Archive for the ‘Jamie Beckett’ Category

Fuzzy crystal balls, the Beatles, and you

Friday, July 11th, 2014

In retrospect it’s hard to believe, but in 1876 a Western Union memo described the telephone as having no value to the company.  In 1957 Lee de Forest, an inventor with more than 180 patents to his name, proclaimed that a manned mission to the moon would never occur. In 1961 the commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission stated there was virtually no chance satellites in space would be used to augment television, telephone, or radio transmissions in the United States. The following year a successful music producer named Dick Rowe turned down the Beatles, having decided that guitar bands were on the way out.

What’s stunning about this collection of astoundingly wrong prognostications is not that these particular glimpses into the future were so myopic. Rather, it’s that being wrong is such a common thing when trying to anticipate what the future will hold. In each case these errant predictions were made by smart people who were respected in their field. People who were successful by the standards of their industry. Yet they were wrong. Very wrong. Embarrassingly wrong.

What about you?

Admitting we’re wrong is not something that comes easily to most of us. For some it is a virtual impossibility. Yet we are wrong from time to time. Often, in fact.

Generally we like to think of ourselves as being bright, insightful, and reasonably sharp. But that does not in any way make us infallible. So while it is easy to see the human race is fallible when viewed objectively, we rarely see failings in ourselves that lead to incorrect predictions. The self-insulating subjective view provides us with some protection from the ugly truth. We’re wrong – a lot.

If we were as right as we think we are we’d all be making a fortune in the stock market. Our football and baseball fantasy teams would be cleaning up, and Las Vegas would be a private playground for the soon-to-be-rich. But that’s not the way things work. Because we’re wrong more often than we’d like to think. And knowing that hurts, so we ignore the reality in favor of the fantasy.

Living in a delusional fantasyland of our own creation may be ultimately self-defeating, but it’s more comfortable and less challenging thank accepting reality for what it is. So many of us prefer to do just that – we delude ourselves into thinking we’re more on the ball than we really are.

Do you see yourself in this scenario? Where are you? On the right side, the wrong side, or in the zone of realism? In the zone we’re ignorant. We have gaps in our knowledge base. We continue to strive to be better, but know we’ll never get to the point that we know everything about anything. But we try anyway. That’s just the way we are.

You might want to re-read that first paragraph again. This time, keep in mind that each of those people was spectacularly wrong about at least one thing. Yet they were right about plenty of other things. Lots of things. As few of us are universally wrong as we are universally right. But we each have our moments. Even them. Even you.

So be bold, make mistakes and be proud of the lessons you learn in the process. When your crystal ball is fuzzy and the future is less than 20/20, accept it. And when you’re absolutely sure you know what’s going to happen in the future – but you turn out to be wrong – accept that too.

It’s a big world with lots of opportunity for those who seek it out. Remember, Dick Rowe may have become famous for not signing the Beatles, but he learned his lesson well enough to be the guy who went out and signed the Rolling Stones to their first recording contract. One loss, one win. On average he did pretty darned well.

In this sense at least life is a lot like basketball. If you can’t sink every shot, put some effort into learning how to rebound. One way or the other, you’ll stay in the game and make a real contribution to the team.

Go you!

Statistically speaking

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Baseball fans are the most statistically driven people I know. A serious fan can tell you almost anything about the game, the team, or the players on the field using known metrics that compare one to the other with accuracy and in context. For example:

  • Stan Musial had 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 hits at home. Apparently symmetry mattered to Stan the Man.
  • In 1985 John Tudor threw 10 shutouts in one season.
  • Bob Feller the Cleveland Indians legendary pitcher made his first big league appearance at the ripe old age of 17. He won.
  • The longest winning streak in Major League history belongs to the New York Giants with 26 consecutive victories – in 1916!
  • Joe’s little brother Dom DiMaggio was no slouch. He once had a 34 game long hitting streak.

Imagine if aviation compared stats like that. Well, some of us do. Shawn Pratt of the Safety in Motion Flight Center in Puyallup, Washington, does anyway. And what he knows about statistics is worth knowing.

As a student pilot it became obvious to me that students who flew more often were more proficient and learned more quickly than students who flew less frequently. But it never occurred to me to measure exactly how much more quickly those students finished. Shawn did the math, and what he found is amazing.

