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Musings After Completing Air Force Pilot Training

Do you ever feel like months or years at a time go by and you know that a lot of things have happened, but when you stop and think about it, or sit down to write about some of the cool things you have done, you really just don’t know what to say?  That’s kind of where I am at right now.

As you are likely aware, I attended Air Force Pilot Training over the last year or so, which I completed back in September, earning my wings, and furthering my lifelong dream of being a pilot.  I still count finishing my private certificate back in 2008 as when I became a pilot, but this was a big deal and an even bigger step on my career path, wherever that may lead.

There is no reason to give a play by play of everything that happened at pilot training, especially since I am sure someone else already has, and they probably did it better, but I figured I would put some of my own thoughts and experiences down for my own benefit, and maybe it will help someone else in the at the same time.

One of the things a lot of people ask is how they can best prepare for pilot training.  The reality is that every single person is different and would benefit from different preparation.  The one thing that I feel is universal is getting as much aviation experience as you possibly can.  Ideally that means spending as much time in any flying aircraft you possibly can.  There is simply no substitute for time in the seat and in the air hearing and seeing and smelling and feeling all of those different inputs.  That may not be feasible in many cases, but beg, borrow, or steal your way onto any flight in a cockpit you can get.  It doesn’t have to be formal training.  It could be bumming a ride for a $100 hamburger, or just beating up the pattern, but any time you can get in the air will help you.

All of my experience in the Air Force flying was a definite advantage in many aspects of the training.  If nothing else I was familiar with many of the terms and expressions that made me feel more comfortable in the environment as a whole.  I am not saying you should spend 8 years as a Navigator before going to pilot training, though honestly it is not a bad way to go, but

Right before I took the T-6 solo in formation. What a ride!

I am saying that every little bit of comfort you can gain from experience is worth it to help you get through what will inevitably be an uncomfortable year.

In the theme of the Thanksgiving season, I am incredibly grateful for the chance I had to fly such a dynamic plane as the T-6.  I realize what a special opportunity it was to fly an fully aerobatic, complex, turbine, bad-A airplane.  I even got to fly it by myself, which is even more cool when I look back on it.  The one part I was really not looking forward to was the formation phase because frankly it is uncomfortable being that close to another plane doing the maneuvers we do.  By the time we finished the phase and I had the opportunity to solo in formation I had a little idea what I was doing and I actually really enjoyed it.  It was a huge confidence builder for me, and just a great time in the air.

All of that being said, I am perfectly content never flying the T-6 again.  That probably sounds a little contradictory, but it is just not my type of flying.  Sure it would be fun to go out with a buddy and range around for an hour in the mountains with such a high performance aircraft, but having to fly with an instructor with syllabus items to accomplish would not be as fun.  I’m also old and grumpy and having to wear all of that extra gear is not my style anymore.

View from the backseat of the T-1 enjoying my time with a crew.

Moving onto the T-1 after the T-6 brought me back to my type of flying.

I LOVE flying with a crew.

I love being able to interact with other crewmembers.  I love that we are there to back each other up and keep each other safe.  I love the more laid back environment where we get the mission done, but we can also have a good time doing it.

The T-1 is a massive pig compared to the T-6, but it was still a lot of fun to fly.  I had to keep reminding the people in my class how lucky we all were to get this training.  Not many people in this world get the opportunity to fly a business jet with less than 100 hours of experience, but that’s what we were doing.  It is not the flashiest plane, and like I said, it flies like a pig, but it was still a great time learning a more complex aircraft and adding to my skillset.

It is worth mentioning the importance of the people you go to pilot training with.  I had the unfortunate experience of being at pilot training not only during Covid, but during massive class shifts at UPT.  Shortly after starting pilot training my class was split up into multiple classes with me personally rolling back three classes.  Over the next year or many of those people changed classes again both backward and forward.  As it turned out I ended up graduating with only 2 of the 22 people that I originally started with.  No one graduates with the exact class they started with for any number of reasons, but it was a real bummer having the whole thing blown up like that.

