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Setting Personal Limits for Flying May Save Your Life

It is interesting that I have been thinking about writing this post for almost two weeks now as I have seen numerous people post comments or tweet about this exact subject.  No matter how many times I see this message though, I will always keep repeating it, because the concept may very well save your life.

If you have read the last few posts that I have written (if you haven’t, you should go read them now) then you will know that I had a week chock full of flying about two weeks ago.  When I started the week I was planning to fly six times in three days; three flights each for work and towards my private pilot certificate.  It was a little ambitious, but the weather was good and I wanted to take advantage of it after a bunch of crappy weather.

The first two days went very well and I got a lot of good stuff done, including my very first solo, which I am still pumped thinking about.  When the third day rolled around I was still planning on a third doubleheader in a row, especially with as motivated as I was after my solo.  However, as I went through the next few hours of flying I felt my body starting to wear down.  I was still able to fly at work safely, but as we landed after the sortie, I just knew that it wasn’t a good idea to push for another flight again that night, especially considering we were planning to do a three-hour night flight to knock that out.

I sent a message to my CFI telling him I would need to cancel for the night, which he totally understood and agreed with.  As soon as I sent the message I started to regret it a little because I am so anxious to get this thing done, and like I said, I was still pretty jacked from my solo the night before.  But as I got back to my desk and started to wind down from my flight and take care of some paperwork I knew I had made the right decision.  I could feel the effects of five flights in three days, and my body needed to take a break and recover.

I ended up having to wait a few weeks to get that flight in thanks to a family vacation and a busy schedule, but I am even more convinced now that I made the right decision.  Would I have had any problems getting through that flight, probably not.  Even if I was struggling my CFI would have been there to make sure we got back safely.  But, why would you want to risk it?  The only thing I would have gained is maybe finishing my certificate a little earlier, and the only thing I would have been risking is my life.  Seems like a fair trade-off, right?

The point is that many of us love flying and are anxious to spend as much time as we can in the air.  Whether we have been grounded for a while due to bad weather, work, or even just anxious to finish a rating or upgrade that you have been working on for ten years, none of us would rather be on the ground when we could be in the air.  Which is why it is smart to set personal limits for yourself above and beyond the limits the FAA sets.

In the Air Force we fill out a risk management worksheet before every flight that accounts for things like fatigue and health of the crew as well as the type of mission we are planning to fly and weather.  If the score is too high we have to get approval from leadership who checks to confirm that we have properly mitigated the risk and that we are safe to fly.  Sometimes the number is just too high and the risk isn’t worth it, so we don’t fly.  That may mean missing out on rare training opportunities, or even delaying a mission, but nothing is worth risking your life.

So what kinds of things can you set limits for?

Weather is an obvious one.  Maybe you set a ceiling and visibility limit that you will not fly with less than.  Similar to weather mins for an instrument approach you may set a limit for both VFR and IFR flight that you won’t bust.  As you get more proficient, especially as an IFR pilot you may lower those mins, but understanding your abilities and comfort level will go a long way to keeping you safe.  You may also have wind limits, or certain types of weather you won’t fly with.  One example for us is that if we have severe turbulence forecasted we don’t fly, period.  Maybe for you it is fog, or rain, or some other weather that you just don’t want to mess with.

Rest is another important one to consider that can be very easy to overlook.  The Air Force, as well as airlines, have rules on crew rest that delineate how much time to rest you must have before a flight.  In the Air Force we also limit what types of flying we can do a certain number of hours into the day.  Things that are more challenging are restricted to early in our duty day because we want to make sure we are sharp in those high risk situations.

You may opt to only go to fields with certain runway lengths, crosswind limits stricter than the plane can handle, length of flight, or any other limits that you feel are important.  The point is to keep yourself safe, no matter how experienced you are.

I would never suggest a specific limit for anyone else, because each of us know how proficient we are, and what our limits should be.  If you aren’t sure what your limits should be set something conservative and roll with that for a while.  Then as you feel more comfortable change the limits to match your skill level.  However, don’t change your limits as you are stepping to fly.  Find a time when you have no pressing concerns to sit down and honestly assess how you feel about the limits you have set.  This way you won’t feel inclined to lower your limits just to meet a deadline or take that trip you have been planning for months and get into a risky situation.

While I mentioned lowering your limits, also don’t be afraid to raise your limits if your situation reflects the need.  If you haven’t been flying for a while, or if you are in a new type of aircraft, or if you have gotten into a few situations that were more uncomfortable than you would like, be honest with yourself and raise those limits to keep yourself safe.

Now thinking of every possible variable that could happen during a flight and creating a limit for it would be an incredibly daunting task, so I would say start with the basics.  Set some weather limits for yourself, and some sort of rest limit as I see those as two of the simplest protections that will keep you out of the vast majority of unsafe situations.  Then as you get more experienced and start trying new things spend some time in your mission planning to set limits for yourself as well.

Maybe most importantly, write your limits down so you don’t forget, or try to fudge on them later.  The whole point of this is to keep yourself safe so make sure you are clear about it.

