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Category: Safety (page 1 of 42)

The One Decision your Technology can’t Make

Last week the general aviation community was thrilled when Garmin unveiled their long awaited auto land technology they call Autonomi. When used properly, the system will make general aviation safer and increase passenger comfort.  AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines wrote a great article about flying “behind” the new system, which can be found here: https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2020/january/pilot/hands-off

Right Seat Ready!© at AOPA Photo by David Tulis.

For over a decade, along with my partner Jan Maxwell, I have taught Right Seat Ready!© a companion safety seminar for non-pilots. Our goal is to educate those in the right and back seat on basic aviation, navigation and communication skills to get the airplane back on the ground safely should the left seat pilot become incapacitated. Two ancillary benefits for our attendees is the increase of comfort in the airplane and willingness to fly more often.  We also have a  proud record of turning three RSR participants into pilots and aircraft owners in their own rights.  Jan and I  have taught around the country for aviation groups, type-specific clubs and at the AOPA Regional fly-ins. The beginning part of the day focuses on the aforementioned topics. Sometime after lunch we change gears to the one decision that technology cannot make for us, the initial decision of whether to launch on a flight.

Right Seat Ready!© at AOPA Photo by David Tulis.

I am a member of MooneySpace, a lively forum of Mooniacs. After the launch of Autonomi, one member joked that Right Seat Ready!© would be out of business soon. Of course I knew they were only kidding, but it made me think about the amount of information we give our right-seaters to help assess whether their left-seat pilot is good to “go”. We train them to watch you and assess how you are doing. For much of the country, the weather is worsening, and we might be relegated to hangar flying for the next few months. Please take a look at this information and seriously consider your health and wellness. Here is a portion of the information we are teaching your right seat non-pilot, just a fraction. Please consider these items in your Go/No Go decision, the one decision that your parachute or auto land cannot make.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I love that airplanes have parachutes and auto land systems when the unthinkable happens. But as a practicing psychotherapist I also am keenly aware we can have blinders on when it comes to our own limitations. Please take a moment and read this article I wrote for AOPA Pilot on understanding the relationship between the psychology of life and the psychology of flight: https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2012/april/pilot/bouncing-back Your launch decision is the only one that cannot be made by the technology in your airplane. Your life and those that you love depends on that decision being the very best.

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter at Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh and AOPA Regionals, Aviation Mastery and others. Jolie is a published aviation writer in AOPA Pilot, Flying Magazine, MAPA Log, among others. 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

New Me, New We

A future Aviatrix at Fresno/Chandler Airport day

When we start off our training in aviation we become new. In many ways, instruction and experience transform us into an aviator. The training syllabus takes us from ground school, to first lesson, written exam, medical, first solo and on to checkride. For many, trying to think about our life before aviation is difficult. We press on for advanced ratings, type certificates and aircraft ownership. The transformation from the person gazing skyward hoping for wings, to the certificated pilot ensures a new “me”.

This young man is studying to be an airplane mechanic

Now I am going to say something dramatic, stop just going to aviation events. Instead I challenge you to join the “we” culture versus staying in the “me” culture. As aviators committed to being lifetime learners, we are constantly focused on ourselves as individuals, and rightly so. When we are focused on “me” we fly to an aviation event for a fuel discount, or to hear a favorite speaker for free, or to buy some raffle tickets for donated prizes. There is nothing wrong with that. I love to support GA events especially the smaller ones. But I want you to take a moment to think about how you could connect with the event, become part of the “we”.

Over the past week I attended “Remember When 5th Annual Airport Day” at Fresno/Chandler airport in the Central Valley of California, presented Exit the Holding Pattern: Achieve your Aviation Goals in San Diego for the San Diego Aviation Safety Counselors, and will attend the Central Coast AirFest this weekend in Santa Maria, California The thing that all three of these events have in common is the We Team, of volunteers. Volunteering doesn’t have to be particularly time consuming or technical. Most events need volunteers in all capacities. Think about your talents and get involved.

The Remember When event was a nice combination of two of the three tiers in airport protection and GA promotion: grass roots local level plus the state level. I attended as a Vice President of California Pilots Association. We had a fun booth that drew in current members, prospective members and those wanting to learn to fly. The whole event was quintessentially GA, airplanes on display, awesome fuel discount, car show, good food and educational seminars. It takes nearly 100 volunteers to put on this annual event.

On Thursday I presented Exit the Holding Pattern: Achieve your Aviation Goals for the San Diego Aviation Safety Counselors monthly WINGS event. I am sure many of you attend safety seminars in your community, but how many of you volunteer in some capacity? In the case of the San Diego event there were numerous volunteers who arrived 30 minutes before and stayed the same after. Organizing speakers for a monthly event is a big job. Think about who you know who presents workshops, or how you can help with your local events.

