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9 Ways to Combat Fear in a Cockpit

“A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skills.” – Frank Borman, Apollo 8 Commander

As pilots, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about what we can do to mentally prepare ourselves before every flight. As the pilot in command, even if you aren’t flying a 20-plus-hour leg over the South Pole, the challenges can be similar for any flight. The goal is to be in your peak mental state to handle whatever comes your way. A quick Google search shows that 75 percent of aviation accidents are caused by human factors such as poor judgement, lack of composure, and an inability to maintain attention.

If the techniques I’m sharing would improve your performance by just a small percentage, wouldn’t that be worth it? Consider drawing on some simple Zen techniques described in my book, Zen Pilot, Flight of passion and the Journey Within, to increase your “Zen Power”—the ability to be mindfully aware in the present moment and focus on helpful thoughts and actions.

Stay focused in the moment

What happened to you last week at work or this morning at the breakfast table is in the past. Leave it there. You can’t do anything to change it. Likewise, if you are thinking about that five-figure bonus you are entitled to that Bill at the office is trying to prevent you from getting, it won’t help you in the cockpit, so don’t let it take up your invaluable and available mental and emotional bandwidth. The most you can ever hope to control is what you are experiencing right now.

Silence your mind

My mind often gets very busy before a flight. The voice of “self-doubt” seems to find its audience and share what it is thinking with me. This voice often judges me as a bad pilot. Thoughts such as, “You shouldn’t have messed that approach up,” “You should have tried harder,” “You should have paid more attention during training,” and “You should be smarter.” In this process, I basically “should” all over myself. The way out of this circular thinking is to simply say the words, “Cancel, cancel,” and use your “Zen Power” voice to remind yourself of some of your successes—“You aced that check ride!” “You read the weather properly.” “And don’t forget that landing you greased!” If you are going to tell yourself a story, you might as well make it a good one!

Overcome your fears by going deeper into them

Rather than running from the things that scare you, like most people do, I’m going to suggest something that may seem even scarier. Go deeper into the things that scare you. Take them head on. To do this, visualize what you fear most—think about it, feel it, really get into it for a few seconds. You need to feel the fear completely before it will go away. One fear for me is how I will navigate over the poles when I lose my GPS and magnetic compass. When that fear shows up, I visualize getting close to the South Pole, having my magnetic compass start to spin and my GPS fail. I close my eyes and feel the panic, confusion, and stress, and I keep going deeper into it. For a time it feels even scarier. I hold the energy and feel it completely. I have a bit of an emotional response and continue to hold it and feel it. And then something amazing happens—the fear starts to fade. In a few minutes, it totally disappears. I can breathe again. From a metaphysical perspective, I received the message from my unconscious, it’s been noticed and released, and now it’s time to keep going: dead reckon, keep the sun in the same position, switch the GPS to true north and put a waypoint before and after the pole, which it can handle.

Whose fear is it? 

Before I departed on my first circumnavigation I had three people come to me and voice their concerns. My girlfriend said, “I had a dream that you died a terrible death ALONE in the Pacific.” My dad said, “You are taking risks that you don’t need to. You’re just going to get yourself killed!” My best buddy suggested, “Wait until you can afford a turbine aircraft, which is 100 times more reliable.”  My impending flight brought up the fears of my top three supporters, but those were their fears, not mine. I listened and I gave them empathy—“I hear your concern, thank you for caring.” You can’t control other’s reactions, but you can control yours. I had to let them deal with their fears; I needed to handle my own.

What is the fear trying to tell you? Trust your intuition!

If you are waking up in the middle of the night like I have in a cold sweat or dreaming that you are stuck in your airplane at night in the water, thumbs and ribs broken, upside down as your airplane begins to sink in the ocean, then it’s time to be bold and take action! That fear is doing you a great favor and detailing what you need to focus on so you can be fully present in the cockpit. How about taking a survival course or two before you fly? Get strapped into a simulator at Survival Systems and get dunked in the dark. Or attend a course with Tim Kneeland at Survival Educators and learn how to survive in those nightmare situations. How about practicing an egress from a smoke-filled cabin at CAPS Aviation? I’ve done them all and highly recommend all of them. Each course is a full day, and it turns out, is actually fun.

Close your eyes and visualize handling different emergencies with ease

When you are sitting in the cockpit, have you ever calmly sat there and thought things like, “I’m losing cockpit pressurization. What do I do?” Me either, until I started using a Peter Schiff environmental system and did a “Zen Power” visualization. In my mind, I grab my oxygen mask, which is located over my left shoulder, place it on my face, and then turn on the backup pressurization system. Thinking through these things in the cockpit can be a great advantage when things start going south, no pun intended!

