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Bouncing Back: A psychotherapist’s guide for pilots

Some of you may know that I am a licensed psychotherapist. Since March of this year most  counselors have been able to see clients virtually to address mounting mental health issues from the pandemic. I could probably work 24/7 right about now. I truly have never experienced anything like this in my 29 years of practice.

Last week I read a recent study Mental Health Disorders Related to COVID-19–Related Deaths by Naomi M. Simon, MD, MSc1; Glenn N. Saxe, MD2; Charles R. Marmar, MD3 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA]. It noted that since the onset of COVID -19 the percentage of Americans who have a diagnosable mental health condition has doubled. Pre-COVID about 20% of the population in the United States was affected by a thought, mood, anxiety or substance abuse disorder. The survey taken in June 2020 now indicates that number has jumped to 40.9%. A stunning part of the excerpt below is that 10.7% of respondents who revealed serious suicidal thoughts in the last month.

A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 5412 US adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier.2 Remarkably, 10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the last 30 days.2 The sudden interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with severe social disruption, can easily overwhelm the ways individuals and families cope with bereavement.

As our flying started opening back up [with precautions] this summer I thought back to a piece I wrote for AOPA many years ago on recovery from trauma. I have included the article below. My hope is that as you get back in the airplane you will seriously consider a mental health checklist in addition to the checklist for the airplane you will be piloting.


Bouncing Back A psychotherapist’s guide for pilots

It was a beautiful day in the Columbia River Gorge. Hood River Airport is located in a picturesque valley, surrounded by mountains. A pilot was in his backyard garden enjoying the sunshine. He heard an airplane engine start to sputter, then quit, and listened to the sound of a loud impact in the neighboring vineyard. He jumped the fence and raced to the crash scene. There he found an aircraft nose down between the rows of red grapes. A quick glance in the cockpit revealed his deepest fear: the loss of a life.

As a psychotherapist who specializes in recovery from trauma or traumatic loss, I saw this pilot in my office four days later. “I am having a hard time. I keep hearing the engine quit, then the sound of the crash. I keep seeing the wreckage in my mind, over and over again. I run to him, but I know it is too late. He was still warm. I held him in my arms until the paramedics came.” When I asked him how often the movie is playing in his head, he said it was about 20 times per day. He had disturbed sleep, lost his appetite, and felt very hopeless about the intense flashbacks.

Over the course of our work together, I was able to help him understand how the brain reacts to trauma, and how professional care could speed recovery. In the end my client understood that while he was seeing the movie in his head hundreds of times, the pilot who perished only experienced it once.

Exposure to trauma

We all experience trauma in our lives, and as pilots, with medical certificates at risk, how we deal with it can be especially important. After exposure to a traumatic event, most people go through four distinct stages. The first is shock—a sense of disbelief or cognitive fogginess. During this stage a survivor may experience flashbacks, or mental movies of the event. Let’s also surmise that the person watched the news, listened to audio, saw photos, and viewed video of the event—thus re-exposing himself to the initial trauma. The re-exposure to the brain is essentially the same as the initial exposure. Should the person not get appropriate care, especially in the weeks or months after the event, an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder could develop.

Next comes a return to a “feeling” state and also a time to tell the story. When I worked at the Vietnam Vet Center, my supervisor—a combat vet and a psychotherapist—said, “Every trauma survivor has a story to tell and retell, and it is in the retelling that the healing is found.”

The third stage is when a person’s energy typically rebounds and a sense of focus develops. This energy could take the form of volunteerism, donating time and money, contact with rescuers, or helping other survivors.

Finally, reintegration must take place. A person must accept life on life’s terms now. Meaning is incorporated in life, in absence of what they lost. This is a time where we hear, “I have a new lease on life,” or “Life is precious.”

How does this apply to our ability to pilot an aircraft? One study says that intellectual power is decreased 50 to 90 percent when you are in the midst of the first stage. It is important not to make big decisions at that time. When we perform a preflight on our aircraft before launch, we are careful to consider all the aircraft systems. The effects of exposure to trauma cannot be underestimated. In our go/no-go decision, we should carefully reflect on our emotional health and how that will affect the flight. After all, we want to be able to fly the airplane instead of it flying us.

Pre-Flight Checklist

Here are some simple ways to put you and your emotional health on the pre-flight checklist, as well as some ideas on when to get support if needed.

Mood: Think back over the past week. Rate your mood on a scale of one to five, with one being the lowest, and five being a happy mood. What is your average? Has anyone told you that you look tired, depressed, or nervous? Sometimes our spouse or families are our greatest mirrors—we might not see our mood, but to them it is written all over our faces.

Sleep: Have you been sleeping well? The average person in a lab setting will sleep a six- to seven-hour stretch and take a one- to two-hour nap in the afternoon. Think back and check whether you have had any difficulties falling or staying asleep. Deep, restorative sleep typically happens well into an uninterrupted sleep cycle. Think about performing a go-around on every approach—when sleeping we simply cannot get down to Delta if the cycle is continually disrupted.

Energy: Has your get up and go, got up and went? Do you find yourself drinking coffee or energy drinks just to get through the day? Some pilots find they have too much energy and are unable to relax into a healthy focus. Between the tortoise and the hare, somewhere in the middle is the most efficient.

Anxiety and Worry: Someone once told me that worry is interest on a debt we don’t yet owe. An interesting study on worry shows that it can be healthy in small doses. Worry is a high-brain function—one that can help us sort through possibilities and strategies. Too much worry shuts down the function and we can find ourselves in a state: fight, flight, or freeze. Thirty minutes of worry once per week is effective. How many minutes this week have you racked up?