Large crowd at Exit the Hold: Achieve your Aviation Goals presentation

This coming weekend is the Central Coast AirFest in Santa Maria, CA. This is the second year of the event. The AirFest is in collaboration with the Santa Maria Airport District and many community sponsors.   The two-day show offers aerobatics, military, and radio-controlled aircraft demonstrations. This year’s headliner is the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. The Viper demonstration will end with a dazzling pyrotechnics display. The event is expected to attract over 15,000 over the weekend. An event this size cannot happen without a team of hundreds of volunteers. Aviation lovers who simply sit back and merely attend events will miss out on the camaraderie, behind-the-scenes access, and the satisfaction of bringing an event to successful fruition.

Five-Cities Fire brings toys for the kids at Toys for Tots

The flying season might be coming to an end due to weather for many around the country. But it’s not too late to check out the AOPA calendar or sites like Social Flight to check out remaining 2019 events, such as  December 7th Oceano Airport Toys for Tots.  Better yet, contact the organizer and volunteer. Let your new “me”, turn in to a new “we”. Come be part of it all. See you all out there!

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter at Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh and AOPA Regionals, Aviation Mastery and others. Jolie is a published aviation writer in AOPA Pilot, Flying Magazine, MAPA Log, among others. 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

The Atlas Air accident

The recent crash of Atlas 3591 under the banner of Amazon is already producing its share of arm-chair investigators. Because there was weather in the area, many jumped to the conclusion that it was a weather-related accident. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.

I’ve heard others postulate that it was a pilot suicide—an idea prompted by the apparent nose-down attitude of the airplane when it hit the water. Again, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.

What it was, though, is fatal. What is unusual so far is that the media is paying it more attention than most cargo accidents. This is no doubt driven by the facts that the accident took place mid-afternoon with witnesses, that it was in close proximity to an airport, and that it was affiliated with Amazon, a company we’re all more than familiar with in the world of e-commerce.

There will be a lot of attention paid to the actions of the crew, in part because of the fact that there was a third pilot riding in the jump seat. What we don’t know yet is whether that pilot was in the cockpit or riding in one of the seats that are installed in the cabin forward of the bulkhead for the main cargo compartment. If the jump seater was in the cockpit, close attention will be paid to any degree of distraction that his presence may have caused. Close attention also will be paid to any violations of sterile cockpit procedures. The NTSB has a tendency to use sterile cockpit violations as an easy out for any other causal factors, allowing them to place the blame on the crew.

Without knowing the preceding schedule of the crew, it’s hard to know whether crew rest will be found to have played a part. After Colgan 3407 crashed, FAR Part 117 was created to bring a more scientific approach to crew duty and rest issues, especially at the regionals. Cargo carriers, however, succeeded in convincing Congress and the FAA that it was unnecessary to subject them to the new rules, since any accidents would “only” result in the loss of a couple of people. The pilot associations understandably were (and are) still quite upset about this, because while cargo carriers may not carry hundreds of passengers, their pilots often work under extremely demanding conditions. They often fly entirely at night on the back side of the clock, usually in airplanes that are decades old with less restrictive Minimum Equipment Lists (MELs). The pilots are constantly in a battle to get quality sleep that, even in the best of hotels, may be hard to come by because of noise, lights, and the natural desire of the body to be awake during the day. Further, the rest facilities on the long-haul flights are not required to be as modern as those for passenger flights.

I have no idea what the cause of this particular accident might have been, but expect fatigue to get close scrutiny, along with the weather and the potential distraction of the jump seater. Like most accidents, this one is likely to take a year or more to reach a final report. Fortunately, the wreckage seems to be fairly confined. Exercise patience and wait for the NTSB to wade—literally—through the evidence to put the events in context.—Chip Wright

Exiting the Hold: Utilize Community Connection

In last month’s installment of Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals we talked about the importance of quieting the critic, exhibiting determination and the importance of perseverance in reaching your goals. In the final installment we will focus on utilizing aviation community connections to help reach our goals.

Sun ‘n Fun 2018

In this digital age you would be remiss not to use built-in aviation community connections such as:

  • Message Boards
  • Type Clubs
  • Online Forums
  • Type-Specific Websites
  • Facebook

Utilize community connection

View isolation as an enemy in attaining your goals. When we are isolated it is easy to fall into old patterns of thought and behavior. Remember from earlier installments of Exiting the Hold, old thinking will not support new learning.

Oceano Airport Toys for Tots

Why not attend one of our wonderful aviation events? Whether large or small, these events are sure to inspire you. Gatherings are a way to network with old-timers, connect with mentors, and meet others on the same path of growth. Make sure to fully utilize the support of your friends and family.

Try putting this simple formula to work for you. First, change your thoughts. The second step is to change your language. Next comes changing your actions, and finally your experience will change. Here is an example with the goal of getting a tail wheel endorsement. Your old thinking of “I don’t have the rudder skills to fly a tail wheel” changes in to “I can learn the skills I need to fly a tail wheel.” Next comes the language piece. Tell a friend, “I am learning to fly a tail wheel.” The action part is scheduling the airplane and instruction necessary for the endorsement and completing the training. And finally, voila! you are a tail wheel pilot.

