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Flying While Deployed on Thanksgiving

Clouds and mountains make for some amazing views.

Clouds and mountains make for some amazing views.

I’m not really sure why, but for some reason I am a lot more pensive than I usually am at Thanksgiving.  Maybe it is because I am deployed overseas 10,000 miles away from my nearest relative, or maybe it is just one of those years.

Whatever the reason, I am really grateful to be flying on this Thanksgiving.

It may not make sense to many people that I would be excited to be flying on such an important family holiday, but it just serves to put it all in perspective for me better.  Obviously, I would rather be back home with my family enjoying football and a nice meal eating more in one sitting than any five people should eat in a week, but at the same time I am grateful for the opportunity I have to serve others, and to serve with some amazing people.

I read an article recently talking about how people should stop thanking veterans.  At first glance that is obviously not something I would like to see happen, but the message of the article rang true to me, especially at this time of year.  The author wrote about how saying, “Thank you for your service” has become a bit of a trite phrase that is easy to say with very little meaning.  This is not to say that people aren’t grateful, but that there is a better way to truly show your gratitude.

An amazing sunset between the cloud layers.

An amazing sunset between the cloud layers.

The alternative that the author suggested was to thank military members for what you are specifically thankful for.  Maybe you are thankful that you can live in a country where you could start your own business, or go to whatever church you want, or where you could get an education.  Maybe you are grateful you could attend all of your children’s births, recitals, (insert random events here).  It really doesn’t matter what the reason is, but what does matter is that you took the time to think about why you are truly grateful.

So what does any of this have to do with flying?  Not much really, but I realized last week that I would be on the schedule to fly on Thanksgiving, which was fine with me since it wasn’t like I had a family dinner to attend.  However, it did put me into this pensive mood that I have been in since then.  It really made me think about what I am grateful for since I wouldn’t be with family.  As luck would have it I was able to fly over some of the most beautiful terrain I have ever seen as well as witness some pretty spectacular sunsets this last week.

Engine #4 right at sunset above the clouds.

Engine #4 right at sunset above the clouds.

What I am really grateful for is the opportunity to work with amazing people who share many of the same passions as me.  None of them are as much of an avgeek as I am, but they love to fly.  I am grateful to have a career that allows me to do something I am so passionate about.  I am grateful to have seen some of the most beautiful things I could ever imagine.

I am grateful to be a part of a legacy that was forged over hundreds of years by better men and women than I will ever be.  I am grateful for the opportunity to do my part, no matter how small, to bring the freedoms that I enjoy to other people.

I am grateful for the examples of humility, charity, and compassion that I see in the people I interact with that I want to emulate.

I am grateful for a loving wife and children who keep me grounded, and give me a reason to be a better man every day.  I am grateful that they put up with all of the challenges of my career that I love so much.

The mountains never seem to end here.

The mountains never seem to end here.

It is November 28th already here on the other side of the world, eventually it will reach the states and be Thanksgiving there as well.  Many of you will wake up to play a little football, then watch some football, followed by stuffing your face, followed by more football, and more food stuffing.  Oh the memories.

Thank you for enjoying that time with your family.  Thank you for making our work mean something.

If you have family and friends overseas make sure you tell them about how you celebrated.  It will break our hearts that we can’t be there, but it will also warm them to know that you can celebrate this holiday in any way you choose.

There will be hundreds of us over the skies of Afghanistan today, and tens of thousands more on the ground working.  It truly is an honor to serve in this capacity, and on this Thanksgiving, more than ever before, I am truly grateful.

November 27, 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.

Disney’s “Planes: Fire and Rescue” Teaser Trailer Released

I had no idea just how out of the loop I was until I saw that this trailer was released a month ago.  Then again, I also missed the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the original this week, but only by a couple of days.

It does seem kind of strange to me that the sequel to Planes is following so closely on the tail of the original, but I guess that is just the way things are moving.

Either way, I am incredibly excited about this movie, just like I was for the first one.  Planes: Fire and Rescue is the continued story of Dusty Crophopper, once again voiced by Dane Cook.  Upon learning he can never race again due to a bad engine, he shifts his efforts to aerial firefighting, and some real heroes.

It remains to be seen what path the story will actually follow, but based on the original, and the teaser trailer above, I have high hopes that this movie will also be a beautiful mixture of aircraft sights and sounds.

