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Reinventing yourself and your flying experience! Part 1 of 3

Addison Pemberton’s Grumman G21A Goose N95467 that took 8000 hours to renovate to perfection

There comes a time in every pilot’s life and flying career when you have flown to all the local airports within range of one tank of fuel, tried all the $100 hamburgers in your area ($1,000 if you are flying a turbine) and had all the adventures that call to you. It’s at this point, when you must address what your restless soul has been saying to you probably for years.  It’s time to answer the call, pull chocks and find another home and adventure. Perhaps it’s another coast, somewhere warmer, an area with a different type of topography like mountains or islands, or somewhere with seasons. This new place will be your steppingstone to potentially far greater adventures and an even better version of yourself!

Answering the call

With Covid, many of us realized we could live anywhere since we were working virtually. We learned how little we really needed to be happy, and that life was short. Clearly if ever, now is the time to bust a move on the adventures that are waiting for us. It is a chance to reinvent ourselves! For me, my new life and vision included flying low and slow rather than at the flight levels. I had always wanted to fly and explore our beautiful planet with a floatplane. It was finally time to see the parts of this beautiful world that had passed below me at up to 400 mph.

Finding your new home

For me, I looked in California, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Idaho, and finally Washington State. The Islands on the Puget Sound near the San Juans in Washington turned out to be the magical place that felt like home and offered me so much of what I was looking for. Washington would become a steppingstone to the beauty and adventure of neighboring Idaho, Canada and most importantly Alaska!

Since I had the “Where” figured out, it was time to start focusing on the “How?” Questions that needed to be answered including: Where would I house my aircraft?  Would it be hangared? And who was available to work on it? I wasn’t just making decisions for me, I needed to know my current airplane the Citizen of the World and my future floatplane would be well taken care of.

The first thing I did was to post on the group FATPNW-Flights Above the Pacific Northwest on Facebook. I said I was moving to Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island and asked for some guidance on hangars and airports. What a welcome reception I got! I asked first about hangar space within 45 minutes and people started sharing their ideas, tips, and experiences. When it became clear that things were impacted and waiting for space would take more than two years, I started looking for other options.

Keith Love the airport manager of Skagit Regional Airport reached out on FATPNW with some opportunities to build a hangar and shared the name of three contractors with experience and good reputations. Right now, I’m looking at available lots and determining if I can afford to build.

Making friends

Aviation friend and seaplane pilot from Spokane Jeff Hatcher

I quickly found people in the Pacific Northwest are very friendly. I was surprised to have people just talk to me like we were friends from the beginning. In this land of floatplanes, warbirds, and smaller GA aircraft few people had seen an international lady as beautiful and capable as the Citizen of the World. After the Art Craft Paint, Inc. museum quality paint job with ceramic coating honestly the Citizen was hard to miss. People were very curious and wanted to know more and always welcomed me to the community. I hoped to soon be doing events at the Boeing Museum and the Heritage Flight Museum at Skagit to get the word out even more.

Finding an aviation mentor

Debriefing after my first seaplane lesson with Addison Pemberton

In Spokane, just a short flight across the Cascades, my seaplane pilot friend Jeff Hatcher introduced me to a guy that I instantly liked-named Addison Pemberton. Addison is a super positive, upbeat, and generous guy that had been restoring airplanes with the help of his wife and sons for the last 30 years. He has a couple of hangars full of really cool planes including a Grumman Goose that was aviation “perfection” and the topic of an AOPA article that you will definitely want to read.  Addison offered to take me up when I told him I was looking forward to learning how to fly a floatplane. Needless to say, I was all ears around the melodic sound of the two radials. There is of course the visual experience of flying around Lake Coer D’ Alene, which is in a word stunning, but then there is the sound of these two radial engines growling away. And if that is not enough to get you hooked, then jumping in the lake for a swim is about the best thing ever.

Your next “step”

Just like a seaplane gets up on “the step” as it starts to accelerate prior to liftoff so did I with my learning. Addison and the others that I met did an excellent job of whetting my (No pun intended) for my future adventures on the water. This new perspective down low put me back into a learning mode like when I first started to fly just over ten years ago. Pretty much everything these people said to me was an opportunity to learn and grow as a pilot and as a person. Learning and adventure definitely go hand in hand and Addison suggested Coeur d’Alene Seaplanes for the next step in the progression to becoming a single-engine seaplane pilot (S.E.S).

Reinventing yourself and your flying experience is something every pilot should do at least once in their life. Leaving the past and those things that anchor you to it can be liberating. Starting anew is a wonderful opportunity to be the person you want to be now. Plus, as we grow and evolve, we seek different places, adventures and experiences. For me, finding more quiet, nature, personal exploration, and connection with like-minded people and aviators is what feels right for the next chapter of my flying life and becoming the best new version of myself.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of the books Flying Thru Life, Zen Pilot, the children’s book The Little Plane That Could, and the upcoming book Peace Pilot: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. A complementary 12-part worldwide docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth,” will be simultaneously released. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and recently completed his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Closing time

It finally happened.

After 817.9 flying hours and 627 landings in Europe, the closing time snake has bitten.

For those unfamiliar with my previous rantings, “closing time” is uniquely something one finds common outside the United States. Airports of all kinds, from the smallest grass strips to full fledge airline hubs, generally have a closing time, where landings are forbidden until specified opening times the next morning. While I am generalizing, it is important to note that each country in Europe has differing flexibility around the schedule and significantly different enthusiasm for, and penalties resulting from, enforcement of violations.

I was initially greeted in Germany with this reality, along with the fact that closing time is not to be messed with. Fines run into the thousands of euros. France has a typically middle of the road attitude about it and Spain, as usual, is either too disorganized to do anything about it or wildly overreacts in narrow situations. For all the flights in the Pyrenees, I am fairly certain that I could have landed at midnight, and nobody would have cared.

Switzerland’s reaction to violations is airport dependent. If it is a safety-of-flight issue, then they are remarkably considerate. If the local commune is particularly sensitive and it is a home base airport, one may find his or her hangar tenancy at risk for repeat offenses. I have been told that an after-hours landing in Sion would come with a $550 invoice in the mail. I get the impression that such negative attention is something that one would not want here.