Exiting the Hold, OSH 2018

Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals has been a very popular presentation series over the past year as I have presented across the country from Sun n Fun, to Oshkosh, to the Capital Airshow in California. I have decided in 2019 to continue with this series in hopes of reaching even more folks who feel stuck in life, and hopefully to inspire them to move forward toward success.

Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals

Six Keys Summary

  • Maximize timing
  • Choose your course of study wisely
  • Let yourself be a flexible thinker
  • Quiet the critic
  • Exhibit determination
  • Utilize community connections

In early 2019 I will be partnering  King Schools to offer Exiting the Hold in beautiful San Luis Obispo California. ACI Jet will be hosting the evening seminar which will be an opportunity for us to gather together, earn FAAST credit, see the presentation, and also perhaps win the drawing for a certificate for any course King Schools offers. Look for more information soon.

It is possible to exit the holding pattern you have been flying. Acknowledge that you have been stuck, use community connections to decrease isolation, make informed choices about resources, and be determined to change your aviation future. Look at obstacles merely as challenges to overcome; in the end your flying will be safer and more enjoyable and you will be proud of your accomplishments.

 

 

 

 

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter at Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh and AOPA Regionals, Aviation Mastery and others. Jolie is a published aviation writer in AOPA Pilot, Flying Magazine, MAPA Log, among others. 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

Exiting the Hold: Quieting the Critic

In last month’s installment of Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals we talked about the importance of being a flexible thinker. This month we will focus on quieting the critic, exhibiting determination and the importance of perseverance in reaching your goals.

Quiet the Critic

“You are not enough.”  “You don’t have enough time, intelligence, money or opportunity.”  For most people their critic gets up in the morning before they do and goes to sleep well after they do. This critic keeps a running commentary of everything they have done wrong all day, the shortfalls, and missed opportunities.

In order to master something new, you will have to first master your critic. This process must be quite active. Simply trying to ignore the critic will not work. Passivity will not work. The critic lives in scarcity. In order to break out of the hold, we must be able to live in plenty, and that requires inserting positivity into your thinking. It might be helpful to think of the critic being on a dimmer switch. Our goal is to turn the dimmer switch down. If you make a mistake in training, fess up, analyze what went wrong, and move on.

The Thought Layer

When initially presented with stressful stimuli, our brain and body cannot tell the difference between fear and excitement. A person sitting on a ride in an amusement park that loves roller coasters is going to have the same bio-chemical reaction from the ancient part of the low brain as the person seated next to them that hates riding roller coasters. The body doesn’t know the difference between the two beliefs. The layer that makes that determination is thought which comes from the higher part of the brain we don’t share with reptiles.

The thoughts you have about your journey will determine whether you perceive worry or anticipation. In the same way that we need to keep on the correct side of the power curve in an airplane, we must do the same with our thought layer.

Exhibit determination

Determination has been shown to be one of the key factors in success. Our greatest strength lies not in never having fallen, but in rising every time we fall. This old adage rings true in pursuing your aviation goals. As my CFII and dear friend said, “Instead of looking at obstacles as a brick wall, instead look at them as picket fence.” Develop the ability to look past the obstacle and realize there is success on the other side.

Demonstrate sheer determination and be willing to apply yourself in any situation that will allow you to continue to build time, complete your training, and pursue advancement. Perseverance means that you continue to strive for excellence and guard against complacency. Remember the critic is only a dimmer switch away.

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter at Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh and AOPA Regionals, Aviation Mastery and others. Jolie is a published aviation writer in AOPA Pilot, Flying Magazine, MAPA Log, among others. 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

Flight training is no place for self loathing

The following is a story about dealing with the ups and downs of learning to fly a bigger airplane. 

It was a chilly spring morning in Talkeetna, Alaska. An uncontrollable shiver racked me as I walked up to the gleaming Garrett Turbine Otter. Set against a pale sky populated by thin cirrus, the white airplane seemed huge, remote, and utterly imposing. This was to be my first session of flight training in the beast, with the intent of culminating in my first IFR 135 checkride. As a mountain guide on Denali, I’d been a passenger in the Garrett Otter before becoming a commercial pilot, and was well aware of their capabilities. To me they’d always seemed like the mightiest weapon in the off-airport kingdom: a fire-breathing steed that behaved like a Super Cub at 8,000 pounds…yet also was able to fly through the clouds, cruise fairly fast (for a STOL airplane), and ascend to the 20,000 foot summit of Denali with ease. It seemed like a big jump for a low-time pilot like myself. My shiver, I realized, was born of nervousness and not the cold.

The mighty mountain ship in its natural habitat. Denali Basecamp, Alaska. Photo by author. 

