Menu

Switzerland

We decided to head to Switzerland again for the summer, which presented the obligation of flying the Cub there. The first weekend I chose had the unfortunate reality of being infernal heatwave in Europe, where temperatures in France reached 113F and 102F in Cerdanya, exceeding the previous high that I had experienced in the Pyrenees of 95F. It is generally a temperate place without extremes, so this was pretty warm. After my punishing trip to Texas in the heat, humidity, and thermals of an early Southern heatwave a month prior, I wasn’t in the mood to repeat myself, so I delayed.

A window showed up to go a week later, with sunny weather in the Pyrenees, France, and the western Alps, so I took my chances, even though it was supposed to be warm.

As the day approached and I undertook flight planning exercises, I noted a trepidation brewing, which caused me initially to do a thorough check of the airplane a couple of days before leaving. Was this some sort of deep intuition about a problem that I was ignoring? On careful examination, it occurred to me that I had pause crossing France, which I didn’t understand, as I had done it five times in the past. One factor is that, each time, I insist upon going a slightly different way, as the southern half of France features a wide variety of things to see in a narrow band of 75 miles. That adds technical burden to the flight, some of which I forget about each time, inclusive of a French fuel card, special military zones to be checked, flight plans, a byzantine web of restricted areas unlike anything in America, fuel status of airports, landing and handling fees, language restrictions, and a flight plan for customs clearance into Switzerland.

Now I knew what my problem was: crossing France is a tremendous amount of work where lots can go wrong. One could easily find himself marooned at an airport with no ability to fuel and not enough fuel to make an alternate, meaning an early night in a hotel.

The departure out of the Pyrenees was interesting, as a morning inversion developed, which I could clear easily, only to plunge into MVFR Saharan dust that was in a layer 6,000 feet and higher, a first where the haze is only at high altitude. At one point I was concerned it would go IFR, and then it suddenly cleared to a hot and hazy summer day over the French foothills. Proceeding north, it was quite hot, so I stayed up at 5,000 feet, descending slowly once I got past some Mediterranean hills. As I approached a control zone, I asked for clearance from flight following to get through it (something they usually will relay). I was handed to Rodez Info, who told me there “is a strike today in Clermont-Ferrand, so there will be no Info service.” I tried calling the tower and was too far away, so I ducked under the cake, now tossed around in heat and thermals.

This went on awhile as I approached the highlands of the Massif Central near the Cantal Mountains. It is a dormant stratovolcano which has partially eroded away, creating some interesting faux above timberline terrain. Since Info service was on strike, I couldn’t get status of the restricted area, which meant I couldn’t quite see the peak I wanted to overfly. Hot and sweaty after my low altitude jaunt around Rodez, bumped by thermals, wishing I was at my destination, I began to lose faith in the gospel of aviation that ‘more flying is better.’

Fuel was at Saint-Flour, then off to the eastern Massif Central timberlands, down to the Rhône River for my ceremonial crossing, a reflection of past stories while sneaking by Grenoble’s airspace, glancing at fertile farmlands that I recall distinctly from the flight down from Germany in 2016.

Cantal Mountains, France. Maximum elevation 6,086′.

Timberlands in eastern Massif Central. Trees look quite healthy and there is some logging activity.


Crossing the Rhône River.

Farmland in the Rhône River valley.

Fuel was a GA airport outside of Chambéry, choosing a non-controlled field to avoid the mile walk required to pay a 5 euro landing fee at the larger airport north of town. Instead the field was a “French only” airport, a reality one must contend with in places in France, where all radio communication is strictly in French. It was a poor day to arrive, as gliders were swarming like gnats. I waited until traffic subsided, slipped in for fuel, noticing a very specific indifference by individuals on the ground, and after 15 minutes of glider winch activity and landings, found a window to takeoff for the final leg into Switzerland.

My questions about whether I was enjoying myself went away once I began cruising in the Pre-Alps a few minutes later. It is technically a separate mountain range that looks like the foothills of the Alps. Elevations tend to top out in the 4,000’ to 8,000’ range, with thick pine forests, exposed rock, and occasional ridges that look like the Alps.

The Pre-Alps gave way to the Chablais Alps at the border of Switzerland, and my disposition went from fatigue to pure joy. Vertical spires of rocks, small glaciers, remaining June snow, and thunderous waterfalls abounded. I climbed to about 8,000 feet to swing by the Massif du Chablais, a ridge that taunts us from the chalet in Switzerland, and from there swung by Les Diablerets and made my cruise into the Bernese Oberland, to land at Gstaad Airport, where the airplane will spend the summer.

Col de Bornette in the French Pre-Alps. I came from the left and crossed this same pass when flying to Switzerland last year.

Mont Fleuri, France, still in the Pre-Alps (8238′ / 2511m).

Mont Blanc in the background.


Switzerland, how I love you.  Les Dents Blanches (8533′ to 9042′ / 2601m to 2756m).


Massif du Chablais.

Bernese Oberland.

I was extremely content with my choice of location, and after literally “planes, trains, and automobiles,” I was back in Cerdanya the next day, and we drove to Switzerand the day after that. A few days after arriving a nice day was forecast, at least with respect to the fact it is sunny. I am still trying to figure out why one front means clear air, or another means a sunny day with incredible haze, or it means haze in one elevation or area, yet not in another.

Anyhow, I hoped to photograph Lake Geneva in summer light angles, though the morning showed sunny skies with horrific haze. I decided to go up anyway and “swing by the Jungfrau but at an altitude that isn’t 14,000 feet.” Given that it was to be sunny, I figured I could get some angles that never really made sense to try while based in Sion, as terrain is something quite severe and takes a lot of fuel to climb Sion over the Alps, back down to where humans live, then back up over the Alps, and quickly back down to normal elevations.

It didn’t take long in the air to decide I needed to clear the clouds over the Oberland, which I did in a hole over a massive waterfall in Adelboden. From there, the clouds were 50% coverage and clearly went to 11,000 feet, so I’d have to clear them. I wanted to see the Jungfrau, and it would be even better if it was sticking out above the clouds. Snaking east, I climbed as I went, hugging terrain, avoiding clouds, and thoroughly enjoying myself. Eventually I popped out at 12,000’ north of a sizable glacier, noting that the clouds were effectively piling up on the north side of the Bernese Alps and getting pushed to higher altitude, drying out on the south side. I finally did get to see the Jungfrau, after climbing to 13,500’, staying on the north side due to a stiff breeze. The air at altitude had perfect visibility, and stunning views.

