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Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 3

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

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

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

It hasta be Shasta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions

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

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


K.W. Airline Captain CFI, Mooney owner

Looking down on Sedona, AZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


D.J., Commercial, Instrument, Mooney owner

Ice buildup on the Mooney wing.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

 

 

 

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

Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 2

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

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

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

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

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

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


Interviews

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

Questions:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Until it was…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


EE, Active CFI, Aeronca TC-65 Defender owner

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


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

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

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

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

Into the Alligator’s Mouth

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

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

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

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

  • why we create them,

  • why we commit them to paper [or not],

  • when we fudge on them,

  • what we learn from them, and

  • what we hope never to again, experience.

 

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

Shasta, en route to Hood River Oregon

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

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

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

My personal relationship with minimums

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

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

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

Smoky Skies

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

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

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

Bill Mason & Me

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

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

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

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

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

There is also a VFR Template available.

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


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

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


As I pondered personal minimums in a pandemic, I decided to reach in to my address book of pilot friends and reach out to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like.

I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000.  While all I talked to had a formulation for themselves in regards to limits, I found out that except for me and the two guys with over 20,000 hours, no one else had personal minimums written down.

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

As one CFI/DPE  I interviewed pondered regarding minimums…

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

mouth before I can’t get it out?”

 

So long 2020

 

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

Bouncing Back: A psychotherapist’s guide for pilots

Some of you may know that I am a licensed psychotherapist. Since March of this year most  counselors have been able to see clients virtually to address mounting mental health issues from the pandemic. I could probably work 24/7 right about now. I truly have never experienced anything like this in my 29 years of practice.

Last week I read a recent study Mental Health Disorders Related to COVID-19–Related Deaths by Naomi M. Simon, MD, MSc1; Glenn N. Saxe, MD2; Charles R. Marmar, MD3 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA]. It noted that since the onset of COVID -19 the percentage of Americans who have a diagnosable mental health condition has doubled. Pre-COVID about 20% of the population in the United States was affected by a thought, mood, anxiety or substance abuse disorder. The survey taken in June 2020 now indicates that number has jumped to 40.9%. A stunning part of the excerpt below is that 10.7% of respondents who revealed serious suicidal thoughts in the last month.

A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 5412 US adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier.2 Remarkably, 10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the last 30 days.2 The sudden interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with severe social disruption, can easily overwhelm the ways individuals and families cope with bereavement.

As our flying started opening back up [with precautions] this summer I thought back to a piece I wrote for AOPA many years ago on recovery from trauma. I have included the article below. My hope is that as you get back in the airplane you will seriously consider a mental health checklist in addition to the checklist for the airplane you will be piloting.


Bouncing Back A psychotherapist’s guide for pilots

It was a beautiful day in the Columbia River Gorge. Hood River Airport is located in a picturesque valley, surrounded by mountains. A pilot was in his backyard garden enjoying the sunshine. He heard an airplane engine start to sputter, then quit, and listened to the sound of a loud impact in the neighboring vineyard. He jumped the fence and raced to the crash scene. There he found an aircraft nose down between the rows of red grapes. A quick glance in the cockpit revealed his deepest fear: the loss of a life.

As a psychotherapist who specializes in recovery from trauma or traumatic loss, I saw this pilot in my office four days later. “I am having a hard time. I keep hearing the engine quit, then the sound of the crash. I keep seeing the wreckage in my mind, over and over again. I run to him, but I know it is too late. He was still warm. I held him in my arms until the paramedics came.” When I asked him how often the movie is playing in his head, he said it was about 20 times per day. He had disturbed sleep, lost his appetite, and felt very hopeless about the intense flashbacks.

Over the course of our work together, I was able to help him understand how the brain reacts to trauma, and how professional care could speed recovery. In the end my client understood that while he was seeing the movie in his head hundreds of times, the pilot who perished only experienced it once.

Exposure to trauma

We all experience trauma in our lives, and as pilots, with medical certificates at risk, how we deal with it can be especially important. After exposure to a traumatic event, most people go through four distinct stages. The first is shock—a sense of disbelief or cognitive fogginess. During this stage a survivor may experience flashbacks, or mental movies of the event. Let’s also surmise that the person watched the news, listened to audio, saw photos, and viewed video of the event—thus re-exposing himself to the initial trauma. The re-exposure to the brain is essentially the same as the initial exposure. Should the person not get appropriate care, especially in the weeks or months after the event, an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder could develop.