Our two check airmen are merciless in their flight training and testing. The FAA would be proud. The main instructor is a powerful CFI and one of those pilots that has that “touch.” It’s hard to argue with such talent. He typically employs the method of negative reinforcement. We have been good friends since far prior to my employment at the air taxi, but every spring we set aside our friendship until after the checkride. My hands were shaking as I climbed into the cockpit with him. He sat there in the co-pilot’s seat, clipboard and pen in lap, sunglasses on, his jaw set sternly. And then I began my very first engine start. As I was toggling the fuel enrichment switch, he remarked “…I don’t know how you’re getting it to do this, but you’re moving the whole instrument panel with the switch. Light touch, OK? Don’t white-knuckle it.” Get a hold of yourself, I thought.

The moment I’d been waiting for: takeoff. I’d seen it done many times. Now I was the driver. The whole ship shuddered and ripped into the sky after only a few hundred feet of takeoff roll. All of a sudden we were at 6,000 feet, maneuvering above a glistening scattered layer with the emerald valley below. The session went unbelievably well. My nervousness turned to sheer joy. I’ve got this.

Due to scheduling, a week passed before my next session. My hands still shook as I climbed into the cockpit with my fearsome friend, but I was more excited than nervous. However, things went poorly from the start. I couldn’t even taxi the thing. There were about a million people out on the ramp that day, and they were all watching me, the “girl pilot,” struggle. Everyone on the field has always been very accepting of me, but I do think that I get watched more closely. “You’re not inspiring confidence in anyone,” said my instructor as he looked over at the watchers. A harsh but apt observation. It took all I had just to get the thing to the runway. Inevitably, the distraction of the difficult taxi led to me making more mistakes. We sat in silence on the runway after I’d taken the active before completing the pretakeoff checklist. I listened to the powerful, rich hum of the turbine at high idle, ready to launch into the sky. “What do you think you should do?” he said. After a few seconds, I pulled the condition lever back. “I think we’re done for today,” I replied. He nodded silently. After a fight to get the airplane back to its parking spot, we shut down the engine. “What do you think you could have done better?” The classic CFI question. “I think something is broken on the plane,” said I. His thoughts were written on his face: excuses. I don’t get this.

I lay awake all night, contemplating my failure. A terrible voice played in my head: You think you’re a pilot? You want to fly like the best? Well, you’re nothing but a little girl, and you can’t even get the thing to the runway. And you’re a terrible instrument pilot. How are you ever going to take a checkride in this thing? But another, softer voice spoke through the murk: Maybe something really is broken on the airplane. Taking chances can lead to occasional failure. If you didn’t love the thrill, you wouldn’t have chosen this path. As fate would have it, a bushing in the tailwheel was the culprit. The thing steered beautifully after its replacement. It was time to rebuild my confidence.

When I began to write this, I had intended to share some advice on exactly how I managed to come back after such doubt. But in the process of writing, I realized I was joining the ranks of self-help articles. During my troubles, I read close to a million of those things on rebuilding confidence…and unanimously found them to be annoying and inapplicable to my situation/personality. So I’m not going to proffer any advice. All I can say is this: I simply decided that flight training is no place for self loathing. The line between confidence and arrogance is thin, and one that I’d probably taken too seriously. The doubt was degrading my performance. Standing in front of the airplane before my next session, I decided to let it go. It was an experiment in personality alteration…but what did I have to lose? And that’s when things started going really well for me.

A stiff crosswind was blowing the day of my checkride. The check airman was also the owner and director of operations, a fact that I found rather intimidating. Though an affable boss, he is every bit as stern with our flying as his henchman the instructor. With my new mantle of confidence, I managed to keep it together as I preflighted the dragon. “Just remember,” said one of my colleagues as I walked out the door, “…if you don’t pass this checkride, you won’t have a job and it’ll be really hard to find another one!” And, because I had chosen to be a confident pilot, I simply laughed.

Post-checkride and fully operational.

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.

Paranoia Pays Off

Normally, paranoia is considered unhealthy. As it pertains to flying, however, in my experience a moderate dose can keep the doctor away much like the proverbial apple. It’ll keep the FAA, NTSB, and unemployment line at arm’s length as well.

There are so many things to be concerned with when aviating that I find great benefit in prioritizing them all by asking: Can this kill me? The answer will vary with the kind of airplane I’m flying, of course. This is where a regular reading of safety and accident reports can pay dividends.

In an aerobatic airplane, the No. 1 killer is the pilot himself. So no showboating, low flying, or things that being with “watch this.” From a preflight standpoint (and the preflight always takes longer than the actual flight where aerobatics is concerned), the canopy latches, fuel selector, and flight controls are high on the list, as is a thorough inspection of the cockpit and tail cone area for any foreign object debris. Those are the things which, historically, have led pilots to grief in those airplanes. I once had a flight control system failure in the middle of an aerobatic sequence. It gets your attention rather quickly.

In the Gulfstream, the top spot goes to the pressurization system. This is a component that keeps the crew alive just as surely as the wings. We cruise at altitudes much higher than the average airlines, where there’s precious few seconds of useful consciousness if a sudden loss of pressure is experienced. But even more insidious is the slow depressurization as it often goes unnoticed until physiological impairment is already at work.