Concentration and Focus: Particularly important for the pilot in command is the ability to concentrate and stay focused. If you are noticing that your mind is wandering or you are distracted by worry, it might be best to keep yourself and the aircraft on the ground.

Sex drive: This might seem a strange item to have on your personal checklist, but a person’s sex drive can be indicative of emotional health. A lack of desire can suggest a mood problem.

Appetite: Does your favorite food taste good to you? Are you eating for comfort or to excess? Healthy food is fuel for the brain and the body. Make sure that you do not fly without fuel onboard.

Bumper sticker: If you had to summarize your attitude about life to fit on a bumper sticker, what would yours say? Is your bumper sticker upbeat and optimistic, or doubtful and negative?

When to get some “dual”

As a practicing psychotherapist and trauma survivor myself, I have come to believe in getting some couch time when you need support. The addition of the pandemic, isolation, uncertainty and lack of currency necessitates a closer look at your check list.  If we do not take care of our mental health, it might end up taking care of us. Think of a licensed counselor as an advisor, or life coach. It truly is a gift to be able to talk with someone you trust about things that you might keep from others. Sometimes my clients think that they can tell me something that I have not heard before. That is simply not the case. We all have many of the same core insecurities, wounds, and doubts. The difference is in how you deal with them.


Recently I was flying a large turbine aircraft with a more powerful engine than I was accustomed to. When I was about 50 miles out, I began a descent, thinking about each thing that I was going to do next. As I began the approach I thought, “I am going to fly this airplane and make it do what I want it to do.” Imagine if I were instead plagued by doubt, anxiety, or insecurity, or maybe I did not sleep well the night before. Who would be PIC—the airplane, or me? Make sure that when you are in the left seat you are flying the airplane. The only way to do that is to consider yourself on your personal checklist.

If you want or need help, reach out. Most insurance companies are offering free or low-cost counseling visits virtually.  Let’s make our return to the skies as safe, joyful and fun as possible.


 

2.Czeisler  MÉ, Lane  RI, Petrosky  E,  et al.  Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic: United States, June 24-30, 2020.   MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(32):1049-1057.

 

Aircraft lessons learned during a Polar Circumnavigation

Flying Citizen of the World to the South Pole and then the North Pole can create stresses on the aircraft that it was never designed to endure. Furthermore, taking a stock aircraft and modifying it in over 50 ways and hoping all those systems will work in perfect harmony for 8 months and 23 days over 26,000 nautical miles is total insanity. But somehow, we did it. Along the way, we learned a lot about what a 1983 Gulfstream Turbine Commander is really capable of when supported by some of the most talented and skilled mechanics, engineers and aviation enthusiasts. Below I’ve shared the most important of these lessons in hopes that you will be able to operate your aircraft in the safest and most reliable way possible.

Be protective of your plane

Before anyone puts a wrench to my airplane, I want to make sure that they are in the mental state to focus 100 percent on the job at hand and have lots of experience. If they are dealing with a major life event or anything that will distract them, then they need to resolve their issues first. Pilots must be in a good mental state of mind to fly, so why shouldn’t the person who you are trusting to keep your machine running over oceans, mountains, in the dark, and in bad weather not have the same requirements? I know the aviation industry says the most likely cause of flying accidents or incidents is pilot error, but I would disagree. New mechanics today are taught component replacement not the critical thinking skills like diagnosing and the repair of problems.

Critical aircraft components fail regularly

If you think you will be lucky and never experience a major component failure in flight then you are in for a few surprises. Airplanes are machines and all machines eventually fail. In fact, the more we ask from these systems the shorter their lifespan. With just 2,000 hours flying time I’ve had engines, avionics, hydraulics, props, environmental systems, tires, fuel tanks, batteries, and even windows fail at critical moments. Using the very best mechanics and equipment money can buy didn’t stop it from happening as well.

The thing that surprised me in preparing for my flight was that new parts could fail as well. I experienced this test-flying my new high-tech environmental system at 34,500 feet. I lost pressurization when the turbo charger blew out with just six hours of life on it. The problem was eventually traced to a sound resonance issue the designer/installer didn’t detect during the test flights.

Install multiple redundant systems

As I watched my flight management systems, attitude heading and references systems, and autopilot fail while flying over the North and South Poles, the importance of having backups never became more important. Redundancy and not becoming attached to any one piece of gear for any critical phase of flight can save your life. Luckily, different types of backup avionics systems are plentiful and relatively inexpensive today. With just an L3Harris ESI 500 with battery backup, an iPad, and an Icom handheld radio, you can pretty much fly your aircraft if you lose the rest of your panel. Having these independent backup systems allows you to troubleshoot when things get difficult.

Go high-tech and low-tech

Technology offers us so many advantages but let’s not forget about our heavier, older, and oftentimes rock-solid steam gauges. I have both in all the aircraft I fly and while it makes for a busier panel that may not look as cool as all glass, you are covered in an emergency. Additionally, just about any avionics shop in the world can change out old-school steam gauges.

In preparation for the Polar Circumnavigation of the Citizen of the World, we reinstalled a directional gyro that was crucial to navigation over both poles as well as an ADF that is required for flight in Europe. Both of these systems likely came with the airplane when it was built back in 1983.

