opinions for the sake of doing so, but were contributing to a solution.

As a navigator I have a unique role on the flight deck as I have no access to the aircraft controls but I can still do a lot to contribute to the successful flight of our aircraft.  One of the most important things for a Nav to learn is what to say and when to say it.  I could spend an entire flight talking about things and provide no real value to the flight.  On the other hand I could not say much and save the crew in an emergency.  The real value is in what is being said and its value to the mission.

Part of that equation is also in the timing of what we say.  Telling the pilot about your timing situation as he is flaring to land is not a good idea.  The information is important, but not at that time.  It is exactly the same when you are working with a formation.  We often talk about “the good idea fairy” appearing when a plan is presented.  This is when everyone and their dog decides they have a better way of executing your plan and they decide to share it right before execution.  There is nothing wrong with sharing good ideas, but right before take-off is not the time for that, unless of course it will keep the formation more safe.

Planning for a flight is incredibly important, and an essential part of that plan needs to be some sort of contingencies for when the plan starts to break down.  Ideally, you will never have to utilize them, but I can almost guarantee that the flight you decide to plan with a little less detail will be the flight that you needed it most.

November 12, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Are Avgeeks Hurting the Growth of Aviation?

My brother, the healthcare IT expert, tweeted something a couple of days ago that has really got me thinking.  He said,

“I wonder how often the jargon we use prevents people that could benefit from joining our various communities.”

I am well aware of how much jargon I use when talking about aviation because the other people I work with are well versed in this jargon, and it is just easier to use it with them.  When I go out with my friends, and our spouses or non flying friends are with us, it is hard to not talk about flying because it is such a huge part of our life.  My wife has grown used to this and does a pretty good job at engaging other people so that she isn’t just as bored as they are.

I know this is an American MD-80 but that is about where my knowledge ends.

I know this is an American MD-80 but that is about where my knowledge ends.

I must admit that even I have been uncomfortable around certain groups of aviation experts because I felt that my avgeekyness was simply inadequate to be in their presence.  I am pretty good at identifying most commercial aircraft though I am far from polished when you get into all of the different variants.  I doubt I will ever know which engines are on which aircraft, and I guarantee I will never know seating configurations or other things like that.  I just don’t have the spare brain bytes for that right now, or probably ever.

If I can feel uncomfortable in that environment, then I can only imagine how someone with even less aviation knowledge would feel.  There are a lot of people putting forth a lot of effort to try to increase interest in aviation, but I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t the ones standing in our own way.

It is one thing to show awesome pictures and videos or to even share a flight together, but how often do we scare someone off because we just know too darn much?  If someone is new to aviation and you get talking about Lycoming engines, or even worse high-bypass turbofans, then it is entirely possible you could intimidate them.  Even talking about relatively simple terms like crosswind, downwind, base, and final could scare them off if they aren’t ready for it.  None of us like to admit we don’t know something.

Even a simple beauty like this Piper Cub could scare someone off if they don't know the right jargon.

Even a simple beauty like this Piper Cub could scare someone off if they don’t know the right jargon.

I’m not saying that we should insult their intelligence or oversimplify the truly complex nature of aviation, but I think it is important that we be very careful with how we respond to people who show interest in this amazing community.

Avgeeks can be some of the most inclusive and friendly people I have ever met.  I have stumbled across friends from Twitter at various airports and ended up spending the rest of the day with them enjoying the wonders of aviation together.  These are people who I had never met in person, but that I had an immediate connection with because of our love of planes.

As I previously mentioned, I have also been amongst groups that left me feeling inadequate because of their ability to rattle off all sorts of numbers and statistics.  This is likely in large part due to my own insecurities, but I can’t help but wonder if other people feel the same way, and have been scared away from aviation entirely.

Aviation jargon is an incredibly important part of aviation, maybe even more so than most industries because of the time sensitive nature of what we do and the efficiency that jargon can provide.  Let’s be honest, it is a lot of fun to sound cool when spouting off a clearance, or trying to impress a girl by knowing all the pertinent data on Boeing’s newest aircraft (if you find a girl who is impressed by that hold on to her and never let go), but it could also scare someone off that is just too timid to think they could ever be that cool.

