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How I Became a Pilot: Part 4 Falling in Love With the C-130

While graduation was the pinnacle event of the training program, as evidenced by the fact that we celebrated by going to Disney World, it really was not the most exciting event at the end of training.  

A few weeks prior to graduation we held our drop night, which is where we all would find out which plane we would be going to, and where our first duty station would be.  It is often a raucous occasion with lots of excitement and anticipation because it determines most of the rest of your career.

I had great desires to go to the B-1 as a weapons system officer because I thought it would be super cool to fly that fast, that low, and drop bombs.  I felt that I had a pretty good chance as I knew I had scored well throughout the course and would be competitive for what I wanted. As luck would have it I would discover in the first few minutes of the night that I would not be getting my wish and I would be going to the C-130 in Little Rock, AR.

Now if you have read much that I have written in the past, you would know that I could not be happier with where I ended up.  The culture of this community, the missions we fly, and the work I do could not be a better fit for me, and I am eternally grateful I did not get my first choice.  That being said, at the time I was pretty devastated, and so was my wife.

Not only was I not getting the plane I wanted, but I was going to the last place I had wanted to go on my list.  Were I a drinking man I am sure I would have gotten pretty trashed that night because I was shattered. I really should have known that it was for the best though, because it has always worked out for me in the end.

I am not really sure when I fixed my attitude about the whole thing.  It may have been after I did some more research on what C-130s actually do and realized it is a pretty cool mission, or it may not have been until I got to Little Rock and started to actually get into the training.  Either way, it was not very long before I realized this would be a pretty great fit for me.

Training in Little Rock mimicked all of my previous training as I started with a lot of academics, followed by a bunch of sims of varying types, before I hit the flight line and I got to set foot on what is now my beloved Hercules for the very first time.

I will never forget that first flight, even though it was probably the most boring flight I have ever had on a Herk.  We literally flew out over Oklahoma, and then turned around and came back and landed. I had no idea then how much I would love this plane.

It was not long after completing my initial training that I got on the board for my first deployment.  I was not overly anxious to go at first as my wife had just given birth to our third child, but after talking about it a little, I went and volunteered to go because I knew it would be a vital part of my development as a professional.

The four months of preparation before leaving flew by, and before I knew it I was headed to Afghanistan by way of Slovakia and Kyrgyzstan on a DC-10, and into Bagram, Afghanistan on a C-17.  Both my first flights on those aircraft types, and thus memorable in their own right.

I spent the first two months working a desk and doing mission planning for the other crews, but flew as much as I could which was about every 4-5  days. It was incredible. The missions did not require a ton of planning, and that aspect of the job was actually pretty easy, but it was amazing to actually do what I had been trained to do.

We were flying into austere airfields all over the country delivering supplies and people to the areas where they were needed.  We were flying aeromedical evacuation missions helping people who were injured get the help they needed, or in some cases being the first step on their way home.  I got my first combat airdrop where we dropped sixteen bundles of food and water and other supplies to a remote destination where they had no other supply chain support.

Sure it sucked being away from my family and my five month old daughter, but I was doing what I had trained to do and it was incredibly rewarding.  When you are deployed like that, your crew of six becomes a little family that does almost everything together. Most of us would not have been very close prior to the deployment, but when you spend almost all of your time together you build a bond that cannot be underestimated.

Upon returning from the deployment, I quickly inserted myself into flying as much as possible.  I did a lot of tactical flying locally and signed up for every trip that I possibly could to build hours, and gain experience.  I was fortunate to build hours relatively quickly and only about 18 months after getting to the unit I was told I would be going to instructor school.

The cool thing was that I got the news at the same time that I would be going to Yokota AB, Japan to continue flying on the C-130 for my next assignment.  At the time our squadron was converting to the C-130J which does not have a navigator, and I had assumed I would either change airframes, or possibly even go back to Pensacola to instruct there.  So to hear that I would be able to keep flying on the C-130, and that I would be going to Japan was incredibly exciting.

Instructor school was relatively uneventful, though ironically, the person that gave me my checkride at instructor school was the same instructor that had been with me on my very first flight in the C-130. Upon completion of the course, I headed off to Japan which would prove to be one of the best experiences of my life.

I have written a fair amount about my experiences in Japan in the past so I will let most of that information stand on its own, with a few points of emphasis.

I was fortunate to fly with an instructor pilot who was very influential in the unit on a few occasions, and every single time we flew together we would always end up in these in-depth conversations about how we would handle a certain situation or how we would interpret the way a regulation was written and we would both walk away better for the learning opportunity.

She would later become the chief of standards and evaluations, overseeing all of the checkrides and other such areas of regulation oversight in the squadron.  As fortune would have it, she had decided when she was told she was going there that getting me into her office would be her first order of business, and being the influential person she was, she succeeded.

I can’t begin to express what a fortunate event this was for me.  I credit all of my success since then to her having faith in me and refusing to back down when others questioned if she was making the right decision.  She saw something in me that I still don’t often see in myself and I am forever indebted to her for that. So thank you Dominique Haig for having faith in me.

Before I ever got to Yokota I was aware that they too would be converting to the C-130J and I would once again be out of a job, though in this case there would be nowhere else to go on active duty and I would have to change airframes if I was going to stay active.

I was going to say that after much deliberation I decided I needed to find a way to stay on this plane, but there really was not a lot of deliberating for me.  The other options I was presented with were simply not appealing to me and my family and what I wanted to accomplish. My wife on the other hand took a little more convincing.  She was very hesitant to leave the steady, consistent paycheck of active duty, and while I had many of the same concerns, I knew that I needed to make a change.

So with the help of some amazing leaders, who took it upon themselves to help me to get what I wanted and would be best for my family, I decided to transfer into the Air National Guard, where they still had the H model and I could keep flying on the plane I love.  It would also allow me to move back to the West Coast as I was joining the Reno Guard unit. If it weren’t for those leaders going to bat for me it never would have happened, and I am incredibly thankful to them for that.

I feel like a broken record with mentioning the support of people who got me to where I am, but to me that is really just emphasis of how important those people are.  In some cases I didn’t even realize their impact until much later, and I am sure there are people I have neglected to give the appreciation they deserve.

So make sure that you express that gratitude when you have the chance, because you never know if you will have another chance, and while most of those people don’t do it for the recognition, they deserve that recognition all the same.

I should also mention something that I don’t think I have ever expressed in on my blog.  I have previously written, once or twice, about my love of the C-130.  That is a love that I almost never experienced due to a lack of education.  When I got to Pensacola for training I thought I wanted to fly in a fighter, but that as long as I didn’t end up on a C-130 I would be happy.

