Archive for the ‘Aviation Careers’ Category

Upgrading to turbine/turboprop aircraft

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

John Mahany last wrote for the Flight Training blog on upgrading to bigger, faster aircraft. He has been flying for more than 30 years. He is a CFI and has corporate, airline, and charter experience, and also spent four and one-half years flying in Alaska. He is a King Air instructor at FlightSafety International in Long Beach, Calif.—Ed.

TBM 300Are you considering taking the big step and moving up to a turbine aircraft? If you decide to step up to a turboprop or VLJ, you will find that your aircraft insurance broker will want a more professional level of training, like that offered by providers of simulator-based training facilities, using flight training devices (FTD). These include SimCom, SimuFlite, and FlightSafety International. There are a few others, as well.

What is the difference between a turbocharged engine and a turboprop? “Turbocharged” refers to piston engines only, whereas a turboprop is a jet engine that turns a propeller. Sometimes it is also called a prop-jet. It’s the same thing.

In a turboprop engine, a turbine (jet) engine shaft is connected to a reduction gear box and propeller governor, which in turn governs propeller speed and operation. A turboprop engine can be normally aspirated or flat-rated, which is the equivalent of turbocharging for a turboprop engine. Turbine engines also are normally aspirated.

Yes, this will cost considerably more, but the airplane also will cost more. It is all relative. Don’t go cheap on the training, and rush through it. It’s your life! Invest in quality training and take the time to learn the airplane. I have met many experienced pilots who are still learning more about the airplane they fly, even at the jet and turboprop level, after many years and thousands of hours experience in type. It really is a never-ending process. A good pilot is always learning.

You might find an instructor who is “insurance approved” to provide training in specific makes/models of aircraft in the airplane. Typically, the type-specific owner groups, such as Cirrus, TBM, and Pilatus, will have this information. But most of the training at this level is done in a simulator/FTD. Mistakes made in turbine powered aircraft can be costly (a hot start on a turbine engine could cost $250,000). It is far better to make mistakes in turbine aircraft in the simulator than in the airplane! You can walk away from the simulator and use it again.

Before considering any of this, it would be wise to take stock of your piloting skills, and consider hiring an instructor to fly with you to evaluate your skill level. Your piloting skills, both VFR and IFR, should be at the Practical Test Standards level for the grade of pilot certificate that you hold. If you are not proficient, that should be addressed first.

You need to be proficient, and it helps to have some recent experience before upgrading. Otherwise you will find yourself “behind” as you go through the training, and it will become much more challenging, as well as frustrating. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read through the Aeronautical Information Manual? You need to have pertinent operational information for IFR procedures at your fingertips!

Good instrument skills are a must, as flying high(er) performance aircraft demands a greater degree of precision. You simply have to be a proficient instrument pilot, and high performance aircraft are flown by the book, also known as the numbers.

The training itself will depend on your experience level. A low-time private pilot upgrading for the first time may find the process more challenging. A bigger, heavier airplane with more horses under the cowl will take some getting used to. As you step up to more complex aircraft, expect the level of difficulty to increase accordingly. As the speed increases, you will learn to think in terms of time rather than distance, and cruising at 120, 150, or 180 knots equates to two to three miles a minute respectively, while 300 knots is five nautical miles per minute. You learn to plan climbs and descents accordingly, and staying ahead of the airplane takes on a new meaning.

When you step up to the world of retractable landing gear, you will learn the procedures for when to raise and lower the landing gear. You do not want to get distracted and forget, which does happen occasionally. There is a saying among those who fly retractable gear airplanes: “There are those who have, and those who will” land gear up. Even professional pilots, especially when flying single pilot, have been known to forget the gear on occasion. You don’t want to join this club.

Information in ground school may seem to come at you in firehose fashion. And, just to add to the complexity, in larger aircraft, typically there is more automation. If you have avoided automation and glass cockpits, they will be hard to avoid when you upgrade. It would be good to learn any advanced avionics such as Garmin G1000 or Avidyne well in advance if possible.

When you upgrade to complex and high-performance aircraft, it will take more time to learn the aircraft systems, aircraft performance, and weight and balance, as well as the procedures and checklists. You will find that the manuals and the AFM/POH for aircraft will vary from one manufacturer to another. Cessna performance charts will look different than Beechcraft performance charts, for example.