Basically, he discovered that flight students are remarkably consistent. If they fly more often they learn quicker. If they fly less often, they learn slower. That much we knew. But Shawn crunched numbers, he used statistics to measure how long it took for flight students to achieve their goals based on how often they flew. What he found was that students are far less unique in their progress than we might think. It really does come down to the frequency of their lessons. Within a very modest margin for error it’s possible to accurately predict how long it will take a student to complete their training and earn their pilot certificate based solely on how often they fly.

Imagine that. Actual stats, measurable stats that can be put to good use by flight schools, CFIs, and students alike.

Here’s the crux of what Shawn learned. There is essentially a multiplier that can be applied to the mandatory minimum number of hours required to earn a certificate or rating, and that multiplier becomes larger as the frequency of flight lessons diminishes.

Put more simply, if you fly five times a week your multiplier is something like 1.2, which means you can expect to finish your Private Pilot training in roughy 48 hours. That’s 1.2 multiplied by the required minimum of 40 hours. 1.2 X 40 = 48.

With reliable, tested information like that at your fingertips you can accurately judge how much time it will take to meet your goal of earning a private pilot certificate. At five lessons a week the entire training process boils down to just a few weeks. You don’t have to plan for months of interuptions to your schedule. You just have to hack 30 days or fewer out of your schedule and commit to them.

You can also calculate the cost of that training more accurately. With a given rate per hour and a known number of hours, it becomes fairly easy to estimate the real cost of your flight training.

Now this is where it gets interesting. If you fly less often you can see what that does to your overall training time and cost. If you participate in lessons on four days each week, the multiplier grows somewhat. But if you only fly twice a week your training time and costs more than double. Double! That’s more than twice the time, more than twice the money, way more than twice the frustration, and a much higher likelihood that you’ll quit before you reach your goal.

Yep, stats work. They give validity to our gut feelings and either prove or disprove our theories about what it takes to become a good, safe, proficient pilot while staying within the budget we’ve given ourselves to reach that goal.

Stand up, speak out, get noticed

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

I wrote a piece not long ago that extolled the virtues of telling your own story. In a nutshell, I encouraged people to get out and share the reasons aviation is important to them. Nothing beats a first-person account of a noble pursuit. Nothing.

Ah, you want proof. Fair enough. Consider this, then. Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick begins with the sentence, “Call me, Ishmael.” Right. Now I’m paying attention. This Ishmael guy is talking directly to me, so I’ll read on for a bit and see what he has to tell me. That reaction is why I can mention a book that’s over 150 years old, and you immediately know what I’m writing about.

That first sentence could just as easily have been, “The whaler’s name was Ishmael,” but that’s a lousy opening line. If the story started like that you never would have heard of Herman Melville, or Moby Dick, or the great white whale being hunted to the ends of the earth by Captain Ahab.

So I went out on a very short, sturdy limb and suggested aviation enthusiasts should make it a point to go out and tell their own story. Speak and write in the first person. Talk about the luminaries you’ve met, the mentors who helped you get to the next level, and the friends you’ve made along the way. Write about your inspiration and the legends of the industry who lit a fire in your imagination. Tell your story from your perspective and share your passion.

Now that’s a pretty simple message. It’s basic. It’s got punch. Herman Melville would approve, I’m sure. J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Mark Twain would concur, as well.

All those authors have something in common. They wrote and achieved success before the advent of social media. For all it’s benefits, social media also has the disturbing quality of allowing any of us to vent with an immediacy that is counter to our best interests. Great writing involves thinking. And thinking involves time and introspection. Social media abhors those requirements in favor of quick, knee-jerk responses that may very well expose us to the world as…well, jerks.

Take steps, not leaps. More often than not, great leaps are a bad idea. Instead, read. Think. Think some more. Formulate an opinion. Write it down if you think it has merit. Edit it. Consider having someone else look at it. Maybe you could enlist an actual editor if you know one, or your spouse, or your mom. Look at it to see if it really expresses what you want to say. Ask yourself if it’s a positive message you’re sharing or a negative one.

That last sentence is important. We all get cranky from time to time. We lash out. We defend our turf. We attack. But look at that exchange from the perspective of the other person and ask yourself, how effective would that argument be if it was directed at me?

We will all read letters to the editor we disagree with. Each and every one of us will occasionally take offense at something someone else has written, or said, or turned into a movie that does moderately well at the box office, even though the critics pan it and the Academy shows no interest when award season swings into high gear. Before we launch off on a tirade in an attempt to correct the transgression we perceive, ask yourself this – are they telling your story wrong, or are they telling an entirely different story that doesn’t align with yours?

