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It’s Hard to Admit You are not the #Avgeek You Want to Be

This is a post that has been nagging me in the back of my mind for far longer than it should have. A book I am reading right now inspired me to finally write it.

I will say that I am writing it for completely selfish reasons, as I’m hoping it will help me get past it, but maybe someone else has experienced something similar and it will help them too.

So what happened?

Back when the movie Planes Fire and Rescue came out, an amazing movie by the way, I wrote a post about it in which I made the statement something to the effect that a cropduster could never be a turbine powered plane. Someone was quick to respond and correct me, and my cover was blown. They weren’t very friendly in their comment and called out even the name of my blog and that I should know better if I was going to call myself an “aviation guy”.

In response I fixed my post, and I think I may have deleted the comment to hide my embarrassment because I tried to go and find it, but I couldn’t.

To say I left it at that would be a boldface lie, because I have thought about that comment for years. I have allowed it to tear me down and have beaten myself up over it.

At times I decided not to write because I didn’t want to be embarrassed again. Even worse, I claimed to appreciate criticism, but when I received one of the most honest pieces I have very received, I ran and hid.

Rational me knows that I know a ton about aviation, and that at the same time I know very little of what there is to know, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t sting to be called out.

So what is the point of this? I’m not totally sure, but I guess I wanted to say that it is okay to not know everything about something you love. It’s okay to make mistakes and misidentify planes or something else. It’s okay to throw yourself to the world and let them teach you and make you better.

When you allow an accurate critique to beat you down, it is just your negative inner voice trying to mess you up. So tell it to go away, learn from it, and be better for the experience.

No one knows everything about airplanes, but all of us know something and we can all help other people learn more about what we do know. I know I will make lots of stupid mistakes at pilot training and I’m sure I will get critiques when I post about them, but I also know it will help me be better in the end.

Thank you for indulging me in this rant. I hope I can continue to provide value in some form to as many of you as possible.

If the person who made that comment is out there I’m sorry I ran off like a little baby. Thank you for correcting me and helping me to learn.

July 24, 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.

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 6 Becoming an Air Force Pilot

You probably thought this stream of posts was over, but there is still more to this story.

I was pretty disappointed about not getting the pilot slot, but like I mentioned before, I was not overly surprised.  The board had even recommended to hire both of us, but leadership decided they couldn’t afford to lose both of us.  Again, that was totally understandable, and they said they would reassess in six months or so.

I went about my work trying not to think about it much, but one of the unique dynamics of the National Guard is that the majority of your people are not around all of the time, so when they do come to town they all want to know what has been going on.  I’m pretty sure I told each one of our part timers individually that I had not been selected, but that they would reassess in six months.

I really just used it as a sign that people care.  On any given day, when I was frustrated with other stuff, it would get annoying, but for the most part I was grateful that people took the time to ask.

The summer went by rather quickly with a few trips to fight fires and some quality time with my family. There is almost always plenty to do with my job, and that was even more the case after some personnel changes that happened last summer.  It’s okay though because I like to stay busy.

As we got towards the middle of last year I had given up hope that it would happen before our deployment in October, but then about six weeks before we were supposed to leave, our Director of Operations (DO) said they were going to have another board in the next week or so.  There had been a change in leadership and the new leadership felt we could afford to send more people.  We also were realizing that the process was not short, and that it would likely be 18 months or more to get any of us out the door, so why not get more people headed in that direction.

So, I got my stuff together, which was easy because I had already done it, and turned it over to him.

I was surprisingly carefree going into the board because at this point I felt that either way it was what was best for me and my family.  While almost nothing had gone the way I wanted in my military career, it had always worked out for the best. I had no real expectations for the board, though I felt good about my chances, and had hope that I would be able to get what I wanted.

The day of the board came and I felt good about everything I had said because it was my truth.  I was also more familiar with the people on the board because I had been in the unit for another four months and gone on a few trips.  At the end of the day I knew that I had presented myself the best I could, and that it would all work out.

I don’t recall if it was that same day, or the next day, but I was called into the office of our new commander and told that they had decided to send me to pilot training.  That they would hate to lose me for a year and a half, but that they wanted to support people in their dreams, and that in the long run it would be what is best for the unit.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not generally a very outwardly emotional person.  Sure I started to cry at the end of Toy Story 3 when the toys all almost die, and the last Avengers movie got me more than once, but I am not someone who gets overly excited about much.  It drives my wife crazy because she feels like I should be more outward in my expression of excitement.  It’s just not me.

At the risk of getting too off track, I think it stems from when I was in high school and my mom told me I was taking sports a little too seriously, so I reigned in my competitive edge a little, and I think some of my excitement was killed with it.

I thanked my commander repeatedly for the opportunity and had a nice little chat with him about some other stuff before leaving his office.  I then went to call my wife to give her the good news.  As you may have guessed I had to toy with her a little, but she is used to that by now.  She was screaming in the phone, and had it posted on Facebook before I could tell anyone else.  I guess it is good that one of us can be a little more excitable.

Now it was time to get the process going, because like I mentioned, it was not a short one, and I would need two ETPs (exception to policy, which is essentially a waiver).  I immediately went back to my desk and submitted a request for a FC-1 flight physical which are only given at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and are not usually easy to get scheduled.

Because I work in training it was a little unique because I was making the request for myself, but it also allowed me to be a little more pushy about getting a date ASAP.  Unfortunately, I was told that they need the request at least 30 days prior to the appointment in order to properly scrub medical records and prepare for the physical.  I was making the request 29 days before I was leaving for a deployment so it would have to be delayed by four months.  What can you do?

In the mean time I prepared all of my other paperwork so that it would all be ready to go once I had returned from deployment and completed my physical.  I was fortunate that we had sent a few people through the process recently and I had a decent starting point to prepare my stuff.  The only real inconvenience is that the offices that the paperwork would go to like to change their processes every few months and not tell anyone, so there were a couple of speed bumps along the way.

