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Overcoming the Mental Side of Flying

It has been an interesting week of flying here in beautiful Del Rio, TX.  The weather was forecast to be pretty crappy, and the forecast proved to be quite accurate.

That really sucks when it comes to pilot training, because a lot of the things we do require VFR conditions.  Outside of the training arena, the weather would not have been that big of a deal, but for all of us newbies it was less than ideal.  It was also a great learning experience for me of just how important it is to keep your mind ready when it comes to flying.

Early this week I was scheduled for a simulator session in the morning, and a flight in the afternoon that was not looking real promising when the day started due to crappy weather.  As the day went on I started to check out on flying because most of the flights had cancelled for weather.  I got my paperwork ready to fly, but I was really just going through the motions and wasn’t putting in the effort that I should have.

We got to brief time and I sat down with my IP already convinced we were going to cancel, but even then I knew better.  I personally said we should probably still brief because you never know what will happen with the weather.  We went through the brief, and as we did we heard updates that the weather was improving and it looked like we would be able to fly.  I now found myself in a bad spot because I had already started to checkout, and now needed to go fly.

I won’t go into all of the details of the flight, but suffice it to say it was not a very good flight.  I missed a handful of small things that were not terribly critical, but were things I should not have missed.  I got behind the plane, and while I eventually caught up, I wasted training time because my mind was not in it.  I also got spatial disorientation, which did nothing to help the situation.

By the time we landed I was pretty down on myself, with only myself to blame.

Fast forward two days and I was in almost an identical situation.  I had a simulator session in the morning, followed by a flight in the afternoon.  Pretty much everyone had cancelled their flights due to weather, and right up until the brief I thought we would cancel too.  The difference yesterday was that I forced myself to stay in the game mentally.

As I prepared my paperwork the weather actually kept getting worse but I just kept telling myself that I was not going to let the same thing happen again. We were still going to fly and I was going to be ready.  With the weather as crappy as it was I was honestly at a loss of what I was going to do even if we did take off.  It had been cloudy for days and the people who had flown did not bring back great reports that would allow for the aerobatic training that I really needed.

But I just kept running through ideas in my head.  I could just go and do some instrument approaches, but then the nearby airports were also below minimums.  I could also go up into the MOA and practice some of the instrument maneuvers in actual IMC.  That would be better than nothing, but I really needed pattern work, and that just wasn’t going to happen.  I also didn’t want to get stuck in the air and have to divert to San Antonio for the long weekend, but that was just my mind trying to find reasons not to fly.

It came time to brief and my IP wasn’t even in the room so I was further convinced we would not fly, but I just kept telling myself we were going flying.  Even after we sat down to brief another student walked in and my IP told him he would likely have to weather cancel, so I was sure I wasn’t going flying.  But we kept briefing.

Halfway through our brief an announcement came out that the T-38s would not be flying as long as expected so there was a larger time slot for us.  What happens here when the weather is marginal is a status referred to as alternating instruments.  Essentially, when the weather is bad we set specific times for the T-6s and T-38s to recover.  Because we fly at such different airspeeds this is simply a safer situation when the weather doesn’t allow for a VFR pattern.  The fuel capacity of the T-38 also makes this a smarter solution.

It wasn’t until that announcement was made that my mind finally started to convince the rest of me that I was actually going flying.

We finished our brief and got suited up before going to the step desk.  That is the last stop before we fly and the last chance for someone to stop us.  Because of the weather, we were the only ones up there waiting to fly.  Even the other flights that had been scheduled from my class had cancelled for weather.

While we waited to get approval to go my IP made the comment that, “When I’m the only one stepping to fly it makes me question my decision of whether I should go or not.”  This is a very true statement, and is something every pilot should remember, but ultimately proved to be not true on this day.

After some reassurance for the weather shop, the Operations Supervisor cleared us to go and fly.  We got out to the plane not in a rush as the weather was only supposed to improve at this point.  We taxied out to the center runway, which is not what we normally use, but had much less water and was thus safer.  We ran our pre-flight checks, and took off, going into the clouds within the first few hundred feet.

We ended up climbing to near the top of the MOA in the hopes the sun had burned off some of the clouds because they were not super dense, but as we got to 21,000 feet we were still in IMC.  Instrument maneuvers it would be apparently, and that is just what we did for the first fifteen minutes or so.  We had noticed some VFR layers on our climb up and decided to drop down and see if we couldn’t find a gap.

A brief aside on the super fun capabilities of the T-6.  Needing to descend about 10,000 feet my IP suggested I try an idle/speed brake descent just to see how fast this plane can drop when you need it to.  It sounded like fun to me, and I pulled to the PCL to idle, extended the speed brake and pitched the nose down.  I can’t tell you what our actual descent rate was because our VSI pegs out at 6,000 ft/min.  Let’s just say about a minute and a half later we were at 10,000 feet and that was with pulling in the speed brake a few thousand feet early because we broke out of the clouds and seeing the ground rushing towards me that fast was intense.

As luck would have it, there was actually a pretty substantial area of VFR conditions, and we were able to get a bunch of good training in.  I did my first split-S and aileron roll.  I also made great progress in some of my other VFR maneuvers.  I was shocked at how much we got done on a day when I didn’t think we would even take off.

To cap off the flight I also got to hold because there was so much traffic coming back in at the same time, and then flew an ILS (poorly), back home to a pretty nice landing if I do say so myself.