Their story is not your story. My story is not your story. Yours is unique, worthwhile, valuable, and precious. So share it yourself. Tell the world. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you can require someone else, anyone else, to tell your story accurately, in the way you want it to be told. You can’t. Taking even the first step down that road is a guarantee of failure and heartache later on.

With all that in mind, I’ll repeat myself. Read. Think. Think some more. Formulate an opinion. Write it down if you think it has merit. Edit it. Publish.

If you do those few things, in that order, your chances of having a positive result increase dramatically.

Good luck to you. Good luck to us all.

Coming soon to a television near you…

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

In a land that counts television as the great communicator, is there room for a network devoted to aviation? Maybe, maybe not. The answer is probably largely up to you, the viewer. Or more accurately the combined viewership of that magical box that continues to grow wider, larger, thinner, and higher-resolution, even as the available programming becomes increasingly niche oriented.

Today we have a channel for everything, it seems. We’ve got channels about food. There are channels devoted to travel. We’ve got science fiction channels, game show channels, military channels, cartoon channels, and news channels to beat the band. Oh yes, we’ve got music channels, too. Kids channels, movie channels, religious channels, shopping channels, gay channels, independent programming channels, even C-SPAN, perhaps the most important and most snore inducing channel to ever come down the pike. But you know what we don’t have? We don’t have a dedicated aviation channel.

I’m not talking about the occasional aeronautically themed programming, like what we might catch on Speed, or the History Channel, or the Blowing Stuff Up During WWII channel. I mean a channel that’s all about aviation and aerospace. Can you imagine the potential? Can you imagine the challenges?

Whew, what a workload.

Television may look easy, but it’s not. Putting a program on the air is a Herculean task. Building an entire network designed to host programming that fits a specific niche in the market is even harder. There are people working on just those challenges, though. Good people. Smart, dedicated, highly-experienced people who have big dreams, mind-bogglingly extensive spreadsheets, and sizzle reels that make you scratch your head and say out loud, “Why isn’t this on my cable line-up right now?”

Allow me to introduce you to two very ambitious projects. One is an aviation themed television program in the development stage. The other is a fledgling aerospace network that’s looking for a home.

AirFare America came across my plate last year at SUN ‘n FUN. An enthusiastic woman who is the embodiment of effervescence took the time to settle down long enough to show me a clip, walk me through the concept, and thoroughly whet my appetite for a program about the edible delights we find at airports from one corner of the continent to the next. Better than the food are the people they discover. Andrea Vernot’s vision caught my eye, my imagination, and my heart. Who doesn’t love a $100 hamburger now and then? Especially if it comes with a great story on the side. Andrea and her partner got that same idea, built on it, shot some stellar video, and are now in the process of making things happen.

Check out a sample of what they’re trying to bring to your living room screen at: http://www.airfareamerica.net/

As if bringing a new program to the tube isn’t hard enough, Phillip Hurst, late of the Golf Channel, has banded together with a stellar group of aviation brainiacs, astronauts, aerobatic wizards, and filmmakers to launch a concept called Air & Space Television. Focusing on sport, adventure, and lifestyle, the men and women behind Air & Space Television hope to forge a new connection with the broader population. They’re not looking to simply entice pilots and hard-core enthusiasts to watch television on the drab days when the ceilings are too low to launch off on a fun flight. They’re working on a plan that will reach out and grab the casual observer, the daydreaming teenager, the bored housewife (or househusband), the adventure junkie looking for a new outlet, and the family that wants to experience something new and exciting vicariously through the lens of a photographer and crew who get up-close and personal with scenes that would scare the bejeezus out of a rational ground-pounder.

Catch up with the Air & Space Television plan at: http://www.airandspace.tv/

The challenges are many, as you can imagine. But it’s a good sign that they’re out there, Andrea and Phillip and their peers. As long as visionaries with imaginations and a talent from telling a story are among us, there is an excellent chance that aviation will thrive for another century, and then another after that. This activity of flight used to be introduced to little boys who lay in the grass watching clouds drift by. It’s expanded its reach now, accepted an ever more diversified body of participants, and still calls out for new converts – albeit in new and exciting ways that can reach each of us right there in our homes. If only all the pieces would fall together.

