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A lesson in “Diversity” for every pilot

Diversity: Understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences

With 7.71 billion people on our planet it’s hard to imagine we are all unique, especially when you consider that everything in the universe came from one unimaginably small singularity—the Big Bang. Even so, most of us look, sound, and act differently than anyone else.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipped aircraft are similarly unique, as each has an individual identification code derived from the aircraft’s registration number. This code is transmitted by each aircraft’s ADS-B device, along with position, altitude, speed, direction, and other data. This information is received, processed, and retransmitted by dedicated ground stations, allowing others to recognize and follow us wherever we go. The Citizen of the World will be tracked globally during her polar circumnavigation using ADS-B.

Neil Aviation, San Diego

Matt Desch, the CEO of Iridium, explained that in order for the Citizen of the World to be tracked at all times during her world peace mission connecting the South Pole to the North Pole and everywhere in between, she will need “diversity.” Diversity is implemented by installing a second ADS-B transponder antenna on the top of the airplane in addition to the antenna installed on the bottom. This will allow her to be tracked over the oceans (and any other location where there are no ground stations) by the constellation of 66 Iridium NEXT low earth orbit satellites that came online earlier this year.

Allow me to nerd out for a brief second. Real-time flight data is sent from the ADS-B transponders to the Iridium NEXT satellites, and through a partnership with Aireon the data is sent to ground stations for use by air traffic control and other entities. This data is also used by our friends at FlightAware.com, a website where you type in an aircraft’s registration number and can track its altitude, speed and location. Iridium NEXT has made possible a “100 percent” global air traffic surveillance system that will increase safety, enhance efficiency, improve predictability, expand capacity, and lower costs. These benefits will, in turn, result in a significant reduction of carbon in the atmosphere—the equivalent of removing 300,000 cars a year from the roads. This is a true win-win situation.

To showcase this capability, the Citizen of the World will be the first aircraft to be tracked globally using ADS-B during a polar circumnavigation.

Now do I have your attention?

While this seems simple enough in concept, in practice it is not. Although very few transponders are currently capable of diversity, the Lynx NGT-9000 from L3 is. It’s a very compact, yet robust system that provides ADS-B Out functionality along with ADS-B In traffic and weather. It has a bright, high resolution touchscreen and also offers terrain avoidance and active traffic. The NGT-9000 is packaged as either a transponder-sized panel mounted instrument or a remotely mounted box. Amazing!

Canada will soon require that all aircraft operating in specified airspace have ADS-B Out with diversity. This will enable them to use Iridium NEXT for air traffic control without the expense and complexity of ground radar installations and the associated infrastructure. You can see the writing on the wall. It’s just a matter of time until every country on the planet requires this.

Adding diversity capability to the Citizen of the World will not be straightforward because the antenna installation must pass through the pressure vessel, requiring extensive documentation by an FAA Designated Engineering Representative. These documents will be then be submitted to the local FAA Flight Standards District Office for approval.

Acquiring the ADS-B diversity equipment and designing and documenting the installation are relatively easy. The hardest part these days is finding an avionics shop that has time for an installation. Most shops are already booked to the end of the year with aircraft trying to meet the January 1, 2020 FAA mandate for ADS-B Out.

Neil Aviation in San Diego installed the panel on my former airplane, the Spirit of San Diego, as well as the Avidyne panel on the Citizen of the World. The owner, Garrett Neal, has stepped up once again to help me with diversity. Garrett saw the importance of our mission of One Planet, One People, One Plane, and realizes that the Citizen will have very high visibility as it undertakes its unique journey. He went out of his way to make time for this project. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

Is there a downside to ADS-B In/Out besides the initial time, cost, and frustration to install? There is speculation that the data collected might one day lead to changes in how the airspace system operates but we’ll need to wait awhile and see.

With respect to being unique, there are certainly advantages and disadvantages for both airplanes and for people. Only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the costs.

Errands at 15,000 Feet

To understand this flight, it becomes necessary to dial things back to last summer spent in Switzerland. I had a very specific list of things I wanted to fly to: the 82 peaks over 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) in the Alps, located in France, Italy, and Switzerland. I thought I had successfully completed the task, except when I went to work on writing the book, I noted that two were missing, and a third clump of peaks would be better suited with different photographs. How could I have come this far, photographed everything large I saw, and missed two? Well, I did that in Colorado back in 2014 when I chased the 58 fourteeners; I missed one and fortunately was able to get it before moving the airplane to North Carolina (it happened to be the closest one to the airport). The nefarious peaks in question in the Alps shared a characteristic of the lone peak of Colorado: They were some of the smallest on the list, thus appearing inconsequential when surrounded by their larger brethren.

