Menu

Category: Opinion (page 1 of 30)

A lesson in “Diversity” for every pilot

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

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

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

Neil Aviation, San Diego

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

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

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

Now do I have your attention?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off November 2019 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Errands at 15,000 Feet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les Mosses pass, flight altitude 5,600 feet.

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

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

The flight was positively glorious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

So I went into it and found a veritable cathedral. 

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

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

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

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

Andermatt.

Grimselpass, from the south.

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

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

Climbing out uphill…slowly. Goms Valley.

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

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

Interlaken, looking back up toward Jungfrau.

Climbing into the Oberland.

Gstaad, about to enter the circuit. 

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.

Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Crossing the Rhône River.

Farmland in the Rhône River valley.

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

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

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

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

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

Mont Blanc in the background.


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


Massif du Chablais.

Bernese Oberland.

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

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

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

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

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

Rüwlispass (5636′ / 1718m).

Waterfalls above Adelboden.

Gemmipass (7447′ / 2270m).

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


Et voila! Üsser Talgletscher. 

Same glacier, looking the other way.

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

Jungfrau (13642′ / 4158m).

Bernese Alps with clouds backed against them to the north.

And down through the hole above Adelboden.

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

CFIT poster.

Beneath Les Diablerets.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off November 2019 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Is flying worth dying for?

Boeing 737MAX-8 photo courtesy of Boeing Co.

With the recent loss of two new Boeing 737 Max aircraft, the loss of one of my instructors in an airplane he flew for years, and the recent destruction of the Spirit of San Diego, an airplane I flew around the world in 2015, I’m becoming less comfortable with air travel whether I’m flying the airplane or in the passenger seat.

It’s never easy to accept the loss of life or an aircraft. When I hear about crashes due to an inexperienced pilot or poor aircraft maintenance, as heartbreaking as it is, I understand why it likely happened, but all the incidents I mentioned above involved very experienced pilots flying well-maintained aircraft.

So, how then, do we regain our confidence in the air given this rash of aviation incidents? Or do we? I’m not sure this is a situation where we can reason our way back to a point of comfort. So then, perhaps we explore it in an entirely different way.

Perhaps it’s time to deal with the bigger issue of our mortality and accept some of the risk that life involves.  What if we were to examine our mission in the world and then assess what level of risk we are willing to accept to achieve our dreams and goals?  Most pilots, including myself, really don’t like to talk about mortality and the risk of flying; even the thought of it makes us feel uneasy, which is all the more reason to open the conversation and talk about this reality directly here and now. None of us is guaranteed how long we have on the planet. There is so much out of our control, and few of us are sure of how much the role of fate plays in our lives.

As I consider my upcoming pole-to-pole circumnavigation and reflect on my first circumnavigation when I flew around the world, taking off and landing in 26 countries in a single-engine airplane, quite honestly I think about my potential mortality quite a bit. Looking out into the total darkness of the Pacific Ocean late at night with thousands of miles of water around me was a constant reminder that I was taking a calculated risk. If that wasn’t enough, I was very much aware of a father and son who attempted an equatorial circumnavigation in a single-engine airplane in similar circumstances a year before me and didn’t make it.

I want to share some of the things that gave me peace of mind and kept me safe on my journey as I experienced six inflight emergencies that made me, at times, doubt my decisions, my abilities as a pilot, and my trust in myself to recover.

Prior to the trip, I had a few signs that I struggled to interpret. Each could have been viewed as a “bad” omen by some. I resisted the urge to see them as bad or good and felt instead the universe was tipping me off that I still had some work to do.

One of these signs was at the exact moment that I decided to do my first circumnavigation. I turned on the TV and the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks was playing. If you are not familiar with the story line, after an airplane he was in crashed, he was stranded on an island in the Pacific, talking to a volleyball he names Wilson, and eating lots of coconuts. After watching the film and tossing and turning all night, I decided I needed to get serious about my survival skills. I took classes, assembled a rock-solid survival bag, visualized and practiced getting out of my airplane long before it would submerge, which I had heard would take about a minute, and even less time if the airplane was on fire. Echoing in the background more often than I care to acknowledge were the words my father shared with me frequently before my departure, “You are just going to get yourself killed,” which I learned to meet with a Zen attitude by focusing on positive thoughts and actions that would keep me relaxed and help me respond with greater ease and grace.