It gives me hope to know they’re out there, working toward the day when their dream comes to fruition. To a day when anyone in American can snap on their television and surf right up to a channel that will show everything from a Mercury capsule launching into space, an episode of Black Sheep Squadron, the latest happenings on the International Space Station, or maybe even a piece on how the restaurant at your favorite airport restaurant prepares their signature dish.

This could be a great way to spend a rainy, cold weekend in the future. If only…if only…I wish them all the success in the world.

Winning the uphill battle

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Let’s face it, trying to get non-aviation people to jump on the aviation bandwagon isn’t easy. Yet, this is no time for despair. It can be done. Here in my neighborhood we’re doing it. Not without resistance, not without sacrifice, and not without a few bruised egos and dented reputations. But it’s happening. Wanna know the secret to making progress at city hall?

The key to making real progress is finding the resources and using the creativity that allows you to speak in a language the non-aviation community understands. That’s right. Don’t waste another minute trying to figure out how to make the benefits of aviation apparent to them. Flip the game-board over and take a whole new look at how we communicate with the non-aviation audience – an audience that far outnumbers our flying brothers and sisters, incidentally.

In a very real sense, we need them more than they need us. Oh sure, they do need us. But they won’t know that unless aviation dies completely, and that’s not an experiment we need to play with. So let’s look to success. Let’s speak their language on their terms and get right into their comfort zone.

It’s working here in central Florida. Truly it is.

When I was tasked with presenting to the city commission a five point plan our airport advisory committee developed, I didn’t spend one minute of my valuable podium time trying to teach the five politicians and assembled staff why aviation matters. Similarly, I didn’t talk about the potential aviation has to help people reach their potential, or how tourism might benefit from a more vibrant airport. Nope, I talked about real estate. Commercial real estate. That’s something the non-aviation consumer understands.

I said this, essentially. Imagine the airport isn’t an airport. Imagine that it’s a mall. A large piece of commercial property that you own and manage. It’s underperforming. You have no anchor stores, only a single outlet in the food court, a couple kiosks and a storefront or two rented – but overall you’ve got a lot of empty space to lease and no tenants lining up to sign contracts.

That’s entirely true – and because it is, it got their attention. It doesn’t really matter if the management team understands aviation. I don’t really care if they can differentiate between an AWOS installation and the PAPI lights. They have to understand this much simpler message – they have no idea what the positive attributes of the property are. They also have no idea what the negative attributes of the property are. But I do. The members of the airport advisory committee do. We’re professional aviation geeks. We not only know how aviation works, we know who works in the field. We have contacts, known in the real estate business as leads. If dealt with appropriately leads can turn into tenants. Tenants provide jobs and economic value.

The message is subtle, maybe a little subliminal, but it’s there. The commissioners think to themselves, “I don’t know how to find leads, but these aviation nuts hanging out at the airport do. They’re willing to help. Heck, they fleshed out a five point plan to revitalize the airport and breathe new life into our local economy. Maybe it’s time we let them have the ball and run with it for a bit. Maybe.”

It’s not a perfect solution, admittedly. There is still lots of work to do. But we’re in the door, we’re being taken seriously, and the five point plan is being adopted as our new method of doing business. That’s a win in my book. We could use more success in this business. So consider the unconventional act of speaking like they speak rather than wishing they could talk like we do. It’s easier. It’s faster. And at least in our case, it’s been a more successful approach to a problem that goes back decades at our airport.

Good luck. And be sure to come back and let the rest of us know how it went for you. We’re all in this together. So let’s all get into the game and work together to achieve some real victories.

In support of Light Sport Aircraft (LSA)

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Only days after the final AOPA Summit in 2013, Cessna dropped the news that the Skycatcher was history. No longer would the GA giant put their significant corporate muscle into developing a following for their C-162, the only aircraft the company produced that was aimed at the light sport market. In keeping with the international flair of the airplane which was designed by an American company and built in China, when Cessna CEO Scott Ernest said the airplane had no future he might as well have used the German expression, “Es ist tot.”

The Skycatcher is dead. At least it’s dead as far as Cessna is concerned.

That’s not the end of the story, however. Not by a long shot. This is Cessna we’re talking about after all. The big dog of the general aviation industry. The company by which virtually all other general aircraft manufacturers are measured. There’s hardly an airport in North America that doesn’t sport a wide a assortment of Cessna aircraft on the ramp, in the hangars, and in the sky above. When the news broke that Cessna was pulling out of the light sport market, tongues started wagging.

