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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

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

Hitting the global reset – Back to fundamentals

When I was flying over the North Pole my critical flight systems started failing. First, my two GPS systems dropped offline, next my attitude heading and reference systems, next my autopilot, and finally HF and VHF communications. It literally felt like the world — my world — was falling apart. What could I rely on? As pilots, we are taught to trust our instruments, but in this case, the “credible sources of information” were not working and that wasn’t going to “fly.” If ever there was a time to make a bold step and bust a move for my survival it was then. I decided I would focus on what was working. In this case above the clouds. It was what I was seeing with my own eyes, not what other people were telling me, not what I was reading, but what I as a human was experiencing using my “Mark 1 Mod 0” eyeballs. I was going back to fundamentals because that’s what we must do when nothing makes sense. Rely on our very fundamental and core beliefs. The fundamentals of flight are clearly to “aviate, navigate and communicate.” In my situation, at 31,000 feet I started hand-flying the plane and trying to figure out which way it was to Alaska and how to communicate with them.

Shortly after returning to the United States from the polar circumnavigations, I quickly noticed the world, my world was falling apart. I again was questioning what I can believe? People were interpreting what they thought was happening and telling me what I “should” do. I could flip a channel and get contradictory information. The source of my information was again failing me. If ever there was a time to make a bold step and bust a move once again it was now. I decided I would hit the global reset button and again go back to my fundamentals and rely on what I was seeing in the world with my own eyes and reestablish a ‘true’ reference system. In a way, I was using my true north to find my way in the world. I started to look at people and realize that we are really all the same. At a fundamental “life” level we are all human. We all have the same wants, desires, and basic needs — health, happiness, safety, financial security, and more than ever peace in our lives and the world. We clearly had more similarities than differences. I would focus on these similarities.

During this time, I didn’t see many “true” leaders around me guiding us the way back to our fundamentals. I saw many people fighting against each other canceling out the energy of those squared off against them. They were making no progress. These people had become polarized as our world had. It was clear this was a world without direction and a world that was falling apart. I again was questioning what and who can I believe? It was again time to take a bold step and bust a move. It was time to be the leader in my own life rather than waiting around for somebody to do it for me.

I was reminded about one of the reasons why my Flying Thru Life team and I embarked on the Pole to Pole trip. It was because we were tired of waiting for others to fulfill their promises and change the world in a positive way for us. To bring about the change we wanted to see we needed to go out into the world and make our best effort and try and make the world a better place.

The Flying Thru Life team did this using the aircraft the Citizen of the World and connecting the two places on the planet where peace had always existed – the north and south poles. By connecting these places on a mission of peace, we could connect the people along the way as well. We were our own leaders. We were the change we wanted to see in the world.

What I propose to you is that you return to your fundamentals and be the leader in your own life and not wait for someone to do it for you. We are all stronger than we know and are connected in our humanity. We value peace, safety, security, health, joy and happiness, and more than ever family. Go into the world use your own eyes and find your own truth, follow your “True North” and be a positive force of change in the world. Don’t let current events stop you — we didn’t. You just need to lean into it a little more, use your fundamentals and find your way. Your path will look different. For you it may be creating a support group for small businesses, finding housing for people without homes, supporting new leadership, creating new jobs. Find what works for you and bust a move! займ ваши деньги онлайн заявказайм монейманзайм денег сургут

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.

Into the Alligator’s Mouth

2020 has been some year.  Gone were the AOPA Regional Fly-Ins, Sun ‘n Fun, Oshkosh, as well as all the awesome state and regional airport days and charity fly-ins I usually attend.  Should you choose to hang out with me over the next four months while the weather improves and COVID [hopefully] fades, you will gain insight from me and  a dozen of my friends.

This blog-series, Into the Alligator’s Mouth, will center on the psychology of personal minimums;  your personal relationship with your minimums.

Actual scary alligator. Photo credit: Lauranell Grisham, High School friend extraordinaire

Like any healthy examination of relationships, we will focus on:

  • 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.

 

This year I have flown about ½ to ¾ my normal hours.  The majority were in training for the Commercial certificate and the check ride I took in the Columbia River Gorge. Due to the fires in the Pacific Northwest this summer, I had some very recent experience flying in actual instrument conditions [smoke/ash] down to published minimums.

Shasta, en route to Hood River Oregon

Yet on a routine flight home from Camarillo, I received a bit of an awakening about my personal minimums.  Let me explain. My best friend Pia and I had just finished a great weekend up at the beach. The plan was to fly her home to Camarillo, turn and burn back to Santa Maria.  The weather at home was forecast to be 1000 overcast, which really wasn’t a big deal.  As I flew the short flight home dusk began to fall, and so did the ceiling.

When ATC originally asked my intentions, I asked for the RNAV 30, but as the visibility went down, I opted for a precision approach.  Normally if I am planning for a flight with an approach in actual conditions, I carry a printed plate which is highlighted, have an iPad geo-referenced plate on Foreflight, and the approach loaded in to my G530W.  I wasn’t anticipating this approach, so I didn’t have the paper print out, but had everything else.  I briefed the missed approach and noted that San Luis Obispo Airport was VFR. I knew that if I went missed once, I would immediately go to San Luis Obispo and have my son pick me up. I got vectored way out over the ocean and finally turned in to the ILS 12 Santa Maria.  I broke out just 60 feet above published minimums, had great forward visibility underneath, and landed just fine. Another successful flight of Haywire Airlines.

I have to admit that as I was flying, I realized my personal minimums had not been adjusted since right after my 2017 instrument check ride.  Further that I could fudge on my minimums and best case no one would know, and worst case the NTSB investigator would know.