There have been so many accidents related to pressurization, and quite often they’re fatal. Recently an Air China 737 dropped the masks because the first officer decided to vape in the cockpit and, not understanding how the pressurization system worked, shut it off inadvertently. Instead of diverting, they completed the flight without any oxygen for the passengers after reactivating the packs. Unsafe? Yes, and illegal, too. As many politicians have learned the hard way, the coverup is always worse than the initial crime.

I’m also paranoid about the galley oven and microwave on my Gulfstream. Fire in an airplane is really bad. Just the other day on the way to Hawaii, our flight attendant forgot to remove labels from a catering order and almost caught the containers on fire. Rookie mistake? Hardly. This flight attendant is highly experienced, and I’m sure she’s not alone in having made this particular error. We’re all aware that a moment’s carelessness can lead to serious consequences, but it’s vital to remember that this is as true for flight attendants, passengers, and ground crew as it is for pilots.

I try to think of other ways things can catch on fire, too. We have Firebane and a FireSock for containment of lithium battery fires from portable devices. I’ve also often rehearsed what I’d do if a fire or burning smell was detected from an unknown source, practiced the emergency descents every recurrent, and so on. My record is FL450 to 15,000 feet msl in a minute and 43 seconds. The particular Gulfstream model I fly is at somewhat of a disadvantage over newer large cabin iterations in that there’s no “automatic descent mode.” That’s an additional risk factor. We have to get the masks on in time, every time, because the airplane has no backup technology to save us.

I’m also paranoid about things like access panels, chocks, gear pins, and the like. Those won’t necessarily cause an accident, but in my experience they’re by far the most commonly missed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen fuelers leave the single point refueling door open. We see safety reports about that stuff constantly at my company.

I’m paranoid about what’s behind the airplane. I always perform a final walk around prior to closing the door, and note what’s in the path of the airplane’s jet blast. I fly tailwheel airplanes and have seen them damaged by jets, especially at small congested fields like my home airport (John Wayne-Orange County Airport) where it’s not uncommon to have a Global or Gulfstream starting up with a Citabria less than a hundred feet behind it. I love those small airplanes!

I’m paranoid about landing on the wrong runway. I’ve intervened to save three pilots from that on various occasions. “Cleared for the visual” always gets the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I personally witnessed a Boeing 757 land at the wrong airport in Arizona once at an aerobatic contest. It happens to the pros and non-professionals in equal measure.

I’m paranoid about hitting things during taxi. The G-IV/G-450 wings are not nearly as long as the V/550/650, but relying on a wing walker or marshaller still gives me pause, especially if any of the “big three” risk factors are present: night conditions, obstacles, and/or an unfamiliar ramp. I’ve told everyone on my crew “if you’re in doubt in any way about clearance from objects, stop and shut down the plane. They can tow it the rest of the way.” And if it hits something then? Well, that’s on them.

I’m paranoid about instrument clearances. I always try to have both pilots present when the clearance is received via voice, and we verify what we’ve heard and the routing prior to departure. We see a lot of lateral navigation deviances in our Event Review Committee meetings, and from what I understand that’s true for every Aviation Safety Action Program in the industry. I say “try” because despite my best efforts, I’ve been given IFR clearances when I didn’t want them. Sometimes just calling the delivery frequency to see if the clearance is even available via PDC will prompt them to start reading it to you via voice.

Most of all, I’m paranoid about scheduling pressure, especially in the Part 135 “on demand” environment. This never comes from my company; it’s always self-induced. So: Don’t rush. If the passengers show up early, there’s a mechanical issue, the lead passenger is demanding, etc., well, that’s when things can go sideways easily. I try to slow down, take a deep breath, and be extra methodical. Never skip any checklist. If the passengers are late, they’re late. I’ve been screamed at by an aircraft owner over this. I was nice about it, but basically said, “Too bad.” It’s easy to say, but much harder to stick to in a real-world operating environment. It seems to be baked into human DNA and has to be fought constantly, consistently, and methodically.

It takes a lifetime to build up a decent reputation as a pilot, and just a few careless moments to destroy it. As Joseph Heller famously wrote in his seminal novel Catch-22, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

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.

Antarctica – The Biggest Risk of All

If you asked me what part of the 26,000-nautical-mile, 23-country polar circumnavigation scares me the most, I wouldn’t have to think about it long to answer. It’s Antarctica! The earth’s southernmost continent, per Wikipedia, is 5,400,000 square miles of extremes. It is the coldest and driest continent on earth, has the highest average elevation at 7,545 feet above sea level with an elevation of 9,300 feet at the South Pole.

There are six things about flying to Antarctica that chill me to the bone (pun intended) and that keep me up at night.