All in all it was a much better flight than earlier in the week because I forced myself to stay in the game.  Even as I looked for safety concerns and reasons why we wouldn’t be able to fly, I just kept telling myself we were going to fly, and it paid off for me in the end.  I got fantastic training, and continued to move towards the ultimate goal of getting my wings.

I expected the physical action of flying to be my biggest challenge at UPT because I already have a lot of experience in the air, but this was a great reminder of just how important the mental aspect of flying is.  I didn’t do much that I hadn’t already seen, but I did it so much better because I was mentally ready for it instead of quitting like I did earlier in the week.

Flying is challenging under the best conditions, but it is even more important to be completely on your game when the conditions are not ideal.  There is a time and a place to call it and not fly when the conditions are bad, but I am grateful I listened to my IP and pushed through (the second time this has happened with the same IP) because I would have missed some good fun, and some valuable training.  There is just so much to learn in this industry and I am grateful for all of the lessons I continue to learn every day.

January 18, 2020 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 Can We Increase Funding in Aviation Training?

So many of us want to grow the aviation industry.  Check that, so many of us want to get more people excited about flying.  I want people to get out and experience how much fun it is to be at the controls of an airplane.  To feel what it is like to lift off into the air when you are the one taking the plane there.  To be cruising along at 10,000 feet by yourself, land at a few different airports, and realize that you too are a pilot.

I see so many people talking about this all of the time, but we see very little change in the numbers out there.  The number of pilots has gone down by roughly 25% over the last 40 years, and the number of female pilots has remained stagnant during that time at somewhere around 5-7%.  AOPA put together an interesting “State of General Aviation” report that gives a lot of numbers that show the decline of interest in aviation, which just makes me sad.

With so many of us talking about it, and wanting it to happen, why aren’t we seeing more change?

I don’t know.

But I do have a few thoughts that have been running through my head.

It seems like most of the stuff I see written about is how to make flight training less expensive which is definitely one side of the coin.  Unfortunately, I don’t see the cost of training going down anytime soon.  The cost of gas isn’t going to plummet all of a sudden.  As there are fewer serviceable planes, the cost to rent them will continue to go up.  And, as the supply of instructors remains low, they will continue to demand relatively high fees.

The problem with most of those things is that it would take action by the FAA to change them, and they have not shown much interest in making changes in that direction, so we probably shouldn’t count on that.

So if we can’t find ways to significantly lower the cost, then the other option is to find more sources of funding to get people flying.  There will always be those who want it so bad that they will find a way, and we need to find more ways to support them.  There are a handful of scholarships out there to help people with training, and while they are super helpful to the few that get them, they are not going to make a massive dent in the shortage that already exists.

The problem I see is how do we attract more people who may be more on the fence about becoming a pilot.  They think it would be interesting or fun, but they either have never looked into it because they assume it is so expensive, or they have looked into it and they don’t know how they would ever have enough money to follow that path.

It is interesting to me how many people are willing to take on massive costs to become doctors and lawyers and such, but there are seemingly fewer people willing to do the same to become pilots.  This makes no sense to me, though I am obviously biased, as flying has an incredibly fun dynamic to it that I just don’t see in legal or medical concerns.

It seems like there has actually been a perception change of what it even is to be a pilot.  Has flying become such a normal part of life that pilots are simply seen as airborne bus drivers?  Yeah you can make a good living, and go cool places, but is commercial flying really that exciting?

To be fair, flying for an airline or other business aviation company is not as exciting as flying in the Red Bull Air Races.  With increasing automation and regulation it does feel like it has lost some of its sex appeal.  I am in no way trying to diminish the value of what pilots do, or their vital role in keeping air travel safe, but even as a die-hard avgeek I can see why other career paths would be more appealing.  Especially ones that don’t require so much initial investment, with relatively limited funding options.

There must be a way to offer more reasonable funding options to get more of those fence sitters to give it a legitimate try which will lead them to realize how awesome it can be.  There do seem to be more and more airline cadet programs popping up around the world where the airline pays for your training, and then you work for them for a certain number of years.  That is a great idea, but it is apparent that airlines are not actively pursuing this route, at least not at scale.

In a similar vein to something Dan Pimentel wrote about a few years back, I would love to see the Elon Musk and Richard Branson’s of the world throw their weight behind some aggressive changes in the general aviation world to help get more people excited about it.  I realize though, that their aspirations are a little more focused on the end product at the moment, and not so much the grass-roots part of the industry.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a more grass-roots movement that could be effective.

In the last few months I have watched Savannah Raskey, aka @thesavytraveler on Instagram, as she asked people to donate to a Be Kind aviation scholarship.  I recall the number starting pretty low, around $1,000, but the number quickly reached $6,000 thanks to donations big and small from other individuals.

That is one person, who admittedly has a rather large following, who simply asked people to apply for a scholarship, and other people decided to donate to make that scholarship bigger.  I realize $6,000 isn’t going to get someone all the way to an airline, but it is one heck of a start to get someone excited about flying so they find a way to get the rest of the way, or even just become a lifelong private pilot who goes out chasing $100 hamburgers a few times a year.  Either way it is a win because we need both types of pilots to keep aviation strong.

So if one person can do that much with one ask, how much more could be done if the same method was carried out at scale?