Planning your flight may be the most critical component

Every minute you spend on the ground planning out your flight—and responses to critical issues that can come up during the flight—can save your life. When you are on the ground and thinking calmly, and not under stress, is when you will do your best planning. Spend extra time reviewing your approach plates, writing down the frequencies you will use, studying the weather, selecting alternates, and thinking about the “What if’s?”

When I was in Madagascar two days before departure, I spent time reviewing the weather patterns in this area of the world. I saw the winds starting to swirl between the mainland and the island. It was the beginning of a cyclone and caused me to leave a day early which saved my airplane and possibly my life.

During moments of crises focus on what is working

When I was flying over the North Pole without comms, autopilot, attitude heading and reference systems, or flight management systems, it would have been easy to fixate on the avionics that had gone offline and try to fix them. Instead, in a moment of clarity, I decided to search for what was working and use it. At the time, the iPad was working perfectly, I was above the cloud deck with a reference to the horizon, and the 1,150-horsepower Honeywell TPE 331 engines outfitted with five-bladed props were perfection in motion.

Check the work of your mechanics

I usually allow a half-day after a major maintenance period to look over the airplane with the mechanics. Take a wrench to the fittings that have been worked on. Run the systems, stress the aircraft. You are the pilot in command and the one who’s life is on the line. With the exception of High Performance Aircraft Inc. in San Diego, I don’t know any repair facility that takes the airplane up in the air after major work to test it for the customers. This alone is reason to pay a premium for the work that is done on your aircraft.

In my nine years of flying I’ve never had a truly perfect flight. If you think you did, I can almost guarantee that you missed something. For this reason, aviation is a great place to hone your skills, refine your aircraft, and learn valuable lessons about life on every flight. See your aircraft as a training ground, a place to grow your mind, body, and soul to better experience all the wonders that are available for you! In the process this will make your experience safer and more enjoyable knowing that you are prepared for anything that may come your way.

Decoding Transcendence

On most flights taken in the Cub, I come back a much happier person. However, on certain flights, I am in a transcendent state of happiness for much of the rest of the day afterward. I have often wondered why it was the case, initially ascribing my feelings as proportional to the majesty of the experience. Having taken the Cub to so many mountain ranges and countries has allowed for quite a number of tremendous experiences, which makes it easy to compare how one flight might be old hat whereas another could be something that left me nearly speechless.

Hanging around the Alps has complicated the assumption about the relationship. The scenery is generally world class no matter what the specific flight is like, though sometimes I am merely happy, and other times I am utterly transcendent as described above. I tried to explain it away as an issue with novelty, as I am more prone to stay within 50 miles of the airfield as the Alps are filled with more terrain than one knows what to do with. Was I tiring of seeing similar things?

That theory went out the window when the pandemic made the world smaller. Repeated flights over similar areas are actually increasing in majesty, even though the reality of the pursuit of novelty could be argued either way. While it is possible that I have changed my perspective, there is still a reality that some flights are utterly spectacular, whereas others are merely pleasant.

Since inversions are a regular part of European weather, particularly around terrain, I supposed that flying above the clouds might have something to do with it. It is an age-old sense of bliss, to be in massive terrain, with mountains poking up here and there, and a stratiform cloud deck below (ideally not entirely covering a safe glide range to the valley below). Separated from human society by the cloud layer, one finds himself soaring in the heavens, literally, with the inability to see human influence. It is nothing short of stupendous.

The problem with that theory was that I have had this differential of feeling on flights where clouds were not involved. While I can place a bookmark in the idea that soaring above the clouds constitutes something special, I think that there is more to the story as evidenced by my experience.

The next theory that I had is a more significant one. Aviation has many elements where we often find in magazines and other pilot communications something to the effect of “only with aviation can you see…” where the item in question is some sort of resplendent experience. I find that those experiences can be grouped into two main categories: the sheer majesty of being in the air, and the speed that aviation affords. To fly any kind of airplane and change states, countries, vegetation, or climate zones in orders of magnitude faster than a car is something that we clearly cherish in an aircraft. At the same time, “low and slow” Cub flying is cherished equally as much (if not more, depending on who is rendering the opinion). “Low and slow” is the embodiment of the majesty of being in the air, irrespective of the purpose behind it.

With a pokey old Cub, it is very hard to experience the theory of going anywhere fast. If it is Kansas, then one might as well drive. In the mountains, it is a mixed signal as the Cub can certainly beat a car, sometimes by a wide margin. The world on one side of a mountain range is often different than that of another, so some mix of the two can happen in such an occasion.

I thought I had the problem solved when I figured this reality out. Since I have been flying around mountains for the majority of the last 7 years in this airplane, I have had plenty of opportunities to experience this phenomenon. As the mountain ranges have gotten steeper and taller, the world on the other side has grown significantly more different, including now often meaning that it is a different country on the other side.

It took a few recent flights to furnish some clarity. Not only did I fly over mountains, into other countries, and into what felt like other worlds, I also landed somewhere else. COVID-19 has accentuated a problem that I knew had shown up when I came to Europe: I am far less likely to land at an airport that is not my home base (wherever that happens to be) if I am in Europe compared to the United States.

The opportunity to shut down the engine, step out, take in the scenery, and let the reality of where I stand sink in is one that contributes greatly to the sense of transcendence which remains in my psyche long after the flight has completed. Something about merely flying over to the other side of the range and then turning back, even if it is a full tank three-hour flight, is not the same as the silence that comes from a parked airplane. This reality held true in the semi-arid regions of Spain, where mountains may have only been incidental to the flight at hand. Something about landing elsewhere makes it all sink in.

