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Lessons Learned: Sometimes Our Mistakes Fix Our Problems

This experience was one that I observed rather than experiencing myself as I was giving a checkride. However, I have experienced the exact same lesson numerous times.

A large part of my job as a navigator on the C-130 is time control. This entails ensuring that we execute our airdrops at the correct time. If the route is being executed in IFR then the window is +/- 90 seconds. If it is a visual route then the window is +/- 60 seconds.

For the most part it is pretty simple if you take off on time and then execute the mission the way it was flight planned. It is more complicated when there are external factors such as ATC, other traffic, weather, or threats that we simulate for training.

In this instance the navigator I was observing took off late due to airline traffic, both arriving and departing, that always takes priority over us. This could have been avoided, but that is a different topic for another day.

We ended up departing about three minutes late, which sucks because it is always harder to make up time than it is to kill time. Once we leveled off the clock was showing us 6 minutes late, though we were not yet at our enroute speed.

The nav wisely accelerated immediately rather than waiting for his planned acceleration point which got him to within 2 minutes of his desired TOT. Still not within checkride parameters, but getting closer.

He then wisely decided to turn inside of course to kill even more time. He initiated his turn about 30 seconds early which at that speed is about two miles early. He expected to roll out about two miles left of course and hold that to shorten the distance of the route he was flying. But, when we rolled out, he was exactly on course, and right on time.

So what had gone wrong?

What he had not accounted for was the fact that he was already inside of the turn he was making so the numbers he was seeing were not reflecting what he was trying to execute. By being inside of course he was getting a distance to go to the turn that was actually much closer to the following leg centerline than he was expecting. So when we rolled out on the next leg he was on centerline and not two miles left of course like he wanted.

But, I also said we were now on time, so how was that possible if he hadn’t cutoff the corner like he intended? Ironically, it was also because we were already inside of course that we ended up on time. While we didn’t roll out left of course, we did roll out farther up that leg than expected. We expected to roll out with 16 miles to go to the next point, but we actually rolled out with only 12 miles to go to the next point. Shortening the leg by 4 miles allowed us to shorten the route by about a minute, and we were now on time.

It was a good reminder to see that sometimes even when we don’t see everything, it can still work out for us. I also don’t believe that it is all luck either. I think some of it has to do with putting ourselves in a good position, and then even when we don’t see everything it can still work out for us. At the same time, it can just as easily go the other way, which is a topic for another day as well.

I have been far too lazy in analyzing how I have been doing on my flights recently. It gets easy to do that when you become pretty adept at doing your job well. That can also be a dangerous combination.

I’m glad I had the chance to evaluate someone else, because it reminded me that I need to do a better job evaluating myself. If I get too lazy I will quickly regress in my abilities, and that is not what I want to do.

July 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.

How I Became a Pilot: Part 5 Joining the Reno National Guard and Becoming a Pilot

For a long time it looked like I would not be able to go to the Guard yet.  In fact, my first application was denied outright. I know it was never looked at because it came back in less than 48 hours, and the Air Force never does anything that fast.  

But with some consistent support from my current, and future leadership we got through the process and I was able to leave Active Duty about 8 months before the end of my commitment.  I was super excited to be back on the West Coast, and to get to fly in the mountains around Reno.

When I was going through the process of joining the unit I mentioned a desire to become a pilot, but based on my age, and their needs I was told it was not going to happen.  Honestly, I was okay with that as I genuinely love what I do, but I figured it didn’t hurt to ask.

Adapting to Guard life took some getting used to.  Financially it was far more complex than getting a paycheck on the 1st and the 15th, but we have figured it out.  The culture is also very different since the majority of the people in the unit are part-time and thus are not available to do  training or for flying at a moments notice like we were on active duty.

Maybe most importantly, the Guard is also one big family.  An incredibly dysfunctional family at times, but the dynamics of a group of people who work together in one place, for in some cases 30+ years, can get very interesting.  

