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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 4 Falling in Love With the C-130

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 26, 2019 I Written By

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

Flying in a New Mountain Area is Always a Fun Experience

Weather sucks, okay complaining complete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 29, 2018 I Written By

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

Flying in the Reno Area is AMAZING!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 13, 2018 I Written By

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

A New Year, Some of the Same Thoughts

I’m not really sure where I am going with this post, but I find that sometimes just writing about the things that are on my mind can help me come up with solutions, or at least help me to feel more comfortable with my decisions.

I am at the point in my flying career where a change of some sort must happen and I have some mixed feelings about which direction that I want to go.  It doesn’t matter if you fly in the civilian wold or in the military, change is just a part of the industry, and as technology improves, sometimes we are forced into change whether we want it or not.

In my case The C-130H is finally being entirely replaced by the C-130J in the Active Duty Air Force.  I had previously thought my time in the Herk was going to be over a couple of years ago, but as luck would have it, I got almost another two years, and some of the most incredible experiences I have ever had in my life.  Unfortunately, the end is officially here, and I have to make some changes.

The Air Force is more than happy to retrain me into a new airframe, or more likely just another version of the C-130, but that would most likely mean a move to the Special Operations community, and that is just not the right place for me and my family situation.  The other options leave me in essentially the same position again in a few years as they phase out their navigators, and would ultimately lead to every aviators’ worst nightmare, flying a desk.  There is one opportunity that would keep me on the beloved Herk, and on active duty, but unfortunately bureaucracy has made that not an option.

That leads me to the path that I am likely to take at this point.  The National Guard and Air Force Reserves are still chock full of H-models, and every unit in the country, except maybe Texas, is hurting for experienced Navigators.  After much deliberation with my wife and some trusted advisers, I have come to essentially the same conclusion that Rob Burgon over at TallyOne did as he reached a similar transition point.

Moving to the National Guard allows me to keep flying the plane that I love while also being able to put my family, and our future, first.  If I am being honest though, I can’t help but wonder what opportunities I am leaving behind by making this switch.  There is obviously no way of knowing what the future down either path would bring, but it is in my nature to wonder what could happen.

As I write this, I find myself feeling more and more certain that making the switch is the right move, and that it will pay the greatest dividends in the long run.  I wish I had more to say in terms of certainty and knowing that the whole thing is going to work out as I would like, but then that would not be military life would it?

If I had anything to pass along to others who may be in some sort of similar situation I would say stick with your heart and don’t be afraid to pursue a path that is different from what you intended or that others expect of you.  Listen to those that have gone before and take into account as much information as you can, but at the end of the day you will find happiness doing what you love and are passionate about.

January 1, 2017 I Written By

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

The F-35 vs the A-10: Does it Really Matter Which is Better?

The A-10 is one of the most applicably designed aircraft ever.

The A-10 is one of the most applicably designed aircraft ever.

I just read an interesting article that compared the value of the A-10 against the complete waste of money that is the F-35.  The general essence of the article was that the A-10 is the greatest plane ever designed and that the F-35 is the biggest waste of money in US military history.  The writer makes enough good points that it is hard to disagree with that summary however extreme it may be.

I will admit that I jumped on the F-35 band wagon when it was first announced years ago.  It was a beautiful looking plane that was advertised to have amazing capabilities.  The technology involved was fascinating, and it sounded like it would be the most versatile and effective aircraft in the inventory.

Unfortunately, the reality has been almost completely the opposite.

The F-35 could be incredibly effective if it ever lives up to the hype.

The F-35 could be incredibly effective if it ever lives up to the hype.

The F-35 program has been one delay after another with unlimited amounts of controversy at every turn.  On the other hand the A-10 has been a dream of a plane that for some unexplainable reason the Air Force has tried to get rid of on numerous occasions.

There are pictures and videos all over the internet of A-10s that are seriously damaged that finished their mission and returned the pilot home safely.  On the other hand, the internet is flooded with stories about the problems the F-35 has had before ever flying an operational mission.  The most recent issue being that the F-35 can’t operate with fuel that is too warm.  This could be a bit of an issue considering the fact that most of the conflicts currently taking place are happening in areas that can be extremely hot.

The problem that I see with this debate is the general point that the aforementioned article makes.  Who is considering the real benefits of the aircraft we are buying?