I left on my deployment excited about this new opportunity, but at the same time frustrated that I was having to delay the whole thing four months because I am not getting any younger, and I wanted to get to it so I could get back and stabilize my family again.

About half way through the deployment I sent a message to the person who schedules the physicals just to make sure I was still on his radar since it had been a few months since we submitted it.  He reassured me that I was still on their radar and that I should receive a date after the first of the year.  True to his word, that first week after New Years I received a date to get my physical a couple of weeks after returning home from deployment.

Having that on the radar made it both easier and harder to get through the last two months in the desert.  On the one hand, my next step was scheduled, but on the other, I didn’t want to wait three more months to go take care of it.  One of the good things about that wait was that I had plenty of time to get in a lot of good workouts and make sure I was in as good of shape as possible for the physical, because not passing would ruin the whole thing.

Deep down I wasn’t too concerned because I had just renewed my flight physical right before the deployment, but I had also known a few people who were extremely healthy that had not passed the physical.  It is such an in-depth physical, in particular in relation to your eyes, that it is common for people who have never had issues to discover a problem there.  One of my friends discovered that he was mildly color blind after living for 25 years with no problems.  Some people refer to that office as the place where dreams go to die, because you just never know until you walk out of there with a clean physical.

After completing my deployment, and enjoying a much-needed trip to Hawaii to reconnect as a family, the time came for my physical and really feeling like I was on the road to getting this thing going.

You check in the night before the physical and are told where you will be staying, which was a simple little hotel right outside the gate.  You have to show up the next morning fasting to take care of your blood work similar to many physicals, though they take more vials than most physicals I have had.  You then proceed to get a chest x-ray before heading over to the main building where the rest of the physical takes place, which is on a completely different section of the base.

It is a unique situation because you go through the physical with an entire group of people.  Our group was about 20, but apparently they are often twice that large.  There is also a whole range of people going through the process.  We had ROTC cadets, other National Guard Members like myself, and even a Navy pilot that was crossing over to the Air Force to fly RPAs.  With the variety of backgrounds, it makes for some interesting discussions throughout the day.

Once everyone is there you start knocking out all of the things you would expect in a physical like height, weight, blood pressure, and health history.  Then you add in stuff like dental, sitting height and leg measurements, and basic eye tests like depth perception and color.

About halfway through the first day (yes it is a multiple day thing, in some cases as many as 4-5 days) I was told that there was something in my blood that hadn’t checked out and I would need to take a sample again the next day.  I was reassured that when this happens it is usually because they forgot to take a vial, or that I simply wasn’t hydrated enough and they needed another sample.  So that night I drank water like a fish because I was not going to have that keep me down.

The second day is one of major mixed emotions because of what takes place.  The first half of the day is a bunch of psychological tests that are not in any way graded, but are a way for them to set a baseline to study, and to compare against if you ever had an accident or injury that they need to go back and compare it to.  They are not hard tests, and they don’t disqualify you, so it is pretty laid back.

On the other hand, the second half of the day is when they start to check your eyes, and since that is what knocks out most people, it is also the most stressful part of your time there.  After a few basic eye tests, as well as some super interesting ones like mapping your eyes, they dilate your eyes in preparation for the doctor to take a closer look at them.

Now most people have probably had their eyes dilated at some point, and all of us have experienced it even when you spend a long time in a dark room like a movie theater and then step out into the sun.  Most eye exam dilation lasts for about 6 hours at the most, but due to the nature of this test, they tell you that it can last up to 48 hours.  During which time you won’t be able to read or see anything close to you and you will be extremely sensitive to any light.

I have had this done a couple of times and it is incredibly weird to have an optometrist tell you that your eyes are perfect only to not be able to see a paper that is directly in front of you.  It is also practically impossible to call or text anyone so you better make sure you have any important numbers properly loaded before they put in those drops.

It does take some time for the drops to take effect, so I took advantage of that break, and the fact that I hadn’t eaten all day, to run over and get my blood work redone.  I was happy to learn a few hours later that it had been a non-issue and I was clean.  I was also able to use this time to clean up a few of the stations I had not been able to get signed off earlier.

Then it was back to the office to wait for my turn to get my eyes checked.  It is a really weird sensation to have your vision slowly go blurry.  You just start to notice everything not being as crisp and then before you know it you go to look at your watch or something, and you can’t even read it.

When it comes time for the doctor to actually check you, you really start to question how good your eyesight is as he flips all sorts of different letters and numbers in front of you with a combination of different lenses and asking which one looks clearer.  There is no gaming the system as you have no idea which one is supposed to look clearer, so you just answer honestly, and hope for a positive result.

After maybe 15 minutes or so he cleared me off and said that everything looked great.  I went back to the main office and was told that there were no issues found and that I was good to go for the entire physical.  Let me tell you what a relief that was.  Knowing as many people as I do that didn’t make it through, I was super excited to have crossed the first big hurdle.

As prepared as I was, I immediately messaged my commander and told him that I had passed the physical, and he could sign the forms and send them up, having emailed them to him before I left.  Turns out the process had changed as I previously mentioned, and it took a week or so to get it cleared up so the forms were prepared properly, and it could be sent to the General for signature.

After he signed it commenced the long wait to see if my ETPs would be approved.  I needed one because I am 37 and the age cutoff at the time was 30 (this since has been raised to 33 so I would still need one), and a second because I had been a commissioned officer for more than 5 years (this too has been raised to 8 years, but I have been commissioned 9 so I still needed that one).  I was told that it would be about 5-6 weeks before I would get a response.

Talk about a painful 5-6 weeks.  Every single day I would check my email in the hopes that I was lucky and had gotten a response early.  After the fifth week I decided to check in and was told very simply that it had not come back yet.  I tried to ask again the following weeks to no response.