When you step up to this level of training, it will be referred to as either initial or recurrent training. Initial training is for a pilot who has not flown a particular airplane (jet/turboprop) before. On the other hand, after you have successfully completed initial training, and you come back for training a year later, this is called recurrent training. This course will be shorter in duration.  To maintain your aircraft insurance, you will have to complete recurrent training annually.

The typical initial ground school and simulator training for a turboprop aircraft will take at least five and possibly 10 days. For turbine/jet training, expect 14 days or longer.  It depends on where you train, and the training program that has been approved for that school or that operator to use. The requirements will vary slightly.

Expect the turboprop ground school to be about 20 hours over a period of three to five days. For smaller turbine/jets (Citation/VLJ), it will depend on the specific jet, but ground school will typically run five to seven days. Bigger transport category jets (Boeing/Gulfstream) will take longer to learn, with ground schools typically taking two to three weeks. Try to arrange to get the manuals/course materials in advance, so you can begin to familiarize yourself with the material.

For most turboprops, initial training typically consists of five simulator sessions. For jets, it could be more. Each simulator session is typically two hours long. This can be a very intense two hours, especially when you are dealing with abnormal and emergency situations. You will probably forget that you are in a simulator, which by its nature is more challenging to fly than the airplane. This is intentional. Simulators are not designed to be a stable platform. If you look away from the panel to reference a checklist or chart, you might look back and find yourself in a climbing or descending turn. This will encourage you to become familiar with and learn to use the autopilot/automation/flight guidance system, as appropriate. When flying single-pilot, the autopilot is your co-pilot.

Once the training is completed, if this is your first time in turbine equipment, jet or turboprop, expect to have an instructor pilot fly with you for some time before you fly solo. You will need to demonstrate single-pilot proficiency. In the VLJ and the Citation I and II, it is possible to earn a single-pilot waiver.

Let’s briefly compare this level of turbine/turboprop training (FAR 61) with charter and airline operations (FAR 121/135), for airline and charter pilots who are upgrading to captain. They are not turned loose as pilot in command at the completion of their simulator training and checkrides. They are then required to complete additional training, called initial operating Experience, or IOE.

This initial operating experience consists of flying with a qualified instructor pilot, or line check airman, for up to 50 hours, and successfully completing what is known as a line check before they are released to fly the line as captain in revenue operations. This is where they finally get a chance to fly the airplane and see how it feels and handle, under the supervision of an experienced captain. Thus, you should expect a similar process yourself.

Whatever you have upgraded to, after the training is completed, no doubt you will be anxious to go fly! I would caution you to start with day VFR first, if possible, before plunging into hard IFR. It is always better to get a feel for the real airplane in day VMC first, and away from other traffic. Have fun and fly safely.—John Mahany

Deliver on your word

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

It’s typical of men (or so the experts say) to try and solve problems, to fix things, to make it right. My wife complains about that trait in me all the time. I try to offer suggestions on how else to channel her frustration, without success.

I did learn years ago, though, that there are some problems that I just can’t fix. As a flight instructor, I had a few students who had issues that simply were not going to go away. We either learned to work around the issues, or they switched instructors. One had to quit entirely, but that’s a different story.

At the airlines, a pilot quickly learns that there so many things beyond his baggage handlercontrol that to try to fix everything is futile. If there is anything worse than a failed attempt to fix something, it is a promise unkept. As examples, pilots learn early not to promise that certain bags will make the flight, or connections will be held. Logic doesn’t play here, and often there is a big picture that we don’t see. It might make sense that, since your passengers are connecting to the last flight to Des Moines, the flight is going to be held so that they make the flight. You may not realize that the crew operating that flight is running out of duty time. Or there is weather in Des Moines that they need to race. Or the airplane is scheduled for maintenance in Des Moines that needs every bit of the time allocated. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and you simply cannot promise the moon.

Nowadays, I don’t pass on information that hasn’t been confirmed by others. Connecting flights are the easy one. Getting that information confirmed is black and white. But when bags are pulled off for weight-and-balance purposes, I don’t pretend to know which ones will stay and which ones will go. I did that—once—and it was the one time that agents on the ground totally screwed up, the wrong bags got pulled, and the passengers went berserk. They had every right to, but now they were mad at the wrong person (me), which means that they channeled some of their complaints to the wrong department (the chief pilots and flight ops), which only slowed down the ultimate creation of a resolution to their satisfaction.