I’m not saying we need to eliminate this jargon, or even minimize it, because if we can’t sound cool while we look cool around planes, then what is even the point?  Am I right?  What I am saying is that we need to be very cognizant of how we are using that jargon to ensure that we are using it in ways that will be inclusive rather than exclusive.  We avgeeks are the only ones that will be able to rejuvenate general aviation, and ensure that it has the booming future that it deserves, and I know that none of us would ever want to scare someone away.

When in doubt start them on the basics.

When in doubt start them on the basics.

So the next time you ask a girl if she fell out of a B-17, cause she’s the bomb (I love that movie), make sure she realizes you are talking about an amazing airplane and not the latest development in cancer research.

October 26, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

There is No Black and White in an Aircraft Emergency

For better or worse, mostly worse, we live in a world today where many people take every snippet of news to extremes.  Much of this is driven by the 24 hour news cycle, and the obsessive need of every media outlet to be the first to break any news that might be even remotely relevant without checking for confirmation, or even the facts.  Sensationalism is the name of the game in the media these days, and it is causing many problems that really should not be issues at all.

There may be no sector of the world where this is more true than aviation.  Some of this comes from the relative ignorance of the public, the potential for major tragedies in flight, and the complex nature of what we do.  Unfortunately, many media outlets don’t even take the time to find real experts to support their stories, because, let’s be honest, the truth wouldn’t sell nearly as well as the sensationalism they opt to offer.  Instead they prefer to scare the public into thinking a situation is worse than it actually is.  That is exactly what happened with two recent emergencies that garnered a fair amount of attention.

The first was the engine fire of British Airways Flight 2276 in Las Vegas.  In short, there was an engine fire on the ground that caused the crew to abort their departure, and evacuate the aircraft.  They did a beautiful job of getting everyone to safety, and the aircraft was taken care of about as well as could be expected.

In this instance much of the extremism came from Twitter and other social media outlets where people completely shredded passengers who had taken their bags with them while evacuating.  While I agree that it was not the smartest move by these passengers, they certainly do not deserve much of the vitriol that has been thrown at them from the masses.  Rather than explaining further I would direct you to a piece written on the Airline Reporter website that does a far better job of conveying my feelings than I probably could.  Again, taking your bag in an evacuation is generally not the best idea, but there are certainly scenarios I could see that taking your bag could be justified, and you never know how you will respond in an emergency.

The second emergency that took place recently was the in-flight death of an American Airlines pilot.  While this is a terribly sad situation, the plane and the rest of the people on board were in no real danger just because one of the pilots was incapacitated.  For some reason the media is making a huge deal about the “co-pilot” having to land the plane by himself.  This is where ignorance and aviation colloquialisms come into play.  Again, I have been beaten to the punch by a much more qualified expert than myself so I would direct you to the writings of Cap’n Eric Auxier who very clearly and simply explains how the media has screwed up the reporting on this story.

Now I didn’t write this post just to direct you to other writers and their opinions, I have a point of my own to make.

As I alluded to in the title, there is no such thing as black and white in an emergency, nor do any of us know how we will respond in an actual emergency.  Because every emergency is incredibly unique there are always variables that will tweak the response of those involved.  The interesting thing about many of the extreme responses to this story is that not a single person I have seen respond has ever been in an actual emergency themselves.  They are surely out there, but I have not come across them.

In the military, as well as with the airlines, there are very clearly delineated emergency procedures and how to respond to them.  We refer to the first few steps of some of these emergency procedures as boldface in the military because they are written in bold and all capitals in our regulations.  All of these steps must be memorized because they are so important that there is no time to go looking through books for the procedure that you are supposed to follow.  Even with that being said, there are still situations where the best decision is to hold off on the boldface steps to return the plane, and its crew, safely home.

During my time in the C-130 I have been on board a handful of times when we had to shut down an engine, or perform some other emergency procedure.  Admittedly, shutting down one engine when you have three other good ones is not nearly as stressful as shutting down one of only two engines, but it is an uncomfortable situation nonetheless.  While each of these emergencies called for the same procedure to shut down an engine, not one of them was carried out in exactly the same way.

