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Japan Said Goodbye to Me in Just the Right Way

Flying in Japan for me recently has not been incredibly exciting.  It was just the nature of the transition of our squadron that as my planes left there would be less flying period, and it would ultimately become a formality more than real fun.  I did get one outstanding trip to Nepal, which I shouldn’t sell short, but I have missed some good old low-level tactical flying.  While my commercial flight back to the States did not include that type of flying, it was still just about the most perfect departure out of a very special place that I could have asked for.

I will apologize up front for the lack of pictures as I know pictures are what so many avgeeks live for, but there were two reasons for that.  One, I no longer had a cell phone since I sold it before leaving Japan.  Two, I actually made a conscious decision to just enjoy the view and make my own memories rather than trying to document it.  It is something I have heard David Parker Brown talk about before when going to events that don’t allow cameras.  I hope that my descriptions will satisfy your avgeek needs.

It started at my favorite airport to visit, Haneda.  I have written about how awesome it is before, but it was so wonderful to get in one last visit before leaving Japan.  I even got to ride on the train there with one of my best friends which was an added bonus.  In short, Haneda has one of, if not the best observation deck at an airport in the world.  It is before security and sits on top of the International Terminal so you get amazing views of the big beauties, as well as views of multiple runways.  If you ever come through Tokyo you really should check it out.

I was a little concerned I would have a crappy flight because my original seat assignment was in the middle of the middle section on a 777-200ER.  That means there would be four seats between me and the real avgeek seat by the window.  Fortunately, I went to the counter to check in and asked for a window, which I was given with no effort other than asking.  To make it even better, my window seat was on the wing.  I just knew this was going to be a great flight once I saw that.  I know everyone has favorite and most hated airlines, but I was happy to be returning to America on American which has always been my favorite airline.

As we took the runway and they pushed up those beautiful engines, I was a bit sad about leaving this incredible place, but equally as excited to finally be reunited with my family after three months apart.  As I always do when seated on the wing I watched the entire departure and it was so cool to see small clouds form over the wing at the very moment the wing generated lift and we rotated off the ground.  What was even cooler was the funnel cloud that persisted for a good five minutes after takeoff shooting over the wing just inside of the engine.  I’m sure there is a name for that, but it is not something we get with props on the Herc so I am not sure what that is.

I got a great view of the city as we departed, but I was a little disappointed that I likely would not see Mt. Fuji because there was a lot of haze and a low cloud deck over much of the city.  As we cut through the haze, and what turned out to be a really thin layer of clouds that almost exploded as the wings came through, we popped above the clouds, and there she was.  Mt. Fuji stood out above the clouds below like I had seen so many times before.  We were taking off right at sunset so she was backdropped with a sky full of reds and oranges.  It was the perfect way for Japan to say goodbye to me.  It probably irritated the people around me that I let that light in for so long, but I just couldn’t stop watching.

I know most people leave the window closed the whole time overnight because it’s not like you can see anything anyway, but I just can’t help looking every hour or so.  There is something about watching that light out on the wingtip that just adds to the trip for me.  That may even be a little crazy for an Avgeek, but I like it.

We made landfall in the Bay Area, but surprise surprise, it was covered in clouds.  I did get a few glimpses of land and it made me smile to see America again.  I have been back multiple times over the last two years, but this time I was coming home for good.

As we came into the LA basin on approach to LAX I was a little disappointed to see so much city again as I was anxious to get into the mountains of my new home in Reno, but the avgeek gods had a little treat for me.  As we lined up on the runway I looked out over that lovely wing and saw a Southwest bird racing us to the runway.  I know most people couldn’t care less, but it is always a treat at airports with parallel runways to track into the runway together.  It didn’t hurt that we were quite a bit early either.

LAX was nothing stellar, but I can’t hate on it too much as I had been awake for almost 24 hours and had to kill six hours.  In hindsight I should have gotten an Uber or something and ran out to the famous In N Out for a little spotting fun.

The ride to Reno was not really eventful because it was mostly overcast, and was bumpy most of the way there.  Fortunately, the clouds opened up for the approach and I got to watch the arrival into my new city.  To cap off this wonderful trip we taxied north up the airport alongside the National Guard ramp and I got to see seven of their beautiful birds lined up on the ramp.  It was the perfect ending to a very very long day.

I drove off of Yokota AB saying goodbye to their last four C-130Hs about 24 hours earlier and had now made it to my new home with the view of the new C-130s I will be flying in a matter of weeks as a member of the 192nd Airlift Squadron in Reno.  I can’t wait to get this next incredible adventure started and continue my love affair with the Herc.

