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Decommissioning of NDB’s and Airspace changes in Alaska

FAA is proposing changes to the aviation infrastructure in Alaska.  Public notices have been issued for decommissioning of non-directional beacons (NDBs) and to modify the Class D and E airspace around the Kodiak Airport.  Please review these proposals and let the FAA and AOPA know if they impact the flying you do in these areas.

NDB Decommissioning
FAA is continuing to look at decommissioning Non-Directional Beacons (NDB) in Alaska, as we make the transition to a GPS based NAS.  Notices of proposed decommissioning of the NDB’s at Homer, Deadhorse, Moses Point, Point Lay and Soldotna were issued recently, inviting public comment on potential impacts of these changes. In most cases FAA cites the availability of other ground-based approaches or airways and plans for T-Routes that are being developed to replace the old colored airways, to mitigate the loss of these navigation aids.  Below are graphics of the NDB’s proposed for decommissioning.

 

Moses Point (Norton Bay–OAY)

 

Deadhorse (PUT River–PVQ)

Homer (Kachemak –ACE)

Soldotna (OLT)

Point Lay–(PIZ)

AOPA generally supports moving to the more modern space-based systems but recognizes that in some cases unique needs may justify keeping the older technology in place.  We also recognize that the resources required to support NDB’s inhibit FAA’s ability to invest in the newer infrastructure, including weather reporting and ADS-B ground stations.

Please take a moment to examine the proposed decommissioning locations (links below to the individual notices). If you are adversely impacted, file a public comment to explain the situation.  Comments are due by July 15, 2021 and may be sent to:

Group Manager, Operations Support Group
AVJ-W2
FAA Western Service Center
2200 South 216th Street
Des Moines, WA 98198

Or via email to: [email protected]. Please also share your comments with AOPA at: [email protected]

To read the public notices for these changes see:

FAA Public Notice for OAY NDB

FAA Public Notice for ACE NDB

FAA Public Notice for PVQ NDB

FAA Public Notice for the OLT NDB

FAA Public Notice for Point Lay NDB

Kodiak Class D/E Airspace:

Proposed changes to the Class D (dashed green line) and Class E (yellow line). Note that the proposed expanded Class E starts at 700 ft agl. 

In another public notice, the FAA has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to modify the Class D airspace at Kodiak Airport (PADQ), while at the same time removing the Class E surface area east of the airport. It also significantly expands the Class E airspace with a 700 foot floor, north and east of the airport.

The changes are designed to better manage IFR operations at the airport. We are particularly interested in whether they impact VFR operations in the area.  To examine the details of the proposal see:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/06/04/2021-11668/proposed-amendment-of-class-d-and-class-e-airspace-and-removal-of-class-e-airspace-kodiak-ak

Comments on this proposal are due by July 17, 2021 and should be addressed to:

U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
Washington, DC 20590

They may also be submitted via the internet: https://www.regulations.gov. Please share these comments with AOPA as well at: [email protected]

Action to Take
Please review these proposals and let FAA as well as AOPA know if these changes impact your flying activities for either IFR or VFR operations.

Hearing from our members who fly in these areas helps us advocate for you!

Emotional Distance

While we tend to measure distance literally in the space between two points, the concept of “emotional distance” is something that has come to the forefront since I began flying in foreign countries. The concept is rather simple: long flights tend to involve more work, skill, risk, and complexity. Accordingly, if we have not done something ambitious before or are younger pilots, then those flights seem riskier and potentially difficult. Add such things as major metropolitan airspace, large mountains, wilderness areas, and large bodies of water and one gets the idea. Our emotional response to the distance involved is proportional to the actual distance.

The first time the reality hit home for me that emotional distance does not always equate to actual distance was in the US while flying over Yellowstone. Something about an entirely forested, bear inhabited plateau with few good emergency options, elevation of over 8,000 feet, large lakes, sulfuric boiling ponds of liquid, strong winds on the north and east outlet points, and some distance to airports stacked up to make me tense before I would take a flight over the place. Other than that, many ambitious flights in the US were correlated to how long they took.

Europe is self-evidently more complicated from an airspace standpoint, though that is only the beginning. Terrain and climate zones change much faster in areas bordering the Mediterranean than the Continental US. Add in obvious national borders, lower airport density, a very complex airport network, and now one can understand why a flight of a similar distance feels infinitely more complicated, almost as though it is literally much farther away.

Those factors one can desensitize to over time, as I have partially done. There are still some flights, generally involving major mountain ranges, where it seems entire worlds change in a short period of time. While the element of national borders, climate zone changes, and airspace are real, there is something almost intangible about it. The first time I experienced it was flying from Pic Canigou, France to the Mediterranean coast. In the space of 20 minutes, I went from snow in the Pyrenees to palm trees adorning the beach. It is hard to grasp such a massive change so quickly.

Before coming to the Alps, I noted on the map how interesting things seemed down on the Italian side of the range. It is technically not that far, though one must go up and over the Alps, transitioning from Central European weather to mountains and then straight into the Mediterranean. While it can be done if the forecast is right, there was still something seemingly “distant” about it, to the point that, I had not done it. Many times, I had flown along the southern ridge of the Alps, given pause not by the glaciers I was above, but by looking down into Italy, trying to get my head around the complexity of going from one side of the range to another.

I decided to knock the item off my list, saving the aggravations of customs by flying from the northern side of Switzerland to the Italian-speaking section of the country. On the south side of the Alps, it is a section of the country that protrudes into Italy. Geographically and linguistically, it’s the same. Politically, maybe not so much.