1 – Weather

The Antarctic is known for some of the worst weather in the world! Winds and temps are intense and it is not uncommon to sit at Punta Arenas, Chile, for a week or two waiting for tolerable weather. On a 20-hour leg, there will be multiple fronts to cross before I can make it safely home.  On the positive side, Punta Arenas has a good weather reporting station and has allowed my team to monitor the weather a year in advance for temperatures, fronts, pressures, and winds.

2 – Distances

The distance from Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile to the South Pole and back is 4,457 nm. This will be my longest leg. My aircraft, a Gulfstream Turbine Commander 900, was originally designed to fly unmodified for 2,000 nm. With the addition of six fuel tanks, five-bladed MT nickel tipped scimitar props, RVSM, and two zero time refurbished Honeywell TPE 331-10T engines (the same type you find on Predator drones), we are estimating a 5,000-nm range, but nobody knows for sure how far and efficiently the airplane can fly that heavy. This is the equivalent of flying from San Diego to Hawaii and back nonstop. I have been asked where I could land if I had an issue. Theoretically, I can land anywhere. It’s just taking off again that is the issue.

3 – Navigation

A magnetic compass doesn’t work at the magnetic south and north poles and GPS doesn’t work where the meridians meet at the true north and south poles. I’ve been told that an old fashioned directional gyro with a metal ball spinning at 15,000 rpms is the solution. One expert told me, “Just fly the heading you are on for about 50 nm and then everything will be fine.” Recently I spoke with the Avidyne engineers who said that when they simulated the poles their units did “fine.” Possible solution: Use a GPS waypoint before the pole and one after it, and the unit won’t get confused. But will I?

4 – Fatigue

How does one stay up for 18-plus hours in an extremely cramped, stressful space loaded with 948 extra gallons of JetA1 in six aluminum fuel tanks expanding and contracting in the cabin near an HF radio and power supply? When I asked a pilot who set a world record flying for 20-plus hours how he stayed awake he answered, “Honestly, I was afraid the entire time.”

The pilots of Solar Impulse, the first solo pilots in a solar airplane ever to fly through the night between two continents, stayed up for longer periods of time but were also flying at very slow speeds in friendlier conditions compared to the Citizen of the World. They took micro naps and were monitored by their team in different parts of the world. I’ve been advised to bring a timer, set the STEC 2100 digital autopilot, and sleep in 30-minute intervals. But even the best of the autopilots can be persnickety at times.

5 – Extreme Cold

With outside air temperatures as low as minus 67-degrees Celsius at 35,000 feet, we were concerned this could result in below-freezing temperatures in the cockpit for up to 20 hours. The airplane’s environmental system, designed 35 years ago, has been unreliable, inefficient, and incapable of handling extreme heat or cold. This has presented a great opportunity to update the Citizen’s environmental system with a Peter Schiff system, giving us 60 extra horsepower, reducing weight by 150 pounds, increasing the pressurization, providing a backup pressurization system, providing non-contaminated air in the cabin, and allowing me to pre-cool the cabin on the ground using ground power. Problem solved!

Outside the cockpit, there are things to consider as well. Jet A1 gels at minus 47 degrees Celsius and Jet A gels at minus 40 degrees Celsius. During the month of December 2017 when we monitored temps, the South Pole got as cold as minus 67 degrees Celsius. You see the issue: Even though my TPE 331-10T engines have heat exchangers to warm the fuel with hot engine oil, the airplane doesn’t have anything in the wings to prevent the fuel from gelling before it gets to the heat exchanger. If you know what the low-temp gel point is or know anyone who does, please comment on this blog post or email me at [email protected].

6 – Survival

The last guy to attempt this trip didn’t bring any survival gear with him. He figured that the extra fuel he could carry was worth more pound for pound than any survival gear. He thought that survival would only prolong his misery. I have heard a similar belief from the highest-time ferry pilot in the world who has more than 500 Pacific crossings. I’m more optimistic. Thanks to modern satellite technology installed in Citizen, my potential rescuers will know where I am within 20 feet and two minutes if the airplane should go down. My survival suit and gear will give me the extra time to stay alive while they get to me.

To help improve my chances for a successful trip, I will fly the longest and hardest leg over Antarctica at the front end of the trip. This will ensure the Citizen of the World is working the best it can rather than letting it degrade over three months and then attempting the hardest leg at the end as I did in 2015 flying from Honolulu to Monterey during my equatorial circumnavigation in the Spirit of San Diego.

When it comes down to it, my team and I are doing everything humanly possible to plan every detail and mitigate the risks associated with flying over Antarctica. In my Zen Moments, I’ve learned that at some point you have to either accept the risks you can’t control or simply walk away. I choose to accept the risks and keep flying. The opportunity to expand the boundaries of general aviation, to inspire present and future generations to live their impossibly big dreams, and to be able fly in the name of world peace makes all the risks worthwhile.

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.

Physical Preparations For a Polar Circumnavigation

Robert DeLaurentis, author of “Flying Thru Life” and “Zen Pilot”

I was speaking to the Santa Barbara pilot group, “Serious about Aviation,” and asked the question, “What is the most likely part on the plane to fail during a Polar Circumnavigation?” A retired 747 female pilot blurted out with all the confidence in the world, “The pilot.”

