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Luggage: Pay now or pay twice later

Early  in your piloting career, you begin making not-insignificant investments in everything from books to headsets, sunglasses to spare headsets, and everything in between. Just when you feel like you’ve already bought everything that Sporty’s has to offer, you get hired by an airline, and you’re up to the next sizable purchase: luggage.

Quality luggage is critical. You’ll be dragging a suitcase through airports, parking lots, airplanes, rain, snow, sleet, and the occasional pile of dog droppings. You’ll be jamming your bag into overhead bins, storage spots in cockpits, and places you can’t even imagine. You’ll also be using a flight bag of some sort every day. However, unlike in days of yore, you won’t be needing an old-fashioned “brain bag.”

There are three major brands of luggage that can take a beating and will get you a lot of miles. Luggage Works is by far the most common. The bags have a metal frame, a durable cloth material, and roller-skate wheels. More importantly, they come with the backing of the company, and if you ever need to have a bag repaired—and at some point you will—the company will rebuild it for the fraction of the cost of a new one. You can also get personalized handles, so that your name is visible to anyone else looking for a black suitcase in a pile of black suitcases. The only downside to Luggage Works is that its bags are heavy. But…they last forever.

Luggage Works also makes an entire array of modular luggage that all works together, and it is all made of the same rugged material.

Tumi  is another popular brand of luggage, but it is also—by any reasonable measure—prohibitively expensive. That said, it is rock solid; the suitcases are expandable when full; and they are effortless to roll. I mention them because a few airlines use them as “official” luggage, which means you can usually take advantage of substantial discounts. However, those discounts usually apply only to the selected units used by the airline. With the discounts, the prices are very competitive with Luggage Works.

The third most common is Travel Pro. Travel Pro is made more of plastic, and it isn’t as durable. The cloth isn’t as rugged as Luggage Works, but for the standard person it is fine. However, we aren’t standard people when it comes to travel.

Like headsets, luggage is one of those things where you can pay now or pay twice later. Get good quality in the beginning, and you’ll be glad you did. It will also behoove you to get a second suitcase at a minimum. Eventually, your suitcase will need to be repaired or fixed, no matter how well you take care of it. Either way, you need quality stuff that is rugged, well-designed, and fits overheads and cockpit storage areas.—Chip Wright

Fearing Fear Itself

For the longest time, I thought I had a very strange relationship with fear when it came to airplanes. Those who watch the product of my high-altitude flying in an aircraft that is of debatable suitability tend to exclaim that I must be some sort of fearless cowboy, incapable of noticing that impending doom lies around each corner. I tend to ignore those exclamations, as I am intimately aware of the neurosis that goes on in my mind before, during, and after each flight, and it tends to be the opposite of the cowboy mantra. I began to ask myself recently if my sensitivity to fear was getting worse.

As I sat down to address the concept of fear, it came to me that my view of fear is based on my perception of risk, which I can compare rather precisely. In a rather unusual chain of events, the PA-11 that I do most of my flying in was the aircraft in which I soloed and obtained my private certificate, 21 and 22 years ago respectively. As I have traveled the world with it, I can compare my approach and feelings about aviation in a rather controlled introspective study, as it’s the same exact airplane.

When I was a teenager, my grandfather had just restored the airplane, inclusive of obtaining an overhauled Continental O-200 engine, with all accessories at zero time. Those who saw the airplane exclaimed at its craftsmanship, often offering my father unsolicited purchase prices. That led me to believe that the machine was perfect, and absent something “crazy” like a connecting rod going through a piston wall, “nothing was going to happen.” And besides, what if it did? “We train for it, just land it in a field.” And if the plane gets damaged? “It’s insured.” Shrug.

One of the joys of being a teenager is the ability to not fully process the consequences of one’s decisions, so in that case, ignorance was truly bliss.

After an unwelcome break from aviation for eight years, I began flying in earnest in my late 20s, and I had to revisit fear again. I wasn’t worried about the ability to pilot the aircraft, as I had that ingrained into me since I was a kid. I was beginning to question the perfection of the airplane, as it was now fifteen years from its restoration, and was showing some signs of age, partially from sitting and partially from having some hundreds of hours on it. There is also the thought process, not of “its insured,” but “is the insurance enough for third-party damages?” Gone was the idea that I’d just “land it in a field.” Disability and health insurance, deductibles…..the teenage brain was no longer active, and now a responsible adult had to think these things through, inclusive of long-term consequences to a flight having gone wrong.

So how does one rationalize fear and risk? I developed a fetish that Cubs were basically an indestructible airplane that could scud run, short-field takeoff, short-field land, land in snow and mud, avoid busy airspace, fly around high peaks safely, land on the runway sideways in extreme wind….you name it, if a thought came into my mind that represented aeronautical danger, I could rationalize it away by noting some characteristic as to why the Cub wasn’t going to kill me, whereas a spam can would. In retrospect, I went through this mental exercise as I simply couldn’t accept that the airplane could crash with me in it.

That was a fine way to avoid thinking about death, until it almost killed me with a near swipe into a fence in Nebraska some years ago. After a long succession of events, including a blown weather forecast, extremely strong winds, sparse airports, and a furious crosswind in western Nebraska with no alternates in fuel range….well, suffice it to say that there is indeed a limit to how much crosswind the Cub can handle. After a near dance with a fence and a few other things, I landed on the airport lawn into the wind and now had a new problem: I became afraid of crosswinds.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this generic fear was stupid. Where I could have used fear would have been a fear about the fence before nearly flying into the fence. I now did not need a fear of all crosswinds, even if moderate. I had a long and storied history of developing skill landing in strong winds, and the reality of my feelings was not rational. Fear is a fantastic tool to fuel prevention; it does nothing when someone is edgy and panicky trying to fly a plane, as the mind punishes the pilot that he or she “should not be in this situation,” when the most pressing thing is to get out of said situation. Eventually, I slapped myself out of being afraid of every puff of wind, refined my fuel alternate planning, and put vortex generators on, so I truly can land across the runway if it’s that bad. I needed to later that year….twice.