I concocted the brilliant idea to get all three in one flight. The Aiguilles du Diable in France (4,074 meters/13,366 feet), Punta Giordani in Italy (4,046 meters/13,274 feet), and the Dürrenhorn in Switzerland (4,035 meters/13,238 feet). It should have been doable in theory, except there was this pernicious reality called an overcast over the Oberland. I figured it would be touch and go to get back to Saanen, so I planned on fueling in Sion if things delayed and that I’d sort it out if the overcast didn’t lessen as planned.

When I got to Gstaad Airport, there were plenty of airplanes flying around, including a PC-24 doing touch and goes. Given that it’s a VFR-only field, there must have been some egress out of the Oberland. I took off, planning to go west via Les Mosses, though there was a business jet up to something I wasn’t sure of, so I turned south over Gstaad, continuing to Gsteig, where a tiny hole in the overcast appeared. It was far too amorphous to climb through, so I continued west over the pass to Ormont-Dessus, then Leysin toward my escape to the sunny Rhône valley. From there it was a full power climb all the way to the Mont Blanc Massif, then eastbound past Grand Combin (4,314 meters/14,154 feet). Clouds were 40 percent coverage over the high peaks, requiring flying around them at 13,500 feet, with relatively clear skies elsewhere, meaning that they were orographic summer lift. I had originally hoped to blast straight to the Dürrenhorn from Saanen, except I now had to reverse the plan.

I came across the Matterhorn (4,478 meters/14,692 feet) in its illustrious cloud-forming glory, then had some angst that the Monte Rosa Massif appeared to be covered in clouds on the south side where Punta Giordani was hiding. It then occurred to me that there were clouds the other handful of times I swung by, and I probably didn’t notice this smaller peak because it was hidden. Thankfully, the clouds parted for a minute on the Italian side of the ridge, so I got my photo and moved on.

From there I went north back into Switzerland toward the Mischabel Group, in pursuit of the Dürrenhorn. Yet again clouds were billowing up, with Dom visible, though not Dürrenhorn below. Perhaps again the same thing happened? Well, no, upon recollection it was completely clear when I flew here last. The problem is the Dürrenhorn is not exciting compared to massive ice caps nearby.

I went over the ridge between two peaks shrouded in clouds, distracted a bit by the beauty of the scene, hoping I could come around the north side and swoop down to get the peak. Fortunately, the clouds were clear from the angle of the Nadelhorn, so after some fancy footwork around moving clouds, I got a shot and moved on.

Rhône Valley, clear of clouds. Altitude roughly 8,000 feet.

Massif du Chablais (10,686 feet). I showed my [nonpilot] wife this photo, and it might as well have been an image of an airplane crash.

Aiguilles du Diable, France (foreground), Mt. Blanc (ice cap-covered background). One can understand why, when I spent my time above the highest summit, that I didn’t notice these rocks below.

The Matterhorn (14,692 feet), from Italy.

Punta Giordani, Italy, yet again below. Signalkuppe (14,940 feet) was above and behind me.

Dom, Switzerland (14,911 feet) in the clouds, a pleasant surprise.

That meant Dürrenhorn (13,238 feet – how piddling) would be at risk of being shrouded. Fortunately it was clear enough to sneak a view.

Now that my errands were done, I had to figure out what I was going to do about getting back to base. I could see that the entire Oberland and Swiss Plateau were socked in from above, with no holes. I decided then that I’d burn off my excessive altitude by cruising west along the Bernese Alps and land at Sion. I requested permission to cross the TMA, which was granted, and then my ability to transmit stopped working.

I did the whole triple radio battery swap. No change. Tried other frequencies. No change. I could hear, just not speak. If I did the squawk 7600 routine, I’d be let into Sion, though likely not out until the radio was fixed. What a bother! I thought a bit about trying to make a go at Les Mosses and land at Saanen, where a radio was not needed. If the pass was open and no further problems developed, it would work, though that’s it, with no buffer for fuel. That was as dumb of an idea as it sounded, so I opted for Bex, a short grass strip which technically requires prior permission. I landed without incident and found that the radio problem was the mic connection dislodged lightly.