This perception was one of complete ignorance.  All I knew at the time was that the C-130 was the antithesis of a fighter and so I wanted nothing to do with it.  Ironically, the fact that the C-130 is the antithesis of a fighter is now one of the reasons I love it most.

Two lessons are to be learned here.  One is that you really need to educate yourself before you make decisions, because otherwise you will miss out on some of the greatest experiences, and loves, of your life.  I almost missed out on the C-130 because I knew nothing about what it actually did.

The other lesson is to find a culture where you feel at home.  Looking back now I never would have felt at home in a fighter unit, it just isn’t my personality.  I won’t get into specifics because they don’t matter.  Everything about the C-130 community matches who I am with how we execute our missions, the types of missions we execute, and the crew dynamic that we thrive in.

To relate this to everyone else, it’s okay if you don’t want to fly for an airline.  You may want to fly cargo, or backcountry, or be a CFI, or just chase $100 hamburgers, or only be a passenger, and all of that is okay.  There is a place for everyone in this wonderful world of aviation, and whatever that is for you, AWESOME!

The key here is to find happiness in what you are doing, and then go after more of it so that you can find even more happiness.  I am so glad that the C-130 found me because outside of family, I don’t think anything else in my life has brought me more joy.

June 26, 2019 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.

How I Became a Pilot: Part 3 Becoming a Navigator

Driving away from Texas and leaving my family behind was really hard.  Being the cry baby I am, I am pretty sure I was still crying somewhat until I got through Dallas three hours after leaving.  

I had just been blessed with a son and I wanted to play with him and see him grow up, not go through another boot camp.  I just had to keep reminding myself that it was the long game I was playing here, and not a short game, so I continued on to OTS.

What can I say about Officer Training School?  Not much that is relevant here, though there was one experience that summed it up pretty well.  Upon arriving at the OTS complex I was greeted by a member of my upper class who saw the sticker on my car from my previous base and asked if I was prior service.  I explained that I had done six years in the Marines.

He then proceeded to ask me when the last time was that I had been yelled at by someone who had been in the military for 7 weeks.  I replied that I didn’t think I ever had. To which he responded, “Welcome to OTS, go park over there.” I still laugh a little thinking about it.

There wasn’t much about the OTS experience that related to flying, so I will skip ahead to becoming an officer in the Air Force on 16 Dec 2010.  Though honestly that was the second best thing that happened that week. The first was going to the Atlanta airport to be reunited with my family after 12 weeks apart.  Just to be clear, it was being reunited with my family, not going to the airport, that was the highlight there.

The day after graduation we headed down to Pensacola, FL which is where Combat Systems Officer training takes place.  That is technically what I am, a Combat Systems Officer or CSO(if you doubt me Google “Air Force CSO” and look at the images and see who comes up first), though in the C-130 community we only refer to my crew position as navigators or navs.

The first aspect of training was leaving the family behind again for a three-week crash course known as Initial Flight Screening in Pueblo, CO at DOSS aviation flying the DA-20, or more affectionately, the Mighty Katana.  

The first week is strictly academics, which gets a little old, especially if you have a background in aviation, but any learning is good learning in my opinion.

After that first week you get to wear your flight suit for the very first time and you get to start flying.  Fly days consisted of a stand-up brief that started well before the sun came up. I recall it being at 0430, but I could be a little off.  This is a chance for you to show your preparation, and for instructors to challenge the group to rise to the occasion of being professional aviators.

It made me throw up in my mouth a little to type that, but the more I think about it, it is true.  In no way did I enjoy doing those briefs, but they are a good opportunity to learn and grow as an aviator which was the whole point of the training.

Once I started flying I flew every single day, which was amazing.  The Colorado skyline is quite the scenic place to be learning to do something that is that much fun.  The first few flights are really no different from anyone else that is learning to fly. After 3-4 flights though we shifted to an emphasis on navigation which was what the Air Force was paying me to learn.  It was a bummer not really being at the controls anymore, but it was nice to feel like I was moving in the direction I had signed up for.

Looking back now there was nothing cosmic about what we were learning.  It was really just basic dead reckoning, clock to map to ground, navigate along a route to get you back home.  The crazy thing is that not a whole lot has honestly changed in the intervening 9 years. I still do pretty much the same basic thing.  I am just a lot better at it now.

After 14 hours of flying in 8 days I completed the course and headed back to Pensacola with a total of 22 flying hours where I sat on the dreaded casual status for 3 months.  The only training that took place during that time was a three-day water survival course that was mostly parasailing, but still with some valuable lessons to be learned.

Then in June of 2011 I was assigned to a CSO class and started training.  This post is about becoming a pilot, so I will spare most of the in-depth details, but it does seem valuable to mention some of the things that got me to where I am.

After about a month of academics, that included everything from physiological concerns to weather, to the details of flying the T-6, we got our first simulator sessions in preparation for hitting the flight line.  There is really no simulator that can prepare you for your first flight in an aerobatic airplane.

For me it was an awe-inspiring experience, and incredibly uncomfortable all at the same time.  Flying in such a high-powered plane with a bubble canopy so you can look all around…I really don’t have words to describe it.  The uncomfortable part came when I threw up about an hour into the flight. It was not one of my finer moments, but I am proud to say it is the only time in my life that I did so.  I’ve come close a few times, but never again have I repeated it.

Continuing to fly in the T-6 was a joy and I really started to feel like an aviator at that point.  We were not allowed to actually fly the plane a ton, but even just being in the plane and executing the various maneuvers made the whole thing very real for me.  I was going to fly in airplanes for the rest of my life, and even better, people were going to pay me to do it.

It was during this phase that I started a habit that I still have to this day.  On every flight I try to take a moment to just take in the magnitude of how cool my job is.  I know I am lucky to have this as a profession, and I never want to lose sight of that.

Your first few flights are all about just getting in the air and getting comfortable with the plane.  We did loops and rolls and even got one formation flight. Then it was time to learn some instrument flying where we started executing instrument approaches and navigating airways.  After we completed basic navigation it was time to execute visual low levels.

At the time I thought it was pretty fun flying a few hundred feet off the ground at 240 knots.  We would joke that you could tell if you were on course because the cows you flew over wouldn’t run away since they were used to the noise.  While it was still pretty cool, my experiences in the intervening 8 years have made it a little less impressive because of how flat the southeastern United States is.

After the completion of T-6s I entered a series of phases with a whole lot of academics with a mixture of simulators.  These simulators would be more something akin to Microsoft Flight Simulator, the old one, not the new one (that looks freaking amazing by the way).  Like many things in life, some phases were interesting, and others were meaningless, but you play the hand you are dealt and I got through relatively unscathed.

It was now time to prepare to go back to the flight line for the T-1, but it wouldn’t be the Air Force if we didn’t spend a few more weeks in academics and simulators first.  It makes sense though because the amount of time we spent preparing on the ground made all the difference in the world when it came time to get in the air.