Lastly, don’t ever budge from your limits when it comes time to fly.  I mentioned this briefly before, but it bears repeating.  Limits are there to make the decision for you when you may put yourself in a questionable situation.  They allow for a good level-headed decision when the stress and temptation are not part of the equation, or in other words, way before you are going to go fly.  By all means change those limits when you are not in your flying bubble, but never do it in the heat of the moment because you set those limits for a reason and that is to keep you safe.

One last dynamic of this that I want to point out is that setting limits doesn’t mean you can’t still do something flying related.  In my case I spent my extra time studying for my written test, which I passed with a 100% this past week, so I guess that time was well spent.  You could do some work on your plane, you could better prepare for taking that flight the next day.  Maybe you have a local flight school with a simulator you could use instead.  Or maybe you could even just hang out at the airport for a little while and get to know your hangar neighbors and build some relationships for the future.

As much as it sucks having to miss a day of flying, there is still a lot you can do to not let the day be a waste.  Setting limits for yourself may keep you from flying, but it will also keep you safe so that you can have many more flights for years to come.

April 15, 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 Doubleheader of Flying Act 2: Flying the Canyons, and Then Flying Solo

I really wish that I could just spend my whole life flying, writing articles about flying, and working on videos about flying. At the very least I wish I was better at making the time to get all of my thoughts out right after they happen, because it has been a minute since this day, and I know I have forgotten some of the things I wanted to share. Maybe I should just type out outlines right after the fact to help me remember. That being said, some aspects of this day I know I will never forget.

After a couple of good flights the day before, I was feeling super excited about getting back into the plane again for some more fun flying. On this day I was only there to help another experienced Nav get recurrent because he had been away from the unit for awhile. The nice thing about these types of flights is that I don’t have to be super involved because he already knows what he is doing, I am just there to make it legal again. The downside of these flights is that I don’t have to be super involved because he already knows what he is doing, and I just really love to instruct.

Fortunately, we were going out to fly a really fun route through the mountains. This route is one of the reasons that I wanted to come back to Reno and fly so bad after flying it during the AMATS course I attended a few years back. Not having a needy student did let me enjoy the route a little more, which is never something to complain about. Again, I wish I was done with the video I am trying to make so you can get an idea of how fun it is, but time is kicking my butt right now.

Just imagine cruising through the valleys of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at about 500 feet, with snow covered peaks all around you, going 230 knots, in a big huge plane, with a big cheesy grin on your face. That is what I call living.

Other than the joy that is flying in this area, there was not a lot of remarkable stuff that happened, so I will move on to the really exciting part of the day.

After we were done flying and debriefing, I confirmed with my CFI that he was still good to fly that night, and then tried to focus on work for the last hour or two that I had before leaving. Admittedly, it was a pretty strong mix of emotions as I was incredibly excited about the prospect of flying in a plane all by myself for the very first time, while at the same time realizing that if something happened, I would be all by myself and have to take care of it accordingly.

When I finally got out to the airport I was greeted by my CFI and handed a small stack of papers that he said I needed to fill out before we could go fly. I had stumbled across this pre-solo test in some of my studying, and my stomach immediately sunk as I didn’t feel like I knew all of the material well enough to possibly pass and be able to go fly that night. I was seriously sad inside.

We headed over to the little mission planning room the airport has and I started working on it while he was checking out my logbook, and I was right that I didn’t know a bunch of the answers, at least not as well as I thought I should. With the sun heading towards the Western horizon I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about my chances of flying that night, but then my CFI got tired of waiting and started to go through the remaining questions orally. I knew a lot of the information, but it was also a valuable learning experience with some of the other information. Apparently I did well enough because after we got through the questions he picked up his stuff and said, “Let’s go do this.”

I ran into the bathroom for one more pit stop, I am a stress potty user, what can I say, and then followed him out to the plane. We jumped in like usual, started up, and headed over to the runway. I did a normal run-up and pulled onto the runway. When we took off, the plane practically jumped off the runway. In contrast to the last flight where it had been warm and the gas tanks were full, it was now cooling off in the evening and the tanks were comparatively empty, since we wouldn’t be going very far.

We did two patterns after which he told me to go ahead and exit the runway to drop him off on the taxiway. As we pulled off the runway and he opened the door to get out I asked him if he had a handheld radio or anything, to which he laughed a little and said, “Nope, it’s all you.” Then he jumped out and closed and locked the door. Once he was well clear of the plane I released the breaks and started taxiing back down to the end of the runway.

As I was taxiing down it was an incredibly awkward feeling to be in the plane all by myself. I took a moment to say a little prayer just asking to be able to perform to the level I knew that I was capable, and to be able to have some fun. When I got to the intersection where I would be taking off from I stopped for a minute and just took a few deep breaths before making my radio call and entering the runway.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W taking runway 32 for departure, staying in the pattern, Stead traffic.”