Next comes a return to a “feeling” state and also a time to tell the story. When I worked at the Vietnam Vet Center, my supervisor—a combat vet and a psychotherapist—said, “Every trauma survivor has a story to tell and retell, and it is in the retelling that the healing is found.”

The third stage is when a person’s energy typically rebounds and a sense of focus develops. This energy could take the form of volunteerism, donating time and money, contact with rescuers, or helping other survivors.

Finally, reintegration must take place. A person must accept life on life’s terms now. Meaning is incorporated in life, in absence of what they lost. This is a time where we hear, “I have a new lease on life,” or “Life is precious.”

How does this apply to our ability to pilot an aircraft? One study says that intellectual power is decreased 50 to 90 percent when you are in the midst of the first stage. It is important not to make big decisions at that time. When we perform a preflight on our aircraft before launch, we are careful to consider all the aircraft systems. The effects of exposure to trauma cannot be underestimated. In our go/no-go decision, we should carefully reflect on our emotional health and how that will affect the flight. After all, we want to be able to fly the airplane instead of it flying us.

Pre-Flight Checklist

Here are some simple ways to put you and your emotional health on the pre-flight checklist, as well as some ideas on when to get support if needed.

Mood: Think back over the past week. Rate your mood on a scale of one to five, with one being the lowest, and five being a happy mood. What is your average? Has anyone told you that you look tired, depressed, or nervous? Sometimes our spouse or families are our greatest mirrors—we might not see our mood, but to them it is written all over our faces.

Sleep: Have you been sleeping well? The average person in a lab setting will sleep a six- to seven-hour stretch and take a one- to two-hour nap in the afternoon. Think back and check whether you have had any difficulties falling or staying asleep. Deep, restorative sleep typically happens well into an uninterrupted sleep cycle. Think about performing a go-around on every approach—when sleeping we simply cannot get down to Delta if the cycle is continually disrupted.

Energy: Has your get up and go, got up and went? Do you find yourself drinking coffee or energy drinks just to get through the day? Some pilots find they have too much energy and are unable to relax into a healthy focus. Between the tortoise and the hare, somewhere in the middle is the most efficient.

Anxiety and Worry: Someone once told me that worry is interest on a debt we don’t yet owe. An interesting study on worry shows that it can be healthy in small doses. Worry is a high-brain function—one that can help us sort through possibilities and strategies. Too much worry shuts down the function and we can find ourselves in a state: fight, flight, or freeze. Thirty minutes of worry once per week is effective. How many minutes this week have you racked up?

Concentration and Focus: Particularly important for the pilot in command is the ability to concentrate and stay focused. If you are noticing that your mind is wandering or you are distracted by worry, it might be best to keep yourself and the aircraft on the ground.

Sex drive: This might seem a strange item to have on your personal checklist, but a person’s sex drive can be indicative of emotional health. A lack of desire can suggest a mood problem.

Appetite: Does your favorite food taste good to you? Are you eating for comfort or to excess? Healthy food is fuel for the brain and the body. Make sure that you do not fly without fuel onboard.

Bumper sticker: If you had to summarize your attitude about life to fit on a bumper sticker, what would yours say? Is your bumper sticker upbeat and optimistic, or doubtful and negative?

When to get some “dual”

As a practicing psychotherapist and trauma survivor myself, I have come to believe in getting some couch time when you need support. The addition of the pandemic, isolation, uncertainty and lack of currency necessitates a closer look at your check list.  If we do not take care of our mental health, it might end up taking care of us. Think of a licensed counselor as an advisor, or life coach. It truly is a gift to be able to talk with someone you trust about things that you might keep from others. Sometimes my clients think that they can tell me something that I have not heard before. That is simply not the case. We all have many of the same core insecurities, wounds, and doubts. The difference is in how you deal with them.


Recently I was flying a large turbine aircraft with a more powerful engine than I was accustomed to. When I was about 50 miles out, I began a descent, thinking about each thing that I was going to do next. As I began the approach I thought, “I am going to fly this airplane and make it do what I want it to do.” Imagine if I were instead plagued by doubt, anxiety, or insecurity, or maybe I did not sleep well the night before. Who would be PIC—the airplane, or me? Make sure that when you are in the left seat you are flying the airplane. The only way to do that is to consider yourself on your personal checklist.