Contributing to the overall sense of curiosity in the industry was that the announcement came only weeks prior to the US Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida. That event has been growing and finding new converts for more than a decade now. Unique among aviation events, it’s not an airshow and it’s not a fly-in. It’s a product exposition that puts potential customers in close proximity to the machines they’re thinking of buying. Demo flights are undertaken, questions and asked and answered, tires are kicked and aircraft are sold. Yes, aircraft are sold. That’s the whole point of the show, really.

So what’s a general aviation pilot to think of the light sport market these days? The mixed messages I’ve just given you are really all the majority of the pilot population has to go on. Cessna’s out, and a whole bunch of little known names are in.

Feel free to scratch your head in wonder. You won’t be alone, I assure you.

The reality is, Light Sport is alive and well. The aircraft are increasingly finding their way on to flight lines across the continent and the world at large. Those who fly them find the meager fuel burn and the lighter touch of reduced regulatory intrusion to be a beneficial factor in their decision making. Yet still, Light Sport Aircraft and the light sport pilot certificate remain largely misunderstood by the majority of the pilot population. So let’s dispel some rumors and get on with the business of growing the industry, shall we?

Light Sport Aircraft are not flimsy, poorly designed, poorly built tin cans. In fact, the ASTM (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) standard for the design and construction of light sports is in many ways superior to the old CAR 3 standard that so many of our legacy aircraft were designed and built under. For the purposes of comparison, it’s worth noting that both the Piper Cub and the Cessna 172 were originally CAR 3 certified aircraft.

The sport pilot certificate is not a dumbed down version of the private pilot certificate. For those who wish to verify this claim you need look no farther than an FAA Sport Pilot PTS and compare it to an FAA Private Pilot PTS. Because the sport pilot is prohibited from flying at night or in instrument conditions, there are fewer tasks for the sport pilot to perform during their practical test – but the completion standards for every task that is common to both certificates is identical. Yes, identical. A short field landing for a sport pilot applicant is evaluated using the exact same criteria and tolerances required of a private pilot applicant.

Light Sport Aircraft do not all employ unreliable 2-stroke engines. In fact the most popular engine on the market today is the Rotax 912 family of powerplants. They’ve proven to be tough, reliable, fuel efficient, and capable of running just fine on unleaded auto fuel. Mogas. For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, that means the Rotax burns fewer gallons per hour while using less expensive fuel than the more traditional aircraft engines in the 80 – 100 horsepower range. Unleaded fuel. We can assume the EPA is pleased with this development.

Certificated flight instructors with an airplane rating are perfectly legal to instruct sport pilot students, and perform flight reviews for sport pilots. In fact a review of sport pilot privileges and limitations are a requirement of the FIRC (Flight Instructor Refresher Course) designed to bring CFIs up to speed on regulatory changes and instructional insights every two years.

Don’t let misconceptions, misunderstandings, and erroneous assumptions color your perception of what Light Sport is, and what it isn’t. Yes, Cessna got out of the Light Sport Aircraft business. That is no more relevant than it would be to assume that small, fuel efficient cares would disappear from the roads because Volkswagen stopped building or importing air-cooled Beetles into the United States in the mid-1970s. The Beetle still exists of course, in an alternate form. And there’s no guarantee Cessna won’t see a new opportunity to enter the LSA market somewhere down the road. In the meantime there are numerous manufacturers, both American and foreign, that are producing some excellent aircraft that fit well into the Light Sport Aircraft market. And pilots are transitioning into sport pilot at an encouraging rate, whether they’re new to aviation and logging their first PIC time, or they come from the cockpit of a transport category aircraft and are facing the reality of paying their own fuel bill for the first time in their lives.

Don’t count Light Sport Aircraft out. Don’t even consider the category to have the sniffles. LSAs were sold at the Expo in Sebring this year, as they do every year. The industry might in fact be considerably healthier and more viable than you ever dreamed. Truly!

The conundrum of modern life

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

In all my years in aviation, I can’t recall ever visiting an airport or an aviation business that hasn’t been the object of noise complaints at some point. Some suffer the indignity of public outrage on a regular basis.

I find this odd.

Bear with me now. There’s a point to this.

