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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.

Earning the Title of Pilot

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

But then you actually did it?

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

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

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

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

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

So what finally pushed me to get it done?

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

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

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

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

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

The chariot that took me to a fulfilled dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2018 I Written By

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

My PPL Checkride is in 9 Hours

I had originally intended to write a whole post about this and my preparations for this day that I have been anticipating for 30+ years. Unfortunately, life got in the way, as it often does, and I think a good night’s rest is more important so this will be shorter than I had hoped.

I just finished going through my log book to make sure all of my times were accurate and complete. I got a brief from the flight service station that confirmed what Foreflight and my eyes already showed: it is going to be gorgeous weather tomorrow.

I rechecked my weight and balance along with drawing my route of flight on my paper chart. I took one last look through my study guide and have run through A TOMATO FLAMES, ARROW, and FLAPS about a thousand times in my head, so hopefully I won’t forget about the Mag compass tomorrow like I always do.

The crazy thing is that I don’t really feel that nervous. I have had plenty of checkrides in the Air Force so that probably helps. There is still some uncertainty of what the DPE will dig into on the ground, but I feel pretty good about the whole thing.

I don’t know that this is providing any value for anyone other than myself as it is helping clear my head before I go to sleep, and I am probably only doing it so that people will say good luck and make me feel better about myself.

To those of you out there that are pursuing the same path, at whatever stage you may be, stay the course, because it is totally worth it. I may be singing a different tune if it goes poorly tomorrow, but I doubt it. The sucky thing is I won’t even get to drink my sorrows away, or celebrate for that matter, because I don’t drink. Lol

Wish me luck!

June 21, 2018 I Written By

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

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.

Solo Cross Country Flight: Starting to Feel Like a Real Pilot

The fun just never seems to stop for me these days, though it doesn’t always feel that way during the day.

After my long night flight a few weeks ago, it was so nice to get back to flying during the day.  Even when I fly at work I prefer flying during the day.  It is just so much more enjoyable seeing everything around you as you cruise along.  I also feel like my situational awareness is leaps and bounds better during the day, which is to be expected.

For my next flight I was planning to go solo cross-country, with the intent to knock out my long sortie requirement since the weather was so good.  As the day approached, I decided to be a little more ambitious, and knock out all five hours of solo cross-country time in one shot.  The sun ended up setting before I could finish, but it was still a good run.

I took off from Stead (KRTS) in a plane completely full of fuel on a warm afternoon, which meant it was a long climb up to 8500′ even when you are starting at 5000′.  No worries though as I mentioned that it was a beautiful day and I was thrilled to be in the air.  There were a couple of bumps on climb-out which is also to be expected when you fly through the mountains.  A completely smooth flight is essentially unheard of in this part of the world.

This is one of my favorite ridges to cross. We often do what is called a zoom climb in the C-130 here which gives you about 2-2.5k feet in a matter of seconds. I know that is no fighter stuff, but for a heavy that is pretty good.

My first leg would take me up to Susanville, CA (KSVE) which led me to fly through one of the areas that we often train in for work in the C-130.  It is so fun to fly through some of these same areas at a much lower speed and really get to enjoy more of the scenery.  It is also a trip to be the one at the controls.  Getting eyes on the Susanville airport proved to be quite challenging despite the small town that it is a part of.  Normally, you can look for an area that is a little more sparsely populated and that will help, but the whole area is pretty sparsely populated, so nothing really stood out.  I knew about where it should be though so I set up for a 45 to downwind based on the winds, and right about the time I wanted to enter the downwind, the runway popped up in front of me.

At this point, it dawned on me again that I was in an airplane all by myself again.  The last time I had done this was at Stead where I had already made dozens of landings with an instructor by my side.  Now I was at a brand new airport, that I had never seen, landing the plane all by myself.  I gave myself a little pep talk as I turned base and told myself it was no different from the other landings I had done by myself.  In hindsight I kind of wish I had done a touch and go at Stead before departing just to remind myself I knew what I was doing.  Fortunately, I still knew what I was doing and, while I floated it a little after coming in high, I landed smoothly and taxied clear well before the end.