Then as fortune would have it, two of my commanders were headed to DC for a conference and told me they would check on it while they were there.  When they went to the office that approves the ETPs they were told that it was approved, and should be signed by the end of the following week.  While this made me happy, I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to this stuff so until I had a signed document, I wasn’t going to believe it.

The end of the following week came and went without any signed document.  I was starting to get a little nervous, but that was really just my own paranoia.  I had no reason to believe that it would not come through, but it did make for a long weekend.

Monday morning came and I got a text from my commander asking who we needed to send the approved ETP to, to which I responded that I was the one that would send it to the people who give out class dates, once we got it.  His response was simply, “Check your email.”

At that moment I spun around in my chair and saw the email pop up on my screen that my ETPs had been approved.  It honestly made me happier than when I was told I would be going to pilot training because for the first time I knew that it was going to happen.  I had hoped previously and I knew that I was being well supported, but once I saw that signature on that piece of paper I knew for sure it would happen.

Sadly I didn’t have the time to call and talk to my wife because of other work issues, so I simply took a picture of the letter and texted it to her.  She was probably more excited than me as this whole process has tested her patience immensely.

This all took place last Monday, so it has been a week since I finally knew my dream was going to go even further.  Within minutes of getting the signed letter I had included it with the rest of my paperwork and sent it back to DC to request a class date.  I had been told that all of the classes are filled through next summer, but there is always hope that there will be a fall out class that I can get into earlier.

So stay tuned for me getting a class date and heading out on another adventure.

So there we are, coming to a close on this chapter of my story, which is really just foreshadowing into the next.  I have been approved to go to pilot training after starting this process more than ten years ago.  I had fully given up on this dream more than once, and genuinely never thought it would happen, but life has a funny way of catching up with you.

I kept working hard, and loved what I was doing.  I tried to do my part to contribute to the unit, and make sure that I was helping other people find a way to get to their dream.  When I least expected it, the opportunity to keep chasing that dream appeared, and I was in the right place, at the right time to take advantage of it.

Hopefully, this gives some people some hope that they too can follow their dream, and maybe rekindle that fire in some people to keep going because you never know when that break will come.  Most importantly, I hope my kids see what has happened and are encouraged to chase the things they want most in life.

Many things in life do not happen on the timelines we originally set, but if we put forth the effort, and really go after the things we want most, more often than not, we will find success in the only true form that success can come, happiness.

July 1, 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.

How I Became a Pilot: Part 3 Becoming a Navigator

Driving away from Texas and leaving my family behind was really hard.  Being the cry baby I am, I am pretty sure I was still crying somewhat until I got through Dallas three hours after leaving.  

I had just been blessed with a son and I wanted to play with him and see him grow up, not go through another boot camp.  I just had to keep reminding myself that it was the long game I was playing here, and not a short game, so I continued on to OTS.

What can I say about Officer Training School?  Not much that is relevant here, though there was one experience that summed it up pretty well.  Upon arriving at the OTS complex I was greeted by a member of my upper class who saw the sticker on my car from my previous base and asked if I was prior service.  I explained that I had done six years in the Marines.

He then proceeded to ask me when the last time was that I had been yelled at by someone who had been in the military for 7 weeks.  I replied that I didn’t think I ever had. To which he responded, “Welcome to OTS, go park over there.” I still laugh a little thinking about it.

There wasn’t much about the OTS experience that related to flying, so I will skip ahead to becoming an officer in the Air Force on 16 Dec 2010.  Though honestly that was the second best thing that happened that week. The first was going to the Atlanta airport to be reunited with my family after 12 weeks apart.  Just to be clear, it was being reunited with my family, not going to the airport, that was the highlight there.

The day after graduation we headed down to Pensacola, FL which is where Combat Systems Officer training takes place.  That is technically what I am, a Combat Systems Officer or CSO(if you doubt me Google “Air Force CSO” and look at the images and see who comes up first), though in the C-130 community we only refer to my crew position as navigators or navs.

The first aspect of training was leaving the family behind again for a three-week crash course known as Initial Flight Screening in Pueblo, CO at DOSS aviation flying the DA-20, or more affectionately, the Mighty Katana.  

The first week is strictly academics, which gets a little old, especially if you have a background in aviation, but any learning is good learning in my opinion.

After that first week you get to wear your flight suit for the very first time and you get to start flying.  Fly days consisted of a stand-up brief that started well before the sun came up. I recall it being at 0430, but I could be a little off.  This is a chance for you to show your preparation, and for instructors to challenge the group to rise to the occasion of being professional aviators.

It made me throw up in my mouth a little to type that, but the more I think about it, it is true.  In no way did I enjoy doing those briefs, but they are a good opportunity to learn and grow as an aviator which was the whole point of the training.

Once I started flying I flew every single day, which was amazing.  The Colorado skyline is quite the scenic place to be learning to do something that is that much fun.  The first few flights are really no different from anyone else that is learning to fly. After 3-4 flights though we shifted to an emphasis on navigation which was what the Air Force was paying me to learn.  It was a bummer not really being at the controls anymore, but it was nice to feel like I was moving in the direction I had signed up for.

Looking back now there was nothing cosmic about what we were learning.  It was really just basic dead reckoning, clock to map to ground, navigate along a route to get you back home.  The crazy thing is that not a whole lot has honestly changed in the intervening 9 years. I still do pretty much the same basic thing.  I am just a lot better at it now.

After 14 hours of flying in 8 days I completed the course and headed back to Pensacola with a total of 22 flying hours where I sat on the dreaded casual status for 3 months.  The only training that took place during that time was a three-day water survival course that was mostly parasailing, but still with some valuable lessons to be learned.

Then in June of 2011 I was assigned to a CSO class and started training.  This post is about becoming a pilot, so I will spare most of the in-depth details, but it does seem valuable to mention some of the things that got me to where I am.

After about a month of academics, that included everything from physiological concerns to weather, to the details of flying the T-6, we got our first simulator sessions in preparation for hitting the flight line.  There is really no simulator that can prepare you for your first flight in an aerobatic airplane.

