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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.

Instructing May Be the Most Rewarding Thing I Have Ever Done

The mighty Herc is a dream to fly and there is always more to learn.  I learned a lot the last couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

The mighty Herc is a dream to fly on and there is always more to learn. I learned a lot the last couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

I wrote this post once and my site decided it didn’t like it so it all disappeared.  I guess I didn’t convey the message I should have so I will just have to give it another go.  Or maybe I just needed to read Ron Rapp’s excellent post on instructing to help me realize how important it is.

I don’t think there is much doubt about how much I love flying on the C-130.  It is such a versatile air frame that can do so much, especially when you consider how bulky of a plane it is.  As much as I have enjoyed flying on the Herc, I have found something that has been even more rewarding in the last few months.

The last thing that I did before leaving Arkansas was earn my instructor qualification.  Because I moved shortly thereafter, I never had the opportunity to instruct before leaving.  Add to that a good amount of leave and necessary ground training, and I went about three months without flying, which was essentially torture.  After a few indoctrination flights here in Japan, I was finally able to do some instructing, which has been more fulfilling than I could have expected.

It is such an incredibly amazing opportunity to share some small bit of knowledge with young, developing aviators.  I don’t claim to know everything, in fact the more I instruct the more I realize I don’t know, and the more I learn.  However, it has been so much fun to help build on the knowledge base that they already have.

All of my students have been fully qualified navigators which is really an interesting dynamic because they are capable of flying all by themselves, but they need me there for some particular aspect of their development.  What has been one of the most amazing things to me is that most of them don’t really need a ton of instruction, they really just need someone to put them in the right situation so they can learn from experience.

In reality, they really just need someone to express confidence in them so that they will have that confidence in the future when they look over their shoulder and there is no one there to help them find a solution to a problem.  I have been blessed with many of these types of instructors and I would be remiss if I didn’t take a minute to publicly thank some of them.

Jesse for being the first to really instill that confidence in me.  Right after I finished my initial C-130 training there was a decent chance that I would be up for a no-notice checkride by an evaluator from Air Mobility Command (essentially the people responsible for all mobility assets in the Air Force e.g. C-130, C-17, C-5, KC-10, and KC-135).  As you can imagine it was a little intimidating for a guy that had only flown without an instructor about three times at this point.  Jesse just told me not to worry because he had flown with me and he knew I would be just fine.  Just a few simple words, but they gave me the confidence I needed to do exceptionally well on my checkride, despite the best efforts of the pilot.

Ryan for always looking at the big picture when it comes to instructing.  There are all kinds of crazy minutiae that you can get into as an instructor, especially when you know as much as Ryan does, but he had an incredible ability to give you just the right amount of instruction so that you learned what you needed to learn, but never felt overwhelmed.

Tiffany for teaching me the ropes of Afghanistan, and showing me just how much fun it can be on the Herc.  She has this uncanny ability to go from all business to total goofball in the blink of an eye while at the same time remaining totally professional through it all.  She could always set me at ease and help me to understand how to work through problems in a way that could make the flying even more fun.

Chris for never letting me get by with just enough.  About a year ago as I was progressing through my lead upgrade training he realized that I had a pretty good break between flights due to the holidays and other constraints, so he came up with a couple of scenarios to work through.  It forced me to get into the books and made me realize just how much we have to understand to lead a formation, and ultimately to instruct well.

Phil is the only pilot that makes the list, but I can honestly say that I would not be the navigator that I am without him.  Phil sets an incredibly high bar and he expects everyone on his crew to meet that bar and raise it.  At the same time he has a knack for giving you the tools necessary to rise to the occasion.  Phil was my pilot at the Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School which was some of the most fun I have ever had flying.  That is a whole different level of instructing when you have the ability to improve the other crew positions around you.

As I said before, all of these instructors, and many more, instilled in me a confidence that has made it possible for me to succeed in my career.  They each had their own unique way of approaching essentially the same material to provide me with the best possible bag of tricks to carry throughout the rest of my career.

I have no idea what my students thought of flying with me, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that I had to instruct them.  It is fulfilling in ways that I never understood before having this opportunity.  My hope is that I can leave them with the confidence they need to succeed in the same way that others did for me.