The intended flight path was only 77 nautical miles direct, with a refueling point in Locarno, before returning a slightly different way. I planned to fly along Lake Maggiore in Italy and take a different pass coming back, so the actual flights would end up roughly 130 miles each, by no means very long. Then again, I grew up about the same distance from Lock Haven and we never did fly there. My grandfather bemoaned that it was “too far away” and “there is nowhere to land in those forests in Northern Pennsylvania.”

Climbing out from Gstaad Airport.

Over the pass between Lenk and Adelboden.

The Gasterntal, just before crossing Gemmipass to my right.

Brig and the Obergoms.

Simplon Pass.

The friendly little Rossbodegletscher.

Approaching Italy.

Italy, near Varzo. 

Toce River south of Domodossola. I went from cold with my winter coat to flaming hot. Flying at 2,500′ MSL.

About to leave the foothills of the Alps.

Lago Maggiore!

I have resigned myself to getting wet if the engine quits. Not like the shorelines of this body of water are inviting…..

Locarno Airport. Note that there are three runways. I was cleared to land runway 26 center. It has come to my attention that this is my first landing at an airport with more than one parallel runway.

Maggia river on climb out. My flight path was to follow the Maggia and hang a left at the Bavona River, then over the ridge toward Grimselpass.

Working my way up the valley.

Looking back from where I came.

Approaching the ridge and, uh-oh, some showers and small thunderstorms on the other side. Perhaps this “emotional distance” business is rather real.

Annual snowpack with the Ghiacchiaio del Basodino glacier at the top.

Obergoms again. My outbound path was right to left almost to the horizon. Note Ulrichen closed airport bottom left, and Munster Airport a little off center in the valley. That would be an alternate if need be.

Oberaargletscher. The holy trinity: thunderhead, glacier, and deep snow.

The Grimselpass, relatively low at 7,099′, was blocked by the towering clouds to the right. I had to climb to 12,500′ to sneak over the Bernese Alps ridge.

While it looks pretty awful, radar and other observations indicated it should be ok just on the other side.

Looking back. Note the glacier on the bottom right.

Well past the ridge, looking back. Grindelwald is hiding in the black on the right. 

Diverted around Interlaken due to a growing shower. Aiming for the sunny Swiss Plateau and take it from there.

After some lovely lightning bolts, the storm began to move to the south. Thunersee. Alternate airport just out of sight to the right, bathed in sun.

Approaching the circuit. While some 10,000 foot peaks are clouded in to the left, Saanetschpass in the center was open apparently. Clearly there is some reality behind the complexity of crossing the Alps and landing. Total flying time: 4.5 hours. Arrive-at-the-hangar to leave-the-hangar time of 7 hours.

How long does it take?

Pilots who are new to a company and an airplane can at times feel like they will never “get it.”

The first shot out of the firehose is information. Lots and lots of information, about everything from the company to the managers to how to get a mistake on your ID badge fixed. Then there is airplane training, which is information on steroids. There are memory item checklists and limitations to memorize, some of which feel silly or seem to have no reason (and often don’t).

Next is the simulator, where everything goes from being an abstract, academic concern to a practical one, as you try to tie up all the pieces you’ve been given so far. Callouts, flows, crew resource management…it’s a lot to master, and there never seems to be enough time to do so. Worse still, you don’t realize how narrow the scope of flying is in the sim until it’s over. Most of the time is spent flying approaches and learning how to use the flight management system (FMS), while also figuring out how to keep the blue side up during an engine failure. In fact, in sim training, you actually get very little time experiencing what the airplane flies like when everything is working. You also get almost no exposure to the cruise portion of your flight.

Simulators are great for a lot of things, but they are terrible for mastering the art of a visual approach, because the graphics, as good as they are, still lack a certain amount of depth perception. The sims also usually do a poor job of replicating terrain-induced winds and turbulence on an approach. At some point you will begin to feel a little bit cocky about how you’re doing, because you will have mastered (or come close to) this narrow field of flying in a very controlled environment.

It’s only after you get on the line and have to really and truly put it all together in an airplane with passengers and other distractions that you finally have to master the art of not crashing and flying with some degree of grace. Generally speaking, it takes around 100 hours in an airplane to get your first new level of comfort, and it takes around 500 to begin to feel less apprehension in challenging weather conditions. With larger airplanes that fly longer legs and do fewer takeoffs and landings, it may take more. Getting the hang of hand-flying and performing smooth visual approaches is a sign of comfort, and a big boost to your confidence. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with practice and repetition. You’ll also learn from your mistakes, of which there will be many at first.

But there comes a time where sitting in your seat feels like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. And that’s a great day when it comes.—Chip Wright

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Recognizing your favorite mechanic … what makes a mechanic GREAT?

The look of stress just prior to a test flight and inflight emergency.

In the past few years, the Citizen of the World has been honored by having many skilled and experienced mechanics work on her. She visited many shops and repair facilities across the United States and received over 50 upgrades and modifications. I like to believe that each mechanic made her a little bit better. These aviation maintenance technicians helped the best version of the Citizen come to life and shine on a global scale. For the Citizen of the World, that “shine” included inspiring many, setting world records and carrying experiments for NASA, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and one supporting biofuel use globally. And now her mission is one of promoting STEM education.

If I was to pick the best of the best of all those mechanics, it would be Rob Louviaux of Commander Maintenance Consulting (CMC). Without him, the Polar Circumnavigation would have never happened. As I reflect back, I have come to realize how much he did for me, the Citizen, and the Pole-to-Pole Flight. It is remarkable how selflessly he gave of his time and expertise. He was our lead mechanic and honestly the most knowledgeable person I know in the industry when it comes to the Twin Jetprop Commander 900.