On the way back west along the ridge, I noted that the clouds had thickened significantly, with less holes and higher heights. It was still clear to the south via the passes, and north out of the Oberland. Eventually I found a hole between Adelboden and Frutigen and corkscrewed down 3,000’ and popped over the pass towark Lenk-Simmental. Humidity and haze had increased greatly under the cloud deck causing carb ice at cruise RPM, though it was restricted to where it piled up against the Alps, indeed an interesting microclimate, as things were dry on the other side in the Rhône valley near Sion and drier 10 miles north of the base of the Bernese Alps. Anyhow, I cruised along the menacing looking ridge before slaloming around Oberland peaks and finally joining the circuit over a rather vertical rock just north of the airport.

While the first flight was one of technical requirement, to get from one point to another, it turned out to be the best and the worst at the same time. I think I can, at this point, finally declare that I do not like cruising at low altitude in thermals on hot summer days (it has taken long enough to cement that preference) yet alongside that displeasure I find the utter transcendental bliss of flight above glaciers well above 10,000 feet, which is simply the most enjoyable thing I have ever done in an airplane.

Rüwlispass (5636′ / 1718m).

Waterfalls above Adelboden.

Gemmipass (7447′ / 2270m).

Hockenhorn, hiding in the clouds (10803′ / 3293m). I gave up trying to climb over it, went to the right in the lee of the pass, and climbed above the clouds in the distance.


Et voila! Üsser Talgletscher. 

Same glacier, looking the other way.

Eiger (13024′ / 3970m). So much for the plan to “photo from below on a clear day.” Its not like I find this disagreeable.

Jungfrau (13642′ / 4158m).

Bernese Alps with clouds backed against them to the north.

And down through the hole above Adelboden.

Cruising along the ridge, where my O-200 turned into an ice machine.

CFIT poster.

Beneath Les Diablerets.

Entering the pattern for Saanen. Standard procedures call for flying above an enormous rock, then making a square pattern around Gstaad. Its a wild airport.

Pilot on-the-job injuries

Every job has its hazards, and airline flying is no different. You wouldn’t think that something as benign as flying could at times be so risky—and I’m not even referencing the possibility of an accident. In twenty-three years of airline flying, I’ve seen both predictable and unpredictable on-the-job injuries, all of which call for some increased vigilance. Here are some examples.

A fellow first officer was getting out of the cockpit seat of a Brasilia, which has a very narrow space between the center console and the seat. There was an art to placing your inside foot in such a way that you could stand, pivot, and turn to get out. This guy’s foot got stuck in the worst place at the worst time, and as his weight shifted forward, his foot stayed still. He shredded several ligaments in his knee, which required extensive surgery and a lengthy rehab and absence from work. It was more in line with what you’d see in a bad football injury, but it forever changed the cavalier way in which any of us who were there that day get in and out of a seat. The pain on his face as he sat waiting for an ambulance is hard to forget.

In the pre-iPad days, with flight bags that routinely weighed more than 40 pounds fully loaded, shoulder injuries were very common. Bag stowage in the flight deck was often a secondary consideration of the manufacturer, if it was a consideration at all. Too often, in the interest of expediency, pilots would just reach around their seats and heft the bag out of its location, and anyone could see the potential for an injury. Repeat this act several times a day, and the risks just magnified. At my regional, it was even worse, because the bag had to be picked straight up at least 6 inches just to clear the hole it sat in. Imagine twisting your body 90 degrees, using the outside arm, and trying to get the leverage to lift 40 pounds straight up before pulling it toward you and twisting some more. While shoulders were the most common problem, lower backs and elbows were also affected. It became so expensive in terms of health costs that the parent airline began to work toward a transition away from such heavy bags, and those costs are a common argument made by most airlines as a driving force toward electronic flight bags.

Speaking of bags, several pilots suffered injuries while trying to do more than just their jobs. In an effort to help mitigate the impact of delays on both the company and the passengers, pilots have taken it on themselves to help load or unload luggage, especially valet-tagged bags that passengers are eagerly awaiting before they move on to their connections. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished, and several pilots have been hurt. To add insult to the literal injury, the company refused to honor workers compensation or to cover the medical expenses because the pilots were outside the bounds of their jobs. While most of these refusals of help result in such a loud cry of outrage the company is forced to reverse its decision, it doesn’t always work out that way, especially after the warnings are given. If it isn’t in your job description, think twice before you do it.

When regional jets were first introduced, very few used jetways, so boarding and deplaning required the use of air stairs on the door. When it rains, air stairs get wet and slippery. Imagine the potential with the aforementioned 40-pound flight bags while trying to navigate the air stairs during a driving rainstorm. I’m here to tell you that it’s a hoot and a half—until somebody gets hurt. More than one pilot and flight attendant has fallen (either forwards or backwards) from the air stairs, sometimes resulting in broken ankles, mangled knees, or even head injuries, to say nothing of torn uniforms. You didn’t even need to be carrying a bag, as the steps are steeper than standard, and slipping was all too easy.

One injury that didn’t take place on the job, per se, occurred in a hotel during a layover, when a pilot was asleep in a hotel and suffered a bite on his ankle from a brown recluse spider. It was right before his alarm was scheduled to go off, so he got dressed and decided to work the flight home. By the time he landed, nearly three hours after the bite, his foot and ankle were so swollen he had to take his shoe off and needed emergency transportation to the hospital. His delay almost cost him his foot, but he eventually made a full recovery and returned to work.

The most avoidable injuries seem to occur in vans and cars taking crews to and from hotels. While accidents are relatively rare, they do happen, and most of the injuries come from not wearing seat belts. A crew getting a ride to the airport on a foggy morning was involved in a single-vehicle accident when the van driver lost track of his location and took the van over the curb. The van driver suffered no injuries, but all of the crew did, as none of them were wearing seat belts.

Pilot on-the-job injuries often come from the files of the absurd, silly, or even humorous, but those affected are rarely laughing. You need to keep your vigilance up, keep a comfortable cushion of hours in your sick bank, and if your company offers short-term disability insurance, you should have it. When you see a situation in which the potential for injury is clear or obvious, use the appropriate means to report it and suggest changes. If the company refuses to consider your suggestion and something happens, you can at least have it on record that you tried to make a positive change.

If nothing else, always wear your seat belts and be careful in the rain.—Chip Wright

Build an aviation support dream team you can’t live without

One of the many blessings of preparing for this polar circumnavigation is the aviation support team I have the privilege of working with. These people have made my flying safer, more enjoyable, and more abundant. Building this team hasn’t been easy and has created many moments of frustration and soul searching that have left me scratching my head and then needing to course-correct more often than I care to remember. But, with persistence and a relentless focus on our mission of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness & Humanity” and the strengths needed to realize this impossibly big dream, these challenges and relationships have taught me many things, made me stronger, clearer, and I hope a little more “Zen” in the process.