If you want or need help, reach out. Most insurance companies are offering free or low-cost counseling visits virtually.  Let’s make our return to the skies as safe, joyful and fun as possible.


 

2.Czeisler  MÉ, Lane  RI, Petrosky  E,  et al.  Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic: United States, June 24-30, 2020.   MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(32):1049-1057.

 

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

Outward looking mastery vs. inward looking precision

Outward looking mastery vs. inward looking precision: musings about the differences between Commercial and Instrument flight

In 2017 I decided it was the year to complete my long started, then stopped, then re-started process of attaining my instrument rating.  I chronicled the process in Gotta get that Rating.  2020 dawned with promise of the commercial certificate and we all know what happened to those promises.  Yet on July 5th 2020 I passed my commercial check ride in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, where I learned to fly some 18 years ago.

Inward focused precision

I recently flew another round-trip to Oregon which was 90% IMC due the massive wildfires.  My route was pretty much right up the gut of California, in between the TFRs and on in to Oregon.  The situation in the Northwest wasn’t much better as wind driven wildfires began to pop up in Central Oregon.  Hand-flying 5 hours on instruments in my Mooney M20E with no autopilot is mentally exhausting.  On the way to my fuel stop I was given delay vectors and a hold for the [RNAV] approach. The airport was covered in dense smoke with visual contact only 30 feet above minimums.  I was never so happy to see a VASI.  I flew the ODP out and was happy to finally get above the smoke at 8K. The visibility on the trip home was much worse.  In the 5.5 hours of flying I only had ground reference for the first and last 30 minutes of the flight.  As I shot the RNAV into fuel stop [Yuba airport] I was just so grateful that I had great flight instruction, a solid IFR platform in the Mooney, and the ability to focus my attention [mostly] inside the airplane.

Flying in IMC requires extensive planning,  mental discipline, ability to follow instructions from ATC, and constant focus on your instrument scan.  In contrast the commercial relies on the artistry of looking outside, focusing on smooth flying and planning for the safety and comfort of your passengers.  In no way am I saying that instrument and commercial flying don’t share characteristics, but for me, it seems like I am using different parts of my brain for the nuanced differences.

Outward focused mastery

On one of the last days of my commercial training I was flying from the LA Basin [Fullerton] to French Valley [F70] airport.  I had done some of the planning for this short hop noting the location of the freeways, surrounding terrain, lake, and direction of the airport from town.  As usual, I had my IPad on with Foreflight, and the 530W proudly displaying the magenta line to F70. About ten minutes into the flight my instructor, Mike Jesch, fiendishly turned the 530 to another page and disabled the geo-referencing on the IPad.  He said, “Now what are you going to do?”  What I did next was an example of my instrument training as I slowed the airplane down, centered VORs and triangulated the location of the airport based on radials.  It took me at least two minutes of looking out, then in, out then inside.  Mike gently said, “Is there anything else you could be looking at, perhaps outside?”  Then it dawned on me to locate the freeway I was following, to identify the hills before the airport and the lake that was off in the distance. I also noted that if this was a real situation on a commercial flight, I would have let ATC know of the failure and asked for a vector to confirm what I was seeing on the ground.

When in doubt, look out

Flying to commercial standards is all about smoothness, precision, and planning for passengers.  Training was intensive and consisted of the learning and demonstration of the elements included in the ACS.  Folks had told me that I would love flying the “fun” commercial maneuvers [chandelle, steep spiral, lazy 8, 180 power off landing, steep turns, 8s on pylons etc.].  I didn’t really experience the “fun” part of it until the very last day of training with Mike.  As I was demonstrating elements for my check ride prep, I found myself zooming down during a lazy 8 and thought, “Yeah, this is fun being totally in control of this airplane.”

Yes! This is fun.

As I prepared for my Commercial check ride, there was a distinct change in my thought process from “do as you planned, or are told by ATC” instrument flying toward what I call, “Pro-Pilot” thinking. My DPE gave me the following cross-country scenario:

So much for an easy fire season– lightning has sparked a big wind-driven fire over by Sandpoint, ID, causing a bit of a panic. Newly hired by a Part 135 group that has extensive Forest Service contracts, you have been tasked to fly two Incident Commanders from your base, The Dalles OR (KDLS), to the Sandpoint airport (KSZT) in your aircraft, where they will join the hastily assembled Hot Shot crews waiting to take on the fire. You have recently noticed that your turn coordinator has been really noisy on startup, but you have not had an opportunity to have it checked out. The firefighters think they weigh around 180lbs and plan on taking roughly 60lbs of gear each. They really need to be in Sandpoint by noon, so plan accordingly.