One of my last flights at pilot training. Enjoyed getting back into the low-level environment.

At the same time, all of the people I had the chance to interact with were exceptional people.  We had great laughs, and worked hard, and got through to the end together.  It was truly a pleasure to work with such exceptional people, and I look forward to following them all through the rest of their careers.

UPT was also a unique experience for me because of my own personal circumstances.  I have mentioned it previously, but being 38 when most of your classmates are in the early 20s made for a slightly different dynamic.  I also was married with three kids, one of whom is almost a teenager, added to the dynamic.  I am also a winged navigator with a fair amount of experience.  Not to mention that I am also a Major which meant I outranked almost all of my IPs.

Some of these things people said were a disadvantage, and others an advantage, and they are probably right.  There is no such thing as a normal UPT experience, and everybody has their weaknesses and areas that require special effort.  At the end of the day, getting through UPT is all about your attitude and your effort.  Anybody can be taught to fly, and anybody can be taught to fly the Air Force way, if they are willing to put in the time and the effort.  It was amazing to watch the effort that some of my classmates put in to become pilots.  Like anything in life it was easier for some people than for others, but at the end of the day we all walked away with our wings, and we all get to have one of the coolest jobs in the world: pilot.

Hello again beautiful!

This last week I got to start my C-130 specific training back in Little Rock.  It felt a lot like coming home since I was stationed here about five years ago.  We still have some friends that never left, and others that we got to know during our time in Japan that have since moved here.  It is so awesome going somewhere that you already have friends.  On the first day of class we went out to walk around the plane, and it was a beautiful reunion to be back with my beloved C-130.

I will spare you the love story which you can read about in previous articles I have written (here, here, and here), but suffice it to say I am thrilled to be back here on the plane I love.  There is still a lot of work to be done to learn a new job on the same plane, but I already feel so at home in so many ways.  I think it is one way of knowing you are where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing, when it feels like coming home after far too long apart.

Hopefully, I can do a better job putting my thoughts down because I know it is good for me, and I hope that others can benefit from it too.  I have said it before and I will say it every time I write.  If there is ever any question I can answer, or anything I can do to help you in your aviation journey please don’t hesitate to ask.  We are all a part of the best community in the world, and it is the people that make it that way.

I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving, and get the chance to get out and fly as much as possible.

November 22, 2020 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.

Overcoming the Mental Side of Flying

It has been an interesting week of flying here in beautiful Del Rio, TX.  The weather was forecast to be pretty crappy, and the forecast proved to be quite accurate.

That really sucks when it comes to pilot training, because a lot of the things we do require VFR conditions.  Outside of the training arena, the weather would not have been that big of a deal, but for all of us newbies it was less than ideal.  It was also a great learning experience for me of just how important it is to keep your mind ready when it comes to flying.

Early this week I was scheduled for a simulator session in the morning, and a flight in the afternoon that was not looking real promising when the day started due to crappy weather.  As the day went on I started to check out on flying because most of the flights had cancelled for weather.  I got my paperwork ready to fly, but I was really just going through the motions and wasn’t putting in the effort that I should have.

We got to brief time and I sat down with my IP already convinced we were going to cancel, but even then I knew better.  I personally said we should probably still brief because you never know what will happen with the weather.  We went through the brief, and as we did we heard updates that the weather was improving and it looked like we would be able to fly.  I now found myself in a bad spot because I had already started to checkout, and now needed to go fly.

I won’t go into all of the details of the flight, but suffice it to say it was not a very good flight.  I missed a handful of small things that were not terribly critical, but were things I should not have missed.  I got behind the plane, and while I eventually caught up, I wasted training time because my mind was not in it.  I also got spatial disorientation, which did nothing to help the situation.

By the time we landed I was pretty down on myself, with only myself to blame.

