Archive for June, 2013

Testing positive

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Just a couple of days ago, my wife and I watched Flight, the Denzel Washington movie about a pilot who performs a heroic feat to save a planeload of passengers only to lose his career to his drug and alcohol addictions. Without getting into the issue of whether or not a crew could have pulled off the scene of upside-down flying to save the day, I’ll address the addiction issue. Specifically, is it possible that someone could get away with this problem for as long as Whip Whitaker did? And happens if they are caught?

Flight_film_posterLet me start with the premise of drug testing. Every employee of an airline that might have any contact with security situations is subject to drug testing as a new hire. It’s unavoidable. The FAA requires that companies thereafter randomly sample 25 percent of the qualifying employees on an annual basis, and it has to be done throughout the system. In other words, Delta cannot just target its Atlanta employees, and JetBlue cannot just target its JFK employees to save on travel expenses for the testers. The drugs that are tested are of the illegal street variety, as well as alcohol.

In a large company, it’s possible to go years without getting tested. When I was with Comair, I got tested once in my first 12 years, and that was for my new-hire screening. Then, one day, I pulled into the gate in Cincinnati at the end of a trip, and a young lady with a clipboard was waiting for us. Having seen this scene before, I knew one of us was getting a “wizz quiz.” As I shut down the airplane,  she looked at me, smiled, and pointed at me. Fortunately, I was already set to “produce,” or as Forrest Gump would say, “I gotta pee!”

It’s important to understand that refusal is not an option. In fact, it’s viewed as an admission of guilt.

As the company shrank over the next several years, I was selected by the computer for two more tests (that I remember). Simply put, the fewer employees, the greater the chance you will be tagged for a test.

What the movie Flight doesn’t address is how Whitaker didn’t get tested or caught before the accident. Further, there is a scene in which he is shown sneaking vodka bottles and pouring them into his orange juice. On an airplane with first class passengers, this is easier to get away with because the flight attendants can just record the drinks as having been “comped” to a first class frequent flyer. In a single class operation such as we had at Comair, getting away with this would have been much harder. Not impossible, but harder.

The next question is, what if an employee knows he or she is about to get caught? I can’t speak for every company or all of the various employee groups, but generally speaking for pilots, there is a chance to come clean before the test. If you are on any prescription drugs that might cause an issue, disclosure is the best option. If you have used illicit drugs or alcohol, you should openly acknowledge that as well, and follow whatever union protocols are in place. You will still get in trouble—possibly severe—but you will also be more likely to have a chance to enter a rehabilitation program.

The Human Intervention Monitoring System (HIMS) program is a nationally recognized substance and alcohol abuse program that allows pilots with addictions to seek the help they need. I’ve known several pilots who successfully recovered from their drinking problems to return to the cockpit (a process than can take several years). I’ve also known of more than a few pilots at several airlines who showed up under the influence of something, denied it, and got caught. They were let go immediately, and their careers were over. And don’t forget, those drug tests follow you to any number of jobs you might want.

As a point of how much compassion a company can show toward its employees, we had a few pilots who were in rehab during the strike in 2001. While the company had discontinued insurance for the pilots, the ones in rehab were still covered. As one of our senior managers said at the time, “We’re talking about lives here.” The rest of us understood.

Whitaker’s character at some point would have been tested. He would have had the option to come clean. If he hadn’t, he would have tested positive, and his airline would likely have terminated him. In his case, the FAA still would have likely suspended or revoked his certificates, and he may still have been prosecuted and imprisoned for reckless endangerment, flying drunk, and general stupidity. As an aside, the movie never addresses why the first officer, who later acknowledged that Whitaker “reeked,” didn’t face repercussions either. In reality, he probably would have.