Pre-plan ways to get an answer while in flight or on the ground

What greater comfort is there for a solo pilot than being able to ask for help from an expert like a mechanic or flight instructor when an emergency arises? The good news is that technology has your answer! Handheld satellite texting devices and satellite phones by the satphonestore.com offer you an almost instant way to reach out in your time of need. I was 600 miles off the coast of California on the last leg of my equatorial circumnavigation in 2015 when my engine temperature jumped 20 degrees in less than an hour. I texted my mechanic and he quickly resolved my emergency situation. Don’t wait to ask for help and plan for it before you need it.

Override your reptilian brain and make decisions with your prefrontal cortex

When you lose your cool in the cockpit, you pretty much become the family lizard and activate your reptilian brain for the next 30 minutes. This is great if you need to kick the window out of your airplane or rip the hatch off the hinges like the Hulk. But the Hulk never flew an airplane. It is natural to go through a brief period of confusion when you’re angry or scared, but when you practice “Zen Power,” you will calm your lizard brain and switch on your CEO brain to make critical decisions. Take a few deep breaths; remind yourself that you have a lot of great training, technology, and hours flying, and then get down to business. You have all the external tools you need within arm’s reach and all the internal tools you need inside your head.

Use a simulator

If you are afraid of doing an approach down to minimums on a windy, low-visibility day with icing, then you are in luck! Most reasonable simulators today can create that exact scenario and you can fly it 100 times from the comfort of your own heated and dry home until you can do it with one eye closed. We all know with repetition comes comfort and better performance.

I hope these “Zen Power” strategies have helped you gain comfort in the cockpit. Each of them takes regular practice but will help you remain cool at that moment in time when you are called to perform like the confident pilot you have been trained to be. Remember, you have been blessed with the ability to fly. It’s a privilege to take flight, and you are an example for everyone who looks toward the sky for inspiration!

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 December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

3rd Annual Backcountry Fly-in at the Beautiful Mystic Bluffs (NM56) Airstrip in New Mexico

The State of New Mexico wants to encourage pilots to consider their state as a destination for backcountry flying. A New Mexico Airstrip Network (NMAN) Steering Committee, of which AOPA is a member of, has been created to increase public access to state airstrips for recreational enjoyment and to promote tourism and economic development, while preserving the environment. You’ll be hearing more about this in the coming months but, today, I want to write about the 3rd Annual Backcountry Fly-in at the absolutely stunning Mystic Bluffs airstrip (NM56) in Ramah. The little town of Ramah is in northwest New Mexico, southeast of Gallup and west of Grants, as shown in the sectional below.

Location of Mystic Bluffs

Location of Mystic Bluffs

I attended the event to represent AOPA, meet with pilots, and help support/promote the event. My husband Jared happened to be off so he was able to join me on this trip, not a very common instance 🙂 On the way to Ramah, we stopped in Moriarty (0E0) for avgas and to see some of the gliding activity going on. I have to admit we probably saw more gliders together there than in any other place before but, it makes sense, it’s the birth place of the Applebay Sailplanes, it’s home to the U.S Southwest Soaring Museum George Applebay founded, and the soaring conditions are perfect on that part of the world.

Gliders at 0E0

Gliders at 0E0

From there, we went to Albuquerque’s Sunport (ABQ). Earlier in the week, I ran into a newspaper article describing a meeting between a 5 year old boy and a Southwest Airlines Captain after the Captain witnessed the little boy waiving at airplanes from the Airport’s Aircraft Viewing Area. Knowing I was going to be in the area on Friday, August 21st, I immediately reached out to the family to see if future pilot Hudson and his mom would be interested in a local flight around town. They did and we wrote a story about it! Soon after… we were on our way to Gallup (GUP). Unfortunately, the Archer I fly is not equipped or capable of flying into Mystic Bluffs, so we left the airplane at GUP and drove the rest of the way. Mystic Bluffs has a 5,100′ strip at an elevation of 6,980′ (not to mention density altitude!).

Close to Gallup

Close to Gallup

Our original plan was to camp Friday night and leave on Saturday after the event was over but… after enjoying wonderful camaraderie, seeing the beautiful starry sky (first time I’ve seen sooo many stars and the Milky Way with a naked eye), sitting around the campfire, and seeing how beautiful the place was, we decided to stay until Sunday morning.

Our tent

Our tent

Saturday’s event started early… Pilots from around New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and even Nebraska started to arrive around 7 am and, of course, some of us were already there! The local ladies from Timberlake Ranch prepared and setup an amazing spread of wonderful homemade goodies, from your more typical breakfast burritos to a very tasty French toast with blueberries, and everything in between. They also made airplane-shaped sugar cookies. And you should know you cannot travel to New Mexico and not try green or red chile! I have attended a lot of fly-ins but, no offense, none had food quite like Mystic Bluffs did. Wow!

Breakfast buffet

Breakfast buffet

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Cute airplane cookies

We counted about 25 aircraft on the field which is an awesome turnout for a backcountry fly-in but I can’t say I blame the pilots and locals for coming… we had a great mixture of beautiful scenery, a well maintained airstrip, near perfect weather, delicious food, airplane watching, camping, a campfire, lots of hiking options, Native American jewelry, and wonderful, wonderful people.