Now that brings to the next phase of life. As middle-age approaches and my hours are getting higher, I find myself wondering what I have missed as I cannot believe that I have crossed into the threshold of immunity from accidents. After reading accident reports and talking to pilots about actual or near accidents…the set of keys, pencil, and coffee mug that jammed the controls on landing….the power line impact with a Super Cub…. I can’t tell if I prefer ignorance or if I do want to know about the multitude of things that I haven’t been thinking about. Both of them are challenging subjects to entertain. How old is that copper fuel line? Wasn’t there a pilot I talked to where his cracked and he landed in a warehouse? And those shock cords…they were installed when I was in eighth grade…shouldn’t they be replaced? Yet the reality is that one mechanic says to replace them whereas the mechanic I paid to do it wondered why I am messing with them as they are “just fine.”

As hours climb in an airplane, so does experience in piloting and decision-making, which reduces risk. However, each hour flown is another hour where something could go wrong, either mechanically or in another context, and I wonder where these dueling forces will come to equilibrium. Many times coming in for a landing, after having flown around prodigiously high glaciated peaks, I have two feelings running in my mind: satisfaction that I am back near base where things should be safer and the voice in my head that says “don’t let this landing be the one.” Just because it’s a sunny day and a successful jaunt into the Alps is coming near to a close doesn’t mean I won’t join the ranks of high-time pilots doing incredibly stupid things, earning their epitaph in a fatal accident study published in a magazine.

I would like to say that risk is ever-present, being the soulless probability of an incident, whereas fear is our response to it, and the two will always continue to be present. While I could make a textbook actuarial case for that statement, I think the relationship between the two is far more dynamic. While mechanical failure can seem to be an “act of God,” it is also the result of the sum of maintenance decisions made for the life of the airplane, mixed with uncontrollable chance. Appropriate fear, which prevents stupidity, lowers risk. Excess fear, which scrambles the mind of a scared pilot, increases risk. Experience reduces risk, mostly, whereas each additional hour in an airplane is another chance for an accident.

I think the takeaway is that fear and risk are a part of flying, are at dynamic equilibrium, and inevitably change during the life of a pilot. It would be safe to say that there is no final destination with safety and aeronautical decision-making, as humans are emotional beings, and a healthy relationship with available wisdom in light of flights taken is always changing. I suppose I shall continue to look at each nut and bolt on the airplane as a potential fatal encounter, while blissfully flying above glaciated terrain, with not a care in the world due to the beauty of it all.

Here are visuals of things that make me blissfully serene, yet ironically contain a fair amount of risk depending on who is looking at it. Transatlantic ferry pilots shudder looking at these, and I shudder even thinking about leaving gliding distance to shore.

Above the clouds, in snowy mountains, is the greatest escape on planet earth. Completely disconnected from civil society. An alternate airport was over the hill without overcast, and an orographically-induced gap was behind me.

In a close second is a sea of glaciers at 12,000 feet. 


A serrated knife blade of rock jutting into the sky (look and you’ll see one in the foreground) is quite satisfying.

It took a couple of years of writing and I have finally completed book #22: The 300 Hour Summer: Flying the Rockies in a Piper Cub. It is a travelogue of my experiences flying the Cub based in Wyoming a distance of the circumference of the earth in one long summer. The Nebraska incident, among other things, gets greater detail.

World peace vacation or expedition?

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” –Anonymous

This expedition is amazing and to some it could seem like a vacation because I’m living my impossibly big dream and experiencing so much joy during my polar circumnavigation in Citizen of the World.

However, for me, it is a working mission. Whether I’m wearing my immersion suit in case of a water evacuation, dressed in my flight suit with sponsor logos during public events, or dressed in casual street clothes as I stopover in cities, I have never worked harder than I am on this trip—or in the past two years preparing for and overcoming so many obstacles to be able to do this polar circumnavigation.

I fly solo for most legs, requiring intense concentration and multitasking in a highly modified airplane that involves extensive upkeep. On stopovers to 26 countries I serve as an informal ambassador for the United States and worldwide sponsors while meeting many people speaking many different languages with many different customs as we share the things that are important to all of us as “Citizens of the World.”

That’s not to say I’m not making time when I’m on the ground to build in downtime. I do. I have to—for stress management and for recovery with the schedule we keep. But there is an important distinction. The Flying Thru Life mission is all about living life with grace, ease, and joy. These qualities are experienced as a result of purpose-driven work that comes with a lot of sweat equity along the way. Through my aircraft Citizen of the World, I and my team are on a mission for peace and global sustainability for the planet. If you consider that description a vacation, then everyone should experience that kind of vacation. Our primary goal is connecting the two places on the planet where peace has always existed—the North and South poles—and everyone in between.

To do this we have a business plan, goals and objectives, 10 team members, over 90 sponsors, and thousands of followers asking to be kept informed of our plans and results.

While on this expedition, I’m writing another book about this experience titled Citizen of the World: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. It’s work for me because after each leg I sit down at my computer for several hours while things are still fresh in my mind and break the experience down into moment-by-moment detail. It’s difficult to see how things connect and what this expedition means without reflecting on or pondering in hindsight about the relationships between events, but it still makes sense to get the details down on paper. This will be my third book and I’m 100+ pages into it already. Writing a book is a huge commitment and involves challenges and personal growth since life often gets in the way. For me, writing is cathartic and effortful. My style is very intense and raw, involving the conversations that are going on in my head and often not spoken. It takes work to get them onto paper.

We are also filming a world-class documentary about the expedition titled Citizen of the World: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond that is intended to complement the book and, Gods willing, to be sold to Netflix. The Flying Thru Life team has been so fortunate to attract director and cinematographer Jeremy LaZelle and production coordinator Kristin Gates to our project. Jeremy has produced and directed for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and Animal Planet. Kristin is a world-class adventurer and accomplished speaker with achievements including being the first woman to hike the Brooks Range in the absolute cold of the Alaskan winter.