For me it was an awe-inspiring experience, and incredibly uncomfortable all at the same time.  Flying in such a high-powered plane with a bubble canopy so you can look all around…I really don’t have words to describe it.  The uncomfortable part came when I threw up about an hour into the flight. It was not one of my finer moments, but I am proud to say it is the only time in my life that I did so.  I’ve come close a few times, but never again have I repeated it.

Continuing to fly in the T-6 was a joy and I really started to feel like an aviator at that point.  We were not allowed to actually fly the plane a ton, but even just being in the plane and executing the various maneuvers made the whole thing very real for me.  I was going to fly in airplanes for the rest of my life, and even better, people were going to pay me to do it.

It was during this phase that I started a habit that I still have to this day.  On every flight I try to take a moment to just take in the magnitude of how cool my job is.  I know I am lucky to have this as a profession, and I never want to lose sight of that.

Your first few flights are all about just getting in the air and getting comfortable with the plane.  We did loops and rolls and even got one formation flight. Then it was time to learn some instrument flying where we started executing instrument approaches and navigating airways.  After we completed basic navigation it was time to execute visual low levels.

At the time I thought it was pretty fun flying a few hundred feet off the ground at 240 knots.  We would joke that you could tell if you were on course because the cows you flew over wouldn’t run away since they were used to the noise.  While it was still pretty cool, my experiences in the intervening 8 years have made it a little less impressive because of how flat the southeastern United States is.

After the completion of T-6s I entered a series of phases with a whole lot of academics with a mixture of simulators.  These simulators would be more something akin to Microsoft Flight Simulator, the old one, not the new one (that looks freaking amazing by the way).  Like many things in life, some phases were interesting, and others were meaningless, but you play the hand you are dealt and I got through relatively unscathed.

It was now time to prepare to go back to the flight line for the T-1, but it wouldn’t be the Air Force if we didn’t spend a few more weeks in academics and simulators first.  It makes sense though because the amount of time we spent preparing on the ground made all the difference in the world when it came time to get in the air.

For the T-1 phase of training we executed a very similar training profile as we did in the T-6 of contact with the plane, instrument flying, and finally low-level flying.  Though we didn’t try doing any loops or rolls in the T-1, except maybe in the sim.

Upon completing the T-1 phase of training we were essentially done with the challenging part of the syllabus, and after about 12 months of training, I  was awarded my Combat Systems Officer Wings on 1 June 2012.

It was a truly amazing day, and incredibly fulfilling to have completed such a rigorous training program over such a long period of time.  Having my family there to support me and enjoy that moment was something I will never forget.

I was not a pilot, and I didn’t know at the time if I ever would be, but I had wings on my chest, and I am still really proud of that.  We lost a fair number of people during training that didn’t cut it for one reason or another, so to actually get through was pretty cool.  It also was special having my wife put my wings on my chest.

I was super proud of her when she reared back and punched me on the wings as hard as she could which made everyone, including the Colonel presiding over the graduation, laugh.  Most of the wives or parents just gave a nice little pat, but that is not my wife.  She socked me good, and I was so proud because I am a big fan of tradition.

June 25, 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 2 Joining the Air Force

That’s right, I ended the previous post about becoming a pilot telling you about how I quit.  Again, it is not one of my prouder moments, but 11 years later, it is what it is and I can’t go back and change it.  I learned from the experience, and I am better for it.

A year or so after I gave up on my dream, I was visiting my old cub scout leader who was a retired pilot and former navigator in the Air Force.  We had a nice meal harassing each other about the Marine Corps and the Chair Force. All in good fun of course. On my way home that night I was talking to my wife and jokingly said, “Maybe I should just join the Air Force.”  We both had a good laugh.

The next morning when we talked on the phone she asked me if I had been joking about that comment the night before.  I told her that at the time I was, but that I had stayed up late that night and done some research and as far as I could tell I still had a chance before I would need a waiver, which is not something they were giving out at the time.  At the time you had to be into training by the time you were 30. (That limit was recently raised to 33) So we decided to look into it.

I contacted a recruiter in the area I was visiting that was incredibly helpful but he told me I should really work with one in the area I lived.  So I got in contact with her. She told me I was already too old and that it was impossible. After more research I realized she had no idea what she was talking about.  With some support from the online community at airforceots.com, and the help of the first recruiter I helped her realize that she was wrong and my package started to come together in earnest.

The first lesson here is to realize when a no is really a no, and when it is just laziness.  I could have easily taken her word for it and I would never have gotten to where I am today. At the same time I didn’t berate her or get mad, I simply kept searching and asking questions and eventually I found the right answers.  So never give up on your dream, especially if the first answer is no.

In the process of putting together my package there were a number of tests, paperwork, and various other steps that had to be accomplished.  Despite the complete ineptitude of my recruiter I was able to schedule the AFOQT and TBAS which are standardized tests that are required to apply to become a pilot in the Air Force.  All of the services have similar tests. Having already taken the Marine Corps one, and scored very well, I was confident I would do well, and I did. Not perfect, but very competitive scores.

I went into the process with the mindset that I was either going to be a pilot or I wasn’t joining.  I simply didn’t want to do anything else in the military but fly. As the deadline for the selection board approached, I was scrounging to get the last few pieces of paperwork signed and was genuinely scared it would not come in time and I would have missed my opportunity.  Fortunately for me, some of my Marine leadership took it upon themselves to help me, and it did come in time.

On the day that the application was due I made what I consider to be the best decision I have made in my career.  I called the recruiter and told him to add that I was willing to take a navigator slot. I figured that even if I wasn’t selected as a pilot, which was a very real possibility at the time, then at least I would still be flying, and more importantly I would actually be in a career that would support my family.

Then I had to wait.

From the time packages were submitted in June until the results ultimately came out in December was almost exactly six months.  They didn’t announce a release date, but based on previous boards I had determined about when to expect them.