It may do even better if it was a pay it forward type of model.  You get training paid for, and then when you reach your goals you return the favor to the next person.  I know there have been models like this in other industries with varying success, but I see aviation as being a little different since there is so much more of a community of people who actually care about the other people, and not just about making money off of it.

Now, getting a major seed fund from an Elon Musk or Richard Branson would be a huge boost to an effort like this, but I think it is possible even with the efforts of the every day pilots out there.  It would naturally start small, but I feel like it could be a snowball that could just continue to grow over time as the benefits of the individual turn into the benefits of the industry and more people get behind it.

Maybe this whole idea is a little out there, but maybe we need to start going a little “out there” if we are ever going to make a change in the right direction.

January 5, 2020 I Written By

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

What a Year 2019 Was

I know it is completely cliche to write a post about the last year on New Year’s Day, but I am nothing if not socially trendy.  So here we go.

As I look back on the year, my first thought is simply that I don’t know where the year has gone.  I started the year deployed to Kuwait where I was able to fly to Iraq, Iran, Oman, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Qatar.  As much as being away from family while you are deployed sucks, being able to just fly and not worry about all of the other stuff at work is awesome.

On the way home from the deployment we got to spend some time in Greece, Northern Ireland, The Azores, Canada, and Minnesota before making it back to Reno.  It was so fun to decompress on the way home and make some good memories.  I also had one of the scarier events in my career when one of the panes of our windshield shattered halfway across the Atlantic.  In hindsight it was not as big of a deal as it seemed at the time, but it was still not very comfortable.

A few days after getting home I was lucky enough to go with my family to Hawaii for the first time.  It was nice to just relax on an airliner for a change after the deployment.  It was also some much needed family time after four months away.

A few days after that trip I was back on a plane heading East to Ohio for my flight physical as I continued the process to go to Air Force Pilot Training.  Even though I am pretty healthy it was quite the nerve wracking trip as a bunch of doctors and nurses would determine my Air Force future.  Fortunately, everything went off without a hitch and my package was submitted a few weeks later.

Before I knew it, I was back to work and trying to get caught up after five months or so away from the office.  It didn’t take long for me to miss the flying from the deployment, but it was still good to be home and settled again.

Spring training for the MAFFS season ended up being a weather mess in Colorado Springs with some unseasonably late snow that delayed a lot of the training.  We ended up getting almost all of it done, but as luck would have it, we didn’t get called out at all this year to fight fires.  As much as we love doing our jobs, it was a needed break for everyone after the crazy fires we had last year.  Here’s hoping our Aussie brothers and sisters get some relief from their fires soon.

I had a fun little trip with a great group of guys down to Mississippi to drop off a plane for some upgrades.  There was nothing special about the trip, but sometimes it is fun to just have a simple trip with great people that equals a great time.  It would also prove to be my last trip before leaving Reno.

In late July I gave a checkride, not realizing that it would be my last flight on the C-130 as a navigator, and possibly my last flight ever on a C-130H.  Just a week or two later I got word that I had gotten a fallout slot at UPT and within a week was headed to Del Rio, Texas, and Laughlin AFB.  It was a whirlwind of events that included packing everything we owned, and driving halfway across the country.

It bears mentioning at this point how lucky I am to have the family I do.  My wife has come with me all over the world pursuing my dreams.  She has done it all with minimal complaint and always with the utmost support.  My kids are also amazing troopers as they have had to change schools, make new friends, find new dance studios, and they have done it all with a deep love for me that I can never fully repay.

Pilot training started off as rapidly as advertised, but due to some unique circumstances I ended up with almost three weeks off about a month in.  Things started to pick back up through my simulator checkride before I once again had a long break in training.  During that time my class and I have stayed busy studying and practicing in the simulators, but all of us are anxious to get out and actually fly the T-6.

Barring any crazy unforeseen circumstances, which can happen when it comes to flying, we should all be flying next week, and may be wishing for a little more of a break.  I am super excited to get up in the air again, and continue on this long journey of becoming a better aviator.

It has been more than six months since I was last able to fly, and it pains me a little every time I think about that.  I often think about what my passions are, and what the most important things in life are to me, which is pretty much standard for everyone at this time of the year.

I count myself incredibly blessed that I actually get to do what I love most for a living.  I get to spend my time in the air doing something that is completely unnatural for a human being to do.  I can’t think of anything more liberating and calming than flying is for me.  It is where I feel most at home, and it is where I feel most like myself, whatever that may be.

As I look forward into the new year many of my ambitions will be dictated by the Air Force and the rigorous training schedule of UPT, assuming there are no more delays.  Sometimes I get disappointed when I think about that because I would love to go to Airventure, or the Reno Air Races, or any number of other awesome aviation events around the country, but they will all have to wait for future years.

So now I am trying to focus on the other awesome things that I will get to do.  I get to spend the next three months or so flying the T-6 Texan II.  I don’t particularly enjoy pulling G’s, but it will still be so much fun spending pretty much every day at the controls of an extremely powerful and nimble aircraft.  It is an opportunity that not everyone gets to have, and I count myself blessed that I get to experience it.

Then I will move onto the T-1 for about 5-6 months after that.  While it may not seem exciting to spend so much time learning to fly what is really just a business jet, it is more time I get to spend in the air, honing my craft and learning the skills I need to safely operate in the air for years to come.  It is also a good reminder to me of all the different skills that there are to learn in aviation.  You should never pass up an opportunity to broaden your skill set because you never know when those skills may come in handy.