My personal relationship with minimums

At time of instrument rating in November 2017 I had 7 hours in actual [dual] and my personal visibility minimums on departure were double precision approach minimums, or approximately 400 feet with the idea being that if I needed to get back in to the airport, I could.  For approach, I also used double the charted minimums, while I was still pretty green.

Sometimes my Facebook memories provides a mea culpa type situation for me. Here is a snippet from a 30-day-old instrument pilot flying in dense smoke.  In this case, I was within my personal minimums but the conditions were unique.

“December 17, 2017: Today was a great day for me, sorry for the long post. Feel free to drink heavily as you read, or eat sugar cookies. It started off as a Pilots and Paws rescue flight for a one-eyed cat named Gio. Since I was headed up to the Bay Area, I thought I would contact my 96-year-old pen pal/friend William Mason [Army Air Corps Flight Instructor at Rankin Field with my Dad, and brother to uber famous pilot Sammy Mason] who flew out of Petaluma to see if we could meet up for a burger at the 29er Diner.

Smoky Skies

I did all my flight planning with Foreflight, SkyVector, and the NOAA site for weather which was severe clear except for smoke in vicinity of departure airport, Santa Maria, CA. I filed the flight plan online and got an email that it was received by flight service [She thinks “What a rock star I am for using all this wonderful technology”] When I left the house this morning it looked like dusk instead of dawn due to the smoke. I could see that San Luis Obispo was clear, so I thought, at most, I would be in the smoke [instrument conditions] for just a few minutes. Opening the hangar door, I could see a fine layer of ash all over my Kennon cover.

As I loaded up the plane I looked out and saw the tiniest of tiny suns trying to burn through the smoke. I got my taxi clearance and asked tower for my IFR clearance to Petaluma. The next bit of news was not so happy “Uh, 6619U I have no IFR flight plan for you in the system.” Drat! I mentioned that I had even gotten an email confirmation. Hmmm. I let the lovely tower folks [really, they are, no sarcasm there] know when I was done taxiing, I would figure it out. Figure it out I did. Guess who filed the plan for a WEEK from today? Me, yup me. Duh. Luckily, I had the routing, so no worries, got it put into the system.

Upon departure the smoke was maybe 1000 above ground level… maybe. I was in the smoke; I mean in the smoke. Could not see anything, nothing. “Okay Sister, this is what you are trained for, instrument scan, track the course, you can do this. Probably won’t be but a minute or two.” Yeah—no. Just under thirty minutes later I come out of the smoke right over the Paso Robles airport. I knew that my tracking was not the best while in the smoke. I was disappointed that I sort of got flustered. I was able to just regain my composure and soldier on.

Bill Mason & Me

Hecky darn, that was stressful. I flew up the coast and the day was spectacular. ATC was super helpful and I was able to navigate well with my lowly 2-VORs, DME, Garmin 396 and IPad mini. I asked for the Bay Tour [as did about a hundred others] and was grinning ear to ear flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the bay. I headed off to Petaluma and landed safely. The next few hours were spent with Bill and his daughter.

We got to catch up, talk about aviation and some of his glory days. When it was time to leave, I made sure to check the date and time on my flight plan and hit “File”— voila it went through. I did get vectored in a way from ATC that reminded me of an old high school cheer “lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight” The routing on the way home was offshore quite a bit. I don’t know about anyone else, but I swear I hear every single engine hiccup when I am over water.

At 9000 I saw a beautiful and enduring view of the sunset off the right side. I knew  that the smoke would be formidable on the approach into the Central Coast. I descended down from 9000 to 8000, then down to 5000. Under the smoke at 4000 feet, it was black as night. I requested a precision approach from ATC. I thought it best to fly an approach I had practiced many times that took me right to runway 12. Between the black of night, and the ash build up on the windscreen, and the general haziness from the smoke, the approach was challenging.

For those pilots reading you will be cheering for me as my needles were centered DEAD-ON the whole time. I did have a little bit of an optical illusion just above the aim point. It was hard for me to tell how high I was above the runway to begin the flare. I should have maybe looked out the left window, but I didn’t. Landing was rock star– which is so wonderful. All in all, I had an hour of actual. Another successful flight of Haywire Airlines.”

I used an AOPA IFR Template to develop my written personal minimums for my instrument check ride.

There is also a VFR Template available.

My “hard and fast” minimums are about items that scare me the most: ice, low visibility, low fuel. Flash forward to 2020 and I had approaches in to Oshkosh close to minimums [weather] and several California airports to minimums in smoke.   But I hadn’t updated my written minimums until now.


Pucker Factor: On the trip home from Camarillo, I wasn’t psychologically ready for an approach down to minimums, but the reality of the overcast layer meant I had to slow down the airplane, and get ready.  If you argue with reality, you will lose, every time.

Hidden Gem: Updating my written minimums every season will keep them relevant and my flights safer.


As I pondered personal minimums in a pandemic, I decided to reach in to my address book of pilot friends and reach out 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.  While all I talked to had a formulation for themselves in regards to limits, I found out that except for me and the two guys with over 20,000 hours, no one else had personal minimums written down.

I had a fabulous time talking with the 12 pilots and I got a little gem or a pucker factor from each of the conversations. So join me next year, for more stories. 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 on yourself.

As one CFI/DPE  I interviewed pondered regarding minimums…

“How far do you put my head in an alligator’s

mouth before I can’t get it out?”