The answer caught me off guard and everyone else. The silence in the room was a reality check. We all knew her response was true the instant she said it.

Since then, I have been focusing on how in the world (pun intended) I can reduce my risk of pilot failure to a level that I can accept and will allow me to sleep at night. What you will read in this blog post on “Physical Preparations for a Polar Circumnavigation” and the next one on “Mental Preparations for a Polar Circumnavigation” are my attempts to mitigate risk as much as possible. This allows me to make an informed decision to accept the risk or walk away and piss off a hell of a lot of people.

I believe these nine preparation tips will be of value to all pilots. While you might not intentionally put yourself into a similar situation over the South or North Poles at 40% over max gross, we all know as pilots you can never predict 100% what the Universe will throw your way wherever you’re flying in the air or in life.

Bionic Vision

There is probably no single thing you can do to improve your chances of survival in an aircraft than to improve your vision. Spotting an airport or hazards even a few seconds sooner can save you. Knowing that, I have made my vision a major focus of my pre-flight efforts. I don’t want to have to rely on glasses or contact lenses that could fall off or out during a critical phase of the flight. I would literally be “flying blind” if that happened. For that reason, I had corrective eye surgery and not just the refractive procedure that lasts about five years. I decided to skip that procedure and have the lenses inside my eyes replaced as they do with cataract surgery. One eye needed to be set closer to see the panel and the other further away since the eye muscles of a 52 year old are not as strong as someone younger. The new lenses they put in are clearer than what I had and can actually focus like my original lenses do, which allows me to see both near and far uncorrected.

Bionic Ears

The amount of time you will waste in a cockpit saying, “Say again all after” or worse yet, misunderstanding a critical communication, can be more costly than anything you will ever spend on a noise canceling headset. The technology today is absolutely amazing. The Lightspeed headset I use actually charts the surface of my ear and calculates a mathematical equation to cancel out noise based on the environment where I’m flying. Not only does this keep the cockpit “Zen,” but it makes your flying experience so much more enjoyable. Buy the absolute best noise cancelling headset you can afford. If you need to have a garage sale, work an extra shift, or combine your birthday and Christmas presents from family members, do it.

Train for Life and Be the Athlete that You Are

Pilots are rarely referred to as athletes. In my mind however, pilots are athletes that play in the game of life and death and can’t afford to lose even once. This doesn’t mean you need to hire an Olympic trainer and run marathons, but you do need to get moving. I spend 60-90 minutes a day walking, running or riding my bike in Balboa Park. You need to get your heart rate up. My resting heart rate is currently 50 beats per minute which I’m told is very good. Normal resting heart rate is 60-100 bpm and a well-trained athlete’s resting rate is closer to 40 bpm. As someone who spent years in a gym trying to force my body to be something it was not and nursing one injury after another, I learned we need to train at a rate we can maintain forever and we need to be a little gentler and more loving with our bodies.

Heal Your Body

Next, I did an inventory on my body, noticing anything that would be a physical distraction to me in the cockpit whether on the ground or in the air. If you don’t know where to look, start with any pain you have. I had developed some ingrown toe nails from my days in the military and decided I was tired of dealing with the pain and having them cut out every month or two. This recurring situation could be an issue for me in a foreign country on my three month polar expedition, given that it took three procedures with a month’s recovery for each before the nails stopped growing in the wrong direction. But now I’m free of that pain and can bring my focus back to where it belongs when I’m flying.

Eat Right

I’ve changed my diet. After doing a few three-day juice fasts this past year, I dropped my weight by eight pounds. I started to focus on my energy level based on what I ate. I eliminated meat from two of my three daily meals. I noticed how gluten made my stomach bloat and how meals late in the day caused me to sleep hot for half the night. Processed foods tasted great but made me tired. When I ate steamed veggies or drank a fruit shake instead, I performed better and felt like I was doing something good for myself.

Mix It Up

I learned to fly my Turbine Commander from a very proficient instructor with 10,000 hours in that type of aircraft. When he wasn’t available for recurrent training, I had a moment of panic and then realized I could benefit from someone who had flown in many types of turbo prop aircraft. My new instructor from Access Flight Training Services taught me a few new tricks and I’ve become a better pilot in the process. Before I leave for my Pole to Pole trip I’m scheduled to fly with Mike Jesch a 20,000 hours airline pilot and Master CFI, as well as a factory expert on the Avidyne avionics system that is being installed in the Citizen of the World. Flying with other pilots can teach you new things and build your confidence.

Dress the Part

Flight suits and bomber jackets were designed in the 1940s. Aviation has come a long way and there are now street wear style shoes, compression socks, pants, shirts, sunglasses and helmets designed specifically for pilots. They are functional, highly engineered, hip and cool so you can wear them in or out of the plane. For example, the sunglasses I will use on my Polar Circumnavigation were custom designed by Scheyden for me to handle two light conditions – one below the clouds and one above – with a simple flip of the frame. Aviation and apparel company, Lift Aviation, manufactures clothing that has more engineering design in it than the B-1 bomber.