Our documentary involves flying all over the world in a highly modified aircraft; meeting all different types of people; and talking to them about what peace looks and feels like to them, what it means to be a “Citizen of the World,” and what advice they have for the rest of the world on how to live a meaningful life. The documentary has an aviation theme with the aircraft Citizen of the World setting world records along the way that involve taking airplane and pilot to their absolute limits.

The goal here is to show the world that we are more similar than different, and we are connected in Oneness: One Planet, One People, One Plane. We had hoped to film five terabytes of film for the documentary in six months and just six weeks into a six-month trip we are already at four terabytes. The team has been working hard and I’m so proud of the quality of their “art.”

While traveling, I am still involved via internet and voice calls in my adventure publishing company’s executive and creative decisions. We are about to release our first children’s adventure book titled The Little Plane That Could. In many ways this can be more difficult than writing a book for adults. Getting the voice correct for a children’s audience requires thinking differently and simplifying complex situations and emotions into words and images a 6-year-old can connect to. We have been working with our illustrator and are on our fourth edit with publication expected in the first quarter of 2020.

Let’s not forget the Citizen also carries some pretty cool science on board this expedition that involves communication with University of California – Santa Barbara scientists and other organizations. Did you know NASA is flying with us? We have a wafer-scale spacecraft mounted inside the airplane. It’s a proof-of-concept that opens the heavens for future space travel. It seems the best way to explore the universe in the future isn’t going to be with astronauts flown in capsules on top of heavy rocket motors using thousands of gallons of rocket fuel—but with circuit boards that will be blasted out into space using electromagnetic cannons at a rate of one every 15 minutes. It’s our quest for connecting with the possibility of life on other planets and making the unknown in outer space known that can pull us together as a planet of humans seeking peace and goodwill.

The Citizen of the World bridges the gap between earth and space with our technology as well. We use satellite communication for weather updates, phone calls, texting, and music as well as multiple GPS systems and ADS-B In and Out.

On this expedition I’m also collecting microfiber/plastic particles for the Dimitri Deheyn Lab at Scripps Institute of Oceanography led by scientist Dr. Dimitri Deheyn. I apply and reapply 3M sticky tape at four points on the airplane—two points on the nose and one on each wing tip. The samples need to be carefully placed before each flight, meticulously removed, stored, logged in a spreadsheet, and placed in storage inside the airplane at the completion of each leg. We are testing to see if microfibers exist in the air all the way around the planet including over the poles. They have been found in all major bodies of water on the planet as well as on the ground all over the world. Connecting them all to the atmosphere would be a major research outcome and another reason for everyone on the planet to pull together to sustain our home here on earth.

These experiments also support our science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) goal on this expedition. This January, while en route I will begin a virtual teaching project with Reach the World, a global network organization that transforms the energy of travelers into a learning resource for K-12 classrooms. I will appear via Skype, presenting the message of Citizen of the World for the World in classrooms around the United States to reinforce Reach the World’s mission to “help elementary and secondary school students and teachers to develop the knowledge, attitudes, values and thinking skills needed for responsible citizenship in a complex, culturally diverse and rapidly changing world.” This will involve answering questions for the kids and keeping them informed about what our team is doing and the challenges and obstacles that must be overcome to make a mission like this work.

We quickly learned when we began filming our documentary that it is the next generation that will bear the responsibility for working together to solve the planet’s major challenges like climate change, pollution, nuclear proliferation, and world peace. This is a huge job, but I’m inspired by the enthusiasm in everyone I’ve talked with. Some conversations have left me with tears of joy running down my face and given me hope for a future that we all dream of—where peace, love, and happiness guide our choices, our actions, and our lives.

Finally, there is the issue of keeping the Citizen of the World flying safely at peak performance. This 26-year-old Turbine Commander 900 aircraft is a wonder of modern technology having just completed a never-done-before 18-hour solo flight over the South Pole. Modifications to this 1983 aircraft have taken more than three years and brought other issues to the surface as we have asked more and more of it.

This airplane is my obsession and learning its systems on a level deeper than I ever imagined possible is beyond anything I’ve ever undertaken. Keeping an eagle eye on Citizen—inspecting every outer surface and part with every takeoff and landing, double- and triple-checking every instrument and unit inside the airplane, and repairing when necessary along the route—is a full-time job in itself. The twin-engine Citizen of the World is many times more complicated than an unpressurized single-engine piston aircraft with minimal avionics, and our smaller budget means that I oversee and manage all communication with service and parts replacement mechanics in our destination cities.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the challenges that an effort like this takes on the ground. Countries outside the United States are not friendly toward general aviation. It’s not uncommon to fly into an international airport that has no other GA aircraft. The handlers and ground control team see smaller aircraft as a distraction. Support facilities often charge the same fees to small aircraft as they do for commercial Boeing 737s. If you saw the invoices I get, you’d see fees including $200 for a full-sized bus to move you 100 feet from your taxied stop to the terminal, $50 for chocks (a wedge or block placed against a wheel or rounded object, to prevent it from moving) that I didn’t need, or a $300 airway fee.

At the Ushuaia, Argentina, airport, I waited three hours to make it through customs, get my bags to the airplane, and file a flight plan. When I complained, I was told they were “too busy” to deal with me. I was handed a bill for $2,800 and told if I didn’t pay with cash I could not leave. Previously, I had been quoted $600 for two locations and the handler said the difference was “extra fees.” When I reminded them that we were a not-for-profit organization on a world peace mission, there was no financial consideration and I was once again told my aircraft would be held until I paid.

To sum it up, no vacation or expedition is without challenges. Fortunately, with time we forget about many of the obstacles and focus on what brings us back to the joy that has always been inside of us. At our core each of us is an explorer working on our own personal journey. And while some of that journey may appear to be a vacation to those watching through the window or on their computer screen, to others it is purposeful work lived with a joyful heart. From the moment we take our first step we are always trying to expand our horizons. Psychologists define childhood play as serious business for growth and development. I think that’s true throughout our lives. We seek connection with others and our planet. We seek to nurture our humanity in all that we do. Whether you call that a vacation, an expedition, or work, I’m all in. I hope you are too.