 

So long 2020

 

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

California Pilots Association Zooms into View

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

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

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


General Session Presenters


Airport-Centered General Sessions

FAA WINGS Credit Courses

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to the Pandemic: CalDART COVID-19 Operations

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

Avoiding Wing Dings: Operating Your Plane Safely on the Ground

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


 Three-Tiered Airport Advocacy

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

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

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

Tier 2 – Statewide Organizations: Not every state has its own general aviation organization. But a quick Google search will tell you if your state does. Statewide airport advocacy organizations are important because they maintain statewide contacts, information, and strategies. Further, our statewide groups can also advise and assist the local airport groups when issues arise.

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


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

 

 

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

Crossing the North Pole three times

Yesterday as I prepared for my first ever North Pole crossing things were going pretty smoothly. Almost too smoothly. I’m used to last minute surprises especially before taking off. But then I remembered I’ve had over 18 months to prepare for this leg. I thought maybe the Universe was finally going to throw me a bone. The taxi showed up on time the morning of departure, the airport manager let him on the ramp—which never happens, the new coordinates for my flight worked in the Flight Management System, I had no leaking fuel from the plane after fueling the night before, the tires held air, the emergency oxygen was near full, the nitrogen charge was still within limits…it was almost hard to believe. The Citizen of the World was in all her glory, fierce and it was a fantastic thing to see.

The good fortune continued as the airport allowed me to take off early without charging me, the tower operator showed up early and got me into the air traffic control system on the ground, and the engines fired right up as they always do. All avionics systems came online immediately, and I thought “Isn’t life wonderful!” I started down the runway like a bat out of hell with enough fuel to get me back to Alaska in the United States after being away for eight very long months. I still had six weeks to go to be back in San Diego but I was getting closer.

As I climbed above the solid cloud layer that extended all the way to Alaska things were going well. I had a great climb rate even with the extra fuel. I flew over Svalbard, Norway, which had been rejecting my departure requests for over a month. I thought skipping one stop reduced my risk and it was time to get going while the North Pole was a nice warm -43 Celsius compared to the -60C I experience near the South Pole.

About two hours out of Kiruna, Sweden, I was beyond VHF radio comms range and my luck started to change. My HF radio was not picking up anything and I was at a wrong-way altitude. My satellite phone calls to Bodo Oceanic control over the most remote part of the planet didn’t work either. I got through to Oceanic control on my satellite phone I just couldn’t hear a word they were saying, and I assumed they couldn’t hear me either. Considering I had eight hours of open ocean flying to do this was going to be a major problem.

One-hundred-fifty miles from the True North Pole things really started to happen. My two flight management systems/GPS units started to fall offline since they didn’t have a satellite signal. This was odd since this didn’t happen until about 75 miles from the South Pole. I figured there would be more coverage over the North Pole since it was a more traveled route. My autopilot would still hold in heading mode, so I made the adjustment and continued on my way using my iPad. “No problem,” I thought as this felt like old times over the South Pole!

About 25 miles from the True North Pole things got really scary. One of my Attitude Heading & Reference Systems went offline. I remember thinking, “this is why I have two ADAHRS systems.”  I flipped the switch and nothing. With the loss of the units I also lost the autopilot. The airplane jerked to one side and I began to attempt to take it offline at 30,000 feet. The yoke cutoff switch chirped but didn’t stop the turn. I was fighting the autopilot at this point and pushed the off button on the autopilot unit itself, but it still didn’t work. At this point, I felt like the Universe was conspiring against me and had a thought that this was how those 737 Max planes went down. I reached over to the left and pulled the autopilot circuit breaker with the yellow cap I had marked so it was easy to find in a jam. That was my last hope short of shutting the power completely off over the North Pole which sounded, in a word, “terrifying.” This emergency was making no sense to me. But just as I pulled the breaker the resistance faded away and I felt a slight sigh of relief.

Crossing the Magnetic South Pole I got a brief look at the snow, ice and water the ground through the clouds.

To put things into perspective, I’m five hours of flight time from land, 30,000 feet up over a cloud layer at a wrong-way altitude doing almost 400 mph over the North Pole with no comms. I was using only my iPad to navigate, hand flying in RVSM airspace (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum) that requires an autopilot to maintain precise flight level with no autopilot and by myself. My first non-Zen words were unprintable in a family publication. So much for an easy flight across the True North Pole, the Magnetic North Pole and the North Pole of Inaccessibility!

What I did have was a visual horizon for the time being, two working Honeywell TPE 331-10T engines, two kick-ass MT 5 bladed scimitar nickel tipped composite props, and about three hours of extra fuel which could potentially just extend my misery as I flew in circles around the North Pole while my followers wondered why my track on the InReach explorer was so erratic. I had a directional gyro and knew it would hold my course for a time but as I turned from the North Pole, to the Magnetic North Pole, and finally to the North Pole of Inaccessibility, I got confused and knew it couldn’t hold a course forever.

As if to tease or taunt me, the flight management systems would periodically come online but then fall offline a short time later. This felt like cosmic torture as I had conflicting heading information from multiple points on my panel. My magnetic compass said one thing, my two flight management systems/GPS units had a different heading, my L3 backup system said something else, my directional gyro offered another heading, and my radar display showed yet another heading. “Which do I believe?” I thought. “Will I run out of fuel or fly in circles over the North Pole?”

As I was trying to hold the altitude constant in an airspace that was separated by 500 feet from opposing traffic I start shutting down and restarting the failed systems. The ADAHRS tried to realign in motion but couldn’t do its two-minute alignment. Eventually I realized the flight management systems appeared to have the aircraft flying backwards along the track for a time, then one would right and then go backwards. I was totally confused and trying to make sense out of the conflicting information.

