Archive for January, 2014

Flight school flyouts: We’re outta here

Friday, January 31st, 2014

If your flight school could shake up your training routine by offering you a chance to join other pilots on an organized fly-out, would you go? Most of us would love it. Getting out of the pattern, going places? Getting a taste of what it will be like when we can be pilots in command and go where we want? Where do we sign up?

Many flight schools try to organize these types of events—but they’re not easy to pull off. There’s the weather, availability of airplanes, flight instructors, and a host of other details to consider above and beyond the normal flight scheduling routine. So if your flight school offers you the chance to join a fly-out—whether it’s to the next airport for a pancake breakfast, or to Niagara Falls—don’t wait. Reserve an airplane, get a CFI if you need one, and go. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot and have a great time.

In 2002, as a low-time private pilot, I flew from Maryland to Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and back during a four-day fly-out organized by Frederick Flight Center. There were several student pilots in our group, and everybody gained a great deal of confidence (see “Destination: Experience,” March 2003 Flight Training).

When you read this I’ll be on my way to Florida with a group of airplanes and pilots out of Virginia. The 12 aircraft are leaving this wretched Mid-Atlantic winter behind, temporarily. But we’re not staying in Florida. We’re headed to the Bahamas, accompanied by Bob Hepp, owner of Aviation Adventures. (Aviation Adventures’ Conor Dancy is our 2013 Flight Instructor of the Year, and the school itself has won recognition for high-quality training at its Manassas, Leesburg, and Winchester locations. Some of the airplanes going on this fly-out are on the flight line at Aviation Adventures.)

This will be Aviation Adventures’ third fly-out to the Bahamas. The school also organizes trips to Oshkosh, Wis., for EAA AirVenture, and most recently shepherded a group on a frigid December morning to tour the Hudson River corridor in New York.

A student pilot can’t fly solo outside the United States, of course. He or she can fly accompanied by a certificated pilot who is qualified to act as PIC. But crossing the border in a small airplane is a great adventure and a personal goal for many pilots. And if you have any qualms about Customs procedures, the paperwork, the navigation, and/or the safety equipment needed, a group fly-out is a great way to give it a try. (If you want to get going on the research, see AOPA’s Bahamas resources page. We’ve got info for Alaska, Canada, and Mexico, too.)

I’ll share some of these considerations on the Flight Training blog as we travel, and you’ll see a complete write-up in a future issue of Flight Training magazine. In the meantime, you folks where it’s cold, try to stay warm, and I’ll do the same.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

A flight training inspiration

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last blogged about moving ahead with training even when the weather is bad.—Ed.

One of the best parts of my job as the editor of the eFlightTraining newsletter and AOPA’s social media editor is that I get to read and report on great stories of how AOPA members got their private pilot certificates.

I learned about Brenda Nelson’s unique story via our Facebook fan page, when I was soliciting photos for #ThrowbackThursday. Here’s what she posted:

“Three years ago, my boyfriend was diagnosed with multiple myeloma bone cancer. I had always wanted to achieve getting a pilot’s license. He lives six hours away in Chicago. He was so sick he couldn’t make the trip to Southwest Iowa [where Nelson lives] anymore. So I drove there every three weeks. I [also] started lessons and studied late into the evenings. I kept my full-time job and worked my 3 1/2 acres and achieved my dream. My boyfriend is now in remission and I took him flying. It was because of his illness and willingness to live that gave me the inspiration to fly!!!!”Brenda Nelson

Who wouldn’t be inspired by that story? Nelson said she’s wanted to learn to fly since she was in eighth grade. Her oldest brother went to the Spartan School of Aviation and was a few hours away from getting his pilot certificate. “He got married and never pursued it. My parents were farmers and there was never extra money to do anything like this, which can be cost prohibitive if you don’t have the financial backing,” said Nelson.

Nelson said that after her boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer, she decided if he could make it through the treatments, she could get her private pilot certificate. “So I called my local FBO, Atlantic, and told the owner I wanted to get my certificate. He gave me a book and I started in October 2011,” she said. “I took a few lessons and I was hooked. I knew I had time at home and at the hospital to study for ground school.”

For the next year when the time and money allowed, Nelson “picked away” at her flight lessons. “I put aside $285 every two weeks to pay for my training,” she said.

“I soloed in the spring of 2012 and got my certificate in October 2013.  After that, my boyfriend got better and he’s now in remission,” said Nelson. “I took him for a flight in November, and he couldn’t believe it. It was really cool.”

Nelson credits help from family and friends in helping achieve her dream of becoming a pilot. “My parents, who are in their late seventies, came and helped by watching my house and dog when I was making the regular six-hour drive to Chicago. There were also three people in my office who helped out so I could be gone,” she said. 