A year from now I should be back in Little Rock, Arkansas for my C-130 specific training.  I can’t wait to get back to my beloved Herk, but it remains to be seen which version of the old girl I will be training on.

The National Guard is set to announce this month which two units will be converting from the C-130H to the C-130J.  That conversion will then take place over the next few years.  It is hard to tell what will happen when it comes to the politics of such a decision.  There are about 10 different units that could make the change, and Reno is one that makes a lot of sense from a practical perspective.

Ultimately, I have no say in the decision and will simply play the hand I am dealt.  If I did have a say, I would hope we stay with the H.  Having flown on both, I really enjoy the crew dynamic of the H better.  With all of the new modifications they are making to our old planes, they get much closer to the performance of the J, and once they do all of the avionics upgrades, they will be closer in that arena as well.  At the end of the day it is probably mostly a nostalgia thing for me.  It is the plane I grew up on, and I hold on to tradition as long as I possibly can.  They are both incredibly capable planes and I will be happy to fly either one.

It’s funny as I think about my love for the Herk now compared to how I felt when I first joined the Air Force.  I really thought I wanted to be on the F-15E and go fast and pull G’s, but a bomber would be an adequate place to land if I couldn’t get on a fighter.  I clearly remember thinking that as long as I didn’t end up on the C-130 I would be happy with whatever I got.

Now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

It has been a fun year of flying, and even fun with some of the time I haven’t been flying, but this year will be even more fun as I finally fulfill my dream of becoming an Air Force pilot.  I am having to delay some of the other things I would like to pursue in aviation, but that is part of the deal.  You can’t do everything in aviation all of the time, because it just isn’t possible.  You have to enjoy where you are at right now, and then keep working to experience as many of those other things as possible.

So wherever you are in your life as an aviator, because it is a life and not just a job or a hobby, keep enjoying the moments you have, and always look for new ways to spread that joy.  It is a great aviation family we are all a part of, and I look forward to getting to know more of you, and enjoy watching your adventures in the coming year.

January 1, 2020 I Written By

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

What I Learned in Pilot Training: Crew Resource Management

Crew Resource Management (CRM) may be one of the most important, but least talked about topics in aviation.  This is not to say that it is not talked about at all, but that I think many people underestimate the value it provides to every single person that is flying in the world.

To their credit, I am pretty sure every airline out there now talks about CRM as part of their initial and recurrent training.  There are more than enough accident investigation reports out there that could have been completely avoided, or made much less worse if CRM principles had been embraced.  So this principle has been widely adopted, though possibly under a different name.

Amongst the many examples out there, the worst would have to be the Tenerife tragedy.  If you are not familiar with it, and work in aviation, I would strongly recommend doing some research into it, because there are a lot of great lessons to be learned.  Unfortunately, more people died in this accident than in any other accident in history, and it was 100% avoidable.

Just to give the condensed version, two 747s collided when one tried to take off before the other had vacated the runway during reduced visibility conditions.  The first officer of the plane that was trying to take off tried to stop the captain from doing so more than once, but the captain ignored him and tried to take off anyway.  This is obviously a massive shortening and simplification of a complex situation, but will do for our purposes today.  The point is that hundreds of people would not have died if the captain had listened to the other pilot.

So what is CRM?

The best way to describe CRM is utilizing all of the members of your crew to safely and efficiently operate your aircraft.  This reinforces the idea that every crew member is vital to the safe operation of an aircraft, and that only when we work as a team can we operate at our best.  While there are plenty of accident investigation reports that could have been prevented with better CRM, there are countless reports that were never written because the crew properly utilized CRM.

When we get into an unexpected situation, which in most cases means an emergency, it is essential that the crew work together to get the plane safely back on the ground.  This could be asking other crew members what they are experiencing, or seeing around the plane, or even on the instruments, that both pilots can generally see.  On the C-130H, it is often the flight engineer who is first to notice issues with the engines, that is because they have the best seat in the house for such a diagnosis.

A pilot who ignores the input of their crewmembers has no business being in the air at all.  There is no room in the air for ego and arrogance.

To their credit I have had great experience with pilot’s and their willingness to listen to their crew.  That does not mean that the aircraft commander or captain or pilot in command is giving up their responsibility or authority, because that is equally important.  After listening to the feedback from the crew, it is essential that the pilot in command take decisive action.  This may mean that someone isn’t happy with the decision that is made, but that is the responsibility that you accepted when you took command of that plane.

But, what about single pilot flights?

I don’t have any official data, but I would be willing to bet the number of flights with only one pilot exceeds the number of flights with more than one, or a crew of some sort.  In those cases, the acronym CRM still applies, but instead the C changes to “Cockpit” Resource Management.  Even as a single pilot you have tools at your disposal to get back on the ground safely.

This starts with understanding what you have in your cockpit.  This varies if you are flying a single seat F-16 versus a 172 by yourself, but the principle is the same.  Know what equipment you have and know how it works.  This could be GPS, radios, or even ForeFlight on your iPad.  For that matter, it could be a cell phone that will work if you are low enough.  When an emergency hits, the priority is getting back on the ground safely, and you want to use all of your resources to make that happen.

Even when people fly by themselves, they are rarely alone.  Radios provide an opportunity to seek help outside of your airplane.  This could be ATC, or it could be another pilot flying in the area that can help you get back on the ground.