Now I was seriously scared. I was very much alone, and the laws of physics didn’t seem to apply. There were no reference points in the cloud layer below me as far as the eye could see and a bunch of red Xs across my screen. I couldn’t help but wonder what a mess I had gotten myself into. I thought they would be talking about this for a long time. The naysayers were going to have a field day.

I took a minute to take a few deep “Zen” breaths in the midst of the shit storm that was unfolding around me. I took a personal inventory and realized I was still in the air, was straight and level, and wasn’t out of options yet. This was fast becoming a test of my faith.

As I moved between the True North Pole, the Magnetic North Pole, and the North Pole of Inaccessibility I was mostly hand-flying and occasionally overpowering the autopilot when it didn’t want to turn.

As I continued to hand fly, I realized my autopilot could maintain altitude and it seemed to fly on a heading once I set it but needed to be restarted to program a new heading. Next I realized that my Apple iPad seemed to be as accurate as it had been over the South Pole as well. How odd that a $1,000 iPad was working when $100,000 of avionics seemed totally confused. Flying like this was of course totally illegal but I had no choice. I was doing what my instructors had told me to do, which was “just fly the plane.” I was lucky to have a visual horizon above the clouds for as far as the eye could see.

I expected the failed systems to come back online in about 30 minutes but to my surprise everything stayed offline until I reached the coast of Alaska some five hours later. I literally watched as one system failed and then would come back online with the information making no sense. It was extremely stressful, and I was searching for the lesson in all of this. When the systems came back online at the coast of Alaska, they acted like the bad school kid who misbehaves when the teacher is out of the room and then reverts to becoming the perfect angel when the teacher returns. I realized that the issue was the lack of a satellite signal and not that the systems weren’t working.

Eventually as I got close to the coast of Alaska, I realized that the weather was not the broken clouds that were forecast at Prudhoe Bay/Dead Horse. Instead, I had 300-foot ceilings. Being as that I had been flying for so long and had 3.5 hours of fuel left, I decided to extend my flight for another hour-and-a-half to land in Fairbanks where I was hoping to meet my film crew the following day. As a side note, on my first call to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the director told me he could arrest me, impound my airplane and severely fine me if I landed in Prudhoe Bay where they didn’t have an agent.  When I told him my first priority was my life and that weather over vast distances was unpredictable as was aircraft equipment, he told me if I had planned better I wouldn’t be having such a problem. I hung up feeling a bit defeated. About two hours later I got a call back from the director and he said I could land in Prudhoe Bay for an overnight stay but would have to call Customs when I landed, and be in Fairbanks the next day.

It is hard to put into words how I felt when I landed in Fairbanks, Alaska. We had a mechanic and restaurant owner at the airport come over and snap a few pictures. Myself and the film crew that had just arrived by car were offered a delicious pizza lunch by the Wendy, the owner. As we ate, I stared at the plane with a blank expression on my face, exhausted, and in total disbelief of what had just transpired. I felt shock, pride, and relief all at the same time, and just wanted to sleep for a day. My focus was so narrow it was impossible to comprehend what I had just pulled off and the impact it would have on our mission—and I hoped—on the world. Calls and messages would come in for the next 48 hours congratulating me and my team. Most of them had no idea what I had been through, but I was so touched by those that reached out in the most-kind way.

One example that summed up the Citizen of the World’s challenges during the Polar Circumnavigation was from Eddie Gould, one of my handlers from General Aviation Support Egypt.

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

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

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

I’m so happy to share this adventure with all of you and my hope is that it will in some way inspire you to go into the world and be a positive force in the world. To shine as brightly as you can and to allow your dreams to become your reality.

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.

Recurrent Lockdown Without a Pandemic

Before I get into the thesis of my post, I owe an update to the inglorious rant from last month. For those that got through my little post of horrors to the fourth section about my quest for the [Heli Coil] Holy Grail, I ended it on a positive note, as though the problem was solved. Well, it wasn’t. Within two hours of submitting the post, the distributor cancelled the order, even though we had spoken on the phone about it. Apparently, the package intermediary that they asked for was a problem and they washed their hands of it. I went back to the first distributor, who actually shipped it next day to the intermediary (should have used them in the first place!). Between overnight shipping to the intermediary, COVID delays, and FedEx Express to Europe, it took two additional weeks to arrive.

As is apparently customary with Swiss maintenance technicians, initial enthusiasm from the mobile Swiss A&P was replaced with a sudden reticence to schedule the job on his part now that the parts arrived. At this point, I remembered an American instructor I used in Germany in 2016, who equally had the daft idea to import and fly an airplane from America on this continent of misery. He had mentioned solving his mechanical woes not long after I left Germany, so I thought “why not see who he uses?”

I found a real solution for the long haul. A younger German mechanic, licensed under EASA and as an A&P/IA, he was billed to me as a “non-German German.” I.e., he will actually fix things instead of robotically demanding a major overhaul as a solution to all woes. The instructor said, “We’ll solve it. I’ll fly him down. That’s what pilot friends are for.” I was in such disbelief that I might have been dreaming, so I called the A&P, expecting some sort of catch. I slowly revealed my woes, progressively giving every last detail, and he said “It is no problem to do the heli-coil by hand. It will take one hour.”

Before he came, I did some more analysis, sent some photos, and we determined that the studs themselves were shot, so we pushed off another week to order them from the USA (which he did, adding to a larger order he had coming). Then the day finally came, where I could barely sleep the night before, expecting doom and misery. After all, if a mistake was made, the case would have had to go to the USA, effectively resulting in the major overhaul I was trying to avoid.

