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A Few Shots of Everyone’s Favorite C-130: Fat Albert

The Blue Angels are the highlight of pretty much every airshow they fly at.  They put on an exhilarating show that is almost impossible not to enjoy.

The part of the show that many people unfortunately overlook is one of my favorite parts.  Fat Albert is the workhorse of the show as the transport for the maintainers, as well as the only propeller driven aircraft in the show.  I had the opportunity to see Fat Albert back when they still utilized JATO bottles for some incredible takeoffs, and I have been hooked ever since.  In case you are wondering what a JATO takeoff is, check this out:

While living in Pensacola, FL, the home of the Blue Angels, I got to see Fat Albert quite often, but there is just something special about seeing him on the road.  I had that opportunity again last August while in Seattle during the SeaFair Air Show.

While most of the action took place out over the water, I actually think Fat Albert’s part of the show is better at the airport itself.  In this case that would be King County International Airport, better know as Boeing Field.  The outdoor static displays of the Museum of Flight is a unique and wonderful place to watch an airshow.  Though you will notice a few of those planes peeking into some of my pictures.

Every show starts with a takeoff.

Every show starts with a takeoff.

A zoom climb takeoff like this is incredibly uncomfortable since you are flying at maybe 10-20 feet with the gear up as fast as you can.  Keep in mind, that this is not a little Cessna 172, but a 100,000+ pound cargo plane.  That makes for an incredibly exhilarating experience, and some pretty insane takeoff angles for such a large, propeller-driven plane.

While it can sustain this angle forever, it does get you away from the ground, fast.

While it can’t sustain this angle forever, it does get you away from the ground, fast.

If you have ever watched a “normal” C-130 takeoff, it is not very exciting, and it takes a long time to get up and away.  While this is nothing compared to the old JATO takeoffs, it is fun to take off at this steep of an angle.

C-130s don't necessarily translate to air show excitement.

C-130s don’t necessarily translate to air show excitement.

In terms of the air show itself, this picture really sums up most of what a C-130 can do in an air show.  It can be fun to see some big banking 60 degree turns and high-speed passes, but the real power and utility of the C-130 can’t really be shown at an airshow, with the exception of the takeoff we already talked about, and maybe even more nerve-wracking, intense landings.

The C-130 was designed to go into austere locations and provide support to forces that otherwise would not receive it.  I often explain to friends that all we need is an area free of trees and other tall objects and we could get in there.  While that may not be 100% accurate, it really isn’t too far off.

When all you see out the window is ground, it can be quite unnerving.

When all you see out the window is ground, it can be quite unnerving.

One important aspect of this unique ability is approaching airfields at an incredibly steep angle.  We often refer to it as riding the elevator because you watch the altitude just spin off the altimeter.  I read an article from a reporter who got to take a ride on Fat Albert and she said that the most scary part was this steep descent into the runway.

You would never know that this plane just descended about 1000 feet in about 20 seconds.

You would never know that this plane just descended about 1000 feet in about 20 seconds.

While it may make the untrained civilian uncomfortable, it is things like this that get all of us Herc crew members excited about what we do.  It feels amazing when the pilot rounds it out and you touch softly down after screaming towards good old terra firma.

What a beautiful sight.

What a beautiful sight.

Everyone is attracted to the fast and agile planes at an airshow, and for good reason, because they are exciting.  However, the older I get the more I appreciate the wonder of some of these unsung heroes at airshows.  There may be no greater unsung hero than Fat Albert, but I may be a little biased.

May 14, 2016 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.

I Promise I am Still Alive (Video to Spark Your Interest)

Has it really been more than two months since I have posted?

As much as it pains me, I have to be honest: for some reason I just had no desire to write.  Admittedly, I have been busy going to two major multi-national exercises, not to mention some pretty significant family stuff going on.

With all of that being said, those are just excuses, and I apologize.  I promise to get back on the horse now that I have a little more free time.  Besides, I could really use some therapeutic writing to get the avgeekiness flowing again.

In the meantime, enjoy a little snippet of some of the amazing flying I got to do recently.  I will put together some better stuff soon.  Of particular note in this video is the runway at the end is actually where the Enola Gay took off from on its historic mission.  I also think it is awesome to see the propellers go into reverse shortly after we landed.  Enjoy.

 

April 21, 2016 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.