December 20, 2015 I Written By

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

There is No Black and White in an Aircraft Emergency

For better or worse, mostly worse, we live in a world today where many people take every snippet of news to extremes.  Much of this is driven by the 24 hour news cycle, and the obsessive need of every media outlet to be the first to break any news that might be even remotely relevant without checking for confirmation, or even the facts.  Sensationalism is the name of the game in the media these days, and it is causing many problems that really should not be issues at all.

There may be no sector of the world where this is more true than aviation.  Some of this comes from the relative ignorance of the public, the potential for major tragedies in flight, and the complex nature of what we do.  Unfortunately, many media outlets don’t even take the time to find real experts to support their stories, because, let’s be honest, the truth wouldn’t sell nearly as well as the sensationalism they opt to offer.  Instead they prefer to scare the public into thinking a situation is worse than it actually is.  That is exactly what happened with two recent emergencies that garnered a fair amount of attention.

The first was the engine fire of British Airways Flight 2276 in Las Vegas.  In short, there was an engine fire on the ground that caused the crew to abort their departure, and evacuate the aircraft.  They did a beautiful job of getting everyone to safety, and the aircraft was taken care of about as well as could be expected.

In this instance much of the extremism came from Twitter and other social media outlets where people completely shredded passengers who had taken their bags with them while evacuating.  While I agree that it was not the smartest move by these passengers, they certainly do not deserve much of the vitriol that has been thrown at them from the masses.  Rather than explaining further I would direct you to a piece written on the Airline Reporter website that does a far better job of conveying my feelings than I probably could.  Again, taking your bag in an evacuation is generally not the best idea, but there are certainly scenarios I could see that taking your bag could be justified, and you never know how you will respond in an emergency.

The second emergency that took place recently was the in-flight death of an American Airlines pilot.  While this is a terribly sad situation, the plane and the rest of the people on board were in no real danger just because one of the pilots was incapacitated.  For some reason the media is making a huge deal about the “co-pilot” having to land the plane by himself.  This is where ignorance and aviation colloquialisms come into play.  Again, I have been beaten to the punch by a much more qualified expert than myself so I would direct you to the writings of Cap’n Eric Auxier who very clearly and simply explains how the media has screwed up the reporting on this story.

Now I didn’t write this post just to direct you to other writers and their opinions, I have a point of my own to make.

As I alluded to in the title, there is no such thing as black and white in an emergency, nor do any of us know how we will respond in an actual emergency.  Because every emergency is incredibly unique there are always variables that will tweak the response of those involved.  The interesting thing about many of the extreme responses to this story is that not a single person I have seen respond has ever been in an actual emergency themselves.  They are surely out there, but I have not come across them.

In the military, as well as with the airlines, there are very clearly delineated emergency procedures and how to respond to them.  We refer to the first few steps of some of these emergency procedures as boldface in the military because they are written in bold and all capitals in our regulations.  All of these steps must be memorized because they are so important that there is no time to go looking through books for the procedure that you are supposed to follow.  Even with that being said, there are still situations where the best decision is to hold off on the boldface steps to return the plane, and its crew, safely home.

During my time in the C-130 I have been on board a handful of times when we had to shut down an engine, or perform some other emergency procedure.  Admittedly, shutting down one engine when you have three other good ones is not nearly as stressful as shutting down one of only two engines, but it is an uncomfortable situation nonetheless.  While each of these emergencies called for the same procedure to shut down an engine, not one of them was carried out in exactly the same way.

There is no black and white in an emergency, there is only an opportunity for a well-trained crew to make educated decisions that will ultimately lead to a safe outcome.  The safety record of the vast majority of aviation is a credit to the crews that have been well-prepared and have prevented many of these potential emergencies, and when they do happen, they have been mostly well handled saving many people a lot of heartache.  It is easy for armchair quarterbacks to question the decisions from the ground in the safety of their homes sitting behind their computer, but until you have been in an emergency you really have little room to talk.