I put a little power in and pulled onto the runway, lined up on centerline, and then pushed the power all the way in. If I thought the plane jumped off the runway before, it practically exploded off with 250ish pounds less in it now. Before I knew it I was turning crosswind and shooting right through pattern altitude because I was not used to the plane climbing so fast. I quickly recovered and came back down as I turned downwind and prepared myself mentally for the part that had scared me only a few weeks before.

As I came abeam the threshold I pulled some power and dropped in the first click of flaps. At this point in the pattern you fly out of a little pond which doesn’t bother me because of the water, but because of birds that I had often seen out there. Fortunately the air was clear as I turned base, dropped the second click of flaps, and called on the radio.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W turning base, runway 32, Stead traffic.”

As I normally am, I was a little high, but since that was normal, I knew how to handle it and bled off some airspeed to help me get down. One more click of flaps, and one last radio call.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W final, runway 32, Stead traffic.”

Deep breath, I’ve done this a bunch of times, including two smooth ones just minutes before. Aiming for the numbers, since I always float it. A couple final turns of trim to take some pressure away. VASI looks pretty good. Over the displaced threshold. Crossing the threshold, chop the power. Little back pressure right as I enter ground effect. Keep that pressure back. Just a little more back on the yoke.

Squeak.

I did it, I flew a plane all by myself for the very first time.

After a moment or enjoyment I recomposed myself, raised the flaps, put the power back in, and lifted off for my second pattern. One again I shot off the ground, but this time I was ready for it and leveled off just prior to turning downwind.

After what was an uneventful pattern, I made my second landing and entered my third pattern. As I was turning base I saw a few birds above me, but I used the Force and kept them from dive bombing me. I touched down after the third landing with my smoothest approach and transition yet. Afterwords, my CFI said he didn’t even hear the last one squeak.

As I taxied down the runway to retrieve my CFI, which also took longer because I slowed down so fast being so light, I couldn’t help but yell and scream a bit from excitement! I am not generally an overtly emotional guy, but I was so completely pumped that I couldn’t resist.

This is another one of the moments that I struggle to actually find the words for. I have wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember, and for the first time, I actually felt like one. The completely liberating experience that it was is really incomparable. I have always sort of felt this way every time I fly, but this was an order of magnitude greater.

Taxiing back to the hangar I probably sounded giddy as a schoolboy, but I don’t care. It was only a 0.4 by myself, but I honestly feel changed. I am paraphrasing the quote that is attributed to da Vinci, but once I have tasted the freedom of flying I will always look heavenward because that is where my heart longs to be.

I really can’t say it enough, if you haven’t ever flown in a small plane, go and do it. Once I get my certificate I will be happy to take anyone and everyone that I have the time for up. This is just too amazing experience to not share with everyone.

On that note, you should check out the Flying Cowboys YouTube channel, and in particular the #flywithmefriday segment where Cory takes up people who have never flown in a small airplane before. It is inspiring.

I am actually going to take my written test tomorrow morning, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I feel like I am getting so close that I can actually taste it. I am actually going to become a pilot!

April 12, 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.

Cross Country Flying, Foggles, and Short Field Takeoffs and Landings

As you hopefully saw in my last post with an incredible video of some amazing mountain flying, I finally got back in the air earlier this week, and was rewarded with a fantastic flight.  Fortunately, the weather is finally turning Spring-like here, and my flying day didn’t end after work.  I was able to hustle over to the other local airport for some more flight training.

On the agenda for today was a little cross-country to get us out of the local area.  My CFI told me to just plan however I normally would, and then we would adjust from there.  Initially, I didn’t think much of it because planning for flights is literally what I do for a living.  However, when I sat down to do some simple flight planning (only about 50 miles away) I was genuinely at a loss.

You see normally I just plug all of my information into the computer and then it prints out a nice little flight log for me.  I have the ability to do it by hand, but even then it is over hundreds, if not thousands of miles, and while the principles are the same, the dynamics are a little different.  I did put together a simple little flight log, only to find out upon arrival at the airport that there is an actual VFR flight log that is commonly used.

Different awesome plane than the morning, but still the same incredible weather. How could you not love this?

When I got a good look at it after the flight, I saw that it really isn’t that different from what I use on a regular basis, and it would have really helped in planning the flight.  All of that aside, we had enough information to still make the flight safely, so we proceeded onward.

The biggest thing of note on departure was how poorly the plane was climbing.  While I have experienced this regularly in a C-130, the effects of high, hot, and heavy on a small plane is even more dramatic.  Our tanks were about two-thirds full, my CFI and I are not small men, the airport sits at about 5,000 feet, and as I mentioned, it was the warmest day I had experienced since starting back to flying.  We were still able to safely climb out, but the combination of all of the above was definitely noticeable.

Upon getting to altitude we were in range of the VORTAC we would be navigating towards so it was time to put on the foggles for the first time.  Now I was not overly concerned about the navigation aspects of flying, because after all that is what I do for a living.  The difference in this case is that I only had a VOR as opposed to the two VORs, two TACANS, two INUs, GPS, and Self Contained Navigation System, or SCNS, that brings it all together for me.

Man did I feel stupid.