After landing and pulling off the runway I had another one of those yell for joy moments like I did on my first solo.  It was the most incredible feeling to be out on the road all by myself.  I am once again somewhat speechless as I think back on it.

When you have wanted to do something for as long as I have wanted to be a pilot, it seems completely surreal that I am actually doing it.  It doesn’t even matter that it is not an airliner or some other big aircraft, pretty soon I will actually be a licensed pilot.

Stopped at Susanville and enjoying the glory of my first solo cross-country landing.

After taking a minute to enjoy the moment, I sent a message to my CFI, and my wife, to let them know I was safe.  Then after a drink and a quick look at the iPad I lined back up for another takeoff.  With the runway being a bit shorter I decided a notch of flaps wouldn’t be a bad idea, which I am glad I did, because it was definitely the most runway I have used for a takeoff.  I would have been fine either way, but it is always nice to have a safety buffer.  Leaving Susanville, I was also a little leery about birds because I know there are a lot in the area with the large lake east of the airport.

No worries though as I climbed out away from the town with no problems.  I fly in this area all of the time for work, and I was pretty much lined up on the run-in that we use for airdrops which was also fun.  I’m pretty sure there are no restrictions for flying in that area, and I knew none of our planes were flying on a Friday night, but I decided it would be better to just continue my climb so I could pick up some true airspeed.  It was still cool to see the area from a different perspective though.

Pyramid Lake is a great warm fuzz for navigation because it is huge, and easy to reset your bearings if you aren’t quite sure where you are.

This leg took me across the northern edge of Pyramid Lake, which is a great visual landmark in the area.  Right now the lake is super full with good spring runoff and a few little rainstorms we have had recently.  It is also one of the common areas for us to practice maneuvers because there are obviously no mountains in the middle of a large lake, and there are some great flat beaches along the shore in the event of engine problems.  I considered practicing some maneuvers, but decided my energy was better spent focusing on the task at hand, as well as making sure I got back before sunset.

After passing Pyramid Lake I crossed a bunch of the North-South running ridges that are all over Nevada.  It was a good reminder of how easily you could get lost if you aren’t paying attention, because they all look alike.  Those same ridges made for a bit of a different arrival into my next airport; Lovelock (KLOL).  Having to stay high over the ridges I pulled the engine almost to idle and started a more rapid descent into the airport than I did when I came in here at night.  It is amazing how different airfields look at night, and I was glad to come back and get that perspective.

Lovelock may not be real pretty, but…yeah, it just isn’t very pretty.

Being as high as I was, I decided to do a bit of an overhead pattern to set up for the landing, which proved to be uneventful.  Something that I was grateful for after every landing.  They say any landing you walk away from is a good one, but I was grateful for no real issues other than maybe not being as close to centerline as I would like, or it not being as smooth as I would like.

Leaving Lovelock would be my shortest leg so I spent a little extra time making sure I had my frequencies squared away as well as looking at the airspace for Fallon Municipal (KFLX) as it sits right on the edge of NAS Fallon’s airspace, and I had heard them recovering aircraft on the radio only about half an hour before.  This would also prove to be the bumpiest leg flying over a bunch of fields that had been warming up with the sun sitting high.  I am quite familiar with turbulence from work, but it is always rougher in a small plane.  Knowing just how durable planes are makes the whole thing easier to tolerate.

Fallon almost felt like home after flying over so much open land for so long.

At this point I was about half way through my sortie and this would be the first traffic I encountered.  As I was setting up for a 45 to downwind there was another aircraft taking off from the field.  We both communicated clearly, and I thought he would just fall in behind me, but instead he decided to bug out, so I had the pattern to myself.  It was nice to get back to a field I had been to before as well as an area I had previously flown the Cherokee in.  I think those factors contributed to this being one of my better landings of the day.  After a quick stop for a text to my CFI I was on my way back towards busier airspace.

This is exactly what I would experience flying over a couple of smaller airports, including an amazing airpark that I would love to live at, but a few simple radio calls made the whole thing a non-issue.  I will say that my comfort on the radios has made this whole training much less stressful.  I still mess it up on occasion, and I have plenty to learn, but knowing enough to keep the whole system flowing relatively smoothly has made a big difference.

I talked to this guy a few times on my way to Carson. It is always fun seeing different aircraft types.