There is also the matter of insurance. My policy has this “feature” that is sold as a benefit: after hours landings are covered, provided the airfield operator approves them in advance. That, in effect, means there is also no insurance coverage for after-hours landings that are legal violations.

Naturally, that leaves closing time as a loudly prominent reality in the mind of a general aviation pilot. As I prefer late afternoon to sunset flights, I am usually staring at the bullseye of a to-the-minute reality of when the tires must be on the ground. For most airports, it is 30 minutes plus or minus “HRH,” which is published evening civil twilight. There is usually a maximum time, despite the HRH connotation. In the case of Saanen, it is 8:00PM, which translates into an “easy” 8PM closing time from early April until late September. In the winter, it is a sliding scale based on when the sun goes down, which means checking the published time as it differs slightly day by day.

On this flight, I wanted to land at Münster, an airport high up in the Obergoms, smack in the middle of the Alps. It is only open June 1 to August 31 of the year, so it was time to enjoy it while I could. Since it is less than 50 miles as the crow flies, the concept of landing and paying $32 for it was something of an anachronism, so I decided to tote a jerry can in the backseat to transfer upon landing. That would allow an extension to my normal one fuel tank limit to local flights. The result was a rather splendid jaunt up the valley to Zermatt, around the glaciers at the base of the Matterhorn, and then a tepid meandering to the Obergoms.

The airport is particularly delightful on the ground. The views are world class, and the Rhône River, a few miles from its glaciated source, rushes by right next to the field. In prior visits, I find myself standing in quiet repose, taking it all in, wishing the airport was open year-round, as I would buy a house in that valley and live there. Alas, it is not to be, so I gaze at the rushing water, wooden bridge, and wonderful Alps.

Then I look at the time and scurry to the airplane to get going, realizing that 8:00PM is staring me in the face.

The Bernese Alps are a complex mountain range weather wise, particularly in the summer. There are often towering cumulus, induced by terrain and the heat of the day, with sometimes unpredictable realities. A “10% chance of a shower” at the airport might mean mist all afternoon five miles away at the ridge, which then means finding an ideal location to make the crossing, find a hole, and get under the soup, all of which will evaporate at sunset anyway.

The clouds were in full force on the north side on this fine afternoon. My instinct said to go over the Grimselpass, a few miles to the northeast of Münster. I could partially see that I could sneak over at a lower altitude, instead of having to climb to 14,000 feet and wedge between clouds, which would surely put the nail in the coffin regarding closing time.

The first problem was that I couldn’t climb for about four minutes at 5,400’ MSL (1,000’ AGL). Heading east bound at full throttle, the winds were coming down the pass, arcing down the Obergoms valley, descending as they went. That lost some minutes until I found where they were going up, which was a 3,000’ FPM hair-raising ride from 5,400’ to 8,500’, where I found a gap between orographic clouds below over the pass and a solid cloud deck above. I dove between the hole and aimed for the Brienzersee, hoping to fly over Interlaken and then westbound.

One look at GPS groundspeed said everything: 51kt. That meant a 20-25kt headwind, which was not forecast. Winds at 10,000 feet were supposed to be 10kt; however, they were funneling over the pass, which meant a nice long flight down a veritable tube. As I came around the bend at Innertkirchen, Grosse Scheidegg had a meager opening, so I aimed for it, hoping to shave a few minutes off the flight by snaking down some tight valleys (in light of the overcast at 7,900 feet). Since I know the mountains very well, it didn’t bother me. Had I been new to the area, it would have been unnerving.

I had the subtle inclination I would be late. I formally entered the destination into my software: ETA: 20:04. Phooey. I applied maximum cruise power and aimed, with the cleanest, straightest, riskiest passing over the tightest little passes that I knew very well. 20:04, 20:05, 20:06, yet only 29 minutes away. Fiddlesticks.

As I passed over Grindelwald, under a solid cloud deck, something unexpected happened: the Jungfrau exploded into view, as there was an orographic gap in the clouds. In that moment, I decided “forget it,” applied full power, and aimed to climb above the clouds.

In one of my rainy-day musings on my iPad, I had discovered that, during the summer, a nearby airport at Zweisimmen is open to HRH + 30, maximum 22:00, which meant that I could land there without being past closing time. It had a Prior Permission Required aspect, though private/PPR airports are listed for safety purposes, and one is allowed to divert without permission. I checked NOTAMs in flight (none) and said to myself: “A lack of PPR must be less of a problem than late” and, with that, decided to enjoy sunset light that I never get to see at this time of year.

It was resplendent to cruise above the 10,000-foot cloud deck, southwest along the face of the Bernese Alps, partially illuminated by the warm colors of a summer evening in the Alps. As I checked train schedules and what not in the air, I realized the whole affair would result in getting home two hours late with 30 minutes of walking. With the views that I had out the windshield, it didn’t bother me one bit.

The next day, I returned to get the airplane, and the chief of the aerodrome introduced himself and asked casually what happened to lead to a landing without a PPR. I explained the headwind and closing time, and he was very reassuring that I made the right decision. I mentioned that I might sometime wish to take a sunset flight to get some good summer light, intentionally leaving the airplane for the night. He said, “No problem. Call me and you’re welcome anytime.”

When considering rules in Europe in isolation of everything else, it can cause quite a headache, if not some snarling and ranting. One flight in the Alps in the right conditions is enough to calm all that down and make it not matter.

Saanetschpass – roughly 8,400′.

Raron Airport below in the Rhône River valley. Obergoms turns to the distant left.

I went right instead. Zermatt Valley. Riedgletscher in the upper left.

Some tight flying, even for a Cub. One must be on the lookout for helicopters, gondola cables, and paragliders whilst not flying into any mountains.

Zermatt, with the Matterhorn behind.

North slope of the Matterhorn, from roughly 8,900 feet. Effectively a box canyon down here, with what proved to be persistent downdrafts.

Zmuttgletscher, after doing a 180, getting some altitude, and coming back in. Still ran into more downdrafts.