I had the jig on the cylinder, ready to go per the Swiss recommendation. The German arrived, looked at it, and said, “We must remove this as we cannot do the job with it in the way.” Ironic. Then he pulled out a bag and said “I brought some heli-coils in case we needed a different size.” He had them at his shop, rendering my month of misery acquiring them pointless. I do not have enough emotional impartiality to distinguish between my indignation at a wasted month of strife from the glee I should have that this guy already has what I need on hand for future repairs.

When it came time for actual drilling, like a parent watching a doctor perform surgery on a young child, I couldn’t watch. I paced on the other side of the hangar, and 20 minutes later: “This one is done. Now we do the other one.” What? It was that easy? 20 minutes later. “Ok, the heli-coils are in. Now we must put the cylinder on.”

While I was naturally quite pleased, it was an almost insulting crescendo. How many weeks of strife, misery, and struggle did I endure, and in the end, it was a one-hour affair? Why is it that every single maintenance technician in Europe (except this one) that I spoke to would not do it? While the German A&P did explain that EASA mechanics basically are not allowed to do such a repair on a European registered aircraft, he pointed out that it is “on the N register therefore it is allowed.” I shall mention that the last 5 mechanics I spoke to in Europe were also FAA A&Ps, who basically were repairing N registered aircraft while looking at the EASA book.

The saga with repair has continued and is mostly complete with a successful initial cylinder break in test flight completed. The whole affair took 9 weeks, most of which was spent on the phone, waiting for parts, or being told “no” by someone after previously having been told “yes.” In the end, when I add up the $6500 repair bill (many things were replaced in the troubleshooting process, and the jug was one of a few contributing factors), it cost roughly 40% more than if I was in the USA (VAT, middlemen, freight from America, nonsense). It took 6 weeks longer than if the airplane was in the States, with 85% of that delay due to Europe and 15% due to the pandemic. The single hardest problem was a lack of qualified mechanical assistance.

If any other owners of N registered aircraft in Europe are equally as frustrated, please contact me and I will arrange an introduction to this A&P. I highly recommend him. I believe that this recent misery is an investment in smoothing out future issues, as I have a fantastic resource vetted now. I also owe a huge “thanks” to my instructor friend who flew him down. One has to love the pilot community.

Now this brings us to my thesis, which is about how aviation has inflicted three “lockdowns” since 2014 with this airplane, lasting two, three, and four months. This one was the shortest, believe it or not. The longest was Germany in 2016, and the middle struggle was while in Colorado in 2014.

I traced the common thread to all of them, and it was a fusion to two issues: a very complicated, sprawling repair and a lack of a nearby qualified A&P. I.e., either a nearby A&P wouldn’t do it, or a maintenance technician simply did not exist in the area. In each of these instances, I would rely upon a complex web of removing what parts a pilot is allowed to (quite a bit) and shipping them for inspection, rework, repair, or overhaul to a willing A&P in another state, sending photos of the remaining situation, consulting extensively by phone, staging new parts, and bringing the whole thing to a finale by bringing someone in to help get it all done. In all three cases, one symptom on this old engine resulted in the revelation of other problems, or vagaries of the troubleshooting process (where the parts being replaced weren’t the problem). Untold hours are spent going to and from the airport, sourcing parts, shipping things, staring at delayed packages on tracking and the like.

In instances where major problems were resolved in a short period of time (not part of these long downtimes), professionals were close by. Two of these disastrous affairs were in Europe, which made it much worse, whereas one was in the rural Rockies. What is the lesson? If one relocates with an airplane to a new area, especially if it is extremely rural as I seem to choose, immediately begin the search for an available mechanic for an ongoing professional relationship, even if nothing is wrong with the airplane. It is one thing to fly in an existing resource, though that assumes that the airplane only breaks at annual inspection, that deferred maintenance can be caught up at that time, or that the airplane can be flown a long distance to the site of an annual. As 9 months of downtime over the last six years has taught me, it doesn’t always work that way. While most pilots in America live in a reasonable range of a metropolitan area where this problem largely doesn’t exist, a move to a rural or foreign location should treat this search with urgency as though the airplane is broken. While the Cub has gone hundreds of flying hours with minimal issues, it goes through occasional brutal maintenance and repair cycles and I cannot seem to predict when they will strike.

Many times I have wondered why I am living the life I am, and it took an hour and a half circling two miles above the airport during the test flight, gazing at the Alps, to remind me why I am willing to put up with this misery when it does happen. A great way to forget a hellacious downtime is to go flying again.

Château-d’Oex. Wandering around at 11,000 feet, in glide range of the airport during cylinder break in.

Gstaad Airport from 8,000 feet. 

 

 

 

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.

Crossing the North Pole (late night thoughts)


It’s 3 a.m. in a lonely hotel room in Northern Europe in the midst of worldwide quarantines. The world seems to be spiraling out of control in panic and fear, and once again, I can’t sleep. With the North Pole crossing looming over me just a few days away, my inner child just vomited with fear because he knows I’m taking him along like it or not—again. I keep tearing up when I think about all I’ve been through so far. I’ve been away for seven months and it’s looking like it will take another two months when I had originally planned for five months total. I’m fatigued, somewhat confident, and people still are calling me crazy—at least that last part is consistent.

This North Pole crossing has been perfectly planned just like the longer, and much more difficult, South Pole leg six months earlier. That 18-hour leg stressed me physically, emotionally, and broke me open spiritually. But that doesn’t keep my mind from thinking about all the possible issues the universe could throw my way this time.

