How many different airplanes have you flown?

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?

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

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?

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

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

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

The best and worst of 2013

December 31st, 2013

Hard to believe an entire year has rolled by since I last posted a Best and Worst of Flight Training blog (you can read the 2012 one here). This is my fourth annual Best Of/Worst Of list, and while I fully expected to see some of the same names on the roster (Hello, City of Santa Monica!), this year’s tally brings some brand-new players to our flight training game.

On an uplifting note, it took some digging for me to find five “worst” candidates for 2013.  In previous years, it seems there was more bad than good.

Worst:

  • Federal budget cutbacks prompted the U.S. Air Force to reduce flying time071014-N-5476H-721 for pilots, meaning fewer training hours. A Wall Street Journal article maintains they’re flying fewer hours than military pilots in some European allies, India, and China.
  • The same budget cutbacks kept the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds from making appearances at airshows across the nation. What does this have to do with flight training? Well, I may be grasping here, but we know military aircraft are a huge draw at airshows, and it’s likely that reduced attendance means fewer people (children in particular) got to forge bonds with aviation that could pay off down the road with the creation of new pilots.
  • Another “self-taught pilot” a la the Barefoot Bandit was accused of flying a stolen airplane that belonged to a soldier on deployment in Afghanistan. What makes this story doubly sad is that the 18-year-old who allegedly took the Cessna 150 was studying to be an airframe and powerplant mechanic. The teen has pleaded guilty, and sentencing is set for Jan. 6.
  • Santa Monica Airport makes the list for the third year in a row. A fatal accident in which an airplane crashed into a hangar (but did not cause any fatalities among people on the ground) has added fuel to the City of Santa Monica’s ongoing campaign to close the airport, which is home to at least six active flight schools. The city is now involved in a lawsuit to gain control of the airport.
  • The FAA has decided that overweight pilots are a cause for concern, even though there apparently aren’t any safety statistics to back this up, and has issued a proposed rule that would require pilots with a neck size of greater than 17 inches or a body mass index greater than 40 to be screened for and possibly treated for sleep apnea. [UPDATE! The FAA announced it is putting the rule on hold---but that doesn't mean the issue is going away.]

Best:

  • Thousands of student pilots told us the good, the bad, and the ugly aboutDisneys planes their flight training experiences, and helped us to find the Best Flight School and Best Flight Instructor in the Flight Training Initiative Awards. The winners—San Carlos Flight Center and Conor Dancy of Aviation Adventures—are profiled in the upcoming February issue. We’ll be doing it all again in 2014, so make sure you vote!
  • After the FAA stonewalled repeated requests from AOPA and EAA to consider a movement toward a driver’s license medical for private pilots, two members of Congress introduced a bill that would allow pilots of noncommercial VFR flights to use the driver’s license medical standard to fly aircraft of up to 6,000 pounds and no more than six seats.
  • The airlines are hiring. This means regional pilots will have an opportunity to move to the majors, and flight instructors will be moving on to the regionals, leaving flight instructor openings for new CFIs.
  • Disney’s Planes landed in theaters in August (and a real-life Dusty Crophopper visited EAA AirVenture). We’ll take any opportunity we can get to introduce children to aviation. A sequel is planned for release in 2014.
  • Shell Aviation has been working on a lead-free “performance drop-in” replacement for 100LL that could power any aircraft in the piston fleet. The new formula has passed preiminary tests on Lycoming engines on the ground.

Now it’s your turn. What would you add? How was your 2013, flying-wise? Please let me know in the Comments section. Thanks for reading the Flight Training blog, and I wish you blue skies and lots of flying in 2014.—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.

 

 

 

Marketing as a CFI

December 30th, 2013

The FAA provides CFI candidates no help in the way of marketing tips for folks looking to make a living providing flight instruction. If you are simply relying on your local flight school to do the work for you, you are making a mistake: Flight schools on the whole are some of the worst businesses that exist when it comes to properly marketing their offerings. Too many rely on walk-ins, web site hits, or word of mouth.

Further, your local flight school probably wants you to work as an independent contractor, not a full-time employee. However, even if you are an employee, the chances are you will only get paid based on billable hours. This is where you have a direct say in generating some of your own income.

Marketing can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want it to be:

  • At a minimum, have some business cards printed up, and give each new client six or seven cards to distribute to people who may be genuinely interested in learning to fly (or getting back into flying or earning a new rating).
  • Add a signature to your email that lists your credentials.
  • Utilize Facebook and Twitter to advertise not only your services, but also the accomplishments of your clientele. To minimize the risk of inappropriate material being posted, create a business page/Twitter handle that is separate from your personal one.
  • Even if you are working for a flight school, create a simple website that gets to the heart of what you do and offer. Minimize the number of links people need to hit. Advertise what you offer (more on this in a bit). Use your website to brag about what your clientele have accomplished, complete with photos or videos of recent first solo flights, checkride completions, et cetera.
  • Direct mail is old-fashioned, but it still works. You can talk to your local post office about how to target certain ZIP codes (those with higher incomes) and send out a professional-looking flyer or brochure advertising yourself and your flight school. In fact, you should confirm that the flight school is OK with this, and if it is, ask the school to share in the expense. If it won’t, use your contact number on the brochure, not the school’s.
  • Coupons. People are suckers for coupons. Work with local businesses—hotels, grocery stores, barber shops—to place and distribute coupons for intro/sight-seeing flights. Include them in your mailers and on your Facebook page and website. Make sure you include an expiration date that is 4-6 months out. This motivates the buyer/user to come in and use it, and also protects you from spikes in fuel prices.
  • Local events. During the holiday season, set up a booth in the local mall that has a running DVD about flying and has a few ground-school kits and flyers. You will have to coordinate this to keep it staffed, and it might be expensive up front, but people love to give and receive sightseeing flights for gifts. Do the same thing at local fairs, school events, et cetera. See the note above about expiration dates (for Christmas sales, extend the expiration date to Labor Day). Keep notes on the trickle-down business you create from this.
  • What do you offer? Besides being a CFI, talk up what you can add to that. Are you an instrument instructor? Multiengine? Can you offer seaplane training or a tailwheel endorsement? Come up with a package or a series to offer for your sightseeing rides. It should include a photo of some sort or a video if you can do it safely. If you can mount a camera on the strut of a Cessna, you can offer a fantastic memory to your customer. If you can get a great aerial shot of a local landmark that you fly over routinely, you can sell the same one over and over, but personalize it with each customer’s name, date, et cetera.. They may never come back to take lessons, but they may refer people to you for training or just for more rides. Remember, you want to fly to get paid, so it doesn’t matter what you are doing to produce billable hours.