 As a private pilot you would, of course, think about inoperative equipment, weight, fuel, weather and routing, but as a Pro-Pilot I planned around:

  • passenger comfort
  • weighing passengers and luggage
  • loading of passengers/bags for CG
  • prevailing weather, wind, smoke conditions
  • scenic , yet efficient route
  • communication with passengers re: expectations of flight
  • route with less potential for turbulence
  • instrument currency/approaches if needed
  • route near airports/highways
  • choosing alternate airports with rental cars, calculated driving distance
  • timing details to get the firefighters to Sandpoint by noon

It goes without saying that the instrument and commercial check ride differed greatly. However, knowledge of systems, safe practices, and aeronautical decision making were very much the same.  Instrument flying is challenging due to the lack of visual cues and intense focus inside the airplane.  Commercial flying is challenging because you must focus on the safety and comfort of your passengers, who see an airplane as merely a mode of transportation.

Gaining my instrument rating made me a better, safer, pilot.  The rating has increased the quality of my flying life.  The commercial certificate opens up the pro-pilot part of my flying career.  Both have changed me for the better.  Now I am focused on the multi-engine Commercial rating in late September. Then I promised myself I would get the rest of 2020 for fun flying.

Remember that a great pilot uses both mastery while looking outside the airplane and thoughtful precision while looking inside.  Whether you are thinking about getting a new rating or certificate or purchasing a plane or club ownership this time, where we are home-based might be the perfect opportunity. I hope to see you all out there in 2021.

 

 

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

Patience, Pivot, and Persistence: Get a new Certificate/Rating during COVID

Two steps forward and one step back. In early January I took the written exam for the Commercial certificate. I scored a healthy 86% and was anxious to get in the airplane to learn and master the Commercial maneuvers with the goal of a check ride by my birthday at the end of March.

We all know what happened next. As pilots we have had to exhibit some patience in order to try to tamp down the outbreak of the Corona virus. I would like to give a big shout out to my instructors, Mike Jesch [primary] and Christopher Keran [night] and my DPE Dave Koebel. We all had to exhibit patience, pivot and persistence. I am happy to report that on July 5th I took and passed my Commercial check ride in Hood River, Oregon. I hope that understanding and applying the following principles will help you to reach your aviation goals in 2020 and beyond.

The key to living in these times, psychologically speaking, is the use of Three P’s:

  • Patience

  • Pivot

  • Persistence

    Mt. Shasta en route to Hood River, Oregon

Patience

To say that these are unprecedented times would be an understatement. Our entire sense of “normal” has vanished like the many scheduled events on our flying calendars. Additionally with many working from home, off work, or recovering from illness, our ability to define normalcy has been decimated.

Personally I had two opposing forces; my desire to complete my training and achieve the Commercial; and my psychotherapy practice that was busier than ever. At the beginning of the pandemic I could have worked seeing clients virtually 24/7. There was [and is] so much need for psychological care. I had to develop some patience during this early transition to “COVID-normal”. Eventually I was able to strike a balance between work, study, and a personal life.

It is safe to say you haven’t lived through a global pandemic of this magnitude, so what I am about to say might seem a little strange. Let yourself be a learner; give yourself some grace. As information changes, life changes, and your feelings change, remind yourself that you are back to being a student-of-life. Try to show patience to yourself and others, as we all process at our own pace.

Pivot

Humans react differently to stress and trauma. For many the “shock” phase, in which the person feels foggy and is keen to deny reality, lasts longer. There comes a time where the shock wears off and we have to make new plans that line up with the new reality. This is where the concept of Pivot comes in. Flexibility is the key in learning to pivot.  Like many of you, I had a timeline for my new rating. Then 2020 said, “Hold my beer” and those plans that included in-cockpit instruction were out the window. Time to change course and do as much as I could on my own.

 

I used King Schools for my Commercial ticket. Luckily the online content was up-to-date and very complete. Another added benefit of quarantine was that so many outlets [AOPA, EAA, FAAST, Social Flight, etc.] were offering educational content. Owning my plane provided a major advantage during COVID. I was able to practice maneuvers and get the night cross country and required night landings in all while being in complete control of my aircraft environment.