As that time started to approach I became really anxious.  My commitment to the Marine Corps was in its last few weeks and I honestly wasn’t sure what I would do if it didn’t turn out as I had hoped.  I had even started taking classes to become a high school physics teacher because I needed something to take care of my family and the odds were not great that I would be doing that as a pilot.

At that time the selection rates for the boards had been in the 25-30% range because this was 2009.  The economy sucked and a steady paycheck from the military was pretty appealing.

I will never forget where I was when I got the call.  I had visited our local library with my daughter for story time.  As I was putting her in my truck I got a call on my cell phone from my recruiter.  Fortunately, he is not like me and didn’t tease me or keep me waiting and he told me that I had been selected as a navigator.

I really didn’t know what to say other than thank you.  I hung up the phone and screamed as loud as I could before calling my wife to tell her the good news.  I of course made her wait and teased her a little before letting her know our whole world was going to change.

I would later learn through the official press release that my board had resulted in a 17% selection rate. Of the approximately 700 applicants only about 120 had been selected to become an officer period.  Of the 120 or so selected there were only 6 pilots so it just wasn’t meant to be, yet. For reference the last board press releases I saw a couple of years ago had selection rates in the 65-75% range.  What can I say? It is all about timing.

Over the next few months I proceeded to fill out a bunch of paperwork, get a flight physical, and then wait to get a class date to attend OTS.

Shortly after learning I had been selected as a navigator, we learned that my wife was going to be laid off, and in the same month that we were going to be having another baby.  Isn’t life just grand sometimes? It was becoming even more imperative that I get a class date so that I could get going and take care of my family.

Despite some objections from my recruiter, and a relatively unhappy person in the office that scheduled class dates I was able to get a class date for September of 2010 with follow on training in Pensacola, FL.  With a little scraping by, and a lot of blessings from God, we were able to get by until I was sworn in, and three days after my son came into the world I left my growing family behind for Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

I have to laugh a little as I think back on that time.  Until that dinner with my cubmaster I don’t think I had once considered joining the Air Force, at least not seriously.  And once I had become a Marine there was absolutely no way I would lower my standards and go to what I considered a lesser service.

To be clear, I still had great respect for the Air Force and what they did, the way that I had, and still have, great respect for all of the services.  We all provide unique skill sets to accomplish our assigned objectives.  The greatest problems we create in the military are when we try to take on the roles that have already been perfected by the other services, but that is a topic for a different time.

But for a Marine to go to the Chair Force?  That is madness.  Fortunately, I had enough sense to care more about my family than my own over inflated ego.  And, even more importantly, I had a wife that loved me and supported me through it all.  Not many women would willingly send their husband away for three months only three days after giving birth, and as I would later learn, only a few days before she would have an emergency surgery.

Adding to the theme of the people who got me to where I am, I am forever indebted to my little sister Natalie who willingly came to live with my family and take care of my kids and wife which she recovered.  The real sacrifice is that she is not really a big fan of kids, but she was an angel to those kids and I will never forget it.

So if you are having trouble finding how to accomplish your dream, it may be time to look down a path that you have never considered, and hopefully there will be someone who will push you in that direction.  You may find, like I did, that something that you never considered, is it exactly the path that you needed to take.

June 24, 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 1 Early Motivation, and Quitting too Easily

I started writing this post a few weeks ago with the intent of publishing it yesterday which was the anniversary of the day I got my private pilot certificate.  But, before I knew it, what was intended to be one post turned into a ten page life story and I decided that I would be better off breaking it up.

It was fun looking back on where I have come from and where I will be going in the future.  Speaking of the future I was hoping to have gotten some news last week to put a cherry on the top, but it hasn’t come yet, so maybe it will come by the time I get all of this published.

As I often do, much of my writing is really for me, but in this case I am hoping that my story will help other people to realize that it is never too late to follow your dreams.  Even when you have given up on yourself, it is never too late to kick yourself in the butt and get back at it.  I also want to emphasize the importance of other people in achieving your dreams, and maybe more importantly, looking for opportunities to help others in their journey.  That is really what I would like to accomplish with this series of posts.

There are as many stories about becoming a pilot as there are pilots.  Each person has their own unique angle and path that they took to get there.  While there are many similarities, even those who followed a similar path, say USAF Pilot Training or an ATP school, will still have a unique story because that is simply the nature of the industry.

I have loved flying and airplanes for as long as I can remember.  I will spare all of the dirty details since I write about it pretty regularly, and this is about becoming a pilot.

When I started college I had originally intended to become an engineer of some sort much like my oldest brother, and a few good friends that had followed that path.  However, upon moving to California and discovering that there were actual aviation majors I knew that engineering was not going to be for me.

The first thing that pushed me back to aviation was working as a stock person at the Nordtroms in La Jolla (San Diego), CA.  You may think that Nordstroms has nothing to do with flying, and you would be right. But, if you know anything about the area I am referring to, that store sits just off the departure end of the runway at MCAS Miramar.

Everyday as I would come to and from work I would see all of the different planes (mostly F/A-18s) coming and going, and I would just sit there and dream about flying in them.  After months of this I finally kicked myself in the butt and decided that if I didn’t at least try then I would regret it for the rest of my life. So off to the recruiter’s office I went.

I think I surprised him a little because he started to try and sell me on the benefits of becoming a Marine, but I told him to stop selling and just tell me where to sign.  To make a long story a little shorter, I was off to boot camp a month later and nine months after that I finished training as an aviation ordnance systems repair technician.  I had no idea what that was when I joined, but it was the only job available in the air wing when I enlisted so there you go. My whole intent was to finish school as fast as I could and get my commission in the Marines and fly fighter jets.

After coming back from all of my training, I first enrolled in aviation courses at Palomar College in San Marcos California.  Sadly, I just discovered that those classes no longer exist. After the main instructor, Jerry Houser, retired, enrollment was too low and they had to cut the classes.  It’s really a shame because I learned a lot there. Jerry was one of those old school fliers that had a million different stories that you only acquire with decades of learning and living in the industry.