Here at UPT, we have had a couple of classes about emergency procedures and they regularly refer back to contacting people on the ground  to help you get back safely.  To be clear, the priority is always aviate, navigate, communicate, but once you get the situation under control, and you are headed in the right direction, you should reach out for help from outside sources.  These people then become a part of your crew.

They can read checklists, or make sure you have considered all of your options to make the right decision.  They may even just be able to calm you down and provide some reassurance that you are doing fine.  In many cases, people do a pretty dang good job handling bad situations, because we learn how to handle our planes, and all we may need is some reassurance that it will be okay.

CRM will not prevent every emergency from happening.  There are so many factors involved in flying that inevitably the unexpected will occur.  But, when it does happen, the most valuable resources you have are the people in the plane with you, and in the aviation community, that all want the same thing as you, and that is to get back on the ground safely.

October 27, 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.

What I Learned in Pilot Training: Hypoxia

I realized I have not been holding up my end of the bargain when it comes to all of the things I am learning at pilot training, so I am going to do my best to start to remedy that.

For the first two weeks of training the vast majority of what we talked about was the physiological aspects of flying airplanes.  I talked about some of this in my last post, but there is one area that I feel warrants its own separate discussion, and that is hypoxia.

A quick Google search tells us that hypoxia is a “deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues”.  This definition is pretty general, but that is because the effects of hypoxia can vary dramatically.  That is one of the scary things about hypoxia is that it is different for everyone, so there is no way to give anyone a surefire way to know it is happening.

Maybe even scarier is that some of the potential symptoms can be exact opposite.  Some people will feel euphoric, or extra happy.  Other people will feel sick and miserable.  Some of the other symptoms are tingling in the extremities, headache, feeling warm, decreased visual acuity, cyanosis (blueness in the lips), and loss of mental capacity.

The last one may be the biggest threat to pilots, but if you are struggling to think clearly, how likely are you to notice it?  Your brain isn’t working well, but somehow it is supposed to realize that it isn’t working well?

As part of our training, we go into an altitude chamber to experience the effects of hypoxia, and determine what our own individual symptoms are.  It is invaluable training and helps you to recognize how you respond so that should it ever happen in flight, you are more likely to notice it.  To add to the challenges of hypoxia, your symptoms can change over time.

When I did the altitude chamber in navigator school, my only symptom was a very slight headache across my forehead that took forever to appear.  When I did it this time it was tingling in my fingers and feeling warm.  You may notice that most of these symptoms are things that could happen for dozens of different reasons.  Lots of people get headaches when they fly because they are dehydrated or a little sick, or because they had too much fun at the bar the night before.

Which brings me to some of the different reasons that you can experience hypoxia.  There are four general types of hypoxia: histotoxic hypoxia, stagnant hypoxia, hypemic hypoxia, and hypoxic hypoxia

Histotoxic hypoxia is the type that would be created by having too much fun at the bar the night before.  Substances like alcohols, narcotics, and other drugs impact the cell’s ability to accept oxygen and even though there may be enough in the air, it can’t get into the cells to do work.

Stagnant hypoxia happens when the blood is not flowing to the tissues properly.  In the military world this is usually driven by pulling G’s which causes the blood to pool in the lower extremities and thus not flow to your upper body.  It can also happen when you get cold and your circulation decreases.

Hypemic hypoxia is similar to histotoxic, but instead of the cells not accepting oxygen, it relates to the blood’s inability to carry oxygen.  In aviation this is most often caused by the inhalation of carbon monoxide either from a bad heater, or even just the exhaust on the ground before you get in and takeoff.

Hypoxic hypoxia is when the air simply does not have enough oxygen for your to breathe, which happens at higher altitudes.  Clearly an issue for flying an airplane.  It is also the most common type of hypoxia experienced in aviation.

We can all agree that hypoxia is a bad thing as it prevents us from thinking clearly and from using our body to safely operate an airplane.  So what can we do to prevent it, or recognize it when it does happen?

First, prevention because it is ALWAYS better to prevent a bad situation that it is to deal with it after it arises.  Being physically prepared to fly is the simplest way to prevent hypoxia, and a host of other issues.  That means that if you have not gotten enough rest, or you have been feeling sick, or you are hung over, or drunk, then you should not be flying.  We all want to fly as much as possible, but you have to know your limits and never cross them.  Even in the military we regularly talk about how there are almost no flights that cannot wait until another day if the crew is not physically fit to fly.

Another part of prevention is ensuring that you have the proper equipment for the flying you will doing.  If your flight is going to be mostly around sea level hypoxic hypoxia is not very likely, but if you have a broken exhaust system, or a cabin heat system that is not working properly, you put yourself at very real risk of hypemic hopxia, and that is every bit as dangerous.  Hypoxia is not only a matter of flying at high altitude!

Generally speaking we talk about oxygen deficiency starting at around 10,000 feet MSL.  So if you are planning to fly anywhere near that altitude for very long you need to have the right equipment.  That could be a pressurized cockpit, or it could be supplemental oxygen.  If you will be flying at night, some people push that altitude as low as 5,000 feet MSL.  Once again, everyone is different, and has different tolerances.  If in doubt bring along the extra oxygen because it may save your life.