Families know each other, and not just spouses and children, but siblings and parents and other extended relatives.  While it does have its challenges, there is a bond that is undeniable, and something I personally find valuable.

I was also excited to be flying in what is the best local flying area anywhere in the world.  Though recently I have decided I may need to alter that statement as Alaska is pretty darn amazing, it is incredible to rage through the Sierra Nevada mountains on a regular basis.

About six months after I joined the unit they decided they were going to have a board to convert some navigators to pilots.  Initially, I was hesitant as I was 36 and pretty set in my ways. The idea of going back through 18 months of training with 23 and 24 year olds was not appealing.  I reached out to some trusted friends and after hours of discussing the practical side of it all I was still not convinced.

Then a great friend, who apparently knew me better than I knew myself at the time, appealed to the emotional side of it all and it tipped me over the edge.  Essentially he told me that for as long as he had known me I had wanted to be a pilot, so why would I not even try to do it. Let them tell me it wasn’t going to happen, but I at least needed to try.

As part of the preparation process for the board I decided that I needed to finish my private pilot’s license.  We had just gotten our tax return, and I convinced my saint of a wife to let me use most of it to chase my childhood dream.  I figured that even if the pilot thing in the Air Force didn’t work out, I would still be a pilot in the eyes of the FAA and I would have fulfilled a dream.

I immediately set to work finding an instructor and preparing to take the written test.  The first time I went up in the air with Nikk I knew that I had made the right choice. I really can’t even put it into words, even more than a year later.  It awakens something inside of me that nothing else does. I have written quite a bit about all of that training so I will refer you to past posts to read more about that.

I was not able to finish my license in time for the board, but I was proud of myself for getting as close as I did.  If it weren’t for weather I would have finished, but I don’t think it would have really made any difference with the results.

The time for the board came and I felt really good about how I presented myself and what I wanted to accomplish.  When the results were given I was not surprised as they selected the person they knew better who had been around longer.  While I was disappointed, I once again knew that things always seem to have a way of working out for me and my family.

After a few more weather delays,  I was finally prepared for my checkride and got it scheduled for 22 June 2018.  You can read about the details of that memorable day here, but as you are likely already aware, I became a private pilot on that very day, and it was maybe the most proud I have ever been of myself on a professional level.

To finally do something that I had talked about for more than 30 years was simply incredible.  The path was much longer than I had anticipated and there were many times that I thought it would never happen.  With all of the twists and turns that life takes, I had given up on fulfilling that dream. Like so many people I had moved on to something more practical and left those childhood dreams behind.

It happens to all of us at some point, whether we realize that at 5’9″ we are never going to play in the NBA, or that despite our love for the violin we will never play at Carnegie Hall.  At some point most of us concede to reality.

I have often struggled with this as I believe that you should never give up on your dream, but that at the same time, at what point is it keeping you from doing something else great because your other dream just isn’t going to happen.

Recently I have come to feel that it isn’t that you need to give up on your dreams completely, you may just need to tweak them a little.  If you are a five foot tall adult you will never be a center in the NBA, but maybe you can become a coach, or a trainer, or a writer for Sports Illustrated, or a sports agent.  If you don’t have the eyesight or stomach to be a fighter pilot maybe you can work for an airline, or an airport, or do maintenance on airplanes, or write a blog about them that becomes wildly popular and now you get to go for rides in those same fighter jets.

I firmly believe anyone can achieve true and lasting happiness in this life by pursuing their dreams.  As you can see by my path, it was windy and bumpy with a few pit stops and 180s, but I did it, I became a pilot.  

I have flown more than 1500 hours as a navigator all over the world in a C-130 and seen sights that few other people in the world will ever see.  I have provided life saving airlift to people who needed it. I have helped fight forest fires saving people’s lives and homes.

I don’t say any of that to brag or be prideful.  I say all of those things to point out that I have lived an amazing life.  I have fulfilled so many of the dreams that I had as a kid with my face pressed against a window at DFW looking at airplanes with my dad.  I just didn’t even realize that I had some of those dreams. I knew that I loved airplanes, and that I wanted to fly, and once I actually pursued that dream I found happiness and purpose that I did not have before.