Why should this matter to you? Because Rob from CMC set the gold standard that I think all mechanics should strive for. In an age when mechanics are taught to replace components until they get it right, this guy knows his stuff cold and saved our project many thousands of dollars. Finding a guy like this as a private pilot will make your flying so much safer and enjoyable. Here are seven qualities you should look for in a master mechanic:

Consistency

While Rob pulled off some amazing stuff in the two years we spent prepping the Citizen of the World the thing I appreciated most was that he was consistent from start to finish. was always fully in and engaged, whether I was standing directly in front of him, right after a major aircraft failure, or calling him from the other side of the planet. He was solid and I never doubted his level of commitment. He loves aviation, the Commander community, and being a part of something bigger than all of us. Rob always made me feel like l was a priority.

With you when the times get tough

One of the things I most respect about Rob was his willingness to test fly the plane with me when it had completed major work. Most mechanics won’t. He put his life at risk, as I did. The first time this happened was after the overhauled engines were installed. Rob was sitting next to me at altitude when we performed NTS shutdowns on each of the engines — one at a time — and attempted to restart them. The copilot side engine started perfectly but the pilot side engine would not unfeather. Rob went to work doing everything a master mechanic could inflight. When it was clear a component had failed, I saw him close his eyes for a brief moment, take a deep breath and then go to a place of peace as I landed the Citizen on one engine. I think we were both afraid as our legs were shaking when we got out of the airplane.

Staying cool

The second incident happened at altitude when both power levers froze up at 34,500 feet and the cabin simultaneously lost pressurization. As I was starting the emergency decent and declaring an inflight emergency while we both donned our oxygen masks, Rob was shutting down the environmental system, engaging the emergency pressurization, and trying to get the engines not to overspeed. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have handled all that myself. Losing engine control on two engines and pressurization simultaneously is a lot to handle no matter how good you think you are!

Speaking on your behalf

After that inflight emergency, I made one of the biggest mistakes of the project. I called the manufacturer of one of the failed components and told him he almost got Rob and I killed. The manufacturer hung up the phone and wouldn’t talk to me for three months. The project was stopped dead in its tracks. I would practice my superpower of eating crow for the next three months trying to get the manufacturer engaged again with no luck. However, Rob broke the stalemate with frequent calls to the manufacturer. He was able to negotiate a deal to get things going and get the Citizen on her way to the South and North Poles.

Making the extra effort

Early in the project things stalled when the shop that had agreed to remove the engines and send them out for overhaul stopped working on the airplane. It turned out the shop had never rigged turbine engines before and had mostly worked on piston Commanders. The engines sat in boxes for two months before we caught wind that the delays were never going to end. Rob saved the day by flying from Scottsdale, Arizona, out to Stockton, California, and working on them for four days straight in the intense heat. Rob got us to the point where we could get the airplane to CMC and finish the work.

Being available for all those questions we all have

Rob remained available night and day for the 24-month period leading up to departure and for the entire eight months and 23 days of the trip. Operating a 35+ year old aircraft is challenging and is going to have issues when you stretch its performance to the material limits. When I lost the generator portion of my starter-generator in a remote part of Sweden, Rob was flipping through repair manuals, sending me wiring diagrams and had me checking fuses until we diagnosed the problem and found a repair shop enroute to the North Pole.

Calling you on your BS/Giving sage advice

When our project was gridlocked after the second inflight emergency, and I was losing my “Zen” responding to sponsors who said they didn’t think I would ever do the flight, I considered a legal solution to my problems. Rob calmed me down and pointed out that wouldn’t accomplish anything except delaying the project even longer and rattling the sponsors off even more. Rob told me many of these systems were working in other aircraft and our best course of action was to get mine fixed. Again, Rob was right, and I took those systems all the way to the South and North Poles based on his recommendation.

I can’t help but look at all of the qualities that I shared about my top mechanic and acknowledge that these are the same qualities you’ll find in a great friend and mentor. Rob and I spent so much time working together, solving problems and discussing what was possible with this 35-year-old aircraft, that we became much closer. In the process of struggling to complete the mission, I learned a tremendous amount and got to know the aircraft better while my repair skills greatly improved. Rob also taught me how a true philanthropist acts and gives unconditionally on the journey. It is my sincere hope that each of you find a friend and a mechanic to help, guide, and teach you on your journey of flight and exploration.

Is the pandemic over?

It’s the question we all want the answer to: Is the pandemic over? In short, no, it isn’t. But things are definitely trending in the right direction.

Unless you have been buried under a rock of late, you’ve no doubt heard that mask mandates are being eased, and travel is suddenly becoming more popular. With that popularity comes certain expenses for the consumer. Rental car companies were forced to sell off large chunks of their fleets last year in order to survive the travel downturn. The result now is that renting a car has become so difficult that some have resorted to renting U-Haul trucks.

Hotels are also filling up. I was trying to arrange for some out-of-town travel recently to New England, and the first four or five hotels I looked at were sold out. The rooms that were left were noticeably more expensive than even a few months ago.

What does all of this mean for pilots and wannabe pilots? In a word: recovery. Or hiring. Take your pick. Americans are setting on a pile of hoarded cash, and Americans have never seen a dollar that they can’t spend. Travel demand has soared as families look to make up for lost vacations and visits with family members they were forced to isolate from while waiting for a vaccine.