What do you want to specialize in? Are you into night cross-country flights? Some instructors don’t like missing family time at night, so maybe you can become the go-to night CFI. Or do you want to do IFR training? How about IFR training on long cross-country trips? I got several vacations from my clients when I was a full-time CFI for which I actually got paid.

There is much that you can do to market what you do and what you offer. It isn’t hard, and I have not even scratched the surface of it here. Whatever you do, keep detailed records on what works and what does not so that you don’t throw good money after bad. If you do this correctly, you will probably make more money than a regional airline first officer can dream of, and maybe as much as regional captain. If you leave to pursue a flying career elsewhere, you may find that your former employers will make a strong pitch to keep you or will offer to pay you for some of your contacts, et cetera.

Heck, you might even be able to market marketing!—Chip Wright

Flight training when the weather is bad

December 13th, 2013

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last blogged about five holiday gift suggestions for student pilots.—Ed.06-492  Learn to Fly

As I sit at home and watch the snow falling, I can’t help but think how much I’d rather be out taking a flight lesson in my Cessna 172 Skyhawk. But when the weather is bad, we student pilots are grounded. Just because the weather is bad, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue your lessons. So here are some suggestions to move ahead in the flight training process.

If you’re like me and studying for the knowledge test, the pause you get in cold weather is an ideal time to get some cramming in. I’m using Sporty’s Study Buddy app, and I find the flash cards to be especially helpful. Speaking of flash cards, check out these great ones from the Air Safety Institute to help you learn your airspace types and runway signage and markings.

My original flight instructor recommended that I use Microsoft Flight Simulator to practice the basics.

For those of you who are still nervous, like me, when talking to air traffic control, then there are plenty of tools you can use to help break up the nerves, including: LiveATC; a free King Schools course on Non-Towered Airport Communications; and this free Air Safety Institute course, Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication.

I hope these help in the study process. Please feel free to pass your recommendations on to me (benet.wilson@aopa.org) for a future blog post.—Benét J. 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.

Cascade mountain high

December 11th, 2013

Jean Moule last wrote about flying in Hawaii 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.

Flying over the Hoodoo Moutain Resort, Oregon

From left to right: Hoodoo ski area, Big Lake, Mount Washington

During my years of ski instructing and ski patrolling I have “gone over the pass” many, many times. And I have spent hours on patrol handling dispatch at the top of Hoodoo Mountain Resort. From there you can see what we call Sand Mountains, and the multiple snowmobile tracks that climb up their smooth, snow-covered banks as high as possible.

 Weather in Oregon can be overcast and cloudy most of the fall and winter. I have a shirt that says, “Oregon State Rain Festival: January 1 to December 31.” Rain and overcast had set in, yet there was a week of clear, sunny weather, and my hopes of flying over the Cascades to the Sisters airport and back reawakened.

Flying over the Three Sisters and Sand Mountains, Oregon

Three Sisters top middle; Sand Mountains, bottom left

I had not flown above 5,000 feet yet. With the pass at 4,800, the surrounding peaks at 10, 000, we would go first to 5,500, then 7,500, and then 9,500 as needed to help ensure distance from other airplanes. I was excited. Sounded like more fun than practicing stalls. My CFI was willing. My husband-photographer would go along.

 Ground school before the flight had Steve explaining the angle needed as we came up on the elevation of the ridge as the high and low pressure might make the turbulence more than we (I) could handle. As we took off and headed east, first over our four acres and then over the towns in Santiam Canyon that I knew so well, we noted the smoke from home chimneys rising straight up in the cloudless calm skies.

 As we climbed higher and talked about potential landing spots in the seemingly endless forests in these mountains, the tops of the Three Sisters came into view. We noticed the snow on the top of North Sister being blown strongly south and west by the winds coming up from Eastern Oregon.

Flying over the Sand Mountains, Sisters, Oregon

“Sand Mountains” are really part of a string of craters.

Sure enough, as we came to the summit of Santiam Pass, seeing the road under us winding its way over, the winds began to shake us up quite a bit. “I don’t like this!” I said. And, angled as we should be, I slowly turned us away and back into smoother air. But not before Rob took a photo of the ski area we have enjoyed for years. We saw the backside of Hoodoo Butte and the runs coming down in parallel rows. And, to our amazement, we discovered that the Sand Mountains were actually part of a row of small craters. The view from the air opened our minds to this incredible new understanding of the earth terrain we had travelled and viewed for years.

 And I had a new respect and understanding of winds.—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.