Next, I decided to go a little deeper and explore my beliefs about my soul and multiple lives. I read many books on the subject and spoke to thought leaders and experts in the field. Out of all this research, I came to believe my soul was eternal, that I would actually live hundreds maybe thousands of lives, and it didn’t matter if this one was long or short because there would be another life coming along a short time later (cosmic time) so no reason to lose sleep over it. In fact, I’d probably come back a better pilot, (possibly more humble?) with a much cooler airplane. Keeping a sense of humor while being serious about my safety helped keep me grounded too. It was also about this time I was watching Star Trek and heard the young Spock talking about the old Spock when he said, “Fear is irrational when you have lived as many lives as him.” Bones then chimes in and says, “Fear is what keeps us alive!”  If you’re a Star Trek fan like I am, you know Spock was a Vulcan, which made him logical and unable to lie, except in that one episode. Knowing Spock was a movie character, I felt only slightly better, but life and death and reincarnation were starting to make sense to me and I was still excited about doing the trip.

Another significant moment is when I recalled some words that I heard a graduate level spiritual psychology classmate once say, “If it’s not worth dying for then why even do it?” In other words, what’s the risk/reward ratio?  During my flight around the world with hundreds of thousands of people pulling for me, I felt that what I was doing was very important. People were telling me they were inspired by the trip, that they were overcoming their personal challenges and that it was important for the world to see someone going after their impossibly big dreams.  In the process my aircraft, Spirit of San Diego, became a vehicle for my global message of oneness and brought considerable positive attention to general aviation. The journey allowed me to fulfill my lifelong dream of using aviation to teach us about life. It was also a way for me to share the concepts I had learned in my spiritual psychology studies to help others manifest the resources of time and money to pursue their dreams like I was able to do.

Another perspective to consider: Have you heard people say that everything happens for a reason in your life?  Maybe you have experienced this yourself?  A series of events happens for no apparent reason and then you come to realize those events needed to happen first so that something else could manifest.  Or perhaps you needed to learn something to understand the importance of some future event.  It’s quite possible the path you are on that doesn’t always make sense will ultimately help you fulfill your noble purpose in life and benefit millions in some way. I’ve learned that judging the importance of an event in the moment is only part of the story, so why put yourself through the stress?

No one has been given any guarantees about their time on the planet. Life is a temporary visit to the earth school for each of us. Reminding ourselves of this point helps us to value each moment that we are living and allows us to celebrate life. Perhaps if we focus more on living in the moment and not in the past or future we could appreciate the value of the time we are experiencing now and accept the things that we have little control over that will happen regardless of what we do. Surrendering to what is in front of us is sometimes our only option and perhaps, for those of you who believe there is more to the life you are living, the greatest demonstration of our faith and the reason we get back in an airplane and choose to fly through life with the greatest of ease.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off November 2019 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Airplanes break

What airplane doesn’t have a squawk list or things that are found during an annual or 150-hour inspection? Despite our best intentions as pilots to keep our cherished airplanes working perfectly for our safety and that families and passengers, things happen. Airplanes break. You may achieve mechanical perfection for a brief time like I hope to on the Citizen of the World when I take off on my polar circumnavigation beginning June 1, 2019, but let’s be honest: It’s a standard that’s hard to maintain, maybe even impossible.

Working the bugs out is part of the process of preparing an aircraft for a circumnavigation or even the much more difficult polar circumnavigation. Part of my preparation for my flight has included upgrading the airplane so it could fly at Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum altitudes of Flight Level 350, or 35,000 feet. For the previous 24 years, this aircraft flew at 28,000 feet. You may remember that on Jan. 11, 2019, my TPE 331-10T engines (the same type you will find on Predator drones) let me know they needed some extra love to accomplish this task. They would not respond to throttle inputs at 34,500 feet and minus 33 degrees Celsius over Arizona. And while this issue may sound like something you wouldn’t like to experience personally, in hindsight, I’m glad it happened here in the continental United States before the trip. In addition to that timing, I had the good fortune to have Rob Louviaux, a senior mechanic for Gemini Air with 30 years of experience on Turbine Commanders, sitting right next to me. Looking at all this from a metaphysical level, I believe Citizen of the World was simply letting us know what it needed to make this trip happen safely and keep us focused on our mission of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity.”