While the program at Palomar would never get you a bachelor’s, there was a companion program from Southern Illinois University, that still exists, that would allow you to do your general coursework at a junior college like Palomar.  You could then finish your bachelor’s at their satellite campus in San Diego. It actually moved into the classroom at Palomar right before I started the program.

For someone that was working multiple jobs, drill weekends with the Marines, coaching high school sports, and trying to date girls as often as I could, this program was amazing.  We met essentially every other weekend on Saturday and Sunday for 18 months and after that, you were finished. It was a fantastic program that catered to the military, but that benefited civilians who were in the classes as well.

As I was completing my general coursework, I started to work with an officer selection officer to get selected for OCS and a pilot slot in the Marines.  After completing all of the necessary testing and physicals, I submitted my package and was blessed to be selected for a pilot slot with an OCS date in the summer of 2006.  The way the program works I would attend OCS and then come back and finish my degree at which point I would receive my commission and attend pilot training.

As life is wont to do, my plans changed dramatically when I got sick two weeks before I was to leave for OCS.  The doctors weren’t sure what exactly was wrong so out of an abundance of caution my orders were cancelled and I was told to reapply once my medical was cleared up, which it was, a few weeks after I was supposed to have left.

No worries, I would just finish school first and reapply later.  But, on the day I was supposed to graduate OCS I met my now wife.  I made it very clear from day one what my plans were, and she was always very supportive.  Never once did she try and dissuade me from pursuing my dream. However, after some deep soul searching I decided that I would not reapply and that I would simply take my aviation management degree and find a different way to be involved in the industry.

Shortly thereafter we moved to Austin, TX and I got a job working at the FBO there which is still one of my favorite jobs I have ever had.  Within that FBO there was a Cessna Flight School which always got my attention when I was at work. After much debate with my wife, because we were barely getting by, we decided to take on the debt and just go for it.

So I got my Sallie Mae loan and started working on becoming a pilot.  3 Instructors, 7.5 hours and $3,500 later I realized that this was not a sustainable model, especially with a new baby girl in the family.  So as much as it pains me to think about it even now, I gave up on my dream.

I would love to say that this was the right thing to do, but part of me still thinks it wasn’t.  I really think I just didn’t listen to the right people and had gone down the wrong path.  I could have found a way, but instead I put it to the side for the time being.  It happens to most people at some point in their lives, but it still hurts when you are the one doing it.

June 4, 2019 I Written By

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

Earning the Title of Pilot

Have you ever wanted something your whole life?  Something that you have thought about pretty much everyday for as long as you can remember?  Something that you have always wanted to do, but always made excuses as to why you couldn’t?  Something that you actually started once, but then those excuses came rushing back in so you quit?  Something you actually convinced yourself would never really happen, but it sure was a nice dream to have for 30+ years?

But then you actually did it?

Such was my journey to becoming a pilot.  I have written about most of the journey in previous posts so I won’t dive in too deep, but before I talk about the hill that I finally reached the top of, I would not be telling the whole story if I didn’t share the struggles to get there.  If you would like to skip the struggle scroll about halfway down the page, past the picture, and you will get to hear about my checkride.

All of the questions that I wrote above were real life for me for more than three decades.  I would beat myself down and say it could never happen.  I would make excuses and blame everyone else for it not happening.  I would get really excited and motivated only to toss aside the dream the very next day.  I would say I wanted to do it so bad only to waste money on games or stuff or even just food.

To be very clear, these were all choices that I made.  Some of them I don’t regret one bit, like stopping flying when my daughter was born and we simply couldn’t afford it, but if I am being honest with myself, I wasn’t willing to do what it would take to actually get it done.  What that means is very different for everybody.

Some people are fortunate enough to be born into money or through some other means get their ratings paid for.  Others work multiple jobs, clean planes, sweep hangars, give up all of their free time and can barely squeak out a rating every year or two.  Still others decide to take on the debt and just go for it with that airline dream to pay it back later.

On that note we all do it for different reasons.  Some people do it to get to the airlines, others to fly in airshows, some to chase that $100 hamburger.  The reasons are endless, and it really doesn’t matter what your reason is, as long as it gets you where you want to go.  Your reasons may even change over time, and that is okay too.

So what finally pushed me to get it done?

I don’t really know for sure.  It definitely wasn’t one thing, but I can think of a few things that probably led to it happening.  In the last 9 months or so I have started listening to a handful of podcasts that relate to business and self-improvement and one aviation related one.  As I listened to all of these shows I was always blown away by how many incredibly successful people started later in life, or made huge commitments to stuff like Law School only to never practice law but instead be a comedian or a writer or some other job with no formal education needed.

It didn’t really matter where they had started, or where they had ended up, but the one theme that seemed common throughout them all was that they weren’t happy with where they were so they decided to do something that would make them happy.  Forget everyone else who told them they couldn’t, or that they were crazy, or that they would regret it.  In many cases they gave up hundreds of thousands of dollars to live on next to nothing, but they were happy because their life was filled with what they wanted to do.

I am sure that you can find just as many people with similar stories who failed as succeeded, but I have great respect for all of them, because at least they tried.  They saw something in their life they didn’t like and decided to try something new.  Even if they didn’t find success in the new venture they learned and grew and had a story to tell.  How boring will life be if the only story you have to tell is about the inside of a cubicle?

My apologies if it feels like I am digressing a little, but these were all of the thoughts swirling around in my brain when I finally said I truly didn’t care what I had to sacrifice, I am going to pursue my dream no matter what.  With any luck maybe it will inspire one person to realize they are not unique in having doubts and yes they actually can do it.