Emergencies exist in every part of life in one way or another.  No matter how hard you try to prevent them they will eventually happen because that is just part of living.  We can mitigate them, and we can prepare like crazy so that we can respond appropriately when they do happen, but no matter how well we prepare we can never know how we will respond until an actual emergency is placed before us.

It is also important to keep faith in the pilots that safely transport us all over the world everyday.  If you don’t understand the terms we use in aviation and you are worried about what you hear on the news, ask someone who actually works in aviation and they can explain it better than the media.

The term co-pilot is merely in reference to the person sitting in the right seat of the flight deck.  It is incredibly common for us to fly with the most experienced pilot in the right seat, so that the less experienced pilot can gain experience in the left seat.  The reality is that no matter who is sitting in which seat, they are both qualified pilots that are perfectly capable of getting the plane safely to its destination.

So the next time the media or social media try to tell you that an emergency situation was handled wrong, or that someone in particular is at fault, take the time to do a little extra research and gather some more information.  The real information is out there if you will only take the time to find it.  No matter what you do find, never forget that no emergency situation is ever totally black and white.

October 13, 2015 I Written By

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

Lessons Learned: If You Don’t Use It You Lose It

I had an incredibly humbling experience last week that I feel is important to share as an aviator where it is vital that we share our experiences that others may learn.  I really need to get back to writing these posts because I have seen great value in sharing my experiences, or if nothing else just in writing them out for my own analysis and benefit.

First let me set the stage for what happened.

In flying the C-130 we have essentially two types of missions that we perform, airland flying and tactical flying.  Airland would be something similar to flying on an airline where we fly longer legs into various different airports transporting personnel and cargo.  Tactical flying is what makes us more unique; flying at low altitudes, in formation, and performing airdrops.  As you might imagine tactical flying is more challenging and requires more work from everyone on the crew before, and during, the flight.

Before last week I had not been on a tactical mission in about three months, and had not personally been in the seat for one in more like five months (I had been at instructor school for two months where I was watching students rather than actually performing tasks).  I had only had one airland flight during that time which had actually gone really well so I felt pretty confident going into my flight last week.  I had also briefed for two other tactical flights the week before so I was starting to get some idea of what to expect on my flight, or at least I thought I was.

A couple of other variables that I also feel are important to mention are that this was my first flight in the local area in Japan, my instructor had not flown in about a month, the copilot is also new to the local area having had only a handful of flights, the pilot had just been returned to flying status after a significant break, and she was getting a no-notice checkride from none other than our commander.  A no-notice is jut what it sounds like; you show up to fly and when you sign in you find out that you will be getting evaluated on the flight.  It tends to add a certain level of stress.

On top of all of this we had a pretty complex mission profile because we were trying to drop at two different drop zones with a potential to fly up to six different routes, none of which I had ever flown.  The mission commander would also not be part of the majority of the tactical portion of the mission due to some weird scheduling that required him to support a checkride.  There were actually a total of 4 checkrides being performed on the three planes in the formation.

Now that you have endured the setup, let me explain what happened.

In short, I had the worst flight I have ever had.  I was slow in my callouts.  I completely forgot certain procedures.  If I’m being totally honest there were multiple times I kind of zoned out and was overwhelmed.  Just to be very clear, we were never in an unsafe position, and no rules were broken.  I simply was a useless crew member for much of the flight.  I have known the pilot for a few years now and she said it wasn’t that bad so I am sure a lot of my disappointment and frustration came from my own personal standards of performance.

It can be incredibly difficult to try to do a task that you have done hundreds of times, but not remember how to do it, or at least not do it as well as you know you are capable of performing.  My last flights had been at instructor school where I was critiquing role-playing instructors and had been deemed worthy to not only perform these tasks, but to INSTRUCT them, and now I couldn’t even do it myself. It was probably the worst I have ever felt after a flight.

It is amazing how quickly you lose abilities when you do not use them.  I could go through the procedures in my head just fine but in the plane I struggled to keep up.  It seriously made me question my abilities and whether or not I even enjoyed what I do anymore.  If this was the end of the story I would apologize for being so depressing, but fortunately there is a good ending.