For the T-1 phase of training we executed a very similar training profile as we did in the T-6 of contact with the plane, instrument flying, and finally low-level flying.  Though we didn’t try doing any loops or rolls in the T-1, except maybe in the sim.

Upon completing the T-1 phase of training we were essentially done with the challenging part of the syllabus, and after about 12 months of training, I  was awarded my Combat Systems Officer Wings on 1 June 2012.

It was a truly amazing day, and incredibly fulfilling to have completed such a rigorous training program over such a long period of time.  Having my family there to support me and enjoy that moment was something I will never forget.

I was not a pilot, and I didn’t know at the time if I ever would be, but I had wings on my chest, and I am still really proud of that.  We lost a fair number of people during training that didn’t cut it for one reason or another, so to actually get through was pretty cool.  It also was special having my wife put my wings on my chest.

I was super proud of her when she reared back and punched me on the wings as hard as she could which made everyone, including the Colonel presiding over the graduation, laugh.  Most of the wives or parents just gave a nice little pat, but that is not my wife.  She socked me good, and I was so proud because I am a big fan of tradition.

June 25, 2019 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.

How I Became a Pilot: Part 2 Joining the Air Force

That’s right, I ended the previous post about becoming a pilot telling you about how I quit.  Again, it is not one of my prouder moments, but 11 years later, it is what it is and I can’t go back and change it.  I learned from the experience, and I am better for it.

A year or so after I gave up on my dream, I was visiting my old cub scout leader who was a retired pilot and former navigator in the Air Force.  We had a nice meal harassing each other about the Marine Corps and the Chair Force. All in good fun of course. On my way home that night I was talking to my wife and jokingly said, “Maybe I should just join the Air Force.”  We both had a good laugh.

The next morning when we talked on the phone she asked me if I had been joking about that comment the night before.  I told her that at the time I was, but that I had stayed up late that night and done some research and as far as I could tell I still had a chance before I would need a waiver, which is not something they were giving out at the time.  At the time you had to be into training by the time you were 30. (That limit was recently raised to 33) So we decided to look into it.

I contacted a recruiter in the area I was visiting that was incredibly helpful but he told me I should really work with one in the area I lived.  So I got in contact with her. She told me I was already too old and that it was impossible. After more research I realized she had no idea what she was talking about.  With some support from the online community at airforceots.com, and the help of the first recruiter I helped her realize that she was wrong and my package started to come together in earnest.

The first lesson here is to realize when a no is really a no, and when it is just laziness.  I could have easily taken her word for it and I would never have gotten to where I am today. At the same time I didn’t berate her or get mad, I simply kept searching and asking questions and eventually I found the right answers.  So never give up on your dream, especially if the first answer is no.

In the process of putting together my package there were a number of tests, paperwork, and various other steps that had to be accomplished.  Despite the complete ineptitude of my recruiter I was able to schedule the AFOQT and TBAS which are standardized tests that are required to apply to become a pilot in the Air Force.  All of the services have similar tests. Having already taken the Marine Corps one, and scored very well, I was confident I would do well, and I did. Not perfect, but very competitive scores.

I went into the process with the mindset that I was either going to be a pilot or I wasn’t joining.  I simply didn’t want to do anything else in the military but fly. As the deadline for the selection board approached, I was scrounging to get the last few pieces of paperwork signed and was genuinely scared it would not come in time and I would have missed my opportunity.  Fortunately for me, some of my Marine leadership took it upon themselves to help me, and it did come in time.

On the day that the application was due I made what I consider to be the best decision I have made in my career.  I called the recruiter and told him to add that I was willing to take a navigator slot. I figured that even if I wasn’t selected as a pilot, which was a very real possibility at the time, then at least I would still be flying, and more importantly I would actually be in a career that would support my family.

Then I had to wait.

From the time packages were submitted in June until the results ultimately came out in December was almost exactly six months.  They didn’t announce a release date, but based on previous boards I had determined about when to expect them.

As that time started to approach I became really anxious.  My commitment to the Marine Corps was in its last few weeks and I honestly wasn’t sure what I would do if it didn’t turn out as I had hoped.  I had even started taking classes to become a high school physics teacher because I needed something to take care of my family and the odds were not great that I would be doing that as a pilot.

At that time the selection rates for the boards had been in the 25-30% range because this was 2009.  The economy sucked and a steady paycheck from the military was pretty appealing.

I will never forget where I was when I got the call.  I had visited our local library with my daughter for story time.  As I was putting her in my truck I got a call on my cell phone from my recruiter.  Fortunately, he is not like me and didn’t tease me or keep me waiting and he told me that I had been selected as a navigator.

I really didn’t know what to say other than thank you.  I hung up the phone and screamed as loud as I could before calling my wife to tell her the good news.  I of course made her wait and teased her a little before letting her know our whole world was going to change.

I would later learn through the official press release that my board had resulted in a 17% selection rate. Of the approximately 700 applicants only about 120 had been selected to become an officer period.  Of the 120 or so selected there were only 6 pilots so it just wasn’t meant to be, yet. For reference the last board press releases I saw a couple of years ago had selection rates in the 65-75% range.  What can I say? It is all about timing.

Over the next few months I proceeded to fill out a bunch of paperwork, get a flight physical, and then wait to get a class date to attend OTS.

Shortly after learning I had been selected as a navigator, we learned that my wife was going to be laid off, and in the same month that we were going to be having another baby.  Isn’t life just grand sometimes? It was becoming even more imperative that I get a class date so that I could get going and take care of my family.

Despite some objections from my recruiter, and a relatively unhappy person in the office that scheduled class dates I was able to get a class date for September of 2010 with follow on training in Pensacola, FL.  With a little scraping by, and a lot of blessings from God, we were able to get by until I was sworn in, and three days after my son came into the world I left my growing family behind for Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

I have to laugh a little as I think back on that time.  Until that dinner with my cubmaster I don’t think I had once considered joining the Air Force, at least not seriously.  And once I had become a Marine there was absolutely no way I would lower my standards and go to what I considered a lesser service.

To be clear, I still had great respect for the Air Force and what they did, the way that I had, and still have, great respect for all of the services.  We all provide unique skill sets to accomplish our assigned objectives.  The greatest problems we create in the military are when we try to take on the roles that have already been perfected by the other services, but that is a topic for a different time.

But for a Marine to go to the Chair Force?  That is madness.  Fortunately, I had enough sense to care more about my family than my own over inflated ego.  And, even more importantly, I had a wife that loved me and supported me through it all.  Not many women would willingly send their husband away for three months only three days after giving birth, and as I would later learn, only a few days before she would have an emergency surgery.