Full ramp of beautiful birds

Full ramp of beautiful birds

This aerial picture is from last year's fly-in but it's the best one I have to show how magical the place is. Courtesy of Mike Marker.

This aerial picture is from last year’s fly-in but it’s the best one I have to show how magical the place is.
Courtesy of Mike Marker.

The surrounding mountains as viewed from Cindy's aircraft. Courtesy of Cindy Crawford.

The surrounding mountains as viewed from Cindy’s aircraft.
Courtesy of Cindy Crawford.

No lie, I took over 100 pictures at the event but here is just a sample…

Lanny Tonning, AOPA's Airport Support Network Volunteer (ASN) for Albuquerque's Sunport, landing his Socata Rallye

Lanny Tonning, AOPA’s Airport Support Network Volunteer (ASN) for Albuquerque’s Sunport, landing his Socata Rallye

Holland, Kky, and Olivia watching airplanes from the shade of a Maule

Holland, Ky, and Olivia watching airplanes from the shade of a Maule

Ron Keller, former NMDOT-Aviation Safety & Education Administrator and jack of all trades, taking off to head back to his home airport of Belen

Ron Keller, former NMDOT-Aviation Safety & Education Administrator and jack of all trades, taking off to head back to his home airport of Belen

1 2 3 There was a flour bombing competition as well and the winner actually got fairly close to the target. After the fly-in was over, those of us who remained at the field for another night went on a little exploration and hiked up to “The Falls” and over to Ramah Lake.

Native American ruins

Native American ruins

The Falls

The Falls

Panoramic of Ramah lake

Panoramic of Ramah lake

I can’t close this blog without acknowledging and thanking the folks who worked for months to make this fly-in the successful event it was: the authentic (not the movie star) Cindy Crawford is the airstrip owner, Perry (dad) and Jason (son) Null from Gallup as well as Ed Coffee worked tirelessly to get the airstrip, picnic area and parking ready, and the locals contributed with tents, food, etc. The Null’s also brought jewelry for everybody from their Trading Company.

Organizers (2)

(Left to right) Rol Murrow with the Air Care Alliance and the Recreational Aviation Foundation, Perry Null, Cindy Crawford, Ed Coffee, Jason Null and I.

Hope you consider attending next year! You won’t be disappointed! Fly in, camp, and stay awhile! =)

But, if you just can’t wait until next year to give backcountry flying a try… the Negrito Fly-in (0NM7) is scheduled for September 11-13 this year and you can read about last year’s event here. (Editor’s note from Sept 10th – The Negrito Fly-in has been moved to October 16-18 due to rain the past few days)

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Activity in Central SW Region

In all of 2014, the FAA recorded a total of 238 reports of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) activity near manned aircraft. Through the beginning of August 2015, that number stands at more than 650. This dramatic increase should be a concern for not only the FAA, but also pilots and drone operators.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released a new list of pilot, air traffic and citizen reports of possible encounters with UAS. A total of 56 reports were counted within the Central Southwest Region between November 13, 2014 through August 20, 2015:

  • 1 in Arkansas
  • 1 in Kansas
  • 4 in Louisiana
  • 5 in Missouri
  • 1 in New Mexico
  • 5 in Oklahoma
  • 39 in Texas
  • 0 in Nebraska
  • 0 in Iowa

The FAA wants to send a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal. People interested in operating a UAS should first become familiar with the information in the FAA’s “Know Before You Fly” campaign.

Pilots should check notams prior to every flight and be aware of areas where legal UAS activity may be scheduled and/or happening. The FAA also asks that pilots or any concerned citizens report unauthorized drone operation to local law enforcement.

The FAA is working with local law enforcement to identify and investigate UAS incidents. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.

 

True Flying Vacation: TX, NM, AZ, CA in 12 days

My husband Jared and I had been looking forward to our “flying vacation” to the Bahamas at the end of May, 2015. However, when Staniel Cay (highlighted as a must stop by everybody we talked with) was suddenly closed on April 9th, we had to make a decision: A) continue with our plans without the Staniel Cay stop or B) change plans.

As pilots, both Jared and I are used to changing plans or making plans “on the fly” so the decision was easy although disappointing: B) change plans and go to the Bahamas next year when Staniel Cay is open.

So, where to go now? Well, we had been talking about heading west in 2016 so we just flip flopped our plans. And why west? Simple! We both love the mountains, wanted to fly into California’s Catalina Airport, and we had been wanting to visit the Sequoia and King Canyons National Parks but they are quite out of reach from major commercial airports.