The Citizen of the World is working well after the repair of two of my ferry tanks, which burst after a misalignment that caused a dumping of about 175 gallons of jet fuel inside the modified Gulfstream Turbo Commander 900, a starter-generator failure in flight, and a hydraulic fluid leak from the co-pilot-side brake caliper. Who can help but wonder what will happen next?

The North Pole Leg is approximately two-thirds the distance of the South Pole Leg. I can’t make it without the ferry tanks—two of which carry biofuels.

This is the ideal time of the year for an open ocean and ice flight as the Arctic temps are the warmest, which is good for avoiding potential fuel gelling and engine operating issues. But like everything in aviation, there is also a downside. There is a lot of fog down low this time of the year. Low fog makes it difficult for an emergency landing. Luckily, I have a ground radar that works pretty well for helping to determine my height above the ground or water in case I have to do a blind landing.

I’m well prepared with respect to survival gear, training, and support. In fact, I couldn’t be more prepared.

Unlike the South Pole, the North Pole is crossed often by commercial jets, maybe not as much now with the quarantines. That gives me some comfort that I will have some more experienced pilots in the air with me that could offer assistance if needed.

My route to cross the three north poles (magnetic, true, and the North Pole of Inaccessibility) has been charted out, along with the points to shift from magnetic to true navigation, as well as my alternates.

The plan is to leave from Longyearbyen Airport in Svalbard, Norway, after a 24-hour tech stop for fuel while being quarantined in the airport hotel. From Longyearbyen it’s just a 2,000-nautical-mile flight to Alaska. In this case, I would be up around 32,000 feet for only about 8 hours. That far north the winds aren’t too bad. But, as of today, the communications seem to have become confused and now require a departure from Kiruna in northern Sweden, which pushes the distance out to 3,000 nm and 11 hours of flight time, requiring the use of more ferry tanks. I’ll have more than enough time to think about all that can go wrong. At some point, I know from experience, I will relax into all of it and just accept my fate the gods have planned for me. You can’t be afraid forever—or at least I would like to think that on some level.

At least I know what to expect with respect to navigation this time. It will all fail except the iPad (which somehow did not over the South Pole and I still do not know why). My directional gyro will work, and of course, the position of the sun will be reliable, assuming I can see it. I will cheat the flight management system this time by putting a waypoint before and after the pole.

The incredible stress from the first flight opened me up and changed the person that I am, teaching me some of the most important lessons of my life. I’ve reframed my fear into looking forward to the growth that lies ahead over the North Pole; and, of course, praying to be an inspiration to others while having the most positive impact on the planet.

Miraculous. Impossible. I’ve got this.

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.

GA Strong: Pilots come together to help each other in extraordinary times

2020  has certainly been interesting thus far. I remember sitting down to create my calendar of events in December 2019 for the coming year of aviation events looking forward to traveling monthly. When AOPA, EAA and SNF made the tough choices to forgo their annual events to help keep us safe and reduce exposure to COVID-19, my delete button has been smoking from overuse.

Social Flight Live one of the many online offerings available now

In March and April I was heartened to see that thought leaders, local and state associations, and national groups began to make online content available, in most cases free of charge. This has been so valuable since I never could have attended these safety seminars and presentations from all across the country. I had the pleasure of being on Social Flight Live with Martha King, Pia Bergqvist, and Julie Clark discussing what inspired us to learn to fly and advance to being pro pilots.  The industry pivot toward virtual meetings and accessible content has given all an opportunity to set a goal to tackle a written exam, explore varied aspects of aviation, and educate ourselves all from the comfort of home or hangar.

It is June, and many of us are starting to fly more while maintaining safeguards for each other’s health. Early in the year I was getting ready to schedule my commercial certificate check ride. I have just now been able to get the check ride scheduled. My instructor is located in the LA Basin. It is a quick hop from my home on the Central Coast of California to Fullerton Airport. Recently I went down for a weekend of training and was pleased to see that General Aviation is waking back up, and with that awakening comes demonstrations of the interconnection of all pilots.

GA traffic starting to pick up in the LA Basin

I had worked a full clinical day [as a psychotherapist] and headed down to the airport for the one-hour late afternoon flight. After I landed, my CFI – Mike – picked me up and told me that several of my friends were at the airport planning a trip across the country to replace their cancelled Oshkosh plans.

We stopped by to say hello. It was fun to see a group of pilots with IPad in their laps talking about the best routes, fuel stops, restaurants etc. I even piped up about several airports that I always go to on my sojourn: St. John’s, Arizona; Wayne, Nebraska; Woodward, Texas; Ft. Guernsey, Wyoming. There were old-timers, younger pilots and lots of conversation, anticipation, and energy.

On the way out of the airport I found out that a fellow Mooney pilot was in a pickle. His plane was out of annual and he was not able to fly due to an injury. Mike asked if we could fly Maggie to Van Nuys, pick up the airplane [with ferry permit] and make the short hop to Whiteman Airport with the Mooneys. I have only been in to historic Van Nuys a few times for CalPilot events so I agreed straight off. Later Mike and I decided we would depart Van Nuys in formation and fly to Whiteman then break off for landing. We talked with Michael the aircraft owner, and the plan was set for a morning departure over to Van Nuys.