From a safety standpoint, the engines had been refurbished and tested at sea level on a test stand for 90 hours before they were installed as required by the Honeywell MSP program managed by CTEC (Copperstate Turbine Engine Company, or what is now simply called TAE). Short of bolting the refurbished engines onto a test aircraft and flying them up to 35,000 feet, TAE’s test process probably works 99 percent of the time. The fuel controllers were not due for overhaul for quite some time, so the assumption was that they worked when they produced 1,147 horsepower and 1,150 hp on the test stand at sea level. They had not caused any problems prior to the refurbishment, and because TPE only required 1,000 hp output on each engine and these numbers were so much higher, it was reasonable to believe the engines were fine.

For the refurb, the Honeywell team and TAE’s John Phoenix went the extra distance and replaced many components that they could have let slide. The engine team had only one goal in mind, which was to ensure that Citizen of the World makes it around the planet and over the poles safely and reliably.

Since that event, we have made great progress on Citizen of the World‘s engines. Honeywell (the engine manufacturer), Honeywell MSP (the engine insurance company), TAE (the company that refurbished the engines), and Gemini Air (the mechanic) have all been amazing in helping to resolve this issue. In a meeting that involved the most senior technical advisor at Honeywell, everyone stepped up to express concern. Collectively, we came up with an immediate game plan to resolve the lack of response on the controllers. Within days, Louviaux had removed the inlet sensors, fuel pumps, and fuel controllers and sent them for testing at Honeywell. The Honeywell team cleared their schedules and checked the sensors and controllers in a temperature-controlled environment. The inlet sensors are being replaced even though they tested within the acceptable range, and the fuel controllers are being rebuilt even though the engines produced horsepower well above what was required of them on the test stand and they had time remaining on them.

This engine team is standing behind its engines 100 percent and working with me to achieve the absolute maximum performance possible at 35,000 feet even on components that were not included on the original refurbishment list. Many thanks to this dedicated team. Having this level of excellence for customer support and backing on my pole-to-pole flight gives me a welcome feeling of confidence and leaves me, my passengers—and Citizen’s engines—with smiles on our faces.

www.PoleToPoleFlight.com #TAE #Honeywell #HoneywellMSP #GeminiAir #TPE331 #CTEC #MTPropellerUSA

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off November 2019 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

The Things People Say to a Female Pilot

The following are a few of a female Part 135 pilot’s anecdotal encounters with the rest of the world. 

It was actually -23 when I started.

The outside temperature at the Talkeetna airport read minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It had warmed up from the overnight low, but I still struggled to make the de Havilland Otter ready for its flight to the Alaska Range. Two different winter solo climbers, bound for two different mountains, were supposed to fly out on one aircraft. One, a humble veteran of many winter ascents, and the other a young German, new to the Alaska Range. Denali Basecamp, their destination, sits at 7,200 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier. In the summertime, it is a colorful tent city of international bustle. In the winter things are different: It is a stark, windswept expanse of snow in the perpetual shade of Mount Hunter. I had been flying the Otter all week, but because of the challenging nature of the flight (landing on a dark glacier with no runway markers and minus-20-degree temperatures), my boss was driving today. I rode along happily as a support crewman.

“Did you fly this last?” he said with a laugh as he struggled to lower the cranky pilot’s seat from my impossibly high, forward position. The veteran, sitting just behind us, had known me when I was brand-new to all of this. “It’s so great that you get to fly these now,” he said graciously. And that’s when the German let out a hoot of laughter. He couldn’t hear very well under his large fur hat, and had mistaken our exchange as us joking about me flying. “No, you won’t be flying these!” He was laughing at the idea of me at the controls. And, even as the words tumbled out of his mouth, I forgave him. You see, I’m used to this kind of reaction.