That to me is true success.  I still have a lot of things I want to do, and fortunately I am still young enough to pursue many of them, but I feel successful with the things I have already done.  I have done things that money can’t buy, and I know that the experiences I have had are priceless.

So if you have a dream, go after it.  You may need to tweak your expectations a little, and you may not get there as fast as you would like, but when you put your heart into something and you chase it because it awakens part of your soul in a way that nothing else does, you can’t go wrong.  You will find happiness, and that is what I found when I became a pilot.

June 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 26, 2019 I Written By

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

Flying in a New Mountain Area is Always a Fun Experience

Weather sucks, okay complaining complete.

Snow and wind kept me from flying the last two weeks which was really frustrating, but better safe than sorry.  Fortunately, this week has been absolutely stunning and I have flown my guts out.  Five flights in three days to be exact.  I won’t give you the full run down in one post, but I have a bunch that I will be posting in the next few days because I learned so much and I have so much to share.  I really just want to skip to my favorite part, but there was so much learning before that part that I will control myself.

When the weather is beautiful here, it is incredibly beautiful.

On Tuesday I was scheduled to fly out to Elko, for some tactical fun in an area that we really don’t get into very often.  It is always fun to check out new places, which happens a lot for me right now since I am still new here, but when it comes to mountain, low-level flying, it is also useful to have someone who has been there before to keep you safe.

The flight out there was a little boring as is to be expected when droning along for 45 minutes.  Though I will say that there is still something beautiful about the high desert mountain ranges.  Especially while they are still covered with a good bit of snow.  I know the dry isn’t for everyone, but I do feel at home here.

Upon getting to Elko, it was a lesson in high altitude approaches for the pilots.  The aircraft commander was an experienced, born and raised Nevadan who has been flying in the area for a long time.  Our co-pilot is still relatively new to the plane, but soaks up information like a sponge and really applies the lessons he learns.  The funny thing is that both of them had similar struggles.

When you fly at high altitudes, the plane just does not slow down as quickly because the air is so much thinner.  I am not sure if it is quite as dramatic on jet aircraft, but for the C-130 it makes a huge difference because those big barn door propellers don’t act as effectively as air brakes.  That being said, both pilots landed safely in the zone and some good learning was accomplished.  There was also a fun little crowd lined up along the road by the time we finished enjoying the beautiful majesty that is the mighty Hercules.

Once we were done with our patterns we headed out East of Elko into the Ruby mountains.  This area is well-known for its Heli-skiing which was easy to understand as we headed out into the still completely snow-covered mountains.  They Ruby Mountains are a pretty small little range, but are incredibly majestic because they just explode out of the desert floor.  I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but there is about a 5-6000 foot increase in elevation in a matter of maybe 5-6 miles.  It was truly a sight to behold.

The route we had built split the gap between the Humboldt and Ruby ranges and then proceeded to the south along the East side of the Rubies.  A few miles down the ridge we climbed up for an expected ridge crossing, which looked a little with some clouds, but proved to not be a huge deal.  We crossed the ridge and dropped down into this gorgeous valley that was also still full of snow all the way to the bottom.  You could see the ski tracks from those who had partaken of this incredible terrain.

While I would hesitate to take a small aircraft down as far as we fly, it was a nice wide valley with nice easy turns, that was sloping down the entire way through the valley opening up back into the valley East of Elko.  The video below doesn’t really do it justice, but it gives you a little taste of just how stunning this experience was.

Not to give up after only one fun valley, we proceeded further down the range where we were able to do a little more exploring through this gorgeous range of mountains.  It was easy to see why people would pay ridiculous amounts of money to experience them on skis.