I realize that going to an oxygen chamber is not realistic for most people, nor is it really necessary for someone cruising around in a 172, but if you get the opportunity I would highly recommend it.  That being said, there is still plenty of education and experience you can get to learn more about the effects of hypoxia and how it can affect you.

My only experience with hypoxia, other than in the controlled environment of an altitude chamber, was actually on a hiking trip.

I was climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan, which only goes up to about 12,300 feet, not that much above 10,000.  As we got to the summit it was rainy and cold and I was miserable and I had a headache.  But, I didn’t even realize it until we were on our way back down and I started to feel better.  Sure I recognized that I was tired, but it wasn’t until I headed lower and started to lose my symptoms that I realized I had even had symptoms.

The odds of this happening in aviation are not very high, at least if it has become a critical issue.  If the symptoms are minor then descending may be enough to clear your head and fix your symptoms, but descending may not always be an option, and if it has to do with poor equipment, it is not likely that the equipment will just fix itself.

So how do you recognize that you are having issues?  The key to this is not waiting for extra signs.  At the first indication that you may be hypoxic you need to take action.  Some people can go hours with symptoms before it becomes life threatening, but for others the symptoms may come on and only minutes later the person will be incapacitated.  So if you even think there is a small chance you might be hypoxic, try to fix it immediately.

If you are fortunate enough to be flying with someone else, ask them how they are feeling, or if they see anything different with you. Sometimes just bringing it up will key the whole crew off that something is not right and you may save everyone.  Maybe it is just you having an issue though, and they can help you remedy the situation and get back to normal.  The point is to not keep it a secret if you don’t feel right.

Many people do most of their flying alone so what can they do?  In many cases, you can still tell someone, whether that be ATC or anyone else that may be on frequency with you.  Again, just mentioning that something doesn’t feel right can help key off your mind that something isn’t right and can help you down the path to fixing it.

If there is legitimately no one around then just say it out loud to no one.  The brain is pretty amazing and just vocalizing it may be enough.  Most importantly, if you are by yourself, don’t hesitate to take some action if you feel even the slightest possibility that something isn’t right because you have no idea how far you are from just passing out.

This ended up being way longer than I expected, but I would argue that I didn’t even scratch the surface on the topic, or at least on aerospace physiology.  There are people whose entire career is in that field.

Hopefully what I have done is given you some things to think about when you fly, and encouraged you to spend some extra time thinking about how your body is performing when you fly.  We spend a lot of time checking on the plane, and our equipment but most of us don’t take enough time to check on our physical ability to fly.

It doesn’t have to be a huge drawn out process, but even taking the time to stop before you step to the plane and just ask yourself how you are feeling may be what saves your life.  I would also encourage you to spend some time learning more about aerospace physiology.  That could be through articles, or YouTube, or seminars, or other classes.  No matter where it comes from, understanding how our bodies work when they are in the unnatural state of flying will only make you a better aviator.

October 12, 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 First Week at Air Force Pilot Training

It’s been almost a month since I last posted, and I can’t believe how fast that month has gone.  I feel like it has been much longer with everything I have done since then.

It was kind of nice to have a little bit of free time with my family for a couple of weeks after we got here, though free time is probably the wrong word.  It was nice to not have work requirements because I was able to help my wife get the house unpacked, take the kids to dance and swim lessons, and enjoy a couple of lunches with my Queenie before my life revolves around flying for the next year.

It makes me laugh a little as a type that because many people would probably say my life has always revolved around flying, but it had increasingly become more about desk work before I left.  It is super nice to just be learning about flying again, though I know that will change again when I get home, and that’s okay.

So what is the first week of pilot training like?

In a word, fast paced.  (okay, that is two words)

The first day was just briefings to get us ready for the year ahead and what the policies and procedures of the unit are.  Then starting the next day we were right into full days of academics.  With the pilot shortage they are trying to get through as many people as they possibly can.  That has led to them shortening the course by a few weeks by deleting some of the topics they deemed non-essential.  I won’t complain about getting done here sooner and getting on to C-130 training.

In the first week we have been mostly focusing on aerospace physiology, which is probably one of the least studied topics that has immense impact on effective flying, if that makes sense.  We covered topics ranging from hypoxia to G-tolerance to egressing from the aircraft.  While none of the information was new to me with my background, it was a good reminder of the importance of these topics.  It was also eye-opening to some of the guys that don’t have a background in aviation.

If we needed a reminder that this is not a take your time kind of course, our first test was a week to the day after we started and covered the full range of aerospace physiology topics.  I was happy to have done well and crossed the first hurdle in training.  I was confident about the whole thing because, as I said, none of the information was really new to me, but there is still always that little bit of fear that I won’t give something the time it deserves and I will blow it.

No time for a break though as after the test we were right back into class and CAI’s.  It is worth explaining the different ways in which we get instruction in formal courses like this.  There are basically three different methods of training: Instructor Based Training, hands-on training, and Computer Based Training.  My entire career the computer based training has been referred to as CBTs, but here it is referred to as CAI’s because why leave something alone when you can change the name for no reason.

My favorite training, like most people, is the hands-on training, but they actually have a pretty good system set up here.  Generally speaking, you spend some time learning about new topics on the computer, then you have a class with an instructor to clarify and expand on the topic, then you get into some sort of simulator, or part task trainer, or eventually the actual aircraft, to bring the whole thing together.