I got it figured out eventually, but I had certainly overestimated how easy it would be for me.  It was a good reminder that I really need to put in the extra time and effort to make sure that I am prepared for the rest of this training, or quite simply, I will fail.  This was a common lesson on this flight.

Enroute to the VORTAC we started to discuss descent points as we were about 4500′ above our destination, and it turned out the VORTAC would be a good descent point.  Getting to that conclusion proved to be another reminder that I don’t have all the same tools I am used to, and the brain disconnect switch, otherwise known as the pilot’s seat, was in full force.  I have taught this principle to numerous students, but when it came time for me to do it in the plane I drew a blank.  Eventually it came around and we were able to descend without any real issue.

As we approached Fallon Municipal Airport (KFLX) we discussed the fact that the airport sits right on the edge of NAS Fallon airspace, which you may or may not know is the current home of Top Gun so we needed to be on the lookout for fighters, and Tom Cruise.  I mean, you never know.

It was also worth noting that the runway is a little shorter and more narrow than at Stead where I had done most of my landings, so we discussed the optical illusion of feeling like I was higher than I actually was.  No worries though, and I landed relatively smoothly, and we taxied off just to get a momentary break, and set up for the next training event, short field takeoffs.

We dropped the flaps to 25 as we pulled onto the runway, stopping as soon as we made the turn to centerline, stomped down on the breaks, and ran the power to full.  Refraining from putting back pressure that would increase drag, I was impressed with how quickly the plane accelerated to a safe takeoff speed, especially considering how much of a pig it was climbing earlier.  We popped off the ground, and once we reached Vx we climbed over our 50 foot obstacle, transitioned to Vy and as the speed came up got rid of the flaps.  It was no C-130 assault takeoff, but it was still pretty fun.

In order to ever need to takeoff from a short field, you must first land there.  So we came around for a short field landing, with full flaps, aiming for brick one, and keeping it nice and slow to minimize the ground roll.  As I have a tendency to still float it a little, I was pretty proud of myself for how close to the threshold I actually put it down.  It was a little firmer than I would have liked, but my instructor pointed out that they are expected to be a little more firm in general.  It is amazing to me how many of the principles never change between small GA aircraft like this beloved Cherokee, and the C-130 and what we do.  I am yet to bounce a landing, but it happens relatively often in the C-130 when we are doing assault landings, which are really just short field landings.

After having a good landing, I had to get one more, so after one more smooth pattern, we headed back for Stead utilizing the same VORTAC, and those super fun foggles.  I can personally attest to their uselessness as sunglasses, as we were flying West into the sunset and I had to duck below the cowling to even be able to see my instruments.  This leg proved to be much more effective on the VOR while climbing out to clear the mountains between us and home.

One of the first incredible sunsets of the spring that you get here in the high desert. The perfect way to end a perfect day.

Upon arriving back at Reno-Stead, we decided to do a few more patterns before the sun set.  All went well, and as we taxied off the runway my CFI pointed out that I had done 7 smooth landings without him even thinking about touching the controls, so the next time we flew I was going to be going solo.

SOLO!

Based on the crappy landings I had performed for the first few flights I will admit that the thought was both exciting and terrifying.  I knew it was the next major step in my progression, but I also have seen enough videos of idiots jacking it up that I didn’t want to end up on YouTube.  But for the moment I would simply enjoy the compliment on my landings as we taxied back to the hangar and put her to bed.

All in all, it was an amazing way to end an awesome day of flying.  I really couldn’t think of a much better way to spend a day than flying all over the place.  Possibly even more exciting to me was that I had the same thing planned for the next two days as well.  As you will see in the coming posts, I did a whole lot of learning, and had a whole lot of fun.

March 30, 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.

Crosswind Landings: Sometimes you Need a Challenge

I am so freaking pumped right now.

I am getting ahead of myself though.

I was honestly a little frustrated with myself after my last flight on Saturday. All we did was patterns at KRTS and a few down at KRNO, but I was still struggling with my flare. I had a couple of okay landings, but I was really struggling to put all of the pieces together. I wasn’t thinking of quitting or anything, but I was really frustrated with myself.

Last night I stayed up far later than I really should have playing Call of Duty. Not exactly a Sunday game, but I lost to the Browns in Madden so I really needed to take out some more frustration. The relevance of this tangent is that as I was going to bed around midnight I decided that I needed to get back to some good habits that I had let slip over the last month, so I set my alarm for 6 am, and went to sleep.

6 am came around far too early, but I knew I needed to stop making excuses and get up. When I get up in the morning I like to read while my house is still quiet and get my mind going for the day. It was challenging to stay awake and not just go back to sleep but I did it.

I got to work and took care of a handful of things I needed to do. It wasn’t a groundbreaking day by any means, but I was productive, which is always a good thing.

Sitting at my desk I could see that there were blue skies outside so I messaged my CFI to meet up at the airport after work. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I can now get some flying in after work.

The second habit I needed to get back to was getting exercise. I have been doing terrible at that for the last month, so I left my desk an hour early and went over to the gym for some cardio. I was able to hold a better pace than I expected, which was just another win that I needed. I always feel so much better after exercising, so I can’t figure out why I make so many excuses not to do it.