The biggest challenges are time and money, said Nelson. “I see people who don’t have anything to push them to get their certificate,” she said.  “If you don’t have that, it’s tough. I’d get AOPA magazines and seeing those articles inspired me.”—Benét Wilson

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

How many different airplanes have you flown?

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote about flying in the Cascades 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.

CA Into cockpitAs we walked down the aisle to our seats on our last of eight commercial flights in three weeks, I did a little gig when I saw our exit door seat row with four feet of space for a 3,000-mile trip. These weeks in New York City, Massachusetts, and the Cayman Islands had given me time with family, ski patrollers, professional connections, and lots of gawking in NYC. And on flights, I kept my eyes open for flight attendants or pilots who could continue to open my eyes and mind to the behind-the-scenes culture of flying that I have entered in the last year.

While I have not kept track, I know I have flown, as a passenger, in most types of large jets during my hundreds of commercial flights over the years. But I know a new small airplane when I meet it. And a deHavilland Twin Otter flight from Cayman Brac to Grand Cayman gave me another small aircraft experience. The most incredible part of that flight for me was the open cockpit door that allowed me to watch the instruments from my seat in the third row. Instruments also watched by a male pilot of African descent and a female co-pilot. During our 40-minute island hop I was entranced and delighted to know I knew something about some of those gauges!

 CaymanEven before that long flight with the excellent legroom from NYC to Portland took off, I was just plain bored. Too tired to work or write, nothing good to read. No movies I wanted to watch. I noticed a pilot in transit heading to the restroom. He graciously answered a question, and I soon was delighted to know that we knew some of the same people and he lives a mere 20 air miles from me. Very quickly, he and his iPad were sitting next to me, and he opened a world I did not know existed.

He began to fly as a 3-year-old on his mother’s lap, as his mother ran a flight school with 40 airplanes. My head became full of stories of his flying and images of the airplanes he flew from the gallery on his iPad. While a commercial pilot, he also test flies everything from new designs to ancient planes a museum or collector wants to check out for its ability to take to the air. He seems to have a connection to each.

“How many types of planes have you flown?”

“Over 300,” he says.

“And which is your favorite?” I ask.

“Whichever one I am in.”—Jean Moule

 Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

 

 

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

Aaron Tippin gets his CFI

Thursday, January 16th, 2014
aaron tippin performs at sun 'n fun 2009

Aaron Tippin performs at Sun ‘n Fun 2009. He recently earned a CFI.

How cool is this? Aaron Tippin—country music star, passionate pilot, and all-around nice guy—earned his CFI late in 2013 at Murfreesboro Airport in Tennessee.

AOPA members know that when it comes to airplanes, Tippin is one of us—literally and figuratively. He loves to fly. He’s a longtime member, and in 2002 he showed up at AOPA’s doorstep for a headquarters tour. He had come to Frederick, Md., to perform at the Great Frederick Fair that year.

I recall Tippin spied a copy of Flight Training that had recently come from the press. “I don’t have that one,” he said. I tried to give it to him, but he thought I was asking for an autograph, and he promptly obliged.

I interviewed Tippin in 2011 for a Debrief, which you can read here. It’s interesting that, unlike many folks in the entertainment industry who learn to fly as a hobby, Tippin planned to be an airline pilot. When the energy crunch of the 1970s made that dream fade, he decided that the second-best thing he liked was to pick up a guitar and sing.

Tippin flies his Stearman in the video for “Ready to Rock (In a Country Kind of Way).”—Jill W. Tallman

So, what goes on up there?

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

I am frequently asked a lot of questions about life as a pilot. One of the most common is, “What do you actually do up there for most of the flight?” Most people understand that the autopilot is flying the airplane for most of the trip, and the crew is in more of a monitoring role, so the question is understandable.

The answer depends on the kind of flying. On short legs, we’re pretty busy on the radio, and we set up early for the approach, check our weights and speeds for landings, and make any special requests for the station to address (lav services, wheelchairs, et cetera). On longer legs with a lot of time spent in cruise, there is more freedom to do various things.

Back up to the first flight together as a crew. Especially at larger airlines, it isn’t uncommon for a pair of pilots to fly together only once. This means that the first time they meet for the trip may be the first time they’ve ever met, and they will spend some time getting to know one another. Pilots being pilots, it isn’t unusual to meet someone and hit it off like you’ve been BFFs since grade school. At other times one of the crew may be more reserved, but there is still a getting-to-know-you period. In no particular order, you can count on certain questions coming up: Where are you from? How long have you been here? How do you like it? Did you bid this trip? What’s your flying background? And so on.

The first leg or two usually consists of a lot of banter about company goings-on, rumors, new developments, or big announcements made or expected. There is a lot of chatter about family life, common interests, etc. Most pilots will try to avoid certain subjects, such as politics or religion, but some can’t resist the temptation. There are a lot of “Have you flown with…?” stories, and usually a few laughs get shared about someone doing something funny or dumb.

