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Special engine out procedures, Part 1

Every summer, it seems, there are days where the temperatures somewhere are hot enough that the media has reports that airplanes can’t take off. It is easy to scratch your head and ask how it is that an airliner can’t depart, even in a high density altitude environment. The most common place for this seems to be Phoenix.

Two things can drive this. The first is pretty simple: Hotter temps mean higher ground speeds for takeoff, and those speeds can mean that the speed limits for tires can be exceeded. Knowingly exceeding a limitation is never acceptable, and the result is usually a cancelled takeoff, or more likely, a reduced payload to reduce the speeds.

The second issue is performance once airborne. But it isn’t the all-engine performance that is the issue. It is single-engine performance, and more specifically, it is the single-engine performance that would be required when losing an engine at the worst possible time, which is right at the speed known as V1.

V1 is known as the takeoff decision speed, but more accurately, when the speed reaches V1, the crew is committed to taking off, with very rare exceptions (I know of one crew that aborted after V1 because the elevator was jammed). The FAA requires that manufacturers of FAR Part 25 certified airplanes be able to demonstrate that a takeoff can be safely continued after losing an engine at V1. They further define the climb segment as being four distinct segments, all of which have certain requirements: liftoff to 35 feet; 35 feet to 400 feet; an acceleration segment; and 400 feet to 1,500 hundred feet.

Further, all of this must be done while meeting certain climb gradient criteria without violating any of the TERPS parameters. One of the challenges comes with what can best be described as “non-standard” climbs. These can (and often are) be driven by obstacles or terrain in the departure path. This is especially true if an airport has been shoe-horned in or if the area around the field has been developed in such a way that it is no longer in compliance with FAA criteria.

When you learn to compute airline performance data, you aren’t all that concerned with all-engine performance. You are instead concerned with how to meet each of the four segments of climb. You may not know exactly where the TERPS concern is, but you know that something in the departure path is an issue, or that the runway is too short to accommodate the necessary acceleration after losing an engine at V1.

In my next post, I will discuss the work-around for some of these challenges, known as special engine out procedures. These procedures are essentially an alternate method of compliance that allow for the maximum possible payload (and revenue) without compromising safety. You don’t need to be Chuck Yeager to fly these safely, but you do need to thoroughly review and brief what the steps are, and be prepared for the unlikely to become your new reality.—Chip Wright

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

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

Exiting the Hold: Quieting the Critic

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

Quiet the Critic

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

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

The Thought Layer

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

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

Exhibit determination

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

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

Jolie Lucas 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

When a pilot gets sick in flight

An Allegiant Airlines flight made news recently for diverting because one of the pilots had a seizure. While I don’t know any more than anyone else, this is a significant event and a big deal. A pilot who experiences a medical event is, in the FAA’s eyes, a medical emergency. Such is not necessarily the case with a passenger—an airplane, after all, requires a pilot to land, not a passenger.

It’s a rare event that drives a flight to divert with a sick pilot. Most of the time, the pilot can power through the flight and at least make it to the destination. That isn’t to say that to do so is always a great idea, but a diversion usually  occurs only in fairly severe cases. My guess is that the pilot who seized did so fairly extensively (early reports are that he walked off the airplane under his own power).

It’s one thing when the captain makes a decision to divert for a medical event in the cockpit, but it’s a very big deal for the first officer (FO) to make the call. After all, the FO basically needs to assume command of the flight for the duration, and that is not a decision that comes easily. Further, the diversion field needs to be considered. The Allegiant flight in question diverted to Gainesville, Florida—a city that doesn’t have a lot of airline service and is not one of Allegiant’s regular cities.

In more than 20 years of airline flying, I can  think of only a couple instances in which a flight diverted because of a sick pilot—let alone a diversion that went to an off-line airport. That said, sometimes it becomes clear that the captain is the one who is ill, because the FO may ask that the emergency medical technicians meet the airplane on the runway. The FO won’t be able to taxi easily, if at all, because the only control tiller for the nosewheel is on the captain’s side.

If a fellow pilot is clearly sick, an emergency needs to be declared and a diversion checklist needs to be executed. Passengers and flight attendants need to be alerted as quickly as possible so that the cabin can be prepared. A qualified pilot in the cabin who can come up and help is a huge asset, because the workload can quickly over-saturate the remaining pilot.