October 2, 2017 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.

Another C-130 Leaves the Air Force: The End of an Era

I don’t like to write about sad things, because, surprise surprise, it makes me sad.  The challenging thing about this story is that it involves doing something that I totally love, flying.

If you pay much attention to US Air Force changes then you know that the C-130H is being replaced by the C-130J which does not utilize the services of a navigator, which also means I am having to find a new job, but that is a whole different story.  Fortunately, these old beautiful birds still have a life to live in the Reserves and National Guard.

I had the opportunity to go and drop one of these planes off at its new home in Ohio.  While a few pictures and nice memories really don’t do justice to a plane that has served for more than 43 years, that is all that I have to offer.

The sunset as we were leaving Japan was simply stunning. Poetic as well as this was the sunset mission for tail 1659.

Our original plan was to fly the southern route across the Pacific visiting beautiful tropical islands as a good-bye to this sweet old lady.  However, as these planes have done for much of their career, she had different ideas.  She decided she wasn’t quite ready to leave Japan so she broke for two days.  That meant that we had to take the northern route through Alaska which was equally as beautiful, just a lot more chilly.

Having been to Alaska last year I was not quite as excited as I was to visit Hawaii for the first time, but it was just as beautiful as I remembered.  What was unique about this leg was the distance we were able to cover and the altitude we were able to reach.

Sunrise as we started to cross the Aleutian chain on our way into Alaska was equally as stunning.

Typically for us, 6-8 hours is a pretty long mission and generally the limit of our fuel depending on how much cargo we are carrying.  We also are generally restricted to about 20,000 feet or so in altitude because we are so heavy.  But a fortunate shift in the winds, and the small payload we were carrying allowed us fly for a full ten hours and climb all the way to 27,000 feet.  I know that is nothing for a commercial airliner, or even our bigger Air Force brothers, but for a C-130H that was a pretty big deal.  We also were able to make the trip from Japan to Anchorage without stopping which is an even more amazing feat for our non aerial refuel capable plane.

The Canadian Rockies are incredible to behold and probably more remote than most anywhere else I have ever been.

After some much-needed sleep in Alaska, despite the sun not setting until after midnight, we headed off for Great Falls, MT for another stop.  I have never flown over the Canadian Rockies before so it was really fun to see just how stunning they really are.  There was still a large amount of snow up there which made it even more majestic.

I know it is a small thing, that only my older brother may appreciate, but it was fun to just relax and toss a frisbee around for a few minutes. Yes there is someone relaxing in that hammock, the only way to travel in the back of a C-130.

I was also able to fulfill a career-long dream of mine on this leg, playing frisbee in the back of the plane while flying.  Generally this is not possible because we are full of stuff and/or people, but since all we had was the crew and a bunch of spare parts there was plenty of room for activities.  Fighter guys can do lots of cool fun stuff, but they can’t walk around and relax in the back of their planes.  They also have to use a piddle pack, but that too would be a story for another day.

After crossing over Glacier National Park we descended down into the plains near Great Falls and enjoyed some of the beautiful scenery, in particular the Missouri River.  Due to scheduling concerns, we actually had a day off in Great Falls where we were able to go out and enjoy some fishing on the river before proceeding on.  The fishing sucked because the river was so high, but I will never turn down some time on the banks of a beautiful river surrounded by stunning mountains with a fishing rod in my hand.

A stop in Big Sky country seemed fitting as this is the place that many of our other tails will be traveling to. A nice little break before her last leg.

It was a little sad leaving Great Falls on the last leg of our mission knowing that this would be the last leg of an active duty career spanning more than four decades.  There are only a handful of people in our squadron that were even alive when this plane was built, and now her time was up.

As we pulled into parking in Ohio and shut her down for the last time it was a little sad to say goodbye to another one of these sweet girls.  She still has a good life to live in the Guard, but as the number of H models we have on the ramp here continues to dwindle it makes me sad to see the end of this era.  If I’m being honest a little of that is selfish because I am losing my position on active duty, but I really think it goes deeper than that.

We often talk about how the C-130H was really the last plane in the Air Force inventory that you really got to fly because all of the others are so technologically advanced that computers do a lot of the work.  There is also something comforting about all of the gauges and dials, that broke as often as not, but that were a credit to the craftsmanship of this beautiful plane.  How many machines that are this complex have been able to take a legit beating for 40+ years and still keep working?  Not many.

So as I say goodbye to old 1659, it is with a heavy heart, but with fond memories of the amazing things I have gotten to do on this amazing aircraft.