There is no black and white in an emergency, there is only an opportunity for a well-trained crew to make educated decisions that will ultimately lead to a safe outcome.  The safety record of the vast majority of aviation is a credit to the crews that have been well-prepared and have prevented many of these potential emergencies, and when they do happen, they have been mostly well handled saving many people a lot of heartache.  It is easy for armchair quarterbacks to question the decisions from the ground in the safety of their homes sitting behind their computer, but until you have been in an emergency you really have little room to talk.

Emergencies exist in every part of life in one way or another.  No matter how hard you try to prevent them they will eventually happen because that is just part of living.  We can mitigate them, and we can prepare like crazy so that we can respond appropriately when they do happen, but no matter how well we prepare we can never know how we will respond until an actual emergency is placed before us.

It is also important to keep faith in the pilots that safely transport us all over the world everyday.  If you don’t understand the terms we use in aviation and you are worried about what you hear on the news, ask someone who actually works in aviation and they can explain it better than the media.

The term co-pilot is merely in reference to the person sitting in the right seat of the flight deck.  It is incredibly common for us to fly with the most experienced pilot in the right seat, so that the less experienced pilot can gain experience in the left seat.  The reality is that no matter who is sitting in which seat, they are both qualified pilots that are perfectly capable of getting the plane safely to its destination.

So the next time the media or social media try to tell you that an emergency situation was handled wrong, or that someone in particular is at fault, take the time to do a little extra research and gather some more information.  The real information is out there if you will only take the time to find it.  No matter what you do find, never forget that no emergency situation is ever totally black and white.

October 13, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Working a Dropzone Can Be Lots of Fun

The dropzone is a fun perspective for some great pictures.

The dropzone is a fun perspective for some great pictures.

I often write about performing airdrops in the various different locations I have been to because it is one of the things that really sets us apart from civilian aircraft, and is one of the most enjoyable things that I get to do.  While it is a lot of fun from my perspective there is another perspective that I had never experienced, until recently, that plays a vital role in our mission:

The perspective from the dropzone.

I had always been curious as to what it would be like to view a drop from the ground, but we are generally too busy to take a day off to get out there and witness it.  However, I was unable to fly for the first month or so after getting to Japan while I waited on training, paperwork, and various other logistical issues so I took advantage of the opportunity and made a trip out to the dropzone to check it out.

I love it when you can see the rotation of the propellers in a shot.

I love it when you can see the rotation of the propellers in a shot.

The dropzone itself is really nothing more than an open piece of land that we have permission to drop stuff on.  We can’t exactly go dropping stuff wherever we want because it could end up causing some serious damage on the ground.  To prevent that type of mishap, we have designated areas that have been approved for airdrops where we can practice our craft in a safe and secure way.

Part of making it a safe process is having someone on the ground to verify that the dropzone is clear and that we are safe to drop.  They also can provide wind information and visual references to make our drop more accurate.  While we certainly could kick stuff out the back without someone on the ground, they make our efforts much easier, effective, and safe.

Something that I had not really anticipated once we got out to the dropzone was how much time we would spend waiting around.  When you are in the plane performing airdrops the whole sequence seems to move pretty rapidly, but on the ground it moves much more slowly.  It was actually nice to see it from this perspective because it helped me to realize how much time we actually have in the air and that it is all a matter of slowing the process down and taking the necessary time to do things right.

The best view for an airdrop is always from the last plane in the formation.

The best view for an airdrop is always from the last plane in the formation.

While there was nothing groundbreaking that I learned while helping out at the dropzone, It was a great opportunity to gain some appreciation for the work that others do to make our mission possible.  Flying involves a collaborated effort from a number of different agencies.  From air traffic controllers, to dropzone personnel, to crew chiefs and maintainers we often take the work of all of these support agencies for granted, but we never could do what we do without them.

So the next time you fly make sure you take a minute to thank the people who support us doing what we love.  Take a minute to chat with the line guy at the FBO, he probably loves planes as much as you.  Surprise the mechanic with a case of his favorite beverage, he may have been up all night working so that your plane would be ready to fly in the morning.