Turbine Otter and my passengers on the glacier

I can think of nowhere in aviation where passengers interact so closely with their pilot. We talk to them in the air, spend time with them on the glacier, and cultivate a relationship as ambassadors to Denali National Park. The vast majority of passengers react positively when I fetch them for a flight. I’ve been called all kinds of nice things. My hand gets shaken warmly. Little girls and wives, normally destined for spaces aft, clamour to sit in the copilot’s seat. My youth and gender likely make many nervous, but they mostly keep it to themselves. Sometimes, though, bad things rise to the surface: The Korean matron that refuses to get in my Otter, the man from Alabama joking about me being the flight attendant, the guy from Seattle wondering aloud why the male ramper isn’t climbing into the pilot’s seat, the anxious woman whispering that she’d prefer a “real pilot,” the tour guide that makes a comment about my “nice body” as he’s seeing his clients off, the guy from the East Coast that I overheard calling me a “liability” as I walked past. That one hurt.

Thankfully, my coworkers are brave, intelligent men who treat me fairly. However, other pilots can fall prey to misconceptions, sometimes in hilarious ways. In my state, there are these ubiquitous macho big dudes in camo that drone on about their Cub-driving days, florid with war stories. They call me “little lady,” and tell me incriminating things about their flying that I would never disclose to a stranger. When pressed, many of them have not held a valid medical certificate for years. Those guys are always good for some silent humor. Humor is one of my ways of dealing with these things.

One time, a shiny polished-metal Beaver (I’ll leave the particular air taxi’s name out) came to a stop near the aircraft that I was fueling. After seeing his passengers off, the young pilot sauntered over. He stopped next to me, and made friendly but slightly annoying small talk. Befitting my gender, I listened politely. And then he paused. “I didn’t know they let rampers fuel the planes here.” “They don’t,” I replied. The kid didn’t get it. “Are any of the pilots around?” he asked. “Sure,” I said, barely containing my smile. “I bet there are some in the office.”

We all feel bad weather sometimes.

I don’t want my readers to think I’m complaining. As I mentioned before, the vast majority of people react positively. It’s pretty fun to be a woman “making it” in a male-dominated field. However, the negative encounters give me pause. Sometimes those things hurt. Sometimes they can’t be anulled with humor.

Truth is relative. The proponents of cognitive dissonance say that we can make ourselves think anything is true. Stereotypes exist because they are where most people’s truths coincide. They are the median perception of the collective. Because of that, I can mostly forgive the keepers of the stereotype. But occasionally, it sucks. And really, no one should have to be held in the negative thrall of one. I think the key to breaking down stereotypes may be empathy. Empathy, as defined by the Cambridge dictionary, means “…the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person situation.” Everyone I know, white males included, has been judged by their appearance.  I bet that young pilot that stereotyped me gets judged all the time for being young. We have all felt this judgement in our own way: for being too old, too young, overweight, not rich enough, not handsome enough, the wrong color, the wrong gender, etc. Though these experiences run a vast spectrum, I think that if we could all tap into the  fact that we all have them, and this is something we share, then I think it would help to break down barriers created by stereotypes. And that’s why I think it’s good to see a woman in the cockpit. Heck, that’s why it’s good to have diversity in the cockpit. I think it’d be nice to have a more open, less judgemental society. And I think everyone would benefit.

Young(ish) woman in a man’s world: pretty fun.

The stereotype that I battle is a deep one. I know this because of the cross-section of my stereotypers: In this article alone, you have heard from young guys, old guys, minorities, women, foreigners, and Americans. Even progressive liberals have stereotyped me.

One March, I was loading a Beaver with four skier guys headed for a week in the Alaska Range. After spending hours weighing and dragging and loading them and their stuff, I flopped into the pilot seat. “Y-you’re the pilot?!” one of them stammered. These guys were young professionals from Portland. I guess I had stereotyped them for being more perceptive than this. Couldn’t hold my humor in this time.

“What’d you think I was, the ramp welcoming committee?” I laughed. “Now… how do you start this thing?”

Leighan Falley grew up in Alaska and works as a professional pilot among the continent’s tallest mountains. She lives in Talkeetna, Alaska, with a family that includes a climbing ranger husband, two little daughters, and a rough-looking PA 22/20 on tundra tires.

Dealing with pre-departure delays and jitters: What is your intuition trying to tell you?

As pilots we often rely on our technical knowledge, flight training, and experience to make critical decisions in the air and on the ground. We use this knowledge to decide if we will continue a flight when something fails, to determine if weather will affect us, how our aircraft will perform given the maintenance it has received and what our course of action will be when making go/no-go decisions.