No rest for the weary. Before we could even get all of our stuff of the plane, her new owners had her all ready to be towed into a hangar to get cleaned up and ready to keep working.

June 7, 2017 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.

Every AvGeek’s Dream: My Adventures in Everett: Part 4 Dreamlifter

We avgeeks are a funny group of people.  We take great pleasure in seeing, or even talking about planes.  They don’t have to be rare planes, though that is fun.  They just have to have wings, an engine, and a cockpit.  Come to think about it, they don’t have to have any of that, they just have to fly in some way shape or form, or at least used to fly, or were intended to fly.  According to my wife, it is crazy to sit around for five hours in cold, drizzly, Seattle weather, just to see a plane take off, but that is just the price of admission for an avgeek.

When I was planning my trip to Paine Field I had only two aircraft that I was really dying to see fly, the 787, and the Dreamlifter.  Trouble was, when I left home the 787 was grounded, which meant the factory had slowed a little and the Dreamlifters didn’t need to be quite as busy.  But even if I didn’t see those, I would be happy just relaxing and checking out some planes.

When I got to the field on my first day I saw a Dreamlifter for the very first time in person, parked on the ramp in all of its hugeness.  For those unfamiliar with the Dreamlifter, it is a retrofitted 747 that was designed to carry parts for the 787.  It kind of looks like a 747 marshmallow that got put in a microwave and blown up throughout the fuselage.  It looks weird and awesome all at the same time.

I kept watching Flight Aware throughout the week hoping to see one actually land or take off, but to no avail.  On my last day there I looked at the schedule before leaving home and there was one on the schedule for that afternoon.  I didn’t really get my hopes up as there had been many on the schedule, none of which I had actually seen fly.  I went anyways, as it was my last day and I just wanted to see planes.

As it turned out there wasn’t much of anything flying that day other than a few little GA aircraft, but it was still nice to be at the airport and just read my book.  Right as I was about to leave my new friend from earlier in the week showed up so I decided to stay for a little while and chat with him.  While chatting we were joined by another avgeek who can also be found on Twitter: @pilot_ngb.  Once again it was awesome to meet someone who loved planes as much as me.

Just as I was about to leave, again, the lights on the Dreamlifter came on.  Was I actually going to see it fly right before I was going to leave.  Sure enough the tug pushed the plane back and it started to taxi out.  Our new friend pulled out his radio and we heard that they would be taxiing down to the other end to take off.  Once we saw the plane make the turn South on the taxiway we jumped in our cars and sped off to the windsock to get a better view.

We made it just in time to watch the Dreamlifter taxi by, and then line up on the runway.  Then I finally got to see this:

Dreamlifter take off

I got to fly on a 747 once about 12 years ago, and it was incredible.  However, standing next to the runway about 200 feet away from it taking off was even more incredible.  I honestly don’t think I can put into words how much I loved it.  It was the perfect ending to my week, and well worth the five-hour wait.

There are a few big things that I took away from my week at Paine Field.

  1. I need to get a better camera so I can take better pictures.
  2. It doesn’t matter if planes are old or young, I love them all.
  3. As awesome as the planes are, and as much as I love the airport, the people are what truly make aviation special.  It is a unique bond that you can’t find in many places.

I am so grateful for the people who I met on my trip, and I look forward to having even more such experiences in the years ahead.  If we ever happen to be in the same neighborhood, hit me up and I would love to talk planes while watching them, or waiting for them to show up.

May 5, 2013 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.

Every AvGeek’s Dream: My Adventures in Everett: Part 3 Boeing Factory Tour

After spending my first day waiting for the 787 and admiring some amazing warbirds, it was time to go into the Boeing Factory itself.  There are actually multiple Boeing factories, including the 737 factory in Renton, WA just a little to the south of Everett.  At the factory in Everett they manufacture the 747, 767, 777, and 787.  If I am not mistaken they will also be manufacturing the new KC-46 since it is a variation of the 767.

The tour starts at Future of Flight which is located in the Northwest corner of Paine Field.  From there you board a bus which drives you around the runway and through the flight-line over to the factory.  The building is the largest building by volume in the world, and once you get inside it is easy to see why.  Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take any pictures on the tour, but you can see some pretty cool ones from this year’s Aviation Geek Fest that is an annual event which takes place over President’s Day Weekend.

The tour takes you through two different sections of the factory where you walk on the catwalks to get a bird’s-eye view of these beautiful, massive pieces of machinery coming together.

The first area you see is where they build the 747-8.  The assembly line takes up two of the huge bays which is understandable considering how huge the plane is.  On one side they assemble the wings, wing boxes, and flight deck.  From there all of the pieces move into the second bay where the whole thing gets put together.