Pilot applicant New Year’s resolutions

The beginning of the year is a popular time for making New Year’s resolutions. So, for those of you who might be in the process of looking for a first or a new flying job, here’s a list of things to work on:

Network: Build your network! Make contacts in as many places as possible, and keep in touch with them on a regular basis. Phone calls are always best, but emails and texts can work too. But, voice and in-person visits are the most effective way to build a true relationship (or sustain one). Your network is going to give you the best, most recent and most accurate inside information on jobs, leads, et cetera.

Logbooks/Resumes: Update your logbooks regularly, and your resume every time you add a new rating, achievement, job advancement, and the like. Your logbook should be current enough that you can show it to a potential employer at any time without being embarrassed by how far behind it is. The times should be accurate, and the writing legible (if you’re using a hand-written log).

Resumes need to reflect current as well as previous jobs. You shouldn’t need more than a sheet of paper, and all of your major ratings and times should be on there. Along with your logbook, your resume should help to sell you. Contact info needs to be current and up to date.

Letters of recommendations: This is both part and separate from networking. Letters of recommendation need to come from two sources. The professional source consists of the pilots that can vouch for you as an airman, both in skill and in professionalism. The personal source is that group of non-aviation folks that can vouch for your character: family, friends, neighbors, and the like. You don’t necessarily need to have all the letters written and immediately ready to go, but you should line up who you’re going to ask and make sure that they are on board with helping. And keep in mind that they need some time to sit down and put something on paper. A couple of weeks should be sufficient.

Applications: Job applications are tedious, time-consuming, and boring. But it is critical to get them done correctly. With so many online these days, it helps that multiple airlines are using the same application portal. That’s great for you. The one thing you need to do is ensure that yours is error-free. Print out the application, and let it sit for a day or so before you read it. Further, have someone else you trust read it  to spot any mistakes or omissions. Keep a printed copy (or two) in a safe place in case you ever need to start over or just reference it.

Experience: You need this–not just in the airplane, but in other areas of your professional work. Experience in running an office, handling the cash, jockeying the paperwork, solving the major problems—these are all skills that will make you marketable as a pilot. In the corporate world, you’ll do much more than just fly. In the airline world, they will want to know that if you lose your medical that you will still have some value. So, build up skills and talents that go beyond just flying the plane.

The airlines are in a major hiring boom right now, but you won’t get a call for an interview just because. You need to do your part, and get ahead as much as you can. Make the plans, and use them to make an action plan so that you can better your odds of getting hired not just sooner, but where you want to be.—Chip Wright

Prisoner of Hope: Look for the positive in yourself and our aviation community

Around this time of year my counseling practice gets as busy as KOSH in July! The pressures of holiday time, changes in weather, and family commitments make a lot of folks want a little “dual” on the couch. One of the things I remind my clients of is the fact that even at our worst times, we have something to be grateful for.

Being raised in an aviation family, I always saw the world as a small place. Routinely we would travel by plane from Sutter Creek, CA to Seattle, Texas, or Indiana to see family. When I was a child struggling with life, my Dad, an instructor in the Army Air Corps, would oftentimes say to me, “Who ever said life was fair? You just need to do your best, keep moving forward, and always try to do the right thing.” In many ways that sentiment became my guiding principle and happily made me a prisoner of hope.

The aviation family is really quite small and well connected. This allows us to bicker like siblings but in the end stick together toward a common goal. Whether you are from a red state or a blue state we understand that we need everyone in our family, including our crazy uncle.

When the calendar turns to December I always reflect on the past year and compile my annual Let There be Flight video. As I look through the pictures from 2019 I realize that I am a pretty lucky girl.

An exciting part of my life is presenting aviation seminars across the country. The subject matter is the confluence of the psychology of life and the psychology of flight. From California to Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, one comment I get from folks attending seminars is, “I really want to get a _________[insert private, instrument, commercial rating etc.] but life keeps getting in the way.” It is hard to feel positive when there is so much left on a person’s bucket list. I say, kick your bucket list to the curb. Optimism, determination, and perseverance have been shown to be the biggest factors in personal growth.

The AOPA Fly-In. Photo by David Tulis.

I love doing charitable work at airports. The impact is three-fold. First it helps the worthy charity. Secondly it illuminates the value of airports to their communities. And lastly it makes me feel good. Whenever I am having a personal pity party I think about how I can be of service to others. Service gets me out of my stresses and helps alleviate someone else’s. Join your state aviation association and your local EAA, 99s, or airport group. Volunteers are always needed on a state, local, and regional basis.

What a wonderful option that my major source of long-trip travel is by private airplane. Flying my vintage Mooney allows me to save time, do more things, and enjoy the flying. The instrument rating has been, by far, the best rating I have gotten. If you aren’t instrument rated, seriously consider starting work on it. I will be finishing up my commercial soon, and that will open my life up to even more aviation experiences.

I am always in awe of little airports that put on display days, airport days, or fly-ins. And also grateful that we have big airshows to go to such as Sun ‘n Fun, EAA Oshkosh, and AOPA Regional Fly-Ins. These large shows give a lot of exposure to the communities in which they are held as well as provide an excellent source of education, gadgetry, and social connection.

So as we ready ourselves for 2020 we should be mindful that unless we all work together the tapestry of our general aviation family could fade. Think of how you can contribute to its vibrancy. Get involved, use your voice, get in the air, and have some fun. I look forward to seeing you at Sun ‘n Fun, the AOPA Regional Fly-Ins, OSH, or some other fabulous GA location.

 

 


If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings, there is a free, confidential helpline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

1-800-273-TALK


 

Antarctica or bust!

The recent tragic disappearance of a Chilean (U.S. built) Lockheed C–130 with 38 souls onboard as it flew approximately 600 nautical miles over the water from Chile’s southern tip of Punta Arenas to Antarctica’s northern tip of King George Island, has me concerned, to say the least. My departure date to the South Pole—the southernmost tip of Antarctica and the Earth, from Ushuaia, Argentina—which is also the southernmost tip of South America, is less than three weeks out. This passage is the longest, hardest, and most terrifying leg of my polar circumnavigation and now, with this Chilean incident, it’s even more frightening.