This has meant a mad scramble for the airlines. Thousands of parked airplanes have to be brought out storage and brought up to (safety) snuff. Network schedule plans have to be rewritten, and tens of thousands of pilots have to be re-trained, or re- re-trained. This is all taking place at a furious pace, and at the lower end of the list, it means pilots are being hired much sooner than we had dared hope.

As I write this, Europe is in the process of updating its travel restrictions and guidance for vaccinated and tested passengers, and it will undoubtedly mean a flood of people buying tickets and travel plans at a rapid pace. As delightful as this is for the carriers, it will lead to a long game of playing catch-up. For aspiring pilots, it will be a grand opportunity to move into the ranks and start your careers. While the regional marketplace has undergone some seismic shifts of late, it still represents the best avenue to get your foot in the door and begin navigating the industry.

The more new hires there are, the better the news and the bigger the plans. Because replacement pilots must be in place first, more new hires mean airlines plan to bring more planes back into service and resume more service than they had announced. A lower volume of hiring generally means a more cautious approach.

If you’ve been waiting to get in the flight deck, this is the time to stop waiting and get started. The economic recovery is likely to be fairly robust, if unpredictable and a bit rocky. But now is the time to give the aviation gig a go.—Chip Wright 

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Into the Alligator's Mouth: Final Chapter

We have had a fun journey exploring personal minimums through the wisdom of over a dozen pilots in the past few months. I hope that you enjoy this final installment and apply the concepts to your flying.  I am thrilled to be presenting a seminar on the content for the Los Angeles 99s virtually on Wednesday June 2nd, and in person for AOPA at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh on Thursday July 29th.

My goal in writing this series is that as PIC you do everything in the airplane intentionally and with forethought.

So here we go.  In the past few months, we began our journey into the mindset needed for the functional implementation of minimums.   I reached in to my address book of pilot friends  to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like. I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000.

How far can you put your head in an alligator’s mouth and still be certain you can get it back out?

I had a fabulous time talking with a baker’s dozen pilots and I got a little gem or a pucker factor from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. In the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.

This series centers on the psychology of personal minimums.  Like most relationships, we will focus why we create them, why we commit them to paper [or not], when we fudge on them, what we learn from them, and what we hope never to again experience.

Interviews

For the interviews I asked starting questions and interchangeably used personal minimums and personal guidelines.  The reason for this is some pilots initially thought when I spoke of minimums, I was referencing charted instrument approach minimums.  The following answers will be in their voice, the first person.


Questions:

  • Do you have a current set of personal guidelines or minimums for your flying?
  • If yes, do you have them written down?
  • If so, do you ever review them or alter/update them?
  • What are the areas you consider when you think of your own minimums?
  • Have you had a time where you cheated on your personal minimums?
  • Has there been an experience in the airplane you would like to share that gave you a “pucker factor” that others might learn from?”
  • Do you have a “hidden gem”, or learning tip, to share?

*[For the sake of this article, in their responses, I will simply use the word “minimums”]


CK, Corporate Pilot, Jet, Turbo-Prop, CFI

My Private Pilot License [PPL], as they say, was a license to learn. I learned the basic structure of 3 miles visibility [VFR].  Yet as you gain experience you realize 5 miles isn’t that much and then 3 miles is really not that much. At the beginning of my flying, my personal minimum was 5 miles because that was my level of comfort as a VFR pilot.

As you gain experience, you can do more.  Your minimums grow as you gain that experience. For me, this is the difference between the FAA regulation vs. what I am comfortable with.

Right now, as pro-pilot flying a single engine—it is all on me.  I have to make sure I am good to go with health and wellness. Additionally, I have 1-12 passengers on board that are my responsibility. They don’t necessarily understand minimums the way I do. It is my job to make the best decisions I can based on the advanced planning and the reality of the flight conditions. One thing I’m firm on is that I won’t  go unless I see minimums or better forecast at the destination airport. To depart I need to see an upward trend in the weather.

As a corporate pilot I am always looking at my detailed flight planning vs. reality of flying.  My alternate airport might be pretty far away—especially when my destination is remote.  I have to be thinking [if needed]

  • Where am I geographically?
  • Do I have maintenance available?
  • What is it going to cost?
  • How do I get a mechanic to me?

Pucker Factor:  Caffeine isn’t always your friend. I was knee deep in twin training as a very green pilot.  At the time I was drinking several energy drinks during the ground school portion. When it was my time in the simulator, I was so jittery I couldn’t fly the airplane like I was supposed to.  My rule now is no caffeine on the day of flight.

Hidden gem: Loss affects all of us, put it in your checklist.  About ten years ago, I lost a parent, had a relationship break up, and lost a friend. I was flying left seat in a two-pilot operation.  I remember looking at the controls and thinking. “I should not be flying.” “I don’t feel like I am 100% here.”

 


RS, Commercial MEI, SEI, Glider

My minimums are not written down, but they are staunch in my mind.  For me it all starts at the planning table. I don’t write stuff down because after decades it is locked into my brain as what I will do, or not. I recognize the chain of errors with pilot, airplane, environment, and weather especially.

Error in the  links of flight planning, real world conditions or execution equals extreme caution for me. If you recognize the broken link and mitigate it, then you are okay. A lot people let two or three links break and bad things happen in the airplane.