Fast forward two days and I was in almost an identical situation.  I had a simulator session in the morning, followed by a flight in the afternoon.  Pretty much everyone had cancelled their flights due to weather, and right up until the brief I thought we would cancel too.  The difference yesterday was that I forced myself to stay in the game mentally.

As I prepared my paperwork the weather actually kept getting worse but I just kept telling myself that I was not going to let the same thing happen again. We were still going to fly and I was going to be ready.  With the weather as crappy as it was I was honestly at a loss of what I was going to do even if we did take off.  It had been cloudy for days and the people who had flown did not bring back great reports that would allow for the aerobatic training that I really needed.

But I just kept running through ideas in my head.  I could just go and do some instrument approaches, but then the nearby airports were also below minimums.  I could also go up into the MOA and practice some of the instrument maneuvers in actual IMC.  That would be better than nothing, but I really needed pattern work, and that just wasn’t going to happen.  I also didn’t want to get stuck in the air and have to divert to San Antonio for the long weekend, but that was just my mind trying to find reasons not to fly.

It came time to brief and my IP wasn’t even in the room so I was further convinced we would not fly, but I just kept telling myself we were going flying.  Even after we sat down to brief another student walked in and my IP told him he would likely have to weather cancel, so I was sure I wasn’t going flying.  But we kept briefing.

Halfway through our brief an announcement came out that the T-38s would not be flying as long as expected so there was a larger time slot for us.  What happens here when the weather is marginal is a status referred to as alternating instruments.  Essentially, when the weather is bad we set specific times for the T-6s and T-38s to recover.  Because we fly at such different airspeeds this is simply a safer situation when the weather doesn’t allow for a VFR pattern.  The fuel capacity of the T-38 also makes this a smarter solution.

It wasn’t until that announcement was made that my mind finally started to convince the rest of me that I was actually going flying.

We finished our brief and got suited up before going to the step desk.  That is the last stop before we fly and the last chance for someone to stop us.  Because of the weather, we were the only ones up there waiting to fly.  Even the other flights that had been scheduled from my class had cancelled for weather.

While we waited to get approval to go my IP made the comment that, “When I’m the only one stepping to fly it makes me question my decision of whether I should go or not.”  This is a very true statement, and is something every pilot should remember, but ultimately proved to be not true on this day.

After some reassurance for the weather shop, the Operations Supervisor cleared us to go and fly.  We got out to the plane not in a rush as the weather was only supposed to improve at this point.  We taxied out to the center runway, which is not what we normally use, but had much less water and was thus safer.  We ran our pre-flight checks, and took off, going into the clouds within the first few hundred feet.

We ended up climbing to near the top of the MOA in the hopes the sun had burned off some of the clouds because they were not super dense, but as we got to 21,000 feet we were still in IMC.  Instrument maneuvers it would be apparently, and that is just what we did for the first fifteen minutes or so.  We had noticed some VFR layers on our climb up and decided to drop down and see if we couldn’t find a gap.

A brief aside on the super fun capabilities of the T-6.  Needing to descend about 10,000 feet my IP suggested I try an idle/speed brake descent just to see how fast this plane can drop when you need it to.  It sounded like fun to me, and I pulled to the PCL to idle, extended the speed brake and pitched the nose down.  I can’t tell you what our actual descent rate was because our VSI pegs out at 6,000 ft/min.  Let’s just say about a minute and a half later we were at 10,000 feet and that was with pulling in the speed brake a few thousand feet early because we broke out of the clouds and seeing the ground rushing towards me that fast was intense.

As luck would have it, there was actually a pretty substantial area of VFR conditions, and we were able to get a bunch of good training in.  I did my first split-S and aileron roll.  I also made great progress in some of my other VFR maneuvers.  I was shocked at how much we got done on a day when I didn’t think we would even take off.

To cap off the flight I also got to hold because there was so much traffic coming back in at the same time, and then flew an ILS (poorly), back home to a pretty nice landing if I do say so myself.