Robert DeLaurentis, wearing special Scheyden eye wear for the upcoming Pole to Pole flight

Put Yourself First

This one can be tricky and equally critical to your well-being, relationships and productivity. I came to realize that I had people in my life who were making too many demands on my time and were not helping me get where I needed to go. While it’s important to me to be supportive and be there for others, the clock is ticking for my trip. To keep my plans on track I had to start buckling down and focus on my trip and myself. Now I let people know upfront I will make time for them if they are a supporter of my trip, but if not they will have to wait until after I return. I’ve learned to let in people who add to my life energetically. I know this because when I leave an interaction I feel uplifted and I sense they do too.

Build Your Team

When I realized I couldn’t do it alone and no one person has the expertise or time to do everything I started to look for experts in different fields. To train me to survive in the harshest conditions on the planet, I found Tim Kneeland, a survival expert. To help me with go/no go decisions based on weather I asked Mike Jesch, an Airline Captain and master CFI, for his expert advice. To tell me what day to be over the South Pole and what I should expect, I sought out astrophysicist, Brian Keating. To help outfit my plane with the very best aviation gear on the planet, I found over 50 sponsors, all experts in their businesses and, thankfully, willing to help me go the distance with mine.

This list is far from complete but a great place to start as a GA pilot. Please remember that being a pilot is a lifestyle and staying safe requires you to live a healthy lifestyle every day.

Please feel free to share your ideas with the community. The best suggestion gets a signed copy of the second edition of Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within.

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 Human and the Pilot: A Story About Irrationality

The follwing are a low-time bush pilot’s thoughts about her irrational side… and when her greatest phobia somehow found its way into the cockpit. 

I recently read an online article titled “I Hate to Admit it, but Women Pilots Make Me Nervous.”  The piece was written and published for a periodical in the United Kingdom, and penned by a woman. And no, it was not from the 1970s: The date on the article was August 16, 2017. In it, the author acknowledges that her viewpoint is inflammatory and outdated, and apologizes for “…being an antiquated old sexist.” She goes on to list her own instabilities, and attributes them to her gender, expressing concern that a female pilot would also fall prey to such emotional vagaries. For example, she writes, “…I become a terrible driver at certain times of the month.  Might my pilot be flying when she’s pre-menstrual? Arguing with our teenagers can leave me distracted and upset for days. Could she be prone to getting flustered?”

Of course, we, as pilots, know this cannot be true. And, as a fellow female, I have never experienced the symptoms she is describing. There is no place for fluster in a cockpit, regardless of age, sex, outside stressors, and pretty much everything else. Part of being a pilot means maintaining a cool, calm, collected demeanor, especially in times of crisis. It means constant mindfulness, hyper-aware vigilance, and logical, succinct decision making. Though all the pilots I know display these traits on the job, I doubt if any of them are wholly unshakable. We may keep it together in the cockpit, but perhaps we allow unfiltered emotion and irrationality into other aspects of our lives.

I for one, am not unshakable. I was born an artist, with a free, impulsive spirit and not what you’d call a linear way of thinking. Over the decades, I have engineered a different personality inside of my mind: the pilot. I have grown to respect and admire this person: the cool, calm, competent decision maker. The PIC. And the PIC is unshakable in the cockpit (as a few crises have determined). However, the irrational side still exists, and it needs an outlet.

There is a large, black beetle that inhabits the boreal forests of my Alaskan home. And I am absolutely terrified of them. They have been my bane since childhood. Attracted to heat, they make for my dark hair as it warms in the sun. To my dismay, there seems to be a large population on our ramp. I learned to bribe the rampers with tip money to swat the beetles away from my safety briefings so my phobia would not become apparent to my passengers. My co-workers find this behavior hilarious, and query me about it often. In trying to explain it, I say that it helps me be a PIC…  because I allow this irrationality an outlet. I compartmentalize myself, keeping the pilot separate from the person that runs screaming from the beetles. It’s a harmless way to be a flustered person, I tell them. And the two shall never meet.

Last year, while on short final, my passenger started swatting at his neck. And swatted a big, fat, black beetle right onto my leg. It stuck there, looking up at me with its awful pincers and its unimaginable horns. And I realized that my phobia had somehow found its way into the cockpit. The next few seconds seemed to stretch out into eternity as the two sides of my personality faced off. The PIC won, of course, flicking the beetle down by the rudders and landing the Beaver quite nicely (despite the weird wind). My passenger never knew that he’d almost changed the outcome of the flight. However, as I was putting the  cap back on after fueling, I heard a loud “brrrrrzzzzzzzzzzzzzppp.” And there a beetle was, stuck to the airplane by the filler neck. And the PIC in me just shrugged her shoulders as the flustered person ran screaming for the hangar.

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.
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