While I was working out, my CFI messaged me to say that it was a little bumpy but that we could still get some more pattern work in. Bumpy is pretty normal in this part of the world, so I was not to be deterred. I finished my workout, got changed, and headed to the airport.

When I got to the airport the METAR was calling for 3kt winds at 180 which is not anything to be concerned about, but as you can see by the windsock in the picture, that weather reading was just a little bit off. We had a full sock most of the time we were out there so winds were actually more like 15-20 kts. Oh yeah, and it was a direct crosswind.

These were the strongest winds we had experienced at the airport so we talked about positioning controls on the ground for the wind as well as proper crosswind controls on takeoff. Based on my previous attempts I was pretty nervous about how I would perform in even more challenging conditions. But we also chatted about how much better many pilots are in challenging conditions because they are forced to focus more on what they are doing.

We took off and it was indeed a little bumpy with plenty of wind. I actually felt pretty good about my pattern shape and taking the winds into account. Unfortunately, my landings were still sucky. Everything was fine right up until touchdown and then I couldn’t position the plane properly so that we landed smoothly. I landed in a crab once, and my CFI actually had to take the controls once because the nose wheel started to get away from me. As you might imagine, I became even more frustrated and was actually about to suggest we just land and call it a day because I wasn’t sure any valuable training was happening.

Fortunately I didn’t say anything and he gave me the tip that I had finally needed to hear. He once again pointed out that I was still carrying a lot of energy across the threshold and that was leaving too much energy when I would go to flare which was causing me to float. So this time I pulled my power to idle shortly after crossing the threshold at about 50 feet.

Holy crap it worked!

I didn’t end up in the middle of the runway, but both mains landed smoothly and the nose came down relatively smoothly. With only a small correction we came back to centerline and took off again to join a fellow Cherokee in the pattern. It was fun to have someone else out there for the first time. The next landing was even better, and I was much closer to centerline at touchdown.

I finally was feeling better about myself and that I may actually get this down. As we were turning downwind my instructor pointed out that most young pilots wouldn’t even be trying to fly in these conditions, and if the second runway had been open, we likely wouldn’t have done crosswind landings either, but it is closed for construction until the Reno Air Races this fall. I came around with one more solid pattern, pulled power as we crossed the threshold, kicked in some left rudder, lowered that right wing, held back pressure as the speed bled off, and then brought it all back to center right as the mains touched down evenly on centerline. As the nose gear settled to the ground I could feel the excitement surge inside of me and I just wanted to shout with happiness.

Taxiing back to the hangar I was so incredibly pumped. I am sure my instructor noticed the change in my demeanor. After putting her to bed we filled out my log book and talked about preparing to solo. Unfortunately, weather will likely keep me from flying the rest of the week, and then I will be out of town for five days, so this my have been my last flight for the next ten days. That being said, if I have to sit and think about my last landing, at least I had three good ones to end on.

It may seem like the first half of this post has nothing to do with flying, but I am more convinced everyday that everything we do impacts our performance. Sleep, diet, exercise, and mental state all play in to how well you perform, and all of those variables play an even bigger role when you are first starting. In my full-time job I can get by without each of those being at their peak because I have strong enough habit patterns to overcome other deficiencies. I am nowhere near that as a pilot, but after today I feel like I will get to the same level of proficiency someday.

I really can’t even express how excited I am right now, and pissed that the weather sucks the rest of the week. The whole way home I cranked up the radio and would randomly clap my hands together and yell out because I was so excited. It is a side of myself that I don’t show very often, and generally one that I reserve for competing in sports. Maybe that is why I am so excited right now. I feel a little bit like the competitor I used to be. Either way, I am super excited right now, and can’t wait to get back in the air.

March 13, 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.

Becoming a Pilot: Getting Better Each Time You Fly

It is always amazing to me how much of a mental aspect there is in everything that we do in life. We spend so much time talking about skills and abilities, but in the past we pretty much ignored the mental aspects. Fortunately, we are starting to realize how important the mental side is as well.

As I went out for my second flight in the Cherokee, I was a little down on myself because I was struggling so much with landing. It is kind of an important part of flying so I think that added to my frustration.

For this flight we ran through the maneuvers and then headed over to KRNO for some visual patterns there. It was fun to be at a towered field as all of the other work we had done was at the non-towered Stead Airport. I am grateful for all of the time I have in the C-130 to help with all of the radio aspects of flying. I can see it being a ton harder if I was also having to learn that.

After a few patterns I was finally starting to get some relatively smooth landings. Both my CFI and I both realized that the sight picture I was familiar with was in a C-130 where we fly significantly faster and I am also sitting much higher. This was causing me to flare high, float it, and land too firmly.

Once we made that connection I forced myself to push through the ground rush and my landings got even better. Coming back over to Stead, my first landing was a little off adjusting back to the shorter runway, but the second landing was my best one yet.