We took advantage of the less dramatic mountain ranges on the way back to educate the young co-pilot on mountain flying and how to execute turns through the valleys safely, which he picked up quickly.  It was also a great chance to help him build his sight picture for ridge crossings and how to do that effectively.  For most people these skills are not as important because you should give such dangerous areas plenty of room, but for a C-130 crew, it is how we live, and not just because it is fun.

Training of any type can get a little monotonous if you just do the same stuff over and over again, so no matter what you are flying, or what other passions you may be pursuing, make sure that you mix it up a little.  Fly to a new airport, rent a different type of plane, try some formation flying (with proper preparation of course), just do something different.  It will keep you engaged and enjoying the variety of life that makes aviation so much fun.

Speaking of variety, my flying wasn’t complete for the day yet.  To hear more about the rest of my day check out my next post…

March 29, 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.

Flying in the Reno Area is AMAZING!

As luck would have it, my first trip from my new home took me back to where my C-130 life all started, Little Rock. The fog was pretty brutal that morning, but fortunately it burned off.

I must once again apologize for my absence in recent months.  To be honest, I just didn’t feel like I had much to say, and I hate reading posts that just drone on about nothing so I chose not to write.  Fortunately, I now feel like I have a lot more to write about, and more importantly, have more pictures and videos to share, so hopefully I will have the time to actually share them with you.

I flew this plane back when I was in Little Rock, along with a couple of the other tails Reno now has. It is fun being reunited with an old flame.

As you may remember from my last post a few months ago, I am now living in Reno, NV and am flying as a member of the Nevada Air National Guard.  It really sucked at first because I wasn’t able to fly for about a month while they took care of administrative crap, but since that got taken care of, I have been flying a whole lot, and it has been wonderful.

I did get the chance to take part in the AMATS course here in order to become an instructor for it.  I actually flew the course about three years ago, and it was some of the best flying I have ever gotten to do.  I wrote about it back then so feel free to take a look back at that post. 

Cloud surfing is always one of my favorite parts of flying. It was a little unnerving this time since this was on descent and we weren’t too far from the ground.

The terrain in this part of the world is simply incredible.  It is a challenging environment to fly in, and it is certainly taking some learning to really enjoy it, but it has been so much fun.  I don’t necessarily have a lot to say specifically right now, but I did want to show a couple of pictures and videos.  I promise they will be better in the future when I remember to take my GoPro with me.  In the meantime, please enjoy, and let me know if you have any questions or requests.  I look forward to sharing more of this amazing journey with you.

January 13, 2018 I Written By

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

Moving on in My Love Affair with the C-130H

Me preparing to drop supplies as part of Operation Christmas Drop.

Today is a very bittersweet day for me. After 7 years in the active duty Air Force, today is my last day on active duty.

It has been an incredible ride of ups and downs all over the world.  I have met many of the greatest people I have ever known in this time.  I have been mentored and taught by great minds who had so much to share and were willing to take me under their wing to help me become a better officer, aviator, and man.

I have witnessed the selfless sacrifices of countless other military members, and often the more difficult sacrifices of those we leave behind who keep life going while we go to serve others.  It is an awe-inspiring site to take part in actions that serve thousands of people all over the world who are in dire need of help.

The C-130 is a military plane, but the greatest work that it takes part in is the humanitarian missions it performs.  There is no other plane that can get into the places we can and provide the services we do.  It is a strange feeling to watch natural disasters play out in anticipation of the opportunity to go and help those people.

While it breaks my heart to see the last C-130Hs leave active duty this week, I am equally rejuvenated by the fact that I am starting the next chapter of my career as a member of the 192nd Airlift Squadron in the Nevada Air National Guard.  I do find it quite poetic that on the same day that the last C-130H will leave active duty I will also separate from active duty and move to the National Guard.

Swearing in as a member of the Nevada Air National Guard.

As I drove onto the base for the first time today it was a little surreal to me to think that I will stay here in Reno for the remainder of my career.  No matter how weird it may have felt, when I looked out on the ramp and saw their beautiful C-130Hs I felt right at home.