I would like to share 11 “Zen Lessons” I have learned and introduce you to my team and their strengths so that you can build your own aviation support team with greater ease, grace, and enjoyment. Knowing you have a solid, caring foundation of earth angels will allow you to be your absolute best in the air and on the ground.

First and foremost, find people who share your passion for aviation 100 percent and focus your energies on them. In a time when we can have 5,000-plus Facebook “friends,” I’m here to tell you just the opposite of what you might expect—to do the impossible you only need a handful of true supporters you trust to get started and keep going. Imagine a small circle of people gathered around you with their arms outstretched, hands on your shoulders, championing you and your ideas without exception. The energy of that circle transforms into an upward spiral of momentum and at times, cheesy as it may sound, becomes the wind beneath your wings.

Accept only 100 percent integrity from your team and yourself every time you interact with them. You want people who will lift you up and not dilute your energy. Mindfulness coach and author Mary Marcdante is one of these people for me. She is my sounding board, a mentor, wise editor, and kind friend to me. She is the person who asks me questions like, “Are you in 100 percent integrity with your values and your word? Are you living up to your branding of being a “Zen Pilot?” Is this how you want the world to remember you?” She asks me the hard questions, inspires creative solutions, and keeps me pointed toward my True North.

Surround yourself with people who are willing to make time for you. Some will share they are too busy and don’t have the bandwidth. Don’t take it personally. Let them pursue what they are passionate about and use your energies on attracting people who share your life passion of flying. Mike Jesch is one of these people for me. Mike is a master CFI, airline pilot, kind soul, speaker, and so much more. He has always been supportive of me, makes time for me, and helps me find answers. We are currently trying to establish the amount of time and fuel needed to climb to altitude in Citizen of the World when the aircraft is fully loaded with fuel 935 extra gallons of JetA1. This information is currently unpublished and unknown but critical to the success of my pole-to-pole mission.

Find people who will speak on your behalf and hold you in their thoughts. Anne Anderson is one of these people for me. An international GA pilot, Ninety-Nines chapter president, business owner, and supportive friend, Anne has reached out to media outlets, potential sponsors, and aviation organizations for me. She sends me information that I need to see and would otherwise miss in support of my trip. Anne has on occasion reminded me that I need to do a little more of that “Zen” stuff I’ve been talking about when things get tough. Anne’s delivery is always gentle, which allows me to hear what I need to hear and shift my energy quickly.

Find people with real world experience who are concerned about your safety and go beyond acceptable to extraordinary. Tim Kneeland and Jennifer Gamon of CAPS Aviation are my safety angels with huge hearts. Jennifer recently offered a free day of survival training to the entire Ninety-Nines organization of 5,000 female pilots throughout 44 countries. I attended the first of many of their survival training courses and instantly fell in love with both of them. I thought I had such a kick-ass survival kit—even AOPA articles have been written on it. They pretty much threw the entire kit out and started over, building me a custom survival kit for the 26 countries I will fly to that leaves me awestruck. The kit includes organized spread sheets with expiration dates; the latest technology; and all of it with a consideration for weight, energy conservation, safety, and rapid response.

Have a few dreamers on your team that will help you expand your life and flying experience. Ron Hulnick does this for me. Ron is a pilot and psychologist who has been teaching Spiritual Psychology for over 35 years. He has dedicated his life to making this world a better place. When I started planning my first circumnavigation along the equator in 2014, I went to him and told him of my interest in supporting a cause. He said, “How about World Peace?” I laughed when he said it, and he chuckled as well. I later came to realize he was serious. At the time I wasn’t ready to take on a project that “impossibly big.” Several years later, the support and inspiration I felt my from team gave me the courage to take this huge bite out of life and dream up our “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity” mission.

Have people on your team who are wise enough, strong enough, and loving enough to stand up for you and to you; tell you when you are wrong; and then help you get back on track. Susan Gilbert is this person for me. Susan is the person who told me “No” five times in one meeting on a topic I couldn’t let go of. She also first inspired me to fly and keeps me and my aircraft soaring. She is my chief tactician, mentor, and, really, the brains behind much of what we do. She is an expert in social media, publishing, and life. Susan is the first person I thought of and called after my single-engine Piper Malibu, “the Spirit of San Diego,” failed 14,000 feet over the Strait of Malacca and not knowing if I would live or die, I dead sticked 19.6 nautical miles over the dense jungle of Malaysia into a busy international airport. She truly is the wind beneath my wings and the ground beneath my feet.

Have people who are smarter than you. Astrophysicist Brian Keating, Ph.D., is my top science advisor, has been nominated for the Nobel Prize, and has microwave telescopes at the South Pole and on mountaintops in Chile and Bishop, California. He is the one who understands the movement of the magnetic poles, optimum times for crossing the poles, and has connected me to the NASA experts who designed a legacy experiment for Citizen to carry that will also ride on a NASA mission in 2059! Brian is one of my best friends; he’s an inspiring, generous friend and has a cosmic perspective that helps me to see bigger and dream impossibly big.

Have people who support you with global connections and resources and whose loyalty and love of aviation is greater than their love of the paycheck they receive. Meet Eddie Gould. Eddie loves aviation more than almost anyone I know and truly cares about my wellbeing. He is the guy who stayed up all night watching my flight over the Indian Ocean and almost lost his mind when I arrived two hours late because I had incorrectly transferred avgas to the wrong ferry tank and needed to slow down to conserve fuel. He bent over backward to get me oil, fuel, lodging, a haircut, and data chips for my airplane on the dark side of the planet on my first circumnavigation in 2015. He has proven his loyalty 10 times over.

Be your own best teammate to yourself. You and your team must be strong enough to change and evolve with the times. This means letting go of who and what doesn’t work to make room for new people and new experiences. It’s OK if some people are with you for a short time. Not everyone is intended to be with us forever. The saying, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” applies here. Having a loving, evolving support network in alignment with you and your vision and values will help you reduce your stress and sleep better knowing that the weight of your mission is shared and doesn’t just rest on your shoulders.

Remember to give back to your most cherished team. Go to your personal limits in loving them back as well as supporting them on their personal journeys. After all, the best teams feel valued and respected (love in action), and the best journeys are shared.