Adding to the theme of the people who got me to where I am, I am forever indebted to my little sister Natalie who willingly came to live with my family and take care of my kids and wife which she recovered.  The real sacrifice is that she is not really a big fan of kids, but she was an angel to those kids and I will never forget it.

So if you are having trouble finding how to accomplish your dream, it may be time to look down a path that you have never considered, and hopefully there will be someone who will push you in that direction.  You may find, like I did, that something that you never considered, is it exactly the path that you needed to take.

June 24, 2019 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.

How I Became a Pilot: Part 1 Early Motivation, and Quitting too Easily

I started writing this post a few weeks ago with the intent of publishing it yesterday which was the anniversary of the day I got my private pilot certificate.  But, before I knew it, what was intended to be one post turned into a ten page life story and I decided that I would be better off breaking it up.

It was fun looking back on where I have come from and where I will be going in the future.  Speaking of the future I was hoping to have gotten some news last week to put a cherry on the top, but it hasn’t come yet, so maybe it will come by the time I get all of this published.

As I often do, much of my writing is really for me, but in this case I am hoping that my story will help other people to realize that it is never too late to follow your dreams.  Even when you have given up on yourself, it is never too late to kick yourself in the butt and get back at it.  I also want to emphasize the importance of other people in achieving your dreams, and maybe more importantly, looking for opportunities to help others in their journey.  That is really what I would like to accomplish with this series of posts.

There are as many stories about becoming a pilot as there are pilots.  Each person has their own unique angle and path that they took to get there.  While there are many similarities, even those who followed a similar path, say USAF Pilot Training or an ATP school, will still have a unique story because that is simply the nature of the industry.

I have loved flying and airplanes for as long as I can remember.  I will spare all of the dirty details since I write about it pretty regularly, and this is about becoming a pilot.

When I started college I had originally intended to become an engineer of some sort much like my oldest brother, and a few good friends that had followed that path.  However, upon moving to California and discovering that there were actual aviation majors I knew that engineering was not going to be for me.

The first thing that pushed me back to aviation was working as a stock person at the Nordtroms in La Jolla (San Diego), CA.  You may think that Nordstroms has nothing to do with flying, and you would be right. But, if you know anything about the area I am referring to, that store sits just off the departure end of the runway at MCAS Miramar.

Everyday as I would come to and from work I would see all of the different planes (mostly F/A-18s) coming and going, and I would just sit there and dream about flying in them.  After months of this I finally kicked myself in the butt and decided that if I didn’t at least try then I would regret it for the rest of my life. So off to the recruiter’s office I went.

I think I surprised him a little because he started to try and sell me on the benefits of becoming a Marine, but I told him to stop selling and just tell me where to sign.  To make a long story a little shorter, I was off to boot camp a month later and nine months after that I finished training as an aviation ordnance systems repair technician.  I had no idea what that was when I joined, but it was the only job available in the air wing when I enlisted so there you go. My whole intent was to finish school as fast as I could and get my commission in the Marines and fly fighter jets.

After coming back from all of my training, I first enrolled in aviation courses at Palomar College in San Marcos California.  Sadly, I just discovered that those classes no longer exist. After the main instructor, Jerry Houser, retired, enrollment was too low and they had to cut the classes.  It’s really a shame because I learned a lot there. Jerry was one of those old school fliers that had a million different stories that you only acquire with decades of learning and living in the industry.

While the program at Palomar would never get you a bachelor’s, there was a companion program from Southern Illinois University, that still exists, that would allow you to do your general coursework at a junior college like Palomar.  You could then finish your bachelor’s at their satellite campus in San Diego. It actually moved into the classroom at Palomar right before I started the program.

For someone that was working multiple jobs, drill weekends with the Marines, coaching high school sports, and trying to date girls as often as I could, this program was amazing.  We met essentially every other weekend on Saturday and Sunday for 18 months and after that, you were finished. It was a fantastic program that catered to the military, but that benefited civilians who were in the classes as well.

As I was completing my general coursework, I started to work with an officer selection officer to get selected for OCS and a pilot slot in the Marines.  After completing all of the necessary testing and physicals, I submitted my package and was blessed to be selected for a pilot slot with an OCS date in the summer of 2006.  The way the program works I would attend OCS and then come back and finish my degree at which point I would receive my commission and attend pilot training.

As life is wont to do, my plans changed dramatically when I got sick two weeks before I was to leave for OCS.  The doctors weren’t sure what exactly was wrong so out of an abundance of caution my orders were cancelled and I was told to reapply once my medical was cleared up, which it was, a few weeks after I was supposed to have left.

No worries, I would just finish school first and reapply later.  But, on the day I was supposed to graduate OCS I met my now wife.  I made it very clear from day one what my plans were, and she was always very supportive.  Never once did she try and dissuade me from pursuing my dream. However, after some deep soul searching I decided that I would not reapply and that I would simply take my aviation management degree and find a different way to be involved in the industry.

Shortly thereafter we moved to Austin, TX and I got a job working at the FBO there which is still one of my favorite jobs I have ever had.  Within that FBO there was a Cessna Flight School which always got my attention when I was at work. After much debate with my wife, because we were barely getting by, we decided to take on the debt and just go for it.

So I got my Sallie Mae loan and started working on becoming a pilot.  3 Instructors, 7.5 hours and $3,500 later I realized that this was not a sustainable model, especially with a new baby girl in the family.  So as much as it pains me to think about it even now, I gave up on my dream.

I would love to say that this was the right thing to do, but part of me still thinks it wasn’t.  I really think I just didn’t listen to the right people and had gone down the wrong path.  I could have found a way, but instead I put it to the side for the time being.  It happens to most people at some point in their lives, but it still hurts when you are the one doing it.

June 4, 2019 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.

How to Get More People Excited About Aviation?

This is the thought that runs through my head more than probably anything else in my life, except maybe how much I love my family…maybe.  I intentionally made the title a question because I don’t think I have the answer, nor do I think there is “AN”  answer.  For that matter there may not be an answer at all.

For me it was a father that loved airplanes and would take me with him to airshows, airports, The Boneyard, etc.  The interesting thing is that he took some of my other siblings too, so why I am the only one that caught the bug?  Is it something inherent in who I am?  Or did I just hit the right events at the right times in my formative years?

Who knows?

There are so many obvious answers out there that come to mind.  Get people to airshows, take cool pictures or cool videos, show them the cool places you can take a plane, and the list goes on and on.

Personally, I think the absolute best way to get people excited about airplanes and aviation, is to get them in a small airplane.  I know nothing changed my perspective more than getting in that little plane for the very first time.  Even as someone who loved airplanes the first time I got in a 172 I was never going to be the same.