For the flight back into the Oberland, it was evident Les Mosses was open, as well was the overcast in the process of clearing. Since I know little about the vagaries of poor weather in Switzerland, I wasn’t going to play with all the things that could go wrong in high, steep terrain with overcast. At any rate, after almost four hours of technically challenging, ice cold, unpredictable flying, I decided that the flight was a silly idea. Did I really need to hit them all up in one binge session? “There is no reason this needs to be difficult. The next flight I am going to make enjoyable, period.”

Is this idiot whining about flying in the Alps? No, just disapproving of my own unrealistic ambitions. The mere fact that I have flown to these peaks in the past doesn’t make them easy in the future.

The view from 12,500 feet of the Oberland. Home base is in the distant right. 

Approaching the Rhône valley for landing at Bex, 9,000 feet below the cloud deck. Bernese Alps, Switzerland in the foreground, Mont Blanc, France (15,774 feet) in the background.

Les Mosses pass, flight altitude 5,600 feet.

I definitely lived up to my decision on the next flight five days later. Münster is a small field located high in the Goms Valley of eastern Valais (known as the “Texas of Switzerland”). It is open for June through August and is located at 4,400 feet in a deep valley. I contacted the airport manager, got permission (once I described my mountain experience), confirmed fuel, and set off.

Weather was uncharacteristically dry. There were almost no clouds or haze in the Oberland, which is unusual, with glorious blue skies. I had a rough idea of where I might go, though was only constrained by arriving at my destination before the fuel ran out. In flight, I saw that terrain on the northern edge of the Alps was completely clear, so I hung out at 7,700 feet and photographed major terrain from below, as I had hoped to do for last month’s post (and ended up above the clouds at 13,500 feet instead).

The flight was positively glorious.

I continued east over the Sustenpass, south to Andermatt, west to Furkapass, then down the Goms Valley, eventually to land at Münster once the glider traffic jam cleared up. Münster is practically heaven. Scenery was exquisite, with the sound of the turquoise rushing Rhône River alongside the airport, blue sky, remaining snow from last winter on a few peaks, and illustrious green trees and grass. If the airport was open year-round, I would have moved to that valley.

The airport manager asked where I was from, and when I said Upstate New York, he said he has relatives in Rochester. I pointed to the Cub and told him that “I soloed that airplane 45 minutes from Rochester.” Another pilot came over and we chatted for over 20 minutes. He did some training in Cubs in the Swiss military when he was young and was raving about how wonderful the airplane was. Some advice he was taught: “Make sure you come at a peak with the proper altitude in advance, as the airplane does not have the power to climb.”

He articulated his surprise that I showed up. “Who would imagine a Piper from America, here in Münster?” Well, I concur! I never imagined that this Piper would end up in the Valais, either.

I was going to head west and figure out a way to get over the Bernese Alps on the way back to Saanen. The problem was that there were a few orographic clouds, and wind was bumpy over the passes. I wasn’t sure about how to get over without getting beat up, so I decided on climb out to head over the Grimselpass. That was the right call as there was a fair amount of wind per the lakes at the pass, though no bumps. I then descended down to 1,000 feet agl over the Brienzersee, cruising right over Interlaken, then back into the Oberland for landing before the 8 p.m. deadline.

I had some time at the airport afterward, as I needed to change the oil and there were some aggravations to sort out, typical of being in a new place. That afforded a classic hour in evening light after a long day of flying. I was the happiest I have been since I can remember after a flight, rating it probably in the top ten of all time. I suppose the difference is merely perspective.

Golitschepass (7,148 feet) in the foreground in the Oberland, Bernese Alps in the background.

Oeschinensee (5,177 feet surface elevation). I am usually 6,000 feet or more above it after a Jungfrau binge.


Lauterbrunnen (below) with Mittelhorn, Schreckhorn, Eiger, Mönch, and the Jungfrau (left to right). Flight path was a bit right, straight ahead, then left beneath the peaks in the back.

Jungfrau (13,641 feet) from 7,700 feet altitude. To get a wide angle vertical of something so high above a high-wing airplane, it is necessary to bank 50 to 60 degrees to the left.

Across from Grindelwald, I came across an interesting opening in the mountain range.

So I went into it and found a veritable cathedral. 

Ischmeer, with Grosses Fiescherhorn (13,280 feet) in the rear. A bit of katabatic wind off the glacier, which is normal apparently when I get that close and they are that big. Still figuring that part out.