I do feel that there is value in stealth aircraft, not because it makes planes invisible, but because it does make it more difficult for enemies to detect our aircraft.  But does the F-35 provide that much of a stealth advantage over the F-15 Silent Eagle proposal to justify that dramatically higher price tag?

The one thing I have never understood is why we are dropping so much money on completely new aircraft designs when we have amazing airframes that could continue to operate with new technologies applied to make them even better?  I look at aircraft like the A-10, F-15E, and F-16 and wonder why we aren’t just continuing to upgrade these incredibly effective platforms.

I guess it comes back to the problem mentioned in the first article, the Air Force is generally run by fighter jocks that like shiny new toys and not necessarily the ones that will do the job the best.

The C-130 is one of the most effectively employed airframes in the Air Force as evidenced by its longevity.

The C-130 is one of the most effectively employed airframes in the Air Force as evidenced by its longevity.

The interesting aspect of that theory though is that the problem is not quite as evident when you look at the mobility side of the Air Force.  The best example of course being my beloved C-130 Hercules.  It has been in service with the Air Force for 60 years now and simply continues to receive upgrades.  While I feel there are some deficiencies in the newest variant, the C-130J, it is still an incredibly versatile and effective airframe.  Fortunately, the Air Force has not tried to force in a new airframe, but has realized the real value of this aircraft.

When you look at the mobility fleet of the Air Force it is currently made up of three planes the C-17 (~25 years of service), the C-5 (~45 years of service), and the C-130 (~60 years of service).  I’m not really sure how the longevity of these planes is so completely overlooked when it comes to assembling the strike fleet on the other side of the Air Force.

I realize there are significant differences between mobility and strike aircraft, but I also don’t think the differences are so dramatically different that strike aircraft need to be completely replaced that much more often.  Maybe I’m wrong?

In the end, it really feels like the original article is preaching some pretty serious truth about the Air Force.  There really does seem to be a systemic problem when it comes to acquiring new aircraft.  There seems to be a disconnect between the war-fighter and those tasked with supplying them.

But rather than just complaining about the situation I have to wonder how that problem can be fixed.  The simple answer to me as a brand new Captain is to get more real feedback from the operators that are actually flying these planes everyday.  That means getting feedback from Lieutenants, Captains, and Majors that are actively operating these airframes. Most importantly, that feedback must actually be implemented in the development and purchasing processes.

We shouldn’t be going to Colonels who are busy with a lot of things other than flying when it comes to understanding what our planes currently do, and how they can be improved to support the current environment.  Obviously, we shouldn’t let Lieutenants and Captains make the actual purchases but if we aren’t allowing for input from the people who are actually using the product then we are completely missing the point.

Way too many of these decisions are being made by people who have biased agendas rather than by the people who are putting their lives in the cockpits of these planes.  We need to reassess the process and make sure that we are making the right decisions to defend our country, and not the decisions that will line anyone’s pockets.

I realize this is much easier said than done, but the discussion has to start somewhere.  I think there are enough people in the process that genuinely care about the situation to make a change if they will simply DO something about it.  At the very least maybe they will do something to get others thinking that may ultimately lead to effective changes throughout the entire process.

For now we can only hope that the incredible operators that are tasked with employing these airframes will continue to be the best trained and most capable operators in the world to make sure that we continue to be the world’s finest Air Force.

 

December 20, 2014 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 Final Flight of a C-130H: The End of an Era

Tail #2070 served her country well for over 40 years.

Tail #2070 served her country well for over 40 years.

I had a bit of an interesting experience this week that I don’t think most people ever really get.  I had the opportunity to be a part of the crew that took a plane on its very last flight.  With the development of the C-130J it is quickly replacing the older, and better, C-130H.  Yeah, I know, I’m biased.

Many of the older planes have gone to National Guard units around the country to finish out their service lives.  However, there are a couple of planes that have finished their flying lives and need to be taken to their final resting place.

The disappointing part was that none of us knew this was the planes’ last flight, or fini flight, as we like to call them.  Had we known I would have come prepared with my good camera and not left you with these weak images from my phone, but I did what I could.

It really was an honor for me to crew this plane on its last mission.  That aircraft served for 40 years in all corners of the globe performing an incredible variety of missions.  I don’t know any specifics, but it is reasonable to assume that it carried Soldiers and Marines to critical missions that brought freedom to people in all different countries.  It likely carried young men and women that were injured in battle to a hospital that saved their lives.

In the case of those that weren’t so lucky, it likely performed that most sacred mission of returning them to their loved ones draped in the colors that they sacrificed everything for.