And, on May 18th, we embarked on our trip. Woohoo! This is the story of two pilots in love with each other and with flying =) (yeah, ok, that may be too cheesy! haha) Screenshot_2015-05-17-08-47-21~2 * I titled this blog “true flying vacation” because I see two ways of using aircraft on vacations: 1) You can use them as pure transportation to get you to your final destination (as an example, you can read my blog titled “Flying Vacation to the Florida Keys”) or 2) You can make flying the primary purpose of your vacation. We did the latter on this trip.

Day 1: KIWS (West Houston Airport, TX) – KFST (Fort Stockton-Pecos County Airport, TX) – KLSB (Lordsburg Municipal Airport, NM) – KSDL (Scottsdale Airport, AZ)

The first day was mostly a travel day that started a little later than expected due to weather (remember all the rain and flooding in Texas in May?) and a minor maintenance issue. Leg 1 IWS-FST 20150518_110013 The first leg of the day was in and over clouds as well as over flat land but soon after Fort Stockton, the weather started to clear, the elevation started to rise, and the mountains started to appear in the distance, like the Guadalupe Mountains and its Signal Peak – the highest one in Texas. We actually saw the road we once drove on (and the CBP checkpoint we went through) from El Paso to Carlsbad Caverns.

Signal Peak

Guadalupe Mountains and Signal Peak

By the time we got to El Paso, we had mountains on both sides of the airplane and I started snapping lots of pictures. This is also when actual flight planning started taking place as we had to consider:

  1. Elevations,
  2. Density altitude and weight/fuel calculations,
  3. Airports with fuel,
  4. Winds aloft,
  5. Airspace (restricted, MOAs, etc),
  6. Minimum enroute altitudes,
  7. Turbulence,
  8. Etc.

Lordsburg, NM was a great little stop for us. We only stopped for fuel but airport manager Fred Beem was very sweet (literally, ha!, because he had candy for crews and passengers) and helpful. KLSB won “best airport stop” as well as “highest density altitude” for the trip.

How about these gorgeous mountainous views! Nothing like seeing a 360-degree perspective from the air.

How about these gorgeous mountainous views! Nothing like seeing a 360-degree perspective from the air.

El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ enroute to Scottsdale

El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ enroute to Scottsdale

We had been to Phoenix on other occasions so we decided to stop in Scottsdale since we had never been. Air traffic control treated us to a nice view of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (KPHX) and downtown Phoenix.

KPHX and downtown Phoenix

KPHX and downtown Phoenix

Although we enjoyed the SDL airport and its surrounding mountains, neither one of us was very impressed with the city itself. We only found shops and chain restaurants – not anything we are interested in.

Left downwind for 21

Left downwind for 21

Base to final, runway 21

Base to final, runway 21

Day 2: KSDL (Scottsdale, AZ) – (KSEZ Sedona Airport, AZ) – KPRC (Ernest A Love Field Airport in Prescott, AZ) Leg 4 SDL-PRC Sedona won the “best aerial views” category. The red rocks are absolutely drop dead gorgeous from the air. We had been to Sedona before but not to Prescott so, for the sake of time spent in Prescott, we did not land or stop at KSEZ but we did fly all around Sedona (as you can see on our radar track), taking it all in and identifying all familiar places from the air. Sedona 1

Sedona 2

Sedona and KSEZ on the right

General aviation is such a small world. Would you believe we ran into Josh Olson, Executive Director of Angel Flight West, at the FBO who had flown in from California to meet with a local hospital in Prescott? I love it! We then rented a car but really explored the area by foot and mountain bikes (and I must add… that was the toughest mountain biking we’ve done to date!)

We really enjoying hiking around Prescott’s Watson Lake (on the right of the picture).

We really enjoying hiking around Prescott’s Watson Lake (on the right of the picture).

Since we’re both alumni of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), we also stopped at the University’s Prescott campus and saw their aircraft on the ramp at KPRC. In fact, several of them were flying while we were there. I also liked seeing AOPA’s Pilot Magazine in the lobby of the University’s Visitor Center. ERAU We didn’t get to do this (because we couldn’t bring the camping gear due to weight) but two friends recommended Payson, AZ (KPAN) for two reasons: 1) the Payson Airport Campground onsite and 2) the onsite Crosswinds Restaurant apparently has one of the “best fly-in pies” in the country. Marked for next time…

Day 3: KPRC (Prescott, AZ) – KAJO (Corona Municipal Airport, CA) Leg 5 PRC-AJO There are things you can only see from the air. This is one of them:

Near Bagdad, AZ

Near Bagdad, AZ

Joshua Tree National Park on our left, attractive desert all around us

Joshua Tree National Park on our left, attractive desert all around us

Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I think what we saw approaching the Los Angeles area was smog!

LA's smog?

Los Angeles smog?

My husband Jared has family in Corona so we decided to drop in and visit with them for the night. It also happens that Corona is one of only few non-towered airports in the Los Angeles area. Nothing against towered airports but I appreciate non-towered airports with easier in and out and, normally, cheaper services/parking.