All in all it was a much better flight than earlier in the week because I forced myself to stay in the game.  Even as I looked for safety concerns and reasons why we wouldn’t be able to fly, I just kept telling myself we were going to fly, and it paid off for me in the end.  I got fantastic training, and continued to move towards the ultimate goal of getting my wings.

I expected the physical action of flying to be my biggest challenge at UPT because I already have a lot of experience in the air, but this was a great reminder of just how important the mental aspect of flying is.  I didn’t do much that I hadn’t already seen, but I did it so much better because I was mentally ready for it instead of quitting like I did earlier in the week.

Flying is challenging under the best conditions, but it is even more important to be completely on your game when the conditions are not ideal.  There is a time and a place to call it and not fly when the conditions are bad, but I am grateful I listened to my IP and pushed through (the second time this has happened with the same IP) because I would have missed some good fun, and some valuable training.  There is just so much to learn in this industry and I am grateful for all of the lessons I continue to learn every day.

January 18, 2020 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.

What a Year 2019 Was

I know it is completely cliche to write a post about the last year on New Year’s Day, but I am nothing if not socially trendy.  So here we go.

As I look back on the year, my first thought is simply that I don’t know where the year has gone.  I started the year deployed to Kuwait where I was able to fly to Iraq, Iran, Oman, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Qatar.  As much as being away from family while you are deployed sucks, being able to just fly and not worry about all of the other stuff at work is awesome.

On the way home from the deployment we got to spend some time in Greece, Northern Ireland, The Azores, Canada, and Minnesota before making it back to Reno.  It was so fun to decompress on the way home and make some good memories.  I also had one of the scarier events in my career when one of the panes of our windshield shattered halfway across the Atlantic.  In hindsight it was not as big of a deal as it seemed at the time, but it was still not very comfortable.

A few days after getting home I was lucky enough to go with my family to Hawaii for the first time.  It was nice to just relax on an airliner for a change after the deployment.  It was also some much needed family time after four months away.

A few days after that trip I was back on a plane heading East to Ohio for my flight physical as I continued the process to go to Air Force Pilot Training.  Even though I am pretty healthy it was quite the nerve wracking trip as a bunch of doctors and nurses would determine my Air Force future.  Fortunately, everything went off without a hitch and my package was submitted a few weeks later.

Before I knew it, I was back to work and trying to get caught up after five months or so away from the office.  It didn’t take long for me to miss the flying from the deployment, but it was still good to be home and settled again.

Spring training for the MAFFS season ended up being a weather mess in Colorado Springs with some unseasonably late snow that delayed a lot of the training.  We ended up getting almost all of it done, but as luck would have it, we didn’t get called out at all this year to fight fires.  As much as we love doing our jobs, it was a needed break for everyone after the crazy fires we had last year.  Here’s hoping our Aussie brothers and sisters get some relief from their fires soon.

I had a fun little trip with a great group of guys down to Mississippi to drop off a plane for some upgrades.  There was nothing special about the trip, but sometimes it is fun to just have a simple trip with great people that equals a great time.  It would also prove to be my last trip before leaving Reno.

In late July I gave a checkride, not realizing that it would be my last flight on the C-130 as a navigator, and possibly my last flight ever on a C-130H.  Just a week or two later I got word that I had gotten a fallout slot at UPT and within a week was headed to Del Rio, Texas, and Laughlin AFB.  It was a whirlwind of events that included packing everything we owned, and driving halfway across the country.

It bears mentioning at this point how lucky I am to have the family I do.  My wife has come with me all over the world pursuing my dreams.  She has done it all with minimal complaint and always with the utmost support.  My kids are also amazing troopers as they have had to change schools, make new friends, find new dance studios, and they have done it all with a deep love for me that I can never fully repay.