Van Nuys is a great airport. The VNY Prop Park is nestled behind the large FBOs. At the onset of this blog I mentioned the interconnections of General Aviation. Here are some of the 6-degrees of separation: I am a Vice President of California Pilots Association. VNY Prop is a CalPilots Chapter. Instructor Mike is an officer in the Fullerton Pilots Association [also a CalPilots Chapter]. Michael, the aircraft owner, is an active member of the GA community in SoCal. He is a member of SoCal Pilots Association and the founding member of the West Coast Mooney Club, which is hosting a Mooney convention in Sunriver, Oregon in late August. I recommended Kevin Schiff, the mechanic in Whiteman to Michael, as Kevin finished the annual on my Mooney earlier this year. However we all met, it was lovely to be able to help someone in my GA family out. I would highly suggest that you look for ways to stay connected to our aviation family. When non-aviation folks ask me “Aren’t you afraid you will have a problem somewhere along the way?” about flying from California to Oshkosh every year, I always say “no.” This is because if I put the word out that I need help in Yankton, South Dakota; West Jordan, Utah; Chicago, Illinois or anywhere in between, I know my GA family would help. In a way, I think the quarantine has been so hard on us because as pilots we are used to being interdependent and interconnected. We might give ourselves a hard time about lean-of-peak or a less than stellar landing, but we would also give each other the shirt off our backs.

These two are ready for some formation flight.

After arriving in Van Nuys we spent some time on the ground for inspection, orientation [to the ferry airplane], brief of the formation flight, taxi, then the short hop to Whiteman. I have to say that taking off in formation 16R was a hoot! After landing we taxied to Kevin’s hangar. Michael had already arrived in his car. We got the airplane in the hangar and then made our way for some commercial flight training and lunch.

Finding an open restaurant proved to be a challenge as 5 or 6 were already closed for the day. We flew to French Valley airport in Temecula. The airport is in excellent condition, had awesome fuel prices and a great place for lunch. It felt good to fill up with fuel and good food. While there we ran into a few other pilots that we knew and spent some time talking about the state of commercial aviation, GA and online education.

 

8s on pylons, chandelles, steep spiral, steep descent. Calgon take me away.

After practicing chandelles, steep descents, and 8s on pylons it was time to be done for the day. On the way back to Fullerton, Mike and I talked about charitable flying we enjoyed through Angel Flight, LightHawk, and Pilots n Paws. Also how much we were going to miss loading KOSH in our flight plans.

Though some things change, many remain the same

At the end of the day I was tired, but it was a happy tired. Being a student again for my commercial certificate is tough. It is hard to let yourself be a learner, to make mistakes and grow. It has been challenging to ask for help, but every time I do, I am met with a smile and the word “yes”. With the lack of flying events and travel, I am able to complete my commercial certificate and will move on to the multi-commercial add-on in late July.

Online education gives us all the ability to learn, ask questions and participate in our GA community while home. Continue to be on the look out for ways to be of assistance to others in our aviation family. Unfortunately many airports are under attack from encroachment and developers now that we aren’t flying as much. Join your local and state aviation associations and be a part of the solution. In many ways we are all feeling the effects of our world right now. Please know that we will all get through this time together. We are GA strong.

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

Escaping from Spain in a GA aircraft during a pandemic: Pulling off the impossible

As pilots, we know that at some point our skills diminish and it becomes very dangerous not to fly. In the past, I would fly every week to keep my skill set as sharp as possible. This was a promise I made to myself when I first started flying; my intention was to keep myself alive. If I waited any longer than a week, I would start to feel nervous. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s now been almost eight weeks since I have even started the engines on the Citizen of the World, much less lifted off. Honestly, I’m scared.

After being quarantined in Spain for almost two months, getting out with my general aviation airplane would prove to be a very complicated endeavor, because the country was locked down so tightly and immersed in fear. With their older population, Spain had been the hardest-hit nation in Europe. My general sense was that people were terrified that COVID-19 was going to get every last one of them. I was getting word that the Spanish government was not going to open the country to tourism until September  at the absolute earliest. Considering that Spain normally collected $200 billion in tourist revenue every year, you could see how scared the govenment/people really were. If I waited until September, it would be too late for me to cross over the North Pole safely; temps would be too low for the Citizen of the World and fuel gelling could take both engines offline.

My travel plans to Switzerland were no longer realistic; it is also a very conservative country and would require a special visa which would take months to get approved, even if I could somehow collect all the required documents in the middle of a pandemic. This was a bummer because we had planned a photo assignment  over the Matterhorn in the Alps with my Swiss friend Andre Mueller. Switzerland also had some great mechanics that I had trusted twice before to work on my last airplane during an equatorial circumnavigation and a European summer trip.

The next departure possibility was via a route to England, but there was no ground transportation and nowhere to stay once I arrived. Plus, I would definitely need some help on the ground so this plan could be potentially trading good for bad. At the last minute the British government enacted a mandatory two-week self-quarantine for everyone entering the country, scrapping the idea anyway.

The final option was repositioning to Malmo, Sweden. The country had been practicing herd immunity and the numbers were closely in line with neighboring countries that had been using strict quarantines to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The death curve had flattened, and I calculated a .000095% risk of death given the population size. Compared to the 50% risk I experienced over the South Pole, that seemed like odds I would take all day long. In Sweden I would be able to fly my plane around the country as much as I wanted, get some maintenance for Citizen, and wait out the pandemic. Word was that Sweden would be open to the outside world (and my camera crew) on the June 15.

To make this seemingly impossible task happen required a number of steps and several very generous, persistent, and inspired people helping me in both Sweden and Spain.

Step 1: Get to the airport in Spain

First, I needed to get to the aircraft in Barcelona, Spain, which was 372 miles away from my “Zen Villa” in Sitges. A few emails to the U.S. Embassy showed me I could travel as long as I was leaving the country.

The exception that most often applies to the U.S. citizens that we are assisting is: “to return to once’s place of residence.” The Ministry of Interior has specified that third-country citizens returning to their country of habitual residence are exempted from the movement restrictions.