And for heaven’s sake thank every air traffic controller that you ever meet because they are one of the true unsung heroes of aviation.  They safely move tens of thousands of aircraft all over the world without anyone ever knowing their name or face.  Millions of people travel without ever thinking about ATC and that is because they are so freaking good at their job.

If you get a chance to spend a day with any of these invaluable personnel make sure you jump on it, because it will give you a new perspective on their job, and it will make the system as a whole that much safer and more effective.

Here are a couple of shots showing the drop sequence from the ground.


Moments before the drop.

Moments before the drop.

The bundle leaving the aircraft.

The bundle leaving the aircraft.

I sure hope that chute comes out.

I sure hope that chute comes out.

Of course it did, we work with professionals. Just to be clear I am not standing under where this load is falling.

Of course it did, we work with professionals. Just to be clear I am not standing under where this load is falling.

Fully deployed and falling safely to the ground.

Fully deployed and falling safely to the ground.

Another successful drop due to the collaboration of multiple agencies.

Another successful drop due to the collaboration of multiple agencies.

October 11, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Lessons Learned: If You Don’t Use It You Lose It

I had an incredibly humbling experience last week that I feel is important to share as an aviator where it is vital that we share our experiences that others may learn.  I really need to get back to writing these posts because I have seen great value in sharing my experiences, or if nothing else just in writing them out for my own analysis and benefit.

First let me set the stage for what happened.

In flying the C-130 we have essentially two types of missions that we perform, airland flying and tactical flying.  Airland would be something similar to flying on an airline where we fly longer legs into various different airports transporting personnel and cargo.  Tactical flying is what makes us more unique; flying at low altitudes, in formation, and performing airdrops.  As you might imagine tactical flying is more challenging and requires more work from everyone on the crew before, and during, the flight.

Before last week I had not been on a tactical mission in about three months, and had not personally been in the seat for one in more like five months (I had been at instructor school for two months where I was watching students rather than actually performing tasks).  I had only had one airland flight during that time which had actually gone really well so I felt pretty confident going into my flight last week.  I had also briefed for two other tactical flights the week before so I was starting to get some idea of what to expect on my flight, or at least I thought I was.

A couple of other variables that I also feel are important to mention are that this was my first flight in the local area in Japan, my instructor had not flown in about a month, the copilot is also new to the local area having had only a handful of flights, the pilot had just been returned to flying status after a significant break, and she was getting a no-notice checkride from none other than our commander.  A no-notice is jut what it sounds like; you show up to fly and when you sign in you find out that you will be getting evaluated on the flight.  It tends to add a certain level of stress.

On top of all of this we had a pretty complex mission profile because we were trying to drop at two different drop zones with a potential to fly up to six different routes, none of which I had ever flown.  The mission commander would also not be part of the majority of the tactical portion of the mission due to some weird scheduling that required him to support a checkride.  There were actually a total of 4 checkrides being performed on the three planes in the formation.

Now that you have endured the setup, let me explain what happened.

In short, I had the worst flight I have ever had.  I was slow in my callouts.  I completely forgot certain procedures.  If I’m being totally honest there were multiple times I kind of zoned out and was overwhelmed.  Just to be very clear, we were never in an unsafe position, and no rules were broken.  I simply was a useless crew member for much of the flight.  I have known the pilot for a few years now and she said it wasn’t that bad so I am sure a lot of my disappointment and frustration came from my own personal standards of performance.

It can be incredibly difficult to try to do a task that you have done hundreds of times, but not remember how to do it, or at least not do it as well as you know you are capable of performing.  My last flights had been at instructor school where I was critiquing role-playing instructors and had been deemed worthy to not only perform these tasks, but to INSTRUCT them, and now I couldn’t even do it myself. It was probably the worst I have ever felt after a flight.

It is amazing how quickly you lose abilities when you do not use them.  I could go through the procedures in my head just fine but in the plane I struggled to keep up.  It seriously made me question my abilities and whether or not I even enjoyed what I do anymore.  If this was the end of the story I would apologize for being so depressing, but fortunately there is a good ending.

I flew again last night and it was dramatically better.  Interestingly, I had an instructor that has a reputation for being really tough, which intimidated me a little bit, but maybe that was exactly the challenge that I needed.  I was engaged for the entire flight and knew exactly what was happening the entire time.  My situational awareness was so much greater in providing useful inputs to the crew and what was going on during the mission as a whole.