For detailed bios on individual team members, go to http://flyingthrulife.com/pole-to-pole/the-team/

Alphabet Soup: The value of joining associations and clubs

Recently I was on Facebook and I saw a post from a new pilot. His question to the group [of over 50,000] was “Why should I join one of the alphabet groups? Is there any value to it?” Many responded to this fellow, but mine was probably the longest response. I believe strongly in the three-tiered approach to advocacy for general aviation.

Having just attended AOPA’s regional fly-in at Livermore, California, I saw the three tiers in full effect. Presently I am planning and packing for my annual trek across this beautiful country of ours to EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It never ceases to amaze me that I can depart the Central Coast of California, fly over beach, desert, mountains, plains and farmlands and end up at the world’s largest celebration of aviation. So here is my take on alphabet soup, and how it is imperative we all become joiners to protect airports and GA.

Advocacy: Think like an upside-down wedding cake

As pilots, we are used to looking at Class B airspace as an upside-down wedding cake. We understand that the first level extends from the ground upward; a larger ring sits on top of that, and a still larger ring above that. In terms of airport advocacy, we need to subscribe to the same three-tiered model.

Local Advocacy: Father’s Day Fly-In, Columbia CA

 Tier 1 – Local Advocacy Local wisdom is the best source of information at an airport. Who better understands current issues, history, and future needs better the pilots who are based there? Encourage pilots to:

Local Advocacy: Oceano Airport Celebration: Salute to Veterans

Tier 2 – Statewide Organizations

Not every state has its own general aviation organization. But a quick Google search will tell if your state does. Statewide airport advocacy organizations are important because they maintain statewide contacts, information, and strategies. Further, our statewide groups can also advise and assist the local airport groups when issues arise.

California Pilots Association celebrating its 70th year of state-wide advocacy

Tier 3 – National Organizations

Our national aviation organizations [AOPA, EAA, NBAA] are a critical piece of the three-tiered airport defense strategy. Membership insures that each maintains its ability to support statewide or local airport/pilot organizations. Critical to interfacing with our congressional representatives, lobbying that national pilot organizations provide a large presence in Washington, D.C. This voice serves to remind D.C. of the importance of general aviation to the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

I would encourage everyone to think like an upside down wedding cake when it comes to advocating for GA and airports. Think globally and act locally. The more we promote general aviation the more we protect our airports.

The AOPA Livermore Fly-In I attended is a perfect example of the upside wedding cake of advocacy. First layer: local Livermore pilots: EAA chapter, Flying Particles Club, volunteers. Second layer: California Pilots Association had a booth in the exhibit hall and held their annual meeting and election of officers. Third layer: AOPA who did a great job educating attendees about their advocacy of airport and aviation interests on a national level.

AOPA LVK Future female pilot

Father [pilot] and Son [student pilot] excited to meet Jason Schappert from MZeroA

Instrument student at LVK

AOPA Regional Fly-In, Photo Credit: David Tulis

Oshkosh is three weeks away. This event is the largest example of three-tiers working in concert. I am always amazed by this event. I hope to see a lot of you there. Take a moment and look at the photos I have included in this blog. What is the commonality? The smiles. That’s the secret folks, that’s why we become joiners. See you at #OSH19.

Making the most of holiday flying

The Fourth of July holiday is this week. I’m fortunate to be off, but at least half of my fellow pilots will be working. This isn’t all bad. Although some holidays are easier to work than others, the key is a positive attitude and a glass-is-half-full approach.

When I knew I didn’t have the seniority to hold the big days off, I decided to use the system to my advantage. There are a lot of great cities in which to enjoy the festivities of the Fourth. Using the bid package and knowledge of the hotels as a guide, you can find a layover that will allow you to see some great fireworks, often in a downtown location on the roof of a hotel. Boston, Washington, D.C., New York, and coastal cities in Florida all come to mind as great places to enjoy the holiday.

Even if you have to fly a leg at night, it isn’t all bad. One of my most memorable flights was a Fourth of July flight just after sunset, and along the entire route we saw fireworks non-stop—some right below us and some miles away. We couldn’t hear them, but it was a visual spectacle. When we landed, even the passengers were smiling at their luck, as they saw more fireworks in one passing than they had ever seen combined.

Christmas can be tough because we all want to be with our families. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to fly to Florida, especially south Florida, getting some warm weather can be a nice alternative. You’ll still be feeling the pangs of homesickness, and you can’t entirely make that go away, but being able to take a walk on the beach in shorts and a T-shirt or having a slice of pizza and a beer outside in December has a way of making things just a little less depressing. You might even be able to go for a swim in the hotel pool if isn’t too cold.

Like the Fourth, you can plan your Christmas travel by using the bid package as a guide. It’s very common for Thanksgiving and Christmas to have a full day in a layover city, as the flight schedule is often a skeletal one at best. Find those layovers, and see if there are any festivals or events that might make the down time more enjoyable. Likewise, see if they are cities where friends or family may be that you can visit and have a home-cooked meal…and get paid for it. These are likely to be in smaller cities, but not always. The one benefit of being a junior pilot working on a holiday is that layovers and trips you might not normally be able to hold suddenly make themselves available. Take advantage of it!

Last but not least is the option of taking your family or significant other along on a trip. This may require some planning or purchasing tickets or extra hotel rooms, but it also means not being alone and miserable. Holiday work isn’t always fun, but it doesn’t have to be something to dread. Use your job to your advantage, and you might find yourself enjoying those holidays more than you ever thought you could.—Chip Wright

Big Head, Big Helmet: Make Mine an XXL

True story: I was trying on the Lift Aviation extra-large AV-1 KOR Aviation Helmet for my polar flight after the large size wouldn’t fit.

Me:  This thing feels tight around my forehead and on the sides. I’m thinking, I must have a really large head.

Sales Guy:  I’m sorry; we don’t make a bigger helmet.

Me:  Really? Are you sure?

Sales Guy:  I’m quite sure. 

Have you ever felt super confident, maybe even gotten a little cocky, when you set out on a flight or in my case, a longer journey for the second time? You’re already visualizing the end result and giving yourself an “Atta Boy!” At the very least, you expect the adventure to be easier because this time you are, of course, a lot smarter, having developed a higher level of expertise and proficiency. You’ve made great contacts that have turned into strong working relationships and sponsors. You have organized a support dream team like no other. You have previous successes to fly on, and definitely better equipment (a freaking Gulf Stream Turbine Commander 900 with two predator drone engines and huge 5-bladed custom props!) only to discover the Universe had other plans for you?

When I decided to do a second circumnavigation of the planet, I wanted to do it much bigger and better.  My hope was the Flying Thru Life team would reach outside of aviation (which in the grand scheme of life is a very small group) and use the “Citizen of the World” as a billboard for a bigger global purpose.  The plane would be the vehicle for a message of Oneness: “One Planet, One People, One Plane.”