It is incredible to see how many planes they are building at the same time, and how it all comes together before they pull it out the doors.  They have a nice computer setup that allows you to look at all of the different processes and how the plane comes together in all of its different sections.

The second area provides views of the 777 and 787.  What is really cool about the 777 assembly line is that it never stops moving.  The planes are built on platforms that constantly move at something like one inch per hour.  The platforms move in a U shape around the factory floor acquiring the fuselage, wings, engines, and finally landing gear and interior before they get pulled out the door.

In the past each aircraft had to be towed from position to position which took excessive amounts of time just in moving all of the pieces around.  With this new method they have been able to speed the process along in a much more efficient manner.

After viewing the 777 you walk to the other side of the catwalk where the 787 is assembled.  The 787 line is simply a straight line through the factory.  The fuselage sections come off the Dreamlifters from the flight-line, and enter the factory on the north side.  In the first station the three sections are put together.  In the second spot, the wings are attached to the body, and in the last spot the engines are attached along with all the other finishing tasks.

While I was there they had slightly slowed production, though they probably would never admit it, but when they are going full steam they will put out a new plane every 4-5 days.  That is pretty impressive, but not overly surprising when you consider that most of the fuselage pieces are assembled before they get to the factory.

They have also started painting the control surfaces on the tail and wings prior to assembly, which helps save time when it comes to painting them.  What is cool about that is that you can now tell who the plane will be going to while it is still inside the factory.  When I was there the first three British Airways 787s were going through, the first of which recently came out of the paint shop, and looks fantastic.

The painting takes place back on the south side of the road in three separate buildings depending on which plane it is.  Right now there is a little bit of a backlog with the 777s with two of them sitting outside in their green protective coats.

I found the tour guide to be entertaining and informative.  When I had the chance to just chat with him it was fun to get the perspective of someone who is constantly in the factory, something I would love to do.  They have all kinds of generic fun facts for the tour, but they also have their own opinions and observations that are certainly interesting given their position.

The tour only lasts about an hour and a half, but I can honestly say that it felt like it was about 15 minutes long because I enjoyed it so much.  I seriously could have spent hours in there just watching what was going on.  I guess that is what truly describes us avgeeks.  We can spend hour upon hour sitting around waiting to see something that lasts a minute or less.  For that matter we are happy to see something that is just sitting there if it is something we have been wanting to see.

Speaking of sitting around for hours on end waiting for one particular plane, I found myself doing just that on my last day in the Seattle area, but that will be for another day.

April 28, 2013 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.

Every AvGeek’s Dream: My Adventures in Everett: Part 1

A couple of weeks back I had the opportunity to spend a few free days at Paine Field North of Seattle, and it was everything that I had hoped it would be.  As a complete and utter AvGeek I will gladly take any opportunity to watch planes in all of their many states.  Paine Field just happens to be one of the best places to see planes as it is also the home of Boeing’s largest factory.

At the Boeing factory in Everett they manufacture the 747, 767, 777, and the recently reairborne 787.  I will talk about the tour another day, but will simply say that I highly recommend it to anyone who loves planes as much as I do.

When it comes to plane spotting at Paine Field I took the advice of some experts as to where to go.  Malcom Muir of AirlineReporter.com wrote a great piece about all the ins and outs of plane spotting in the area.  Based on his recommendations I chose to spend the vast majority of my time on the Stratodeck at Future of Flight.

On my first day at Paine Field I was fortunate enough to check one aircraft off of my list that I wanted to see airborne.  While I had missed the 787 battery test flight the day before, I was fortunate enough to see one of numerous 787 flights that week.  You can see some of the pictures I took below, as well as a couple of shots from a newly discovered friend, PlaneInsight.  Of course that isn’t his real name, but I will leave that for you to learn by getting to know him.

It was awesome to see the 787 in flight.  It is just a beautiful aircraft, and it is a pity that it has been grounded for so long.  Fortunately, it will be back in the air soon.  I was able to see this gem of an aircraft numerous times throughout the week, but again, I will save that for another day.

I mentioned meeting a new friend while plane spotting, and that was probably the second best part of the day.  It was awesome to meet someone who loves planes as much as I do.  Many of us self-proclaimed AvGeeks live with people who simply don’t understand why we love planes and aviation so much, but when we get the chance to be around the people who not only understand us, but share our passion, it is something that you just never want to end.

I finished my day at another great attraction at Paine Field, Historic Flight Foundation.  But I will leave that for later in the week.

April 21, 2013 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.