I was still a little slow with some things, but everything happened in time to get the mission done.  I was once again a useful crew member and it reminded me of exactly why I love what I do.  I still have plenty to work on, as all aviators must continually work at honing our craft, but it was so refreshing to get closer to the level at which I was used to performing.

I don’t know that I can convey all of the lessons that I learned from this experience, but there are a few very clear lessons worth mentioning.

The first lesson is that you are bound to lose abilities that you don’t use.  We all have reasons that we are kept away from flying, or any other activity that we perform, and when that happens we will inevitably lose some of our ability to perform that task.  It is important to keep that in mind when we try to perform that task again so that we don’t overextend ourselves and end up in a dangerous situation.

In tandem with that understanding is not being intimidated to go back to something we love just because it has been a long time.  Maybe life has prevented you from flying for a long time so you are scared to get back up in the air, but there is no reason to be scared.  Book a refresher lesson or two with a good instructor and before you know it you will be on your way to rebuilding those good habit patterns and enjoying the wonder that is aviation.  I was amazed at how quickly it all started to come back to me last night as I built upon each task that I performed correctly.

Flying is just like many other activities in that it takes a lot of practice to become good at it, and in reality you never stop learning because literally every situation is unique.  Taking breaks is just part of life and in some instances can actually be good for recharging your batteries and helping you to remember how much you love something.  Just understand what your limits are and don’t be discouraged when it takes some time to get back into your groove.

As I have said many times before, don’t be afraid to ask for help either.  There may not be a better group of people than flyers when it comes to helping fellow flyers.  It is a passion that cannot be easily explained to others, but for those who have it no words are needed to understand each other.

October 6, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

C-130J Crash Reminds Me of the Dangerous Nature of Aviation

There are few sights more somber than the memorial honoring those we lost.

There are few sights more somber than the memorial honoring those we lost.

Flying is an inherently dangerous venture for man as we were created as land-dwellers with our eyes to the sky longing to be there.  Due to this inherently dangerous nature, I have often heard it said that if you stay in this business long enough you will know someone who loses their life in it.  This is a near certainty as a military member.

It turns out that it took five years for me.

As avid followers of aviation, I am sure you are all aware of the C-130J that crashed near Jalalabad, Afghanistan last week.  Very little has been released on the accident itself, which is good because it does no good to speculate before all of the necessary information can be gathered to understand what actually happened.

What has been released are the names of the airmen that lost their lives in this tragedy.  For many people these are simply names.  For others they are American Heroes, and rightly so because they are.  However, there is a small group of people who knew them, and I just happen to be one of them.

The first time I met Capt Jonathan Golden he was simply Officer Trainee Golden in the early days of Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base.  By no means were we close friends during our time at Maxwell, but I was always impressed with the quiet leadership of Jonathan.  While I never flew with him, I would imagine that he is exactly the type of pilot I would have loved working with.

It always impacts me as an aviator when I hear about a plane crash, and even more so when it is a military aircraft.  There is nothing we can do to bring these great servants back, but what we can do is learn from this accident so it never happens again, and we can hold them in our memory so that they are never forgotten.

So before you go and fly again take a moment to make sure that you are being as safe as you can be, and take a moment to remember the names Capt. Jonathan Golden, Capt. Jordan Pierson, Staff Sgt. Ryan Hammond, Senior Airman Quinn Johnson-Harris, Senior Airman Nathan Sartain and Airman 1st Class Kcey Ruiz.  They gave their lives doing something they loved so that we can all remain free.

October 5, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Amazing New Technology in Aircraft Construction

Planes in and off themselves are amazing feats of technology, but today I saw a couple of different articles about some of the new technology going into the planes at Boeing and Airbus.

The new technology that Boeing is supporting is a new super-light metal that is also super strong.  Just look at the video below and tell me it is not awesome.

This metal is so light it can balance on top of a dandelion.

