Archive for June, 2012

Catching up with…True Course Flight School

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Just about 18 months ago, I interviewed Jeff Vandeyacht, the proud new owner of True Course Flight School at Oswego County Airport in Fulton, N.Y., for a brief article in the March 2011 issue of Flight Training. At a time when flight training seemed to be hemorraghing student pilots (and we’re not in the clear yet), Jeff had decided to purchase the flight school at his home airport when he found out that the owner was planning to shut it down and retire to Texas.

How’s the flight school doing? I checked in with Jeff this week on a whim, and he quickly got back to me. “We’re doing pretty well,” he reports. True Course has a Cessna 150 and a 172 on the line, as well as a Socata Trinidad on leaseback, which is used for commercial and complex/high-performance training. A tailwheel aircraft is the next planned acquisition.

Jeff hired a retired military pilot who is a part-time instructor, and he has been looking for a full-time CFI for months. “We’re busy enough that a person could make a fair living,” he says. (So, CFIs, if you’re looking for a change of venue, please give Jeff a call. Click here for the website.) Four or five students are preparing to take their private pilot checkrides in the next month.

Jeff went into this with the desire to provide quality training as well as a learning atmosphere where students can feel connected and excited about their progress. He regularly posts students’ accomplishments on a Facebook page, along with photos like the one you see here of Kevin Todd earlier this month. And yes, solo students get their very own T-shirt to commemorate the great day.

Shortly after Jeff got back to me, a prospect came in to True Course Flight School. After a tour, a review of the aircraft and the syllabus, “he’s all in and he starts his training tomorrow,” Jeff reported. “I think you’re bringing me luck!” Maybe, but the more likely explanation is that the prospect liked what he saw–a flight school whose owner is knowledgeable about business and good customer service, as well as someone who can help him make his aviation dream a reality.—Jill W. Tallman

Pilot dad memories

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Such wonderful stories about pilot dads came to me last week! From an airline pilot dad who taught his daughter to fly to a helicopter pilot dad who took his young son flight-seeing, these flying fathers–and some dads who didn’t fly themselves but nonetheless nurtured the flying passion within their sons and daughters–get our spotlight this week.

  • Molly Flanagan Littlefield learned to fly as a teenager, and her father, Tom Flanagan of Merced, Calif., was her flight instructor. “I remember watching his face in the mirror and seeing the peace he felt while airborne. He would say that flying assured them there was a God,” she writes. In 1979, when she was hired as a pilot for United Airlines, she was certain she wouldn’t make the cut and wanted to quit before she was asked to leave. She called home and talked to her parents. “There was a very long silence on the other end of the phone. Finally Daddy said words that carry me still…’I wouldn’t have let you go if I didn’t think you could do it.’”
  • Meredith Randazzo

    Meredith Randazzo’s father, Ernest R. Dixon, has had a lifelong love of flying, she says. (That’s Meredith at age 5 strapped in a safety seat, getting ready to participate in a flour bombing competition.) Meredith’s dad no longer flies, but she caught the bug and became a naval aviator and served more than eight years with the U.S. Marines as a CH-46E helicopter pilot. “Today my dad’s interest in aviation is as strong as ever and he regularly takes my niece to watch the airplanes take off and land, as he did with me decades ago!”

  • Jay Fleming remembers flying in a helicopter with his father, Jack, as a youngster. “One day, when I was about 5 years old, my dad flew a Robinson R22 from Wiley Post Airport to my grandparents’ property and picked me up to fly back to PWA, where he worked. Many of the neighbors thought my grandpa was being medi-flighted since he had had some health trouble recently.” On another flight when Jay was 14, his dad flew him from Torrance to Malibu and back, pointing out celebrity homes en route. “Thanks to him, I have the desire–not necessarily time or money though–to get a helicopter private pilot certificate.
  • Dr. Harold Brown

    That’s Flight Training Contributor Greg Brown’s father, Dr. Harold Brown, in the photo. He’s kissing the good engine of his Cessna 310 at Santa Maria, Azores Islands, after losing the other one over the Atlantic Ocean in 1962. Greg wrote about the experience in his November 2001 Flying Carpet, “Made My Dad Proud.” If you read the column you’ll find out about the last memorable flight Greg flew with his dad. His upcoming September column will be devoted to a memory of annual family trips in his father’s airplane to visit an uncle who lived on an island in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

