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What I Learned in Pilot Training: Crew Resource Management

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

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

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

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

So what is CRM?

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

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

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

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

But, what about single pilot flights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 27, 2019 I Written By

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

How to Get More People Excited About Aviation?

This is the thought that runs through my head more than probably anything else in my life, except maybe how much I love my family…maybe.  I intentionally made the title a question because I don’t think I have the answer, nor do I think there is “AN”  answer.  For that matter there may not be an answer at all.

For me it was a father that loved airplanes and would take me with him to airshows, airports, The Boneyard, etc.  The interesting thing is that he took some of my other siblings too, so why I am the only one that caught the bug?  Is it something inherent in who I am?  Or did I just hit the right events at the right times in my formative years?

Who knows?

There are so many obvious answers out there that come to mind.  Get people to airshows, take cool pictures or cool videos, show them the cool places you can take a plane, and the list goes on and on.

Personally, I think the absolute best way to get people excited about airplanes and aviation, is to get them in a small airplane.  I know nothing changed my perspective more than getting in that little plane for the very first time.  Even as someone who loved airplanes the first time I got in a 172 I was never going to be the same.

It may have been getting in the plane, but as I think about it, it is more likely that it was taking the controls for the very first time that really made the difference.  It was insane to me that I got to take the controls within minutes of getting into the plane for the very first time.  I know I didn’t do anything crazy or groundbreaking, but to feel an airplane maneuver through the air at your own bidding is incomparable with anything else I have ever done.

Since that first flight I have accrued only about 50 hours in small planes, but about 1500 as a navigator in the C-130.  I love everything about my job, and would gladly do it until they kick me out, but if I am really getting down to the heart of it, I think I cherish those 50 hours in small single engine planes even more.

Maybe that sounds crazy, and maybe I am lying to myself, but there really is something indescribable about leaving the earth, and then safely returning with your hands and feet at the controls.  Flying is so inherently unnatural for a human being, that successfully accomplishing it is difficult to put into words.  It is amazing, and incredible, and empowering, and liberating, and a dozen other adjectives at least, but there is seriously not enough adjectives to do it justice.

So where am I going with this little rant?  Simply put, we need to get more butts in the seats.  You have to get people at the controls, and up in the air to really light that spark inside of them.  It is true that some people will hate it, and that is fine, but if we want more people to care about aviation, and to put in the time to learn the aspects of the industry that make it so valuable, they need to be at the controls.

For many people flying has become as much a part of life as driving a car.  I recently had someone tell me they actually spend more time in airplanes that they do in their own car.  This individual was a fellow avgeek so his passion is pretty well secured, but when something becomes run of the mill, it is not easy to create the excitement and passion that are necessary to create valuable change.

Now many of us don’t have our own planes, or in some cases may not even be pilots, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get more people at the controls.

The first thought that comes to my mind is the EAA Young Eagles program.  If you are not familiar with the program I would encourage you to visit the site and learn more.  But, in short, it is a program that gives kids and teens the opportunity to get their first flight in a small aircraft for free to try to ignite that spark early.  According to their website they have given more than 2 million kids their first flights in the 27 years that the program has existed.  It is also supported by the likes of Harrison Ford and Jimmy Graham who regularly posts pictures on Instagram of the kids he takes up in his plane.

If you can’t take the kids up yourself, you can donate to the organization, or you can even just educate kids and teens that the program exists.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but lack of education is one of the biggest things hurting the industry.  We have to educate kids about all of the different paths and opportunities that there are in the industry.  Some of which don’t even involve flying, though my favorite ones all do.

June 2, 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 Reverse Bucket List of Aviation

It is always nice when you come across something that just makes you want to write.  Over the last few days I had seen a certain article come up a few times on social media, but never stopped to actually read it, sorry Sarina.  Well this evening I finally opened the article and I am glad I did.

The article, which I highly recommend, was written by Sarina Houston for Plane and Pilot, and was all about writing a reverse bucket list.  She gives a much better description than I will, but the short version is that instead of just writing a list of things you want to do, you should also take the time to write the things you have done to help you appreciate how much you have accomplished.

I am a little cautious about posting this because I don’t want it to sound like bragging, but in reality I would also really love to hear about all of the cool things that other people have done in aviation.   Please share in the comments or send me a message to share.  Hearing other people’s lists sounds like a great way to find new aviation goals.

So without further ado, and really just listing them off the top of my head in no particular order, my reverse bucket list of aviation:

Visiting the airport with my dad as a kid, which I had no idea was referred to as planespotting, if it was even called that back then.

Visiting The Boneyard at Davis Monthan right after all of the B-52s were brought there post Cold War.

Going back to Davis Monthan 20ish years later and seeing those same B-52s all chopped up.

Flying in a 747.

Flying in a 787.

My first flight in a 172.

Flying solo for the first time in a Piper Cherokee.

Flying solo cross-country like a real pilot.

Passing my ppl checkride and becoming a real pilot.

Getting my Navigator wings.

My first flight on my beloved C-130H Hercules

My very first air drop.

Dropping on the islands of Micronesia for Operation Christmas Drop twice.

Flying into Kathmandu, Nepal.

My very first live MAFFS drop.

Putting out a wildfire with MAFFS airdrops.

Planespotting at Paine Field, WA. (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)

Watching the Blue Angels show 6 times.

Watching the Blue Angels practice over my house for a year and a half.

Seeing the B-2 Bomber.

Returning wounded soldiers to their homes on an aeromedical evacuation mission.

Meeting John McCain while he was running for president while working at the FBO in Austin, TX.

Flying in the T-6 Texan II.

Hearing the growl of a P-51 Mustang.

My one and only combat airdrop. (We delivered Thanksgiving dinner.)

Attending Aviation Geek Fest 2015

Attending the Reno Air Races.

Airdropping at the Reno Air Races.

Flying over Lake Tahoe.

Flying in a Piper Cub on Christmas Day.

Flying in Alaska as part of Red Flag Alaska.

I probably could keep going for a while, but these feel like the most meaningful ones to me.  Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have the job I do.  I haven’t gotten to do everything I would like, but I have done some wicked cool stuff over the years.  Some of the ones I listed have links with them if you want to go back and look at the stories I wrote about the events.

The other important thing worth mentioning is that almost all of these events included people who I hold dear in my life.  I was talking with someone about upcoming aviation events in 2019 and the one thing I want to do is go to some of these events so that I can meet more of the people who I love to interact with on social media, like Sarina and a host of other people.

The planes are cool, but it is the people who make aviation special.

December 16, 2018 I Written By

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

My PPL Checkride is in 9 Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish me luck!

June 21, 2018 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I flared high, and plopped that thing in there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 30, 2018 I Written By

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