There is much criticism out there of Disney’s lack of creativity that I just don’t understand.  People didn’t complain when they made 10 princess movies in a row that all follow essentially the same storyline, so why all the heartache that they are making movies about cars and planes?  Pretty much every kid’s movie has a similar story, but I guess most of those people forget that these movies are geared towards children and not adults.

That being said, I know a lot of adults that will be there when this movie opens.  If there is any doubt of that, consider the 15,000 that showed up for the premier of the original at EAA Airventure this last summer.

That is one of the awesome things about aviation; it truly bridges all age, race, and gender gaps.  No one cares who you are or where you come from as long as you love planes.  In fact, we find it more exciting to hear about those unusual planes, pilots, and circumstances that inevitably pop up in aviation.

I really hope that these movies continue to spark a love of aviation in children that will inspire them to chase their dreams and pursue careers in aviation.  Aircraft will never go away, but if we don’t do our best to foster a true passion for aviation, the wonder of it may start to wane.


November 23, 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.

Disney’s Planes Released on DVD

I don’t know how I could have missed this release, oh wait…I’m on the other side of the world.  Either way, the blessed day has arrived and you can finally bring Disney’s Planes home on DVD/Blu-ray.  For all of us Avgeeks this is one of the best movies that Disney has ever made.

I am well aware that it took a lot of criticism from critics who expect a children’s movie to be educational and thought-provoking and obviously something other than entertaining.  The reality is that the story of Dusty Crophopper was incredibly well done.  The animation was clean and crisp and beautiful.  The aircraft are varied and original.  The sounds are so real I felt like I was at the airport a few times.

Overall it was a great little story about the underdog winning, and who really gets tired of that?  You can read my full review of the movie from when I saw it at the theater, or you can just buy it yourself and enjoy the wonder that is Disney’s Planes.

I also just found a teaser trailer for the second installment that was just recently released, and it looks just as awesome.

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.

Book Review: The Last Bush Pilots by Eric Auxier

The Last Bush Pilots will leave you longing to fly in Alaska.

The Last Bush Pilots will leave you longing to fly in Alaska.

I know I just did a book review a couple of weeks ago, but after reading this book I just couldn’t wait to share my thoughts and feelings about it.  I have a feeling I may just keep going on and on about it so please forgive me if I do.

The Last Bush Pilots by Eric Auxier is an amazing story about a young man who ventures to Alaska to be a bush pilot in the hopes of ultimately achieving the elusive goal of becoming an airline pilot.  One of the things that immediately captured my attention with this book is how much I could relate with DC, the main character, right from the beginning.  For anyone who has dreamt of a career in flying I am sure you will find it equally as easy to relate to.

The story takes you through the ups and downs of being an Alaskan bush pilot.  It’s no wonder that Eric does such a phenomenal job of describing this life since he was a bush pilot himself at one time.  While the book is fiction, he does include a few stories that actually happened to him or those around him.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a book where I felt like I was there as much as this one.

That comes in large part from the author’s ability to paint incredibly vivid pictures with words.  I could literally see myself brushing the tree tops in a Cessna 207, or hear the familiar whir of its engine as it comes to life moments before leaving the ground.  The exhilaration of flying in a small plane is something that must be experienced to fully appreciate, but this book is about as close as you can get without actually being there.

I felt like I was actually there scooting over a socked in pass, or scud running on my way back to the airport.  I found myself coming up with my own solutions to the problems the characters faced and reveling in the anticipation of what would ultimately happen to them.  The flying bug is one that bites hard and never really fades, and this book encapsulates everything that is great, and scary, about flying.

I won’t spoil any of the surprises, but Eric also digs into the harsh realities of such intense flying.  I have always loved reading books where the author is not afraid to touch on difficult subjects or to take risks in their writing, and he does just that in The Last Bush Pilots.  For anyone who flies as a profession, those risks and results are all too real, and for none more so than the bush pilots in Alaska.

What I found even more enjoyable was his ability to add humor to what is a very challenging occupation.  Granted, aviators have a knack for childish hijinks, and an inherent desire to do crazy and silly things, but he even made those aspects of the story incredibly realistic.

What was most enjoyable about this book was how much of it was actually about flying.  So many other books mention flying but are really about the stuff that happens on the ground, but in this book the risky business of Alaskan bush flying is the star.  That dangerous dance with Mother Nature that they perform on a daily basis will leave you on the edge of your seat flipping pages as fast you can.  Even if you aren’t as obsessed with flying as I am, you will find yourself entirely taken in by the author’s description of this most incredible and challenging type of flying.

