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What I Learned in Pilot Training: Crew Resource Management

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

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

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

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

So what is CRM?

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

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

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

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

But, what about single pilot flights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 27, 2019 I Written By

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

My First Week at Air Force Pilot Training

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

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

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

So what is the first week of pilot training like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 14, 2019 I Written By

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

Short Notice Off to Pilot Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 19, 2019 I Written By

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

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.

My Future In Aviation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 13, 2019 I Written By

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

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.

The Truckee Air Show Was a Great Little Outing for My Family

I don’t know if there are many prettier settings for an airshow.

Air show season is really the best part of summer when you think about it.  It what other venue can you enjoy time out on an airfield, watch amazing performers push the laws of physics to their limits, and get a hamburger/churro/lemonade/ice cream/etc.  Interestingly, even as a kid with a dad that loved airplanes I don’t ever remember going to an airshow growing up.  We would go to airports early to watch planes take off and land, we even went to a few boneyards and aviation museums and all of the fun those entail, but I don’t ever remember an air show.

While I have not made up for it as much as I would like as an adult, and the Holy Grail of airshows remains in my future somewhere, I have still had the pleasure to witness some amazing feats of aeronautical skill.  Having lived in Pensacola, we got to see the Blue Angels practice all summer long, and enjoy their homecoming show in the fall, which is still one of my favorites.

Even having been to much larger air shows, the Truckee Air Show this last weekend was a super fun air show to attend.  There really is no such thing as a bad airshow, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  The performer list was not very long, but it was incredibly impressive.

We walked up to the show as the original T-6 Texan was performing its show.  I will never tire of watching those old machines do their work.  They truly were marvels of engineering in their time, and leave me in awe to this day.  Unfortunately, as we got to the show my kids were immediately distracted by facepainting and crafts and food so my viewing was limited to a couple of glimpses of the Red Bull team as they closed out the morning session.

This is why airshows are awesome. My son getting his hands on a firefighting helicopter, no idea what kind to be honest.

To their credit, the airport did a fantastic job of including all sorts of activities to keep kids engaged and having fun.  It is sometimes hard for me to remember that not everyone would rather sit on the hot asphalt with their head tilted back in complete and utter jealousy of the incredible flying going on overhead.

It actually worked out though as we finished lunch just as Barry BDog Hancock in his T-6 was taking to the sky again and we got to watch his entire show.  He was followed by Rich Perkins in his Yak 54 which was incredibly nimble following the massive T-6.  It is always fun to watch the different types of airplanes.  The wide range of capabilities that they represent provide such a beautiful contrast to the event and demonstrate how truly unique each aircraft and pilot is.

This theme continued on with Anna Serbinenko in her Super Decathalon.  She is a self-proclaimed sky dancer, and I must say she lived up to that title.  My wife was confused as to why there was some sort of Italian opera music playing while Anna flew, but it was incredibly fitting with the way she was flying.  The whole thing was smooth and graceful and poetic.  It may have something to do with the music, but it reminded me of the scene in Shawshank Redemption when Andy is listening to the beautiful aria and just at peace with the world for a few minutes.  Watching Anna handle that plane with such beauty was truly a sight to behold.  I would be thrilled if my daughters could grow up to be such talented aviators.

As Anna was finishing her show you could not mistake the rumble that came from the other end of the airport as the mighty P-51 fired up its engine.  Even just sitting here in my living room thinking about it gives me the chills.  I have been fortunate enough to see them fly a handful of times and every time is equally invigorating.  I wasn’t aware of the unique nature of this show until a few minutes later when the P-51D Man O’ War took to the skies with a partner, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

My apologies that it is not better with my phone, but seeing a P-51 and a Zero fly together is a lifelong memory that no picture will do justice.

Apparently this is one of the only Zeros that actually flies in the US, and flying in tandem with the P-51 was truly spectacular.  With the history that those planes share, it was simply beautiful to watch them perform together.  It reminded me of flying with the Japanese C-130 during Operation Christmas Drop a few years ago.  What a great reminder of the unity that can be derived amongst enemies once the conflict is over and we decide to treat each other with civility.

While it would be hard to beat the magnitude of those two aircraft flying together, it would be equally challenging to beat the aeronautical abilities of the final performers of the day, the Red Bull Air Force Team.  The wingsuit and parachute teams were incredible in their mastery of the air with nothing more than some nylon to guide them.  To witness the work of someone with 23,000+ jumps was just incredible.  The wingsuits were outpacing the airplanes which was just insane.

Kirby Chambliss standing his plane up ten feet off the ground…insane.

But, I don’t know that anything could have been more incredible than watching the near perfect aviation skill of World Champion Kirby Chambliss.  If you have never seen this guy work an airplane then you are missing out.  If Anna’s performance was poetry in motion, then Kirby’s was the X-Games in an airplane.  The way he masterfully moved that plane all over the airspace going into stalls and snap rolls and all kinds of other insane awesomeness was truly magic.  As someone who just barely finished his private pilot certificate I can only imagine the amount of time that has gone into honing his craft.  My son probably said it best as Kirby came cruising by when he said, “Now that’s what I call flying.”

No Blue Angels, No Thunderbirds, No turbine engines at all, but I don’t know if I have ever been more impressed with an airshow.  I hope that the small nature of the airshow, and the relatively small turnout are not indications of a downtrend in airshow interest, because events like this are exactly what we need to keep aviation exciting for the younger generation.  So get out there and support your local air show.  I can’t think of a single person that has ever said, “I sure wish I hadn’t gone to that airshow.”  So why not get out there and enjoy as many as you can?

July 16, 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.