Corona won “best overall airport” for the trip. It has a unique self-serve fuel station with a round owning and a cool area with benches (appropriately known as “The Bench”) to sit on, chat with local pilots and watch traffic coming and going. The airport is also in a nice setting with mountains nearby.

Corona 2

Unique self-serve fuel tanks in Corona

Corona 3

KAJO’s “The Bench”

Day 4: KAJO (Corona, CA) – KAVX (Catalina Airport, CA) Leg 6 AJO-AVX After navigating through Los Angeles’ challenging and busy Class B airspace and flying over Disneyland (on an IFR flight plan during their 60th anniversary), we approached California’s beautiful coastline.

Approaching CA's coastline

Approaching CA’s coastline

“The Airport in the Sky” won “coolest approach” for the trip. You’re probably not surprised about that if you’ve ever seen any pictures or videos of it, like this one. It was also a solid runner-up for “best overall airport” but we were just too happily surprised with Corona’s friendly feel. Catalina airport Just like everybody says… runway 22’s gradient goes up during the first 1,800’ of runway and the remaining 1,200’ is flat so, when on short final, you lose sight of the flat 1,200’ of runway. Your approach also seems higher than you really are due to the drop-off prior to the runway and rising runway. No problem though. If you are expecting those things, it is really not a problem at all.

Catalina used to be frequented by seaplanes quite a bit and Avalon still has quite a bit of seaplane art around town. Pretty neat. And I learned that the first water to water flight (and also the longest and fastest overwater flight to that date) was flown by Glen L. Martin from Newport Beach, southwest of Santa Ana, to Santa Catalina Island on May 10th, 1912. Catalina art 1 Catalina art 2 Day 5: Catalina, CA Would you believe we went scuba diving and the gear we rented was from the brand “Pilot?” Could it be more perfect? Very fitting.

"Pilot" scuba gear

“Pilot” scuba gear

We saw lots of beautiful garibaldi fish (as we understand it, the official marine state fish of California), a couple of crabs, a bat ray, several sea tars, and lots of other cool fish (some of which tried “attacking” us for food).

We saw lots of beautiful garibaldi fish (as we understand it, California's State Fish), a couple of crabs, a bat ray, several sea tars, and lots of other cool fish (some of which tried "attacking" us for food).

One of the crabs and garibaldi fish

Catalina's bay

Avalon Bay

Day 6:  KAVX (Catalina, CA) – KBFL (Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, CA) – Sequoia National Park

Avalon's panoramic

Avalon’s panoramic

This day represented, to me, a perfect example of the benefits of flying GA. We spent half a day relaxing in Catalina Island, had a famous buffalo burger (and bought some T-shirts and things) at the airport’s DC-3 Gifts and Grill, then flew less than two hours to Bakersfield (even though our initial plan was to fly to KVIS-Visala since it’s the closest airport to the park entrances but, since it was Memorial Day weekend, they were out of rental cars), and we were still able to spend a few hours in Sequoia’s National Park. That just can’t all be done within a day with any other mode of transportation: not by boat, not by car, not by airline, and not by any combination of those. Leg 7 AVX-BFL Google Maps tells me it “could not calculate directions from Santa Catalina Island to Sequoia National Park” even though it’s normally very good about considering several modes of transportation (car, bus, train, walking, airline, bike…) so here is what I gathered:

  • Boat: Not an option without using an additional mode of transportation (car, for example).
  • Car: Not an option without using an additional mode of transportation (boat).
  • Airline: Not an option without using an additional mode of transportation (boat). Catalina Island does not have airline service (only helicopter charters) and the closest airport with airline service to the parks may be Fresno or Bakersfield itself (but remember connecting may be involved, too).
  • Combination: The high-speed ferry from Catalina Island to Long Beach (closest option to the national park) is an hour long. Then, the drive from Long Beach to the entrance of Sequoia National Park is four and a half hours. There goes most of your day by the time you include waiting for the ferry (on a set schedule), picking up the car, and fighting LA traffic.
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Left – Two Harbors in the morning; Right – Sequoia National Park in the afternoon

Day 7: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Jared and I love visiting U.S. National Parks. They are absolutely treasures we need to help preserve.

While I personally enjoyed Kings Canyon more than Sequoia (and only because I have a thing for canyons and we’ve been to Yosemite National Park before which also has sequoia trees), Day 7’s highlight was seeing wild brown bears (including cubs) up close and personal while walking around the Crescent Meadow trail. 20150524_180144_Richtone(HDR) 20150524_180245 Day 8: KBFL (Bakersfield, CA) – KPSP (Palm Springs International Airport, CA)

Does taking off from a displaced threshold count as an “off-rwy takeoff?” 😉 Bakersfield’s runway 30R has one 3,400′ long and the Archer was off the ground before reaching the runway threshold.

See the looooong displaced threshold?

See the looooong displaced threshold?