Pucker Factor:
The setting is Estrella Sailport, 1981. I am a fledgling Glider pilot, that had a perfect soaring day with 2000 fpm thermals ! I went right up to 12,000 feet where it was cool and was just tooling around for about 45mins before I started down.  When I did start down NOTHING and I mean NOTHING looked familiar at all. Turns out that the winds aloft were howling the ride was smooth so I didn’t feel like I was getting blown downwind. I was concentrating on milking every foot per minute out of those killer thermals that I completely lost my situational awareness. I pointed the nose into the wind and went to the best glide speed, yet I was not moving. There was a road that paralleled the runway with about a half a mile of desert with a sea of huge cactus between it and the runway. I thought I could make it and stupidly went for it. Fortunately I made it but I literally had to dive to the cactus tops for the last 50 yards before I ran out of energy just clear of the cactus with just enough left rudder to land across the runway at a 45 degree angle.
The owner of the flight school said he was watching me and said if I had not dove into ground effect I would have never made it to the runway clearing.  NEVER AGAIN, I should have taken the sure thing, I should have taken the ROAD.

Hidden Gem: My advice is to break the first link, and mitigate the risk. If one link in the chain is broken, I am on high alert, immediate reset of the situation so the one broken link is eliminated.  It is easy to see how accidents happen with the second or third broken link, especially if they are congruent.


DK Commercial, CFII, DPE, Cessna owner

I sort of have a unique experience with minimums as a pilot, CFI and Designated Pilot Examiner [DPE].  It’s tough for student pilots to figure out minimums as they have so little experience to work with.  For their solo cross-country, the weather has to be perfect.  As a private pilot, the only way you find you minimums is by experience. Instrument training gives you flying in the soup and you can find out your minimums with an instructor. Young commercial pilots are looking at reasons why to do the mission, instead of why they shouldn’t.

As a DPE the private pilot candidates I see have no clue about minimums. It seems to me that ACS risk management isn’t being taught.  Instructors are not working on the risk assessment enough with students.  Many times, students don’t think there is risk because they don’t see it [the risk] if CFI is signing them off to go on a flight.

I have fixed personal minimums on the flights I do a lot for my work as a DPE.  These are built through experience flying in the Pacific Northwest. My commute minimums: 2500 feet ceiling in the valley— hard limit Winds aloft Easterly at 3000 feet more than 25 kts= no go. Cross wind:  if I cannot straighten the nose with the rudder, I will not land.  Any cold or sickness-I am not going. If I don’t feel 100%, I don’t have to go.

Pucker Factor:  I was commuting to a check ride. The ceiling was right at my minimum. As I got closer to my destination it was 50 feet lower than my minimum, then 100 feet.  I landed and thought. “What kind of example am I setting for the applicant?” the only thing to my credit is I never did it twice. Once was too often- I know better. Never again. Now if the ceilings refuse to cooperate, I go back home. Instead of find reasons to continue into worsening conditions. I need to reward myself for being smart and heading back to better weather

Hidden Gem:  You don’t want to get bit by cheating on your minimums.  Think of this question: “How far can I put my head in the alligator’s mouth and get it back out?”


I hope you enjoyed this final installment.  Please consider using one of the AOPA templates to write your minimums down whether VFR or IFR.  If you have feedback about the interviews, please feel free to use the comment section below.

In the meantime, keep up with online safety seminars, join your state aviation association, and stay involved with your local airport. Make sure that you consider all aspects of minimums; airplane, pilot, and environment before you yell. “clear prop.”

My plans  EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As my Dad used to say when we touched down, I am looking forward to another successful trip of “Haywire Airlines”.

 

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Getting ready for class

When you get the call for a new hire class, it’s quite a thrill. But it can also leave you scrambling to get ready to check out of the real world for six to eight weeks.

Getting ready for class is similar to getting ready for your interview. The first thing you need to do is a document check. Your new carrier will  want you to have a current passport with an expiration date at least six months away. You may have to pay for expedited handling, but if you’re close to that window, just get it done.

Next up is your medical. Just about every airline requires all pilots, including first officers, to maintain a first class medical. If yours is going to expire in the next two-three months, consider biting the bullet and getting it renewed early, especially if you don’t want to have to run the risk of getting an appointment with a new doctor in a new city right away. If you decide to wait, be prepared to buy a ticket to get home to your regular doctor if the training schedule gets fouled up.

Your CFI certificate. If you’re coming up on a renewal for your CFI, try to knock that out of the way as well. Even if you have no intention of teaching again, think about how hard you worked to get your flight instructor certificate. You may end up wanting to teach just to work with some favorite clientele, or you may want to pick up some pocket change. And, heaven forbid, if you should have a problem with training and need to go back to teaching, you’ll need it. Additionally, you don’t want to rule out going into the training department at an airline, which is totally different than what you’re used to. Finally, doing a FIRC is time-consuming, and once you are finished with training, the last thing you’ll want to do is sit in front of your computer and bang out all those hours of clicking “next.”

Your driver’s license and pilot certificate. This sounds so simple, but you’re required to notify the FAA when you change addresses, and if your driver’s license is close to expiration, you want to get that renewed as well, especially if there is any chance you’ll be renting a car. If you’ve been bouncing around from one place to another looking for a place to live, you’ll need a mailing address for your new company. And, because you’re going into training, you may well have an event or a ride observed by the FAA. Matching addresses on your certificate, medical, and driver’s license saves some potential embarrassment.

Doctor’s appointments. These may be dictated by your current insurance situation, but you’ll want to use whatever time you can to knock out a basic physical, a trip to the dentist,  and your optometrist if you wear glasses. Once class starts, you will be too busy to be bothered, and a cavity or some other unexpected malady is not something you want to mess with in a new-to-you city.