If a military aircraft with four turboprop engines and two experienced Antarctic pilots in a type of aircraft with millions of combined miles worldwide can go down on a short 600-mile flight, then what is the outlook for me flying solo more than 4,200 nautical miles for 18 hours in an airplane manufactured in 1983 with just two turboprop engines and a pilot with zero Antarctic flying experience?

Needless to say, this compelled me to share some of the things that are flying through my mind during these remaining days and long, dark hours of the night before I embark on the biggest risk and greatest fear of my life, so far.

Mechanics

Mechanically the Citizen of the World is working well—very well, actually. Engines, five-bladed props, environmental and ferry fuel systems are all A-OK. We had some hiccups with each of these systems after their installation which required fine-tuning to achieve maximum performance. In the end, the manufacturers stood behind me, which inspired  me to dive deeper into their operations, limits, and maintenance resulting in a safer trip and greater confidence in my equipment, which will matter most when I’m sitting on Runway 07 in Ushuaia, tires bulging over max gross with the two Honeywell TPE 331-10T Predator Drone engines growling at 100 percent torque, pulling Citizen of the World toward her destiny as I release the brakes.

I’ve found once Citizen rockets into the air, this airplane just goes, and goes, and goes—higher and faster as it burns off fuel. The 2,300 horsepower produced by the powerplants are in a word awesome! Getting to altitude is slow, but when I test flew Citizen at 80 percent of ferry fuel, she climbed to 30,000 feet in just 46 minutes. That was the moment I knew Citizen would be able to leave the ground heavier than ever before, with 10 tanks of fuel.

Avionics

With respect to avionics, I’ve got everything I need through flight management systems—fuel computers, touch screens, synthetic vision, battery backup, infrared, radar, active traffic, terrain avoidance, satellite communications, music, weather, ADS-B In and Out. Today, we restored the satellite signal going to the No. 1 Avidyne flight management system, which is very similar to your average GPS unit (but more capable) and is coupled to two other systems including the L3Harris NGT 900 which provides ADS-B Out, and the EX 600 with position information and supports terrain, traffic, and weather displays.

I flew the aircraft across the Andes Mountains this week to Santiago, Chile, sidestepping off the route one more time to have Abiatronic Ltd., an authorized Avidyne repair center owned and operated by Ricardo Medina, save the day. I now have a fully functional panel for my South Pole flight.

Range

My Shadin Fuel Flow computer shows Citizen appears to be getting about 4.8 nautical miles per gallon range at altitude with 60 percent torque. If I slow the airplane down a bit with just 50 percent torque, it maintains altitude with the lower induced drag, and its efficiency increases to 5.3 nautical miles per gallon, which gives me a tremendous margin of safety. To confirm my calculations I had Robert Morgan, former senior research-and-development engineer at Scaled Composites review my test data. Using a lower fuel load than I will carry, he came up with an estimate that I will have a 27-percent extra margin of fuel.

Peace of mind/sleep

Insomnia has plagued me for the two years preceding this flight. I believe it is due to the enormous stress a polar circumnavigation creates in one’s life. The fear comes from doing something in a class of airplane that has never been done before. I’ve added new systems including engines, props, environmental system, and avionics to a 36-year-old aircraft and I’m asking it to give me three times the range that it was designed for. I’m banking on performance that can’t be confirmed until the airplane is fully outfitted. I made promises to over 90 sponsors that believe in me and Citizen. And, surprisingly I have slept through the night twice in the last week, which tells me things are on track and the planets are aligning. This is what it means to be in alignment!

Physical health

Physical preparations have definitely been a consideration on this trip. I had health issues that popped up during the two years preceding the trip that had to be dealt with so I could remain focused and present in the cockpit. Issues included a painful tennis elbow (I don’t play tennis), ingrown toenails, a dislocated shoulder, a vitamin allergy, and a cracked tooth that required emergency surgery and a titanium implant just prior to my departure. Getting my body into alignment with this mission has taken effort as well, but I felt good and healthy just before I set out on this flight. I believe that our bodies manifest some of our personal issues and clearing these things out was absolutely crucial so that I could maintain focus during the times that it is absolutely necessary.

The Gods

Since the beginning of planning this epic trip, we hit every barrier that we could—and hard. It was as if the Universe kept telling us “No, not yet.” I felt like I achieved a 7th degree black belt in being told “No,” while getting the cosmic two-by-four smacked across my forehead. The Flying Thru Life Team persisted when others said it was hopeless. We overcame obstacles of routing, equipment failure, physical injury, loss of funding, and supporters who were not really supporters. I learned to deal with rejection better, which helped me clarify my vision and draw in rock-solid people who believe in our mission and in me. We built a foundation stronger than I thought possible and we continue to rise above anything that has potentially stood in our way. Having the intention of “Flying Thru Life with Grace and Ease” is no longer just a tagline and affirmation; it’s become a moment-to-moment prayer of gratitude.

Intuition

Unlike the circumnavigation along the equator in 2015 in an airplane I named Spirit of San Diego, I’ve had many people whose wisdom and experience I respect come forward and tell me that they had a very good feeling about this trip. These Earth angels’ intuition, premonitions, prayers, and feelings have led them to trust that this trip is going to be a safe and successful one for me, which instills strength and confidence in me, especially when my mind starts to wander into turbulent emotional territory.

What you have read above may still not, in your mind (and sometimes my own) make this trip safe or risk-free, but it does include some of the conversations that have been in my head for the past two years and raging in my thoughts for the past two days. Some of you may find it more closely resembles the ramblings of a madman intent on taking chances. In my mind, the outcome of this trip has already been contractually determined with other souls long before I came into this world and now it is just a matter of allowing it to happen as it was intended. I will continue to try and anticipate every possible problem or outcome, be as diligent and detailed as possible while keeping in mind that every challenge is a learning opportunity—a “Zen Moment” that further prepares me for the positive impact I hope to have on humanity, and that humanity will have on me.

Join us on the adventure at www.PoleToPoleFlight.com.