After taking on this lofty goal, I decided I would use the concept of “ease and grace” to make all this happen. Ease and grace in my world means the planets will align, the seas will part and I’m going to wrap it all up at the end without breaking a sweat on my brow, no problem. To an outsider this might even appear to be easy. But wait…

The Universe was about to serve me up a big piece of humble pie, which can be hard for an aviator to swallow…

My preparations for a second circumnavigation—this time a polar circumnavigation, which means crossing the North and South poles—have been defined by anything BUT ease and grace.  I was expecting it would take me about six months to prepare based on my first circumnavigation along the equator.  Right now, we are 20 months in from starting and still dealing with several mechanical issues:  repairs to the fuel controllers, environmental upgrades and fine tuning of the avionics, all of which were certified refurbished or brand spanking new. This time the Universe has given us an entirely new set of challenges and lessons that have at times left me and my team scratching our heads saying, “What the heck!? We thought we were almost there!”

Here are some of the things we have learned the second time around:

Don’t let the time drive you.  This is all on God’s time.

Quite simply, sometimes the timing is just not right. Other things needed to unfold. A good example of this was while I was attending a presentation at the Aero Club of Southern California after the planned departure date. I was sitting at a table and had the good luck to meet a man who is a philanthropist and does aerial photoshoots for NASA, Boeing, SpaceX and the U.S. Airforce and many others. This meeting ultimately led to confirming a documentary about the trip with aerial footage over Southern California, Switzerland, Alaska and on the outbound leg from Chile to the South Pole. The footage will be shot in 8k (a huge leap above the 4k you find in the theaters today) and has the potential to tell an epic story that will resonate in aviation history for years to come.

Let the Trip Decide the Direction

During a conversation with Brian Terwilliger, the producer of 16 Right and Living in the Age of Airplanes, he gave me some advice as I explained the direction I wanted to take the documentary.  He said, “You don’t need to stress about this. You should let the trip decide the direction the documentary will take. Since you likely won’t be going back, get as much footage as you can, and then decide what this film will be about.” This really resonated with me because I’ve felt the mission has been guided from the start and things have been revealed to me each day. Besides, I could spend months playing the “What if” game and not come up with an answer. Clearly, it’s been better to stay open to what the Universe has in store for us.

The Second Trip Promised a Richer, Much Deeper Experience

Have you ever seen a movie the second time around and realized how much you missed?  It was as if the first time was just a warm up and you had a much deeper connection the second time around. You found more meaning in the messages and noticed details that enriched your awareness and appreciation for life. This trip is exactly that. And, in addition to staying alive (literally), my hope is this “Citizen of the World: Oneness for Humanity” circumnavigation will be the common thread that connects the North Pole to the South Pole and everyone in between. We couldn’t come up with a more ambitious goal. As I said in my first book, Flying Thru Life, choose an impossibly big dream! We sure did, and it is impacting us in so many ways. On a metaphysical level, if you delve deeper into the concept of Oneness, you will realize this is also a world peace mission because when you see the world as “One” there is no separation between humans.

Let Go of the Element of Time

We have pushed the departure date back twice and soon possibly a third time. While installing the avionics the shop really needed a few more days of trouble shooting. I made a painful decision to pull the plane out of the avionics shop to attend an AOPA Fly-In held in Santa Fe, and then fly it to Tennessee, where it was scheduled to stay for four weeks for the environmental install. The transponder had a bad connection and led to other issues involving the testing of the environmental system. When the environmental shop needed more time and eight weeks had passed, I made another difficult decision to pull the plane out of the environmental shop to make another deadline for the 150 hour engine inspection. As a result of all these delays, as you have probably already guessed, I will be taking the plane back to both locations, which I could have avoided if I wasn’t trying to make deadlines based unrealistic expectations. Time must be respected and the best work happens when people have the time to focus and work together for a better and safer outcome.

We are Human and We are Going to Make Mistakes

In my book, if we were perfect, we wouldn’t need to be here going to Earth School. That said, I still like to strive for the impossible goal of perfection, but it causes a lot of self-imposed stress and, let’s face it, we are human and there is no avoiding that we’re going to make mistakes and occasionally miscalculate—that’s part of the deal when you dream up impossibly big dream—and it’s still so easy to forget. We may think that with experience the initial problems we had will never happen again because we solved them and learned from them—and then it happens again—and we’re brought to our knees. It makes me think God must be a baker because he keeps sending down free second helpings of humble pie. The good news is that aviation history has proven that there are worse things than a second helping of humble pie and that is making the mistake of taking off when you are not prepared and ending up with bigger problems down the road.

The bottom line is that we never stop learning and life never stops throwing us lesson to help us move forward.  You will get lessons presented no matter if you are trying to jam your big head into an aviation helmet, holding people to their schedules or working on your paper for your literature class.  It’s life and we are going to learn an entirely new set of skills on our quest to evolve.

While I can hope and pray for ease and grace, my friends remind me, “How much fun would it be and what would we learn if everything went just as it was planned? It’s the trials and tribulations that we overcome on the Hero’s Journey and the wise and compassionate understanding of human struggle and suffering that inspires us onward to realize our impossibly big dreams.

Minimum equipment lists

Every once in a while, a flight will be released with something on the airplane that is amiss. The minimum equipment list (MEL) is a document that is written by the airplane manufacturer in conjunction with the airlines and regulatory authorities. It spells out items that do not have to be in perfect working order in order to safely dispatch a flight. Likewise, an MEL can be pretty specific about items that must be working in order to operate a flight, or to conduct certain operations.

For example, every turbine airplane has multiple sources of producing electricity in the way of generators, usually at least three: on one each of the engines, and one on the APU. Some have more. There is almost always relief for flying with one generator that is inoperative, but for certain operations, such as long flights over water with only two engines, there may be a requirement that certain generators are functioning and available.

Certain low-weather approaches also have requirements with respect to equipment functionality and even basic maintenance. Category II and III ILS approaches require certain autopilot standards, and if the equipment isn’t tested or used on the proper schedule, the lower approaches can’t be legally flown until the mechanics can do their magic.

I recently had an airplane that had a problem with the plug for the external power cord that plugs into the jetway. This isn’t that big of a deal, but it can create some issues. With external power, the APU has to be run to provide electricity to the airplane, and APUs burn fuel, and fuel is expensive. It also means that between flights or crew changes, the APU has to be left running or the airplane has to be completely powered down. Some carriers—my first one, in fact—have strict rules about leaving an APU running unattended. Others have enough people trained to shut the APU down so that it isn’t that big of a deal, but it still costs money.