  • Jim Mauro flew with his dad, Ben, from age 8 until his college years. “I had the great experiences of flying in Taylorcrafts, Bellancas, Sea-Bee, Grumman Widgeon, and Bonanza. I even flew in an airplane that I think was branded Amphicar, but I’m not sure.”[Editor's note: Paging Al Marsh! He's the in-house expert on car-airplane hybrids.] Jim’s dad had a grass strip in Conway, Penn., and was president of the Taylorcraft Corporation during the 1950s and early 1960s, so the aviation force is strong there, as you can see.
  • And finally, Andy Matthews, the co-founder of iFlightPlanner, wrote to pay tribute to his nonpilot dad, Jerry. Andy grew up in a golf-playing family. “A weekend pastime with my parents turned into summer golf camps, junior tournaments, a college golf scholarship, and now I’m humbled to be in my ninth season as a professional golfer who has competed with the best players in the game, all over the world.” So where does flying figure into all this? Well, Andy injured his back a few years ago, and golfing had to be put on the back burner while he recovered. In the meantime, his father suggested that this might be the time to start taking flight lessons. “He was there for my first solo, and he was also in the right seat as my first passenger soon after I got my license,” Andy says. Jerry also noticed all the work that went into planning a cross-country flight–the charts spread out on tables, manuals, notes, and a laptop computer–and “hinted that I needed a more efficient way to plan my flights. That spurred an idea, and with the help of my college roommate from the University of Michigan, we began to lay the foundation for what is now iFlightPlanner.”

Thanks to all who submitted these great stories. If you’d like to salute your dad in the Comments section, please do. I hope everyone had a happy Father’s Day!–Jill W. Tallman

You cancelled for WHAT?!

Monday, June 18th, 2012

In 15 plus years and well more than 11,000 thousand hours of airline flying, I have seen my share of cancelled flights. It hasn’t been many, and most of them have been for mechanical issues. A few have been for weather, and even those are usually based on the forecast, since that is what our flight planning is based on.

I can probably count on one hand the number of flights that were outright cancelled because of you-don’t-want-to-fly-through-that-on-the-way-to-your-desination-weather. Even when weather enroute is severe, the first choice is to fly around it, within reason. In fact, while flights have been cancelled because of weather forecasts, I’ve probably had just as many weather cancellations because my ship did not arrive thanks to weather-related diversions.

If I had to guess a percentage of my flights that have cancelled, it’s probably well under 2 percent. Still, for someone that has flown more than 10,000 flights, that’s 200 potential cancellations. Most of those are predictable. The company—and make no mistake, they make the ultimate decision, though the pilot in command can drive the decision—has cancelled for items such as broken fuel valves, malfunctioning starters, flat tires, cracked windshields, or landing gear that won’t retract. For most items, the airplane can be ferried under a ferry permit to a point of repair. I’m here to tell you that flying a jet with the gear down and locked sounds like you’re riding a freight train.

But there have been a few that sound so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe the problem isn’t made up. The most unusual one is a broken cargo door, specifically one that won’t open. This rarely happens, and fortunately, when it does, it’s usually when the bin is already empty. On the CRJ, it is possible to access the bin by disassembling a portion of the aft bulkhead, but it is a time-consuming process and one that is not entered into (sorry about the pun) lightly. But even that may not make the door work. All it does is allow someone to (finally) empty the bags that are back there.

There is not necessarily a safety issue with this, but no airline—not even Spirit—is going to try operate by not taking bags. Passengers would rightfully go out of their minds, and by the end of the day, Congress would be writing a Don’t Forget Our Bags Bill. It would be a customer service and logistical nightmare. Further, on some aircraft, like the CRJ, flying with an empty bin does pose some weight and balance issues. We would not be able to fly full, because the aircraft tends to be nose heavy. You need something in the back. With no bags, we’d be limited in the number of passengers we could carry based on the amount of fuel on board.

Other weird cancellations I’ve had or seen: broken windshield wipers (both the wiper itself, as well as the motor); flooding toilets (a sanitation issue); missing placards (seriously); missing or expired first aid kits; low oxygen pressure for the crew’s emergency oxygen system (this is a real pain, as it cannot be serviced with passengers on board because of the explosive properties of pressurized oxygen, especially during transfer); and airports that have run out of fuel or deicing fluid.

Non-mechanical situations crop up as well. Pilots and flight attendants have had to come off of a trip unexpectedly for illness or family emergencies. Both have happened to me. Crew members occasionally time-out for their work day, sometimes per a collective bargaining agreement, and sometimes per the federal aviation regulations. In both instances, you have a tired person you don’t want flying your flight. Most of these are for unexpected weather events that lead to delays that lead to cancellations. The Passenger Bill of Rights law also causes a lot of preemptive cancellations. There have been stories in the news of airlines having to cancel flights because of intoxicated pilots or flight attendants (or both). Fortunately, none of those has involved my company.