Mountain Flying: Warn and Mitigate

There are two main themes to this flight. The first one was a nagging question I had not yet answered: “How long will it take before I fly around Mt. Blanc in high winds?” In retrospect, it took 6-8 months to take my first flights in the Pyrenees with blowing snow on mountain ridges, and over two years before dabbling in controlled circumstances with winds in excess of 40 knots in the mountains.

For this flight, it had snowed, was relatively cold, and I planned on “wandering into the Valais to look at some mountains.” I assured my wife that I would “definitely stay away from wind” as it was “too much work” and it was forecast to be 40kt or so at higher altitudes. The thing is, I should know myself better. There is an intuitive little spark that fires, where I get an idea for a flight of a certain type, and I tell myself I won’t do it. The second I get in the air and assess what I think from the ground, the switch flips and I do the very thing I said I wouldn’t.

In this case, upon clearing 8,000’ and rounding the bend near Martigny, I could see highly intriguing clouds blanketing the Massif du Mont Blanc, with evidence of orographic snowfall. Clouds looked majestic, much like they do in the Pyrenees in a similar situation. Ahead of me was Grand Combin (14,154’), with clouds billowing over the lee side of the summit. With upper level winds out of the southwest, I deduced that winds were more likely to be channeling around terrain than to properly align with the ridge of the Alps. In the latter case, large waves would form, which I wasn’t in the mood to play with.

I aimed for Grand St. Bernard Pass into Italy, which is a saddle between two large ridges. Ground speeds of less than 40kt indicated winds in excess of 30kt, augmented by cloud movement and extremely dry air due to down sloping winds. I skirted Grand Combin, hitting a few bumps before I figured out how to get over the ridge, where I found a cloud deck that was a few miles long. The formation was similar to the typical north wind event in the Pyrenees, with strong waves on the leeside and an overcast cloud deck stretching almost to Paris.

From there, I was convinced I could come around the bend and catch Mt. Blanc exposed on the windward side. The Massif du Mont Blanc was largely clouded in, as were the ridges below, though based on cloud movement and past experience, I was of the belief the effort was worth it. After ten minutes over the cloud deck, I saw my first sizable gaps over Val Ferrat, Italy, a relief if the engine quit. Then Grandes Jorasses (13,806’) showed itself brilliantly. I knew my scheme would work.

Gradually I came around the end of the ridge, and indeed Mt Blanc (15,774’), in all her glory, was sticking out into the wind, while strong winds buffeted the summit, forming clouds that billowed to the northeast before eventually dissipating. I did some back and forth over Aiguille de Bionnassay (13,294’) and then made my exit over the north side of the Chamonix valley, descending as I went.

Using groundspeed calculations in both directions, winds were 35kt to 40kt, with some higher speeds during my period at 15,000 feet. During the entirety of the flight, I experienced a few moments of basic turbulence, none of which was of any consequence. For the most part, it was tranquil, though it was extremely cold.

Which leads me to part two of the flight, which is an extension of my argument in my May 12, 2019 post “On the Matter of Mountain Flying.” The flight was proof that a little Cub could fly around the tallest peak in Western Europe in 40kt winds differing little from a two-hour summer flight on an afternoon in Texas (at least as far as forces on the airframe are concerned…not temperature). While I am not advocating that suddenly general aviation toss caution out the window and start buzzing large mountains, there is a valuable lesson.

Standard instruction on mountain flying, that occurs outside of mountains, tends to focus on a binary interpretation of what will happen. Namely, follow the rules (2000’ terrain clearance, 20kt or less winds, good visibility, etc.) and everything will be fine; break them and you most certainly will die. While that is instructive to prevent stupidity, there is the nagging question of “What happens if someone ends up in a situation that they were taught to avoid?” This could apply to a number of flight theories, though I tend to find warnings without mitigation apply most poignantly to thunderstorms and mountain flying.

While it is wise to tell a student “never to go near a thunderstorm,” what about the succession of decision-making, causal factors, or simply bad luck where now one has formed over his or her head? If the ‘grand bargain of instruction’ was to warn and not mitigate, exactly what should a student do in a thunderstorm? I know that my instructor taught me to avoid them; my grandfather was the one that taught me to “throttle back and ride it out if it gets crazy” if I happen to get near or in one (he did not advocate flying in thunderstorms, for the record). This line of thinking could go on and on to many subjects.

There are two sides to warnings without education on how to mitigate. Obviously, the positive side is that the pilot would not end up in a potentially dangerous situation, with the idea that not arming a pilot with mitigation tools would heighten the probability of avoidance. The negative side presents when he or she ends up in said warned-of situation, with no training on what to do. That very warning that said not to do it would increase fear and anxiety in the cockpit, precisely when the pilot needs insight. Instead of helping, fear is now punishing, at the worst time. Perhaps flying in the mountains in 30kt winds in a spam can might work out fine, even if the pilot is ignorant. However, if alarm bells are going off in his mind, palms are sweaty holding the yoke, and the pilot gets panicky, the situation has now escalated, with the possible introduction of multiple successions of decisions that could lead to a smoldering crater.

I am an advocate of a “warn and mitigate” theory of instruction for mountain flying. Standard warnings should be issued just like they are now. However, they would be followed up with a series of relatively standard scenarios that could occur in the mountains outside of standard warnings, with some basic information on what to do. While it wouldn’t be a course in advanced mountain flying, it would be some very basic mitigation tactics to increase survival chances, which would, aside from conveying wisdom, arm the pilot with emotional reassurance that the situation is not doomed. In the end, it boils down to not overstress the airframe or smack into granite.

In the Valais, La Catogne (8,523′) in the foreground. Winds were brisk, channeling right to left, with a down sloping component. 


Combin de Valsorey (13,724′) with a bit of a breeze.

Petit Vélan (10,505′) hiding in the clouds. Now at the ridge where clouds are on the windward side and cap.

Valle d’Aosta, Italy under some clouds. 

Grandes Jorasses (13,806′) sticking out into the wind. Val Ferrat, Italy below.

Coming around the bend hoping to see Mt. Blanc. Picco Luigi Amedeo (14,662′) visible.

