Free Aviation Guy Newsletter Want to receive the latest on aviation delivered to you? Get all the latest and greatest aviation insights for FREE! Join your fellow Av Geeks who subscribe to Aviation Guy for FREE!!

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.

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.