The awesome thing about the two planes I could see from the parking lot is that they are the MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System) birds that are utilized for fighting forest fires all over the country.  This struck me even more with the fires that ripped through California this past week, not too far from where we live.  They are easy to distinguish if you ever see these planes because of the huge orange numbers on the sides of them.

I am incredibly excited to take part in this new mission set to help fight fires, and hopefully prevent as much damage as possible.  I hate to sound like a broken record, but there is something special about being a part of missions that help people in trouble.

Preparing to fly in the Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School.

This is not my first time flying in the Reno area as I took part in the Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School shortly before I went to Japan.  I actually wrote about it back then if you would like to learn more.  Suffice it to say that it was the most useful flying course I have been through in the C-130 and provided tremendous insights into the intricacies of mountain flying.  Becoming an instructor for that course is just one more thing that I am looking forward to in my new adventure.

One reason I haven’t written much on here for the last year is because I just wasn’t flying much, and the flying we were doing was not really exciting.  While not every flight is meant to be fun and exciting, I am so looking forward to getting back to the flying that made me love the C-130.  Flying in the amazing Sierra Nevadas in some legit mountains is going to provide some great pictures and videos that I look forward to sharing with you in the coming months and years.

Thank you for the support over the years, and please come back to see more about my exciting new adventures.

October 15, 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.

Japan Said Goodbye to Me in Just the Right Way

Flying in Japan for me recently has not been incredibly exciting.  It was just the nature of the transition of our squadron that as my planes left there would be less flying period, and it would ultimately become a formality more than real fun.  I did get one outstanding trip to Nepal, which I shouldn’t sell short, but I have missed some good old low-level tactical flying.  While my commercial flight back to the States did not include that type of flying, it was still just about the most perfect departure out of a very special place that I could have asked for.

I will apologize up front for the lack of pictures as I know pictures are what so many avgeeks live for, but there were two reasons for that.  One, I no longer had a cell phone since I sold it before leaving Japan.  Two, I actually made a conscious decision to just enjoy the view and make my own memories rather than trying to document it.  It is something I have heard David Parker Brown talk about before when going to events that don’t allow cameras.  I hope that my descriptions will satisfy your avgeek needs.

It started at my favorite airport to visit, Haneda.  I have written about how awesome it is before, but it was so wonderful to get in one last visit before leaving Japan.  I even got to ride on the train there with one of my best friends which was an added bonus.  In short, Haneda has one of, if not the best observation deck at an airport in the world.  It is before security and sits on top of the International Terminal so you get amazing views of the big beauties, as well as views of multiple runways.  If you ever come through Tokyo you really should check it out.

I was a little concerned I would have a crappy flight because my original seat assignment was in the middle of the middle section on a 777-200ER.  That means there would be four seats between me and the real avgeek seat by the window.  Fortunately, I went to the counter to check in and asked for a window, which I was given with no effort other than asking.  To make it even better, my window seat was on the wing.  I just knew this was going to be a great flight once I saw that.  I know everyone has favorite and most hated airlines, but I was happy to be returning to America on American which has always been my favorite airline.

As we took the runway and they pushed up those beautiful engines, I was a bit sad about leaving this incredible place, but equally as excited to finally be reunited with my family after three months apart.  As I always do when seated on the wing I watched the entire departure and it was so cool to see small clouds form over the wing at the very moment the wing generated lift and we rotated off the ground.  What was even cooler was the funnel cloud that persisted for a good five minutes after takeoff shooting over the wing just inside of the engine.  I’m sure there is a name for that, but it is not something we get with props on the Herc so I am not sure what that is.

I got a great view of the city as we departed, but I was a little disappointed that I likely would not see Mt. Fuji because there was a lot of haze and a low cloud deck over much of the city.  As we cut through the haze, and what turned out to be a really thin layer of clouds that almost exploded as the wings came through, we popped above the clouds, and there she was.  Mt. Fuji stood out above the clouds below like I had seen so many times before.  We were taking off right at sunset so she was backdropped with a sky full of reds and oranges.  It was the perfect way for Japan to say goodbye to me.  It probably irritated the people around me that I let that light in for so long, but I just couldn’t stop watching.