Picco Luigi Amedeo again. No turbulence due to being upwind.

Above Aiguille du Bionnassay, France (13,294′) looking northwest. “Haze” in the lower left is orographic snowfall from the ridge. It was a common occurrence in the Pyrenees while hiking along similar ridges: screaming wind, biting cold, and a light snow shower with sunshine.

Mt. Blanc from the northwest.


Mt. Blanc from the west.

Aiguille Verte, France (13,524′). Some turbulence showed up here as the flight path had to eventually cross the lee side of Mt. Blanc, albeit at a distance.

Swiss-French border. Original flight path in the rear left that went around the ridge in the front.

Its hard to believe that I would say it, as at the time I was convinced that Yellowstone in the Cub was excessively windy, here is a subject with less wind and biting cold. Book #21 is out, Flying Yellowstone. It differs from my ‘hot springs’ book as it documents landscapes and other features of the park.

 

 

Human factors assumptions, part 2

The Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashes have brought some attention to the relatively recent concept of multi-crew pilot license (MPL) certification.

The MPL was designed as a work-around for the traditional pilot training tracks that don’t include the military. Instead of following the current private/instrument/commercial/multiengine progression that thousands of us have done in the past, the MPL works by getting some basic private pilot-like training done in a single engine airplane, with perhaps a bit of instrument training as well. But the overwhelming percentage of the training is conducted in a simulator or fixed training device specific to the aircraft that the candidate will be flying. In other words, an MPL candidate for the 737 would get the majority of his or her training in the 737, and only the 737.

On paper, this can be attractive, because a few hundred hours of dedicated time spent learning to fly and handle one aircraft can be performed in a structured, building-block methodology. Over time, more and more complex situations can be introduced and responses evaluated and repeated, if necessary.

But this also leaves a lot out. Simulators, for example, are terrible replicators of weather. Becoming weather-savvy is something that can really only be learned from experience, not from reading it in a book or watching a video. Complex air traffic control communications are also difficult-to-impossible to work into a simulator, especially if English is not your first language, or one you speak fluently.

An MPL might produce a pilot who is book-smart and a checklist-monkey when he or she gets in the airplane, but you can’t buy experience. And with such a narrow scope of knowledge from which to draw, you may not have the tricks or the know-how to handle complex events that may not have been covered in the box.

Pilots who gain experience by building time in a variety of flying opportunities are like putting together a much more valuable box of tools to draw upon when things go south. Further, they are doing so in a real-world setting that truly tests their grit, stamina, and threshold for stress. No amount of MPL simulator training is ever going to provide the same thing, no matter how diligent the efforts at realism.

If the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accident reports come down on the validity and quality of training, even if only remotely, let’s hope that the MPL concept is at least paused or reconsidered. Additional real airplane training might cost more up front, but it will be cheaper in the long run, for there is no substitute for real experience in anything.—Chip Wright

Human factors assumptions, part 1

As I write this, the Lion Air and Ethiopian Air Boeing 737 MAX accidents are still being investigated. While we know that the MCAS system is going to get the major share of the blame, there is also a push to change the way pilots are trained. One of the topics that has come up is one that was addressed in the movie Sully, the story of the USAirways dead-stick landing in the Hudson River, and that is some of the assumptions that go into aircraft and systems design.

Engineers—both hardware and software—creating a new design need to make some basic assumptions about pilot reaction time, knowledge, and experience. Reaction time delay is one of the most difficult things to predict. Modern aircraft are so dependable and so reliable that it’s easy to take them for granted. And that’s the problem: When something does go wrong, it’s critical that the time lag of a response be given adequate consideration. As Sully showed, when the crews in the sim knew exactly what was going to happen and when, and were allowed to respond immediately, they had no trouble getting the crippled A320 back to departure airport, especially when allowed to practice several times.

In reality, though, such events almost never go so smoothly—after all, who ever anticipates losing both engines to a flock of geese? Imagine dealing with the shock of some kind of a collision, followed by a marked change in the normal noise pattern of flight, and then the audible chimes and lights and other indications of an anomaly. Then, once that has begun to set in, the brain has to convince itself that what it is seeing or hearing is real.

Media reports indicate  this happened with the Lion Air and Ethiopian Air crews. Additionally, it involved a system that the crew of the Lion Air flight was totally unaware of, and the crew of the Ethiopian Air flight was only marginally aware of. The noise of the stick shaker—which is extremely loud and distracting in the 737 by design—combined with the realization that the airplane was descending and trimming itself nose down must have been overwhelming. In both incidents, there was surely a realization at some point that the crew was unable to overcome the airloads in order to reverse the trim.

It’s one thing for designers to try to anticipate crew responses during the early phases of flight. But they also need to look at human factors from several angles, including crews that might be in the middle of a longer flight on the back side of the clock, such as a red-eye or a transcon. The effects of fatigue on sensory response need to be accounted for, which is another reason that some warnings are designed to be loud and attention-getting.

The type of fatigue matters too. Is the crew tired because it’s the last leg of a six-leg day, or is it because they are flying in the middle of the night? Crew experience also needs to taken into account. An experienced, well-trained crew is going to have a better response under virtually any circumstance, and there is reason to believe that at least one of the pilots involved in the Ethiopian Air crash may have been extremely low on the experience meter. Throw in a similar situation with fatigue or personal stress, and such an individual could easily be overwhelmed. It might impossible to account for every possibility, but realistic common denominators need to be established.

Manufacturers do what they can to test their theories and assumptions in the simulators, but there are limits to the effectiveness. Every pilot knows that during a sim flight, something will go wrong. They may not know what, or when, or where or how, but they are primed for a surprise, so even the surprise isn’t a total surprise. Further, when you know that you’re in a box, you know that you’re eventually walking away. That means that the effect of full-blown fear and panic is almost impossible to test for or measure.

There has already been much discussion about human factors assumptions moving forward as result of these accidents, and it’s a discussion that will go on for some time. Checklists and procedures are already being retested, rewritten, and studied. Pilots have complained for years that inexperienced cockpit inhabitants—usually first officers—are unable to cope with a sensory onslaught of often conflicting information. These accidents seem to bring some evidentiary data to that argument, though we must wait for the final reports to be written.