I flew again last night and it was dramatically better.  Interestingly, I had an instructor that has a reputation for being really tough, which intimidated me a little bit, but maybe that was exactly the challenge that I needed.  I was engaged for the entire flight and knew exactly what was happening the entire time.  My situational awareness was so much greater in providing useful inputs to the crew and what was going on during the mission as a whole.

I was still a little slow with some things, but everything happened in time to get the mission done.  I was once again a useful crew member and it reminded me of exactly why I love what I do.  I still have plenty to work on, as all aviators must continually work at honing our craft, but it was so refreshing to get closer to the level at which I was used to performing.

I don’t know that I can convey all of the lessons that I learned from this experience, but there are a few very clear lessons worth mentioning.

The first lesson is that you are bound to lose abilities that you don’t use.  We all have reasons that we are kept away from flying, or any other activity that we perform, and when that happens we will inevitably lose some of our ability to perform that task.  It is important to keep that in mind when we try to perform that task again so that we don’t overextend ourselves and end up in a dangerous situation.

In tandem with that understanding is not being intimidated to go back to something we love just because it has been a long time.  Maybe life has prevented you from flying for a long time so you are scared to get back up in the air, but there is no reason to be scared.  Book a refresher lesson or two with a good instructor and before you know it you will be on your way to rebuilding those good habit patterns and enjoying the wonder that is aviation.  I was amazed at how quickly it all started to come back to me last night as I built upon each task that I performed correctly.

Flying is just like many other activities in that it takes a lot of practice to become good at it, and in reality you never stop learning because literally every situation is unique.  Taking breaks is just part of life and in some instances can actually be good for recharging your batteries and helping you to remember how much you love something.  Just understand what your limits are and don’t be discouraged when it takes some time to get back into your groove.

As I have said many times before, don’t be afraid to ask for help either.  There may not be a better group of people than flyers when it comes to helping fellow flyers.  It is a passion that cannot be easily explained to others, but for those who have it no words are needed to understand each other.

October 6, 2015 I Written By

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

Giving Them Wings: The Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, GA

The C-130 is the chariot of choice for modern Airborne students.

The C-130 is the chariot of choice for modern Airborne students.

This article originally appeared on NYCAviation.com.

Dropping something out of an airplane is generally frowned upon for most people because you never know where that thing you dropped is going to land or whom it might hurt. However, in the C-130, dropping things out of our airplane is what makes us different from UPS or FedEX; that, and landing on dirt strips that are only 3000 feet long.

In the history of the US military, a number of significant drops really changed the face of the wars where they took place. As a member of the 50th Airlift Squadron, I am proud of the heritage that has been left to me by those who participated in those airdrops, including D-Day — probably the most famous airdrop of all.

The HBO series Band of Brothers (which if you haven’t seen, I highly recommend) made that airdrop known to my generation and really reinforced the dangerous nature of those types of missions. Another fascinating part of that series was the training and transforming of those men into paratroopers to prepare them to make that fateful jump.

In the decades since that jump, not a ton has changed in the training. Sure, the equipment has improved; though not exactly the same, it still follows the same basic pattern. That includes using three of the four 250-foot jump towers at Ft. Benning where the training continues to take place.

To read the full article and see more videos and images please visit NYCAviation.com.

April 6, 2015 I Written By

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

Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School

This picture sums up most of the flying that we did at AMATS.  Tilt the screen to line up the horizon and it will blow your mind.

This picture sums up most of the flying that we did at AMATS. Tilt the screen to line up the horizon and it will blow your mind.

I had the great opportunity to go out to Reno, Nevada for a mountain flying course that really opened my eyes to the challenges of flying in a mountain environment.  I felt like I had a little perspective having spent four months flying in the mountains of Afghanistan, but this course gave me a whole new perspective on what mountain flying can be like.

The Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School (AMATS) is put on by the 192nd Airlift Squadron which is part of the Nevada Air National Guard based out of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.  It is designed give C-130 operators an introduction to mountain flying, which has certain inherent dangers that are not present in less topographically diverse terrain.

The course is designed to have one day of academics and three days of flying, but weather (an incredibly important aspect of mountain flying) prevented us from getting the third day in.  From an academic standpoint, topics like weather, previous accidents, and proper mission planning were covered in-depth.  This information was then applied to the actual missions that we would be flying in the coming days.