I know most people leave the window closed the whole time overnight because it’s not like you can see anything anyway, but I just can’t help looking every hour or so.  There is something about watching that light out on the wingtip that just adds to the trip for me.  That may even be a little crazy for an Avgeek, but I like it.

We made landfall in the Bay Area, but surprise surprise, it was covered in clouds.  I did get a few glimpses of land and it made me smile to see America again.  I have been back multiple times over the last two years, but this time I was coming home for good.

As we came into the LA basin on approach to LAX I was a little disappointed to see so much city again as I was anxious to get into the mountains of my new home in Reno, but the avgeek gods had a little treat for me.  As we lined up on the runway I looked out over that lovely wing and saw a Southwest bird racing us to the runway.  I know most people couldn’t care less, but it is always a treat at airports with parallel runways to track into the runway together.  It didn’t hurt that we were quite a bit early either.

LAX was nothing stellar, but I can’t hate on it too much as I had been awake for almost 24 hours and had to kill six hours.  In hindsight I should have gotten an Uber or something and ran out to the famous In N Out for a little spotting fun.

The ride to Reno was not really eventful because it was mostly overcast, and was bumpy most of the way there.  Fortunately, the clouds opened up for the approach and I got to watch the arrival into my new city.  To cap off this wonderful trip we taxied north up the airport alongside the National Guard ramp and I got to see seven of their beautiful birds lined up on the ramp.  It was the perfect ending to a very very long day.

I drove off of Yokota AB saying goodbye to their last four C-130Hs about 24 hours earlier and had now made it to my new home with the view of the new C-130s I will be flying in a matter of weeks as a member of the 192nd Airlift Squadron in Reno.  I can’t wait to get this next incredible adventure started and continue my love affair with the Herc.

October 2, 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.

Flying Somewhere New Can Reinvigorate You

The mountains of Japan are simply stunning.

It is hard to admit that sometimes I get a little bored flying, but I do.  For the first few years I was on the C-130, most of my flying was at about 300 feet above the ground out in the open terrain of Arkansas.  While the skyline was not particularly magnificent, and the terrain was not exactly rugged, it is an incredible rush to move that fast, that low, in a plane that big.

Coming to Japan has been an incredible experience with all of the places I have gotten to visit and the incredible people who I have gotten to meet from so many different countries.  With that being said, the flying in the local area can often be a little less than spectacular.

As you may know, Tokyo is the most densely populated city in the world so it can be challenging to find a piece of land that isn’t covered with people.  For that reason we are forced to fly more than three times higher than I was accustomed to before coming here.

You have to get a good steep bank angle in to really have fun, and fly safe, in the mountains.

However, the reason that Tokyo, and most of Japan for that matter, is so densely populated is because about 73% of the country is mountainous and uninhabitable.  What that means for flying, is that there is some incredible terrain out there to be explored.  The obvious question then is why don’t we spend all of our time flying in those areas?  The short answer is weather.  Wind, turbulence, and cloud cover all keep us out of those areas a lot of the time.  (To read more about the challenges and dangers of mountain flying check out my post on the Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School.)

As luck would have it last week, I was scheduled to fly on a pilot’s last flight here in Japan and he wanted to go and rage through the mountains one last time.  It even looked like the weather was going to cooperate for us. I had never been to this area before, but in his 6+ years here our pilot had flown it numerous times.  It is worth mentioning that if you are not familiar with mountain flying you should really take a course or at least go with someone who is before attempting it.

The aforementioned weather that cut into the route but still didn’t stop us from some amazing fun.

My biggest regret was that I didn’t bring my GoPro because the scenery was simply stunning.  The weather did force us to skip a big chunk of the route, but overall it was just a wonderful experience.  As you can see from the few pictures I took, the mountains were the most beautiful shade of green and it was just all around beautiful.