Getting ready for check ride

 

Persistence

As days turned in to months in our COVID-normal, I found myself drifting a bit. In the “before-times” I used to work really hard, so I could play hard at aviation events. Now the play was all gone, replaced by work, work, work, then zombie. You see, when you are staring at a screen all day your brain downshifts your body to zombie mode. Yet other parts of your brain are on high alert, keenly aware you are working, being observed and on-camera. The combination of sitting for long periods, body on zombie, brain on high alert leads rather quickly to exhaustion or burn out.

After I finished my day, mustered up something to eat, and took my pup Mooney out for a walk, the idea of watching another Zoom video, or online education video just made me cringe. Another factor was that my attention span was about 20 minutes. What I had to do was exhibit Persistence. I set small goals for myself; every day I would do at least one thing that would make me a better pilot.

On approach in Bakersfield, CA.

In late May I talked with my CFI Mike Jesch about his feelings about resuming flight instruction. We agreed to wear our masks, disinfect the yoke/instruments, to use our own headsets and to be as socially distant as one can. We started up the flight training, specifically on the maneuvers. I had watched the King Commercial check ride prep videos repeatedly, read the Airplane Flying Handbook and did a fair amount of ground prep. CFI Chris Keran was on board for the night dual, which turned out to be a hoot from Santa Maria, to Bakersfield, then Fresno, CA.

Finally back in the air with Mike Jesch, CFII

The reality is, when you are in the air, you are back to being a learner. I had to exhibit the grace and grit I spoke of earlier. I can’t count how many people told me how much they loved flying the maneuvers, how graceful it felt to them. Let’s just say, at the beginning it wasn’t graceful for me. I had to apply my formula; patience in allowing myself to struggle, correct, and succeed; pivot by remembering how I learn best [by demonstration]; and perseverance in sticking to my commitment of becoming a better pilot.

Before I got my instrument rating pilots would tell me that there would be a moment in which instrument flight just “made sense”. I didn’t believe them, until it made sense for me. The same thing happened with the maneuvers and me. Instead of being afraid of the chandelle, power off 180 landing or 8s on pylons, I actually looked forward to it. Voila. All I needed now was a good flight to the Columbia River Gorge from California and the surface winds to take a chill pill in the Gorge.

T-Rex of a check ride

18 years ago I learned to fly in Hood River Oregon. Nestled in a natural wind tunnel at the base of Mt. Hood, we used to say if you could fly in the Gorge, you could fly anywhere. The 15 years I have been in California erased some of the high-wind memories. Back then it was 18G26 on my PPL check ride. Turns out that the CPL wasn’t going to be much different. Hood River Oregon [4S2] departure Runway 25 280 @10G15, The Dalles Oregon [KDLS] landings-Runway 31 [email protected] 13G21, [email protected] 16G26. There is nothing like demonstrating a soft field takeoff on a warm day with those winds. My track from Foreflight is a sort of Rorschach test… what do you see? I see a T-Rex, taking a bite out of those maneuvers!

New CPL and Dave Koebel, DPE

When I landed in Hood River after a successful check ride I felt proud of myself. Although the certificate was 3 months “behind schedule”, I am happy to have accomplished it during these trying times. My DPE got out of the plane and headed to his car. I was left on the ramp, gazing over N18213 the C150 that I got my private in all those years ago. The wind was blowing as I tied down Maggie. True to form my tears started flowing shortly after. Memories flooded my mind from 4S2, both good and bad. For today I was focused on the good. Another successful flight of Haywire Airlines and now on to the search for a fountain cherry Coke.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Social Flight Live one of the many online offerings available now

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

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

GA traffic starting to pick up in the LA Basin

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

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

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

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

These two are ready for some formation flight.

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

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

 

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

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

Though some things change, many remain the same

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

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

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

Don’t judge a book by its cover; promote aviation to adults and kids

On Cinco de Mayo I had the pleasure of sharing the “screen” with Julie Clark, Martha King and Pia Bergqvist on Social Flight Live as we each talked about our aviation careers. As we were preparing for the show I found it interesting that we all had very different entrées into aviation. Three of us were children of pilots and one sort of stumbled into aviation by happy coincidence. After the show, [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MWq3crzMMs&t=11s ] I thought about the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover, you might miss out on an amazing story.” I wonder if we should re-think our approach to inspiring the love of flight, promoting aviation, and protecting airports.