I had a plan to use a big chunk of my tax return to knock it out quickly, which lasted as long as it took the weather to ruin that plan.  It ended up taking a little more than three months, and I did take on some credit card debt to get it finished, but I don’t regret it one bit.  I still recommend getting it done as close together as possible since that does make a difference.  Having as much of the money together up front is also a good plan for the same reason, but don’t wait for everything to be perfect, because it never will be.  There will always be an excuse and somewhere else to spend your time and money.  That’s okay if you go a different direction, we all have different passions and flying isn’t for everyone.

The chariot that took me to a fulfilled dream.

Enough of me blabbering on about feelings and stuff.  Let me tell you about my checkride in the hopes that maybe you can learn from my mistakes and gain hope for your checkride(s).

I showed up to the airport about an hour before the scheduled checkride.  My CFI had the plane all clean and ready to go with logbooks in hand.  I should also mention that I did a mock checkride a few days before with my CFI’s brother Zakk who is also a CFI and regional pilot.  There wasn’t much on the flying side that was improved on that flight, but the time he spent asking me questions about the plane and other stuff felt invaluable to me and my comfort level.  While much of it was not asked about, the peace of mind it gave me was well worth the time.  If you have the time I would highly recommend having a CFI that hasn’t flown with you go up for a quick ride to get an outside perspective.

After a good thorough pre-flight I taxied over to the fuel pit and filled her up before tying her down and heading inside to meet the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE).  It was at this point that we discovered two issues.  My CFI needed to recommend me for my checkride online, and I had done an electronic flight plan but not a paper one.  With a little bit of luck, and 7 years of making flight plans, we were able to get both of them taken care of and I was only a few minutes late meeting my DPE.

After getting through some of the admin and introductions we went through the logbooks, where I looked like an idiot staring at the page with the transponder inspection while my eyes refused to see where it actually said it.  I chalk that one up to checkride jitters.  I’m not sure what to chalk the next question up to once we got talking about flying, because I had a complete brain dump once again.  At this point I was a little worried, but he quickly moved on and I got on a roll.  There was nothing that he asked that was a surprise after studying the ASA Oral Exam Guide, which I highly recommend.  $12 very well spent.

I still struggled through a few questions just because I wasn’t exactly sure what he was asking.  Once we clarified a little back and forth I was able to answer all of his questions except one (I will now never forget that the plane prevents itself from exceeding its load factor by stalling).  The oral part of the checkride was actually faster and smoother than I expected it to be after the first few questions.  He then gave me a quick brief on what to expect on the flight and we stepped out to the plane.

When we got to the plane he did a quick walk around himself and asked a few questions about the plane including asking if a lower pressure on one tire was normal, which it was in this case.  We then jumped in the plane and kicked off the flying portion.  I gave a good thorough passenger brief which is something I wish I had started doing earlier with my CFI so it would have been more in my habit pattern, then we started her up and headed for the runway.

I have the habit of talking myself through what I am doing including my thoughts when I am in this type of situation which may or may not be a good thing.  It shows that you are considering all different types of things, but it also opens you up to saying something wrong and leading to more questions that never would have been asked if you kept your mouth shut.  For me, I also don’t like silence, and a good examiner will not say much so the talking helps keep me more relaxed.

As we rolled onto the runway I got a little excited, and I said what I say on pretty much every flight I took in preparation for this day, “Let’s do this!”  It is kind of a silly thing, but it reminds me how much fun this is supposed to be.  In my excitement to get in the air, I tried to rotate too early, and the plane didn’t want to fly.  I relaxed a little, let it build up some speed, and we lifted off without further issue.

We headed out to the West on the first leg of the cross-country I planned, which did not take long to show I knew what I was doing.  I guess the millions of dollars the Air Force has spent on teaching me to flight plan and navigate has been money well spent.  Once we had climbed up and found some clear air, which was abundant on a gorgeous Summer morning in the Reno area, we proceeded to go through all of the maneuvers.  Stalls, steep turns, unusual attitude recovery, engine out, using the foggles, etc.  The whole thing went really well other than slow flight.  I went to full flaps, and I did it too quickly.  This led to me being unable to maintain altitude like I wanted.  I was in control the whole time, but descended more than I would have liked before slowly climbing back up to altitude.

A great lesson for anyone who has not done a checkride before is to not evaluate yourself.  If you do something less than perfect then push it out of your mind and move on.  Dwelling on the past will only make the rest of the ride go worse.  Having had my fair share of checkrides, as well as giving a fair number as well, I pushed it aside and kept flying the plane, which is the most important thing you can do.

With all of the maneuvers complete we headed back to Stead to take care of my landings.  I opted for my soft field first probably because I was more scared about the short field landing and my tendency to float and I hoped that getting a good one in first would help calm my nerves a little.  I came around high as usual and took advantage of the opportunity to get my slip in.  Still one of my favorite things to do in a small plane.  As it turns out my soft field landing was not incredibly soft, but I got it down safely, and we taxied back for my soft field take-off, which went much more smoothly.

I flew around the pattern more nervous than I had been on the rest of the flight, especially after my less than stellar soft field.  As we came in for the short field I was actually a little low and drug in which is incredibly unusual for me as I am almost always pretty high.  I was also a little fast, and just as we came over the threshold I let the wind push me to the side of the runway so I decided to go around.  Something else that you shouldn’t forget when you show up for your checkride.  If you have a bad approach to landing without a DPE you would go around, why wouldn’t you do it with the DPE?  I have a friend that told me he went around five times on his checkride because he was so nervous, but he still passed.

The second time we came around the whole thing felt much more normal, or in other words high, but in this case normal proved to be the right place to be, and I put it down near the back of the zone, but still inside of it.  A good firm application of the breaks and retracting the flaps and he told me to taxi off the runway.  As I maneuvered the plane down the runway towards the midfield taxiway the DPE said some of the sweetest words I have ever heard from another man, “Well, if you don’t crash on the way to parking then you passed.”

Just thinking about those words makes me pause for a minute.