As I approached Carson City (KCXP) I came in behind some traffic, and had to quickly clear the runway for some other traffic headed inbound.  Another smooth landing, and a quick exit made me feel like I actually knew what I was doing.  While I was taking a quick break in the run up area I was able to call out a flock of birds to another aircraft in the pattern which made me feel like even more a part of the community.

When it came time to leave it got even busier with a Bonanza approaching the runway from the opposite side parallel runway, and a 172 on base.  Not being in much of a rush, now with plenty of time before sunset, I let them both go first before taking the runway about to head towards my tower controlled airfield.  I had spent even more time on the ground preparing myself for this leg since it was very short and I would need to contact approach almost immediately.

With the mountains in the way they couldn’t see me, even though they could hear me, so they directed me to the East of the departure corridor and I set up for an extremely long downwind.  I think that flying in a radar controlled area can be a little intimidating for some people, and admittedly Reno (KRNO) is not the most busy of airspaces, but it is amazing how calm it can actually be once you understand the basics.  This is another field I had been to quite a few times, but the runways are about twice as long as all of the other fields I had been to over the last 3.5 hours, so I bet many of you know what was coming on my first landing.

Reno is a little bit bigger than the other fields I visited on this trip, and my landings reflected that.

I flared high, and plopped that thing in there.

I will say that it was not as firm as some of my landings that I really struggled with earlier in my training, but after that first one I had to remind myself about the optical illusion that I was experiencing.  Needing my extra full stop landings at the towered field I spent the taxi time walking myself through the illusion of feeling lower than I actually was to help on the subsequent landings.  They were all still a little high, but they did get better.  Before my final departure I took a nice deep breath as I was about to start my last leg.

By this time I was about four hours in and I could feel the length of the day starting to come on.  Nothing unsafe by any means, just a quick reminder to myself to stay alert and not get lazy on the last leg.  Probably because of that, and the natural straight in that this leg lines up for, I came in too high and had a nice steep descent down to the runway.  I had decided before hand that I would take a couple of victory laps around Stead upon my return as long as the daylight would let me, and it certainly did.

As I took my last couple patterns around I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunset and my best landings of the day.

After leaving the runway and taxiing back to the hangar I took a few moments to think about how amazing of an afternoon it was.  Most people on a Friday night would have taken advantage of an early work day to get in some extra drinking or partying, but as a non-drinker that is also not much of a partier, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Friday evening.  I didn’t get the full 5.0 that I had hoped for, but I did log 4.4 hours of some of the most empowering flying I have ever done.

My wife asked for proof that I was actually doing it. This is the face of a very happy man.

Not only CAN I actually do this, I AM DOING IT.  This is no longer a dream that I have had for over 30 years.  This is no longer something that I will get to when my kids are older, and I have no more debt, and the Cleveland Browns are no longer the laughing-stock of the NFL (aka never), this is happening now.  For the first time, that really hit me after this flight.  I guess it was just doing what I have dreamt of for so long that brought it home for me.  I dream about going out for a $100 hamburger, or just cruising around with my kids for an hour or two and enjoying the wonder of flight, and that is essentially what I had just done for the last 4+ hours.

Weather and work continue to delay the timelines I had originally set, but even that is not going to stop me from finishing and forever wearing the title of pilot.

April 30, 2018 I Written By

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

Flying at Night was an Eye Opening Experience

I finally was able to knock out that flight I passed on a few weeks back after a little vacation, and a whole bunch of crappy weather, and all I can say is that I am glad it is over.  I should clarify that any time spent flying is better than time spent in just about any other way, but I realized after this flight that flying a small, civilian aircraft at night is just not a whole lot of fun.

In leaving Stead and heading down to Reno it really wasn’t all that different at first because we were over city the entire time so most everything is lit up pretty well.  That being said, it is definitely a different sight picture at night than it is during the day.  I found myself flaring a little to high and having to hold it off much longer than I would have liked.  This was likely a combination of not having flown for a little while, and the different sight picture I was experiencing at night for the first time.