I believe we have another decision-making tool available to us as pilots—our intuition. Call it what you will: gut instinct, a hunch, your sixth sense. Psychology Today refers to intuition as the brain on autopilot—I think of it as an inner voice that always has our back. Regretfully, no training program I’m aware of has ever told us to rely on our intuition, and yet, it offers information that could save our lives in critical decision-making moments.

Case in point: As my departure date for my polar circumnavigation looms ever closer, my airplane, Citizen of the World, has started throwing me some major curves and fits. It has been sending me some very clear messages that leave me feeling a bit uneasy in my stomach. The messages I’m receiving are clear: The airplane is not ready for departure. In fact, it’s like it won’t let me go even though my get-there-itis is pushing me to keep moving.

A lot of technology and new equipment have come together in Citizen of the World in a very short period of time including a new Avidyne Avionics panel, Max Viz infrared sensor, refurbished Honeywell turbine engines, MT propellers, and a Peter Schiff environmental system to name a few. Being an optimist and thinking that this is not my first rodeo (see my equatorial circumnavigation), I assumed the trip would roll out on time and smoothly like back in 2015. Nothing could be further from the truth. This trip is an entirely different animal than an equatorial circumnavigation and much more complex: vastly greater distances, the worst weather on the planet, extreme cold, lack of places to land, pilot fatigue issues, challenging navigation, and a more complicated/modified airplane.

To add insult to injury, for some reason the human factor is also coming into play like it never has before. It’s making my earlier trip complete with engine out at 14,000 feet over the Strait of Malacca feel like a cakewalk (see my book Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within). Disagreements between contractors, health issues of key players, family issues for supporters, and my own physical challenge of dislocating a shoulder have had me on high alert. Not a great way to start a long-distance solo flight.

As my initial departure date neared, I was starting to lose sleep over these issues and my intuition kept waking me in the middle of the night saying, “Not yet! The plane needs to stabilize and needs more testing.”

The problem is, of course, that all these things result in delays for every scheduled installation or inspection, since the modifications must happen sequentially. For example, the environmental system must be installed and working reliably before the six ferry tanks are installed, which limit access to the environmental system once the tanks are installed.  All of these delays add stress to meeting my departure date.

These issues I have listed do not even account for the random events that plague aviation and life. The things we cannot predict or plan for can have a tremendous impact on us, and even greater consequences when we aren’t paying attention to our intuition or worse, choosing to ignore it. By listening to our intuition and acting on it immediately we clear the air for better solutions to rise up and ease the growing stress that is clogging our mental and emotional engines.

While flying the airplane from Tennessee to New Mexico en route to Gemini Air Group for a third look at the airplane by some very talented mechanics, I noticed the entire right side of the pilot window had cracked and delaminated. This was slightly unnerving given that I was flying 30,000 feet above ground, and that the airplane was pressurized to 6.4 psi cabin differential. I couldn’t help but think that the windshield could collapse in on me at just over 302 knots or 347.3 mph, the speed at which I was currently flying. As I watched the cracking spread to the top of the window, it was as if the Universe was talking to me and stopping me in my tracks. Coincidentally  I was close to my next fuel stop and Gemini Air Group. My intuition was again telling me, “Not ready, you have more work to do on this plane.”

Looking into replacing the window, I was told by one mechanic, “You can fly with it ‘as is,’ it just won’t look pretty.” Aesthetics and get-there-itis aside, my gut was telling me this wasn’t just a delay issue, it was also a financial, and even more important, a safety issue. Heated aircraft windows are made in small quantities and are enormously expensive, slow to manufacture and install, as well as critical for flying at the flight levels I will be flying.

In addition to the windshield delaminating, we became aware that the right engine had been refurbished using bearings for the torque sensor transducer that were potentially defective and needed to be replaced, requiring the prop to be removed and the intake disassembled. Testing the engine would require inflight investigation and shutting the airplane down in flight. Everything continued to point to a delay—but would I listen?

My intuition continued to nudge me. As the clock ticks, we have scrambled to get help from our sponsors/angels. Even more critical is that I’m losing valuable time as the temperatures at the South Pole drops 30 degrees in the month of January alone.

Despite being told countless times that turbine engines are 100 times more reliable than piston engines (I have two turbines on Citizen of the World), it has become clear to me that everything around the turbines is like any other airplane part and subject to failure regardless of what is happening with the turbine engines.