I was on speed the whole time, I pulled power on-time, flared nicely, and smoothly touched down. We wisely stopped on a winner landing and put the old girl to bed.

We then went back and filled out my information for my student license. Along with my medical I got yesterday, I am finally seeing the reality of becoming a pilot, and I am almost shaking typing those words because I am so excited.

It was just amazing to me the difference it made in analyzing what I was doing and how quickly it could be corrected once we diagnosed it. No matter what you are doing, understanding the mental aspects will always make you better.

I also wanted to share how cool it has been flying around the Stead airport. My CFI owns his plane with his brother so they are a very small “school”, but they seem to know everyone around the airport. On the radios he is constantly talking to people he knows and talking about their planes and where they are flying. It is really one of the best parts of aviation, the community.

On our way out to the practice area, a buddy of his pulled up in his Kit Fox and we flew near each other for a few minutes chatting and just enjoying the wonder of flight. With the snow covered mountains all around us, I just couldn’t imagine how anyone could not absolutely love flying. It is the most incredible, empowering experience I have ever had.

I think the thing that is getting me the most excited about all of this experience is the community I am finally tapping into. If you haven’t been out to your local airfield recently, get out there and make some friends. As awesome as the planes are, it is the people that truly make aviation special.

March 8, 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 Heart was Stolen by a Piper Cherokee

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I made the decision to finally finish up my Private Pilot Certificate. With as much as I love flying and airplanes, it was a more difficult decision than you may think, so let me give you the condensed backstory.

I have wanted to be a pilot my entire life, and through college I did a few small things that would take me in that direction, but I never got it done. After I got married I started working on my certificate, but it quickly became far too expensive and very unrealistic. (On that note, picking a flight school and instructor is a hugely important decision. Please don’t make the same mistake I did and pick the wrong school and end up putting it off for ten years.)

With 7.5 hours in hand I pretty much gave up on becoming a pilot for the time. Life events led me to take a chance at becoming a pilot in the Air Force, but instead I was selected as a navigator. While I was disappointed at the time, I have enjoyed the last 6 years immensely. During my training I logged another 14 or so of student time which actually got me halfway to the certificate, but not there yet.

As life does to many of us, it got in the way and there were simply other priorities. I would like to tell you I should have just sucked it up and done it then, and to be fair I likely could have made different financial decisions and gotten to this point sooner, but the reality is I didn’t and no one is to blame, it was just a choice I made.

Fast forward to about a month ago and I was told that my Guard unit would be having a pilot board for the Navigators in the unit. Initially I didn’t plan on applying because I was continuing to make excuses about being too old, and not wanting to spend more time in training in AETC (Adults Eternally Treated as Children, lol) which is the Air Force command that oversees all training.

One day I asked my boss if I was being stupid to not even apply and he immediately said yes I was. He gave me a bunch of very practical reasons which I could not disagree with. Still not convinced I called a dear friend who is currently in pilot training after having gone through Nav training with me 6 years ago. We spent about an hour talking about the practical reasons to become a pilot like potentially going to an airline someday and simply getting two more years of active duty orders. I finally told him to just tell me what to do, which he declined to do.

The next day I was out flying my beloved Herc and when I landed there was a message from my friend that simply said “Do it.” Surprised by his sudden willingness to tell me what to do I called him to find out why the change of heart. His response is what has led me to this day. He said,

“Dave, for as long as I have known you, you have wanted to be a pilot. Why would you now not even try to do what you have always dreamed of doing?”

Just typing those words again gets me excited. I had spent a bunch of time talking to multiple people about the practical reasons to do it, and they do play an important role in the decision, but what I really needed, and wanted, was to have someone call me on my BS so that I would stop making excuses and do something about my dreams. I will forever be indebted to Brian for being the one to push me out of my comfortable seat and pursue my dreams.

While there is nothing saying I have to get my pilot certificate to apply for the pilot board in my unit, there are two reasons I decided to do it anyway. The first is that I want to distinguish myself from the others applying, because we are all very similar in many ways. The second reason is that this was the opportunity I needed where there was enough incenvtive for my wife to let me take on the financial burden. Thanks sweetie.

Life is still such that I couldn’t just go the next day and start flying, but I was committed to finding a way to make it happen. With the help of a good tax return, and the support of my incredible wife, I came up with a plan to make it happen. The only thing stopping me when I got back from a trip for work was weather, and wouldn’t you know we had the two biggest snow storms of the year within days of my return.

Since I am no longer in the excuses business, all I can say is that I had to start a few days later, but the scenery all covered in white looks spectacular from the air.

Yesterday, I finally did it and got back up in the air. I spent 2.6 hours in a stunning 1964 Piper Cherokee, and she has completely stolen my heart. We had a few rough spots on that first day, but overall, it was the most incredible feeling. I really can’t even put into words how excited I am right now.