We always love showing off our airplanes to wide-eyed tots, but perhaps it is the adults we should be pursuing.

So pull up a chair and listen to the stories of four women with wildly different backgrounds who became pilots from their teens to their forties.

Teenager

Julie Clark 18 years

It is hard to think about the small family of female airshow performers without thinking of Julie Clark who has been gracing the skies for decades. What is lesser known is that she had to tell a few white lies to find her way to the blue skies.

Julie started flying lessons while attending University of California Santa Barbara at age 18. Julie was taking lessons on the sly, not telling her Aunt and Uncle who were her guardians, after her parents passed away. The only ones that knew about her clandestine flight lessons were a few of her Alpha Pi sorority sisters. Julie says that she spent her book money on flight lessons in a Cessna 150. I think we can all agree that we are glad she did.

20-Somethings

Martha King, 24 years

Martha learned to fly when she was 24 years old. She recalls she was generally not aware of private aviation. Martha’s father was a pilot in the military, but she did not have a passion for it from early on. But her boyfriend John was in love with flying—he used to fly with his father, and with some family friends. After they got married and finally had both some time and some money, John said he wanted to finish getting his pilot’s certificate. Although Martha knew nothing about the process, she said, “I was not going to stay at home while he was out at the airport having fun!” So the couple bought a Cherokee 140 [pictured] and got their certificates together—2 days apart. They did their flight training at Speedway Airport (now gone) and Eagle Creek Airpark in Indianapolis.

It would be hard to imagine aviation education without Martha and John King. So hats off to John for pursuing his pilot’s certificate and to Martha for seizing the opportunity for a lifetime of fun flying.

 

Pia Bergqvist, 29 years

An 8-year-old Pia Bergqvist was smitten with aviation after a visit to Kallinge AFB in Ronneby, Sweden with her friend whose father was based there. That is when she first laid eyes on the Saab JA-37 Viggen Jet.

Pia’s Uncle was a charter pilot in Sweden, and she flew with him once. She remembered that her Uncle went to the US to get his license. She had never heard of little private planes until moved to Switzerland at 19 yrs. old.  The idea of going to the US seemed too difficult. Further complicating matters she had never even seen a woman pilot. Her desire was there but there was no clear path to get to her goal.

Pia came to the US in August of 1997 [Brentwood, CA]. Pia worked on the USC campus. It was there she befriended a female student who was a flight attendant for Delta, who was working her way through dental school. Pia told her she wanted to be a pilot but that it wasn’t possible, as there weren’t any female pilots. Her new friend told her “yes, there are female pilots and it is possible!” At age 29 Pia went to Santa Monica’s Justice Aviation for her PPL.

Fabulous 40s

 Jolie Lucas, 40 years

I was raised in a General Aviation-savvy family. We drove a modest car, but always had a small plane in the hangar. My Dad was a primary trainer in the Army Air Corps [WWII] at Rankin Field in the Boeing Stearman. We flew, as a family in our Bellanca, then a Mooney to Seattle, WA or Indiana annually.

In 2002 airport day at Jackson/Westover, CA coincided with our Lucas family reunion. While up at the airport my Dad landed in his Mooney, my brother in his Bonanza, and I thought, “What the heck am I waiting for?” I was married, worked full-time as a psychotherapist and had three children, but I decided it was my turn to learn and grow. When I returned home to Hood River, Oregon I called the airport and started lessons. Within three months I was the proud owner of a PPL.

I love seeing the fly-over events happening across our country to honor those first responders, medical workers, and essential workers who are serving us during the pandemic. Over the past weeks many of us made our way to get a glimpse of those magnificent jets. I do think that seeing some GA airplanes buzzing around might give folks joy right now too, assuming you are safe to do so. If you are able to fly, do so. It will be good for you and who knows, you might inspire someone on the ground to look up how to become a pilot.

When aviation events resume, and they will someday, please consider talking to ADULTS about becoming pilots. Don’t get me wrong; I will always talk to kids about becoming pilots and mechanics. But think about it for a moment, the seven year old you are talking to will have a ten year lag before they can become licensed. However that child’s mother, father, or even grandparent could start flight lessons right away given some motivation. Imagine if Pia never ran into the flight attendant who told her she could become a pilot.

 

I got my license when I was 40 years old, and in 2020 I will complete my commercial and commercial multi-engine add on. The first 40 years of my life were awesome. I earned my degrees, had my children, and bought my first home. I believe the second half of life can be more exciting than the first.