The moral of this post is this: If you need help, get it; if you know someone who needs help, find out how to help them get it; and if you are on an airplane with a pilot who clearly is not well, deal with it immediately.—By Chip Wright

Your instrument training tips

Friday, June 14th, 2013

04-348_IFRTrainingSince many pilots start instrument training almost immediately after completing their private pilot certificate, I wondered if our Facebook friends had any tips for those about to take the plunge. Turns out, you do—probably based on personal experience. As with almost any aviation topic, there were some divergent views.  Here’s a sampling:

  1. “Learn paper! Get the iPad out of the cockpit until you can master paper plates!”—Patrick Smith, seconded by Jim Chambers.
  2. On the other hand, “Use what you’re going to use in reality. This isn’t primary training anymore so if you’re going to use an iPad for charts use it in training. That way you won’t be fumbling your first time out alone with your orginazatiom of electronic charts. Learn your GPS, it will save your butt in training and in real life.”—Miranda Noble Rydstrom
  3. Get experience flying in actual instrument conditions—Anne Scheer Wright, seconded by Steven Bristow, Bill Green, Sam Grice, and Brian Harman.
  4. “As an instrument instructor for Army flight school, I would encourage instrument students to focus on their basic instrument (BI) skills for getting too focused on the advanced (AI) procedures such as departures, approaches, etc. If your BI is bad, your AI will be even worse.”—Wylie Mathis Sr., seconded by Mackey Simbajon, Luca Simioni, and Cm Thrasher.
  5. Use a simulator to help you practice approaches.—Daryl Sweeney, seconded by Brad Rodriguez, Jim Chambers, Chad Baker, and Alejo Echevarria.

Some had very specific suggestions for choosing the right CFII.

  • “Find an instructor who has experience outside of instructing. Someone who has worked as a Part 135 pilot and has flown a great deal in the ATC system.”—Collin Hughes
  • “A few things: 1. Make sure you are working with a syllabus that your instructor initials after completing tasks satisfactorily. 2. Interview the instructor to make sure he’s a good fit. 3. Ask the instructor if he is working as a CFI in order to build time to head off to a corporate or airline job. If he is, ask if he is currently interviewing and where he is in the process. 4. Is he willing to use a simulator to accomplish part of your training. 5. How can he integrate the use of a home simulator, like FSX into your training.”—Kevin Jarchow

There were many more suggestions, and you can read them all on our Facebook page. In the meantime, I’ll close with this very smart advice from Damian M. Campayo, because it happens to tie in brilliantly with an article in the upcoming issue.—Jill W. Tallman

  • “Keep money in reserve. You’ll need it to keep your currency!”

Bessie Coleman’s journey to flight

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Jean Moule last wrote about being a 67-year-old student pilot for the Flight Training blog. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website. —Ed.

Bessie_Coleman_and_her_plane_(1922)Who was the first American to hold an international pilot license?

Early in my training, my flight instructor introduced me to this aviation pioneer, Bessie Coleman. Steve Larsen, CFI, knew from my observations that I needed familiarity with the existence of Black women in aviation to help me, a woman of African descent, feel more comfortable in the left seat. He had connected me to another Black female student pilot as well.

Curious and inspired, I spent hours in Coleman’s history. Because flight schools in the United States would not teach Blacks, Bessie taught herself French, then went to France to learn and earn her pilot’s license.

Bessie was born in Texas in 1893 as one of 13 children of sharecroppers. She was gifted in math, loved books, and walked eight miles round trip to attend a one-room school for Blacks. She went to Oklahoma where she managed one term at a university, but had to leave due to lack of money. She returned to Waxahachie, Texas, and worked as a laundress. The small southern town had little to keep her challenged and engaged.

In 1915, at 23, Bessie moved to Chicago. She lived with her brothers and worked as a beautician, one time named as the best and fastest manicurist in the city. In Chicago Bessie heard and read stories of World War I soldiers and pilots as they returned from Europe. The stories opened possibilities. She and her brother, a soldier, talked.

“Those French women do something no colored girl has,” her brother teased. “They fly.”

Taking the challenge, Bessie decided to become a pilot. Due to both race and gender discrimination, she gave up trying to enter a flight school in the United States and began her study of French. She learned the language well enough to grasp the principles of flight and aeronautical terms in that language.  Then she went to France.

She completed a 10-month course in seven months. She earned her license and returned to the United States. She earned her living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks, specializing in stunt flying and parachuting. Beyond her own support, her goal was to start a flying school for African Americans.