Posted by The Boeing Store on Friday, September 4, 2015


Airbus is continuing to innovate off of their A350 XWB in building their new A330neo.  They are utilizing materials technology from the innovative A350 XWB along with titanium to build lighter and stronger wing boxes and engine pylons.

It is pretty incredible all of the advancements that continue to be made in aviation.  What will be really fun to see is what the next majorly disruptive technology will be.  What do you think we may see in the near future? distant future?

September 7, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Planes, Planes, Planes (and Some Helicopters)…From My Wanderings

I know that my crews always think I am weird for taking pictures of every single plane we are near, but oh well.  It comes with being an avgeek.  I don’t share a lot of them because I am not really proud of my abilities at this point, but here are a few that I think are awesome.  Not because I took a great picture but because they are just cool shots and/or planes.

Just after a touch and go.

Just after a touch and go.

This is a prime example of a crosswind takeoff.

This is a prime example of a crosswind takeoff.

I recently saw an AOPA article about crosswind takeoffs and I thought these two images were a pretty dang good example of just what that is.  It was a pretty windy day when I took this, but these guys really took it to a pretty serious extreme.

Videos really do more justice to this amazing aircraft.

Videos really do more justice to this amazing aircraft.

The AH-1 Cobra has always been a favorite of mine from when I was in the Marine Corps.  One of my favorite experiences was having them line up behind me while driving through Camp Pendleton.  I tried my hardest to find a great video from early in Iraq that starts out with a Samuel L. Jackson quote from Pulp Fiction as a two ship takes-off into the distance but to no avail.  Nothing special in this shot, but an amazing aircraft.

These beauties will always be my earliest memories of airplanes and airports.

These beauties will always be my earliest memories of airplanes and airports.

As much as I love the new American Airlines livery, this will probably always be my favorite.  There is just something truly iconic about it, and is there another plane that is more American Airlines?

IMG_3371How intense would it be to see all of these guys firing up?

I only had my short lens on...

I only had my short lens on…

...fortunately, he came back around.

…fortunately, he came back around.

Not many F-4s are still flying these days, and it was awesome to see this one in the pattern one day.  I still think it is the loudest plane that I have ever been around.

If you look really closely there is a VC-25 and E-4 in this picture.

If you look really closely there is a VC-25 and E-4 in this picture.

Not a great shot, but there were two government 747s in town this time.  Neither of which you get to see very often.  You just never know what you will see when you are out and about at various airports.

September 2, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

A Day of Spotting at Paine Field: Support Equipment

To close out my almost six-week vacation (it may sound nice to some of you, but honestly it is terrible) I have been able to spend some time in the Seattle area which is just about the best place any Avgeek can be.  It was awesome to see the SeaFair Airshow over the weekend that I will share more about later, as well as seeing all of the planes on final to SeaTac during my time downtown.

However, today was the best location of all as I got to spend most of the day at Paine Field, which is essentially Disneyland for us Avgeeks.  If you are into planes at all then you really need to get there and take in all of the aviation amazingness.  Ideally you should attend Aviation Geek Fest next spring, but really any time can be absolutely amazing.

All of these pictures were taken from the StratoDeck at Future of Flight, which is one of the best spotting locations ever.  I will share pictures of some of the amazing planes I saw later on, but in honor of my Twitter friend Jennifer, this post is all about support equipment.

It is amazing how many people and equipment it takes to run an airport, and Paine Field actually has a few things unique to their special operations.

I don't know if there is an airport fire department that stays busier than these guys.

I don’t know if there is an airport fire department that stays busier than these guys.

Every airport has a fire department on the field or close by, but few departments probably get as much work as these guys.  They are actually operated by Boeing, which makes sense with the demands they put on this group.  They come out for what seems like every single engine run, takeoff, and landing.  It is actually a good indication that engines are about to turn on a plane when you see the fire trucks roll at Paine Field.  Fortunately, the vast majority of their work is strictly precautionary, but they are incredibly important to overall safe operations.

I never once saw this guy stop working in the five hours I was at the field.

I never once saw this guy stop working in the five hours I was at the field.

Not the sexiest piece of equipment on the ramp, but still very important for safe operations.  This street sweeper was working constantly for the five hours I was there ensuring that taxiways and ramps were clean and free of debris, or FOD as it is referred to at airports.