 

 

Pilots make up 2/10 of 1% of the population.

Let’s work together to increase that number and land our dreams.

 

 

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

On Second Thought: Stop Listening to yourself and Start Talking to yourself

When I first got my Mooney I traveled a lot from my Oregon home in the Columbia River Gorge to my parents’ home in the Gold Country of California. And although I had flown in a Mooney for a few decades (my Father’s M20C/D) I hadn’t owned my Mooney, Maggie, but a couple of months.

I was flying home to Oregon from California. I planned a fuel stop at Red Bluff, California (KRBL),  a small nontowered airport where the fuel prices were good. The winds were gusty, but pretty much right down the runway. I flew a full pattern versus a straight in. I carried a little extra speed to compensate for the gusts. On my first landing approach I was going too fast and I bounced. Being pretty new at the Mooney it only took one hop and I went around. “Red Bluff traffic red and white Mooney is going around.” Okay, I told myself, just fly the numbers and you will do fine. It was hot and windy but I was determined to land safely, fill my tanks, use the facilities and get homeward bound. I will cut to the chase… two more landing attempts, two more bounces and two more go arounds. I felt embarrassed and making those radio calls was making me feel like a loser. The last time I just announced I was leaving the traffic pattern to the North.

I had flown the route numerous times. I knew that there was no fuel in between me and Mount Shasta and that I didn’t have enough fuel to make it to my home base, Hood River, Oregon. As I climbed up I stopped listening to myself: “People on the ground at Red Bluff were probably shaking their heads at the girl Mooney pilot that couldn’t land.” “Just leave, leave the area, get the heck out of here.” “Maybe you have enough fuel to go in to Dunsmuir.” What I chose to do instead was start talking to myself: “Redding airport is right there.” “Stop at Redding which has a longer and wider runway.” “Saving a few bucks on fuel isn’t worth the risk of an incident.”

Learning to fly in rural Oregon meant that I had real-life experience flying in winter weather, mountain flying, and backcountry airstrips. What I didn’t have was a ton of experience flying in to towered airports. I asked myself a question that I remember to this day, “What are you going to do Sis? Fly until you run out of fuel? Or fly the airplane?” I decided to fly above the Class Delta airspace, listen to the tower frequency, and ascertain the traffic flow. I flew to the area where I could fly left traffic, which I was more familiar with. I contacted the tower, told them my intentions to land, and also said I was unfamiliar with the airport. I had a spectacular landing and was off at the first taxiway.

You might wonder what I mean about stop listening to yourself and start talking to yourself. In the next three blogs I focus on the materials I developed for my 2020 presentation series, “Nail your Check ride.” These concepts can help you to pass any checkride you have in your future, but can, as well, be applied to every day life.

You cannot control your first thought,

but you can control your second thought

In stressful situations our first thought is typically processed through a primitive part of our brain, the amygdala. This almond shaped part of the brain is highly emotionally reactive but only gives us three or four choices. Three of these choices are: Fight, Flight, And Freeze. In many ways the amygdala is like a restaurant in which there are only four items on the menu.

We cannot control our first stressful thought, but we can control our second thought.  We need to make decisions in the higher part of the brain, not in the part of the brain we share with dogs or cats. This front part of the high brain gives us endless choices, the ability synthesize information and make decisions that are not merely reactions. I call this part of our brain the Board Room. We have to be cognitively active in the Board Room.

Stressful First Thought:

  • Flight: You need to run
  • Fight: You need to fight
  • Freeze: Brain is offline, like a DVD on pause

Second thought:

  • Take it to the Board Room. The high brain has the ability to consider a situation more objectively, analyze risk, assess potential courses of action, and make a decision based on wisdom versus fear.

In the example of my flight to Red Bluff you can see that after the first bounce I was able to use my high brain to come up with a calming, reassuring thought, “Fly your numbers.” It wasn’t until the stress of the second and third attempts overrode Board Room, and fear crept in. First I had “flight”= leave the traffic pattern, the perceived judgment and stress. Then came “freeze”= climb out and circle, a bit in a daze. It was only when I recognized these two fear-based reactions that I could have the insight and judgment based on wisdom that would help get me to Redding Airport safely.

In the airplane, or in a checkride/test situation, we don’t want the ancient part of our brain that we share with animals, making our decisions. We need to take it to the high, front part of our brain that gives us access to a decision-making tree. If you act on your first thought, there is a high likelihood that decision is based on fear. If, however you are in control of your second thought, chances are your decision will be based on wisdom.