I live in a suburban neighborhood less than two miles from the downtown of my small city. There is a train track that runs past my house. It lies roughly 200 yards from my bedroom window. I can truthfully report in all sincerity that a train has never woken me up or intruded on my daily routine. For a guy who often works from an office that’s tucked away in that railroad adjacent house, that’s saying something. On the other hand, with three crossings within a half mile of my house, the train whistle has woken me up literally hundreds if not thousands of times.

That whistle has woken up my wife, my kids, the neighbors, and anyone who might be visiting in the neighborhood, too. So what? As much as I dislike being woken up from a sound sleep, and as much as I wish it didn’t happen–I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.

I had to drive over that railroad track to get to the house when my wife and I were house shopping all those years ago. It didn’t escape our attention that the existence of tracks was a pretty good indicator that trains might travel along those rails now and then. We took the noise in stride, because the irritation factor of the train whistle was offset by the lower cost of the home.

There was a similar home for sale less than half a mile away. It was on a lake that connected to other lakes via a chain of canals. It was beautiful. It was also listed for twice as much as we paid for our current home.

Life is full of trade-offs. It just is. There’s no malice intended. The railroad is not at the heart of an evil plot to wake me and all my neighbors up from a deep sleep. Yet they do. And still we do not build barricades on the tracks; we don’t shine lasers in the engineer’s eyes as he passes. No matter how often we find the annoyance of freight trains a bother, we know our driveways are filled with cars that were transported to this far flung location on a train. The trusses in my roof were built of lumber that arrived here by train. In fact so many products and raw materials arrive in my general area by train that I can’t even begin to envision them all. But that’s no big deal. Those same products and materials arrive in your general vicinity by train, too.

My choice is clear. I could protest the whistle. I might choose to file petitions with the courts. I suppose it’s even possible that I might go so far as to assassinate the character of railroad executives in the press. But to what effect? If I am successful I’ll simply find it harder to get lumber, or a new automobile, or any number of necessary items. If can I find them, they’ll cost me more. And they’ll cost my neighbors more, too.

Would the trains really stop? No, probably not. The economy of population and need would require them to find another route. The train wouldn’t wake me up anymore. But the noise wouldn’t stop. It would just be transported to another part of town, another neighborhood, where it would rankle the residents of a new neighborhood.

Aviation is no different. There is an irritation factor for the neighbors. At least occasionally, we have to admit that’s true. But what of it? The air traffic isn’t descending into the local park and knocking over the ice cream stand. It’s headed for the airport, a confined area that’s designated specifically as the hub of air traffic for a given area. The neighbors knew there was an airport there. Just like my experience with the railroad, the existence of an airport is a reasonably good indicator of the likelihood of arriving or departing air traffic in the near future.

That’s the trade-off. In exchange for a convenient flight to vacation and business spots. In order to have overnight freight shipments available. To provide educational opportunities for the next generation of pilots, mechanics, administrators, and more – there is an airport. And the airport creates noise. Not insufferable, constant, unrelenting noise. No. It brings with it occasional, potentially irritating noise that we all recognize as being associated with airports.

So why do I bring all this up? Simple. I’m suggesting we change our tune, stop making the argument that airports aren’t noisy, or shouldn’t be noisy, or perhaps should adopt radical noise mitigation procedures to reduce noise levels. Rather, we should admit that airports are industrial areas that emit noise. Much like the railroad, or the highway, or shipping warehouse, or a police station, or a fire station, or a garbage truck. Yet no one would expect to be taken seriously if they suggested we should close all those other services down rather than accept the noise they make.

No. We like garbage pick-up, fire protection, crime prevention, independent travel over safe roads, and good paying jobs too much to shut all that down. Modern society just wouldn’t exist without all that–or the airport.

Let’s get off defense and start playing offense. That’s where we’re going to start putting points up on the big board.

The Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

As aviation enthusiasts we can be sure with a very high degree of confidence that we will have disagreements with non-aviation enthusiasts from time to time. Maybe the issue will be user fees. Perhaps it will be about funding of an airport project. It might even be about safety, often in the aftermath of a high profile accident or incident that has shaken the non-aviation enthusiast to the bone. Whatever the case, conflict will come our way. It’s a given. We know it will happen. The only questions revolve around when and what the specific topic of concern will be.

So let’s take that knowledge and get ourselves ready. Like it or not, when the discussion gets going every aviation enthusiast who speaks up, jots a line on a social media site, or writes a letter to the editor of their local paper is going to become a target. Perhaps of greater concern is the likelihood that they’ll be perceived as the official spokesperson for all of aviation.