ATC can help coordinate EMTs on the ground, and can often contact the company if time is short. If the FO will be landing, and concern about getting to the gate exists, ask for air stairs (if appropriate) so that emergency personnel can board the aircraft on the runway and possibly remove the sick individual.

No diversion is fun, but a diversion for a sick crew member is a new level of stress. Stick to your training, use the checklist, and concentrate on a safe landing first. The rest can wait. It has to.—Chip Wright

Medical events

I recently worked a flight on which a passenger fell ill. Actually, the passenger fell down, as in passed out. The phone call from the cabin became the first of many, and it kept us pretty busy as we flew to Vegas. Medical events don’t happen every day for each crew, but they’re pretty common.

As you might expect, the flight attendants immediately asked the passengers if a qualified medical professional was on board. In this instance, there were two of them. After the passenger was returned to her seat and regained consciousness, they questioned her about how she felt, her overall health, and any medications she might have been using. This took several minutes, but once they had some useful information, they called us. We, in turn, contacted the company and had them patch us through to MedLink.

MedLink is a service provided by contracted medical professionals to the airlines. When a medical event develops on board, the doctors at MedLink will talk to the pilots, collect the information they need, and make a recommendation about either diverting or continuing to the destination. This service can be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, anywhere on the planet. The doctors also have a database handy that will allow them to quickly determine which medical facilities might be available for a particular issue. On a domestic flight, this might seem like overkill, but on international flights over sparsely populated areas or third world countries, this information can be critical.

In our case, it helped that we had medical professionals on board whocould help process the information from the passenger and provide an objective, professional analysis of her condition. In our case, we split the various communications duties between us. I handled ATC communications and took the calls from the cabin while the captain handled communications with the company and MedLink. Had the ATC workload become too great, I would have simply asked them to stand by. Once the company and MedLink were taken care of, I stuck with ATC and the captain took over all secondary communications.

MedLink and the folks in the cabin recommended that we press on based on the passenger’s condition. We consulted with the company and the doctors on the ground to determine the best diversion alternates for our situation if the need might arise. We were flying over an open array of farmland with no large cities immediately available. For several minutes, the best option would actually be behind us. Beyond that, we could at least deviate forward.

I’ve been lucky. My medical events have been relatively rare, and in all cases, we’ve been able to make it to the destination. Eventually I won’t have any choice but to divert. But, with the help from the doctors on the ground, I can make sure the airport I choose will give my passenger the best chance of a good outcome, and I won’t have to make that decision alone.—Chip Wright

Stupid Pilot Tricks

I’ve been flying turbine aircraft for more than a decade now (jeez, time flies!), and with few exceptions, those with whom I’ve shared the cockpit have operated in the consistently safe and professional manner one would expect from an aviator who makes their living flying airplanes.

You’d think this would go without saying, but unfortunately corporate and charter pilots don’t always have the resources or limitations you’d find at a major airline. As the Bedford G-IV accident illustrates, this is especially true of private (Part 91) flight departments. Some of them are run as professionally as any Part 121 airline, while others… well, let’s just say they leave something to be desired when it comes to standards, training, and safety culture.

But every now and then you come across something so egregious that you almost can’t believe what you’re seeing. For example, take a look at this sequence of photographs, which were sent to me by a friend. This Hawker was departing from the recent NBAA convention in Las Vegas, the one place you’d expect a business aviation pilot to be on his or her best behavior.

This first frame looks like a normal takeoff.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting. The main gear are still on the runway but the nose gear retraction sequence has already started.

The nose gear is halfway retracted by the time the main landing gear leaves the runway.

Main gear retraction begins the instant lift off occurs. You can see the main gear doors are already opening.

The nose wheel is almost stowed, and the mains are folding inward. How much indication of a positive rate of climb does the crew have at this point?

Gear is mostly retracted and altitude is perhaps a couple of feet above ground. At least the flaps are still down.

Spoke too soon! Flaps are retracted and a steep turn initiated abeam the NBAA static display. Looks to be little more than a wingspan above the dirt.

The coup de grâce, a banked turn of perhaps 80 degrees over the area north of the field, which is now primarily residential housing.