Recognizing what was happening, listening to my intuition, talking with my team, and staying focused on safety, I decided to delay the trip by about 30 days, and then six months, to give the airplane and me more time to prepare. The good news is that the uneasiness I had been feeling subsided, and things began to unfold more easily and gracefully once again—the trip fell back into alignment. Sponsors have come forward to help with some of the costs of the windshield, the mechanics are making repairs, and my shoulder is almost pain free again.

While we can’t qualify our intuition like we can other more technical facts related to flying like our personal minimums, we can still use our intuition to guide us when it comes to our safety and that of our cherished passengers. Developing your sense of intuition is time well spent and is worth consulting before flying. Two simple questions can get you started: “How do I feel about this flight?” and “If there was no stress what would I do?” Learning how to feel your feelings and listen to what your stress is telling you will lead you to the best co-pilot you will ever have. Trust your intuition.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off November 2019 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Spark the Wonder of Flight

As 2018 quickly becomes an entry in the logbook, I look forward to the New Year. For me 2019 will be a year of connection, growth and change. It is fairly easy to attend aviation events, fill up our tanks with the latest information, technology, and dream of that PC24 in our hangar. Yet it is much harder to actually roll up your sleeves and volunteer at one of these events. I came across this quote on the Internet and it piqued my interest.

As I look back at my calendar I am very encouraged by the countless men and women who gave of themselves, who were available for opportunity to spark the wonder of flight in others. Here is a sampling of the opportunities for fun and volunteerism that I was fortunate to be a part of. Hopefully you will be inspired to take part in events in your part of the country.

In February I flew in formation with a few other Mooneys to Yuma Arizona to attend the 7th annual Gunfighter’s Formation Clinic. 35 airplanes enjoyed the three-day event co-sponsored by the Red Star Pilots Association and the Mooney Caravan both of which are 501(c)3 non-profits.

Gunfighter’s Formation Clinic

This event brings together aviators of all sorts whose goal is to gain the skill and proficiency to fly mere feet away from one another. We were lucky to have my Mooney sister, Pia Bergqvist, the Executive Editor of Flying Magazine join us for the fun, and she wrote a fabulous article on the joys and challenges of formation flight.

The month of April means that things are shaking in Lakeland Florida for Sun ‘n Fun. I was thrilled to be able to present Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Life Goals in the forums and for AOPA. We all know the fabulous events on the schedule at Sun ‘n Fun, but as a credentialed part of the media I was able to see the inner workings of this week-long annual event. I tend to have a bunch of stuff to carry at shows. I was also lucky enough to have rides in a golf cart to and from the parking lot to the event site.

SNF Volunteers Rock

It was during those rides that I got to know many of the dedicated volunteers. It can be easy to overlook the volunteers, but they really are the ones who make the events so special.

The second Saturday of May is Oceano Airport Celebration: Salute to Veterans. This annual event not only highlights the gratitude for those who have served our country, but as well collects needed items for military care packages. Friends of Oceano Airport [FOA] is a 501(c)3 non-profit as well as a proud member of the California Pilots Association. I am happy to serve as the President of FOA.

Oceano Airport Celebration: Military Care Package Donations

Volunteers are the backbone of this community fly-in. Year after year we transform our campground into the event site. The goal is to share our beach-side airport, highlight its benefits, and inspire the love of flight to our community.

The month of June brings Father’s Day and every June for the past 52 years Columbia Airport [O22] in the gold country of California, hosts hundreds of attendees for the Father’s Day Fly-In. Columbia Airport has an airplane-only campground and is within walking distance of the historic downtown [state park, gold mining, pedestrian only]. I have volunteered at the fly-in for about nine years. It is so fun to see the tremendous community involvement. My Mooney Ambassador booth is popular, not only for having an awesome airplane or two on display, but also for the Moo Pool.

Moo Pool at Columbia Father’s Day Fly-In

It is not uncommon to have over 100-degree weather. Taking a dip in the pool is fun for the kids, and I have known a volunteer or two to put their feet in.

It is hard to think about July without plugging in KOSH in our flight planner. This year I made the trip solo in my Mooney with a very newly overhauled engine and a fairly new IFR rating. Wittman Regional Airport becomes home away from home for over 600,000 aviation lovers and 10,000 aircraft. There are upwards of 5000 of volunteers working to ensure that the event is as fun and safe as possible. I have volunteered at OSH in a couple of capacities as a presenter but probably even more fun as a member of the EAA Airventure Concert Band for 8 years.