Snuggling with the Triftgletscher on the way out.

Festigletscher, when I probably should be thinking about closing time.

Bottom end of the Obergoms. Fietscherletscher is in the distant left. I wanted to go in there but opted not to for closing time reasons.

Münster Airport, center right (not the distant field, which is decommissioned). 

One can understand lingering here.

Attempting Grimselpass. Need to get over the clouds below but under the ones forward/above. The pass goes to the right.

Seems to have worked. Delightful forced landing locations.

“A nice long flight down a veritable tube.” 20-25kt headwind.

Coming around the bend. Grosse Scheidegg in the bright area to the right.

Crossing Grosse Scheidegg. GPS says I will be late.

As ETA ticked upward and the clouds cleared, I decided a) to divert and b) to enjoy myself in the process. Mönch and Jungfrau bursting into view. Life is good.

This is a cloud deck worth getting above.

…Which I did. Life at 10,000 feet.

Gemmipass, with the Matterhorn peaking above the clouds on the horizon.

The soup I had originally intended to go under, squeezing between cloud bases and mountains. More fun up here.

Steghorn (10,321′).

All things come to an end, in particular one’s quantity of fuel. Zweisimmen, with the train station on the left.

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Heading to Oshkosh? Considerations before you yell ‘Clear prop’

Mooney Girl ready for Oshkosh

As the country re-opens to aviation events, it is natural for us to want to jump back in the airplane and zoom off for the fun.  However, I would like to you consider the numerous factors that now come into play because of the pandemic and resultant effects on our flying.

Flight operations were decreased in 2020 and early 21 due to COVID-19.  Painting with a broad stroke, operations not only include us as a PIC but Mechanics, FBOs, Flight Instructors, ATC and Charitable Flights.

For a moment consider all the things we need to possess or exhibit to be a safe, proficient, pilot; currency, muscle memory, recency of flight, logical methodical thought, competent with our avionics. Now imagine for 12-18 months you were not able to utilize those skill sets.  The degradation of cognitive processes and physical muscle memory are real dangers when we don’t fly often.

Before you launch for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, or a local, state or regional event objectively look back at your flight activities in 2020 to date.  Many of us took advantage of virtual aviation events during this time, but were not in an actual airplane.  It is a great idea to consider the airplane, pilot and environment while still on terra firma.

Airplane Considerations

Airplane:

  • Airplane might have hidden mechanical issues due to lack of use [hoses, battery, fuel/brake lines, belts].
  • Look for fouled pulleys in control cables, cracked tire sidewalls, mice dining on your wiring, mouse nests in the fuselage and wings.
  • Check for water and gunk in the fuel lines, bird nests in the engine compartment, cracked ignition wires, bearings frozen in gyros.
  • Mechanic might have been off for an extended time.
  • FBOs might have newer staff fueling your airplane

Pilot Factors: Time to pull out your mental, physical and emotional checklist and do an inventory.  Are you ready to fly across the state, region or country for an aviation event?


Environment:

In addition to weather and airport/runway conditions, please take the additional factor of destination activity.  Let’s take EAA AirVenture Oshkosh [OSH] as an example of the environmental factors that need to be considered. For over a decade I have flown halfway across the country to Oshkosh, WI in a Mooney.   I have come in to OSH using the FISK arrival and twice in the mass formation Mooney arrival.  As well I have landed in Juneau, Madison and Appleton, WI when coming for the week.  All arrivals have varying levels of risk, safety and excitement.  If you have not flown much in the past 18 months it would be best to choose the safest, least exciting way to get to the show.

My personal experience with the FISK and the mass formation arrival is that I have always had another pilot in my right seat.  It is nice to have two sets of eyes looking for traffic, landmarks and the like.  Even having flown 120 hours since the pandemic, I don’t think I would fly single pilot landing at OSH this year.

Mass Arrivals: Do consider a formation clinic or individual instruction in your region in 2021.  Most clinics welcome all brands of aircraft.  The skills you will learn will serve you well and formation flying has a strangely addictive quality.  The fun, fellowship, and flying are hard to beat.  Plus, you might get a super cool call sign to memorialize your participation.

Bonanzas to Oshkosh Their website https://www.b2osh.org/Web/B2OSH/default.asp

Bonanza Mass Arrival OSH

Mooney Caravan : Vita nimis brevis est tarde volo  [Life is too short to fly slowly.]

Their website : https://www.mooneycaravan.com/Web/Mooney/default.asp

Mooney Caravan Yuma Gunfighters Clinic

“Friends don’t let friends fly the Fisk arrival”

… overheard in the North 40

Cessnas to Oshkosh Their website:  http://www.cessnas2oshkosh.com/1410home.aspx

Cessnas to Oshkosh en route

Cherokees to Oshkosh  Their website:  https://www.cherokees2osh.com/

In summary, do what I have done. Consider yourself, airplane and environment before launching. If you are headed to #OSH21 please do look for me there.  I will be at the AVEMCO booth on Tuesday July 27th from 11-12 for Women Moving the Needle. On Thursday July 29th at 1:00 p.m. I will present Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Psychology of Personal Minimums for AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Institute.  Door prizes for this safety seminar have been provided by: Lightspeed Aviation, LIFT Aviation, King Schools, Flying Eyes Optics and Pilot Safety.org

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Emotional Distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing out from Gstaad Airport.

Over the pass between Lenk and Adelboden.

The Gasterntal, just before crossing Gemmipass to my right.

Brig and the Obergoms.

Simplon Pass.

The friendly little Rossbodegletscher.

Approaching Italy.

Italy, near Varzo. 

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

About to leave the foothills of the Alps.

Lago Maggiore!

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

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

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

Working my way up the valley.

Looking back from where I came.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back. Note the glacier on the bottom right.

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

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

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

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

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Recognizing your favorite mechanic … what makes a mechanic GREAT?