Chair Flying May be the Best Free Thing You Can Do to Be a Better Pilot

Who would have guessed that something so simple could be one of your greatest assets toward becoming a better pilot?

Who would have guessed that something so simple could be one of your greatest assets toward becoming a better pilot?

Learning to fly is expensive.

I say that a lot, and so do a lot of other people who are associated with flying because it really is.  In the never-ending effort to reduce the cost of becoming a pilot there is something that anyone can do that I promise will save you time and in turn money.

Chair flying is a learning tool that is utilized by pilots in all stages of flying that has an incredible impact on your abilities as a pilot.  It is an amazing way to learn flows, checklists, improve your radio communications, and everything else it takes to be a pilot.  Something that can be that beneficial must be some complicated system that you have to pay a bunch of money for, right?  Wrong.

Let me take you through the simplest form of chair flying.

You sit in a chair and go through every single step of a flight in your mind.  The end.

At its heart, it really is that simple, but it can be more effective with a few basic tweaks.  Find somewhere quiet where you aren’t going to be distracted by a TV or other conversations.  Have your checklist, kneeboard, or whatever other things you fly with close at hand.  You may even put on your headset to block out the noise and make it feel more real.  Another asset that can really improve the experience is a printout of the cockpit in which you will be flying.  Even pulling an image up on your computer screen can be beneficial.

Then simply go through every step of your flight from beginning to end.  That means start from the moment you walk up to the airplane and go through how you will untie it, or get it out of the hangar, and do your external inspection.  Think about opening the door and where you will put everything (commonly referred to as building your nest) and how you will set everything up to get ready to fly.  Think through each step of the pre-flight including any radio calls or systems checks you would do if you were actually flying.

Go through engine start actually touching each of the switches and dials on your printout or computer screen that you will be manipulating or monitoring including in your mind what you expect to see from all of the gauges.  Make the radio call to ground when ready to taxi and lift your feet to release the brakes moving your hand forward to increase the throttle.  Look left and right to clear for traffic and adjust the throttle as necessary.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.  Even just writing this out got me in the mindset of flying and each of the steps that I go through every single time I fly.  It helps in building that muscle memory, and maybe more importantly, a mental memory of repeating those tasks over and over again until it just becomes second nature.  That way when you get in the plane you will have an even better understanding of what you will be doing and you should feel less stressed.

This is exactly why we have crew briefings in the military.  We go through every step of each mission thoroughly to make sure that we are all on the same page.  Some things are covered multiple times in separate briefings to reinforce their importance.  For more complex missions we often spend days going over the mission to ensure that every crew member fully understands their role.

Now flying a 172 into a small airport after an hour is not as complex as a multi-ship formation flight that can cover many hours, but the principle is equally effective no matter what you are flying.  One of the best parts about it, is that it is 100% free.  If you know you are struggling with a certain task, say stalls, then while you are eating your breakfast walk through each of the steps in your mind considering how your hands and feet will move, what you will hear, and what you will see.  After doing it right in your mind, do it again and again until it just becomes second nature.

Becoming a good pilot is a never-ending process of learning and growth that requires dedication to that improvement.  It is not always feasible to get out and fly everyday for 3-4 hours, unfortunately, but it is possible to spend time every day going through the motions in your mind so that you will be ready when you do finally get to slip the surly bonds of the earth and take flight.

February 13, 2016 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.

What is The Goal of Aviation?

I am still collecting some videos from Operation Christmas Drop so that post will have to wait a little longer, but there is another topic that has been on my mind a lot recently that seems applicable at this time of the year.

The new year is a time when it is extremely common for people to make resolutions which are really just another name for goals.  People generally think about weight loss, money, and other personal concerns when it comes to setting these goals.  Goals are an important part of any real success in this world which is why it is important to make them and do everything possible to reach them.  This is true for people as well as businesses.

No matter if you are a person, business, industry, non-profit, or any other group for that matter, you must understand what your main goal is if you are to find any level of success.  Once you understand your main goal, you can then set secondary goals to get you to your main goal.  This whole line of thinking started for me a couple of months ago when I read the book The Goal, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt.  There are many great business insights in the book, as well as many other insights that are applicable to individuals as well.  I highly recommend it if you are looking for something to read.  It reads as a novel, not a business textbook so it is actually quite pleasant to read.