We proceeded to do three full stop taxi backs at Reno because for some reason the FAA wants all of your night stuff to be full stop landings.  I personally don’t understand the logic in this, so if you have any ideas I would love to hear them.  The one upside in this case was that it gave me more time talking to ground and switching radios, which is something you can never really practice enough.  On the C-130 I just type in numbers so it is good to get practice spinning dials.

After leaving Reno we headed East into the I-80 corridor as we very slowly climbed up to a good safe altitude.  This may very well have been the first time I have ever climbed up through the mountains at night without having NVGs like I wear at work.  To be honest it was pretty unnerving.  Despite knowing that I had planned well, and could see the freeway clearly below me and in front of me, it is not fun not being able to see the even the outline of the mountains around you.  It didn’t help that there was absolutely no moon either, but I wasn’t delaying this mission any longer just for some moonlight.

The half an hour or so it took us to get up to Lovelock (KLOL for those keeping track at home) was relatively uneventful, and once we got to altitude the terrain sloped away to the East and there wasn’t even mountains to worry about.  With nothing really between us and the airport, we were able to pick out the beacon pretty quickly, and a few clicks of the mic lit up the runway like a Christmas tree making it even easier to find a few miles south of any other buildings.

After a quick survey of the area we went in and executed three more full stop taxi backs, but fortunately the winds were mostly calm so we opted to just switch runways with each landing to save on the taxi time.  It was definitely a very different experience flying at such a small airport with no lights around it after flying at Reno that is surrounded in lights.  I also had the thought in the back of my mind that there is a lake off the end of one of the runways that made the whole thing a little more ominous.

After finishing up our landings there we began our trek back to Stead, and since we were running a little behind schedule, we utilized the wonder of ForeFlight to go back home more directly.  I have to say that it is just an incredible tool for anyone out there.  If I had a small plane I would not waste my money on a G1000 or other system, I would just buy an iPad and a ForeFlight subscription, because they honestly offer so much more at probably 5% of the price.  The situational awareness that it gives you is just insane.  I honestly wish the Air Force had just bought subscriptions to ForeFlight rather than wasting money on developing a different app.  If you don’t have it you seriously need to check it out.

By this time it was after 2300 local and after a full day of work I was getting pretty tired, but we still had four more landings to knock out.  It was definitely a little comforting coming back to my home airport after so long in the unfamiliar dark, and it got me a little excited again to finish the whole thing out.  Fortunately, the winds at Stead were also light and we were able to execute a few teardrops in the pattern rather than flying a full standard pattern.  It saved a little time which was okay by me and my CFI.  It was also a fun challenge to execute something other than a standard pattern and having to adjust in ways that you normally wouldn’t have to.  That being said, it is not something you should do if there are other aircraft in the area because it would quickly become a mess.

Flying at night in a small civilian plane definitely opened my eyes to the value of having NVGs with the flying I do at work.  The amount of situational awareness that they provide is just downright ridiculous.  On a well illuminated night it is almost as good as flying during the day.  I can’t even imagine doing anything close to what we do without NVGs.

This was also a good flight to help me remember that you have a whole massive skill set to learn as a pilot.  It isn’t enough to get good at landings during the day on a long and wide runway.  You have to land at night, and on shorter and more narrow fields.  You should try to get to soft fields and different surface types because all of those things are only going to help you build your bag of tools that one day may save your life.  From a less practical side, it is also fun to try new things and go new places.

When I was deployed to Afghanistan we took an F-16 pilot for a ride one day and it was the first time he had ever landed on dirt, especially dirt that was probably only 4000′ long or so.  For a guy that is used to pristine pavement that is at least 10,000′ long, it was an eye-opening experience.  He gained a whole new respect for what we do that day, and I guarantee he became a better pilot with that understanding.

So while trying new and different things is often not very comfortable, it is a great way to learn new things, have some fun, and become a better pilot.

April 19, 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.

Setting Personal Limits for Flying May Save Your Life

It is interesting that I have been thinking about writing this post for almost two weeks now as I have seen numerous people post comments or tweet about this exact subject.  No matter how many times I see this message though, I will always keep repeating it, because the concept may very well save your life.

If you have read the last few posts that I have written (if you haven’t, you should go read them now) then you will know that I had a week chock full of flying about two weeks ago.  When I started the week I was planning to fly six times in three days; three flights each for work and towards my private pilot certificate.  It was a little ambitious, but the weather was good and I wanted to take advantage of it after a bunch of crappy weather.