The lesson? Choose your words carefully, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. It sounds simple, but think of the companies that have built their name on a simple premise. UPS, FedEx, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and others have a simple end-product that they offer, and when it does not materialize, they are blistered. People get angry or even irrational, even if the failure is beyond their control.

If you can really fix something, great. If you can’t, don’t say you can. If you say you’ll try, then do so. It’s true in many aspects of your life, but it’s most assuredly true in aviation, where not only are the expectations high, but so are the costs of failure.—Chip Wright

What is your airplane saying to you?

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Cessna 172 SkyhawkFlying is a sensual experience. Sight, of course, rules the senses, whether in IFR or VFR conditions. Touch and feel play a role as well, but less of one once in cruise and everything is in equilibrium. That’s not to say that they don’t play an important role—I was once alerted that a major hydraulic failure was about to occur by what I felt in the way of vibration through my feet. But behind sight, I believe that sound is critical when it comes to flying. Specifically, the ability to identify certain sounds.

Reference the above hydraulic situation. It started with a vibration we could feel in the floor, but it soon escalated to a sound similar to that of an idling chainsaw. Within a few minutes, we had been alerted via an engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) message what was going on, and the idling sound turned into a high-pitched whine. It was the pump tearing itself apart.

Every airplane has a certain “sound footprint” in each phase of flight. I’ve always been partial to the way an airplane sounds during the takeoff roll. It’s a good time. After all, you’re getting ready to go fly! The engine or engines are at full power, the wheels are spinning up, and the airflow is generating wind noise. There is a certain comfort level that you feel when you know it all sounds the way it should.

When I was a full-time flight instructor, I spent the majority of time in a fleet of Cessna 172s. The Skyhawk has a definite sound that it makes in all phases of flight: takeoff, cruise, descent, slow flight, landing. It makes a certain sound when you allow it to get away from you in a descent. The sound, with practice, will often alert you to a change in your condition—a disturbance in your equilibrium—before your eyes register what the panel says.

To this day, I think I can fly a 172 without even looking at the panel, because the sound talks to you and tells you what you need to know. Given that I have yet to fly a glass-panel Skyhawk, I’m going to need all the help I can get!

In so many ways, your airplane is talking to you. Often, that voice is the sound or sounds you hear. Learn them. Associate each phase of flight with the change in the pitch of that voice. Spend more time looking outside (which is why you probably wanted to learn to fly in the first place).
Take that information, and use it. If all else fails, it may be all you have.—Chip Wright

 

Lifestyles: The majors

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

800px-Southwest_Airlines_Boeing_737-7H4_N231WNMuch of the lifestyle of the regionals carries over to the majors, but there are some differences. The majors tend to utilize airplanes that can fly longer legs, especially newer 737s and larger Airbuses. While the MD-80 still makes its living as a workhorse that flies seven or eight legs a day, the typical crew might only do two or three, maybe four. The 737, on the other hand, can do it all. It can fly short legs and long. Transcons—transcontinental flights—are common.

One of the major differences in flying for a major is the dramatic increase you will see in flying at night. Red-eyes, reverse red-eyes (east to west), or all-night flights to the Caribbean or Latin America are more common. The airlines don’t make money when the airplanes are parked at the gate, and where they can squeeze more revenue by flying at night, they will. Certain flights will not have as many passengers as you might think, but the bellies will be loaded with cargo.

In many ways, the job is easier. There is more automation in the system, so the flight planning and the load planning is more in sync. You don’t put out as many fires related to flight plans and passenger loads not working. There are fewer weight-related issues (this is a huge problem with regional aircraft). More stations have mechanics, so if something needs attention, it doesn’t take as long to get it fixed.

Generally, you will be treated better. It is a sad truth that regional pilots are often treated far worse than they should be—by their managers especially, but also by the passengers, the gate agents, or just about anyone at some point in time who finds you an easy target for their personal issue, whatever it is. It isn’t a universal happening, and it doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen. At the majors, there is much more respect and professionalism shown toward the crews. If you need something, it’s not that hard to get, and that includes the occasional time favor from the chief pilot or even scheduling.

As a regional pilot I was lucky in one respect because the hotels we stayed in were usually top of the line. This isn’t always the case. At the majors, you will stay in better hotels, and you will see more of the downtown areas, which means there is more to see and do.

You will enjoy flying for a company that is in charge of its own product, and not beholden to one that controls your fate.