As you might expect after 6 years away from flying, I was a bit rusty on some maneuvers, but for the most part it all went pretty well. For my own personal accountability these are some of the areas I struggled with:

Using the rudder consistently

Transitioning from descent to touchdown on landing

Holding a steady sight picture when doing steep turns

Getting deep into the stalls and not just recovering at the first buffet

Fortunately, I ended the day on my best landing and I put some of the pieces together that my CFI had been telling me to finish on a high note. It was also the first work I had done at a non-towered field, but my past experience certainly helped me out in that area.

All in all it was just such an incredible first flight back at it. As I mentioned in my last post, my goal is to finish by the end of the month, whether that means I am done in time for the board or not. As far as I am concerned, the only thing that will stop me is weather, or scheduling issues. I refuse to not take control of the things I want in life, and continue to believe that every one else is what is keeping me from pursuing my dreams instead of just myself.

If there is anything I can do to support you in your dreams, even if it is just moral support, please don’t hesitate to ask because helping each other out is the way of avgeeks, and the only way we are going to grow this amazing industry.

March 6, 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.

Tomorrow I Return to the Skies

That title may seem a little unusual seeing as how I fly pretty regularly, two times this weekend in fact. But, the difference tomorrow is that I will once again be at the controls of the aircraft.

It has been about seven years since I was last at the controls of the Mighty Katana (DA-20) at IFS for the Air Force. But after lots of waiting, the time is right for me to get it done.

What has changed in my life you may ask to allow for such a change in my pursuit of a lifelong dream? Absolutely nothing, other than that I can wait no longer, and I simply have to do it or I may just burst with regret.

I have been reading a lot of business books recently and listening to a lot of podcasts in the same realm, and the one thing that always sticks with me about these successful people is that they just go for it. It isn’t just throwing life to the wind and seeing where it falls, but it does involve not making any more excuses and going after what you are most passionate about. Just typing this out on my phone is getting me super excited. I may not sleep well tonight.

To be honest, the timing is not perfect, and the financial side of it is somewhat tenuous, but I refuse to wait any longer. To give a couple of my favorite references, in the movie Rudy his friend Pete tells him that, “dreams are what make life tolerable”, and we all know what that led to. If you don’t, go watch the movie because it is one of the best ever.

The other story is from when I was finishing up high school. My sister told me that most people don’t pursue what they really want because it will take work, or money, or most commonly, time. However, after the three or four years it would have taken to pursue their dream, those same people are in the same place doing the same crap. I don’t want to be that person.

I want to inspire other people. I want people to know that where there is a will there truly is a way. I want people to get out and fly because there is truly nothing like it in the world, and while many people fly commercially, it is a whole different world when you are the one at the controls.

I promise that I will be better about writing during this process, mostly because I want to put my thoughts out in text to analyze how to get better, and how to prepare. I also hope that maybe somebody else will look at this 36 year old and realize they can go do it too.

What finally tipped me over the edge was talking to a dear friend of mine that told me, “Dave, as long as I have known you, you have wanted to be a pilot. Why would you not do it now when you have the opportunity?” Like I said before, I don’t have this whole thing 100% figured out, but dang it, I am going to find a way to finally pursue my dream.

Wish me luck!

March 4, 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.

Creating Change in Aviation

Recently I have been reading a lot of books and listening to a lot of podcasts about business and personal development. There are some incredibly inspiring stories out there that I just sit in awe of as I hear them play out.

All of these people do amazing things to make the world a better place and to pursue their passions. Many of them make ridiculous amounts of money, but the part that always strikes a chord with me is how happy and fulfilled they all seem, and how that only inspires them to help more.

The person who is quickly inspiring me the most is Gary Vaynerchuk. If you haven’t heard the name you really should look him up on Twitter or Instagram or on his blog or podcast. The man has made his whole life around helping other people succeed and find happiness, and in turn, he has found unbelievable success. He also just released his fifth book, which is what inspired me to write this post.

The book is entitled Crushing It! and I have been enjoying it thoroughly since I got it. I will spare you the review for the time being and simply share the thoughts that it inspired in me as I read. Forgive me if they seem a little disjointed, but I wanted to share them now while they were fresh in my mind and heart.

He talks a lot about having a passion, which I honestly do have for aviation, as well as teaching, but he also talks a lot about providing value to customers, or as I see it, the people you care about, whether they be customers, or people you want to inspire, or people you want to help. Only when you provide value can you possibly have any real, lasting impact on the world.

I feel like this is an area I struggle with.

I want to provide value, but I often feel like there are people in aviation who simply know more than me, or that have more to offer than me so I will just keep quiet and let them do it. While there are tons of people who know more than me, I still have value to provide to the community, I just need to figure out what my niche is. Maybe it is the lesser known parts of the industry, seeing as how I am a navigator who has a very small, and shrinking, footprint in the industry. However, it is often some of the smallest footprints that can have the biggest impact when the time is right.

The area that I would like to create an impact in, is in the creation of pilots. I intentionally didn’t use the term flight training because I think we need to change the conversation and stop just looking at the problem or else we will never see the solution (one of my favorite scenes in the movie Patch Adams if you recognize the concept). I could be wrong, but not a whole lot has changed in the realm of pilot training in decades. Sure sims are becoming more common, and there are some cool advances in VR that may bear some fruit, but at its heart, it is still the same process.