Ober Ischmeer. This was a very tight situation, even for a Cub. I could not discern my agl visually, as there were no trees, people, or buildings, so everything is subjective. Looking at Google Maps on terrain mode later, I figured out I was 500 feet above the glacier. 

Out of the cathedral. Rather vertical rock above Grindelwald, continuing east.

Three layers of mountains in the foreground. The valley to the Grimselpass eventually opens to the right. Winds got frisky in here.

Andermatt.

Grimselpass, from the south.

Münster, looking south. I was nearly scraping the trees on the other side of the airplane. It’s a Swiss thing….

Münster, looking north, scraping the trees behind me again.

Climbing out uphill…slowly. Goms Valley.

More altitude…still in the Goms Valley, with the Rhône River below and its headwaters on the horizon.

Grimselpass. A forced landing would be better suited with floats.

Interlaken, looking back up toward Jungfrau.

Climbing into the Oberland.

Gstaad, about to enter the circuit. 

The long wait to get home

I’ve touched on the challenges of commuting before. I recently endured a nightmare of an experience in trying to get home after a trip, and all I could say to myself is that I have been pretty lucky of late with respect to the (relative) ease of my commute to and from work. I was due for a “[t]here I was …” story, and this one more than filled the bill.

I finished a two-day trip at 12:15 p.m. in late July, and just missed a flight that was leaving at about the same time I was finishing. Not that it would have mattered, as it went out full with a jumpseater, but … still. I recognized a few of the names on the list of standby passengers, and I knew who would be trying the same strategies as me. Still, I headed to a different terminal for a different airline, hoping for the best. Unfortunately, one of the said pilots was already at the counter waiting for an agent so that he could list for the jumpseat on the 2:00 p.m. flight. All I could do was hope for the best. Unfortunately, this flight also left full.

My next option was a 3:45 p.m. flight, at my own carriers’ terminal. So, back I went and I was listed for the jumpseat. I should mention at this point that when I checked flights the night before the passenger loads weren’t great, but I was fairly confident about getting home. Unfortunately, that confidence was misplaced. Overnight I’m not sure what happened, but the loads went completely to pot, and getting home was going to be a challenge at best. The next day wasn’t much better.

In the meantime, I looked at alternative airports where I could either rent a car or have my wife drive and pick me up. They were even worse, with jumpseaters already listed (access is first come, first serve if it isn’t your own airline) and loads that were well over-sold due to flight cancellations.

Back to the 3:45 p.m. flight. Weather was the main threat, but I found out that the auxiliary power unit (APU) was broken, and while that normally would just be uncomfortable, in this case, it would be much more than that. Temperatures were in the upper 90s, which meant that the airplane would be well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping passengers locked up for a long delay would be unconscionable. But, if they could fix it, I was assured of the jumpseat as long as the weight and balance didn’t become an issue on the E-145. I wasn’t the least bit confident that it would work out in my favor.

And then the weather hit. Rain. Monsoon-like rain. The airport ground to a halt. The 5:00 p.m. flight had no jumpseaters listed, and there was a possibility of one open seat. The downside is that it was far enough away that I was ultimately going to have to choose and gamble. I decided to go list for the 5:00 p.m. jumpseat, with the idea of coming back to the 3:45 p.m. flight in my back pocket if that would work out. Realistically, I knew I was basically changing my plans, but I had to get to that realization later.

Luckily, I got the jumpseat on the 5:00 p.m. flight, just beating out a friend of mine. About the time that occurred, the airport closed, and every flight was taking delays of no less than forty-five minutes. Then the weather went from bad to worse to nobody-may-be-going-anywhere worse. Rain, thunder, and lightning were the story of the day, but I’ll say this about the weather affecting the three New York area airports: Newark gets hit first, but it also reopens first. Finally, there was a break, and the public address systems were echoing with panicky gate agents trying to get wayward passengers back to their gates in order to board and leave. My flight was no exception, and we began boarding a bit after 8:00 p.m.

In the meantime, passengers that stayed the night or made alternative arrangements (thanks to a bribe) had left. Somewhere in the midst of all this my gamble paid off, as the 3:45 p.m. flight was canceled. My flight (the third option, if you’re keeping score) began to board, and I got on and introduced by myself to the captain, who it turns out was on his first trip as a captain and under the watchful eye of a line check-airman. My first question to them was how much duty time they had remaining. It turned out that they were legal until 3:00 a.m. the next morning. “The pilot in me feels your pain,” I said, “but the commuter in me is thrilled!” That got a knowing chuckle.