The flight from BFL to PSP was very, very pretty, seeing the Mojave Desert on our left, then LA covered with clouds to our right, and Morongo Valley on our descent. I really enjoyed it! It’s hard to say which leg was our top choice but this one was towards the top because of its variety of scenery.

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Mojave Desert with Rosamond Lake and Rogers Lake (dried lakes, that is)

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Los Angeles on the other side of the San Bernardino Mountains and ski resort

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How could anybody not enjoy flying with views like this? Ahhhhh……

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High altitude lakes in the Big Morongo Canyon Reserve area (and, yes! I love inside the cockpit pictures like this one because it shows exactly what we show! No zoom used!)

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Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

By chance, we planned to be in Palm Springs on Memorial Day but, because of that, we got lucky and got a chance to see the Palm Springs Air Museum’s Flower Drop while there. Each Memorial Day, the museum commemorates the important role of those who fought in World War II with a flower drop from the museum’s B-25 aircraft. Thousands of white and red carnations represent those who gave the greatest sacrifice — their lives — for their country. Here is a news story (with a video) from the same event in 2013.

Downwind for Palm Springs's runway 31R

Downwind for Palm Springs’s runway 31R

Day 9: KPSP (Palm Springs, CA) – KTUS (Tucson International Airport, AZ) Leg 9 PSP-TUS

Leaving Palm Springs

Leaving Palm Springs. Interesting seeing that well-defined green golf course community in the desert!

We timed our flight from Palm Springs to Tucson to arrive around sunset. We were very happy we did.  The sun’s color and shadows on the mountains around Tucson made our views fantastic even when it meant the sun was in my face on final.

Tucson 1

Approaching Tucson from the west

Tucson 2

Beautiful sunset

Tucson 3

KTUS’ tower (I like the neon sign on the side!)

Day 10: Tucson, AZ

Different websites and forums said to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum bright and early to avoid the heat of the day and to obtain tickets for the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), better known as “aircraft boneyard,” tours so we did! We really enjoyed both the museum and the boneyard tour. My husband would say that the “coolest aviation visit/reference” we saw was TWA’s Constellation at the Pima museum because he is infatuated with Howard Hughes.

Pima Air Museum

Pima Air and Space Museum

Davis-Monthan Air Force has “the largest aircraft boneyard in the world.” The area’s low humidity, rainfall of about 11″ annually, hard alkaline soil, and high altitude of 2,550 feet allows the aircraft to be naturally preserved for cannibalization or possible reuse. In addition, the geology of the desert allows aircraft to be moved around without having to pave (additional cost and maintenance) the storage areas.

Davis-Monthan is the location of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the sole aircraft boneyard and parts reclamation facility for all excess military and government aircraft. Aircraft from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, NASA and other government agencies are processed at AMARG. Another role of AMARG is to support the program that converts old fighter jets, such as the F-4 Phantom II and F-16, into aerial target drones. AMARG has more than 4,000 aircraft.

AMARG boneyard

AMARG boneyard

We had lunch at San Xavier’s mission, which also happened to be the “most historic” site we saw during the trip. And, in the afternoon, we took lots of water and headed to Sabino Canyon.

Day 11: KTUS (Tucson, AZ) – KTCS (Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport, NM)

We went ATVing through Box Canyon in the morning and the owner of the company was a pilot and an AOPA member. As you can see, we like keeping it in the family =) ATV AOPA member On Day 10, we were left wondering where the surplus/retired non-military/non-government airplanes were stored in the area. Well, we found them! Pinal Airpark (KMZJ) is the answer. Several old airliners were parked there.

Airline boneyard

Airline boneyard

As we were doing our pre-flight in preparation for departure, a Piper Cherokee Six (below) taxied by with an inmate they were taking to a different jail. It was quite interesting to see two Sheriffs flying. I don’t often see uniformed cops flying GA aircraft. Most usually wear flight suits, not uniforms. It was a good reminder, yet again, of all the important uses GA has. 2015-05-28 22.29.59 I filed Redington Pass as the first checkpoint from KTUS with hopes of them keeping it that way so we could fly right over the military boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB. Some people we talked with told us “good luck with that” when we asked them what the best way to fly over the boneyard was but I tell you what… they gave it to us and it was very, very cool to see all 4,000+ military aircraft in perfect formation with each other from the air. It was an impressive sight – even more so than from the ground. BTW – In case you are wondering (like I did)… no, they are not for sale to private individuals! 🙁

AMARG boneyard from the air

AMARG boneyard from the air. WOW!

Leg 10 TUS-TCS And… we arrived at TorC. While we experienced the highest density altitude at KLSB, KTCS won “highest airport” of all stops at 4,862 feet. In contrast, KAJO won “lowest airport” of all stops at 533 feet.

Do you know the history behind the name “Truth or Consequences?” The town used to be called Hot Springs because, guess what, they have wonderful natural hot springs. Duh! 😉 We could not pass on that so, as soon as we dropped our bags at the hotel, we headed to Riverbend Hot Springs – definitely our trip’s “most relaxing” experience.