As I mentioned before The Last Bush Pilots is technically fiction, but with how real Eric made it feel, it can’t be very far from reality.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in aviation, or even just in the Alaska wilderness.  It is an incredibly quick read (only three days for me) because you won’t want to put it down.  You will want to continue to immerse yourself in this dreamland of flying where the views are incredible, and the experience is indescribable.

Eric Auxier writes a fantastic blog entitled Adventures of Cap’n Aux.  He can also be found on Twitter at @capnaux.

His first book, Code Name: Dodger, is an award-winning young adult spy novel, and is on my shortlist for reading.

Both of his books can be found on Amazon in print or on the Kindle, or directly from his blog along with a personalized inscription.

Look out in the coming weeks for my next read, Flight for Control by Karlene Petitt.

November 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.

X-47B Continues Flight Tests Aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt

X-47B performs flight tests aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

X-47B performs flight tests aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

I was a little bit surprised a few months back when the Navy stopped flying the X-47B UCAS-D with plans to send it to the Smithsonian.  I didn’t understand why you would send perfectly capable aircraft to pasture when there is still so much more they could do.

Apparently, the Navy came to the same realization as the two aircraft that have been part of testing returned to service aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Nov. 10.  The aircraft will continue testing in the carrier environment to ensure interoperability with the complex operations that occur there.

How quickly the testing came to an end initially made it feel like the whole thing was just to generate proof of concept rather than actual long-term solutions.  However, the release that the Navy put out regarding these test flights makes it feel much more real.

Earlier testing included flight deck operations aboard the USS Harry Truman and catapult take-offs and landings aboard the USS George H. W. Bush.  While those may have been some of the more challenging aspects, it is telling that the Navy is spending more time working on how these aircraft will integrate with regular operations rather than just individual test events.

Not having ever observed actual flight deck operations, unfortunately, I am curious as to what specific testing is taking place.  What types of integration will be necessary to ensure functionality?  Does the lack of a pilot on-board make it more difficult, or maybe even easier?  It will be fun to see how the program develops over the years.

November 15, 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.

35 Years of Deregulation of the Airlines

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 has had a tremendous impact on the airline industry over the past 35 years.  Beyond the airline industry it has had a tremendous impact on countless other industries as well, most notably the tourism industry.  Before deregulation flying was mostly for the elite or business travelers who could afford the exorbitant fares that existed.  The relationship between the airlines and the CAB had created an excessively inflated system that made the airlines a lot of money, but also kept flying out of reach for most people.

DeregulationThe transportation industry was the first major industry to deregulate starting in the early 1970s, followed eventually by the telecommunications industry, energy industry, and most recently the financial industry.  All of these actions had similar goals at their heart: increased competition leading to a reduction in prices.  The success of each of these industries as it relates to deregulation can be debated all day, but as it relates to the airlines, it is hard to ignore the benefits that have come from deregulation.

Taking a look at the chart on the right shows just how successful deregulation has been.  Granted, you could probably make a chart that is equally convincing regarding the areas that may be seen as failures.  You can even attribute some of those numbers to the natural growth of any industry, but much of that growth would not have come without deregulation.

In an article written for Businessweek, former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discussed some of the impacts of airline deregulation.  Perhaps the most telling statistic he presented was this, “In 1974 the cheapest round-trip New York-Los Angeles flight (in inflation-adjusted dollars) that regulators would allow: $1,442. Today one can fly that same route for $268.”

There can be no more clear indication that airline deregulation has been successful than reading numbers like that.  While it is true that ticket prices have risen recently, most of that can be blamed on two things: rising fuel prices, and the creation of TSA.  One of those you can’t do much about, but the other one is, surprise surprise, more government regulation.  I realize security and fare regulation are not the same thing, but it is no surprise that when the government steps in costs are bound to increase.  Just look at the Affordable Care Act.

The aviation industry is as volatile as they come, and we will continue to see prices fluctuate just like any other industry.  Continued energy issues along with the retirement of the baby boomers will likely have impacts that we cannot anticipate, not to mention security concerns and the introduction of more UAVs to the national airspace system.  One thing is for sure though, love it or hate it airline deregulation has lowered ticket prices and made air travel a reality for a lot more people.

November 6, 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.