But even humans can be part of the you-cancelled-for-WHAT equation: Crews have been in accidents in hotel vans with injuries; I know of one that was mugged; one pilot had his company credentials and part of his uniform stolen from his hotel room; ground personnel have been known to use the emergency lights to light the cabin during overnight servicing–and left the lights on and burned out the batteries, thus cancelling the morning flight they tried so hard to ensure would be ready to go on time.

One of our crews, years ago, had to call in sick as a group from severe food poisoning received from a local restaurant. They had eaten different entrees, but all had the salad, and all paid the price. A first officer who came to us from another regional had a story of a captain who quit on the spot at an outstation, walking off the airplane and out to the front of the airport, where his wife was waiting for him. On the yoke was a note he left while the FO was doing the walk-around: I QUIT.

But at least he’s alive to talk about it. Other crew members have died on overnights or on the flight deck. For some things, there is simply no back-up plan, certainly not one that is cost justifiable. Some of these stories are wild, but I’ll spare you the details out of respect for their families.

But having to explain that you can’t open a door…or that a sticker is missing…or that you can’t go to Canada because the passport of one of the pilots was stolen…or because the airport printer doesn’t work…sometimes you’re just better off making up something that sounds believable.—Chip Wright

Able Flight student pilots taking wing at Purdue

Friday, June 15th, 2012

I just got back from a quick trip to Purdue University Airport in Lafayette, Ind., where I had the pleasure of meeting a great group of student pilots. Like you, they’re passionate about aviation; they love flying and they’re enthusiastic about learning. Their flight instructors can’t say enough about these guys’ determination and dedication. “He texts me at 6 a.m.,” one told me about his student. “‘Are we flying at 7 a.m.?’”

That student is deaf. Three others are in wheelchairs. Two have cerebral palsy. Through a unique partnership between Able Flight and Purdue University, they all are working toward earning a sport pilot certificate. They fly every day, weather permitting, with the goal of finishing up by the final week of June. The week I visited, two had soloed.

You’ll learn much more about Able Flight in an upcoming issue of Flight Training. You’ll meet each of the students, their flight instructors, and the specially equipped Light Sport Aircraft they’re flying. Keep an eye out for these guys at your local airport. They’re going places.–Jill W. Tallman

Was dad a pilot?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

With Father’s Day on Sunday, it’s time to say thanks to all the flying dads out there. Some of us might never have taken to the air if it weren’t that man who put us in the right seat and let us take the controls. But as I didn’t have a flying dad–nobody in my family is or was a pilot–I’m going to ask you all, the Flight Training blog readers, to share stories of your pilot dad. Speaking of flying with a pilot dad, the little fella in the right seat is Ferdinand J. Mack, one of your Pilot Information Center specialists, with his father, Ferdinand J. Mack Sr.

Email me at jill.tallman@aopa.org and tell me about your flying dad. If you put “dad” in the subject line, that would help me a lot. Photos especially welcome. I’ll compile your responses and put them in a blog post to be published sometime next week. In the meantime, Happy Father’s Day!–Jill W. Tallman

Did you know? Opening your flight plan

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Opening a flight plan should be the easiest part of your cross-country. Tune in the nearest Flight Service Station on your radio, call ‘em up, request that the plan be opened, give your departure time, and on you go.

Except it isn’t, sometimes. You forget to call up flight service. Or you call them up and nobody’s home because you copied down the wrong frequency. Or you call them up and they hear you, but for some mysterious reason the flight plan you filed is not actually on file, so you have to give them all the details while trying to keep the airplane upright.

Last week, pending a VFR flight from Maryland to Tennessee, I called Lockheed Martin to get a standard weather briefing. (I don’t usually file by computer.) After the briefer and I had gone over all the weather and notams, he offered to have the flight plan opened at the specified time without my having to contact flight service. I was pleasantly surprised–I hadn’t known this option was available. And it worked! How do I know? Because I was a few minutes late closing the flight plan, and flight service called me to check up on my whereabouts.

When I called for a briefing on the return trip, no such offer was made. So if you want to take advantage of this service, you might have to ask. And make sure you make a realistic prediction of when you’ll be wheels up–because when you say you’re in the air, the clock is ticking.–Jill W. Tallman

The drinking pilot scenarios

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Last month Chip Wright posed a hypothetical situation involving a possibly intoxicated airline pilot and solicited your comments on how you would handle the situation. Here’s his response to your answers.–Ed.

There are two ways to approach answers to this question: the new-to-the-airlines pilot, and the regional pilot interviewing for the majors. Further, there are two very broad ways to actually answer the question: Throw the offender to the wolves and let him or her deal with the consequences, or help the offender gracefully bow out.