Now that we are mostly done with aerospace physiology, we actually have to do the altitude chamber on Monday, we have started to get into the aircraft systems of the T-6 which has been super interesting.  While we did utilize the T-6 in Nav school, that was 8 years ago, and we are going a lot more in-depth than we did back then because now I will be in control of the plane and not just sitting in the back seat.

If that sounds like quite a bit for a first week, it is, but the pace only quickens from here.  Monday will mostly be taken up by the altitude chamber, then Tuesday we have our first sims, and Wednesday is our next test.  From there it just keeps going, and I am loving every minute of it.  I’m not worried about scheduling people for stuff, or tracking training, or writing memos, or going to meetings, I am completely focused on learning to fly, and it is awesome.

It really hit me this week just how blessed I am to be here.  I am 37 years old, when the age limit was 30 when I was selected.  I started this journey to become a pilot 16 years ago when I enlisted, and now I am here.  Don’t let small hiccups or speed bumps get in the way of you getting where you want to be.

To be clear, there are some things that there is nothing you can do about, like being blind or something of that nature.  But, if something like money, or age, or scores, or even just doubt are holding you back, then don’t give up.  You can find a way, and you can get there, just don’t give up, and ask for help.

There are doubters and haters out there, but there are also a ton of people out there that would love to help and return the favor for the help they received.  So reach out to anyone and everyone and figure out how to make it happen.

If you have any questions about the stuff we are learning or how you can get here too, let me know and I would be happy to help you.

September 14, 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.

Short Notice Off to Pilot Training

Well, sometimes life comes at you faster than expected. I haven’t had the chance to write much recently because I had to quickly move across the country.  A lot has happened in the last three weeks.

Since I started waiting for UPT class dates a few months ago, I have religiously emailed the lady that is in charge of assigning class dates every single week.  She never responded, nor did I expect her to as I know how busy she is, but I continued to ask in the hopes that a class date would come available.

Then three weeks ago I went into work on an off day and sent my typical email asking if there were any dates available and thanking her for all that she does to support us.  About five minutes later I got a call from Maryland on my cell phone and I was just about to ignore it, assuming it was a solicitor, but decided I better answer just in case.

Sure enough it was the lady who gives out class dates.  She asked when I was ready to go, to which I responded, immediately.  She told me there was a date available but that I would need to leave in about 10 days to get there and get in-processed.  This was exactly what I had been hoping for, so I jumped on it.

I had to call my wife and give her the good news, to which she freaked out a little because that meant we had five days to pack the house, and five more to drive all the way to Del Rio, TX.

Since this is not a moving blog I will spare you the boring details of driving a long Uhaul truck 1600 miles across the hottest part of America in the middle of August.  Let’s just say it was hot, and not overly exciting.

After four days of driving we arrived at Laughlin Air Force Base.

It was the weekend when we arrived, but Monday morning I was greeted by the sound of airplanes flying overhead and I felt right at home.  Everyday since I have to pinch myself a little when I see the T-6s, T-38s and T-1s flying overhead.  I can’t believe that I am actually here and about to embark on the dream I started ten years ago.

There is still a lot to do, but I will get into more of the details of what I’m doing here soon.

August 19, 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 Future In Aviation

If you read my string of posts the last couple of weeks you would think I would know better than to try to make plans for my career, and in particular flying.  Nothing in my career has gone the way I intended, but it has all worked out.  That being said, I figured I would put my plans out there because you never know when the right person to help you get there may stumble across what you write.

The first order of business is obviously getting dates for pilot training.  I will go into more detail about the steps of pilot training as it gets closer, and as I go through, but the basic detail is that you spend about 13 months at a pilot training base and you leave with your pilot wings.  The three pilot training bases for the Air Force are Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, TX; Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma, and Columbus AFB in Columbus, MS.

Each of the locations has good and bad about it so I am perfectly fine going to any of them.  My priority is to get started as soon as I can because I am not getting any younger, and the rest of my plans are going to take some time.

I should also mention for those keeping score at home that many people have to attend Initial Flight Training before going to pilot training in the Air Force.  I will not have to do this since I already have my PPL.  It is essentially a crash course in flying like you would receive at many flight schools, but done in the way the Air Force does it.  For pilots you go a little ways beyond your solo, but only about halfway to actually getting your PPL.  Navigators only get about 14 hours and spend more time on the navigation side.

While I am in pilot training my plan is to write or make videos everyday during training.  Based on time constraints I don’t expect most of them to be lengthy, simply the things I am learning as I go.  Now, I know that most people reading this are thinking that will only detract from my efforts and take away from time studying.

On the contrary, I feel like it will help me learn it better because I have found that things stick in my head better when I teach it to other people, or at least when I have to explain it.  Just reading something does not help it stick in my head.  The challenge, as I see it, will be in sharing principles, while not disclosing anything that would be considered sensitive information.  Fortunately, most of the information at pilot training, or UPT, is not particularly sensitive.

I already mentioned one of the reasons for this being a way to help myself retain the information better as well as debriefing myself after flights and such.  The other thing I would like to do is help share information for the people coming after me.  I know how much the lessons of people in front of me have helped me in the past so I hope to pass that along to the people coming after me.

After pilot training I will attend C-130 training in Little Rock, AR.  It will be fun to go back to my old stomping grounds, and even more fun to move up into the front seat.  This training takes approximately six months though weather and aircraft maintenance can add significant time if you are unlucky.  I think it will help a lot that I am already comfortable in the airframe and understand some of the systems, but I will also be learning about a lot more systems now so I am excited.