Commuting is generally easier and the schedules are better, but that need to quickly change your sleep patterns likely will still be there. And, of course, you will be paid more. You might earn in a month what you earned your first year as a regional pilot.

And at some point, you will pass one of your old airplanes on a taxiway, and you will look at it and say, “I remember this one time….” And you will share a story about how much fun it was (or wasn’t) or how much work it was (or wasn’t). You might even miss that old bird. And you will realize that that old bird is what put you here.

You still need to learn to live out of a suitcase and get used to Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 instead of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You will work your share of holidays. But the reward is making it to the top of the mountain. The view is great, the work is fun, and the country, you will realize, is much bigger than you thought.—Chip Wright

Want to be an airline pilot? See our Career Pilot resources page for information that will help you plot the best course.

Pilot taxes

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

I got my annual CD from Turbotax the other day, and it got me thinking about, well, taxes. When you are pilot who flies for hire, there are a number of things to consider. If you are flying as an independent contractor, it’s up to you to make estimated payments. If you are an employee, your employer will deduct your taxes from your paycheck.

As a pilot, you are entitled to deduct certain expenses from your income taxes. While this is not intended to be a tax-advice article, it can point you in the general direction.

The most important point is to document everything. If you have any reason at all to believe that a purchase you are making—be it an item or a service—might be deductible, you should keep your receipt and document what you have bought, when, and where. The IRS provides a fair amount of latitude, and some if it is common sense. As an instructor, the obvious items are things like new headsets, a new kneeboard, and similar items of the sort. The more complicated items are those that also can be used for personal reasons, such as cell phones. For the best advice, talk to a CPA or the local IRS office.

As with many jobs, you will learn that doing your taxes is not going to change much from year to year as far as business expenses and deductions are concerned. If you do your own taxes, you can save some money. In my opinion, it only pays to hire an expert if you are dealing with some complicated items; if you are married to someone who has a fairly high income; or if you have other income that needs to be addressed and accounted for, such as a rental property. It might also pay to have someone talk you through dealing with depreciation if you decide to purchase an aircraft for teaching.

As a general rule, if the item you buy is required for your work, you can likely deduct it. Certain professional organization memberships or periodicals might also apply. If it isn’t required for work, think twice. Again, ask a professional for expert guidance.

Taxes are a hassle we must all deal with, but there are provisions in the tax code that professional pilots can take advantage of. Whether you are self-employed or work for Big Flying School Inc., you can reduce your tax bill legally and smartly, but it all starts with proper documentation and a paper trail….sort of like dealing with the FAA. Be diligent, be smart, and be thorough….just like dealing with the FAA!—Chip Wright

Cross-marketing flying

Monday, March 10th, 2014

scuba divingI recently touched on the topic of marketing yourself as a CFI. I say “touched” because a 900- word blog simply cannot do the topic justice. Books have been written about it—books geared toward the CFI, no less, and they had far more than 900 words.

But I do want to touch on the concept of cross-marketing. As I mentioned previously, general aviation has not historically done well with marketing efforts, especially flight schools. They tend to rely on walk-ins, word-of-mouth, and website hits. Not many take advantage of cross-marketing with other activities that attract the same demographic as pilots.

The most obvious market is scuba diving. Diving tends to attract relatively well-to-do individuals looking to fulfill “bucket list” goals, or those who are interested in living life from a different perspective. Flying and diving have much in common: Both are three-dimensional activities; both require analysis and planning; both require some specialized equipment; both require a disciplined approach toward safety; and both are best when shared with others. In fact, diving is a highly social activity, much more so than flying is.

Research has shown that as many as 70 percent of pilots are also scuba divers. Note that I did not say that 70 percent of divers are pilots. However, the immediate use of that information is obvious: Divers are a market just waiting to be exploited by you, the instructor-to-be of a bunch of future pilots.

Unlike flying, diving is an industry that is unregulated by the government. It’s largely self-regulated, and there are numerous dive training agencies. The heavy hitter, though, is the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI). Chances are that your local shop is a PADI facility, and if it isn’t, it probably has at least one PADI-certified instructor. PADI is a marketing machine.

As a CFI, you can—and should—try to establish a relationship with your local dive shop. Talk about forming a partnership that might consist of promoting each other’s businesses via brochures or sharing links on each other’s websites. Establish a referral system that provides an incentive for old customers to bring in new customers to either business. If you are not a certified diver, consider becoming one. Even if you are not interested, learn what is required to become a diver, and learn the basics of the training system in use at your local dive shop, be it PADI, NAUI, SSI, et cetera. Understanding the lingo and the training platforms will help you when it comes to talking to potential diving pilots.