I did successfully navigate back to parking where he shook my hand and told me congratulations.  The next half an hour or so finishing up paperwork and putting the plane to bed are all a little fuzzy to me now as I think back on it.  But the feeling of finally achieving something that I had wanted for so long is something that I will never forget.  I was finally, officially, a pilot.

I will share a few things he debriefed me on, again in the hopes of helping someone else.  One of the reasons my landings were not great is that I was landing with a tailwind.  I checked the weather on the way in and picked the correct runway, but while we were in the pattern the wind shifted which only made it harder on myself, so keep the windsock in your cross check.  There is no need to go to full flaps for slow flight, at least in a Cherokee.  The maneuver can be performed with other flap settings as long as you are safely getting to the correct speeds.  Don’t forget the little power bump before touchdown on a soft field landing, it really makes all the difference in how soft it will be.

The biggest lesson that I would like to share to help those who may be nervous is that you don’t have to be perfect.  I completely missed some of the questions he asked me on the ground.  My slow flight descended too much, my soft field landing was in his words, “not soft”, but I still passed.  At the end of the day he told me that he feels comfortable that I will handle a plane safely in the future, which is the whole point of the checkride.  You aren’t held to commercial pilot standards, they just want to make sure you will be safe and smart in the air, that’s it. It is often said that the Private Pilot Certificate is simply a license to learn, and I am even more excited to learn now than I was before.  Now to convince my wife to let me pursue an instrument rating.

I’m not sure if it is better or worse that I waited to write this post until a few weeks after it actually happened, but the whole thing is still very surreal to me.  I haven’t been able to get back up since the checkride courtesy of work, life, and some things I put off to finish my certificate, but I look forward to taking my sons and daughters up in the near future, as well as my sweet wife who sacrificed just as much during this time.

There is one other reason that I finally pursued this dream that I left out earlier.  If I am being honest with myself, it is probably the biggest reason, and the one that pushed me all the way to the end when it took longer than I hoped, I wasn’t as good at first as I hoped, and when the money ran out and I had to take on some debt.  I really wanted to show my kids that they can follow their dreams too.  It doesn’t matter how long you wait, or how hard it is, when you truly commit to your dream, you can get there.  I don’t know if any of my kids will love planes as much as I do, I hope they will, but if nothing more comes of this than showing my kids that they can follow their dreams, then the whole thing was worth it.

July 17, 2018 I Written By

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

My Last Flight With MY CFI?

This may be a little optimistic on my part, which is why I included the question mark, but at least as far as the requirements go, I have now completed all of the time I need with an instructor.

After knocking out about half of my required solo time, we decided it would be best to get back to some of the specifics of the checkride, as well as completing the remaining simulated instrument time. Fortunately, there is an airfield that is just over 50 miles away that makes for a great, short cross-country field.

Before we headed over to Fallon (KFLX) we went out into the practice area and went through all of the maneuvers again for the first time since one of our first flights together. It was great to work on something other than landings for a change.

When we had first gone through the maneuvers a few months ago I do okay, with the exception of my stalls, which kind of surprised me because I had never had too much issue with them nine years ago when I first started.

I’m not really sure what happened, but everything went much better this time. I guess I just felt more confident in the plane as a whole, and more specifically in my ability to handle the plane in a number of different situations. It was reassuring to me that it went so well, and gave me the confidence to get out there and practice them on my own in the future.

After going through the maneuvers I put on the foggles and we headed over the KFLX. The only thing that I have found incredibly annoying about the foggles is their lack of protection from the sun. I’m not sure why, but every time I have worn them we have always been flying directly into the sun. Maybe that is just poor planning on my part, but I am glad I was able to knock that out of the way.

Our intention with going to Fallon was mostly to knock out the cross-country and simulated instrument time I needed, so we didn’t stay long. Though I did take a second landing because I was not happy about the first.

On our way back to Stead we found ourselves safely squished between the Reno Class C airspace, and the mountains. At which point my CFI, who I realize has a name, Nikk took the controls for a minute and casually flew through some of the hills for a minute. It is easy to get so wrapped up in the learning aspect of this process that I can forget about what makes flying fun: freedom.

It was only a couple of minutes, and we didn’t do anything crazy, but it was awesome to watch him just freely move the plane through the air and demonstrate the lack of restrictions on VFR flying. You are not bound to a road, or track, or even an airway. You can let your hands take you all over the place and see and do exactly what you WANT to see and do. It was just great.

Once we got back into Stead it was time to get back to work, taking on short and soft field landings/takeoffs again. After working on them for an hour, the biggest thing I took away from it is that if you just always try and hit your mark there is no reason to do much differently. The one caveat to that being control manipulation on the ground for soft field work.

What I did find interesting in this instance is how familiar I had gotten landing with only one person in the plane. You add another 200 pound dude next to you and the plane handles a little differently. My challenge at this point is really in creating a steady glide path into the runway. I have a tendency to remain high through my base turn, something I think stems from the fact there is a big pond at the approach end of the runway that subconsciously makes me want to stay high.

The irony is that I then have a tendency to correct through what a normal glide slope would be and end up a little more drug in than I should be, not the best setup for either soft or short field landings. If I had to analyze myself, since Nikk isn’t here next to me to do it, I would say I am not properly using the inputs I have to make the whole thing smoother.

While I shouldn’t stare at them, I am not utilizing the PAPIs enough as I try to develop my sight picture.

I’m not paying enough attention to my VVI as I make the base turn and turn to final which is causing me to make a completely level turn instead of a descending one.

Finally, I am trying to make the landings as if they have become muscle memory, and they haven’t yet. I need to more consciously go through the steps of landing and make sure that both hands, and both feet, are making the proper inputs so that the plane will behave the way it is designed to.

All in all it was a good flight, and the fact that I no longer require the supervision of an instructor is a pretty awesome feeling. It makes me feel like I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel to finally getting that license to learn I have longed for all of these years.

May 24, 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.