So, the question becomes, how much has my flying changed since I came to Europe? I did some gymnastics with my logbook and tallied total hours, by year, where the entry included “Local” as the destination compared to those where it did not. Some simple division furnishes the percentage of local flights, where I return to home base compared to a flight where I landed elsewhere. I did not differentiate between the FAA definition of “cross country”; I merely added total hours of the flight if it included going to or coming from a landing at another airport. The chart is not my total flying career, but basically the point at which I became active again and acquired the Cub.

The results are quite interesting: 43% of flight hours in the United States started and stopped at the local airport, whereas 68% in Europe did so. The underlying reasons are pretty simple (to me): there is more paperwork and aggravation to coordinate a flight elsewhere, so I do not do it as much. To make matters more complex, the pandemic has added additional layers to daily life, which means that 90% of my flights in 2020 have been local.

Motivational incentives are lined up to the contrary. I am not bumming around my grandfather’s grass strip in an area that I lived since I was born, nor I am floating around over the Piedmont of North Carolina, which is relatively repetitive. I am in a foreign continent filled to the brim with things to see and do and yet I still find myself motivated to fly locally more than ever. I think that reality, coupled with the added layer of pandemic restrictions, made some recent landings elsewhere stand out entirely. Flying took on a more transcendent dimension, merely by making concrete on a mental level the magnitude that aviation affords. The freedom is immense and hard to quantify, when we have a chance to use it.

 

Hotel issues

When you are making a living by living on the road, you will become an expert on certain issues that can arise. In our case, we don’t often rent cars, so most of our problems will be with hotels.

There are several things that stand out as common areas of distress when it comes to hotels. While everyone might have a few other things on their list, and may order them differently, this is mine, and I’m willing to bet that most would easily agree on it.

Transportation. This is less of an issue for me than it used to be. At the regionals, we almost always stayed in a hotel that provided the transportation to and from the airport, and getting the vans to show on time seemed to be a never-ending challenge. Many of them claim to run on a schedule, but unless that schedule is whenever-we-want-to-o’clock, it isn’t one you will recognize. Somehow, every time I would call for a van, I would be told that “it just left the airport.” At some point you realize that this is code for “we don’t really know where it is.” The wait and frustration were always at their worst when it was cold, late, or the end of a long day with a short night ahead.

Transportation companies tend to be more reliable, and hotels themselves are better than they used to be thanks to the proliferation of the smart phone and apps that they can use to know exactly when you’ve arrived. This is a major consideration when you are unusually early or late.

Temperature control. Hotels are a constant source of complaint when it comes to getting the room temps to be comfortable. A few—not many, but a few—still only have a central control for the entire hotel, which means that they might have the heat on when the temps are just starting to drop, and that can lead to an uncomfortably warm room. Malfunctioning air conditioners are by far the most common reason I’ve ever had to call the front desk, and they’ve also led to me changing rooms more times than I care to remember. I have a couple of hotels on my personal list that I dread staying in because the A/C is just unable to produce a comfortable room temperature. Some pilots will just go to another hotel altogether, but while I’ve come close to this, I haven’t actually done it.

A few hotels have a certain A/C system that you can override to set a lower temperature. It’s called a VIP setting, and it will let you turn the room into an icebox if you want to. It will hold that setting for up to three days. But you didn’t hear that here.

Food. The biggest issue here is usually a lack of options or price. Or both. This is usually only an issue late at night or in the time between breakfast and lunch if you got in late and need to sleep. It can also be an issue when the restaurant is closed for a renovation. These days, it’s an issue because of COVID. My company has been forced to change a number of our hotels because of a lack of dining options. What helps these days are services such as Uber Eats, Grub Hub, et cetera.

Noise. This isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be, but noise can still be a major problem, especially during holidays or festive occasions when people tend to get drunk and act like idiots. Large events with kids—sports tournaments, kid-centric conventions, et cetera—can also be a problem. A number of hotels try to put crews on the same floor or floors in order to keep the noise at bay, but they can’t always do that. Not everyone can sleep through noise or fall asleep after having been jarred awake. This may require calling in fatigued, but most pilots don’t resort to that.

Noise outside the hotel, such as fireworks or sirens, usually isn’t something the hotel can do anything about, and you can’t do but so much complaining. But if it is on the hotel property, then you should by all means complain if necessary. Live music or a loud deejay is a pretty common complaint. In time, you get pretty adept at figuring out which rooms are noise-sensitive: overlooking pools, near elevators and ice machines, stairwells, fitness rooms or supply closets.

There are myriad other common items that come up in hotels, such as keys that don’t work, fire alarms in the middle of the night, or a lack of hot water, but these are the biggest issues that you will face on a regular basis. And the truth is, 99 percent of hotels do everything they can to minimize the issues, because they don’t want to lose the contract or disrupt your rest. A hotel is a home away from home, so you should be (and deserve to be) comfortable.—Chip Wright

Sick at work

We are well into the COVID-19 pandemic, and my airline just sent out a memo reminding everyone that flu season is coming while imploring us not to come to work if we are sick.

In the past, this would only happen if the flu was running rampant, but this year there is an added sense of urgency. And, because we have to have our temperature checked every day, it begs the question of how to handle an illness of any sort while on a trip.

Nobody wants to be “the reason” for a cancellation or stranding a planeload of passengers somewhere. But that said, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. I was on a trip once many years ago, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a case of food poisoning that was so bad that the flu would have been a welcome improvement. The vomiting and diarrhea were so bad that I quickly became dehydrated and it was at least an hour before I could stay on the phone long enough to call the company and my crew. I felt awful for nixing the flight, but I was just in no shape to fly.