The main insight that drives the rest of the story is that a business must first understand what their main goal is, as I already mentioned.  Once we understand the main goal all of our efforts can be focused on accomplishing it, and anything that stands in the way of that goal can be removed or worked around.  Spoiler alert, the main goal of every business is to make money.  If you want to get more details, read the book.  For the purposes of this post I pose the same question for us lovers of aviation who anxiously want to promote its growth.

What is THE Goal of aviation?

For aviation businesses the goal is the same as any other industry, to make money.  Without that they go out of business and any other goals, no matter how noble, are lost forever.

Aviation organizations like AOPA, AAAE, NBAA, WAI, and numerous others all have similar goals of promoting aviation but generally focus on one particular group like business flyers or women.  They all provide invaluable support to their constituents and the industry as a whole, but they are not really unified in working towards one particular goal.  I am not really surprised though because I don’t know that I have seen a legitimate, unifying goal put forth by anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, many have put forth great ideas, but nothing has really been effective, or else I think we would have seen more growth because people generally do pretty well when they have a clear goal set before them.

Dan Pimentel presented a great goal around this time two years ago of increasing the pilot population to 1 million through focusing on bringing more girls and women into the industry, so is THE goal simply to increase the number of pilots?

I also had an interesting discussion with someone last year about creating an incentive program, possibly through AOPA, where participants could get discounts at hotels, rental car companies, entertainment venues, and other businesses that pilots might utilize when flying to improve the quality of the whole experience.  Does that make THE goal a better experience for those who are already flying?

Eddie Rickenbacker is quoted as saying, “Aviation is proof that – given the will – we can do the impossible.”  This has been true from the Wright Brothers all the way up to Elon Musk and his groundbreaking Falcon 9 reusable rocket.  Aviation has pushed the limits of human ingenuity and innovation leading to developments that have benefited all of society.  So is innovation THE goal of aviation?

A few other potential options for our goal could be to transport people and goods, to connect the world in a more efficient manner, to safely accomplish all of the other things mentioned, or even to return the wonder to flying rather than the commonplace occurrence that it has become.

I don’t think that I have THE answer, but I do have a few thoughts that I hope might start a discussion amongst all of us so that we can focus our efforts to achieve this goal rather than to each pursue our own course of action and have our efforts not be as effective, because as we all know, the sum of our efforts can be much greater than our individual parts.

To start I think I may have already established a goal without even really thinking about it, we want to see growth.  Growth could be seen in many areas to include more pilots, more passengers, more planes, more use of airports, or any number of different metrics, and maybe all of them should matter, but what growth would really show is good health in the industry.  While I think my focus is really on general aviation, I don’t think we can segment the industry if we are truly to see growth.  For most people, commercial aviation is their only connection with flying so to exclude them would be to exclude one of our greatest resources.  Military aviation also provides a vital connection to the mass public as it is often what lights the fire in many individuals.

No matter which metric we choose to focus on, growth in and of itself is no guarantee of success.  A business can sell more product or generate more revenue and still go out of business because it is not managed well.  So I think we need to have more organized management of the industry.  Right now everyone seems to be working in their own little niche to “look out for number one” because no one has stepped up to bring us all together.  One would hope the FAA would play some role in that since aviation is their sole purpose, but we all know that will never happen.  But what is it about aviation that we could all rally around with all of our mixed agendas?  Not since the space race has the world as a whole cared more about aviation.  Maybe the new commercial space race will create some unity.

There is also no doubt that we need some innovation on the people front.  There is as much innovation as ever in aviation technology when you look at the 787, A350, and Falcon 9, but have we really changed the way people interact with the industry, maybe ever?  It is people that are going to keep the aviation industry healthy and we need to find a way to get the absolute most that we can out of those people.  It was people that made that first courageous flight at Kitty Hawk over 100 years ago, and it will be people that will keep aviation strong throughout the next 100 years.

I realize I have asked as many questions as I have given answers, but like I said, I would really love to see what kind of ideas we could come up with if we put our heads together.  There is no doubt that we will all be in love with aviation for the rest of our lives, but the question remains, what is THE goal of aviation, and what are we doing to accomplish it?

January 3, 2016 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 Sneak Peek at Operation Christmas Drop

I know I mentioned it to a few people on Twitter, but I had an amazing opportunity that ended last week to participate in Operation Christmas Drop.

I will do a full writeup hopefully this weekend but I just wanted to share a few images that I took.

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Flying around active volcanos is pretty intense.

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The black is from a lava flow from the 80s. There used to be a runway down there but half of it is covered.