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

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

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

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

Consistency

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

With you when the times get tough

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

Staying cool

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

Speaking on your behalf

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

Making the extra effort

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

Being available for all those questions we all have

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

Calling you on your BS/Giving sage advice

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

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

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of the books Flying Thru Life, Zen Pilot, the children’s book The Little Plane That Could, and the upcoming book Peace Pilot: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. A complementary 12-part worldwide docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth,” will be simultaneously released. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and recently completed his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finsteraarhorn (14,022′) from the south. 

Finsteraarhorn from the north.

 

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 3

As  usual  Mother Nature gave me some real-world experience which challenged my own personal minimums on a recent flight.   I head to the Pacific Northwest monthly for business. Having my own personal time machine has allowed me to realize the dream of living and working in two very different states.

Planning for a 4.5-hour trip over some beautiful but inhospitable terrain is a challenge.  With no de-icing or anti-icing systems on my vintage Mooney, weather can be a friend or foe.  For this trip 30-35 knot headwinds were forecast at my “normal” altitude of 10,500-12,500.  Typically, I leave my fuel stop in Northern California and climb right up to cruising altitude.  Due to the forecast winds I decided to fly low until reaching Redding, CA, then up and over the terrain. 

This might not sound like a big deal to many pilots, but altitude has always been my friend and I like the options it affords me, should I become a glider. With this in mind I opted for the northwesterly course around Mt. Shasta.  This flight plan, while not the most direct route, puts me very near Redding, Weed, Dunsmuir and Siskiyou airports.  I have to say that at 8,500 feet I got a great view of the terrain, and the ride was smooth as silk. However, this was a calculated risk, based on my personal guidelines.

It hasta be Shasta

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

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

How far do I put my head in an alligator’s mouth before I can’t get it out?

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

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

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

Questions

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

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


K.W. Airline Captain CFI, Mooney owner

Looking down on Sedona, AZ

I got an instrument rating right after private and waited a bit to get my commercial. When thinking about personal minimums I divide things into three categories: the airport, myself, the airplane.

For the airport I am most concerned with surrounding terrain or weather conditions and my level of familiarity.  My minimums would vary if say, terrain was high and my airport familiarity was low.

I am the most important part of the equation. I ask myself if I feel tired, what time of day is the flight and if I slept well. I pay attention to whether I am hydrated and eating well. I like to do airport homework a few days before. I consider destination and alternate airport approaches.

Airplane familiarity is something I consider every flight.  When I am in my personal aircraft which I have owned many years, I know the ins and outs of the maintenance which factors in to my decision making.  I have to say, I am very particular when it comes to fuel on board.  My personal guideline is that I always land with 1.75 hours of fuel remaining.

When I was a private pilot did I not have things written down in terms of personal minimums.  But I wouldn’t go to charted minimums with a 15 knot crosswind. Now that I am flying for the airlines, I have had to fly a variety of aircraft and the limitations are built in to our procedures.

Pucker Factor:  I took off from Galveston some years ago. I’m not sure if I didn’t check for icing, or if icing wasn’t predicted (This flight was pre-ForeFlight and and other easy weather tools). It was typical Gulf Coast winter with 600’ overcast. I expected tops to be around 3,000’. It wasn’t that cold on the ground, maybe 45°F – 50°F. While climbing through the clouds at 1,500 ft I completely iced over. It took about 2 seconds. The windows were covered in frost and I couldn’t see anything. Fortunately, I was still climbing and speed was good. A really long minute or two later I saw sunlight coming through the frosted over windows. A few seconds after that all the ice melted off. It was gone as quick as it showed up. Lesson learned, always know where the freezing level is…even on the Gulf Coast.

Hidden Gem:  I don’t have to fly anywhere, even as a pro-pilot. I have canceled a lot of personal flights when I feel I need to. There is no shame in sticking with your minimums and canceling a flight.


D.J., Commercial, Instrument, Mooney owner

Ice buildup on the Mooney wing.

I love flying, but I am a big sissy.  As an instrument pilot, I  have very high minimums. I don’t want to fly approaches down to charted minimums, my preference is to break out at 1,000 feet.  I also wouldn’t launch on a flight to fly solid IFR.  I have no backup vacuum so that is reasoning for wanting IFR to VFR on top.

I also consider the airport and weather conditions. For example, the cross-wind limitation is 11 knots from the POH.  While I know I could do better on a long runway, for me that is a hard limit on a short runway. I am also particular with minimums about fuel, I always want to have 1.5 hours of fuel left on landing.

Another aspect of  personal minimums is consideration of my health. If my sleep was not good night before, I won’t fly. If I am sick I wouldn’t fly. If I am emotionally upset I wouldn’t fly. I do find that flying is a stress reliever for mild stress.  So determining my stress level is vital.

Pucker Factor:   My airplane was loaded with medical personnel as I was headed to Mexico on a humanitarian flight. I encountered un-forecast icing over Julian [San Diego area] at 8,000 ft. The Mooney could not climb.  Every surface was covered with the mixture of rime and clear ice and it flew like a slug [see photo above]. I  immediately talked to ATC and let them know about the icing.  Fortunately, within 20 minutes the ice had broken off, though we could hear it hitting the tail section.

Hidden Gem: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  I took off Boise in dense fog.  I accelerated down the runway in the fog, and once airborne I knew I would never do that again.


M.J. Airline Captain, Master CFII and Cessna owner

Over the Yellow Sea between Incheon, South Korea and Beijing, China

My best advice regarding personal minimums, is to write them down and take them seriously. Never change them for a single flight. If you change them for a current flight, they are not really a minimum. I suggest quarterly updates, perhaps in keeping with your landing currency [every 90 days].

During an instrument training and checkride you have to fly down to published minimums. After rated you will need to develop your personal minimums. Do you have one set of minimums for takeoff airport and landing airport [plus alternate]?

I have a lovely, and frequent passenger who isn’t a fan of bumps.  Therefore, when I have passengers on board, I adjust my minimums for wind and turbulence.  My maximum cross wind on landing is 10 knots for passenger comfort. It is important that I consider weather, my currency, proficiency, passenger comfort, day/night, and complete a runway analysis every flight.