This is the mountain we climbed over during our "zoom climb".  Imagine flying right for that mountain and then initiating the climb only a couple of miles before you get there.  You can see the low-point on the ridge we aimed for.

This is the mountain we climbed over during our “zoom climb”. Imagine flying right for that mountain and then initiating the climb only a couple of miles before you get there. You can see the low-point on the ridge we aimed for.

The first day of flying focused on flying through narrow canyons where one can get easily confused by which canyon you are flying as well as navigating through less defined terrain.  After a short transit to the training area, we executed a penetration descent (essentially pitching the nose over and descending at maximum rate) then leveled off for a relatively standard landing at an out base.  The first real part of the training is what’s called a zoom climb.  Essentially you fly straight for a mountain at a high-speed and then pitch up and climb about 2000-2500′ in a matter of 20 seconds or so.  Now that is nothing for a fighter, but to see a Herc climb like that, even for a short period of time is pretty awesome.

The next phase of the mission was very reliant on proper mission planning.  One of the challenges of flying in mountain valleys is that it is really easy to fly up the wrong valley and put yourself in a terrible bind.  Through proper mission planning you analyze the terrain to find key markers that will aid you in flying up the right valleys and avoiding dangerous terrain like box canyons that you may have no way of getting out of.  My sincerest apologies that I was without GoPro for this part of day one because it was incredible to experience.

Dropping in over the lake on our way to the second airdrop of the day.

Dropping in over the lake on our way to the second airdrop of the day.  Formation flying is so much fun.

After winding our way through the mountain valleys we exited by way of our first ridge crossing, though nothing compared to what came on day two.  After dropping our heavy equipment at the drop zone we switched positions with our wingman and they led us out on the second route which was much more wide open and presented a slightly different challenge.  When terrain is really wide open there are two potential challenges.  The first is the lack of ground references to verify your position throughout the route.  This often forces you to utilize your navigation system a little more to ensure you are hitting your turnpoints and getting to where you need to be.

The other challenge is that open, gradually climbing terrain can easily sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.  We generally fly our routes between 300-500 feet AGL and as we crossed these wide open areas it was interesting to see how often our AGL altitude would drop without us even noticing.  We never got too close to the ground, but seeing us creep towards the slowly climbing terrain was eye-opening.

It's not hard to get up for work in the morning when you get to look forward to flying this beauty.

It’s not hard to get up for work in the morning when you get to look forward to flying this beauty.

This route was also a great opportunity to witness a little hidden terrain.  What this means is that smaller hills can get hidden when they have taller terrain behind them.  There are more factors involved than just size, but the real danger here comes when you think you are farther away from terrain than you actually are.  In a worst case scenario this could lead you to not climb early enough with catastrophic results.  After passing the second area of hidden terrain we then climbed up a steep valley for our second ridge crossing of the day dropping down over a lake and into the drop zone for a standard CDS drop, and a recovery back to the airport.

While not an incredibly cool shot of the plane, look at those clouds behind it.  Weather in the mountains is unpredictable and excitingly dangerous.

While not an incredibly cool shot of the plane, look at those clouds behind it. Weather in the mountains is unpredictable and excitingly dangerous.

All of the videos on this post came from day two which was equally as impressive as day one.  I should add that the grandeur of these mountains towering well above 10,000 feet was jaw-dropping beauty for our crew that is used to flying in Arkansas where our highest terrain is only around 2000 feet.  If you ever get the opportunity to fly in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains I strongly suggest it.

Day two was focused on high altitude drop zones and landing zones.  The first video above gives you a little glimpse of a formation takeoff and transiting to the training area.  There are two important reasons this was included.  The first is the weather.  Look at the clouds as we fly towards the training area.  The second reason is caused by the weather.  Flying through such tall mountains can create some seriously drafty wind conditions.  Add this to the fact that a huge storm was starting to blow in that would ultimately have 100 mph winds and drop four feet of snow and staying in position was serious work for the pilots.  If you feel like the video is a little bouncy or jostled that is why.  It can be a challenge to stay in position in calm conditions so add 30-40 knot winds and it is even more challenging.  I give all the credit in the world to my pilots who kept as where we needed to be.