Packing. You’ll want to have clothes enough to wear for at least a week to 10 days between loads of laundry. The company may or may not require you to have certain equipment at certain points in the training (such as headsets), and you’ll want to take stack of blank flashcards, a notebook, laptop, and spare phone chargers. If you’re driving to class, take a printer. Yes, a printer. It’s amazing how convenient it is when you can print something in your hotel room when you least expect to need to do so. If you’re flying to training, skip the printer, but find out what is involved in using the one in the hotel business center. You may need it for everything from printing out benefits information to getting a hard copy of the fuel system diagrams.

Getting the call for class is both exciting and stressful. But with a little bit of foresight, you can maximize the excitement and minimize the stress. It’s a long slog through the grind of indoc, systems, and the sim, let alone your first flights on the line, but it’s worth it. Don’t make plans to spend time with friends or family or a love interest. You’ll be pretty consumed, and you owe it to yourself, your employer, and your future passengers to totally devote yourself to training. There will be plenty of time to play hard later.—Chip Wright

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What’s wrong with this picture?

An excellent artifice to take stock of the status of one’s situation as a pilot is to focus on what one is excited about. We all know what it was like to tell war stories as a student pilot about light to moderate crosswinds, which was at the time the most exciting thing to happen in an airplane. It would be natural to assume that a regularly active pilot would have more and more adventures under his or her belt, so the level to which something becomes exciting or novel would elevate.

I would expect that proposition to be linearly true if I stayed in the United States. I would have likely dragged the Cub well into Canada and possibly Alaska by this point, ratcheting up the adventure component, not-so-ironically flying in mountains that look quite like the Alps, and then some. As that did not happen, it exposes some additional dimensions which, as I have alluded to, do not always open the mind.

The first thing that caused me to wonder if I need some sort of psychological assistance is the practice of getting excited about my monthly invoice for my home-based airport. I have various photography and logging methods that keep track of flying, which means that every one to three months, I go back and update the official logbook. Thus, I don’t precisely recall where and when I went flying; I just go and let the chips fall, which they do in this case in the form of a monthly bill. The absolute perversion is that I have gotten to the point where I am excited if the bill is higher! For the month of April, it was “only” $192.31, which meant I went flying “only” seven times. My record is $274.73, which is ten times in a month, which I seem, again, perversely determined to break.

The second thing that raised an eyebrow is how I have convinced myself that I am now Indiana Jones with my landings at non-home-based airports. As I have ranted about before, European airports as a whole, country notwithstanding, tend to have a wide variety of categories, with a cornucopia of unique rules, charges, operating hours, and aggravations. The bottom line is that one cannot do what I used to do in the US: a flight briefing checking weather and TFRs for the whole area, NOTAMs for the intended refueling point, and then change my mind in flight (checking the AF/D and NOTAMs in the air). Here, much more research is involved and, in the case of Switzerland, PPRs (Prior Permission Required) are generally the norm, except for towered airports. That means picking something and sticking to it, with its attendant planning steps.

Since the last post, I landed at three other airports. Emotionally, it feels like I am some sort of ace pilot maverick though, much like my glee at how high I can ratchet a landing fee invoice, it has a certain perversion of logic to it. I recall days in the US where I landed at more than three different new airports in a single day. For that matter, I landed at four in one day in France on the escape from Germany in 2016, and at three each day for two days in a row while crossing from the Pyrenees to the Portuguese Coast in 2018.

I did recently experience the dreaded nightmare that caused this inertia. One of the things I am afraid of is either landing at a field and realizing that I broke some rule, or down to reserve and finding some reason why I cannot get fuel. There is another reality that prevents trying in the first place: PPRs. The first PPR I ever obtained required filling out a form on the web and waiting for email permission to land. Fortunately, it came within the hour, before the intended maintenance flight later that day. Somehow, I thought they all were like this, and I thought to myself: “How on earth am I ever going to go anywhere if I must get permission the day before, or if I don’t know if and when they will reply?” In my insistence to conquer this problem in the last two months, I forced myself to deal with it and found that each airport is different. Most are a quick phone call where they jot down the tail number and are rather flexible, which resulted in getting comfortable.

Not so fast! The day in question was after a long period of bad weather, in advance of a raging windstorm due the next day. There was going to be some “south Föhn,” which is problematic where I wanted to go. I wasn’t sure how much of this Föhn was going to blow, though the intended airport of Bad Ragaz is known as the worst in Switzerland for when south Föhn is blowing. Sure enough, it was a bit frisky that morning, so I devised an alternate. That resulted in a bunch of phone tag the morning of the flight to arrange a PPR. As I thought about it, every flying club aircraft in Switzerland was in the air at that moment. A perfect summerlike day in Spring, with impeccable visibility, no wind, and good glider lift? The PPR guy would obviously be out fueling and running around managing a litany of airplanes (that got their PPR the day before). I eventually chose candidate number three, for which the same thing happened, so I found number four, that had a phone recording PPR and the AIP said avgas was available for visitors on weekends. Just in time, airport number three called back, and I visited there some hours later.

While I can be descriptive as to the logistical vagaries belying my disproportionate excitement over landing at three other airports, it really is a reminder that something is wrong with this picture that I am excited with only three in a month. Since there is nothing one can do about the airport network, I am going to have to ratchet up the determination to untangle the situation and, at times, get the motivation up to snuff to keep at it.