The first two days went very well and I got a lot of good stuff done, including my very first solo, which I am still pumped thinking about.  When the third day rolled around I was still planning on a third doubleheader in a row, especially with as motivated as I was after my solo.  However, as I went through the next few hours of flying I felt my body starting to wear down.  I was still able to fly at work safely, but as we landed after the sortie, I just knew that it wasn’t a good idea to push for another flight again that night, especially considering we were planning to do a three-hour night flight to knock that out.

I sent a message to my CFI telling him I would need to cancel for the night, which he totally understood and agreed with.  As soon as I sent the message I started to regret it a little because I am so anxious to get this thing done, and like I said, I was still pretty jacked from my solo the night before.  But as I got back to my desk and started to wind down from my flight and take care of some paperwork I knew I had made the right decision.  I could feel the effects of five flights in three days, and my body needed to take a break and recover.

I ended up having to wait a few weeks to get that flight in thanks to a family vacation and a busy schedule, but I am even more convinced now that I made the right decision.  Would I have had any problems getting through that flight, probably not.  Even if I was struggling my CFI would have been there to make sure we got back safely.  But, why would you want to risk it?  The only thing I would have gained is maybe finishing my certificate a little earlier, and the only thing I would have been risking is my life.  Seems like a fair trade-off, right?

The point is that many of us love flying and are anxious to spend as much time as we can in the air.  Whether we have been grounded for a while due to bad weather, work, or even just anxious to finish a rating or upgrade that you have been working on for ten years, none of us would rather be on the ground when we could be in the air.  Which is why it is smart to set personal limits for yourself above and beyond the limits the FAA sets.

In the Air Force we fill out a risk management worksheet before every flight that accounts for things like fatigue and health of the crew as well as the type of mission we are planning to fly and weather.  If the score is too high we have to get approval from leadership who checks to confirm that we have properly mitigated the risk and that we are safe to fly.  Sometimes the number is just too high and the risk isn’t worth it, so we don’t fly.  That may mean missing out on rare training opportunities, or even delaying a mission, but nothing is worth risking your life.

So what kinds of things can you set limits for?

Weather is an obvious one.  Maybe you set a ceiling and visibility limit that you will not fly with less than.  Similar to weather mins for an instrument approach you may set a limit for both VFR and IFR flight that you won’t bust.  As you get more proficient, especially as an IFR pilot you may lower those mins, but understanding your abilities and comfort level will go a long way to keeping you safe.  You may also have wind limits, or certain types of weather you won’t fly with.  One example for us is that if we have severe turbulence forecasted we don’t fly, period.  Maybe for you it is fog, or rain, or some other weather that you just don’t want to mess with.

Rest is another important one to consider that can be very easy to overlook.  The Air Force, as well as airlines, have rules on crew rest that delineate how much time to rest you must have before a flight.  In the Air Force we also limit what types of flying we can do a certain number of hours into the day.  Things that are more challenging are restricted to early in our duty day because we want to make sure we are sharp in those high risk situations.

You may opt to only go to fields with certain runway lengths, crosswind limits stricter than the plane can handle, length of flight, or any other limits that you feel are important.  The point is to keep yourself safe, no matter how experienced you are.

I would never suggest a specific limit for anyone else, because each of us know how proficient we are, and what our limits should be.  If you aren’t sure what your limits should be set something conservative and roll with that for a while.  Then as you feel more comfortable change the limits to match your skill level.  However, don’t change your limits as you are stepping to fly.  Find a time when you have no pressing concerns to sit down and honestly assess how you feel about the limits you have set.  This way you won’t feel inclined to lower your limits just to meet a deadline or take that trip you have been planning for months and get into a risky situation.

While I mentioned lowering your limits, also don’t be afraid to raise your limits if your situation reflects the need.  If you haven’t been flying for a while, or if you are in a new type of aircraft, or if you have gotten into a few situations that were more uncomfortable than you would like, be honest with yourself and raise those limits to keep yourself safe.