Pilot training started off as rapidly as advertised, but due to some unique circumstances I ended up with almost three weeks off about a month in.  Things started to pick back up through my simulator checkride before I once again had a long break in training.  During that time my class and I have stayed busy studying and practicing in the simulators, but all of us are anxious to get out and actually fly the T-6.

Barring any crazy unforeseen circumstances, which can happen when it comes to flying, we should all be flying next week, and may be wishing for a little more of a break.  I am super excited to get up in the air again, and continue on this long journey of becoming a better aviator.

It has been more than six months since I was last able to fly, and it pains me a little every time I think about that.  I often think about what my passions are, and what the most important things in life are to me, which is pretty much standard for everyone at this time of the year.

I count myself incredibly blessed that I actually get to do what I love most for a living.  I get to spend my time in the air doing something that is completely unnatural for a human being to do.  I can’t think of anything more liberating and calming than flying is for me.  It is where I feel most at home, and it is where I feel most like myself, whatever that may be.

As I look forward into the new year many of my ambitions will be dictated by the Air Force and the rigorous training schedule of UPT, assuming there are no more delays.  Sometimes I get disappointed when I think about that because I would love to go to Airventure, or the Reno Air Races, or any number of other awesome aviation events around the country, but they will all have to wait for future years.

So now I am trying to focus on the other awesome things that I will get to do.  I get to spend the next three months or so flying the T-6 Texan II.  I don’t particularly enjoy pulling G’s, but it will still be so much fun spending pretty much every day at the controls of an extremely powerful and nimble aircraft.  It is an opportunity that not everyone gets to have, and I count myself blessed that I get to experience it.

Then I will move onto the T-1 for about 5-6 months after that.  While it may not seem exciting to spend so much time learning to fly what is really just a business jet, it is more time I get to spend in the air, honing my craft and learning the skills I need to safely operate in the air for years to come.  It is also a good reminder to me of all the different skills that there are to learn in aviation.  You should never pass up an opportunity to broaden your skill set because you never know when those skills may come in handy.

A year from now I should be back in Little Rock, Arkansas for my C-130 specific training.  I can’t wait to get back to my beloved Herk, but it remains to be seen which version of the old girl I will be training on.

The National Guard is set to announce this month which two units will be converting from the C-130H to the C-130J.  That conversion will then take place over the next few years.  It is hard to tell what will happen when it comes to the politics of such a decision.  There are about 10 different units that could make the change, and Reno is one that makes a lot of sense from a practical perspective.

Ultimately, I have no say in the decision and will simply play the hand I am dealt.  If I did have a say, I would hope we stay with the H.  Having flown on both, I really enjoy the crew dynamic of the H better.  With all of the new modifications they are making to our old planes, they get much closer to the performance of the J, and once they do all of the avionics upgrades, they will be closer in that arena as well.  At the end of the day it is probably mostly a nostalgia thing for me.  It is the plane I grew up on, and I hold on to tradition as long as I possibly can.  They are both incredibly capable planes and I will be happy to fly either one.

It’s funny as I think about my love for the Herk now compared to how I felt when I first joined the Air Force.  I really thought I wanted to be on the F-15E and go fast and pull G’s, but a bomber would be an adequate place to land if I couldn’t get on a fighter.  I clearly remember thinking that as long as I didn’t end up on the C-130 I would be happy with whatever I got.

Now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

It has been a fun year of flying, and even fun with some of the time I haven’t been flying, but this year will be even more fun as I finally fulfill my dream of becoming an Air Force pilot.  I am having to delay some of the other things I would like to pursue in aviation, but that is part of the deal.  You can’t do everything in aviation all of the time, because it just isn’t possible.  You have to enjoy where you are at right now, and then keep working to experience as many of those other things as possible.

So wherever you are in your life as an aviator, because it is a life and not just a job or a hobby, keep enjoying the moments you have, and always look for new ways to spread that joy.  It is a great aviation family we are all a part of, and I look forward to getting to know more of you, and enjoy watching your adventures in the coming year.