It may have been getting in the plane, but as I think about it, it is more likely that it was taking the controls for the very first time that really made the difference.  It was insane to me that I got to take the controls within minutes of getting into the plane for the very first time.  I know I didn’t do anything crazy or groundbreaking, but to feel an airplane maneuver through the air at your own bidding is incomparable with anything else I have ever done.

Since that first flight I have accrued only about 50 hours in small planes, but about 1500 as a navigator in the C-130.  I love everything about my job, and would gladly do it until they kick me out, but if I am really getting down to the heart of it, I think I cherish those 50 hours in small single engine planes even more.

Maybe that sounds crazy, and maybe I am lying to myself, but there really is something indescribable about leaving the earth, and then safely returning with your hands and feet at the controls.  Flying is so inherently unnatural for a human being, that successfully accomplishing it is difficult to put into words.  It is amazing, and incredible, and empowering, and liberating, and a dozen other adjectives at least, but there is seriously not enough adjectives to do it justice.

So where am I going with this little rant?  Simply put, we need to get more butts in the seats.  You have to get people at the controls, and up in the air to really light that spark inside of them.  It is true that some people will hate it, and that is fine, but if we want more people to care about aviation, and to put in the time to learn the aspects of the industry that make it so valuable, they need to be at the controls.

For many people flying has become as much a part of life as driving a car.  I recently had someone tell me they actually spend more time in airplanes that they do in their own car.  This individual was a fellow avgeek so his passion is pretty well secured, but when something becomes run of the mill, it is not easy to create the excitement and passion that are necessary to create valuable change.

Now many of us don’t have our own planes, or in some cases may not even be pilots, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get more people at the controls.

The first thought that comes to my mind is the EAA Young Eagles program.  If you are not familiar with the program I would encourage you to visit the site and learn more.  But, in short, it is a program that gives kids and teens the opportunity to get their first flight in a small aircraft for free to try to ignite that spark early.  According to their website they have given more than 2 million kids their first flights in the 27 years that the program has existed.  It is also supported by the likes of Harrison Ford and Jimmy Graham who regularly posts pictures on Instagram of the kids he takes up in his plane.

If you can’t take the kids up yourself, you can donate to the organization, or you can even just educate kids and teens that the program exists.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but lack of education is one of the biggest things hurting the industry.  We have to educate kids about all of the different paths and opportunities that there are in the industry.  Some of which don’t even involve flying, though my favorite ones all do.

June 2, 2019 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.

My Reverse Bucket List of Aviation

It is always nice when you come across something that just makes you want to write.  Over the last few days I had seen a certain article come up a few times on social media, but never stopped to actually read it, sorry Sarina.  Well this evening I finally opened the article and I am glad I did.

The article, which I highly recommend, was written by Sarina Houston for Plane and Pilot, and was all about writing a reverse bucket list.  She gives a much better description than I will, but the short version is that instead of just writing a list of things you want to do, you should also take the time to write the things you have done to help you appreciate how much you have accomplished.

I am a little cautious about posting this because I don’t want it to sound like bragging, but in reality I would also really love to hear about all of the cool things that other people have done in aviation.   Please share in the comments or send me a message to share.  Hearing other people’s lists sounds like a great way to find new aviation goals.

So without further ado, and really just listing them off the top of my head in no particular order, my reverse bucket list of aviation:

Visiting the airport with my dad as a kid, which I had no idea was referred to as planespotting, if it was even called that back then.

Visiting The Boneyard at Davis Monthan right after all of the B-52s were brought there post Cold War.

Going back to Davis Monthan 20ish years later and seeing those same B-52s all chopped up.

Flying in a 747.

Flying in a 787.

My first flight in a 172.

Flying solo for the first time in a Piper Cherokee.

Flying solo cross-country like a real pilot.

Passing my ppl checkride and becoming a real pilot.

Getting my Navigator wings.

My first flight on my beloved C-130H Hercules

My very first air drop.

Dropping on the islands of Micronesia for Operation Christmas Drop twice.

Flying into Kathmandu, Nepal.

My very first live MAFFS drop.

Putting out a wildfire with MAFFS airdrops.

Planespotting at Paine Field, WA. (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)

Watching the Blue Angels show 6 times.

Watching the Blue Angels practice over my house for a year and a half.

Seeing the B-2 Bomber.

Returning wounded soldiers to their homes on an aeromedical evacuation mission.

Meeting John McCain while he was running for president while working at the FBO in Austin, TX.

Flying in the T-6 Texan II.

Hearing the growl of a P-51 Mustang.

My one and only combat airdrop. (We delivered Thanksgiving dinner.)

Attending Aviation Geek Fest 2015

Attending the Reno Air Races.

Airdropping at the Reno Air Races.

Flying over Lake Tahoe.

Flying in a Piper Cub on Christmas Day.

Flying in Alaska as part of Red Flag Alaska.

I probably could keep going for a while, but these feel like the most meaningful ones to me.  Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have the job I do.  I haven’t gotten to do everything I would like, but I have done some wicked cool stuff over the years.  Some of the ones I listed have links with them if you want to go back and look at the stories I wrote about the events.

The other important thing worth mentioning is that almost all of these events included people who I hold dear in my life.  I was talking with someone about upcoming aviation events in 2019 and the one thing I want to do is go to some of these events so that I can meet more of the people who I love to interact with on social media, like Sarina and a host of other people.

The planes are cool, but it is the people who make aviation special.

December 16, 2018 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.

Earning the Title of Pilot

Have you ever wanted something your whole life?  Something that you have thought about pretty much everyday for as long as you can remember?  Something that you have always wanted to do, but always made excuses as to why you couldn’t?  Something that you actually started once, but then those excuses came rushing back in so you quit?  Something you actually convinced yourself would never really happen, but it sure was a nice dream to have for 30+ years?

But then you actually did it?

Such was my journey to becoming a pilot.  I have written about most of the journey in previous posts so I won’t dive in too deep, but before I talk about the hill that I finally reached the top of, I would not be telling the whole story if I didn’t share the struggles to get there.  If you would like to skip the struggle scroll about halfway down the page, past the picture, and you will get to hear about my checkride.

All of the questions that I wrote above were real life for me for more than three decades.  I would beat myself down and say it could never happen.  I would make excuses and blame everyone else for it not happening.  I would get really excited and motivated only to toss aside the dream the very next day.  I would say I wanted to do it so bad only to waste money on games or stuff or even just food.

To be very clear, these were all choices that I made.  Some of them I don’t regret one bit, like stopping flying when my daughter was born and we simply couldn’t afford it, but if I am being honest with myself, I wasn’t willing to do what it would take to actually get it done.  What that means is very different for everybody.

Some people are fortunate enough to be born into money or through some other means get their ratings paid for.  Others work multiple jobs, clean planes, sweep hangars, give up all of their free time and can barely squeak out a rating every year or two.  Still others decide to take on the debt and just go for it with that airline dream to pay it back later.