Pucker Factor: I would describe my example of pucker factor by a story of one of my flights home from OSH. There was weather over the Rockies, starting right over Boulder, CO and continuing pretty much all the way to our Plan A destination at Grand Junction. My passenger was a fairly experienced CFI, but I was PIC for the trip. We discussed the weather issues (afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains) before takeoff on that leg and agreed on a couple points. First, we established a couple decision points, the first of which was over Boulder. Our criteria at that point was, could we see over the Divide adequately to attempt to cross Rollins Pass and continue, or turn around? Plan B was to divert to Ft Collins, where a friend had offered to put us up for the night. So, we knew what the concern was, had established our decision criteria, and had our options defined. We set another decision point near Eagle, CO, with a Plan C to land there and wait out the storm at a hotel for the night. As we approached Boulder (DP1), we assessed the situation and agreed that the pass looked good to continue, so we pressed on with Plan A and discarded Plan B. Did that again at DP2 and continued along. This portion was a little sketchier, but we both monitored the conditions and the way back to Plan C (landing at KEGE) remained good. In the end, we were able to continue with Plan A and had a very nice dinner at KGJT, and then a great flight on the final leg the next morning.

Hidden Gem:  As pilots we are responsible for two types of environments:  the strategic environment [on the ground planning]; and the tactical environment [in the air reality].  The strategic planning environment is measured, concrete and methodical.  The tactical environment is situational, reality-based, and fluid. Make sure you take both into account on every flight.


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


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

My flight plans include 4S2 Hood River, Oregon, and KOSH, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  As my Dad used to say when we touched down, I am looking forward to another successful trip of “Haywire Airlines”

 

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Facing your critical breaking point

Photo credit – Explorers, Jeremy Là Zelle and Kristin Gates

You have completed your expedition, pushed yourself, your team and your equipment to their absolute and total limits, risked your life, satisfied your sponsors, supporters and followers, completed your scientific experiments, written the book and simulations, filmed the docuseries (so generations can experience the sheer terror and thrill of it all without the year of counseling), declared victory, and now you are trying to figure out, “What did I learn? What the hell does it all mean?”

The answers to these questions, of course, will take time and will fall into place like the pieces of a puzzle over the years that follow. These answers will be the most valuable things you take away from your expedition.

Here are a few pieces of the puzzle I have placed and can now share with you…

The pay dirt

Let me start by saying the personal expeditions we embark on while they are rich in science and adventure are even richer in the knowledge, wisdom, and insight that we acquire along the way. The true expedition is the one that goes on inside of us, not around us. The pay dirt comes from examining the inner depths of who we are as human beings. Our inner journey forces us to examine our beliefs and redefine who we are in the world and that brings us to our breaking point, and for some, multiple breaking points. These key moments break us open on multiple levels and change the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

Your new reality

At this critical breaking point, which is both physical and mental, there is a new reality that we don’t often have access to. It’s a time when the normal day-to-day rules we live our lives by don’t exist. Our senses are heightened, time slows, our focus is laser sharp, our adrenaline is at 100% and our existence is in jeopardy. At these valuable moments in time the doors open to a new reality and we experience something truly unique. This is often when our mission becomes bigger than us. We put our lives on the line to bring about the change we want to see in the world. We become living examples for the planet. We redefine our personal limits and how we see ourselves. We are in a way being prepared for more.

These extreme moments on my Pole-to-Pole expedition to 22 countries and 6 continents occurred:

  • During test flights when critical equipment failed at 34,500 feet while flying at 300 mph
  • Over the South Pole when the air temp dropped to -60c, which was below the freezing point of my aircraft’s jet fuel and the operating temperature of its Predator B drone engines
  • Over the deadly Drake Passage when I was critically low on fuel
  • In Dakar, Senegal when my #1 ferry tank burst inside the plane and sent Jet A1 fuel into my eyes, onto my arms, legs, chest and groin, severely burning me
  • Over the North Pole when I lostall communication, the attitude heading and reference system, the autopilot, GPS units for 5 hours

During these challenging moments the tendency is to lean back on your heels and retreat to safety but it is actually the time that you must lean into your fear and discomfort—to “be with” rather than turn away. You are approaching your moment of learning. I couldn’t help but wonder during these times, often with tears running down my face, “How hard are you going to make this? What are you preparing me for?”

Breaking you open

Expedition leaders are strong and think they can do it all. They keep loading up on responsibility and tasks (PR, social media, trip preps, team building, sponsorship, permits, etc.) until not even the strongest person could possibly carry even another ounce on their shoulders.  Everyone has a breaking point.

The answer I came to realize was that the Universe was breaking me open. Breaking down my defenses. Exposing that raw side of me that was not accessible when I had my armor on. In a spiritual sense, we are broken open to heal and deeply grow ourselves. This lets the light shine in on the parts that need it.

Why did the Universe keep doing this?

Because I had more to learn…my learning was far from complete and needed to be tested. I mistakenly stated after the longest and most difficult leg of the trip over the South Pole that the rest of the trip would be the “Global Victory Lap” for me and the team. The Universe obviously had other plans in store for us. The Sufi philosopher and poet Rumi had the right idea when he wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Redefining ourselves

During this equally confusing, frightening, and magical time of transformation, we are redefining how we see ourselves in the world.  We are watching ourselves do these things from outside of ourselves, from a new vantage point. We are learning what we are capable of, how strong we are mentally and physically, and the magnitude of what we are capable.

When I reflect back on the moments I described above, the person involved in all that risk and transformation seems foreign to me. I ask myself where did that superhuman drive come from? Who was that person? Why would he or she take on those incredible risks?  I honestly feel like that must be a different person or that I could never have done that. But that person is me and I did do it, and you can too, when you align your impossibly big dreams with the courageous person that lives within you waiting for you to say “Yes.” That person, in reality, is our new self with greater strength and wider boundaries. It is the new best expanded version of us that sees the world from a different perspective—the view from 35,000 feet.

Where the drive comes fFrom

For me, this drive comes from a source that is free to dream and think impossibly big. It resides somewhere deep inside all of us. Maybe from our restless soul that can’t settle for a “normal” existence? I like to believe we come into the world with a contract to fulfill. A contract that defines our life mission that is often noble, deeply personal.