Flying and diving are both travel activities. One way to promote both at the same time would be to establish a “flying diving vacation,” such as a trip to a beach that is also a diving hot-spot. Locations like the Gulf Shores, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, Catalina Island, or even Mexico offer much for divers, non-divers, and pilots. A GA pilot can’t fly for pay, but the divers in the airplane can contribute to the cost of the flight by paying for some of the fuel. For divers who have not been exposed to general aviation, it may be a great way to introduce them to the fun and flexibility offered by general aviation airplanes. You and your new dive-shop partner can heavily promote a trip like this. The dive shop can also promote various diving events that will take place once you actually hit the water (with your scuba gear, that is).

This is just one avenue of cross-promotional marketing. There are others, and some will be local to where you live. So, “dive right in,” and start tapping into revenue “pools” that already exist.—Chip Wright

Lifestyles: The regionals

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Regional jetYou spend every free moment thinking about flying, or actually flying, or studying flying, or actually thinking about studying flying—maybe even while flying. Your hours slowly build, your certificates and ratings begin to pile up. First is the private, then the instrument, then your commercial, and your CFI. You live sparsely and spend the same, minimizing your expenditures while trying to maximize your income. You provide the best service and instruction you can, being fair to your customers and yourself, and in time collect your multiengine credentials. You make mistakes, scare yourself (and others), and learn more about flying while working as a CFI than you will for the rest of your career. Always focused, you can sense that your opportunity as an airline pilot or a charter pilot is within reach.

What will it be like?

The routine at the regionals is, in many ways, different than it is at the majors. Because the regionals feed to the hubs of their partners, they often provide a frequency of service to the smaller cities that the majors cannot match. Towns like Des Moines, Iowa; Richmond, Virginia; Albany, New York; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are the bread and butter of the regionals. The majors may bring in the occasional 737 or MD-80, but the RJ (in some variant) is king here, sometimes for as few as two flights a day, and often for as many as seven.

As a regional pilot, you will spend your days bouncing in and out of one or more hubs, connecting people to larger aircraft bound elsewhere or bringing them to a meeting or home. There are some point-to-point city pairs, but not as many as there used to be. Some cities, like Raleigh, are mini-focus cities for multiple carriers. You will typically fly trips that range from one to four days (usually three days or four), though a few are five days. You may start early in the morning or sometime after lunch. Frequently you will stick with an “AM” or a “PM” schedule, but not always. On reserve, the one day, two-leg out-and-back may turn into a six-day trip. As a line holder, you will generally fly for three to four days and be off for three to four days. Usually there is a long block of seven or as many as 10 days off somewhere in the month.

On the same day you may fly from the warm beaches of Miami to the frigid winters of Green Bay, stopping to deice, or even being forced to re-deice somewhere along the way. You will learn to deal with broken airplanes, rushed passengers and gate agents, and tired flight attendants. You will learn to eat faster than a Marine in battle, and to time your walk-around so you don’t have to stand on a ramp in the rain. You will average at least four flights a day, and  at times you will do as many as eight, and you will feel exhausted when you do.

You will learn that the names of the days no longer matter. You are on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

You will sleep in a different hotel each night, and you will learn to pack your bags efficiently and only unpack what you must. You will need a few months to figure out how to pack for yourself: winter clothes versus summer, workout attire, your iPod, and whatever personal items you deem to be critical to making life on the road just a bit easier. You will learn to pack your suitcase so that you can fit it into an overhead compartment on any airplane.

Some nights you will go to bed late and wake up all too early. On others, you will be done flying by noon and start again the next evening. You will learn by necessity how to constantly juggle your sleep patterns. There will be some nights when you sleep like a newborn baby and others where, for no explainable reason, you will not be able to sleep a wink no matter how exhausted you are. Soon, you will know where the best hidden jewels for restaurants are, and you will try to bid your schedule accordingly. At times you will forget where you are.

You will learn to maximize your time off to get as much done as possible. Laundry, dry cleaning, and errands all need to be completed ASAP on your return home. You will pay the bills, get used to your own bed again, get used to sleeping with your spouse or partner again, and finally get the lawn mowed just as your neighbors are organizing a homeowner’s intervention. Soon, you realize you are wise to have a set of clothes ready to go at home so you can swap clean and dirty in a pinch if you don’t have the time or energy to do laundry. If you commute—and odds are good that at some point you will have to—you will check the flights to get you back to work. You may need to book your hotel room for the night before or after your trip.