These lifts were specifically designed to work with the Dreamlifters.

These lifts were specifically designed to work with the Dreamlifters.

As one might expect at a factory for manufacturing aircraft, there is a need for some special equipment, and these lifts are not just unique to the Boeing Factory, but to the building of a specific aircraft.  Much has been written about the production of the 787 Dreamliner, and specifically how much of it is assembled in other locations and thought brought to Everett for final assembly.

So how do you take aircraft fuselages and get them from one side of the world to the other?  You take a 747 and “put it in the microwave” so it blows up like a marshmallow so those fuselages will fit inside.  That is why Boeing uses the Dreamlifter to bring all of these pieces together.  Fun Fact: The 787-10s will all be built in Charleston where the main body sections are manufactured because they are too long to fit inside the Dreamlifter.

However, you can’t just unload sections like that with a forklift so Boeing had to build these lifts specifically for unloading the Dreamlifters.  As you can see they have quite a few of them to handle the rapid pace of production that they are currently experiencing.

You can see at least 11 sets of air stairs if you look closely.

You can see at least 11 sets of air stairs if you look closely.

No post for Jennifer would be complete without a mention of her absolute favorite piece of equipment, the air stairs.  While once again, not the sexiest piece of equipment, they do serve a valuable purpose in operations.  My apologies that I couldn’t get a more up close picture, but I made up for it in quantity.  There are probably more stairs on the ramp at Paine Field than probably most ramps in the world.  Heaven help us if she ever gets loose on that ramp.

If you are looking for a fresh and entertaining view of the aviation world, make sure that you take a look at Jennifer’s Blog, Tales From the Terminal.

August 5, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Discipline and Positivity Will Help Improve the Pilot Population as Much as Anything

Conditions are often not ideal, but when you work amongst positive people you can do amazing things.

Conditions are often not ideal, but when you work amongst positive people you can do amazing things.

There is an article I have seen circulating on social media about the pilot shortage and how airlines have largely brought it upon themselves through the way they treat their pilots.  While I don’t doubt that the airlines couldn’t treat all of their employees better (what company outside of Google couldn’t?), I found the article to be mostly a bunch of whining with a whole lot of contradiction.

The one area that I wholeheartedly agree with is that flying is becoming too darn expensive for the vast majority of people to pursue.  A select few may be able to secure scholarships, have rich parents, or survive a career in the military before going to an airline, but for the rest it will be a massive financial sacrifice to secure a good job flying planes.  No matter how much pride or excitement someone has for flying, if you can’t afford it, it will never happen.  That is the real challenge when it comes to people not becoming pilots.  I know it has been for me.

It all went downhill from there.

She goes on to mention how airline executives talked a lot about discipline in last week’s IATA conference and how that translates into cutting costs and charging passengers more.  However, the definition of discipline she provided was, “requiring punishment for bad behavior…”  So who exactly behaved badly here, the passengers who are being punished with increased fares and fees, or…yeah, I don’t see anybody else mentioned in the following paragraphs except for employees.  That is the real focus of the rest of the article.

I find it interesting that she chose to use that definition of discipline since she followed that up with plenty of examples of employees that could use a little discipline of the type she mentioned.  She also states that, “discipline is something you force, not something you earn.”  Which I completely disagree with because of the definition of discipline that I feel is far more applicable in this situation.  I prefer, “willing behavior in accord with rules of conduct.”  This likely stems from my military background and how I have seen both good and poor discipline affect outcomes. 

"Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world."

“Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world.”

When personal discipline is present amazing things can be accomplished and the organization as a whole functions more efficiently, and with higher morale.  The exact opposite occurs when a lack of discipline is exhibited, which is when her definition of discipline comes into play.  Personal discipline is in fact earned through hard work and determination to do your very best against all odds.  It is exactly the type of discipline that allows the diligent pilot to wade through all of the crap the article mentions to get to that cockpit they dreamed about their whole life. 

If that discipline then fades away because of the actions of an employer, that is an indictment of the individual, not the employer.  So you don’t make a ton of money at first, neither do most people coming out of college with mountains of student loan debt.  You have to spend time away from your family?  So does every military member in the world, and I’m not just talking about deployments.  But that was part of the job I signed up for and I knew what I was getting into.  If you didn’t take the time to understand the demands of the industry you are entering then once again, that is your problem, not your employer’s.