Now thinking of every possible variable that could happen during a flight and creating a limit for it would be an incredibly daunting task, so I would say start with the basics.  Set some weather limits for yourself, and some sort of rest limit as I see those as two of the simplest protections that will keep you out of the vast majority of unsafe situations.  Then as you get more experienced and start trying new things spend some time in your mission planning to set limits for yourself as well.

Maybe most importantly, write your limits down so you don’t forget, or try to fudge on them later.  The whole point of this is to keep yourself safe so make sure you are clear about it.

Lastly, don’t ever budge from your limits when it comes time to fly.  I mentioned this briefly before, but it bears repeating.  Limits are there to make the decision for you when you may put yourself in a questionable situation.  They allow for a good level-headed decision when the stress and temptation are not part of the equation, or in other words, way before you are going to go fly.  By all means change those limits when you are not in your flying bubble, but never do it in the heat of the moment because you set those limits for a reason and that is to keep you safe.

One last dynamic of this that I want to point out is that setting limits doesn’t mean you can’t still do something flying related.  In my case I spent my extra time studying for my written test, which I passed with a 100% this past week, so I guess that time was well spent.  You could do some work on your plane, you could better prepare for taking that flight the next day.  Maybe you have a local flight school with a simulator you could use instead.  Or maybe you could even just hang out at the airport for a little while and get to know your hangar neighbors and build some relationships for the future.

As much as it sucks having to miss a day of flying, there is still a lot you can do to not let the day be a waste.  Setting limits for yourself may keep you from flying, but it will also keep you safe so that you can have many more flights for years to come.

April 15, 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.

The Doubleheader of Flying Act 2: Flying the Canyons, and Then Flying Solo

I really wish that I could just spend my whole life flying, writing articles about flying, and working on videos about flying. At the very least I wish I was better at making the time to get all of my thoughts out right after they happen, because it has been a minute since this day, and I know I have forgotten some of the things I wanted to share. Maybe I should just type out outlines right after the fact to help me remember. That being said, some aspects of this day I know I will never forget.

After a couple of good flights the day before, I was feeling super excited about getting back into the plane again for some more fun flying. On this day I was only there to help another experienced Nav get recurrent because he had been away from the unit for awhile. The nice thing about these types of flights is that I don’t have to be super involved because he already knows what he is doing, I am just there to make it legal again. The downside of these flights is that I don’t have to be super involved because he already knows what he is doing, and I just really love to instruct.

Fortunately, we were going out to fly a really fun route through the mountains. This route is one of the reasons that I wanted to come back to Reno and fly so bad after flying it during the AMATS course I attended a few years back. Not having a needy student did let me enjoy the route a little more, which is never something to complain about. Again, I wish I was done with the video I am trying to make so you can get an idea of how fun it is, but time is kicking my butt right now.

Just imagine cruising through the valleys of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at about 500 feet, with snow covered peaks all around you, going 230 knots, in a big huge plane, with a big cheesy grin on your face. That is what I call living.

Other than the joy that is flying in this area, there was not a lot of remarkable stuff that happened, so I will move on to the really exciting part of the day.

After we were done flying and debriefing, I confirmed with my CFI that he was still good to fly that night, and then tried to focus on work for the last hour or two that I had before leaving. Admittedly, it was a pretty strong mix of emotions as I was incredibly excited about the prospect of flying in a plane all by myself for the very first time, while at the same time realizing that if something happened, I would be all by myself and have to take care of it accordingly.

When I finally got out to the airport I was greeted by my CFI and handed a small stack of papers that he said I needed to fill out before we could go fly. I had stumbled across this pre-solo test in some of my studying, and my stomach immediately sunk as I didn’t feel like I knew all of the material well enough to possibly pass and be able to go fly that night. I was seriously sad inside.

We headed over to the little mission planning room the airport has and I started working on it while he was checking out my logbook, and I was right that I didn’t know a bunch of the answers, at least not as well as I thought I should. With the sun heading towards the Western horizon I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about my chances of flying that night, but then my CFI got tired of waiting and started to go through the remaining questions orally. I knew a lot of the information, but it was also a valuable learning experience with some of the other information. Apparently I did well enough because after we got through the questions he picked up his stuff and said, “Let’s go do this.”