Bessie’s high-flying skills wowed audiences of thousands. She was well known all over the United States, with huge headlines whenever she would be in the air.

During a rehearsal for a show in 1926, she leaned out of an airplane flown by her mechanic to check her parachute-landing site. The airplane began an unexpected dive toward the ground.

Bessie, unbelted and thrown out, fell 1,500 feet to her death.

The mechanic was unable to gain control of the airplane and died as well.  A misplaced wrench was later found lodged in the wreckage of the engine.

Thousands mourned for Bessie. Ten thousand people attended her three funerals. After her death at age 33, others took up her cause to begin flight schools that allowed Blacks entry.

Some of those who learned to fly in her memory and inspiration in these flight schools were early enrollees in the World War II Tuskegee Airmen Division.

Now I had a family link: My grandson’s great-grandfather was an instructor in that WW II division.

Bessie’s legacy continues down through the years: In 1929 the aviation school she worked to establish was founded in Los Angeles. Roads, highways, and flying clubs for women were named after her. In 1995 the U.S. Postal Service issued the Bessie Coleman stamp. And every year on Memorial Day, the Tuskegee Airmen fly over Brave Bessie’s grave and drop flowers in her honor.

My children have all flown commercially, as have my grandchildren. One grandchild, Chance—great-grandson of Tuskegee Airman Instructor James A. Hill—leads the rest: Before he was 5 years old he had flown on 120 flight segments.

For leading the way, I give my thanks to Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, the first American aviator of any race or gender to hold an international pilot license, the first person of African descent to be licensed in the United States, a pioneer in aviation education for all people, and a motivator for my own flying.

Here’s to Bessie, a woman of my hue and the first American licensed to fly anywhere in the world. Here’s to all those who venture into the air!

Bessie said, “Do you know that you have never lived until you have flown?”—Jean Moule

Diaries of an interviewee

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

People ask me all the time how to get ready for an interview with an airline, and how to do well in an interview. There are two pieces of advice that I frequently offer, and in many cases the advice applies to non-aviation interviews as well.

diary250First, keep a diary. If you are interested in an airline job, do a search online for common questions. Most of them fall into the category of “Tell me about a time…” Also called TMAAT, these questions are just that: relaying a time that you had to deal with a given situation. For those going into their first airline job, you can substitute the opener with “What would you do if…./How would you handle….” You may be surprised at how many other experiences relate to this besides flying.

The best way to avoid coming up empty-handed is to keep a diary. Download the list of questions and start answering them on paper as best you can. If you don’t have a story, then wait. At some point, you probably will. There are only a few questions that you don’t want to have an answer for. For example, if an interviewer asks if your integrity has ever been questioned, the best answer to have is a solid “No.” That isn’t to say that you’ll never have disagreements (you will), but you don’t want your motives or character questioned.

Another reason to keep the diary is to make sure that you have stories that span a long period of time. You don’t want be stuck with a bunch of stories that took place in a six-month window, and it isn’t worth risking a lie to make it sound better. As events happen, write them down with dates, places, and names. You can with-hold the names in the interview (and you should, or refer to everyone as John Doe). Also, know where to find the entries in your logbook that correspond to the stories.

The second piece of advice that gets mentioned by me and ignored by others is to pay for professional interview preparation. Most people don’t realize that they make certain mistakes when they speak, whether grammatical, speaking too softly, or using “um,” “ah,” or the dreaded “like” too, like, often like. A professional will help you polish up your answers, put them in a coherent order, and tell you how to emphasize your accomplishments without sounding like a braggart or an arrogant jerk.

Other common mistakes consist of answering questions that weren’t asked or giving too much information that may create doubt, or worse, a whole new series of questions that you had not anticipated.

A good, professional interview prep will cost a few hundred dollars, so prepare for it just as you would for an actual interview. Better still is if you can get it video recorded so that you can review your performance.

There is a lot of hiring going on now, and those that are best prepared will get the best jobs first. Who knows? Maybe the work you put into the interview will be a good story in your diary for the next job that you really covet.—Chip Wright