So, what do you do if you do get sick? Or if someone in your crew is sick? First is to let someone know: the front desk, the company, a fellow crew member. You don’t need to offer drastic details, but you need to tell someone. A crew member can call Scheduling for you and can work with the front desk to arrange for you to keep your room. If you decide to call the company, don’t commit to anything with respect to when you will be ready to return to work, and don’t try to self-diagnose anything. Just tell them that you’re too ill to fly, and get off the phone.

If you’re the healthy member of the crew, you can call the company on behalf of your partner and explain that they are sick, and even if they wanted to fly, you’re not going to let them.

Once you call in sick, you’re sick. You can’t allow yourself to be talked back into going to work. The FAA will have you for lunch. If your partner is clearly ill, you need to help them determine if they need to get to a hospital. Most of the time, the answer will be no, but if you aren’t convinced that they are doing well, then you should make arrangements to get them to an emergency room. Going to the ER in the middle of the night is never any fun, but I can tell you from too many experiences that it is the best time of day to go, since it will be pretty quiet and slow. You can be in and out fairly quickly, or quickly attended to and admitted. If it is your crew member, somebody from the crew should try to accompany them.

In addition to the company, it’s also critical that you notify the spouse of the ill person, because the company might try to beat you to the punch. You also need to get word to the rest of the crew, though company policy might dictate that Scheduling handle that. If everyone is on the same floor at the hotel, you can slide notes under the doors. You might also need to coordinate with the front desk on keeping the rooms. If the hotel is in a busy period such as a convention or a trade show, then you need to get on this lickety split and be prepared to change hotels if they are sold out.

Getting sick on the road is no fun, but if you do this long enough, it will happen to either you or someone on your crew. Be ready so that you can minimize the disruption and keep the sick person comfortable.—Chip Wright

Lessons learned as a Citizen of the World

After nine months of meeting and talking with literally thousands of people across the planet during my pole-to-pole circumnavigation and global peace mission, and interviewing more than 50 of them about what it means to be a “Citizen of the World,” I’d like to share what I learned along the way.

Once I had been away from home for about two months, my perspective started to change. I began to forget about the things I liked doing back in San Diego and started replacing them with other things. I always loved walking and working out in Balboa Park; it’s been a magical place for me where I could restore my sense of inner peace and receive what the Universe had to offer me.

Fast-forward eight weeks to Sitges, Spain, where I lived during the most intense lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe. Every few days I would walk down the mountain to the market, and was most often the only person out on the street. At the market, I would load up with bags of groceries and then walk home. Over time, I could carry more and more, while enjoying the view of the old town, harbor, ocean, and mountain. During these walks I would fall into a deeply reflective state of mind and felt connected once again to everyone and everything in a unique way. It was a stunningly beautiful experience and one of the many steps that redefined me as a “Citizen of the World.”

Sitges, Spain

The same thing happened when I met new people on my journey. I was spending time with wonderful new friends I met like Claes and Inger Martinson at Gotland Island Airport off the coast of Sweden. I ate dinner with them, pulled weeds with them, compared thoughts on the world, and shared my love of aviation while living at their beautiful airport museum prior to taking off to cross the North Pole.

My view of different cultures changed—I saw people cooperating rather than competing. In fact, in some places competing was frowned upon until the age of 12! Growing up I was always encouraged to stand out and be “better” than others. On this expedition I realized my perspective–shaped by my upbringing–was a very different and divisive way to see other people. All the people along the way who helped me, even when it wasn’t necessarily to their initial benefit, helped me see that when we work together, we can accomplish so much more. I came to understand that working together as “Citizens of the World” would  be the only way ahead for the planet as we tackle things that we never would have expected like the coronavirus.

This transformation within me continued to happen in each country I visited. My definition of home changed and expanded. These new elements along with hearing diverse answers from people about what it meant to them to be a “Citizen of the World” gave me greater clarity and began to redefine me. Clearly a time of personal evolution, I did not always feel comfortable in the midst of everything that was happening in the world. At times I felt lost and confused, but I kept choosing faith over fear as this new way of being filtered into my daily life. This perspective flew in the face of what I had been taught. After nine months of exploring the most remote parts of the planet and the most different cultures during some of the most difficult times the world has known, I came to realize the following things about what it means to be a “Citizen of the World”:

A Citizen of the World is someone who doesn’t wait for others to change the world for them. Instead, a Citizen of the World has the courage to go out into the world using whatever resources they can draw upon and become the change they want to see. We must first start with ourselves, and by example, others have the opportunity to learn from our positive actions.

A Citizen of the World respectfully listens to but does not rely on input from others through the media, politics, or religion to formulate their view of the world. They formulate their worldview based on their own global experiences. By traveling outside their home country and meeting others, shaking hands, looking people straight in the eye and seeing that these “others” are struggling just like themselves helps them see we are more the same than different and helps to develop new and lasting bonds. When we see the “common” in common humanity, we are more able to work together to overcome hardships, share in each other’s successes, and shape a better future for everyone and the planet.

A Citizen of the World is someone who can truly listen to what others are saying and feeling. Listening to and feeling what others are communicating totally and completely is the most important thing we can do for another human being. To be truly heard is what we all long for. People have never been taught to truly listen. They try and anticipate what someone is going to say and feel and then start to formulate an answer before the other person is even through talking. We must try to be as present as we can, hold our thoughts in silence and neutrality while others are speaking, and truly and completely hear what this other soul is trying to express. This is a powerful bonding experience that allows our deepest thoughts, truths, and dreams to be revealed to each other. In this process we learn more about ourselves and how powerful and empowering our connection with others can be when we actively listen.