But very personal information gets shared as well. If you spend three or four days or longer in a room the size of a phone booth with someone else who has a tendency to dress like you do, it’s inevitable that you get to know—and share—more than you ever thought you would. Personal fears, secret desires, or just plain secrets get shared. I’ve heard stories of affairs, unplanned pregnancies, crazy tax schemes, you name it. The unwritten rule is that what is said behind that door stays there (except for anything criminal), and most of the time it does. There is a certain sanctity within the cockpit.

And, as you might expect, locker-room style talk and behavior takes place as well.

On longer legs or trips, it isn’t all chatter. There are certain record-keeping requirements for fuel or certain minimum equipment list (MEL) procedures. On long international legs, it isn’t unusual for pilots to read or do crossword puzzles just to keep themselves alert.

But, like the proverbial light switch, when the situation calls for professionalism, that’s what you see. Whether it is a mechanical problem that becomes apparent, or a regular checklist or a weather deviation, pilots never forget who they are and where they are, and when the situation calls for it, the shenanigans are discarded and attention is focused on the job at hand.

It isn’t always work and it isn’t always play…but most of the time, if nothing else, it’s fun!—Chip Wright

Time flies when you’re landing an Airbus on the Hudson

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Hard to believe that January 15, 2014, marks the five-year anniverary of the day that will always be known as “Miracle on the Hudson.”

As most of us recall, US Airways Flight 1549, piloted by Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, landed in the Hudson River in New York after striking a flock of Canada geese. Both engines failed on climbout from LaGuardia Airport in New York City en route to Charlotte, North Carolina. Sullenberger decided they didn’t have enough altitude to turn back or make an emergency landing at Teterboro, New Jersey. He told New York Tracon, “We’re gonna be in the Hudson,” and that was the last transmission from the airplane before it touched down in the river.

Just writing that last sentence gave me goosebumps.

Thankfully, all turned out well. All passengers and crew were evacuated safely.

Now retired from US Airways, Sullenberg remains an active and vocal figure in the aviation industry. Jeppesen created an approach plate commemorating the “Miracle” landing.

Skiles took a leave of absence from the airline and is working for the Experimental Aircraft Association. He eventually got a seaplane rating, too [insert your own joke here].

One of the passengers on that fateful flight went on to earn a private pilot certificate. I interviewed Clay Presley shortly after his solo for this Flight Training magazine article, and you can hear him tell the story of the Miracle on the Hudson from the point of view of someone who was sitting in the cabin section on this AOPA Live video.  —Jill W. Tallman

This entry was edited to correct the date to Jan. 15—Ed.

Record foul-ups

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

A friend of mine was recently terminated while in training with a regional airline. In the regional sector, it’s not unusual for an airline to terminate a new-hire without giving a specific reason. That was the case here, and the only explanation he received was that “there was something in [your] application.”

That’s vague, and he was convinced that it was bogus. One of the reasons he was so sure is that he had been employed by another airline for over a decade with no problems. He had disclosed his lone Part 121 checkride failure. But, just to be sure, he began a dialogue with the FAA. He was shocked at what he found.

To make a long story short, he had started an oral exam for a checkride, but he had been sick. The event was going well, but he had to bail out because of his illness. The next day, he finished the oral (and passed), and took the checkride (and not only passed, but got high praise from the examiner). However, that event was almost 20 years ago, and he had forgotten that he had signed a second 8710 for the oral. The first one was recorded as a failed event. Right or wrong, agree or disagree—that’s what went into his file.

Fast forward to now. The records that he had in his possession prior to starting this job did not include the 8710s and did not indicate that he had a failure of a checkride (remember, it was the oral, not the ride), and it cost him.

The lesson from this for any pilot is two-fold: Never lie on an application, because it will be found. He didn’t lie; he simply didn’t realize the full ramification of what was going on when it happened. But, the point is the same. If you try to hide something, it’s going to get uncovered. Second, when you start the process of applying to airlines, whether it’s a regional, a major, a foreign carrier, or anything in between, get in touch with the FAA in Oklahoma City, and get copies of everything that might be in your file. Ask questions.

You should keep your own detailed records with regard to ratings, certificates, et cetera. Whenever you take a checkride, make a note of the date, time, place, and examiner. If there is a mistake found later, you will know where to start. In this case, the school was long gone, and the examiner had passed away.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not impossible to get a job with checkride failures, even after the Colgan accident. The thing to remember is that you need to fully disclose your past, and you need to own up to your mistakes. If you aren’t sure of something, get it taken care of.

In a case like this, if it happens to you, your best recourse is to write a detailed description of everything that happened. As you apply to airlines, you can attach this to your application or take a copy to the interview.—Chip Wright