The third reaction this month to my flying that I found interesting relates to two separate flights: one to above the summit of Mont Blanc (summit: 15,771’ flight: 16,200’) and a second flying in and out of the upper glacial valleys of the major glacier basins in and around the Aletschgletscher. Both of those were incredibly calming and pleasant, “how flying is supposed to be.” I recently had a way to drive this point home when chatting with the airport attendant at Reichenbach. I mentioned how “flying in this very south Föhn wind at the summits does not bother me. It is the airports, ATC, traffic, and turbulence down low that is a problem.” It’s funny how having to explain it to someone else coalesces the whole thing.

Much like how normal pilots find dread from the landing fee invoice while regularly flying outside of the wilderness conveniently and safely enjoying airspace and airport services, they tend to find flying over glaciers and wind shorn summits to be mildly disconcerting. I suppose it took reviewing what I find exciting and noteworthy to take stock of the whole thing. Despite my oft stated rationale behind it, I am not an Indiana Jones pilot for landing at three new airports in a month.

One of the rare opportunities to run errands using the Cub and have it be worth the time.

Thunderbolt Display successfully delivered to the Apple repair shop. Now don’t lose an engine climbing out from Lausanne. So far, Lausanne Airport is the closest to general aviation procedurally to the USA, as it is uncontrolled and public (no PPR).

Vierwaldstättersee, the site of getting beaten by south Föhn winds in February. I flew down the lake and into the valley this time.

Tight quarters however not an issue when the wind is out of the north.

Fuel. The only thing that gives away that its not in Wyoming is the ‘propeller whacking a head’ warning sign in German. Triengen.

Why Bad Ragaz was out of the picture. A breeze over Eiger and Mönch, which was translating into south Föhn in places.

And now the relaxing stuff. Mont Blanc (15,771′) from below.

From 16,200′ with Aosta Valley in the background.

Finsteraarhorn (14,022′) from the south. 

Finsteraarhorn from the north.

 

Behind the scenes

Like any other industry, aviation has a lot of stuff that happens “behind the scenes” that the average Joe isn’t aware of.

In fact, often people within that industry may not be aware of some of it either. After all, how often do you go to a restaurant and think about all the stuff that goes on in the kitchen before you get your food? Someone has to know how much of what to order, and someone has to determine how much of each food to make ahead of time based on demand and popularity.

The airlines work the same way. As you read this, the calendar will be indicating summer. And not just any summer, either, but the first summer after the strangest summer any of us can remember, along with a weird winter that didn’t seem to want to end. Many airlines already have a small team of people working on next winter’s operations. Deicing fluid needs to be ordered well in advance, with supplies adjusted based on expected fleet plans at each airport/hub, training manuals for all affected work groups need to be updated and harmonized, and equipment needs to be maintained, replaced, and repaired. Just getting the manuals updated is time consuming, because at some airports the work is contracted out to a company that handles multiple airlines, so everything has to be written as simply as possible.

Deicing equipment only gets used a few times a year, so functionality checks start early in order to find issues that result from leaving stuff sitting around for months on end. The folks who train the trainers also need to be brought up to speed early so that the training pipeline gets started, staffing can be adjusted, and schedules accommodated.

Another big behind-the-scenes area is the long-term scheduling of flights. Every airline calls it something different, but it’s basically the same: where will we be going, and with which airplanes, in 12 to 24 months. The three big seasonal peaks are Thanksgiving, which is easy (in the relative scheme) to plan on; spring break; and summer vacation, specifically the month of July.

My airline is constantly putting out communications about the next one or two summers, because those busy months drive the training schedule for pilots, and to a lesser degree, flight attendants. Big events factor in as well. For instance, last year, the Olympics were supposed to be a major focus point. COVID changed that, and this year the Games may be held with no crowds. Next year, the World Cup is on the docket, but it’s too soon to say how COVID may or may not affect that event, and that doesn’t take into account which teams may or may not qualify.

Maintenance is another never-ending cycle of planning and contingencies. Airplanes are subjected to some form of light maintenance every day or so, but they also need to be scheduled for “heavy” inspections based on the manufacturer recommendations. These checks pull the airplanes out of service for a few months at a time, and they are scheduled a year or more in advance. A majority of these events take place outside the United States, especially for wide-bodies. That is yet another variable that needs to be accounted for.

There are also unexpected events, like the grounding of the 737 MAX, which was down for two years, got released to fly, and then was partially grounded again. Airlines can accommodate some of these curveballs, but too often the only resort is to cancel flights and issue refunds.

Just like a restaurant that has to plan for a big social event, the airlines have to constantly tweak their plans, and often there are a lot of partners involved and a lot of unexpected ripples that have to be dealt with in the process. It’s part of what makes aviation such a dynamic, exciting industry: There is never a dull or a still moment. But there is always something that needs to be done.—Chip Wright

Silencing the naysayers

Flying in “cabin class comfort?”

Sometimes we are motivated as much by those people that say we can’t do something as by those that say we can! On my 2019-2020 Polar Circumnavigation the voices and comments of the naysayers were alive and well.

One of these comments came from a retired 747 captain who said, “If you are so ’Zen,’ maybe you should see the signs you are getting and not do the trip!”

Another comment came from one of my closest friends who was telling the sponsors that the polar expedition was really a “sponsor-financed vacation.”

Neither of these comments could really be further from the truth. This was never so obvious as when I was over the true, magnetic and North Pole of Inaccessibility and the 5 hours that followed, when my two flight management systems, two ADAHRS (attitude, heading and reference systems), autopilot, HF, and VHF comms went offline. With the Jet A fumes so strong in the cabin that I could taste the fuel in my throat as my eyes watered and sinuses burned, I remember thinking that my reality was much different than what people truly understood.