Few if any of us are prepared to take on that role with any confidence.

There are a few key points to keep in mind during times of concern that have the potential to turn into confrontations. They’re pertinent to a discussion of aviation issues, but they’re just as valid when you’re in the workplace when conflicts arise, or at home when spousal differences of opinion occur. Let’s go ahead and call these points what they are; the Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution.

1. Be respectful. We all learned this one on the playground as kids, but when tempers flare it can be forgotten in the blink of an eye. Always be respectful of your counterpart. Their fears may seem baseless to you, but they’re real points of concern for others. So take their worries seriously. Acknowledge them. That doesn’t mean you have to agree or accept their concerns as valid, but your willingness to at least admit the other person’s concerns are legitimate and understandable can become the first step to diffusing those fears and replacing the knee-jerk response of non-aviation enthusiasts with more thoughtful and well reasoned reactions.

2. Listen. We often assume we know the position of people who have taken a position that’s not in line with ours. Often that assumption is wrong. Be sure to take the time to listen, even encourage the other person to express their concerns. You may find that your argument in favor of the point you felt most central to the issue isn’t even something the other guy is thinking about at all. The best way to understand the other person’s perspective is to listen, learn what they’re worried about, or afraid of, and work productively with those issues rather than the ones you assumed were the most important.

3. Choose your words carefully. Your initial response can set the tone for the discussion as it moves forward. You can make points and begin the process of bringing your opponent over to your side, or you can drive a wedge between the two parties by saying the wrong thing. For example, when a non-aviation enthusiast rails against the reliability of aircraft engines after reading about a crash caused by a stall, don’t blurt out, “Oh that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” While it may seem a less than insightful position from your standpoint, the non-aviation enthusiast is reacting to the news from their own specific frame of reference. Those who don’t fly think of a stall as a mechanical issue having to do with the engine. Pilots know it as an aerodynamic event having to do with the airfoils on the aircraft.

Try something more diplomatic for a first response, such as, “In aviation the term, “stall” has a completely different meaning than it does in the automotive industry. If you’d like I can explain the difference. That might help you understand what happened a bit more clearly.”

Because our perspective on aviation and the aerospace industry is likely to be very different from that of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors, we are uniquely positioned to make others feel more comfortable and accepting about aviation – or build a wall between us that will be difficult to tear down again in the future. The choice is ours. Personally, I prefer to use the Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution. I just don’t have the bone structure to carry off a fat lip or a black eye well, and I’d rather make friends than enemies any day. How about you?

Flight training on the cheap

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

There’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t hear somebody, somewhere making the observation that flying is expensive. I can relate. News Flash: It is! Another News Flash: It always was.

Having established the basics, let’s at least consider looking a little deeper into our options for cutting cost and bringing the aviation experience within reach of more people, more effectively. Admittedly, the airplane is an expensive classroom. It’s also a lousy classroom. As a flight instructor I learned long ago, expecting student pilots to absorb new information while hurtling through the sky at one-hundred knots or so, way up high in the air, while the sound of the engine, propeller, and rushing airflow do their best to deafen him (or her), is close to being an exercise in futility. There are few torture chambers that are less conducive to the experience of learning than the cockpit of an aircraft in flight.

So let’s at least consider making the educational experience more rewarding, less frightening, stress-free, and immeasurably less expensive. What’s the best and least expensive flight training tool available to fighter pilots and the general public? You’re sitting on it.

Whether you’re sharing a metal park bench with a loved one, going solo in a Eames lounge chair that sells for thousands of dollars, or a balancing precariously on a folding director’s chair you just fished out of the dumpster next door, the seat you’re filling is arguably the best, the least expensive, and the most readily available flight training aid you’ll find.

It works like this. Sit in the chair as comfortably as you can. Relax. Use your imagination to put your feet on the rudder pedals. Rest one hand on the yoke (or stick, as the case may be), leaving the other free to handle the imaginary throttle, flaps, landing gear, and so on. Now run through the tasks you have to practice.

It may sound foolish, but sitting in that chair and running through a takeoff, steep turn, stall and recovery, turn-around-a-point, forward slip to a landing, or pretty much any other task will make you a better pilot. And it will do it at no cost to you. Well, potentially at the cost of some slight embarrassment if you run through your paces at work while mimicking the sounds of the engine, the gear, or the squeal of the tires when they first touch the ground. Other than that your bench, chair, or oversized garden planter can all serve as a perfectly viable training aid.