I know this may sound surprising since Truth or Consequences was the smallest town we visited but we had the “best food” of the trip there at Bella Luca’s Italian restaurant.

Day 12: KTCS (Truth or Consequences, NM) – (Spaceport America) – KPEQ (Pecos Municipal Airport, TX) – KIWS (West Houston, TX)

And here is another small world instance. We borrowed the airport’s courtesy car overnight to get us to/from the airport and agreed to return it early in the morning because another pilot had called asking if she could use it for some business in town. Do you know who that ended up being? The one and only Cathy Myers, President of the NM Pilots Association =) Funny thing is… she wasn’t too surprised to see me… She knows I get around the region but she was glad to meet my husband though. No solo flying on this trip!

Tail of Cathy's Piper Cherokee with NMPA's logo ;)

Tail of Cathy’s Piper Cherokee with NMPA’s logo 😉

The main reason for visiting TorC was touring Spaceport America and visiting with its staff. Wondering what’s going on at the Spaceport? Here is a news article/video from July 29th.

Bill Gutman with the Spaceport and I in front of the astronaut's walkway

Bill Gutman with the Spaceport and I in front of the astronaut’s walkway

We know many GA pilots are interested in flying in/out of the Spaceport so I met with their staff to offer some suggestions on how to organize more fly-ins, where to find helpful resources, how we can help, who else can help, etc.

Spaceport America

Spaceport America (and we actually saw a replica of SpaceShipOne inside Bakerfield’s terminal)

The Spaceport now has a museum that opened up to the public on June 24th. One of the things they have is a fun G-Shock simulator where one can really experience centrifugal force. I had to try it to make sure it was safe 😉 Spaceport Centrifugal force After the tour, we went back to the aircraft and began our flight back home, starting with a first leg to Pecos, TX with the worst turbulence of the trip. Did you know Pecos is home of the world’s first rodeo? We didn’t see one during this stop though.

Even though we were not given permission to land at the Spaceport, we at least got lucky on departure and R-5111 C & D were inactive. We were able to fly close enough to the Spaceport to see it and take some aerial pics.

Spaceport America

NM’s Spaceport in the distance

And, yes, we were back to crossing Texas. This time, we entertained ourselves by remembering the best parts of our trip by giving ratings to different parts of our trip. You read about the winners (with “best” this or “best” that) throughout the blog. That is purely our rating based on our experience – nothing else. 😉

Good or bad, lucky or not, we missed some really bad weather and floods back home in the Houston area while we were gone but we still saw lots of flooded areas all around.

TX flooding

West Houston

Other

Throughout the trip, we saw lots of dirt runways perfect for tundra tires and other capable aircraft. Dirt airstrip “Best beer” tried? Hangar 24’s IPA from their craft brewery in Redlands, California and, yes, we may be bias. If you don’t like it, you can blame Jared because I don’t drink beer. 😉

And what’s one thing we learned on this trip that we need to plan for the future? Boating around Catalina Island. My husband won’t let me forget. 😉

Summary

12 days, 1 GA aircraft, 2 people, 4 states, 12 airports, 8 hotels, 6 cars, 1 ATV, 2 bikes, 2 scuba dives, more mountain flying and density altitude experience, great adventures, a number of hikes and walks, a couple of aviation-related visits, one work-related stop, perfect weather, wonderful laughs, lots of fun, beautiful sights… a lifetime memory!

We’ll never forget this trip and we have decided we need to take a trip like this once a year. I encourage you to consider doing one yourself. It’s a completely different way of traveling: you have complete freedom, you get both aerial and ground views, you can get to hard-to-get-to-areas of the country, you can pack whatever you need, you can change destinations or change your routing along the way, you can challenge yourself with different types of flying experiences, you can do a variety of different things while you are gone, you see different types of airports and aviation museums along the way, you meet wonderful people, and the list goes on.

Successful Pinch Hitter in Houston

As you might remember… fellow aviator and friend Linda Street-Ely and I planned and organized a Pinch Hitter course (non-pilot flying companions learn the fundamentals of flying, how to talk with ATC controllers, basic emergency procedures, etc) for the Houston area last Saturday, August 16th. For an earlier blog about this and more information, visit: http://blog.aopa.org/aopa/?p=1625 and http://houstonpinchhitter.weebly.com/.

We were initially happy to get 25-30 RSVPs because we did not know what to really expect but, when we got to 50, we had to set that as the limit. RSVPs and interest got to 70 strong so we now have a list of 20 flying companions for a future date and two cities, Fort Worth and Conroe, have also asked us for a course in their area. The interest and response was overwhelmingly positive and we were happy to see that!

We were very fortunate and thankful to recruit four other great Texas pilots/flight instructors along with their aircraft to help us present the material to the attendees: 1) Vickie Croston from Conroe, 2) Erin Cude from Victoria, 3) Mike Ely from Liberty, and 4) Mary Latimer from Vernon. We cannot thank them enough. They volunteered their time and money to come to the event. Thanks also go out to West Houston Airport for being a great host!