A story is then shared about having a vacation cut short by the company that was scheduled by the company at the expense of the author.  That really sucks, and if I was there when you had to cut your vacation short I would empathize with you, and probably agree with your complaints, and then go about doing my job the right way, because that is the kind of discipline that makes a successful company from the bottom to the top.  Instead she proceeds to describe how she regularly wasted company resources such as fuel by extending flights, provided poor customer service because “why should I care about the passenger who will miss the connection…”, and brags about how, “there are things I could and did do which cost the company thousands…”.

She submits that employees “aren’t doing anything wrong” when they act in these ways but therein lies the problem.  Just because you haven’t technically broken any rules does not mean you didn’t do anything wrong.  In fact the greatest contradiction in the article came right before that last quote, and it was easy to spot because it included the word “but”, “I was proud of my position, and I have a deep appreciation for my comrades, so I would never do anything to harm my professionalism, but there are things I could and did do which cost the company thousands…”

You are not proud of your position when you reject your own personal discipline in favor of petty retaliation that has no impact on the person that upset you.  There is no professionalism in admittedly costing your company thousands of dollars because you didn’t like the way you were treated.  We all have aspects of our jobs that suck, but you deal with it if it means enough to you, or you find a new profession.  Discipline is not just punishment, it is a willingness and determination to do your best and to do the right thing because that is who YOU are, not because everyone else gives you what you want, or what you think you deserve.  That is what true pride in your position entails, standing tall because you did your absolute best despite the challenges you faced.

We live in a world right now where people call foul when everything doesn’t go quite their way, even when they signed up for it.  Many people are quick to point out the shortfalls of an industry or company or person, and want to place the blame for everything squarely on somebody else’s shoulders.  Nobody wants to take accountability for the role they played in the situation no matter how minor.  It is no wonder that we see this in our leaders because so many of us exhibit it ourselves.

Fortunately, she actually provided the answer to her own contradictions near the very end of the article, and I could not agree more with the assessment.  “Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world.”  WOW!  Those are powerful words that could not be more true.

The only way the next generation will be as passionate about aviation as we are is if we exhibited pride in our profession and discipline in our actions.

The only way the next generation will be as passionate about aviation as we are is if we exhibit pride in our profession and discipline in our actions.

If you stop and think for a minute, almost all of us can think of at least one person, if not many, that had a positive influence on our life that changed our world.  Maybe it was a teacher, coach, or family member, but their “positive ideology” inspired us to set and achieve goals that we never thought possible.  We saw the impact they had on us and we wanted to be like them.

We wanted to have an impact for good, but somewhere along the way many of us lost sight of that.  Instead we focus on the things that suck and how we were wronged by this person, or that stupid supervisor, or some company that screwed us over, and that is the ideology we have chosen to sell to anyone that will listen.  The relative anonymity of the internet has allowed us to project that negativity in ways never before possible, but there is absolutely no reason we can’t turn the tables  back in the other direction.

We can look at people like Ron Rapp who is quick to call out the FAA and other organizations when they damage the industry he has such a passion for, but also immediately follows that up with a solution that will meet the intent of proposed changes while at the same time improving the industry as a whole.

Or Eric Auxier who actively promotes the wonders of aviation to anyone that will listen.  He acknowledges the challenges he has faced, and continues to face, but chooses to have a positive outlook and focus on the good.

To quote something attributed to Abraham Lincoln in the movie Pollyanna , “If you look for the good, you will surely find it.”  That is true of everything in life, but is something that can be a great challenge if you never look for it.  It takes a concerted effort to get past all of the crap that happens and choose to focus on the good.

It bears repeating what the author said near the end of her article because it is the message she should have shared instead of the paragraphs of complaining and negativity that she chose to focus on.  I will be the first to admit that I struggle with this same challenge, which is maybe why I was so quick to recognize it, but all of us would be a lot happier, and our industry would be a lot more appealing if each of us would commit to the following phrase:

“Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world.”

June 17, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.