January 1, 2020 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.

What I Learned in Pilot Training: Crew Resource Management

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

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

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

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

So what is CRM?

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

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

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

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

But, what about single pilot flights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 27, 2019 I Written By

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

What I Learned in Pilot Training: Hypoxia

I realized I have not been holding up my end of the bargain when it comes to all of the things I am learning at pilot training, so I am going to do my best to start to remedy that.

For the first two weeks of training the vast majority of what we talked about was the physiological aspects of flying airplanes.  I talked about some of this in my last post, but there is one area that I feel warrants its own separate discussion, and that is hypoxia.

A quick Google search tells us that hypoxia is a “deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues”.  This definition is pretty general, but that is because the effects of hypoxia can vary dramatically.  That is one of the scary things about hypoxia is that it is different for everyone, so there is no way to give anyone a surefire way to know it is happening.

Maybe even scarier is that some of the potential symptoms can be exact opposite.  Some people will feel euphoric, or extra happy.  Other people will feel sick and miserable.  Some of the other symptoms are tingling in the extremities, headache, feeling warm, decreased visual acuity, cyanosis (blueness in the lips), and loss of mental capacity.

The last one may be the biggest threat to pilots, but if you are struggling to think clearly, how likely are you to notice it?  Your brain isn’t working well, but somehow it is supposed to realize that it isn’t working well?

As part of our training, we go into an altitude chamber to experience the effects of hypoxia, and determine what our own individual symptoms are.  It is invaluable training and helps you to recognize how you respond so that should it ever happen in flight, you are more likely to notice it.  To add to the challenges of hypoxia, your symptoms can change over time.

When I did the altitude chamber in navigator school, my only symptom was a very slight headache across my forehead that took forever to appear.  When I did it this time it was tingling in my fingers and feeling warm.  You may notice that most of these symptoms are things that could happen for dozens of different reasons.  Lots of people get headaches when they fly because they are dehydrated or a little sick, or because they had too much fun at the bar the night before.

Which brings me to some of the different reasons that you can experience hypoxia.  There are four general types of hypoxia: histotoxic hypoxia, stagnant hypoxia, hypemic hypoxia, and hypoxic hypoxia

Histotoxic hypoxia is the type that would be created by having too much fun at the bar the night before.  Substances like alcohols, narcotics, and other drugs impact the cell’s ability to accept oxygen and even though there may be enough in the air, it can’t get into the cells to do work.

Stagnant hypoxia happens when the blood is not flowing to the tissues properly.  In the military world this is usually driven by pulling G’s which causes the blood to pool in the lower extremities and thus not flow to your upper body.  It can also happen when you get cold and your circulation decreases.

Hypemic hypoxia is similar to histotoxic, but instead of the cells not accepting oxygen, it relates to the blood’s inability to carry oxygen.  In aviation this is most often caused by the inhalation of carbon monoxide either from a bad heater, or even just the exhaust on the ground before you get in and takeoff.

Hypoxic hypoxia is when the air simply does not have enough oxygen for your to breathe, which happens at higher altitudes.  Clearly an issue for flying an airplane.  It is also the most common type of hypoxia experienced in aviation.

We can all agree that hypoxia is a bad thing as it prevents us from thinking clearly and from using our body to safely operate an airplane.  So what can we do to prevent it, or recognize it when it does happen?

First, prevention because it is ALWAYS better to prevent a bad situation that it is to deal with it after it arises.  Being physically prepared to fly is the simplest way to prevent hypoxia, and a host of other issues.  That means that if you have not gotten enough rest, or you have been feeling sick, or you are hung over, or drunk, then you should not be flying.  We all want to fly as much as possible, but you have to know your limits and never cross them.  Even in the military we regularly talk about how there are almost no flights that cannot wait until another day if the crew is not physically fit to fly.