While I could go on and on about how stunning it was, and how much fun it always is to rage through the mountains, that is not what I would like to focus on today.

It is not uncommon when you fly for a living to get into a rhythm and fly the same stuff over and over.  That may be flying the same routes repeatedly as an airline pilot, or flying the same maneuvers as a flight instructor, but it is easy to get into a rut.  As easy as it is to get into that rut I would submit that it is just as easy to get back out of it, assuming you want to.

The ground breaking solution to getting out of this rut is to do something different.  Maybe that is getting back into a small general aviation plane and go and get a $100 hamburger for the first time in decades.  Maybe you could go and get your float plane rating (I have often heard this referred to as the most fun rating a pilot can get).  Or maybe you could take an aerobatics course and pull some G’s and improve your understanding of how an aircraft handles in all different attitudes.

Full yoke deflection means you are about to feel the pull through a turn.

It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it breaks up the monotony for you.  For me it was getting into a new area of Japan that I had never seen before.  We raged through some amazing scenery and just had an amazing time.  By the end of the flight, which I am a little ashamed to admit was only about three hours, I was pretty exhausted because I hadn’t flown like that in a long time and it takes it out of you physically.  In my defense I do stand the whole time, but it was an incredible feeling to be so tired after a flight again.

Flying is the most fun thing you can do in this world in my opinion.  It is one of the few ways we can overcome the laws of physics and put ourselves somewhere that the human body cannot go on its own; flying through the air.  If you have gotten bored with it, or thing it is just not fun anymore than you need to change it up and get out and do something new.  Life’s too short to not enjoy something so incredibly fun.

June 18, 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.

Cope North 2016 Video

Once again I realize I am behind the power curve on this one since the 2017 version of Cope North was over a few months ago as well, but I had too much great footage to just let this one go.  Hopefully I can get some more videos done faster so that won’t be so dated.

The 2016 edition of Cope North was the largest version of the exercise to date with participants from no less than 9 different countries.  The exercise involves dozens of fighters from numerous countries, and multiple branches.  There are also AWACS, Tankers, and of course the best type of aircraft, C-130s.

We were joined in our airlift efforts by the South Korean Air Force as well as the Japanese Air Self Defense Force, who we work with on a regular basis.  As a group we executed numerous air drops, and a massive amount of airlift in a humanitarian aid simulation.  It is always a pleasure working with our international partners learning from each other and having a few laughs.

One of the most fun things we get to do at this exercise, other than flying around all of these gorgeous islands with incredibly blue water, is execute unimproved surface landings on the island of Tinian at the old North Field.  If that name sounds vaguely familiar that is because some pretty important history took place there.

North Field was the departure field for a couple of B-29s that you may have heard of, The Enola Gay and Bockscar.  I have mentioned before how much I love walking where history has happened, and in this case I actually got to fly there.  To utilize such a historic runway leaves me just a little bit speechless.  It is a lot of work for our crews to clear back the jungle each year so that we can utilize the runway for this exercise, but it is invaluable for all of the crews.

I will spare you any more of the details since it happened so long ago, and just leave you with the awesome footage I was able to gather below.  If you want to learn more about the exercise a simple Google search will take you to official Air Force articles.

I hope you enjoy and I would love to get your feedback.

June 13, 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.

Another C-130 Leaves the Air Force: The End of an Era

I don’t like to write about sad things, because, surprise surprise, it makes me sad.  The challenging thing about this story is that it involves doing something that I totally love, flying.

If you pay much attention to US Air Force changes then you know that the C-130H is being replaced by the C-130J which does not utilize the services of a navigator, which also means I am having to find a new job, but that is a whole different story.  Fortunately, these old beautiful birds still have a life to live in the Reserves and National Guard.

I had the opportunity to go and drop one of these planes off at its new home in Ohio.  While a few pictures and nice memories really don’t do justice to a plane that has served for more than 43 years, that is all that I have to offer.

The sunset as we were leaving Japan was simply stunning. Poetic as well as this was the sunset mission for tail 1659.