It is a rhythm. It isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always fun. But most of the time, it is. When you are home, you are home. There is no work, and your time is your own. And soon, you are watching your logbook fill up, and you are anticipating two more milestones: captain, and an offer from a major.—Chip Wright

How the captain earns the money

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

It is well-known that the captain makes the big bucks. Another joke is that when thegold coin first officer looks to the left, he sees the captain. When the captain looks to the left, he sees a window with a reflection of…himself.

So what is it that the captain does that the FO doesn’t that earns the captain those big bucks?

Airlines use seniority for everything, so the captain’s rank and pay really don’t mean anything other than that he or she was hired first. Even this isn’t absolute. Some FOs decide to stay in the right seat because of personal reasons, and they may actually be senior to their captain.

The pay differential is there because the captain is being paid for generally having more experience (the above example notwithstanding), and for having more responsibility. The captain and flight dispatcher are jointly responsible for the flight—but once the airplane leaves the ground, the captain becomes the final authority.

The captain makes his money not during normal operations, but during abnormal operations, when difficult decisions need to be made. The two examples that most stand out are in-flight emergencies or developments that might require a diversion, and in making a decision that could result in a cancellation.

Diversions usually result from weather, and where there is one diverting aircraft, there are usually several. This is not a big deal by itself. The diversions that become issues are the ones that arise from in-flight mechanical problems. Some of these are cut and dried. Others are not.

If the checklist calls for a diversion, then you shrug your shoulders and divert. It’s the ones that are done more on personal comfort or intuition that get tricky. The dispatcher or even the chief mechanic in charge may believe that the flight can continue, but a captain with thousands of hours in the airplane knows exactly how the airplane is supposed to sound, feel, smell and fly. If the captain—or an experienced FO for that matter—says that something isn’t right, then chances are something isn’t right.

I’ve been in similar situations during which the folks on the ground both supported me and also began to question what I was saying. Diversions are not taken lightly, because they are so expensive. This is less of an issue with weather-related diversions than the odd mechanical diversion in which the airplane may be grounded for days.

The captain also is tasked with other decision-making responsibilities that affect other groups and people. Getting extra passengers on or having to remove them because of weight issues is not an enjoyable experience, especially when you have to see the despair on their faces. I had a group of passengers who were trying to get to a wedding out of Islip, New York. Islip has short runways, and the winds on this day were heavily favoring the shortest of the short. We were over our max takeoff weight, and we had to remove some people. These folks were the unlucky chosen ones (the airline determines that order, not us), and there was a heated discussion between the agent and myself. All the pleading in the world couldn’t change the fact that we were over our weight limit. While it wasn’t by much, we were over, and we couldn’t go with everyone on board.

Someone ultimately has to make the hard choice. The worst possibility is a person who is wishy-washy or incapable of making a decision. Fortunately, that’s rare. Being the captain means being the one with the mindset of “the buck stops here.” As the old saying goes, it’s better to be alive to talk about than to be dead and unable to defend yourself.—Chip Wright

Spring and summer plans

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

As we look forward to spring and summer flying, it’s never too early to start thinking of ways to take advantage of it. Whether it’s a new rating, or a just to build confidence, there are plenty of ways to get some bang for the buck as the weather changes.

Crosswind proficiency. This is one of the skills that pilots have the most difficulty conquering, so it is also one of the skills in which most pilots have the least amount of confidence. If you fall into this category, or have a student who is struggling, make a plan to fix it. Spring is a great time to go find some gusty winds, and the safest way to do this is to find an airport with a long runway so that you can take your time getting a feel for crabbing and slipping. If you happen to be the only one in the pattern, try landing in each direction. Don’t just get comfortable doing crosswind landings when the wind is from your “favorite” direction.

As you master the skill on a long runway, start challenging yourself to touch down on a certain spot, and then start assuming a tall tree at the end of the runway. Force yourself to use not just a 50-foot tree assumption, but even a 100-foot tree. As you get more comfortable, start looking for shorter, narrower runways.

This can be a bit of a drawn-out process, but few things do more to boost your confidence than mastering crosswinds. Once you have them figured out in one airplane, transferring the skills to another is just a matter of aircraft familiarization.