This tail flash will never fly through the air again, but her legacy will live on in the hearts of those who flew her.

This tail flash will never fly through the air again, but her legacy will live on in the hearts of those who flew her.

It hurts my soul a little to think about these great pieces of machinery having their careers come to an end, but they served their country well, and in the case of this plane, tail #2070, it will continue to serve on the ground for another couple of years.  You see, we passed it off to one of the Air Force’s test and evaluation squadrons where it will aid in developing various different products and processes that will make the planes still flying safer and more effective.

It really made me stop and think about how cool my job is.  I fly a historic plane that has served our country, and many others, for 60 years now.  I get paid to fly in the footsteps of real heroes.  It is truly a privilege to try in some small way to carry on the heritage that they left us with.

While most people will never have the opportunity that I did, nor will I likely ever do it again, we all have the opportunity to keep their heritage alive by visiting aviation museums, and by listening to the stories of those who flew these amazing aircraft.  Most of us have at least a little bit of aviation history in our own backyards if we only look.

I would encourage you to look around and see what you might find, and please share it with the rest of us because that is the only real way to keep aviation history alive.

October 29, 2014 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.

Crew Resource Management: A Crew Save is a Good Save

Flying is a part of my life is most everything that I do.  At the very least I think about flying during just about anything else that I am doing.

Growing up I always thought of flying as a solitary exercise.  Even if I had become an airline pilot with a plane full of people it just seemed like most of the work would be done alone.  Even as I went through training I thought I wanted to be on a plane with just me and the pilot.  I could not have been more wrong.

The C-130H generally flies with a crew of two pilots, a navigator, engineer, and two loadmasters.

The C-130H generally flies with a crew of two pilots, a navigator, engineer, and two loadmasters.

I ended up on the mighty C-130 Hercules with a crew makeup of up to 6 people on most missions, and honestly, that is one of the things I like most about my job.  I love the chance that I have to work with other people to accomplish things that could not be done otherwise.

Sure, technology is great, and it can do a lot, but there is really no replacement for a group of people working together to get things done.  I have already seen this numerous times in my short career.  There have been times where a crew member simply came up with a better idea, or easier way to do something, and other times they have literally saved my life.

When we go in for a check-ride one of the common phrases that the evaluator often uses is, “a crew save is a good save.”  What they mean is that even if the person being evaluated misses something they won’t be penalized if someone else on the crew catches it before there are any adverse affects.

I’ve always loved the message that sends.  The message that you are all there as a crew and that the actions of the crew as a whole are what will bring the final results.  While it is true that any individual can do things that lead to an unsafe result, there is almost always a chance that someone else on the crew can save them before any damage is done.

I am so grateful for the hundreds of different people I have flown with in my career already.  They have each provided me with insights and knowledge that could not have been developed in any other way.

Our crew with a special guest visitor.  Best crew I've ever flown with.

Our crew with a special guest visitor. Best crew I’ve ever flown with.

In particular I am grateful for the crew I flew with while in Afghanistan.  I learned more in the two months I had with that crew than in the rest of my flying time combined.  Our most experienced crew member was a loadmaster who taught all of us every chance he got, and I will forever be indebted to him for the lessons he taught me.

That is the other message that I want to share today.  Whether you just started flying, or have been flying for 50 years, you have worthwhile knowledge that should be shared with others.  As aviators we can never stop learning if we want to remain safe.  We must constantly be broadening our understanding of the wonder that is flight, and it is the duty of all who have gained experience to share it with others so that we all may stay safer.

Even if you are the only licensed pilot in a 172 with friends, educate them on the basics so that they are an active participant.  You never know when their eyes may spot something that saves everyone’s lives.

Never forget, “A crew save is a good save.”

February 27, 2014 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.

C-130 Hercules Flying Low-Level Through the Mountains

With all of the somewhat depressing news in my two biggest passions (sports and aviation) this past week I just needed to post something that is 100% awesome.  Fortunately, we have YouTube to make such endeavors incredibly easy.

As a C-130 navigator myself, I am quickly becoming biased, but no matter who you are, if you love the thrill of flying, then this is definitely a video you will enjoy.

This video is of C-130s from the 36th Airlift Squadron based out of Yokota AB Japan.  The views are picturesque, and the flying is quite impressive considering the size and agility of the Herc.

So please, enjoy the next five minutes of flying at its finest in the video below.

 

January 22, 2013 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.