I don’t fly Hawkers, but ran it by some friends who do. None of us could think of any scenario where raising the landing gear handle prior to takeoff would be acceptable practice. There’s nothing to be gained from doing it. At that point the only thing preventing the gear from folding up are a couple of squat switches. They’re not exactly the most robust and durable components on an aircraft, and they live in a dirty, windy, vibration-prone environment. To say this pilot was taking a gamble would be charitable.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with some mitigating circumstance to explain this. Is it possible the gear handle could have been raised inadvertently? Or that a malfunction in the system could have caused it to begin retracting without the handle being raised? Sometimes people do unexplainable things without realizing it. It reminds me of the Virgin Galactic accident, where one of the pilots unlocked the feathering mechanism at too high a speed and it caused the entire spacecraft to break apart. As the old saying goes, “I know people do crazy things, because I’ve seen me do ‘em.”

Unfortunately, the last two photos put to bed any such thoughts. The Hawker is well into a turn at what appears to be not much more than a wingspan worth of altitude. That means the pilot started the turn as soon as he or she thought the wingtip wouldn’t drag in the dirt. And then there’s the very steep turn in the last photo, which an eyewitness – an experienced aviator in his own right – estimated at about 80 degrees of bank. That’s a clear 91.303 violation. The law defines aerobatics as “an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight”. The definition is necessarily vague because of the differing performance of various aircraft. A 45 degree pitch angle may be normal Vx climb for my Pitts, but it would be abnormal for a transport category jet aircraft like the Hawker.

If that’s not enough, check out the supremely early flap retraction. Industry standard is 400 feet minimum before any configuration change.

Summary: The pilot was showing off. Which is incredibly stupid, because the airport was populated with professional aviators, many of whom are getting tired of seeing this sort of thing. A number of them are involved with flight safety initiatives and have undoubtedly read more than their share of incident and accident reports caused by just this sort of behavior.

Is it possible to fly into or out of the industry’s largest convention without understanding that a hundred cameras are trained on every arrival and departure? Perhaps they WANTED to be recorded; if so, they got their wish. The entire thing was probably recorded on the FDR, CVR, and ATC radar. Certainly, it was captured on film, probably on video somewhere too, and last but not least by the eyes of everyone who saw it.

Is it really worth sacrificing life and livelihood on a stunt like this? For some people, apparently the answer is yes. What’s most irritating is that these stupid pilot tricks give everyone in my line of work a black eye when most of us do not deserve it. So it’s up to those of us in the industry to say loud and clear that pilots who engage in these hairbrained stunts are not cool. They’re being unprofessional, unnecessarily risky, and demonstrating the exact opposite of “the right stuff.”

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

Know thyself

I’ve met so many people on my journey in aviation. Some of them were ridiculously happy, thankful every day for the ability to go to work as a pilot. Others were jaded and surly, giving the distinct impression that they’d rather be scratching their fingernails along a never-ending chalkboard than be anywhere around an airplane or airport. Sometimes those two people were even the same age, doing the same job at the same company and making the same money!

Now we all have our good days and our bad ones. But how could their outlooks on life in aviation be so divergent? Is it just a matter of perspective? I’m sure sometimes that’s part of it. But as the years have passed, I’ve come to wonder if perhaps one of them is simply in the right place and the other one is not. A square peg in a round hole, if you will.

It brings to mind my salad days, which were spent in concert halls and theaters. Most of my formal training is in the arts, and that kind of career involves a lot of auditioning. Even when you’ve got a job, the need for another one is never far behind. Much like a student pilot waiting on the weather to improve sufficiently for a solo cross country, it can wear on you after a while.

Say what you will about life as a pilot, at least we’re not interviewing for a gig a hundred times a year!

Anyway, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received from my years in the performing arts field came from a well-known casting director. She said it was important to “know thyself.” In other words, the odds of success were much higher if we went after the jobs which best fit our skills, background, and natural talents. Beating the odds meant ensuring your time and energy were directed at the right gigs.

If this sounds self-evident, keep in mind others don’t always see us the way we see ourselves. Sometimes we think we’re heeding this advice, only to learn much later that we were not. I recall doing a lot of navel gazing after that pep talk. But in the long run, it was great advice and helped me tremendously.