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I don’t know if I have ever flown in a more beautiful place.

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Copilots are easily replaced.

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No words needed.

December 25, 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.

Instructing May Be the Most Rewarding Thing I Have Ever Done

The mighty Herc is a dream to fly and there is always more to learn.  I learned a lot the last couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

The mighty Herc is a dream to fly on and there is always more to learn. I learned a lot the last couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

I wrote this post once and my site decided it didn’t like it so it all disappeared.  I guess I didn’t convey the message I should have so I will just have to give it another go.  Or maybe I just needed to read Ron Rapp’s excellent post on instructing to help me realize how important it is.

I don’t think there is much doubt about how much I love flying on the C-130.  It is such a versatile air frame that can do so much, especially when you consider how bulky of a plane it is.  As much as I have enjoyed flying on the Herc, I have found something that has been even more rewarding in the last few months.

The last thing that I did before leaving Arkansas was earn my instructor qualification.  Because I moved shortly thereafter, I never had the opportunity to instruct before leaving.  Add to that a good amount of leave and necessary ground training, and I went about three months without flying, which was essentially torture.  After a few indoctrination flights here in Japan, I was finally able to do some instructing, which has been more fulfilling than I could have expected.

It is such an incredibly amazing opportunity to share some small bit of knowledge with young, developing aviators.  I don’t claim to know everything, in fact the more I instruct the more I realize I don’t know, and the more I learn.  However, it has been so much fun to help build on the knowledge base that they already have.

All of my students have been fully qualified navigators which is really an interesting dynamic because they are capable of flying all by themselves, but they need me there for some particular aspect of their development.  What has been one of the most amazing things to me is that most of them don’t really need a ton of instruction, they really just need someone to put them in the right situation so they can learn from experience.

In reality, they really just need someone to express confidence in them so that they will have that confidence in the future when they look over their shoulder and there is no one there to help them find a solution to a problem.  I have been blessed with many of these types of instructors and I would be remiss if I didn’t take a minute to publicly thank some of them.

Jesse for being the first to really instill that confidence in me.  Right after I finished my initial C-130 training there was a decent chance that I would be up for a no-notice checkride by an evaluator from Air Mobility Command (essentially the people responsible for all mobility assets in the Air Force e.g. C-130, C-17, C-5, KC-10, and KC-135).  As you can imagine it was a little intimidating for a guy that had only flown without an instructor about three times at this point.  Jesse just told me not to worry because he had flown with me and he knew I would be just fine.  Just a few simple words, but they gave me the confidence I needed to do exceptionally well on my checkride, despite the best efforts of the pilot.

Ryan for always looking at the big picture when it comes to instructing.  There are all kinds of crazy minutiae that you can get into as an instructor, especially when you know as much as Ryan does, but he had an incredible ability to give you just the right amount of instruction so that you learned what you needed to learn, but never felt overwhelmed.

Tiffany for teaching me the ropes of Afghanistan, and showing me just how much fun it can be on the Herc.  She has this uncanny ability to go from all business to total goofball in the blink of an eye while at the same time remaining totally professional through it all.  She could always set me at ease and help me to understand how to work through problems in a way that could make the flying even more fun.

Chris for never letting me get by with just enough.  About a year ago as I was progressing through my lead upgrade training he realized that I had a pretty good break between flights due to the holidays and other constraints, so he came up with a couple of scenarios to work through.  It forced me to get into the books and made me realize just how much we have to understand to lead a formation, and ultimately to instruct well.

Phil is the only pilot that makes the list, but I can honestly say that I would not be the navigator that I am without him.  Phil sets an incredibly high bar and he expects everyone on his crew to meet that bar and raise it.  At the same time he has a knack for giving you the tools necessary to rise to the occasion.  Phil was my pilot at the Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School which was some of the most fun I have ever had flying.  That is a whole different level of instructing when you have the ability to improve the other crew positions around you.

As I said before, all of these instructors, and many more, instilled in me a confidence that has made it possible for me to succeed in my career.  They each had their own unique way of approaching essentially the same material to provide me with the best possible bag of tricks to carry throughout the rest of my career.

I have no idea what my students thought of flying with me, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that I had to instruct them.  It is fulfilling in ways that I never understood before having this opportunity.  My hope is that I can leave them with the confidence they need to succeed in the same way that others did for me.

December 20, 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: 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.