In our case, the deferral of the plug was on the release, and finding the airplane with the APU already running was no surprise. But we were doing a late flight to the outstation, so the company made sure that the outstation knew not to try to plug in the airplane (a maintenance sticker on the plug door would have theoretically alerted the ground crew). Further, the local mechanic was waiting for us, which meant that he could get his work done as quickly as possible and shut the airplane down for the night.

Some deferrals are relatively minor—like this one was—and some are far more complicated than they should be. But MELs are a part of daily airline life. The captain is responsible for being familiar with any deferrals, and both pilots need to know how to properly use the actual MEL document, which can run hundreds of pages. When in training, take the time to become familiar with the layout (it is standardized) and some of the restrictions specific to your company. Most important, know how to determine if an MEL is expired so that you don’t fly with something illegal.—Chip Wright

Moving around

Hiring is so hot at the airlines right now that pilots are quite literally hopping from one carrier to the next.

In the last few years, I’ve known of several pilots that have been hired by one major only to leave for another in short order. As pilot compensation packages have become more similar across the board, it makes it easier for pilots to either stay in one place or go somewhere else that is more desirable for their individual circumstance.

Even the power-house airlines are not always safe. A handful of hires at Southwest—long considered one of the best, most stable jobs in the industry—have jumped ship in order to go another carrier of choice. The rationale varies from one individual to the next, but it usually comes down to not wanting to commute or move, or desiring to do international flying that may not be available to pilots at Southwest or JetBlue.

Generally, when this kind of turnover takes place, it happens with pilots who have less than a year or two of seniority. Once the first big pay raise kicks in, it’s hard to bring yourself to leave. Also, you start to see the movement up the list that makes  the left seat more of a reality than just a dream. Leaving and starting over means taking a potential pay cut and going back on new-hire probation while possibly learning a new airplane.

But this trend is an issue at the regionals too, as pilots look for the quickest way up the ladder. Signing bonuses and other monetary incentives are being used, and often need to be paid back if taken. Resourceful pilots are not allowing themselves to be bound to any particular loyalty other than themselves, and that’s OK, though it does come with risks. Airlines don’t want to see someone who can’t—or won’t—stay employed at one place long enough to allow the company to recoup their investment. After all, training a pilot is expensive.

The other risk you run is that you can wind up burning some bridges in various human resources departments. I’ve written before that this is a relatively small industry, and word gets around about certain people fairly quickly. You may walk out on a job today, only to find that the person you left in a lurch is an obstacle at another company down the road. If you’re going to make your stay short, at the very least, be professional about it.

All of that said, by all means, keep your applications out there. If you have your heart set on a particular company, don’t give up, and take the first job that comes. If your dream carrier comes through later, you can re-evaluate based on whatever your new circumstances are.—Chip Wright

A brief flirtation with another aircraft

If one wishes to make sense out of the present series of flights, then it becomes necessary to dial things back to 2010. My father had recently passed away, and despite taking ownership of the PA-11 that I now fly, I found it necessary to express my emotions by taking up the ancestral mantle of buying Cub and Super Cub insurance wrecks. I purchased a J-3 that had what I deemed to be minor damage (in light of the carnage that regularly rolled in to my grandfather’s shop) and set my mind to get it flying again. I did, except it took years and was a money losing operation, though I became something of an intriguing individual, being the only person in the neighborhood to have a 1940s airplane literally in his garage.

Apparently, I am incapable of learning from past mistakes. The Super Cub that I flew for my “Sentimental Journey” blog post last fall was another yellow, Ceconite-covered Piper taildragger, continuing this model of processing the evolution of life and death with airplane purchases, as my grandfather had died two months prior. In this case, the airplane was substantially perfect, which offered an illusion that it was in no way a repeat of the process earlier in the decade.

When I made the purchase of the Super Cub last year, it was a 2-hour flight to the region where I grew up, and the weather happened to be ideal in that direction, which virtually never happens in that time of year. I tried to rationalize that it was the luck of the draw that I put the Super Cub at the airport where I took my checkride, which happened to be the same airport that, at age eight, my grandfather let me take control of his [bright yellow Ceconite-covered] Super Cub for the first time, telling me to fly home via a road that I was familiar with. I think it’s less likely that I was following the weather and more likely that the obvious is true: there was a processing of a lifelong history of aviation with my grandfather, and this was a way of working through some of it.

Now that winter had come and gone, and a pile of life-altering events unrelated to aviation had changed many of the original plans as to how I was going to use the plane in the USA, I had a need to visit clients in various locations while also making my mind up about the Super Cub. I hatched a plan to use the Super Cub to traverse the country, enjoying myself while figuring out what to do next.

Weather cooperated for my incoming flight from Europe, so I was off from Perry-Warsaw, NY late in the evening heading south, with Charlotte, NC in mind. Since it was 7:10PM at takeoff, I wasn’t going to get far, though I still hadn’t formulated where I’d end up exactly. My wife usually plays the role of travel agent by text, finding hotels, and in this case, it was past midnight for her, so I was on my own. I initially in my mind set out for Williamsport PA, though as I was in flight, I got the sensation that University Park Airport in State College PA would have more hotels. Given that school was out and it’s a big college town, there would likely be tons of hungry hoteliers.

Crossing the Pennsylvania Wilds again, this time at dusk, I was struck how utterly desolate the place is, and few seem to know of it, even having grown up 100 miles north. Anyhow, the sun set and the night lights went on, something I do not have on the PA-11. I was a little nervous with the haze and the fact that the Wilds have zero inhabitants, though I got some civilization to make out a horizon before twilight ended, then came in for a landing at State College, my first at night in over 5 years. Of all of my flight experience, less than one percent is at night.

Silver Lake, NY – not long after departing Perry-Warsaw.

Southern Tier of NY, east of Wellsville.

Pennsylvania Wilds. Indeed one can choose between a tree, rock, or river as a forced landing location.

I pulled up to a very nice FBO, which had a hotel arrangement, a hotel shuttle, and they tied down the plane for me with no landing fees. I had to resist yelling “I LOVE AMERICA!” at the top of my lungs. In the matter of a 90 minute flight, I was deep into another state, changed destination (while getting NOTAMS and AF/D data in flight on my iPad), and landed at a place next to jets where they clearly want to do business and make things as easy as possible. It is hard to describe, though suffice it to say that diversion to a different destination in Europe is only done out of flight urgency and not some illusion that one place is better than another based on in-flight mental musings.