 

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

A new airplane. Speaking of aircraft familiarization, consider learning to fly something different. It doesn’t have to be a faster airplane. It can be something slow, like a Piper Cub. Learning a new airplane is both challenging and fun. If you can get a taildragger endorsement, all the better!

A new rating or certificate. If you are in a position to get a new rating, great! It used to be that a multiengine rating was a relatively inexpensive add-on. That’s no longer the case. But a seaplane rating is usually fairly affordable, and seaplane flying is some of the most fun you will ever have. Seaplane schools are not always easy to find, but if you can combine it with a trip or a vacation, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. [Check the Seaplane Pilots Association directory for a list of schools.---Ed.]

The commercial certificate was probably my favorite one to get, since it’s all VFR and the maneuvers are fun. Even if you aren’t planning to use it, it might help on your insurance. But even if you have no nterest in pursuing it, get a CFI to teach you the maneuvers. They will greatly enhance your handling of the airplane and boost your confidence. Plus, they’re just “plane” fun!

Soft fields. If there is a grass field in your neck of the woods, go forth and prosper. Take an instructor with you if you haven’t been to one in a while, and if you need to call for permission or to give a heads-up, then do so. This is a skill you may never use or need, but it’s fun, and it’s a good excuse to fly. More practically, if you ever need to ditch in a field, you’re better off having some actual experience landing on grass instead of just simulating it on asphalt. [Students: Your flight school may or may not permit grass-field operations in rental aircraft. Check before you go.---Ed.]

I’m sure you can think of some other items to add to this list. Cross-country flights to places you haven’t been, for example, might be the highlight of your summer. The point is just to have a game plan, and to go into the warmer months with some goals in mind. After all, what fun is being a pilot if you don’t use it or continue to improve?—By Chip Wright

Where are they now?

Friday, January 24th, 2014

I used to fly for Comair, the Delta Connection carrier that was headquartered in Cincinnati. Delta shut Comair down in 2012, and the pilots, like the other employees, scattered about like a colony of ants looking for work. Some had seen the writing on the wall and began their search in earnest months before it happened.

I’ve written on this blog before about the importance of networking, and keeping in touch with your network. Watching some of the pilots I used to work with is proof of the validity of that concept. Watching others is proof that some of them didn’t, and should have.

A friend of mine had been a captain for a while, but only logged about 600 hours of PIC time. He knew he wasn’t going to get where he really wanted to go without logging an additional 400 or so. So, before Comair closed down, he began reaching out to folks he had met throughout the course of his career, and began doing some part-time flying on the side. His travels took him to some fascinating places—he flew into North Korea and spent three days there—and gave him a wealth of experience he would never have gotten otherwise. One thing led to another, and he was doing a lot of contract CRJ flying in Europe and Asia. Back stateside, he’s flown Bon Jovi and Beyonce on their recent tours and been privileged to meet some Fortune 500 executives. Talk about a network!

A few other folks I knew reached out to some foreign airlines via friends they had, and got some enviable positions. One is a 787 captain overseas—he was hired as a captain “off the street,” and has been privileged to participate in new aircraft deliveries. Others are flying heavies—Boeing 777s, Airbus A-340s—for foreign carriers, and they are in a position to virtually pick which carrier they will fly for back in the United States when their contracts are up.

A few have caught on with contract cargo carriers like Kalitta and Atlas and have fallen in love with the idea of circumnavigating the globe twice in a 14-day stretch of work followed by a two-week period at home. Further, they can live anywhere they want because they are flown positive space to work. The cargo they carry varies—food, Christmas packages, animals, and human remains—as much as the destinations.

Others have become simulator instructors for FlightSafety International, jetBlue, or SimCom, while others have landed at the majors in the United States. The one thing we’ve all had in common is that we had contacts and a network to tap into, and we weren’t afraid to use them.

But I know too many pilots who allowed themselves to get complacent, and they thought that a logbook full of hours would be enough to get them the job they want. They’ve been surprised to find out that such is not the case. Knowing people; having a varied resume; bringing other skills to the table; and showing ambition and desire are all key to finding work. Some have decided to leave the industry altogether for their own reasons.

Having been there, I am convinced that a pilot who is unemployed for any period of time has only him- or herself to blame. The work—good work—is available. But it isn’t going to land on your doorstep unless you go get it. And you never know where it will take you.—Chip Wright