The first part of this training involved a rapid descent through a gunsight valley into a high altitude drop zone followed by a rapid climb out the other side.  The real challenge of a high altitude drop zone is that it takes longer for your plane to slow down to drop speed.  On top of that we were descending into the drop zone which makes it almost impossible to slow down at all until you actually level off.  Once again, proper mission planning was necessary to ensure that our descent began on time, so that we would be leveled off in time, so that we could slow down in time, to drop our load on time.

It was really cool to see how well the numbers we had planned worked out allowing us to get our drop off on time.  It was equally awesome to see how well our climb out numbers worked on the other side of the drop taking us up and away from the rapidly rising terrain.  The views were absolutely stunning, and something that the guys in Reno take a little bit for granted.  At the top of this climb you can see us fly well above two good-sized lakes at about three minutes into the video.  Those lakes would make a more prevalent appearance later in the mission.  We then circled back around for another high-altitude drop without a hitch.

The most exciting part of the day came after the second climb out up and over the mountains.  To take us from our high altitude above the mountains down into the valleys for our next phase of training we would execute a ridge crossing.  Initially, this was probably the most uncomfortable I got during all of this training.  If you look closely in the video you can see the plane in front of us bank to the left way passed the ridge, and then we dropped over the top.  The pilot banked the plane up to almost 60 degrees and the nose dropped quickly below the horizon.  It honestly felt like we were headed right for the top of the ridge until we picked up speed and it carried us right past it.

It was exhilarating to see such a large plane drop out of the air so fast.  You can actually hear our instructor scream with excitement right as we cross the ridge.  Shortly after that you can also hear the really loud sound of rushing air.  That is the sound of the pressure release valve trying to keep up with the pressurization in the plane.  It would end up taking another minute before the system would catch up after we leveled off.

Once we got down to the valley floor we transited over to another ridge for a second ridge crossing into the valley where the landing zone was.  While not quite as exhilarating as the first crossing it was still pretty awesome.

The work at the landing zone provided many of the same challenges as the drop because the plane does not slow down as fast.  My apologies that I only got two of the landings, but the battery died.  The first landing in the video is at normal speed to give you an idea of what it looks like.  The second landing was at 2x speed which is honestly more what it feels like.  The added challenge of this landing zone is that there is rising terrain on three sides which means you have to slide in between the two ridges and then climb as quickly as possible after takeoff before turning for the next pattern.

Flying back to the airport provided maybe the best example of how powerful the weather can be in mountainous terrain.  We were flying at least a couple of thousand feet above the terrain but we still had a couple of sections of turbulence that caused us to lose at least 300 feet of altitude almost instantly.  Mountain wave turbulence is some of the most dangerous weather you can experience in a plane because it is incredibly strong and can extend up to 200 miles away from the mountains that caused it.  That means that you may not be expecting it.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from this trip is just how important it can be to get good weather forecasts, and to truly understand how it can affect your operations.  I think most of us are quick to understand the dangers of ice, thunderstorms, and the wind associated with it, but it is the clear air stuff that can really ruin your day.

As I mentioned before our third day got weathered out because of the aforementioned mountain wave turbulence which was really an incredible disappointment because we would have been executing air drops on the side of mountains and up narrow valleys.  Then we would have done dirt assault landings at high-altitude which would have been some awesome video, but what can you do?

The AMATS course was the most worthwhile training I have gotten in the C-130.  It was easy to see how everything they taught us could be applied in an operational environment.  Even for the training that we perform on a regular basis there were key aspects that were taught.  It really is a shame that this course is not more widely utilized because it will literally save the lives of the people who properly apply it into their missions.

I gained a whole new respect for people who regularly fly in the mountains and the challenges that it includes.  No matter how experienced you are the mountains can jump up and bite you, but taking advantage of training like this, either civilian or military, will go a long way to ensuring that you get to enjoy flying through the mountains and the wonder that they are.

March 16, 2015 I Written By

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