How then do we reframe these thoughts and comments so they don’t slow us down or block our efforts? Instead, no pun intended, they “fuel our efforts” so that we can take this all in-stride and as the saying goes “smile in the face of adversity?” Here are six ways that might help you deal with the naysayers.

Identify and isolate the naysayers

You will know who they are by their comments and actions. Your job is just to put them behind you. My social media team was instructed that I didn’t need to hear these comments and just to delete and block them. As a practice, we put them behind us as fast as the Citizen of the World could fly, which was about 311 knots true.

Use negative comments and thoughts as an opportunity to educate

Sometimes, despite your deft maneuvering, you won’t be able to dodge all of the negative comments and thoughts. When one of my biggest sponsors said I might as well just tear their logo off the Citizen of the World—since they didn’t think I was ever going to leave—I just hung up the phone. I wasn’t going to listen to that for even an instant. Maybe not the best move out of the sponsorship playbook, but one I was not going to entertain. In hindsight, I could have agreed to disagree and explained we had identified additional risks that we were taking steps to mitigate, and we wanted to ensure a safe and successful flight. And of course, during the delays they were getting additional exposure.

Overcoming a mountain of criticism is often about educating others. Some people simply don’t understand the magnitude of your efforts, passion or the challenges you are facing.

Reveal information on a need-to-know basis

Complicating my attempt to educate, my team intentionally held back information because we didn’t feel my family members and supporters could handle the extreme stress that I was experiencing. It was hard enough on them because their fears were coming up. We figured I would just endure the overwhelming stress and struggle of this journey with the help of my closest supporters. Comments I sent via satellite text to my greatest supporter and friend Susan Gilbert when I was critically low on Jet A fuel over the dreaded Drake Passage confiding I didn’t think I had enough fuel to make it—would have sent others into hysterics.

Focus on your supportersFor every person doubting me there were many more telling me that I could do it and my result would be overwhelmingly positive. Their comments were light filled and so positive that often they would bring me to tears. A note from Eddie Gould of General Aviation Support Egypt (GASE) kept me going:

Adventures like yours do inspire and create so much more than what you have personally achieved. Having this adventure during one of the world’s most horrific periods must rank high above many of the worthy exploits undertaken by pilots.

I guess we, on the ground, have felt invested in your quest in a way that others would not. Your successes in the air are also ours. I have a massive smile, and I know Ahmed does too, when we get something approved, or a plan works out or even when you say . . . ‘this hotel is fantastic’ . . . the work we do in the background can be enjoyable, satisfying and at times . . . frustrating . . . like when you lose comms or someone doesn’t answer a phone in an office 7,000 miles away. But your adventures create the memories for us too . . . and this adventure is yours and our crowning glory . . . you took on everything the planet could throw at you, faced dangers in every corner of the globe and even had to change everything you knew about to become a Spanish recluse and then a Viking hermit!

I hope you make the book at least half as exciting as the reality was . . . and by the way . . . the aircraft was amazing and beautiful :-).”

The truth will come out as you look closer

Things are not always as they appear. One follower texted me, “it must be nice to be flying in cabin class comfort!” In the picture above with my survival gear stacked outside the airplane you see me moments before departure doing my best to put on my game face when the reality was that I was facing absolutely terrible odds. My survival gear would go on the copilot seat and behind me leaving me little space to move around. The entire back of the Gulfstream Twin Commander 900 was filled with six additional venting fuel tanks. Before the flight concluded I would be losing navigation, dealing with snow blindness, mechanical issues, fatigue, fuel gelling, and wearing a stuffy and uncomfortable rubber emersion suit for 18.1 hours.

I had assessed my chances of survival at roughly 50%. That was not 50% that I would set out and come back possibly making the South Pole—that was a 50% chance that I’d still be alive in 20 hours.

Use these comments to identify risks you need to mitigate

Your naysayers will help you identify the risks you must overcome. They are expert at helping you identify in great detail the issues you must address. An example of this came when a fellow circumnavigator told me that he didn’t think the Citizen could fly 4,400 nautical miles unrefueled. He said I was foolish not to test the range of the Citizen until the actual flight. He was right, and my team set up a series of test flights that helped us verify the range of the plane which allowed me to take less fuel than I was capable of carrying. In a sense, you have an extra team working for free helping you to think through every detail of your journey.

Scarcity

Understand these naysayer comments come from a place of scarcity. The comments are less about what you are doing and more about what others have passed on in their lives. Don’t believe the stories of others they are not your own. It’s like Don Miguel Ruiz says, “If you are going to tell yourself a story make it a good one!”

Silencing

With the successful completion of the Polar Circumnavigations the naysayers would finally be silenced. They would have to move on to their next project! The ADS-B Out tracking from Aireon fueled by info from the 66 Iridium NEXT- satellites over the South Pole really said it all. If that was not enough, I had two nano GPS trackers, iPad screen shots, recorded conversations with the South Pole that will come out in the docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth and Beyond” and a latitude/longitude text msg sent almost directly over the South Pole.

Perseverance

The naysayers are just a part of your journey and intended to teach and protect you. With their continued help your success will be even sweeter. Yes, it will be hard and at times unbearable, but you will succeed. It will feel like you are about to be crushed like a bug but yet you must persist! It will feel like you are carrying the weight of the world but with the help of your supporters you can do it if you continue to put one foot in front of the other day after day. It may take longer than you think. My preparations were intended to take 6 months but took 18. My actual trip was intended to take 4 to 5 months but took 8 months and 23 days.

Smile in the face of adversity and you will find your success and much more!

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