Those who doubt would say it’s our ego wanting to be seen. I know there are easier and safer ways to get ego recognition. For me, it comes from wanting more for the world and being frustrated by those that don’t deliver on their promises for a better brighter world.

Busting a move

At some point we gather up our resources, supporters, sponsors and bust our very best move out into the world. In my first book, Flying Thru Life, I wrote about when our passion and purpose come into alignment, we “accelerate” our awareness and growth. I have felt this many times. It’s powerful, it’s clear and it feels right as we connect in oneness or as we said on my Polar Expedition, “One Planet. One People. One Plane.  Oneness for Humanity.”

For those of you who are reading this and thinking, “This guy is crazy, and all of this sounds like something I would never do,” let me ask you this: if your dream doesn’t scare you, even a little, is it big enough?

The answers you seek are somewhere beyond your level of comfort and the only way to find those answers is to step outside of your comfort zone. Choose to get curious about what your critical breaking points are trying to tell you and where they’re trying to take you. Ask the tough questions and be willing to fly with the discomfort of not knowing. When your answers arrive, you may be surprised to find an inner expedition that leads you to a new reality where the best version of you resides. Who wouldn’t want to land there? It’s the “Land of I Can,” as my mentor, friend, and pilot Susan Gilbert writes. Where courageous action and impossibly big dreams meet is the ever-evolving best version of you.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of the books Flying Thru Life, Zen Pilot, the children’s book The Little Plane That Could, and the upcoming book Peace Pilot: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. A complementary 12-part worldwide docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth,” will be simultaneously released. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and recently completed his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Flying in the Alps is That Dangerous

This post is a follow up both to last month’s, where I bemoan the aggravation of landing at other airports, and November 2020, where I posit the idea that flying in the Alps really isn’t that dangerous. I seemed to have turned both ideals on their head in one afternoon of flying.

As noted previously, there is a reality that Swiss airports require a filing either of a flight plan or a “flight notification” indicating details where one is going. Non-towered airports tend to have a PPR (“prior permission required”) requirement, where one has to file similar data in advance and receive a written reply granting permission to fly. Given that I tend to associate freedom with aviation, I find it stressful to determine that I will fly somewhere at precisely a certain time on a certain day, and to decide that sufficiently in advance to get approval. I think it is a ridiculous affront to the very concept of the freedom of private aviation in domestic, uncontrolled airspace. But who am I, but an ignorant foreigner spouting such ideas?

Anyway, Wangen Airport, on the shores of the Zurichsee, solves the PPR problem by requiring visitors to phone in and listen to a recording in German. Done. Incoming and outgoing documentation is solved with a self-service terminal in the C office, which works anytime airport operating hours indicate it is open, whether or not attended. Done. There remains the pesky matter of fuel. Can I fuel and pay, during airport hours, if not attended? An email went unanswered, so I googled and found a flight school on the airport, called, and eventually spoke with a flight instructor. He explained that the airport is always attended on weekends, though hit or miss during the week, and suggested that I text if I plan on coming during the week, to see if he will be there instructing. While I may rail against the “system,” it is often true that pilots in any country are a supportive bunch.

I eventually decided to come on a warm February Sunday afternoon. I was hoping to see the Glarus Alps, a section I had not yet viewed, and then refuel at Wangen, before returning to base. However, I made the boneheaded move to fail to notice in advance that my transponder inspection ran out at the end of January. Checking the Swiss AIP, I found that Mode S is required “in class E above 7,000 feet,” where Class E tends to be 2,000’ AGL and higher in the Alps. While most would think that 2,000 feet is enough, peak-to-valley elevation change can be as much as 12,000 feet, which means that one would have to do a bunch of yo-yoing through the Alps, which is untenable in a poky old Cub.

This is where I hatched the “brilliant” scheme to fly the foothill regions of the north side of the Alps. That changes this post from one about the vagaries of airport rules to one where I have upended my presumption that alpine flying is somehow not dangerous.

While it was a sunny day, there was a curious reality with regard to the weather. Upper-level winds up to 20,000 feet were not screaming. There was more than one high pressure zone firmly parked in Central Europe, with a 10 hPa (0.295 in hg) pressure differential between the southern and northern Alps, with higher pressure over Milan, Italy. For some reason, pressure did not want to relieve itself going up and over the Alps; rather, it was “pressed” down and squeezing through the deep valleys of Evionnaz, Grimselpass, Andermatt/Altdorf, Mollis, and Bad Ragaz. How does one know this? While winds at the Jungfrau were tranquil, they were 30kt gusting 40kt and higher in weather stations at the aforementioned points. While that seems frisky, these are weather stations at passes or valleys, where peaks of the Alps and the general entire area north of the Alps was almost calm. If one doubts the severity of what I am speaking of, the day before, my wife and I drove to Andermatt, where the same winds were blowing. The Obergoms Valley of Ulrichen had no wind. On the other side of the mountain in Andermatt, we saw a woman get blown over while walking. We attempted a “pleasant afternoon stroll in the Alps” and found interference walking on groomed snow-covered paths, got back in the car, descended toward Altdorf, and the wind disappeared.

In my “Is Flying in the Alps that Dangerous” post, I basically posited the notion that weather in the Alps is fairly predictable. If winds are excessive or a storm exists, don’t go flying. If it is docile and pleasant, supposing that the prop keeps spinning and one manages to not fly into the side of a mountain, then it generally works out fine. That all hinges on a fairly basic concept: that a pilot has a full grasp of existential dangers. As long as one is not surprised, then it’s fine.