I ran into the bathroom for one more pit stop, I am a stress potty user, what can I say, and then followed him out to the plane. We jumped in like usual, started up, and headed over to the runway. I did a normal run-up and pulled onto the runway. When we took off, the plane practically jumped off the runway. In contrast to the last flight where it had been warm and the gas tanks were full, it was now cooling off in the evening and the tanks were comparatively empty, since we wouldn’t be going very far.

We did two patterns after which he told me to go ahead and exit the runway to drop him off on the taxiway. As we pulled off the runway and he opened the door to get out I asked him if he had a handheld radio or anything, to which he laughed a little and said, “Nope, it’s all you.” Then he jumped out and closed and locked the door. Once he was well clear of the plane I released the breaks and started taxiing back down to the end of the runway.

As I was taxiing down it was an incredibly awkward feeling to be in the plane all by myself. I took a moment to say a little prayer just asking to be able to perform to the level I knew that I was capable, and to be able to have some fun. When I got to the intersection where I would be taking off from I stopped for a minute and just took a few deep breaths before making my radio call and entering the runway.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W taking runway 32 for departure, staying in the pattern, Stead traffic.”

I put a little power in and pulled onto the runway, lined up on centerline, and then pushed the power all the way in. If I thought the plane jumped off the runway before, it practically exploded off with 250ish pounds less in it now. Before I knew it I was turning crosswind and shooting right through pattern altitude because I was not used to the plane climbing so fast. I quickly recovered and came back down as I turned downwind and prepared myself mentally for the part that had scared me only a few weeks before.

As I came abeam the threshold I pulled some power and dropped in the first click of flaps. At this point in the pattern you fly out of a little pond which doesn’t bother me because of the water, but because of birds that I had often seen out there. Fortunately the air was clear as I turned base, dropped the second click of flaps, and called on the radio.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W turning base, runway 32, Stead traffic.”

As I normally am, I was a little high, but since that was normal, I knew how to handle it and bled off some airspeed to help me get down. One more click of flaps, and one last radio call.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W final, runway 32, Stead traffic.”

Deep breath, I’ve done this a bunch of times, including two smooth ones just minutes before. Aiming for the numbers, since I always float it. A couple final turns of trim to take some pressure away. VASI looks pretty good. Over the displaced threshold. Crossing the threshold, chop the power. Little back pressure right as I enter ground effect. Keep that pressure back. Just a little more back on the yoke.

Squeak.

I did it, I flew a plane all by myself for the very first time.

After a moment or enjoyment I recomposed myself, raised the flaps, put the power back in, and lifted off for my second pattern. One again I shot off the ground, but this time I was ready for it and leveled off just prior to turning downwind.

After what was an uneventful pattern, I made my second landing and entered my third pattern. As I was turning base I saw a few birds above me, but I used the Force and kept them from dive bombing me. I touched down after the third landing with my smoothest approach and transition yet. Afterwords, my CFI said he didn’t even hear the last one squeak.

As I taxied down the runway to retrieve my CFI, which also took longer because I slowed down so fast being so light, I couldn’t help but yell and scream a bit from excitement! I am not generally an overtly emotional guy, but I was so completely pumped that I couldn’t resist.

This is another one of the moments that I struggle to actually find the words for. I have wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember, and for the first time, I actually felt like one. The completely liberating experience that it was is really incomparable. I have always sort of felt this way every time I fly, but this was an order of magnitude greater.

Taxiing back to the hangar I probably sounded giddy as a schoolboy, but I don’t care. It was only a 0.4 by myself, but I honestly feel changed. I am paraphrasing the quote that is attributed to da Vinci, but once I have tasted the freedom of flying I will always look heavenward because that is where my heart longs to be.

I really can’t say it enough, if you haven’t ever flown in a small plane, go and do it. Once I get my certificate I will be happy to take anyone and everyone that I have the time for up. This is just too amazing experience to not share with everyone.

On that note, you should check out the Flying Cowboys YouTube channel, and in particular the #flywithmefriday segment where Cory takes up people who have never flown in a small airplane before. It is inspiring.

I am actually going to take my written test tomorrow morning, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I feel like I am getting so close that I can actually taste it. I am actually going to become a pilot!

April 12, 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.