If you are headed to Sun ‘n Fun at the end of the month, please consider joining me for the full workshop on April 4th at 2:00 p.m. at the AOPA Pavilion. I have generous door prizes from: Lift Aviation, Flying Eyes Optics, and King Schools.   Come and learn the psychological and physical ways to nail your checkride. As a practicing psychotherapist for 28 years, I have come to understand and appreciate the confluence of the psychology of life and the psychology of flight. In our next installment “Act the Way you Want to Feel,” we will cover techniques you can apply to feel calmer and more prepared. I look forward to your comments and seeing many of you at Sun ‘n Fun, AOPA Regional Fly-InsEAA Oshkosh Airventure, and beyond.

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

Great Mentor: Level up to a new rating

This month I wanted to focus on mentoring. I think we might need to come up with a new rating for mentorship. Seriously though, take a moment and think about who mentored you in life. It doesn’t need to be an aviation mentor. Recall what this man or woman offered to you as a guide. Let’s face facts: We need more pilots coming up the ranks. One way to do this is to be an example to all, young or older, that want to learn to fly or advance to the next level. Here are some concrete things to do to achieve your next rating: “Great Mentor.”

Remember:  Mentor is a noun and a verb.

I was a lucky girl to be raised by two parents who were great mentors, and had many non-family mentors as well. I grew up as the daughter of a School Superintendent, I was taught that there were things I could and could not do because I was a Lucas. My father told me that I needed to be an example for the other children. I have to say that this was quite a bit of pressure on a kid, but I never wanted to disappoint my Dad, so I tried very hard to be an example of kindness, honesty, perseverance, and humility.

Other kids went out partying during high school; I didn’t have my first [and last] sip of beer until our senior party. Others might have ditched school, cheated on exams, and tried to take shortcuts around hard work. While I don’t recall a lot of missed classes, and had only the occasional help with trigonometry [thanks Gretchen], what I remember was a lot of hard work and fun. It might not come as a shock, that in my senior year I ran for ASB office, and won the Secretary of Publicity. It was during those early times of organizing a student body, dealing with the administration, and trying to manage school and service that I learned a lot about myself.

One example of mentorship I received was from Mr. Marshal Waller, Beaumont High School [Beaumont, California]. He was the boys’ varsity tennis coach, taught history, government, economics, and vocal arts. Those are all worthy accomplishments but here is what I remember about Mr. Waller:

  • Zest for life
  • Curious to get to know students
  • Encouraged us to think outside box
  • Was prone to bursting into song

These characteristics, perhaps minus the bursting into song, are hallmarks of a good mentor. Mr. Waller created a safe space for us to learn about life and ourselves. As pilots we can do the same for others, remembering that being a “learner” is a tender place.

Sigmund Freud theorized that in order to have a happy life you needed to possess what I call “Freud’s Four.” Part of the work that I love to do in my psychotherapy practice is to help those who are stuck in the holding pattern of life. I help clients to come up new way points and hit enter on their LIFE plan. Make sure that you can put a check mark next to each of these items.

Freud’s Four

  • Physical health
  • Do work you love to do
  • Love of friends and family
  • Passion

Passion has been described as a feeling for something [someone] which you have a hard time fully describing to others. Insert comment about how our nonflying spouses don’t understand why we can get up at o’dark thirty to go to the airport, but can’t really get to the 9:00 a.m. church service on a regular basis.

Passing the baton

As mentors we should want our mentees to pass us. Make sure that you have these way points in your life plan.

  • Make your life happen
  • Have high expectations of them and yourself
  • Hope your mentees will pass you
  • Have a happy life, share with others

As we begin the New Year, and 2020 flying season, take a self-inventory. How do you think others would describe you in terms of being an example? Check out Freud’s Four and get yourself on track. Look for opportunities to help others. Bust out your calendar and take a look at when the fun regional fly-ins, Sun ‘n Fun, the AOPA Regional Fly-Ins, and Oshkosh are happening. Consider taking someone with you that wants to learn to fly, or take his or her flying to a pro level. Be visible. Remember in regards to mentees, they can’t be what they don’t see. I am looking forward to presenting workshops at Sun ‘n Fun, all three AOPA Regional Fly-Ins, and Oshkosh 2020. See you out there!

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