Of course you can’t log time spent balancing on the railing while pretending to perform slow-flight or an emergency descent. But you can learn from the experience. You can ingrain the steps to virtually any maneuver or task in your thought process. You can become increasingly familiar with the appropriate configuration of the aircraft, solidify the need to clear the area before initiating a maneuver, and review the completion standards in order to give yourself specific goals to shoot for. In short, you can practice flying with precision without spending a dime. That’s a pretty darned good cost cutter, don’t you think?

Since you’re thinking it, I’ll tell you. Yes, I actually use this method of training myself. I used it as a primary student and I used it throughout my training right up through earning my CFI. Years later when I decided to add a seaplane rating to my tickets, I used it again. I closed the glass doors to my office, sat down, and saved myself a small fortune by running through idle taxi, step taxi, plow taxi, normal takeoffs, rough water takeoffs, glassy water takeoffs, and so on, until I could do them in my sleep.

The only thing that had changed from the time I began using this system as a primary student was that my children were older and more capable of talking back and making fun of the old man by this point. So it wasn’t the least bit unusual to hear the sound of my daughters coming from the living room as I persistently practiced for my impending practical test. “Dad’s really weird,” they’d say. To which I’d chuckle.

Weird? Maybe. But I get to work on maneuvers without writing a check and that’s a pretty good payoff in exchange for the kids finding out I’m a bit odd.

Try it. It works.

I had no idea…

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

I’ve been hearing that rejoinder a lot lately. When I speak to groups or individuals about how aviation impacts high school students, providing direction, a sense of responsibility, a requirement for lifelong learning, and mentoring from the sort of impressive men and women who spend time at that airport, I often hear in response, “I had no idea.”

In September Polk State College, which operates two campuses here in central Florida, was approved to provide a four year degree in Aerospace Science. That opens the door to a Bachelor Degree program in pilot science for the students who are currently enrolled to earn an Associates Degree in that field. Similarly, students who were pursuing an A.S. in aerospace administration can also go on to earn their B.S. at Polk State, too. All at a fraction of the cost of a private instituion. That news also elicits a lot of, “I had no idea,” responses.

Here in my neck of the woods a high school student with a GPA of 2.75 or better is eligible for the James C. Ray Scholarship which can pay up to seventy-five percent of the cost of training for a sport or private pilot certificate. For those who cannot fill the twenty-five percent gap, there is a supplemental scholarship available through Sun ‘n Fun (the host organization for the second largest annual aviation event in the nation) that will trade sweat equity for the remainder of the cost. That means a high school student who has an itch to fly can earn a pilot certificate in this county for very low cost, or at no cost to them at all. To which people, including high school teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators often say, “I had no idea.”

Add to that news the Airframe and Powerplant courses offered at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy. This is a high school located on the grounds of the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport where students can begin their education and training to earn Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic certificates. As a magnet high school that falls under the purview of the Polk County public school system, the cost for that education and training is borne by the taxpayers in the community, not the students. This results in a program of study that leads to certification and employment in a high wage field – at little to no cost to the student. And again I hear from those who will listen, “I had no idea.”

Oh yes, and that high school has a graduation rate of one-hundred percent! You already know what people say when they hear that news. I won’t bore you with the phrase again.

These opportunities are not available to high school and college students in Polk County, Florida because there is something in the water or in the air that makes my neck of the woods appreciably different than yours, or any one else’s. These opportunities exist because of the dedicated efforts of people with vision, and drive, and a sincere belief that aviation can elevate our educational system and our economy. And they’re right. It can.

By taking a collaborative approach to doing business and sharing resources, the communities, businesses, and individuals in my county have begun to do something remarkable. We’re growing the pilot population, developing an aviation-centric culture that inspires students young and old to strive for success and achieve it, and tying our educational system to our economy in ways that will provide real growth and opportunity for generations to come.

We have banded together willingly to provide the mentoring necessary to reach these ambitious goals. We find the funding. We develop the programs. And perhaps most important of all, we work together to provide talent, resources, facilities, marketing, and sincere cooperation between our partners to do something that has never been done before. We’re creating the most aviation friendly destination in North America – and we’re just getting started.

So who is, “we?” We are the Polk Aviation Alliance, and we’re more than happy to share the blueprint for how we’re doing what we’re doing, so you can do it too.

 

Bluer skies are ahead. Believe it.