I got surprised. Part of the problem was my self-imposed altitude limitation of 7,000 feet. I went west to east between Interlaken and the Jungfrau, over Grosse Scheidegg above Grindelwald, with no wind. As I flew along the massive rock face of the Grosses Engelhorn, I had a thought cross my mind: “You’re about to come out where this rock face ends abruptly into a wind funnel coming from Grimsel Hospiz.” I turned north toward Meiringen, just in enough time to get tossed around like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Assuming Sustenpass would be fine, I intended to continue eastward in the same geographic trench that I was already in. As I got to the other side of the wind funnel, airplane crabbing into the angry wind, I was tossed around much worse, even though I was on the windward side of Sätteli. Even perpendicular to the Triftgletscher, with the sizable Winterberg Massif supposedly blocking winds, I was riding an angry bronco, so I turned north and aborted where I took Brünigpass to Stans, crossing over a saddle south of Stanserhorn, to avoid Class D airspace (due to my transponder silliness). Did I mention that the frequency south of Meiringen, where I was getting the snot beaten out of me, was filled with airplanes at all sorts of altitudes, having a grand old time?

As I hugged terrain heading northeast, wind was tranquil again. It was fine crossing a saddle south of Buochserhorn, playing my game with 7,000-foot limitations. It was upon attempting to fly east along the southern shore of the Vierwaldstättersee, north of a small hill called the Zingelberg where I started riding the bronco again. I crossed the lake north, at 4,500 feet, now hugging the south slopes of Rigi Hochflue, getting beaten even worse. Now at maneuvering speed, sweating (might have something to do with OATs of almost 70F due to Chinook winds), and confused why I am riding this angry bronco, a low wing fabric airplane passes me on the right slowly, not experiencing an ounce of the misery I was. The stick flying in all directions, wings rocking left and right, and bouncing around, this other airplane sails on by without a care in the world!

“I’ll follow him,” I thought to myself, now going east over the lake. He climbed slowly, disappearing into the sky without a problem, so I thought I could do the same toward Mollis and the canton of Glarus. Wrong. South of Grosser Mythen, the turbulence began with a jackhammer like intensity. I brought the power back to 1500 RPM and slowed down, and things were not improving. Getting whacked by some errant air movement so hard I had to question “how well a 72-year-old airframe is going to put up with this,” I began a gentle turn to abort. Forget the Alps. I am escaping to the lowlands to the north.

Normally, turbulence is easier going with the wind. At 1500 RPM, gently proceeding north, 3,000 feet above rolling, gentle farmland, the inverse of the jackhammer occurred, where I suddenly found myself pointed nose virtually straight down and the airplane about 70 degrees to the side. The action was so violent that I pulled power to idle, went trim up, and rode the misery for another five minutes before it quit.

And then it was done. A beautiful day in Switzerland without any bumps. One can almost sense the cows chewing on grass peacefully below. Moo.

The strange thing is, while I can source a very limited wind funnel in various valleys of the Alps, I was 26.6 statute miles north of the worst of it (where the lady got blown over). Recall that the entirety of the alpine region had virtually calm wind readings, from summits to cities of the plateau to the north, with a few valleys with high wind readings. Other airplanes were filling the skies, enjoying a “wonderful” Sunday. Another airplane passed me, upwind of my misery, without any hint of distress. And yet, somehow, almost 27 miles from the wind funnel, I find myself in the tumble dry setting…

At this point, I was flustered. My mind began the taunts: “See. This is what happens when you land at other airports!” to which the other part of my mind replied with: “Knock it off! You’re 13nm from your destination. Just land there so you can get this neurosis out of your system!” One would think that a nearby airport in such circumstances would provide comfort, and yet I was still more traumatized by unknowns around paperwork then some very real and unpleasant wind. Literally, I prefer to fly at 16,000 feet above Mont Blanc in 50 knot winds, if I can land back at my base airport, than to try new airport procedures!

The landing at Wangen went fine, with roughly three knot winds. The airport attendant explained the source of my woes: “FOCA (Federal Office of Civil Aviation) wants their statistics.” I would imagine that Swiss pilots would be more than happy to dispense with the paperwork if they could, to which I wonder why nobody has either a) engaged FOCA to discuss this ridiculous overload of paperwork and intrusion of privacy or b) sued them under Swiss’ constitutional presumptions of privacy and freedom. Maybe they have and failed. Alas, that is for another day. One has to live through the infamous Föhn wind in order to then complain about the paperwork necessary for the flight.

So there, I have landed somewhere else, while experiencing the fourth most terrifying incident in the PA-11. Getting turned upside down in Virginia still takes the cake for number one, which is curious, as both of them were in mountains at very low altitudes on sunny days….

Climbing out approaching Lenk. A tad of wind.

East of Frutigen, playing the “7000 foot game.” No wind.


Thunersee to the north. No wind.


Mönch & Eiger in the distance. Shall I belabor the point that there was no wind?

About to slink over Grosse Scheidegg at 7,000 feet or so.


As this ridge sloped to the left, it occurred to me that the wind funnel from Grimsel Hospiz would be an abrupt problem.


Tail between the legs, heading north to Brünigpass.


Vierwaldstättersee. Pilatus Mountain to the left. I was riding the bronco here. 


26 miles north of Andermatt, riding the bronco, after getting passed by an airplane that was in a bubble of tranquility.


Lauerzersee. One minute after getting jackhammered.


Entering the circuit at Wangen. Zürich on the far end of the lake.


Swiss Appalachia. On the way back, well out of the Alps. No wind.


Thunersee. I went west to east beneath the largest peaks on the left without a problem, yet was in a similar scene as this over the Vierwaldstättersee and got trounced. The Föhn is clearly fickle.


Book #29 is done: Cadí-Moixeró & El Pedraforca. These were favorites to fly over in the Pyrenees and have been monumentalized in print.

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 2

The choice was before me, stay an extra day in LA with friends departing first flight after annual in instrument conditions into busy airspace, or leave a day early in crystal clear blue skies.  That small decision could have turned into a big implications had I not considered my personal minimums which happen to include the aircraft.

Last month we began our journey into the mindset needed for the functional implementation of personal minimums.  As I pondered minimums in a pandemic, I reached into my address book of pilot friends, to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like.

I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000.

How far do I put my head in an alligator’s mouth before I can’t get it out?

I had a fabulous time talking with the 12 pilots and I got a “hidden gem” or a “pucker factor” from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. Because in the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.

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


Interviews

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

Questions:

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

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


B.S., Active CFII, Captain for major airline, Citabria owner

The way minimums are taught in the airlines is by policy manual. The pilot themself is a part of that policy which includes sleep, wellness and emotion. As a CFI I make a similar policy manual with students and actually have them sign it.