The next day, ceilings would be an issue in the morning and angry warm front thunderstorms in the afternoon. The heavens parted like the Red Sea as soon as I arrived at the airport, and I was off heading straight south in hot and humid air, pretty much certain I would pass the frontal boundary in northern VA before anything got going.

Thirty minutes into the flight, the oil pressure gauge started acting up. While I had only owned the airplane now for 6 flying hours, it had consistently stayed at a PSI setting and moved only slightly and slowly. Now she was bouncing in 6 psi increments, though staying in the green. Curious. Instead of flying VFR on top over a cloud-covered ridge, I turned to follow one of those ubiquitous Pennsylvania valleys that goes for 100 miles, just in case.

“Ridge and Valley” geographic province, south of Pennsylvania. This feature goes on from New York to Tennessee. 

Oil pressures slid about 7 PSI (still well into the green), though temps came up and stabilized at a new high, given it was the hottest OATs yet. If they kept rising, the conclusion would have been obvious, though they sat proportionally at a temp consistent with how hot it was outside, so I kept going, until I could see that the average of the gauge wobbling was going down. Still in the green, I had to choose between Potomac, MD or Hagerstown, MD. Potomac looked to be a continuation of a valley with cloud cover, and I couldn’t get a METAR or AWOS to determine ceilings. Hagerstown, a towered field, had AWOS and I could get a broadcast at 23nm. Sky clear. I diverted direct and by the time I was in the pattern, oil pressure was heading toward the top of the yellow.

After landing, it became evident 4 of the 7 quarts I had at takeoff had decided to go overboard via a leak. Sigh. After extensive phone calls and what not, I left it at a repair station for review the next day and drove to Charlotte, NC in a rental car. Yet again, America is the Promised Land of aviation, as the FBO had a deal with a local car rental agency, so life was easy, absent the ill-timed lack of oil.

The trip took a setback with a bad case of the flu, so a week later, I was back to resume the flight, not sure if I’d make it to California as I had planned. As I am very neurotic about post-maintenance safety (I find that maintenance puts other equilibriums at risk under the cowling), I did a few landings to confirm no leaks, tied down for the night, and left the next morning.

It was a beautiful flight down the Shenandoah Valley, from Hagerstown, MD, all the way to Virginia Highlands Airport near Abingdon, VA on the border with Tennessee. From there, the flight called for following the Tennessee River Valley southwest in East Tennessee, except it was hot as blazes and quite hazy. There is a bit of terrain to the west that tops out just below 4000’ north of Oak Ridge, long on my list that I didn’t ever see from the PA-11 when I lived in North Carolina, so I flew over the windmills on the ridges, then kept going to 8,000’ above the puffy clouds to cool off a bit.

Outside of Front Royal, Virginia.


North of Roanoke, Virginia. Old habits die hard. Even with a transponder and radio, I wasn’t in the mood to talk to Roanoke Approach.

“Mountain Empire” area of Virginia not far from I-77. This area is a famous weather boundary in winter, with IFR to the right and illustrious sun to the left. This was one of the ranges my grandfather long viewed as nothing short of an airplane graveyard. I see it as a knoll.

Cherokee Reservoir, Tennessee.


At this point, I departed the Great Appalachian Valley (which runs from Quebec to Alabama), having flown about half of it, and continued southwest while the Valley turns more southerly. Landing at Tullahoma, TN, I realized something profound: despite the fact that this thing is a 135hp Super Cub with all of the glories a PA-11 doesn’t have, I am so hot its nauseating, sunburn is a problem as I slathered with lotion while flying into the sun for hours, my rear end hurt, my knees hurt due to lack of mobility in the cockpit, and the thermals are just brutal. This has become a test of endurance just like every time I crossed the country in the PA-11, enduring the same discomforts, just at a slower speed in that aircraft.

Employing a trick I figured out flying to Colorado in 2013, with 105F ground temps in western Kansas, I soaked my shirt with water to cool down, and sure enough, 95F wind in the cockpit left me dry within 30 minutes, yet much happier.

Just north of Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, the terrain that tempted me staring at maps while in Charlotte, NC.

Up to 8,000 feet to cool off. 

Normandy Lake, Tullahoma, Tennessee, while doing a 360 to give somebody else room for a long final.

One more impromptu stop at Muscle Shoals, Alabama in the evening, as my tolerance for anything like a full bladder had waned, and then it was an hour into Tupelo, Mississippi after sunset, making another landing at a towered field with the lights on. The FBO tossed me the keys to the courtesy car for the night, and it was off to a hotel. God bless America and the glories of her general aviation.

Wilson Lake/Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

My initial plans were to fly to Los Angeles then either return to Texas to show the plane to an internet friend who had expressed interest in purchasing it or fly it back east to North Carolina to sell it on the open market or take it to Europe from there. An opportunity emerged that would have allowed its importation into Europe without tariff or tax, so the result could have gone three ways. This flight was a last hurrah in America, at least for me with regard to this airplane, so the outcome was open ended.

It took a long day of flying to let a few things sink in: the same discomforts of a PA-11 exist in a PA-18, and while the PA-18 is faster and has a few other features, the PA-11 is inadvertently a downright amazing aerial photography ship, a reality I encountered really by pure coincidence, as my grandfather had restored it and basically told me I would be taking lessons in it, and not his Super Cub, which was his “pride and joy” and he didn’t want me or anyone else touching it. One can now understand my inclination toward the superiority of a PA-18 and the philosophical conundrum that I did not have the chance in life to research and choose the make and model of plane I wanted to fly; I have been carrying on a family legacy, at times wondering what I would have done had it been incumbent on me to carry the full load of getting involved in aviation without any help. Would I have found Cubs on my own? Probably.

In any case, the PA-18 poses some technical issues with photography as thermals are tougher to manage, photo subjects go whizzing by many times faster than I can orient the camera, wind is so much stronger that it pushes the camera lens to undesirable zoom positions, and wind coming in the entry door, if opened, is an unholy fury which requires quite some work to coax the door shut, if anything weighing less than 5lbs hasn’t blown out in the process. All of this would require some thought, though it did formulate the decision to aim for Texas instead of Los Angeles. The flight was taking much longer than expected, my endurance was waning, and I had lost a week to illness.

I took off the next morning in heat and humidity that puts the Deep South in a realm of its own. Ten years in North Carolina cannot prepare someone for what one encounters in Mississippi….and it was still late May. Thankfully, I encountered a few rain showers, products of morning IFR clouds that had lifted to VFR, which was enough to cool things down and also keep the temps from rising.