On that note we all do it for different reasons.  Some people do it to get to the airlines, others to fly in airshows, some to chase that $100 hamburger.  The reasons are endless, and it really doesn’t matter what your reason is, as long as it gets you where you want to go.  Your reasons may even change over time, and that is okay too.

So what finally pushed me to get it done?

I don’t really know for sure.  It definitely wasn’t one thing, but I can think of a few things that probably led to it happening.  In the last 9 months or so I have started listening to a handful of podcasts that relate to business and self-improvement and one aviation related one.  As I listened to all of these shows I was always blown away by how many incredibly successful people started later in life, or made huge commitments to stuff like Law School only to never practice law but instead be a comedian or a writer or some other job with no formal education needed.

It didn’t really matter where they had started, or where they had ended up, but the one theme that seemed common throughout them all was that they weren’t happy with where they were so they decided to do something that would make them happy.  Forget everyone else who told them they couldn’t, or that they were crazy, or that they would regret it.  In many cases they gave up hundreds of thousands of dollars to live on next to nothing, but they were happy because their life was filled with what they wanted to do.

I am sure that you can find just as many people with similar stories who failed as succeeded, but I have great respect for all of them, because at least they tried.  They saw something in their life they didn’t like and decided to try something new.  Even if they didn’t find success in the new venture they learned and grew and had a story to tell.  How boring will life be if the only story you have to tell is about the inside of a cubicle?

My apologies if it feels like I am digressing a little, but these were all of the thoughts swirling around in my brain when I finally said I truly didn’t care what I had to sacrifice, I am going to pursue my dream no matter what.  With any luck maybe it will inspire one person to realize they are not unique in having doubts and yes they actually can do it.

I had a plan to use a big chunk of my tax return to knock it out quickly, which lasted as long as it took the weather to ruin that plan.  It ended up taking a little more than three months, and I did take on some credit card debt to get it finished, but I don’t regret it one bit.  I still recommend getting it done as close together as possible since that does make a difference.  Having as much of the money together up front is also a good plan for the same reason, but don’t wait for everything to be perfect, because it never will be.  There will always be an excuse and somewhere else to spend your time and money.  That’s okay if you go a different direction, we all have different passions and flying isn’t for everyone.

The chariot that took me to a fulfilled dream.

Enough of me blabbering on about feelings and stuff.  Let me tell you about my checkride in the hopes that maybe you can learn from my mistakes and gain hope for your checkride(s).

I showed up to the airport about an hour before the scheduled checkride.  My CFI had the plane all clean and ready to go with logbooks in hand.  I should also mention that I did a mock checkride a few days before with my CFI’s brother Zakk who is also a CFI and regional pilot.  There wasn’t much on the flying side that was improved on that flight, but the time he spent asking me questions about the plane and other stuff felt invaluable to me and my comfort level.  While much of it was not asked about, the peace of mind it gave me was well worth the time.  If you have the time I would highly recommend having a CFI that hasn’t flown with you go up for a quick ride to get an outside perspective.

After a good thorough pre-flight I taxied over to the fuel pit and filled her up before tying her down and heading inside to meet the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE).  It was at this point that we discovered two issues.  My CFI needed to recommend me for my checkride online, and I had done an electronic flight plan but not a paper one.  With a little bit of luck, and 7 years of making flight plans, we were able to get both of them taken care of and I was only a few minutes late meeting my DPE.

After getting through some of the admin and introductions we went through the logbooks, where I looked like an idiot staring at the page with the transponder inspection while my eyes refused to see where it actually said it.  I chalk that one up to checkride jitters.  I’m not sure what to chalk the next question up to once we got talking about flying, because I had a complete brain dump once again.  At this point I was a little worried, but he quickly moved on and I got on a roll.  There was nothing that he asked that was a surprise after studying the ASA Oral Exam Guide, which I highly recommend.  $12 very well spent.

I still struggled through a few questions just because I wasn’t exactly sure what he was asking.  Once we clarified a little back and forth I was able to answer all of his questions except one (I will now never forget that the plane prevents itself from exceeding its load factor by stalling).  The oral part of the checkride was actually faster and smoother than I expected it to be after the first few questions.  He then gave me a quick brief on what to expect on the flight and we stepped out to the plane.

When we got to the plane he did a quick walk around himself and asked a few questions about the plane including asking if a lower pressure on one tire was normal, which it was in this case.  We then jumped in the plane and kicked off the flying portion.  I gave a good thorough passenger brief which is something I wish I had started doing earlier with my CFI so it would have been more in my habit pattern, then we started her up and headed for the runway.

I have the habit of talking myself through what I am doing including my thoughts when I am in this type of situation which may or may not be a good thing.  It shows that you are considering all different types of things, but it also opens you up to saying something wrong and leading to more questions that never would have been asked if you kept your mouth shut.  For me, I also don’t like silence, and a good examiner will not say much so the talking helps keep me more relaxed.

As we rolled onto the runway I got a little excited, and I said what I say on pretty much every flight I took in preparation for this day, “Let’s do this!”  It is kind of a silly thing, but it reminds me how much fun this is supposed to be.  In my excitement to get in the air, I tried to rotate too early, and the plane didn’t want to fly.  I relaxed a little, let it build up some speed, and we lifted off without further issue.

We headed out to the West on the first leg of the cross-country I planned, which did not take long to show I knew what I was doing.  I guess the millions of dollars the Air Force has spent on teaching me to flight plan and navigate has been money well spent.  Once we had climbed up and found some clear air, which was abundant on a gorgeous Summer morning in the Reno area, we proceeded to go through all of the maneuvers.  Stalls, steep turns, unusual attitude recovery, engine out, using the foggles, etc.  The whole thing went really well other than slow flight.  I went to full flaps, and I did it too quickly.  This led to me being unable to maintain altitude like I wanted.  I was in control the whole time, but descended more than I would have liked before slowly climbing back up to altitude.

A great lesson for anyone who has not done a checkride before is to not evaluate yourself.  If you do something less than perfect then push it out of your mind and move on.  Dwelling on the past will only make the rest of the ride go worse.  Having had my fair share of checkrides, as well as giving a fair number as well, I pushed it aside and kept flying the plane, which is the most important thing you can do.

With all of the maneuvers complete we headed back to Stead to take care of my landings.  I opted for my soft field first probably because I was more scared about the short field landing and my tendency to float and I hoped that getting a good one in first would help calm my nerves a little.  I came around high as usual and took advantage of the opportunity to get my slip in.  Still one of my favorite things to do in a small plane.  As it turns out my soft field landing was not incredibly soft, but I got it down safely, and we taxied back for my soft field take-off, which went much more smoothly.