I checked the responses on both the blog and on Flight Training’s Facebook page. A couple of readers answered as though the scenario was designed with the eight-hour rule in mind. I had intended it to be under a typical airline’s 12-hour rule, and Steve’s response on Facebook was that as long as the eight-hour rule was observed, then no harm, no foul, and that it depended on how strong the drinks are and how well the pilot holds his liquor. That answer, I can assure you, will get you a one-way ticket home.

Every airline has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to having alcohol in your system when you report for work. The FAA has always backed up the zero-tolerance policy when airlines implement it. Zero means just that: When you take a Breathalyzer or blood test, you need to be totally clear of alcohol.

EJ, Dave, Corey, and Mark work toward the answer of addressing the captain and giving him the option to call in sick. This is a common answer, and it is not necessarily wrong. But the logical follow-up to you, the applicant, is this: Will that stop this from happening again? And what if the next FO isn’t so willing to stand up to a pilot who may be tipsy, or even belligerent?

What I really like are the answers in which folks asked for more information. In an interview, you may or may not get more information. But asking is good, as you don’t want to jump to conclusions. One question that was missed is an obvious one, and will allow you to possibly choose how you answer: Does this pilot have a known drinking problem that might be full-blown alcoholism? Again, the interviewer may not tell you, but I will address this angle later.

Taking a photo of the pilot drinking, as Mark suggested, isn’t a bad idea. The company can also ask for copies of the pilot’s receipt if he paid with a credit or debit card (after an accident, so will every government agency), and they will ask the hotel to use the pilot’s key to determine when he went to his room. There are loads of potential legal and ethical problems with these two tracks, but the pilot may still be forced to answer some uncomfortable questions.

There is that reality–and several of you touched on this–that your ticket and your career are both on the line as well. The cold, hard truth is that as soon as that pilot made the decision to either drink inside the allowable 12-hour rule, and/or decided to put on his uniform and step into the hallway while sick, he or she has made a decision to sacrifice both of you. The effect on you is of no concern to this individual. Your career’s gone? Because of me? Sorry, dude. Let me buy you a drink while we commiserate!

Does that person deserve you helping him or her avoid trouble?

There are two choices here. Choice A is to get the pilot to make a phone call, and this is where the issue of interviewing as a new airline pilot versus one as a regional pilot going to a major matters. As a new-to-the-industry pilot, it is perfectly fair and acceptable that you might get the pilot to call in sick. Give the individual a chance to make the right decision. If he won’t, you will have to make a call to the chief pilot and explain the situation. They will then make the decision on how to handle it. A seasoned regional pilot, however, is aware of resources within the union that can help. Every union has a committee or group that specializes in dealing with unprofessional behavior, and in this case, they can contact the pilot and explain the severity of the situation. The company is still going to get involved, and the flight will in all probability cancel (assuming another person in the hotel is not available), but the pilot—if he cooperates, which is the key—will be offered the opportunity to seek medical help. It may cost him a year or more away from the job as he sobers up, but he will be given the opportunity to redeem himself. Called the HIMS program, it has been wildly successful in getting sick pilots back to work. It has saved careers, and more importantly, it has saved lives.

Choice B is more harsh, and personally, it’s the one that I tend to lean toward. As I said, the pilot has already made the decision to risk life and limb and your own future as well as his. You could go ahead and skip the niceties and call the chief and, in no uncertain terms, explain you have a co-worker who needs a Breathalyzer test. Don’t offer an analysis of how drunk or sober you may think the person is. Just request the test. The rest will take care of itself. I come to this from personal experience: A family friend was killed in a rather grotesque fashion in a car accident involving a drunk driver. The effect it had on my parents is something I have never forgotten.

What you cannot allow to happen is for the pilot to leave the hotel for the airport. If that means you stay behind, so be it. Going to the airport opens up all kinds of questions about your intent to prevent him from getting in the cockpit. Just recall the America West crew in Miami that was actually taxiing the airplane when they were called back to the gate. A few minutes later, and they would have been airborne. Just letting that individual go the airport could get you fired if he is found to be drunk. At the very least, your judgment will be severely questioned.

It’s a tough situation, and if you don’t personally deal with it, you will eventually know or hear of someone who has. It’s also an interview question that you should count on in some form. The scenario here is just one possibility. It may be posed such that you first meet the pilot at the airplane within minutes of departure time.

Things aren’t always black and white; sometimes there is a gray area. The important thing in a case like this is to develop a reasonable answer and stick to your guns. Be able to defend it, and be able to sleep at night. Do that, and you will indeed live to fly another day.–Chip Wright