After finishing up in Little Rock, I will come back home to Reno, which is when the real fun starts.  On the military side, I will get about 8 months of orders to get spun up on our local mission and ensure I am flying the way I should.  It will be fun to have flying be my priority again, but based on my rank, it will likely not stay that way for too long.  But, I will try to fly there as much as I can to learn and develop and progress.  Just like in the civilian word, hours and experience are the key in the early years.

It will be weird taking such a large step back professionally because I will not have the same experience and opportunities for a while.  This is to be expected, and I look forward to the new angle I will be learning with all of it, but I will miss some of the other stuff.  The biggest thing I will miss is not participating in the MAFFS mission for a number of years.  It has been the most fulfilling mission I have ever been a part of, and I will really miss it.  Hopefully, I will be able to gain experience and get back to it at some point, but that will take some time.

On the civilian side, I want to really ramp up my involvement in general aviation.  Be forewarned that this may get a little chaotic, because I get really excited when I start thinking about it, and there are a lot of things I want to do.

The first order of business will be becoming a CFI.  The huge advantage I will have here is that after UPT you can take an equivalency test and get your civilian commercial license.  I am also hoping that I can work with the FSDO and figure out if there are other requirements that may be simpler because I have been a flying instructor and evaluator before, though I am also realistic that it was as a navigator so it may mean nothing, and that is okay too.

I also think it would be incredible to teach my own kids to fly.  They have all expressed some interest and there are still enough years before they are old enough that I should be established as a CFI by the time they are ready.  I would love to give them a jumpstart on their flying lives and help them to see how amazing it can be.

The next step may actually happen as part of getting my CFI, but I want to buy my own plane for a number of reasons.  The first is the most obvious reason, then I can take my family up and go chasing $100 hamburgers, though in this area it may be more like $200 hamburgers.  The second is to be able to instruct on my own terms.  Joining a flight school would certainly be one avenue, but it is not the one I want to pursue.

The cost of instruction in this area is insane.  I have heard of CFIs charging as much as $85 an hour with most of them in the $65 range.  With as much as it already costs for the plane and gas, I want to keep the other numbers as low as possible to try to help people out.  I should be making enough through the military that I can afford to cheapen it up as much as possible.

That is the last part of owning my own plane.  I don’t intend to get anything fancy or crazy expensive because you don’t need that, and some would argue you can actually become a better pilot with the less advanced aircraft.  The cheaper the plane I can get, the cheaper the cost I will need to charge a student.

I am aware that there are still things like insurance, annuals, 100-hr checks, and other maintenance, but again, the simpler the plane the lower the cost.  At the same time realizing that an older plane can quickly become a hangar queen if you aren’t careful, so I will make sure to do a thorough pre-buy as well as taking the time to understand all of the costs of ownership before I close that deal.

I also want to get a tail-dragger for a few different reasons.  It would give me the opportunity to give tailwheel endorsements to some of the pilots I work with at the Guard.  I have read numerous articles and comments that talk about how learning on a tailwheel can really help your stick and rudder skills, which is also a nice bonus.  So if you have good recommendations of planes I should be looking at I would really appreciate it.  The long-term goal would be to end with a Maule as I have a major love of them, but that may not be practical initially.

In the long-term it also serves a valuable purpose to me.  I really, really, really want to get into backcountry flying, and many of the best planes for that are taildraggers.  I want to make sure I have the proper level of skill before I go too far in that direction, but I know there is a ridiculous amount of opportunity for that in this area of the country and I want to take advantage of it.

An important part of doing that type of flying, at least from my perspective is sharing with other people, both in the plane and through pictures and video.  While the majority of people will never go backcountry flying, it is important to show all of the different ways flying can be enjoyed.  I know there are other people doing this, and in no way do I want to take away from them or just be a copy cat, I just want to join in on the fun.

In a perfect world all of that would pay for itself and support my family, but I am also ready to plan for the airlines if that is the path my life takes.  I know that is what my wife wants because of the travel benefits.  It wouldn’t be too bad though as I will still have the Guard for fun flying, as well as hopefully being well into backcountry flying at that point.  If I have to do one to finance the other, that is totally worth it.

At the end of the day I really only have one goal with all of this.  I want to get more people involved in aviation and having fun with it.  It has become such a normal part of our lives that so many people see it as simply a means of travel, and not a way to open up life to new adventures, and amazing people.

Whether I can inspire people through writing, pictures, videos, or ideally going flying with me, or other people, I am all in on it.  It is also worth pointing out that this is all a long-term play.  I don’t have the means right now to pursue it the way I want to, but I have a plan in place to get there, and I will get there.  Inevitably some things will take longer than expected, and others will happen more quickly, but I know as long as I stay the course, I will get there.

My sister once told me something very insightful when I was nearing the end of high school, almost 20 years ago.  She said that “most people don’t pursue the things they really want to do because it will take three or four years [or more], but three or four years later they are still living the same life, when they could be living their dream.”

Earning my pilot certificate last year helped me to realize that there is always a way to get to where  you want to be.  It may not be easy, it will likely take sacrifice, and where you end up may not be where you planned, but if you actively go after it, you will get there.

 

July 13, 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.

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.

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.