EAA Airventure Concert Band

The band is made up of members from all across the country and sometimes world, who practice our music independently over the spring and summer. We come together and practice a few times, then perform at the airshow opener and have a concert. Elton Eisele who is also an EAA Departure Briefing Chairman directs the all-volunteer band.

The first ever VNY Prop Park airport event was held in September. California Pilots Association also held their annual meeting at the event.

Van Nuys Airport Prop Park Fly-In

Historic 16-right provided a great backdrop for renowned speakers Rod Machado and Barry Schiff, a movie night featuring 16R and Living in the Age of Airplanes , 99s scholarship pancake breakfast and aircraft displays. The team of volunteers worked tirelessly to make the new event a success.

Later in September I was happy to be able to present Exiting the Hold at the California Capital Airshow. Established in 2004, the California Capital Airshow 501(c)3 plans and operates the exciting, family-friendly annual event designed to honor the Sacramento region’s rich aviation heritage and veterans while using the power and magic of flight to inspire young people. CCA gives back to the community through scholarships charitable group donations and exciting educational youth programming throughout the year.

California Capital Airshow

The steering committee of the airshow works to involve the military GA, and Sacramento communities. The schedule offers something for everyone. There was a night airshow, a dance under the stars; educational forums and the daytime show featured the Blue Angels.

In October the inaugural Central Coast AirFest took place in Santa Maria, CA featuring the Canadian Snow Birds. This event was willed into existence by a dedicated group of volunteers. There was a tremendous amount of community integration and involvement in the two-day event.

Central Coast Airfest featuring the Canadian Snowbirds

The first Saturday in December is always a busy one for us at Oceano Airport. For the past ten years we have held a Toys for Tots event in cooperation with the US Marine Corp Reserves. The satisfaction of knowing that the children in our local area are receiving gifts underneath the tree is fantastic. In addition to toy collection we also had a burger fry that supported our local San Luis Obispo 99s scholarship fund.

Oceano Airport Toys for Tots

The first event for my 2019 calendar is an evening at ACI Jet Center in San Luis Obispo, CA.  I am working with King Schools to present Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Life Goals. We will gather on Thursday February 21st at ACI. Come enjoy this free community event with FAAST team credit, refreshments, as well as cool door prizes. The face-paced multimedia presentation will help you learn the six elements for getting unstuck in life and reaching your goals.

Spark Wonder

As you look toward 2019 I will give you some advice; get involved. Spark the wonder of flight in your community. Volunteer your talents in local, regional or national events. I guarantee two things; you will be tired, and it will be a happy-tired. See you in San Luis.

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot. Jolie presents aviation seminars around the country including Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh and AOPA. Jolie is the 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

Adventures in flying

I’m always puzzled by the awe with which so many people—some of them pilots themselves—regard those of us who regularly fly to other continents.

From Day One, there was clearly nothing superhuman to me about the feat, especially given the incredible capability and redundancy of the equipment we operate. Modern business jets are as well equipped as any airliner. Sometimes better, in fact. There are backups for everything, and then backups for the backups, and procedures for dealing with even those systems, should they go south. All this on an aircraft where a failure of any consequential item is already extraordinarily rare.

As I’ve noted previously, the most challenging part of the job isn’t the flying. Rather, it’s keeping up with the varied rules and regulations for each country’s airspace. The customs and immigration procedures. The layers and layers of administrative tasks. The language barriers, time zone changes, and so on. The actual flying becomes the predictable, straightforward aspect of it all. And I have absolutely no problem with that. It ought to be boring, because that’s the level of safety expected for modern day commercial air travel.

So that’s the long way of saying I wouldn’t be too impressed by “extended range” flying. If you want impressive, let me tell you about a long-time friend and student of mine. We got to know one another when he appeared on my schedule for a primary aerobatic course, where he mastered loops, rolls, spins, and loop/roll combinations like the Immelmann, split S, and barrel roll.