Determining which activities fall under the above exceptions or any subsequent expanded exceptions is entirely up to the Spanish authorities. We do not have the authority to grant permission to travel within Spain or grant waivers of Spanish laws.

As a backup, I found out Spanish citizens could travel with written permission from their employers, so I had the DeLaurentis Foundation issue a letter showing I was a pilot and an employee supporting the expedition.

The U.S. embassy also directed me to the front cover of my passport, which I thought sounded rather official and would help me justify my movements.

As luck would have it, there were no checkpoints along the way and I drove to the airport without issue as my Spanish police officer friend Meritxell followed in another car.

Step 2: Get to the airplane

With the help of a Spanish friend and fellowpolar circumnavigator Michel Gordillo, I was able to email the Assistant Airport Manager at Cuatro Vientos. I sent him an email pleading my case and asking for access. He said it was possible as long as I was escorted on the field by someone with access. When I was unable to find anyone willing to escort me to my plane after days of trying, I decided to show up and see if I could do it on my own. I talked to a helpful man in the flight plan office and he spoke to police security. I mentioned I had an email from the airport manager, and, to my delight, security just waved me through.

Step 3: Get permission to fly out of Spain

To encourage the Spanish to let me go on my way, I found out that Dr. Dimitri Deheyn, our lead scientist for the atmospheric plastics pollution experiment, was trying to determine if COVID-19 could be transferred on the plastic particles that we were already testing for in the atmosphere. He provided a letter that showed my departure flight was a critical opportunity to test the air over Madrid and all the way out of the country for the virus.

With the help of Michel Gordillo, who called the Spanish Police, the Flight Plan Office, Customs and Immigration, I was told that I would be allowed to leave the country and that if I submitted a proper flight plan it would be accepted by Eurocontrol. From their perspective, it was one less American to worry about and less possible coronavirus risk. (Not to mention Michel would stop calling them every 30 minutes with more questions until they let me out of the country).

Step 4: Get permission to fly into Sweden

Johan Wiklund, an Airbus A320 Flight Commander at SAS Scandinavian Airlines who flew an antique British Gypsy Moth biplane from Sweden to South Africa, was also instrumental. He helped put Eddie Gold and Ahmed Hassan Mohamed — my flight handlers from General Aviation Support Egypt (G.A.S.E.)— in touch with an FBO in Sweden called Aviator Airport Services, which then got me permission to fly into Sweden. Johan also connected me with a mechanic who could repair the Gulfstream Turbo Commander 900’s ferry tanks for my leg over the North Pole.

Step 5:  Come up with a flight plan Eurocontrol will accept

This is where the genius of Ahmed Hassan Mohamed from G.A.S.E. helped save the day. Normally, I would use the autoroute function on Rocket Route to find my way through the complicated airspaces of Europe. On this 4-hour, 1,200-nm flight I needed to go through Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany on my path into Sweden. After a couple of hours, he came back with the route you see above. It had over 40 waypoints and airways, but it worked, and he filed it for me.

Step 6: Don’t get quarantined on arrival in Sweden

With the rules changing daily, preventing Sweden from putting me into a two-week quarantine once I arrived was a concern. Michel had suggested a plan, and with the help of my friend MeritxelI I was able to get two tests for the COVID-19 virus before I departed Barcelona. Both tests involved a drive to Barcelona, 36 kilometers to the north. The first test involved taking swabs of my mouth and sinuses that would tell if I currently had the coronavirus. The second test required a sample of my blood and would indicate if I had already had the virus. A positive result here would greatly improve my chances of moving around Sweden and other countries uninterrupted. In three days I got the results, which were both negative. Having some documentation that that I didn’t have the virus as of a certain date would be helpful in making my case that quarantine was not required.

Step 7: Last-minute servicing

The Citizen of the World is indeed a high-performance, high-maintenance aircraft, and upon examination I determined that she needed the emergency oxygen for breathing and the nitrogen for the landing gear charged. The mechanics from Aircraft Total Service were able to help with this, and I was ready to go.

We all know that no great plan ever goes off without a hitch — so as luck would have it, the police came rolling up to do a ramp check on my aircraft as I was getting readying for engine startup. They asked where I was intending to go. Michel Gordillo, the former Spanish airline pilot, was again working behind the scenes, talking with them and letting the officers know whom he had spoken with, the fact that nothing had changed since I had been granted permission to leave a week earlier, and the reasons why they should let me go. After they asked some questions and checked my registration number on the aircraft, they left, wishing me luck on my trip.

The actual flight had my knees knocking on departure, as I would be going from 0 to 308 knots during the flight. Life was about to accelerate to the speed of life once again.

With no other planes in the sky, I was granted permission to depart without delay. The actual flight was busy — as I got reacquainted with the many complex systems on the Citizen, I was uploading databases and relaxing into what I have always believed aviation to be…one of the deepest meditations available to a soul.

Landing in Sweden, I expected to be met by security, a handler, and medical personnel that would take my temperature and assess my condition. However, there was only a security officer who gave me a ride to the terminal, where I walked directly through to the taxi stand and was headed to my hotel in minutes.

I felt a great sense of relief as I arrived at my hotel in Malmo. It felt like I had just been sprung from prison using a well-executed plan and a team of professionals. The following day I met Johan, his wife, his kids, and his tower operator friend Axel. We were eating carrot cake Johan’s daughter made in their kitchen later that day, talking about our aviation adventures past, present, and future — and I couldn’t help but think about how aviation brought us together on my mission of One Planet, One People, One Plane.

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.
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