I crossed the Mississippi River in full flood stage, now my fourth crossing, where three of four times the river is nearly bursting its banks. After departing the river delta in Arkansas, I entered a thicket of a forest that I would not escape until Texas with the exception of a brief respite in northwest Louisiana.

Mississippi River Delta, Mississippi.

Mississippi River.

Google Maps does not prepare one for the mass of foliage that covers this part of Arkansas, Louisiana, and eastern Texas. It is practically nothing but trees, with swamps and bayous, something I discovered as I was using an infrared camera, and water showed up black between the trees. If the engine quit, I’d be gator food and nobody would ever have found the wreckage! At first I flew direct, thinking that some of these swamps and forests were errantly thick and things would become human again. I then realized it was nonstop and began following roads.

Ouachita River, Arkansas with Louisiana in the background. Great places to land. 

The not-so-ironically Red River north of Shreveport, Louisiana.

I finally made my destination for the day in the rurals of Texas southeast of Dallas, an airpark with a grass strip. In talking with some local pilots, many of whom have taken long trips, I heard a few times that this flight of mine was something quite ambitious and quite a distance in a Super Cub. The odd thing is that I seem not to see things that way. If a plane can be flown a certain distance in a day, then why should it not be? My longest flying day was 13 hours in the PA-11 (Nebraska to North Carolina), and I only begin to understand that this could be excessive when every single body part hurts and I am nearly worn to the bone. An irony is that I have no clue where this mentality came from. I often point to my grandfather as an influence for many things, yet the man didn’t like flying near hills in excess of 500 feet, and his longest Cub or Super Cub flight was from Wisconsin to New York, taken in the 1960s. Since I began flying with him, he didn’t leave New York State in his Super Cub in a 20 year period, yet I got this Indiana Jones idea about Cubs and Super Cubs from somewhere, and its only when I am fed up with 12 hours of angry thermals do I step back and reconsider the plan (only to do it again later).

Texas, south of Tyler.

I came to a conclusion that I did not need two airplanes in Europe. If I was living in America, I’d probably have kept it, as most everything is easier. Really for many reasons, I came to the conclusion that the PA-11 is just fine, and that my Super Cub infatuation probably had to do with the fact that my grandfather had an apparently superior airplane the entire time I had been flying, so it was something I thought I should aspire to. I missed the memo when he said quite clearly, after half a century flying every fabric Piper product from an E-2 to a PA-22, that a “PA-11 is the best one.” The deal was done in Texas and the plane was sold to someone who had his own specific history with the Super Cub Special (of which this airplane was, with only 300 or so made), so it was a nice feeling that it was going to the kind of place where it would be appreciated. I must also mention that the Super Cub Special was initially used in Air Force affiliated training, and it felt wrong to take the airplane out of America for its historical value. It belonged home and it sits now a few hundred miles from the Air Force base that it first was used as a trainer in 1952.

I completed my activities in the USA by commercial airline and returned to Spain. The day after getting here, I hopped in the PA-11. As soon as I sat in the seat, it felt right. I love this airplane. When I started it up, I noticed how quiet the O-200 is compared to the O-290-D2. On takeoff, it was so quiet that I wondered if someone replaced the engine with a desk fan. When I was very young, roughly 5 years of age, my grandfather had a yellow J-3 and a blue and white PA-18, and he would often ask which one I wanted a ride in. It was always the J-3, and my rationale was that it was “quieter.” It’s funny, decades later, the same holds true. Throttling back to 2000RPM cruise, the engine purred like a kitten and I said to myself, “I like it quiet.” She’s slow…and that’s just fine.

Back in Spain, flying slow with an airplane powered by a hair dryer.

 

 

Get ready for training

If you’re heading to your first airline job, it will pay to do some work on preparation. The typical airline training footprint is at least 6 weeks long, and it may be as much as 9 or 10 weeks.

During this time, you will be immersed in the metaphorical fire hose of training. From the day you walk in, you’ll be hit from all directions with information and material that you need to learn, and learn fast. Pack a bunch of flash cards and some highlighters—you’ll need them.

The first segment is basic indoctrination, which is a combination of human resources and admin stuff, followed by some company history and a week or two of intense study of the company operations manual, FAR 91 and 121, part 117 work rule restrictions, weather, and dispatch rules. Somewhere in here, you also need to do your benefit selections for insurance while you study, study, study for the first of several tests.

Once basic indoctrination is done, you’ll move on to the airplane, though you might get lucky and have a few days off. The airplane study will be intense, and in the current age, it might consist of just classroom lecture or a combination of lecture and computer-based training (CBT). Unfortunately, it might just be CBT, which the airlines like because it is viewed as more cost effective.

Either way, you’ll be learning about hydraulics, fuel flow, electrical schematics—all while memorizing the limitations and memory item checklists that will be meaningless until you’ve been exposed to each system. You’ll spend a lot of time in front of trainers or a wall poster learning where all the switches are, and what they do, and when. Flow patterns will be introduced, and you’ll be expected to memorize them before you set foot in the sim.

Once the systems training is complete in about a two-week span, you’ll move on to the sims. With luck, there will be some integration that takes place in the classroom with a trainer to help you get acclimated to the cockpit before heading to the sims. But if not, when you get to the sims, the workload really picks up. You’ll be expected to have the calls and flows down pat early on, and now you have to show off your ace-of-the-base flying skills while learning new maneuvers and flying an airplane that is almost always broken. Nothing ever works in the sim!

During sim training, you’ll take at least one and possibly as many as three checkrides that will result in your type rating.

Once the sim is done, you can usually expect a few days off. The next step is initial operating experience (IOE) with a line check airman in the airplane. A lot of regionals will have you ride a few flights in the jump seat on these down days in order to view the operation live. You get a chance to see how everything comes together on a real flight, and you can talk to the crew and ask questions while being an observer who isn’t observed.

IOE takes up the last part of your training. It’s usually scheduled for at least two trips, and maybe three depending on the schedule. Once you’re finish, you’ll move on to the last requirement, which is consolidation, which is the accumulation of 75/100 hours of time in type, after which you are no longer considered low time.

Training is intense and it requires all of your focus. There will be very little time to spend on personal issues or problems, so make sure that your family and loved ones know that you will be checking out once training starts. If you’re married, your spouse is going to need to carry the load while you’re in training. If you’re single, plan ahead for dealing with bills, pets, et cetera. It’s a lot of work, and a lot to learn. But the payoff comes when you finally get to rotate and go airborne for the first time on the line, having mastered an overwhelming amount of information in a short span of time.—Chip Wright

« Older posts