Are they Iron clad rules?  Yes and no. It is important to make them realistic.  If you say, “I am never going to fly unless I have 5000 OVC,” you will end up cheating. If you cheat on your minimums you might as well not have them at all. As you become more experienced and comfortable, you can lower the minimums. Make sure to revise as needed. If they become expired then they are useless.

As an instructor I impose limits on the student for solo flight. Gradually  the transfer of the responsibility from the instructor to the student pilot takes place. Many times, I ask my students to put themselves in a Pro-Pilot position and think of having passengers in the airplane, even if alone.

Another technique is to mentally put yourself in the back seat and become a passenger. Pro-pilots have to be willing to make a plan that might disappoint your passengers or yourself.

Pucker Factor: I was ferrying a Cessna 310 across the country for its new owner in Northern California. He made it abundantly clear that he wanted this airplane NOW. “No problem” I said, contemplating flying the twin from Tulsa, OK to San Jose, CA. Eight to ten hours of coveted multi-engine time would make a wholesome addition to what was the first in my collection of logbooks. An Eastbound cold front was racing me to the Rocky Mountains, and I had to make good time. Unfortunately, the prevailing Westerlies hampered my progress. So, I pushed it for the new owner. It got dark, no problem. One generator had failed, no problem. There was another generator still generating. Nighttime over the mountains with strong headwind and downdrafts while unable to maintain altitude and having no supplemental oxygen – no problem.

Until it was…

When a downdraft takes you below the menacing mountain peaks on both sides of your airplane, it turns out that not only does the VOR receiver become dead weight, but radar contact with ATC is lost too (GPS was not a thing yet for GA). “You’re below my radar coverage. Radar contact lost, squawk 1200, good day,” they said. Good day? Dead reckoning between mountain peaks at night in turbulence is nowhere I ever want to be again. The lights of Tonopah, NV never looked so glorious. (This is probably the only time that the words “glorious” and “Tonopah” have ever been used in the same sentence.) A landing was made, the ground was kissed and a vow to never succumb to external pressures was indelibly etched in my personal minimums.

Hidden Gem: Emulate an airline pilot. No matter what you are flying regard yourself as a professional.


JA Private Pilot, Instrument student when interviewed, now Instrument rated, Cessna owner.

I had my personal minimums written down for private pilot but have not updated since, but will for Instrument check ride.  I keep in mind three broad areas: weather, airplane, and pilot.  With that said, my comfort level has expanded with my IFR training.

I always take extra caution when going into unfamiliar airports. I particularly like Foreflight’s runway info, NOTAMS , weather, and I use their comment section.  I also use AirNav to assess runway conditions, airport facilities and read comments.

I do tend to stick with a basic minimum of 3 miles visibility, but when you think of it, that isn’t much.  I have come up with a minimum about cross-winds which is 5-7 kts.  With passengers who haven’t flown much I have adjusted minimums on wind and turbulence for their comfort.

In regard to the aircraft, I am careful about pre-flight and engine run-up.  If something is missing [piece of equipment, fasteners, etc.,] then I would not fly. A mag check fail would equal a no-go for me. Even for VFR if something failed, I wouldn’t fly as it isn’t worth the risk.

For my personal evaluation I use IMSAFE going through each of the letters in the mnemonic.  I always ask myself about sleep, and how I feel.

Pucker Factor: I was headed to French Valley for lunch.  The winds were okay on launch, but when got there I noticed there wasn’t much traffic, unusual for this popular airport.  Checking the ASOS the winds were now above my personal limit. I landed fine, but I was a little surprised, and  it did take quite a bit of concentration and focus.

Hidden Gem: Fatigue can bite you. There were a  couple times where I disregarded fatigue and went ahead an IFR lesson anyway.  My performance was greatly degraded. I won’t make that mistake again.

 


EE, Active CFI, Aeronca TC-65 Defender owner

My minimums are not written down, however  I grew up with flying.  My Dad worked for the FAA as a check pilot.  As such I suppose there was a lot of trickle down knowledge.

I have found a lot of pilots overlook personal minimums because of ego, which proclaims “I can do that!”  In regard to flight instruction when someone does something stupid in the airplane it is usually an instructor problem. IE: not having student fly a close-in pattern for downwind. Many CFIs don’t know how to get into the head of the private pilot, and teach the mental aspect of how to fly. I am a hands off instructor, and will sit back not touching controls as long as possible. This helps students  because it teaches them to be ahead of the airplane, for example knowing what it is going to be doing ten seconds from now.  When assessing students in regard to wind limits I have to remember that a student’s capabilities are always changing. Conditions with big gusts are out of the question at beginning of training, but close to solo, would most likely be a yes. Much like a CFI assessment of a student, we need to assess ourselves and raise or lower our minimums accordingly.

Another bit of wisdom I picked up from my Dad, “Don’t be in a big hurry to get there.” I have waited out weather on long trips to Wyoming for days. For visibility I prefer 5 miles. I have to say I am a real stickler for ceiling requirements.  I land with at least an hour of fuel on board.  I consider my wellness as a pilot too.  For example, last week I had three teeth pulled and the doctor gave medications for pain. Since I did need the medications, I decided to cancel flying for the week.

My 1941 Aeronca Defender, has no electrical system.  One time a mag went out and I was 300-400 rpm low, putting along at 65 mph. My thought process was “Should I put in a field or try to get back to airport?”  I assessed the situation and since I was  VMC I chose to fly a route where I knew I  could land if  needed.

Pucker Factor:  Flying to home to Schaumburg Airport which was reporting  30 kt cross-wind with gusts to 27.  I  first did a low approach and went around.  I felt everything out and concluded, “I will be able to land here,” but there was a pucker for sure.

 

Hidden Gem: Make sure to look at your physical health as objectively as possible to make sound decisions.

 


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

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

For me, I am looking forward to some fabulous capital improvements at my home ‘drome Oceano Airport [L52], and planning my cross country to Oregon this month and on to #OSH21 this summer.

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me
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