Aviation Book Review: Tango Trajectory by Dale W. Cox

The cover intrigued me, unfortunately more than the actual story.

The cover intrigued me, unfortunately more than the actual story.

I love a good book.  A good book about military aircraft is even better, and when it is free how can I turn it down?  Just to be totally clear, I was approached by the publisher to read this book and put up a review on my blog.  I am happy to help out anyone in aviation so I gladly agreed to do so.

The name of the book is Tango Trajectory by Dale W. Cox.  Rather than give you my own synopsis, I will just share the Amazon one and give you my thoughts on the book:

A young Latina Navy test pilot becomes the first woman to fly “spook missions” from the secret Groom Lake Air Base in Nevada. Her success in locating a terrorist base enrages the Wahhabi al Furan, who plot to kill her, and her fellow test pilots.

Selected as the first woman to fly a Mach 7 spyplane, Lieutenant Teresa O’Brien faces intense hostility. The three resident male test pilots don’t intend to coddle a woman neophyte with only 1900 hours, forced into their ranks by a powerful Congresswoman. How to sink her career requires clever planning and, before she reports in, Major Rick McQuilkin is assigned the task. McQuilkin meets O’Brien and, instead of the expected female wrestler type, he finds an attractive young woman with a friendly smile. She proves more capable than expected, a quick learner with several years experience flying off Navy aircraft carriers. This upsets his designs for cutting her out of the program. Terri in turn discovers that Rick is more vulnerable than his macho exterior reveals. Although he tries to hide them, serious problems could ground him and he still carries deep scars from the bitter split with his long-time girlfriend.

A Wahhabi assassin, poised to kill Lt. O’Brien, is thwarted by a stranger’s intervention. The CIA/FBI team investigating the failed assassination receives hints of more lethal missions involving nuclear weapons. A young hooker, servicing a Saudi Prince, reports that seven jihad warriors are preparing to cross the radioactive nuclear test site, attack the secret base and kill the four test pilots.

The Taurora is based on an actual Mach 7 plane first revealed to the American public by an article in the Wall Street Journal in 1992.  The author, a former Navy test pilot, holds two official transcontinental speed records, Los Angeles-New York and New York-Los Angeles, and was a contender in the Mercury astronaut program.

That really sums up the book more concisely than I could have, and sadly it is just about as entertaining as reading the whole book.  I went into reading this book really hoping to enjoy it but I honestly had a hard time getting into it because the early parts of the book take forever to get anywhere.  I don’t know that it is fair to compare anyone to Tom Clancy, but in every single one of his books he started with a chapter that gets you so excited you have to read the whole book, and he never resolves it until the end.

With this book it was pretty apparent how it would end after reading the first chapter.  There really were no twists or turns of any kind.  The story is a little thin and really doesn’t get you excited about the possibilities of what may happen.  I even found some of the writing itself to be frustrating to read.

The dialogue between characters feels incredibly forced, and in the case of the hooker mentioned in the synopsis, it was almost impossible to follow what she was supposed to be saying.  Here is one small example, “She tol’ me Ah was too curious, always ready ta stick mah nose inta other people’s bizz’ness…”  I understand trying to paint the picture of a character but it could have been done far more effectively by describing them without making it confusing to read.

I don’t want it to sound like this book had no redeeming qualities, because it did.  The sections that talked about the flying the plane, which were far too few, were excellently written.  It was clear in these sections that the author knew his stuff, which makes sense with his background.  As an avgeek who loves all of the thrills of aviation I found myself daydreaming about flying something that powerful.  It was these sections that kept me reading until the end.  Though it was disappointing to me that a book based on a secret plane with an arrogant test pilot ended with a small fight on the ground that had nothing to do with flying.

By the time I got to the end of the book I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time, but I walked away hoping for so much more.  It is clear that Mr. Cox loves flying and does a decent job transferring that feeling to the reader, but instead of building on that he spent way more time trying to develop an obvious love interest and a terrorist attack that was pretty obvious in a matter of a page or two.  Had the areas of emphasis been reversed this could have been a far more enjoyable book.

Should you stumble across a copy and really be looking for something to read then you may find a small level of entertainment from the book as I did.  However, I don’t think I would spend a large amount of money on it.  It is currently available on Amazon in a paperback and Kindle version which comes in at a price that is probably worth it for something to read over a long trip or something of that nature.

November 1, 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.