Our original plan was to fly the southern route across the Pacific visiting beautiful tropical islands as a good-bye to this sweet old lady.  However, as these planes have done for much of their career, she had different ideas.  She decided she wasn’t quite ready to leave Japan so she broke for two days.  That meant that we had to take the northern route through Alaska which was equally as beautiful, just a lot more chilly.

Having been to Alaska last year I was not quite as excited as I was to visit Hawaii for the first time, but it was just as beautiful as I remembered.  What was unique about this leg was the distance we were able to cover and the altitude we were able to reach.

Sunrise as we started to cross the Aleutian chain on our way into Alaska was equally as stunning.

Typically for us, 6-8 hours is a pretty long mission and generally the limit of our fuel depending on how much cargo we are carrying.  We also are generally restricted to about 20,000 feet or so in altitude because we are so heavy.  But a fortunate shift in the winds, and the small payload we were carrying allowed us fly for a full ten hours and climb all the way to 27,000 feet.  I know that is nothing for a commercial airliner, or even our bigger Air Force brothers, but for a C-130H that was a pretty big deal.  We also were able to make the trip from Japan to Anchorage without stopping which is an even more amazing feat for our non aerial refuel capable plane.

The Canadian Rockies are incredible to behold and probably more remote than most anywhere else I have ever been.

After some much-needed sleep in Alaska, despite the sun not setting until after midnight, we headed off for Great Falls, MT for another stop.  I have never flown over the Canadian Rockies before so it was really fun to see just how stunning they really are.  There was still a large amount of snow up there which made it even more majestic.

I know it is a small thing, that only my older brother may appreciate, but it was fun to just relax and toss a frisbee around for a few minutes. Yes there is someone relaxing in that hammock, the only way to travel in the back of a C-130.

I was also able to fulfill a career-long dream of mine on this leg, playing frisbee in the back of the plane while flying.  Generally this is not possible because we are full of stuff and/or people, but since all we had was the crew and a bunch of spare parts there was plenty of room for activities.  Fighter guys can do lots of cool fun stuff, but they can’t walk around and relax in the back of their planes.  They also have to use a piddle pack, but that too would be a story for another day.

After crossing over Glacier National Park we descended down into the plains near Great Falls and enjoyed some of the beautiful scenery, in particular the Missouri River.  Due to scheduling concerns, we actually had a day off in Great Falls where we were able to go out and enjoy some fishing on the river before proceeding on.  The fishing sucked because the river was so high, but I will never turn down some time on the banks of a beautiful river surrounded by stunning mountains with a fishing rod in my hand.

A stop in Big Sky country seemed fitting as this is the place that many of our other tails will be traveling to. A nice little break before her last leg.

It was a little sad leaving Great Falls on the last leg of our mission knowing that this would be the last leg of an active duty career spanning more than four decades.  There are only a handful of people in our squadron that were even alive when this plane was built, and now her time was up.

As we pulled into parking in Ohio and shut her down for the last time it was a little sad to say goodbye to another one of these sweet girls.  She still has a good life to live in the Guard, but as the number of H models we have on the ramp here continues to dwindle it makes me sad to see the end of this era.  If I’m being honest a little of that is selfish because I am losing my position on active duty, but I really think it goes deeper than that.

We often talk about how the C-130H was really the last plane in the Air Force inventory that you really got to fly because all of the others are so technologically advanced that computers do a lot of the work.  There is also something comforting about all of the gauges and dials, that broke as often as not, but that were a credit to the craftsmanship of this beautiful plane.  How many machines that are this complex have been able to take a legit beating for 40+ years and still keep working?  Not many.

So as I say goodbye to old 1659, it is with a heavy heart, but with fond memories of the amazing things I have gotten to do on this amazing aircraft.

No rest for the weary. Before we could even get all of our stuff of the plane, her new owners had her all ready to be towed into a hangar to get cleaned up and ready to keep working.

June 7, 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.