A Citizen of the World rises above the boundaries or borders that people have placed on the world and sees diversity as humanity’s superpower. This superpower is perhaps most noticeable when borders are open. For example, when I’m flying between countries in the Citizen of the World Gulfstream Twin Commander 900 there are no walls or boundaries as I cross over different countries. The only thing while I’m flying that reminds me that I’m in a different state or country are my aviation charts and air traffic control. Flying is the ultimate metaphor for those things that do not divide, restrict or limit. Flying allows us to spread our emotional wings and experience how it feels to connect to the rest of the world without labels, definitions, walls and borders that separate us and instead, flying can bring us together.

A Citizen of the World is someone who has perspective. Flying, thinking, and viewing the Earth at higher altitudes allows us to see the world in a different and more complete way. We can see how things connect, affect others, and calibrate in relation to other things. Imagine standing next to a river versus seeing it from 35,000 feet. From high above, we can connect the dots more easily; things on the ground begin to make more sense. We start to think on a global scale, see how all the players are impacted both upstream and downstream, and act in a unified direction.

A Citizen of the World learns the lessons from life’s challenges so they can continue to grow and expand until everyone and everything is connected as One. Making “mistakes” is part of being human and going for it. There is success even in perceived failure because we have tried. When we let go of self-judgment, we begin to see others and ourselves with awareness and compassion, the two wings of freedom. Our mindful growth increases our positive impact on others and moves the planet forward.

A Citizen of the World is not afraid to be the example by sharing their passion with others. Shared passions, even the ones that are so big they scare us, inspire others to their greatness. Passion ignites a fire in others that encourages them to keep reaching for their impossibly big dreams. Passion can direct humanity to the next step in its collective evolution. Seeing people express their passion and struggle to achieve their goals are such powerful lessons for humanity to learn. Passion transforms fear into courage and paralysis analysis into inspired action on the journey.

From this journey of exploration and growth we learn that the world won’t be changed for the better solely from behind a computer but by going out into the world, making contact with others, and showing kindness and concern for everyone we meet. Seeing and taking the time to really understand the challenges all people share, the emotions we all feel, and the common language of pain and suffering, love and joy, that we all speak is part of sharing the expanding human experience—and it’s so easy to miss when we’re lost in comparison, competition, separation and isolation. The world puts barriers in front of us to test our clarity, determination, and desire for growth. Overcoming these challenges together through respect, listening, diversity, perspective, life-long learning and passion makes us all stronger and connects us globally as One.

The time for this global connection is now! No single person, company or country can do it alone. The world needs this positive change now more than ever and it will take every one of us as “Citizens of the World for the World” working together to manifest a better, more connected, loving, and peaceful world.

One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity.

Blessing Circle just prior to Citizen of the World departure at Gillespie Field

California Pilots Association Zooms into View

The California Pilots Association (CalPilots) held its annual conference and annual meeting virtually this year. The event, California Zooming, featured 8-hours of Zoom content for hundreds airport and airplane lovers and featured John and Martha King as keynote speakers. CalPilots established in 1949, is a statewide non-profit corporation committed to the support of CA state general aviation airports and flight privileges.

Local, state, regional and national aviation groups have been challenged to meet the needs of its members during the COVID crisis.  I have been impressed by the virtual events I have attended both in terms of scope and quality.  California Zooming was an example of both and I was honored to be a part of it.   Here’s a list of offerings from the event, many of these seminars will be available on CalPilots’ YouTube channel in the coming weeks. My hope is that other state aviation associations or local groups can offer this type of education on airport advocacy as well as proficient pilot safety courses.

Through generous support from these great companies, we were able to offer wonderful member door prizes.  A big thank you goes to: King Schools, Lightspeed Aviation, Flying Eyes Optics, LIFT Aviation, Precise Flight, ACI Jet, and MyGo Flight.


General Session Presenters


Airport-Centered General Sessions

FAA WINGS Credit Courses

California Zooming provided attendees with four WINGS credit courses focused on pilot proficiency.  Thank you to  John and Martha King, Captain Brian Schiff, Captain Mike Jesch, Captain Gary Schank,  Paul Marshall, Ron Lovick, and  Ed Story for their informative and entertaining presentations.

California Flying Oddities – What Makes Flying in California Odd and Fun.

Captains Brian Schiff and Mike Jesch shared with us the interesting challenges ranging from the terrestrial (mountains, deserts, and oceans) to the man-made (big cities and complicated air space). They took us on a tour of several interesting and challenging airports and areas all around the state, to highlight some of what makes California flying fun.  This WINGS credit course is viewable on our YouTube channel.

Keynote: Straight Talk about Aviation Safety with John and Martha King

Pilots throughout the world regard John and Martha as their personal aviation mentors from multimedia training programs. Having had a hand in the aviation education of nearly half of the pilots in the United States in the last four decades, the Kings feel a deep responsibility toward their students and a strong sense of mission about passing on practical and insightful tools for risk management.  While we will never completely eliminate the risks of general aviation, but the Kings’ presentation covered procedures and techniques that can help pilots manage aviation risks effectively. This WINGS credit class is viewable on our YouTube channel.