The same is true for a professional pilot. There are as many different flying jobs as there are stars in the sky. Setting aside the irony of being asked if I ever want to be a commercial pilot when I’m already earning six figures doing just that, most people equate “commercial pilot” with only one thing: a white shirt with epaulets and a bunch of people in the back going to grandma’s house for the holidays. But that only scratches the surface of what’s out there. Just because an airline job is many people’s idea of the brass ring doesn’t mean you have to make it yours.

I’ve met more than one person who was completely dissatisfied with a $200,000+ job flying top-of-the-line business jets to exotic locations. I knew a guy who had probably 20 days off each month on top of it all. And he still didn’t like it. Eventually he quit and went off to sell insurance. Or maybe it was real estate. I was too dumbfounded by the whole situation to focus on that part. Either way, the point is that he worked harder and made less money at the new job—and yet he was markedly happier.

Perhaps some of these folks would be better served by teaching, crop dusting (don’t laugh—those guys can make great money), flying for a scheduled airline, or owning their own business instead of working for someone else. Maybe they belong in the bush. Or on the side of a glacier. Or giving helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon. Flying airshows. Ferrying airplanes. Zipping around the San Juan Islands in a floatplane. Working for law enforcement. Or doing any one of a hundred different things.

“Shiny jet syndrome” isn’t just a cute phrase. Sometimes the equipment, the lifestyle, the paycheck, and/or the Instagram feed can lead us down the wrong path. There are only 24 hours in a day, and we spend a third of that sleeping. The remaining hours are largely spent at work. Life’s too short to do something you hate all day, even if it comes with golden handcuffs.

There are a lot of flying jobs out there, and today an up-and-coming aviator has something rare: choices. Before leaping into a particular segment of aviation, take the time to look inward and really figure out what makes you tick.

You’ll thank yourself for it.

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

What makes a good first officer?

What makes a good first officer? It’s easier to talk about what makes a good captain, since the captain is the boss and has the ability to make everyone miserable.

At my first airline, I was an FO for only two and a half years before spending the next 12 as a captain. Now, I’m back in the right seat, and I find myself applying a lot of what I looked for in my own FOs, as well as some of my own ideas along with a healthy dose of common sense. Most of this is not in order, but the first one is.