I flew around the pattern more nervous than I had been on the rest of the flight, especially after my less than stellar soft field.  As we came in for the short field I was actually a little low and drug in which is incredibly unusual for me as I am almost always pretty high.  I was also a little fast, and just as we came over the threshold I let the wind push me to the side of the runway so I decided to go around.  Something else that you shouldn’t forget when you show up for your checkride.  If you have a bad approach to landing without a DPE you would go around, why wouldn’t you do it with the DPE?  I have a friend that told me he went around five times on his checkride because he was so nervous, but he still passed.

The second time we came around the whole thing felt much more normal, or in other words high, but in this case normal proved to be the right place to be, and I put it down near the back of the zone, but still inside of it.  A good firm application of the breaks and retracting the flaps and he told me to taxi off the runway.  As I maneuvered the plane down the runway towards the midfield taxiway the DPE said some of the sweetest words I have ever heard from another man, “Well, if you don’t crash on the way to parking then you passed.”

Just thinking about those words makes me pause for a minute.

I did successfully navigate back to parking where he shook my hand and told me congratulations.  The next half an hour or so finishing up paperwork and putting the plane to bed are all a little fuzzy to me now as I think back on it.  But the feeling of finally achieving something that I had wanted for so long is something that I will never forget.  I was finally, officially, a pilot.

I will share a few things he debriefed me on, again in the hopes of helping someone else.  One of the reasons my landings were not great is that I was landing with a tailwind.  I checked the weather on the way in and picked the correct runway, but while we were in the pattern the wind shifted which only made it harder on myself, so keep the windsock in your cross check.  There is no need to go to full flaps for slow flight, at least in a Cherokee.  The maneuver can be performed with other flap settings as long as you are safely getting to the correct speeds.  Don’t forget the little power bump before touchdown on a soft field landing, it really makes all the difference in how soft it will be.

The biggest lesson that I would like to share to help those who may be nervous is that you don’t have to be perfect.  I completely missed some of the questions he asked me on the ground.  My slow flight descended too much, my soft field landing was in his words, “not soft”, but I still passed.  At the end of the day he told me that he feels comfortable that I will handle a plane safely in the future, which is the whole point of the checkride.  You aren’t held to commercial pilot standards, they just want to make sure you will be safe and smart in the air, that’s it. It is often said that the Private Pilot Certificate is simply a license to learn, and I am even more excited to learn now than I was before.  Now to convince my wife to let me pursue an instrument rating.

I’m not sure if it is better or worse that I waited to write this post until a few weeks after it actually happened, but the whole thing is still very surreal to me.  I haven’t been able to get back up since the checkride courtesy of work, life, and some things I put off to finish my certificate, but I look forward to taking my sons and daughters up in the near future, as well as my sweet wife who sacrificed just as much during this time.

There is one other reason that I finally pursued this dream that I left out earlier.  If I am being honest with myself, it is probably the biggest reason, and the one that pushed me all the way to the end when it took longer than I hoped, I wasn’t as good at first as I hoped, and when the money ran out and I had to take on some debt.  I really wanted to show my kids that they can follow their dreams too.  It doesn’t matter how long you wait, or how hard it is, when you truly commit to your dream, you can get there.  I don’t know if any of my kids will love planes as much as I do, I hope they will, but if nothing more comes of this than showing my kids that they can follow their dreams, then the whole thing was worth it.

July 17, 2018 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.

The Truckee Air Show Was a Great Little Outing for My Family

I don’t know if there are many prettier settings for an airshow.

Air show season is really the best part of summer when you think about it.  It what other venue can you enjoy time out on an airfield, watch amazing performers push the laws of physics to their limits, and get a hamburger/churro/lemonade/ice cream/etc.  Interestingly, even as a kid with a dad that loved airplanes I don’t ever remember going to an airshow growing up.  We would go to airports early to watch planes take off and land, we even went to a few boneyards and aviation museums and all of the fun those entail, but I don’t ever remember an air show.

While I have not made up for it as much as I would like as an adult, and the Holy Grail of airshows remains in my future somewhere, I have still had the pleasure to witness some amazing feats of aeronautical skill.  Having lived in Pensacola, we got to see the Blue Angels practice all summer long, and enjoy their homecoming show in the fall, which is still one of my favorites.

Even having been to much larger air shows, the Truckee Air Show this last weekend was a super fun air show to attend.  There really is no such thing as a bad airshow, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  The performer list was not very long, but it was incredibly impressive.

We walked up to the show as the original T-6 Texan was performing its show.  I will never tire of watching those old machines do their work.  They truly were marvels of engineering in their time, and leave me in awe to this day.  Unfortunately, as we got to the show my kids were immediately distracted by facepainting and crafts and food so my viewing was limited to a couple of glimpses of the Red Bull team as they closed out the morning session.

This is why airshows are awesome. My son getting his hands on a firefighting helicopter, no idea what kind to be honest.

To their credit, the airport did a fantastic job of including all sorts of activities to keep kids engaged and having fun.  It is sometimes hard for me to remember that not everyone would rather sit on the hot asphalt with their head tilted back in complete and utter jealousy of the incredible flying going on overhead.

It actually worked out though as we finished lunch just as Barry BDog Hancock in his T-6 was taking to the sky again and we got to watch his entire show.  He was followed by Rich Perkins in his Yak 54 which was incredibly nimble following the massive T-6.  It is always fun to watch the different types of airplanes.  The wide range of capabilities that they represent provide such a beautiful contrast to the event and demonstrate how truly unique each aircraft and pilot is.

This theme continued on with Anna Serbinenko in her Super Decathalon.  She is a self-proclaimed sky dancer, and I must say she lived up to that title.  My wife was confused as to why there was some sort of Italian opera music playing while Anna flew, but it was incredibly fitting with the way she was flying.  The whole thing was smooth and graceful and poetic.  It may have something to do with the music, but it reminded me of the scene in Shawshank Redemption when Andy is listening to the beautiful aria and just at peace with the world for a few minutes.  Watching Anna handle that plane with such beauty was truly a sight to behold.  I would be thrilled if my daughters could grow up to be such talented aviators.

As Anna was finishing her show you could not mistake the rumble that came from the other end of the airport as the mighty P-51 fired up its engine.  Even just sitting here in my living room thinking about it gives me the chills.  I have been fortunate enough to see them fly a handful of times and every time is equally invigorating.  I wasn’t aware of the unique nature of this show until a few minutes later when the P-51D Man O’ War took to the skies with a partner, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

My apologies that it is not better with my phone, but seeing a P-51 and a Zero fly together is a lifelong memory that no picture will do justice.