I also taught him to fly tailwheel aircraft, and in retrospect it’s one of the most significant endorsements I’ve ever provided. Later, I was his CFI during commercial certificate training. The following year, he bought a beautifully restored 1929 Travel Air 4000 biplane, and I provided some instruction in that as well.

Note the concave curve to the lower wing of this Travel Air biplane

If you’re not familiar with the Travel Air, it’s a link to the earliest days of aviation. I’ve seen the original bill of sale for the aircraft: It was signed by Walter Beech. Yeah, that Walter Beech. The lower surface of the wing has a concave curve to it, as many early airfoil designs did. And although the original Wright J-6 powerplant since has been replaced by the more ubiquitous Continental W670 radial, it’s still a 90-year-old tube-and-fabric, open-cockpit antique. On a good day, you’ll get 85 mph out of in cruise.

That’s to say the airplane isn’t much good for going anywhere. Or at least, that’s what I always thought. As far as I know, my friend never ventured too far away with the Travel Air… until one day when he called and asked a few questions about international procedures, equipment requirements for Europe, VFR airspace, and charts for the Continent. I assumed he was going to be taking some lessons at a local flight school over there.

Charles Lindbergh and his Travel Air biplane

Nope. He was having his Travel Air shipped to England so he could fly it VFR across the Channel and the rest of Europe toward Greece. Then from Crete, across the Mediterranean to Egypt, and down the full length of the African continent to Cape Town, South Africa.

I’ll be honest, my first thought was, “Is this a joke?” My second was, “Are you crazy?” And my third: “How are you going to get approval for any of this?” My jet will make a trip like that, but it comes with a team of professionals to handle the permits, fees, rules, permissions, and mounds of paperwork that always accompany such a journey. I wondered what a flight risk analysis app would say about a trip like this.

On further investigation, he was joining a group of intrepid barnstormers who were re-creating the early 20th century mail routes that ran the length of Africa. They called it the Vintage Air Rally. As I remember, my friend described it to me as “a little adventure.” Boy, was it ever.

But it gets better. When the rally ended in Cape Town, the other pilots had their airplanes disassembled and shipped back home—”home” being places which were, for the most part, a lot closer to South Africa than southern California. My friend? He decided to fly back to England. On his own.

Here’s a map he sent me after reaching the United Kingdom. I stared at that image for a long time. Imagine the weather, the unimproved strips, the mechanical issues, and so on that he had experienced. I know at least one aircraft on the Vintage Air Rally crashed.

My friend regaled me for an hour with stories about being detained for days after a bit of paperwork was not where it should have been. Another time he suffered a broken crankshaft in flight. After a safe landing, he had a new engine sourced, shipped, and installed by his mechanic (who flew all the way from California and arrived at the same time the engine did) within a day or two. He had encounters with instrument conditions, extreme density altitudes, and winds we rarely see back home.

On the other hand, his tale also included moments like landing in the dirt of a remote village only to find the people there had never seen an airplane before and didn’t know what his machine was. Can you imagine giving a ride to a kid who has no concept of what an aircraft is, who has never seen even a photograph of one before?

The air rally participants received permission to make close flybys of normally restricted wonders like the Egyptian pyramids and Victoria Falls. And just by virtue of the low altitude and VFR flying, they saw things from the air I’ll never see in my airplane.

By the time he had completed the trip and was ready to crate his biplane, if memory serves he had flown something like 15,000 miles across some of the most challenging and inspiring terrain on Earth. To me, this is the kind of adventure I imagine when the word “awe” is uttered. Even the earthrounders aren’t as impressive, because they’re usually flying much more capable equipment and operate out of established airports. This air rally was barnstormers writ large, and I doubt anything will top it in the flying careers of those who participated.

I told my friend that there are pilots, and then there are aviators. His experiences made him the latter and were ones that could not be duplicated or taught. Perhaps that’s what made them so special.

As far as I was concerned, from now on, he should be teaching me. I dunno if that comment played a part in what comes next, but he’s now working on his flight instructor certificate.

Ron Rapp is a Southern California-based charter pilot, aerobatic CFI, and aircraft owner whose 9,000+ hours have encompassed everything from homebuilts to business jets. He’s written mile-long messages in the air as a Skytyper, crop-dusted with ex-military King Airs, flown across oceans in a Gulfstream IV, and tumbled through the air in his Pitts S-2B. Visit Ron’s website.
Older posts