  • Be on time. This is a big one, especially when it’s time to leave the hotel. Most pilots excel at being on time, if not early. It’s easy at the beginning of the trip, but some folks have a hard time being in the lobby on time for the van. Most pilots will try to be in the lobby at least five minutes early. Nobody likes to be rushed at the gate—and the van driver doesn’t like to be rushed in traffic—so make it a point to be punctual. As a captain, I really appreciated an FO who was early to plane on the first leg of the trip (assuming we didn’t bump into each other in the crew room). So, I always try to be the first one to the airplane now.
  • Be a chameleon. Unfortunately, this is the life blood of being an FO. You’re forced to learn (quickly) the habits and quirks of each captain you deal with. It can be as simple as knowing when the first checklist is read to something as strange as the way a piece of paper needs to be folded. (I’m not kidding.)There was a captain at Comair who was legendary for the origami-like way he wanted to fold the piece of paper from the release that we used for the ATIS, clearance, et cetera. He wouldn’t let anybody else touch it, and FOs quickly learned to just hand it to him. It’s also necessary to learn quickly to what extent a captain is going to help out with certain duties. Some captains will insist on doing some of the walk-arounds, and others will not even entertain it. Worse, some will not do the walk-around, but also will do nothing in the cockpit, figuring that they are “staying out of the way.” It’s true that two pilots loading the FMS can lead to confusion and make the process take longer, but it’s not so bad that he or she needs to totally back away. This is just someone being a jerk or lazy (or both). Fortunately, this is also rare.
  • CRM quirks. Some captains are over the top with crew resource management, and fortunately, they expose that early, so you can figure out that you’ll be double- and triple-verifying everything you touch, say, and do, even after you’ve already verified it. Just don’t forget something, because you’ll likely hear about it if you do. One way to minimize any conflict is to save all the paperwork until the captain says it’s OK to toss it. On the 737 that I fly, the printer is running nearly nonstop with messages, ATIS updates, performance info, et cetera. I keep everything until I figure out if the captain is a “read it and toss it” kind or wants to hold it until we land. The best ones only print out critical info.
  • Standard operating procedures. Most pilots follow most of the rules, and a few follow all of them. But some only follow a few. Ironically, most of the ones who do things their own way will tell you that they do things their own way, but they will follow along if you want to go by the book. In a way, these captains are both the easiest and the most difficult to fly with, because you can pick up some very bad habits, but they will not stop you from doing what’s right because doing what’s right keeps them out of trouble. That said, most captains try to follow company and FAA procedures, and they expect the same from the FOs. A good captain can address this diplomatically when a conflict occurs. A good FO will just follow procedures from the get-go, and if there is a conflict, he or she will simply ask there is a new procedure. Along the lines of SOP is keeping up with changes. It used to drive me crazy when the company would put out updates and FOs would drag their feet on reading them or implementing them. Now, as an FO, I try to make it a point to bring them up during our initial meeting to make sure we’re on the same page, which I’ve found captains greatly appreciate.
  • Prevent mistakes. Most captains will ask that you point out something they might be doing wrong or a mistake they may have made, and most of them mean it. We’re all human, and what may look like a deliberate act of non-compliance is almost always just a mistake or a misunderstanding. FOs saved my bacon more than once, and will eventually do so again. I’m simply returning the favor.
  • Ask questions. Captains love to both teach and pass along tidbits and institutional knowledge. Take advantage of it. It may not have anything to do with the airplane, but every little nugget of knowledge you pick up can make your work life much easier. In fact, ask your captains what FOs do that they like and don’t like. You’ll hear some interesting stories. Soon, you’ll be talking smack about your own FOs!
  • Relax, and have fun. Flying is a lot of fun and a great way to make a living, but if you don’t relax, it’s a lot more stressful than it should be. There will invariably be the rare few that you don’t like or get along with, but there is always a topic of conversation that you can agree on. If there isn’t, then you need to just accept that it will be a quiet trip. Thankfully, those days are rare indeed. Most of the time, there is an easy banter and a rapport that settles in, and the trip is over all too soon.

Just make sure that you’re on time.—Chip Wright

Holidays and deadheads

Airlines pay their pilots and flight attendants to fly. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Schedules are drastically altered around certain holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Flights are added, flights are dropped, and schedules are heavily modified. It’s common for crews to spend two nights in some cities when the service is reduced or the equipment that is used to operate the flight is up- or downsized.

The result of this is an enormous amount of deadheading, which is the practice of having crews ride in the cabin with the passengers. It’s never an ideal solution, because the seats are taken out of inventory and can’t be sold. Worse, sometimes the seats have already been sold and passengers have to be bumped, which is never a pleasant outcome for anyone.

Deadheading also is expensive because the crew has to be paid, though some airlines only pay half or three-quarters for time spent dead-heading. Still, it’s an expense, and it adds up. Further, there is also the ramification of FAR Part 117. In days past, the time spent dead-heading did not punish the airline with regards to flight hours lost. Now, deadheading is treated the same as flying when it comes to time spent at work and on duty, so the airlines have to be careful how the dead-heads are scheduled; productivity is lost.

It’s also a headache for gate agents, and it can become one for other crews. Often, certain dead events are considered critical, and if a crew is coming in late from one flight, another may have to be delayed while waiting for the DH crew to show. I’ve been on both ends of this sort of deal, and it’s not a lot of fun. Airlines opt for the DH plan because (on paper) it can save them money to DH crews around versus paying for extra hotels.

On a similar note, a lot of DHs are created by charters. In the regional jet world, NCAA basketball and baseball charters are fairly common because the 50-seat airplane is a perfect match. Often, a crew will DH into the city where the airplane will be (often on the airplane to be used for the charter) and then fly all night moving a basketball team around. When it works out the way it’s supposed to, the airplane winds up back in the same city in which it started, and the crew eventually does a DH home (usually after a rest period in a hotel). While these trips can cost a company some money on paper, those costs are built into the bill for the charter, and charters are very lucrative.

Holiday DHs are just an unfortunate fact of life for everyone. But, as the running joke goes, deadheading is about as easy as the job gets.—Chip Wright

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