Another part of prevention is ensuring that you have the proper equipment for the flying you will doing.  If your flight is going to be mostly around sea level hypoxic hypoxia is not very likely, but if you have a broken exhaust system, or a cabin heat system that is not working properly, you put yourself at very real risk of hypemic hopxia, and that is every bit as dangerous.  Hypoxia is not only a matter of flying at high altitude!

Generally speaking we talk about oxygen deficiency starting at around 10,000 feet MSL.  So if you are planning to fly anywhere near that altitude for very long you need to have the right equipment.  That could be a pressurized cockpit, or it could be supplemental oxygen.  If you will be flying at night, some people push that altitude as low as 5,000 feet MSL.  Once again, everyone is different, and has different tolerances.  If in doubt bring along the extra oxygen because it may save your life.

I realize that going to an oxygen chamber is not realistic for most people, nor is it really necessary for someone cruising around in a 172, but if you get the opportunity I would highly recommend it.  That being said, there is still plenty of education and experience you can get to learn more about the effects of hypoxia and how it can affect you.

My only experience with hypoxia, other than in the controlled environment of an altitude chamber, was actually on a hiking trip.

I was climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan, which only goes up to about 12,300 feet, not that much above 10,000.  As we got to the summit it was rainy and cold and I was miserable and I had a headache.  But, I didn’t even realize it until we were on our way back down and I started to feel better.  Sure I recognized that I was tired, but it wasn’t until I headed lower and started to lose my symptoms that I realized I had even had symptoms.

The odds of this happening in aviation are not very high, at least if it has become a critical issue.  If the symptoms are minor then descending may be enough to clear your head and fix your symptoms, but descending may not always be an option, and if it has to do with poor equipment, it is not likely that the equipment will just fix itself.

So how do you recognize that you are having issues?  The key to this is not waiting for extra signs.  At the first indication that you may be hypoxic you need to take action.  Some people can go hours with symptoms before it becomes life threatening, but for others the symptoms may come on and only minutes later the person will be incapacitated.  So if you even think there is a small chance you might be hypoxic, try to fix it immediately.

If you are fortunate enough to be flying with someone else, ask them how they are feeling, or if they see anything different with you. Sometimes just bringing it up will key the whole crew off that something is not right and you may save everyone.  Maybe it is just you having an issue though, and they can help you remedy the situation and get back to normal.  The point is to not keep it a secret if you don’t feel right.

Many people do most of their flying alone so what can they do?  In many cases, you can still tell someone, whether that be ATC or anyone else that may be on frequency with you.  Again, just mentioning that something doesn’t feel right can help key off your mind that something isn’t right and can help you down the path to fixing it.

If there is legitimately no one around then just say it out loud to no one.  The brain is pretty amazing and just vocalizing it may be enough.  Most importantly, if you are by yourself, don’t hesitate to take some action if you feel even the slightest possibility that something isn’t right because you have no idea how far you are from just passing out.

This ended up being way longer than I expected, but I would argue that I didn’t even scratch the surface on the topic, or at least on aerospace physiology.  There are people whose entire career is in that field.

Hopefully what I have done is given you some things to think about when you fly, and encouraged you to spend some extra time thinking about how your body is performing when you fly.  We spend a lot of time checking on the plane, and our equipment but most of us don’t take enough time to check on our physical ability to fly.

It doesn’t have to be a huge drawn out process, but even taking the time to stop before you step to the plane and just ask yourself how you are feeling may be what saves your life.  I would also encourage you to spend some time learning more about aerospace physiology.  That could be through articles, or YouTube, or seminars, or other classes.  No matter where it comes from, understanding how our bodies work when they are in the unnatural state of flying will only make you a better aviator.

October 12, 2019 I Written By

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

My First Week at Air Force Pilot Training

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

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

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

So what is the first week of pilot training like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 14, 2019 I Written By

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

Short Notice Off to Pilot Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 19, 2019 I Written By

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

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.