Responding to the Pandemic: CalDART COVID-19 Operations

The California DART Network (CalDART) organizes California’s pilots to safely help their communities respond to disaster through its Disaster Airlift Response Teams (DARTs) located throughout the state. For COVID-19, CalDART launched Operation Medical Shield (OMS), helping front line workers get their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) even when their main sources of supply ran out, or when their thinly funded organizations could not afford them. Flights have delivered PPE all around California and as far away as Walla Walla, Washington. In OMS, CalDART developed new Flight Medical Safety practices to keep people safe from viral infection. This WINGS credit class is viewable on our YouTube channel.

Avoiding Wing Dings: Operating Your Plane Safely on the Ground

Captain Gary Schank provided a fun and informative look at an airline pilot’s tips for safely operating your aircraft before and after you take to the air. Every flight begins and ends with ground operations, and therefore, it is a skill that should not be taken for granted. Topics included airport signage, markings and lighting, clearances, standardization, taxi etiquette, emergencies, low visibility taxi, and runway incursion avoidance. This WINGS credit class is viewable on our YouTube channel.


 Three-Tiered Airport Advocacy

Given that we are not holding large aviation gatherings, these virtual events give us opportunities to socialize, get education and explore airport advocacy. I support the three-tiered approach to airport advocacy.  Here’s a brief introduction to the concept.

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? What can you do locally?

  • Join your local airport organization.
  • Find out who your AOPA ASN volunteer is.
  • Attend Airport Land Use Meetings.
  • Host community events at your airport.
  • Form a business relationship with your City or County Planners.
  • Attend all City or County sponsored airport meetings.
  • Attend Airport meetings.
  • Look for chapters of state aviation organizations in your town/area/region.
  • Use media to the airport’s best interest [newspaper, radio, social media, TV].
  • Create a good working relationship with your airport manager.

Tier 2 – Statewide Organizations: Not every state has its own general aviation organization. But a quick Google search will tell you 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.

Tier 3 – National Organizations: Our national aviation organizations are a critical piece of the three-tiered airport defense strategy. Membership ensures that each maintains its ability to support statewide or local airport/pilot organizations. If you do not belong to AOPA, EAA, NBAA, you should. Critical to interfacing with our congressional representatives, lobbying that national pilot organizations provide a large presence in Washington, DC. This voice serves to remind DC of the importance of general aviation to the nation’s transportation infrastructure. We were happy to have Melissa McCaffrey our AOPA Regional representative for the Western Pacific Region join us throughout the day.


Life has changed for us all in 2020. However, one thing that remains constant is our need for connection, camaraderie, and fun. Join your local aviation groups, become a member of your state aviation association, and utilize our national organizations fully.  We will come out of this on the other side, but we need to make sure that our airports are protected and our piloting skills are proficient.

 

 

Family time

My kids have only known the airline life, with Daddy being gone a good portion of most months. My wife grew up in a more traditional household, but her father worked at least 70 hours a week. Still, he was home every night, whereas I am not.

As you can imagine, this can create some tension at times. But, when I am home, I am truly home, and I have plenty of free time to live and handle life.

When my kids were younger, they would try to fight over who got to spend more time with me when I was home. One of their favorite things was for me to come to school to eat lunch with them, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that there were going to be days when I’d be eating two lunches, and for a while, in different schools. I got pretty adept at packing two smaller snacks, because they didn’t like to think that I had the “better” lunch with the other one. Kids are funny like that.

The monthly juggling act for years was to try figure out how to be home for as many of the kids’ activities as I could, without making one of them feel slighted. It wasn’t always easy, and it often took some planning. One of the most effective ways to deal with it (at least in my house) was to sit everyone down when I was working on my schedule for the following month, and asking who really wanted me around for something. If they had multiple events, they had to tell me the order of importance. I never promised more than I could give, and a couple of events required some help from another pilot or from the chief pilot’s office. And, if I’m being honest, there were one or two sick calls that had to be used in order to be the best parent that I could be.

My kids got pretty good at giving me a heads up about major events that might be anywhere from two to four months or more down the road. I learned to figure out how to interpret the tone of their voices, so I knew which ones were critical and which ones would just be nice. And there were some things that they didn’t place as much importance on as I did, and that’s OK, too.

Birthdays were always a challenge, because birthday parties almost always took place on a weekend, even if the bid day was on a Wednesday. Because they had sleepovers for years, I always made sure that I was home for those so that my wife wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. But as they got older, I’d ask them if they wanted me home for the party or the actual birthday.

Like any other pilot or flight attendant, there were some things that I’ve just had to miss, and that’s just the breaks. But I’ve always tried to prioritize my family, and I dare say that I’ve done well, but it isn’t always easy, especially if someone is sick. But when they look back, I think my kids will be able to say that, when it was really important, Daddy was there. It takes a team effort, and it takes work, but if you want to do it, you can. Even if you have get…creative.—Chip Wright

Resolving conflicts in the cockpit

Any large group of people is going to produce personality conflicts at some point. Throw in the Type A personality and the sizeable egos of most pilots, and it makes us riper for potential conflict than we might like to admit. Given the tight quarters of an airline cockpit, this can be a dangerous situation if it gets too volatile. How does one deal with this? This is a common interview question.

Each major pilot union has come up with a program to help defuse situations before the company gets involved. Because I am a member of ALPA, and that is the one that I’m most familiar with, it is the one that I will use, but the pilots at non-ALPA carriers use similar processes and tools. The ALPA model is called Professional Standards, and like every other committee within the association, it is staffed by volunteers. These men and women are put through a specific training program to help them help their peers.

Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that one of the pilots has a “personal policy” of deliberately flouting company policy in the airplane. For example, assume that the pilot in question says that he will not do certain checklists as dictated by company policy. This is going to make some pilots very uncomfortable, and it may create a hazard. If the offending pilot can’t be convinced to do things the way they should be done, the affected pilot has two options. One is to go to the company.

But another option is to call someone on the Pro Standards committee and let them try to handle it. Pro Standards pilots do not and cannot act in a disciplinary way. However, what they can do is sort through the details of the conflict, and determine where any wrong (if any) is occurring, and then call and counsel the pilot in question.

The key here is that, sometimes, peer pressure can be every bit as effective, if not more so, than other options. Getting a call from Pro Standards can be something of an embarrassment, especially if it has to do with non-compliance with the company or FAA procedures.

On the flip side, it may be that the pilot who filed the complaint was wrong about something or misunderstood something. If the conflict is a personality clash, then the committee member(s) might be able to offer some ideas and tools for avoiding a conflict in the future. It’s often said that we shouldn’t talk about politics, religion, or sex, and there’s some truth to that. Stick to more basic topics and you can avoid a lot of issues.

There are times, however, when Pro Standards is simply unable to help a pilot correct certain behaviors. Every airline, it seems, has that one person who just can’t get out of his or her own way. If the offending pilot continues to cause trouble, then it might be time to consider getting the chief pilot or other appropriate department heads involved, but you better have your ducks in a row and make sure that it won’t devolve into a mud-slinging contest that will also make you look bad.

Fortunately, most of us get along, even with people that have very different views than we do. But there are those times when two pilots just can’t coexist. There are tools you can use to get through those trying times. Know what they are, and take advantage of them, and your life will be much easier.—Chip Wright

Antarctic route – the South Pole

I wanted to share one of the most interesting graphics of the Polar Expedition with all of you. I believe it captures the drive, determination, courage and ability to dream impossibly big of the entire Flying Thru Life Team while proving technology, moving science ahead and bringing people together in Oneness.

What you see is the 18.1-hour South Pole route of the Citizen of the World with her departure from Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire located at the southern tip of Argentina on December 16, 2019. On departure, a 180-degree turn was required in the narrow channel due to a last-minute wind change when the airplane was heavily ladened with fuel as she flew along the Beagle Channel for about 50 nautical miles.  Citizen of the World turned to the south once she was out over international waters and then just a little to the west in an attempt to ride an 80-100 knot wind from Mother Nature to the South Pole. You can see that about one-third of the way to the South Pole I lost my nerve and gave up on that tailwind because I was burning fuel heading toward the west with no benefit. At that point, I turned straight to the South Pole. When I got there, I did a couple circles (hard to see) —one for the planet and one for the people— and then headed back as directly as my Genesys Aerosystems S-TEC 2100 could do since at that point I had burned more than half my fuel (biofuels were used over the pole).

About 75 miles before and 75 miles after the South Pole, I lost my two flight management systems and was flying using a heading bug on autopilot based on inputs from an old school directional gyro more affectionately known as a “DG.” At this point, I also had a line of position on the sun since I was above the clouds, which reversed as I started to head back.

To compliment ADS-B Out tracking I also had two Nano GPS trackers that were required, installed and certified by the Federation Aeronautique, iPad screenshots, about a million mind-blowing pictures, videos and several recorded voice comms with “Cory” at the South Pole.  All this will be released in the 10-part docuseries and the book called “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth and Beyond.”

The trip back seemed to take much longer as the fatigue set in even though it was a straight shot back over the eastern Antarctic Peninsula and the dreaded Drake Passage until I got about 25 nautical miles from the Beagle Channel. By this point, I had lost satellite comms, (HF never worked) and I made a decision to not enter the instrument approach tired (and afraid), in IMC without air traffic controller comms.  Instead, I decided to descend through the cloud layer over the ocean and fly the last 50 miles back to Ushuaia, Argentina, about 500 feet above the water on fumes and below the rainy cloud layer. This was the part of the trip that I say “broke me open” emotionally, physically, and spiritually and the true learning began for the rest of the trip. For those lessons you will have to check out the docuseries and book.

I want to thank my friends at Iridium for using their newly launched 66 Iridium NEXT Satellites to track me on the longest and most challenging legs of my polar circumnavigation. Iridium obviously didn’t miss a beat on this 4,200 nm leg.

I would like to also thank the good people at Aireon (created by and still partially owned by Iridium) whose payload on the Iridium NEXT satellites was picking up our ADS-B Out signals, and produced for me the beautiful graphic that you see above that is fit for the record books. Certainly, the image above is proof of how well ADS-B Out works, thanks to space-based ADS-B extending traditional ADS-B ground coverage across the oceans and over every inch of the planet.

The tracking would also not have been possible without the help from my friends at L3Harris and their wonderful NGT-9000! Neal Aviation installed the L3 diversity transponder antenna just weeks before departure when they were impossibly busy trying to help customers meet FAA ADS-B Out equipage mandates. In addition to the panel mounted unit, the company also had to install the diversity ADS-B transponder antenna on top of the Gulfstream Twin Commander 900 and through the pressure vessel to make sure we could talk with all those Iridium satellites.

As you can see the polar expedition was clearly “A mission of many not one.” The successful Polar Circumnavigation is a wonderful demonstration of how many inspired people in aviation can work together to move STEM ahead for the planet on a mission of global peace which connected the South Pole with the North Pole as “One Planet, One People, One Plane.”

And now for the worse tease of all…. Can any of you guess what graphic 2 of 2 will be?

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