Oddly enough, there were enough seats that my buddy got on, as did a flight attendant who was also trying to get home, and I even got a seat in the cabin—I didn’t have to sit in the jumpseat! We weren’t entirely out of the woods yet, though, as we had to sit on the ramp and wait our turn to taxi, which took well over an hour. The ride was better than I anticipated. When I landed, the temperature was no longer pushing 100, but was instead struggling to hit 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I got home around 12:30 a.m., which meant that I had spent over 12 hours just trying to get home, eight of which were spent just trying to get on an airplane.

The adage was proven again: Don’t give up until you can be sure the aircraft will leave without you. There are three of us who can vouch for that.

Deficiencies in emergency training

I try to be pretty positive about life at the airlines, and for the most part, I am. This will be one of the few times I criticize both industry and the FAA.

Airline training is pretty intense, and some of it can be done in mind-numbing, excruciating detail. However, there are a few areas in which the training required by the FAA is all that is provided, and as a result, the training provided often is lacking. One of those areas is dealing with a water landing or a ditching.

Fortunately, such events are rare. Unfortunately, as a result of this rarity, and also as a result of the relative ease of US Airways Flight 1549 (the so-called Miracle on the Hudson), emergency water training for pilots has not been made a priority. The airlines usually only do the minimum required with respect to training because of the cost.

Flight attendants often get better training than pilots on ditchings, since the assumption is that they are the ones who will conduct the bulk of the actual evacuation. Flight attendants at major carriers are put through training in a pool with a raft and given an opportunity to get hands-on experience with life vests and other emergency equipment. Pilots…not so much.

So what is missing, and what to keep in mind? In a perfect world, where the flight deck crew finishes the landing with minimal or no injuries, and is able to actively participate in the evacuation, the following are points to keep in mind:

The life rafts are stored in the ceiling. In six years of training at a major, I’ve never seen what they look like when they are packed and sealed. I have no idea how heavy they are (I’m guessing about 80 pounds minimum), or how awkward they would be to move from the ceiling and out the door to the water.

Once in the water, there is no “upside down,” as the rafts are designed to be used no matter which side faces up. That said, the sides are fairly high, so I can only speculate what it must be like to try to get in one of these rafts from the water while wearing a full uniform or even a coat. Add to this the possibility of dealing with frigid water temperatures and you can imagine how smoothly this isn’t going to go in real life.

There are ways to work together to get into the raft and once one or two people are in, they can help the rest get in relatively quickly. Getting those first couple in may prove challenging, especially in rough water.

With respect to some of the other equipment that is available, like portable radios, knives, first aid kits, flashlights, et cetera, we are shown them in a classroom, on tables, but we are never given a chance to use them, and we aren’t forced to find them in the airplane. Given how poorly humans respond in situations of great stress, this is a huge shortcoming.

Some of the emergency evacuation training deficiencies go beyond just water landings. In almost 23 years of airline flying, I’ve never had to partake in a simulated evacuation of the cabin. As mundane as this would be in normal circumstances, imagine what it would be like trying to do this while putting on a protective breathing equipment hood in a cabin that is filling rapidly with smoke. Now imagine being forced to help a passenger with a serious injury try to evacuate—someone with a broken leg or even unconscious. We are exposed to none of this. Further, none of our training is done jointly with the cabin crews.

Airline training covers a gamut of scenarios, and most of what we do is done well, but some of the emergency possibilities are extremely limited. It comes down to each of us to think through some of these scenarios to determine the best courses of action, with the realization that some people will freeze and others will panic. The possibility of a water event strikes close to home for me because I spent a few years doing nothing but overwater flying. Even now, I spend a lot of my time on Atlantic routes, and I fear for the day when an airplane is forced to ditch and a crew begins to realize just how poor their training for such a scenario has been.

If I had my druthers, water and emergency training would be required for every new hire, for each airplane change, each upgrade, and every two years that follows. That training would take place in a wave pool and in a simulated cabin fire, and it would require the use of as many pieces of emergency equipment as possible. Further, pilots would be required to learn and demonstrate basic CPR skills, which we don’t have to do currently (flight attendants do).—Chip Wright

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.

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