Attendees were provided with some goodies and materials to take home so they can review the concepts and topics discussed as well as learn more about any particular topics. One of those materials was the latest copy of the FAA Safety Briefing that happened to focused around flying companions.

Attendees with their FAA Safety Briefing magazines with a "Flying Companion Guide to GA"

Attendees with their FAA Safety Briefing magazines with a “Flying Companion Guide to GA”

We received great and encouraging post-course feedback from the 49 attendees. Here are some samples:

  • I wish I would have done this earlier
  • I look forward to taking some flight training and learn how to land the airplane in case of something happening to my girlfriend
  • I’m going to start training and become a private pilot
  • I’m going to enjoy flying more now that I understand how things work and feel more safe
  • Hope my husband lets me help him now, especially with radios and checklists

Based on our experience and their comments, we believe the course was successful and met its objectives. We believe all attendees were rewarded with a greater understanding of flying and general aviation, a more enjoyable time during future flights, and a greater sense of safety regardless of what their future plans call for. Sharing the joy and passion of flight with someone special to you can only have positive returns. Being an active participant in what’s going on can only increase the safety factor.

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Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

So, if you are interested in a Pinch Hitter or know someone who is within the region, please send me an e-mail with your/their contact info so I can keep track and contact you/them when a course is scheduled close to you. My e-mail is [email protected].

If you are interested in organizing a Pinch Hitter yourself in your area (and I encourage you to do so! 🙂 ), I am also happy to talk with you and provide you with some important topics of discussions, things to consider when choosing a venue, tips, lessons learned, etc. Send me an e-mail to that above address and we can schedule a phone call.

Now, for all pilots… please remember to always make your passengers comfortable before, during, and after flying. Remember that they may not be used to flying in small airplanes like you are and they, for sure, do not know or understand the lingo or the procedures involved so, when able, try your best to explain it to them. Encourage them to ask questions and be involved in the process (unless they just prefer to just read a book or take a nap). Passengers are much more relaxed and comfortable riding in any type of transportation mode when they have information and know what to expect.

Need help creating your own passenger briefing? Here are a couple of links that can help: http://www.aopa.org/Education/Safety-Videos/Passenger-Safety-Briefing.aspx and http://flash.aopa.org/asf/volunteerpilots/app/content/pdf/ASI_PBF_Passenger%20Briefing%20Checklist.pdf

Photo of the Day: Fall foliage flight

Flying is fun no matter what the season, but there’s something especially satisfying about getting a bird’s-eye view of autumn colors in their fleeting glory. Some years are better than others for spotting fall leaves–our dry summer in the Northeast did not produce the kind of spectacular colors you see here. Nonetheless, fall is a great time for flying.—Jill W. Tallman

Initiating change

Big problems require big actions. This has been AOPA’s modus operandi behind the Flight Training Initiative, an effort the association thinks is vital to the future of flight training and general aviation. Since the beginning of the project a few years ago, we have focused on how to improve the flight training experience and ensure that more student pilots are able to make it from start to finish. For decades, aviation ignored this problem, instead relying on a steady flow of prospects through the flight training door. But now that the economy has faltered, the prospects don’t come like they used to, and when someone drops out of training it is having a significant effect on the pilot population.

To try and combat the problem we and others in the industry have begun a number of programs and projects, all of which we consider to be just the beginning of the effort. Today AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller announced the newest, and most exciting related project to date–the AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards. This is not just another awards show. The hope is that far from simply having a nice dinner and a few trophies, the AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards will be the catalyst for significant sea change within the industry.

The awards are meant to shine a bright spotlight on the flight schools and instructors that embody the ideals laid out in AOPA’s research report into the ideal flight training experience. The research showed that successful flight schools maintain a common set of practices and values that are irrelevant of size and location. Winning schools will be chosen as a direct result of customer feedback as it relates to the criteria.

Nowhere else in the industry is there a way to objectively grade your flight school. Thus the awards not only highlight those schools that are doing well, they will also form the backbone of the industry’s most extensive source of information yet on how customers feel our flight schools are performing. To participate, simply take a survey. It only takes a few minutes, and your results will make your school eligible for an award, and contribute to changing the industry for the better.

AOPA’s hope is that as schools examine what it takes to win an award, the institutional leaders will judge their own business against the criteria, and adjust accordingly. Given that the winning criteria is a set of objective measures that is scientifically proven, in doing so there is a real chance that the school will change for the better. Clearly the student is the biggest winner in this, as flight training becomes a more professional, more predictable endevaour. Through the students, our industry will ultimately benefit as we see schools get better and better at keeping those who dream about flying in the sky.

Please take a few minutes to complete a survey. Any customer, whether student pilot or ATP, can participate.

–Ian J. Twombly