What we do know is that 346 people were killed in very preventable accidents, and the laws are written in blood. Changes will be coming.—Chip Wright

The power of courage: Finding and using It

“Courage is being scared to death … and saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

With my departure from the continental United States on a six-month odyssey looming less than a week away, I am being pulled away from all my creature comforts including friends, family, home, car, and beautiful San Diego, while we explore the most remote parts of the planet. The National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of State are referring to Citizen of the World’s  global journey as a “Polar Expedition.” I’m reminded of a thought I had while in pitch darkness flying over the middle of Pacific back in 2015. I was heading toward American Samoa, an island that that was fogged in and surrounded by mountains, and I anticipated landing at their nontowered airport. I had just closed my eyes, and then I turned my head left toward the pilot window. When I opened my eyes  it was just as dark as with my eyes closed. At that moment, I realized I was very much alone in the middle of the Pacific with no support. That little voice in my head said “What are you doing? You could be at home in San Diego on your comfortable sofa watching TV with your girlfriend!”

The fact that I’m doing another circumnavigation with an even greater land mass and riskier weather has occasionally had me asking myself the same question when I wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat.

And I’m not the only one questioning why I’m doing this.

When some people learn that I’ll be flying an extensively modified 35-year-old Turbine Commander 900 aircraft named Citizen of the World—with dozens of upgrades including six extra fuel tanks and more plumbing than your house—a few too many people refer to my plane as a “Frankenstein” (which, by the way, is a very nasty way to refer to such a fine, fine lady).

Humor aside, this joking doesn’t add to my level of comfort despite the fact that I have had the very best people working on the airplane with hundreds of combined years of experience. They have made mistakes along the way—and so have I. So far, since we’re all still here, we’ve obviously safely recovered from the mistakes, but there’s always an element of fear of the unknown and what might happen next riding shotgun in my mind.

So, then, where do we find the courage to do things that are challenging … (and honestly scare the p*ss out of us) as we navigate the ever-present fear on our individual journeys?

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” – Albert Schweitzer

I think courage comes from many sources. One is from the people who believe in us—the ones who support us with their time, resources, words, and faith. Because of their belief in us, we tell ourselves, “If they believe in me, I can believe in myself as well.” They see our abilities from a different and higher perspective.

For example, I was at the National Business Aviation Association convention a few weeks ago talking to the underwriter from Great American Insurance Group, which has agreed to insure my trip. I told the underwriter that I had chosen to add hull damage coverage to my policy even though most pilots on these kinds of long trips don’t carry it because of the high cost. When I explained that we had postponed three times to mitigate additional risk uncovered by more thorough preparation, I could see in the agent’s face that we had another believer. In my mind, our preparations were 100 percent complete when our 20,000-hour airline pilot and board member told me we were prepared and had done what we could—given the nature of the flight.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” – Steve Jobs

Another source of courage is from our own intuition and that of others. On my first trip around the planet East to West I had people tell me it wouldn’t go well. One person wrote on Facebook, “The Pacific is littered with planes just like yours.” My ex-girlfriend told me about dreams she had that I died a terrible death alone in the Pacific. My father said, “You are just going to get yourself killed.”

That was a hard trip, especially when my only engine failed at 14,000 feet over the ocean and 19 miles from the closest airport. As other frightening challenges arose, I felt like I was running out of my nine lives and had literally pounded way too much on death’s door. (See my book, Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within for details.)

In preparation for this trip I’ve had so many very intuitive people I respect tell me it will be a safe trip and much easier in many ways, that all the problems I’ve had to date happened in advance of the trip so I could have a safe trip outside the U.S. When I pray—and I pray a lot—what I get back is that I will be safe, and things will go well. While I can’t know the future for certain, I can set the stage and choose to focus on the encouragement of people whose guidance I trust while doing everything I can to mindfully manage the negative thoughts and challenging situations that arise.

Courage also comes from experience. In my book, Zen Pilot, I talked about fear being my constant companion and co-pilot for some 26,000 nautical miles. Recalling that I had been tested to my limits and I was able to hold my course despite adversity, frustration, overwhelming fear, and financial challenges that would break most people reminds me I can do it again. And if I can do it, that courage can remind all of us in the most difficult of times that we have the resources to handle whatever the Universe throws our way. This is also known as “Faith”—faith in ourselves, faith in our equipment and yes, I will say it because it takes courage—faith in God.

On a spiritual level, I believe that courage comes from within—deep within us—maybe even from our souls. On the other side of the fear, which takes courage to pass though, is the greatest freedom we will ever feel. Getting to that freedom starts with these three courageous actions: 1) soul searching, 2) allowing ourselves to be broken down to our most fundamental selves, and 3) that critical component of persistence.

The use of persistence to activate courage is sometimes the most difficult of all qualities to muster up and to sustain. When I am all alone and there is no one there to help me at the moment when I need it most, it’s hard not to think I’m being tested. I feel exposed and vulnerable and I perceive myself as unprotected. What keeps me going, the reason I persist and can find my courage and act on it, is that I believe we are all here fulfilling a greater plan that has been laid down for us well in advance of our physical birth. We are simply fulfilling the contracts we have agreed to for this life.

And finally, embracing a mission greater than yourself inspires confidence, courage, and action. When the voices of self-doubt are screaming at me, when I feel like God is not hearing me, when I lose my focus, forget everything I have just shared with you, when I have lost my faith in God and myself, I reach into my pocket and touch my courage coin for a reminder of why I am doing this: One Planet, One People, One Plane: Peace for Humanity.

“You don’t concentrate on risks. You concentrate on results. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary job from getting done.” – Chuck Yeager

Robert DeLaurentis will be flying from the South Pole to the North Pole in his aircraft Citizen of the World, and is scheduled to depart on November 23, 2019 (Pole Gods willing), from Gillespie Field in San Diego. He will be taking 200 courage coins that he plans to distribute along the way and upon his return to inspire future generations to achieve their impossibly big dreams through the power of courageous action.

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