Apparently this is one of the only Zeros that actually flies in the US, and flying in tandem with the P-51 was truly spectacular.  With the history that those planes share, it was simply beautiful to watch them perform together.  It reminded me of flying with the Japanese C-130 during Operation Christmas Drop a few years ago.  What a great reminder of the unity that can be derived amongst enemies once the conflict is over and we decide to treat each other with civility.

While it would be hard to beat the magnitude of those two aircraft flying together, it would be equally challenging to beat the aeronautical abilities of the final performers of the day, the Red Bull Air Force Team.  The wingsuit and parachute teams were incredible in their mastery of the air with nothing more than some nylon to guide them.  To witness the work of someone with 23,000+ jumps was just incredible.  The wingsuits were outpacing the airplanes which was just insane.

Kirby Chambliss standing his plane up ten feet off the ground…insane.

But, I don’t know that anything could have been more incredible than watching the near perfect aviation skill of World Champion Kirby Chambliss.  If you have never seen this guy work an airplane then you are missing out.  If Anna’s performance was poetry in motion, then Kirby’s was the X-Games in an airplane.  The way he masterfully moved that plane all over the airspace going into stalls and snap rolls and all kinds of other insane awesomeness was truly magic.  As someone who just barely finished his private pilot certificate I can only imagine the amount of time that has gone into honing his craft.  My son probably said it best as Kirby came cruising by when he said, “Now that’s what I call flying.”

No Blue Angels, No Thunderbirds, No turbine engines at all, but I don’t know if I have ever been more impressed with an airshow.  I hope that the small nature of the airshow, and the relatively small turnout are not indications of a downtrend in airshow interest, because events like this are exactly what we need to keep aviation exciting for the younger generation.  So get out there and support your local air show.  I can’t think of a single person that has ever said, “I sure wish I hadn’t gone to that airshow.”  So why not get out there and enjoy as many as you can?

July 16, 2018 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.

My PPL Checkride is in 9 Hours

I had originally intended to write a whole post about this and my preparations for this day that I have been anticipating for 30+ years. Unfortunately, life got in the way, as it often does, and I think a good night’s rest is more important so this will be shorter than I had hoped.

I just finished going through my log book to make sure all of my times were accurate and complete. I got a brief from the flight service station that confirmed what Foreflight and my eyes already showed: it is going to be gorgeous weather tomorrow.

I rechecked my weight and balance along with drawing my route of flight on my paper chart. I took one last look through my study guide and have run through A TOMATO FLAMES, ARROW, and FLAPS about a thousand times in my head, so hopefully I won’t forget about the Mag compass tomorrow like I always do.

The crazy thing is that I don’t really feel that nervous. I have had plenty of checkrides in the Air Force so that probably helps. There is still some uncertainty of what the DPE will dig into on the ground, but I feel pretty good about the whole thing.

I don’t know that this is providing any value for anyone other than myself as it is helping clear my head before I go to sleep, and I am probably only doing it so that people will say good luck and make me feel better about myself.

To those of you out there that are pursuing the same path, at whatever stage you may be, stay the course, because it is totally worth it. I may be singing a different tune if it goes poorly tomorrow, but I doubt it. The sucky thing is I won’t even get to drink my sorrows away, or celebrate for that matter, because I don’t drink. Lol

Wish me luck!

June 21, 2018 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.

My Last Flight With MY CFI?

This may be a little optimistic on my part, which is why I included the question mark, but at least as far as the requirements go, I have now completed all of the time I need with an instructor.

After knocking out about half of my required solo time, we decided it would be best to get back to some of the specifics of the checkride, as well as completing the remaining simulated instrument time. Fortunately, there is an airfield that is just over 50 miles away that makes for a great, short cross-country field.

Before we headed over to Fallon (KFLX) we went out into the practice area and went through all of the maneuvers again for the first time since one of our first flights together. It was great to work on something other than landings for a change.

When we had first gone through the maneuvers a few months ago I do okay, with the exception of my stalls, which kind of surprised me because I had never had too much issue with them nine years ago when I first started.

I’m not really sure what happened, but everything went much better this time. I guess I just felt more confident in the plane as a whole, and more specifically in my ability to handle the plane in a number of different situations. It was reassuring to me that it went so well, and gave me the confidence to get out there and practice them on my own in the future.

After going through the maneuvers I put on the foggles and we headed over the KFLX. The only thing that I have found incredibly annoying about the foggles is their lack of protection from the sun. I’m not sure why, but every time I have worn them we have always been flying directly into the sun. Maybe that is just poor planning on my part, but I am glad I was able to knock that out of the way.

Our intention with going to Fallon was mostly to knock out the cross-country and simulated instrument time I needed, so we didn’t stay long. Though I did take a second landing because I was not happy about the first.

On our way back to Stead we found ourselves safely squished between the Reno Class C airspace, and the mountains. At which point my CFI, who I realize has a name, Nikk took the controls for a minute and casually flew through some of the hills for a minute. It is easy to get so wrapped up in the learning aspect of this process that I can forget about what makes flying fun: freedom.

It was only a couple of minutes, and we didn’t do anything crazy, but it was awesome to watch him just freely move the plane through the air and demonstrate the lack of restrictions on VFR flying. You are not bound to a road, or track, or even an airway. You can let your hands take you all over the place and see and do exactly what you WANT to see and do. It was just great.

Once we got back into Stead it was time to get back to work, taking on short and soft field landings/takeoffs again. After working on them for an hour, the biggest thing I took away from it is that if you just always try and hit your mark there is no reason to do much differently. The one caveat to that being control manipulation on the ground for soft field work.

What I did find interesting in this instance is how familiar I had gotten landing with only one person in the plane. You add another 200 pound dude next to you and the plane handles a little differently. My challenge at this point is really in creating a steady glide path into the runway. I have a tendency to remain high through my base turn, something I think stems from the fact there is a big pond at the approach end of the runway that subconsciously makes me want to stay high.

The irony is that I then have a tendency to correct through what a normal glide slope would be and end up a little more drug in than I should be, not the best setup for either soft or short field landings. If I had to analyze myself, since Nikk isn’t here next to me to do it, I would say I am not properly using the inputs I have to make the whole thing smoother.

While I shouldn’t stare at them, I am not utilizing the PAPIs enough as I try to develop my sight picture.

I’m not paying enough attention to my VVI as I make the base turn and turn to final which is causing me to make a completely level turn instead of a descending one.

Finally, I am trying to make the landings as if they have become muscle memory, and they haven’t yet. I need to more consciously go through the steps of landing and make sure that both hands, and both feet, are making the proper inputs so that the plane will behave the way it is designed to.

All in all it was a good flight, and the fact that I no longer require the supervision of an instructor is a pretty awesome feeling. It makes me feel like I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel to finally getting that license to learn I have longed for all of these years.

May 24, 2018 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.