Change for the sake of change is never a good idea, but it seems apparent to me that the creation of pilots could use an overhaul. I don’t know what exactly that looks like, but I find I learn more and create when I vocalize and discuss, so that is what I am trying to do here. I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts on the matter.

One idea I had was to create a system where students are able to get their early ratings, or maybe even all the way to an ATP, on a sort of scholarship fund that funds itself on a portion of the pilot’s salary from their dream airline job for maybe 10 years or something, just to throw out a number. It would obviously need a starting seed fund, and would take some time to bear real fruits, but I have learned that the best organizations are built around a community that cares about each other, and that is something I don’t think the aviation community takes advantage of nearly enough. Sure we are friendly with each other, for the most part, and we are happy to share a $100 hamburger run together, but I think there is a lot more we could do to truly foster and mentor the younger generation. Interest in aviation as a whole has waned as air travel has become more commonplace, and only the effort and passion of those of us that love it will ever re-excite this generation.

Another area that intrigues me is in fostering the growth of aviation in developing countries. Admittedly, flying a plane is a bit of a stretch for people who hardly have food and water, but if we can educate and inspire these people they will inevitably be the tide that raises all of the other boats around them. This doesn’t even necessarily have as much to do with flying as it does with teaching skills to these people in line with an education that will help them truly change the world. This train of thought definitely stems from having recently read the incredibly inspiring The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun, who has built hundreds of schools in some of the most poor parts of the world to allow kids to pursue their dreams of an education. Another must read if you enjoy learning about the greatness of people and the good going on in the world. They want to learn so bad that we are missing a great opportunity by not teaching them the skills that would dramatically change their lives forever. These thoughts may be straying from my message a little, but I wanted to share all of the insights I had today.

Originally I had one more thought, but decided it should have its own post so you can see that later, along with a sweet video I filmed on my flight today.

As you see, I don’t have some grand design to solve the pilot shortage, but I wanted to share my thoughts in a forum where maybe we can have some discussion. I just love this industry so much, and I hate the idea that anyone who truly loves it should not be able to be a part of it for something as trivial as money. There is plenty of that out there if we can just direct it properly.

Thank you for humoring me, assuming you made it this far, and I look forward to having some dialogue on the subject.

February 1, 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.

2016+ Year in Review

I know it is cliche, but I really can’t believe another year has gone by.  Even more unbelievable to me is how much I have actually done this year, and some of the incredible experiences that I have had.

With all of the time I have spent all over the Pacific I have neglected this writing, which I am just now realizing was a sort of therapy that I have also been missing out on.  Such is life though and all I can do is work at getting back into it.

So rather than try to cram everything into one post, I am going to work on getting out one a week or so which will hopefully give me some time to really internalize everything I have learned this year, while at the same time not overwhelming myself and then just giving up.

So here is a quick overview of some of the things I will be writing about over the next few months:

Operation Christmas Drop 2015–  I have mentioned this before, and a year later I am going to actually get to it.  I was on a crew for this operation which was an amazing opportunity to fly all over the islands of the Pacific bringing Christmas joy to people who live about as remotely as you possibly can in this world.

Cope North 2016-  This is a massive exercise that takes place in Guam every year involving 8-9 different countries in this instance.  Once again I was on a flying crew, which was one of the best crews I have ever flown with.  This was the first time I had ever trained with fighter aircraft which was a whole lot of fun.  As well as visiting some pretty historic sites.

Balikatan 2016-  Another large-scale exercise but in the Philippines.  For this exercise I went as a mission planning cell chief working at a location we had never fully manned before.  While I didn’t get to do any real exciting flying, it did really open my eyes to the time and effort that is required to pull off these vitally important exercises.

Red Flag Alaska 2016-  Surprise, surprise, another exercise, though most people who have interest in military aviation have likely heard of it, or at least the Nellis AFB version.  While I was back to flying for this exercise, it is structured differently than the other exercises so I also did a massive amount of mission planning.  It was some of the most incredible flying I have ever done, with a fun crew, and some amazing off duty time in the awe-inspiring Alaskan mountains.

Becoming an evaluator  Not exactly an exciting flying adventure, but something that has shaped the way I view being a flyer.  I have written numerous times about how much I love instructing, and evaluating has only deepened my love of instruction, but on a much deeper level.

Operation Christmas Drop 2016-  This year I went as the mission planning cell chief and there are few times I have worked so many hours and felt so completely fulfilled by what I have done.  To be very clear, there are a lot of people who did a lot of work to make this operation happen, and it was an honor to be a part of it.  It will be hard to beat the value of this experience in my life.

So there it is.  I am sure I forgot events that I will write about as well.  It seems so short listing them all like this, but I am excited to go back and relive all of these experiences again.  I know it will put a lot of smiles on my face, and I hope that you will find some enjoyment from reading about it.  Thank you for all of your support in the past, and I look forward to your comments in the future.

January 6, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

Learning to fly is expensive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 13, 2016 I Written By

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