Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Training to standards

You would have to be hiding under a rock to not have heard about all of the fuss going on about flight training. Most notably, you've probably heard that the FAA's Aviation Safety Bill has been passed, dictating, among other things,  that First Officers for commercial airlines must have a minimum 1500 hours of flight time (in reaction to the horrific plane crash over Buffalo, NY, last year).

The problem is this flight time (logged as actual hours flying not just training and studying) is really hard to come by. For example, I spent 7 years in the military flying Hueys and King Airs and got barely over 1200 hours. I was "lucky" in the sense that I wasn't paying for my flight training (albeit the Army was squeezing work out of me in other ways). The estimated cost these days for a private pilot certificate is anywhere from $3000 to $10,000. [I only put the $3000 figure in there because I saw it advertised. If you believe that, I have heard you can make this amount in one week working part time at home on your computer. No, really, I just got emailed this information.] When one gets that private pilot designation, he or she may have approximately 100 hours. Only 1400 more to go.

But there's more training to do. After you get your private, there's the instrument, commercial ratings, and then, most likely, your flight instructor certificate, which is what I'm working on now. Pilots can work up to 1500 hours of flight time by buying it, if they have a trust fund, since hourly rentals of small single engine airplanes are at least $100/hr. Or by slowly working at it, instructing, banner towing, etc. Anything that doesn't involve flying passengers for money. Because I did all of my initial training in the Army, I went a little different route. I now have over 4000 hours of flight time (having left the military and flown for both the commercial and fractional airlines), but no instructor time.

So, did I feel that I was a competent enough fresh out of the military pilot with 1200 hours flying a Beech 1900 in the busy, weather intensive Northeast US? Well, not always, at first, but I flew for the most part with a heck of an awesome captain, Mike, who taught me a lot as did just flying the airplane getting more experience. After completing the airline's training course, I went to Michigan to fly routes into and out of Pittsburgh. The airline, which is out of business now (no fault of mine, I should state) ran a pretty shady operation, trying to patch things together with duct tape and super glue as much as possible to keep the planes going. However, they had some great pilots. You'd have to be, flying an old, beat-up turboprop through the weather to such small, out of the way airports. For all of these reasons, the eye of the FAA was upon us. Because the FAA is always watching...

The FAA can sit in on just about anything in the airlines, and that includes your jumpseat (usually an actual seat in the cockpit, but in a 1900 it was seat 1A which had a headphone jack). They're there to make sure the pilots are running a safe flight. They can also do a "ramp check" to make sure the airplane is airworthy and legal. I remember asking Mike that if, gasp, the FAA, who takes your license away first and then asks questions, came to inspect us what we should do differently (or what wasn't I doing that I should). And Mike confidently replied, "Nothing. Everything you're doing every day is exactly how it should be done."

That's what I liked about flying with Mike. Without being anal about it, he ran a by the book operation. Other captains, ones that were not so particular, might ignore regulations, or operate in "gray" areas or be a little more forgiving of potential safety issues. When a first officer flies with such a captain, they never know what they're going to get. Heck, I had flown with captains that refused to use the checklists (so I would read them to myself - I couldn't help it!).

My point to this post is that you fly the way that you're trained. IF you care enough to continue this training into the way you conduct yourself as a pilot. Does it take any longer to do things by the book? Not really. But when the eyes of the FAA are upon you, it sure makes it easier to have those good practices ingrained. Plus, as I'm sure I've mentioned before in this blog, I never want my actions to result in the loss of the lives of others.

This is the attitude I want to convey to my students as a flight instructor. There are tons of stories about "Never Again," "I Learned from This," and other lessons pilots have learned in hindsight (I've got quite a few of them myself), but we're better off limiting the number of errors we introduce into our flights.

By the way, the new legislation also:

• Requires the FAA to strengthen regulations governing pilot training programs at airlines. The NTSB has urged airlines to provide remedial training for pilots who make errors or have difficulty on tests of their flying.
• Gives the FAA three years to impose new regulations requiring airlines to establish pilot mentoring programs and professional development committees, as well as modify existing training programs to include leadership and command training.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Jet Age Book Review

One of the cool things about having a presence in the aviation world is that people are quite often willing to send me their books to review, as in the case of a book about Amelia Earhart or one on Flying Above the Glass Ceiling. These are two recent blog entries made easy by the fact that I liked the books. I don't usually say anything when I don't. Go ahead. Call me a wimp. But I'm a nice, non-confrontational wimp.

So I kind of figured when I got an email from a marketing agent within a publishing house asking me to review their newly released book that I wasn't going to be all that thrilled with it. Ok, first, it's kind of a stretch that as the founder and Executive Director of a non profit organization (that just received it's 501(c)(3) designation by the way, for any of you thinking about year end donations...) using aviation to inspire girls to achieve their full potential, that I would have a tie in to a book subtitled "The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World."

Initially I viewed this request in the same light as vague requests from unknown persons suggesting they do guest posts on the blog about "how to travel with kids," or "how to develop online educational resources." I suppose those topics apply more than "how to drain spinach for a prize-winning veggie quiche," but I usually pass on such offers.

Additionally, the email emphasized, "Sam Verhovek’s Jet Age (on sale 10/14, $27) offers an intimate view into the minds of pioneer aviators – the men [my emphasis] who helped shrink and connect our global village. Jetsetters, pilots, and history buffs alike will receive an invaluable framework for evaluating the current airline industry and appreciating the evolution of astonishing commercial aircraft models."

Not exactly a Girls With Wings niche.

And of course, there's the time issue. Now that I'm simultaneously working on my CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) rating and GWW, there just isn't a lot of free time. Not that I'm complaining, thanks to the recent AOPA article on GWW and the subsequent VERY successful trip to the AOPA Aviation Summit. It's due to this lack of extra time that I haven't been promoting my own book, Penelope Pilot and her First Day as Captain, as much I should. Insert thought cloud above my head, "Oh, to have such an expert staff of people for Girls With Wings...."

And a book tagged with "How Boeing's Gamble Changed the World: Airline Triumphs and Challenges," sounded a bit like a text book.

How wrong I was.

I actually found a space to fit the book into my carry-on luggage to California for the Summit. I was able to crack it open on the trip back, hoping it would act as a sleep aid on my first leg to Charlotte. Well, I never did get to close my eyes, reading the book cover to cover on the four hour flight (I have always been quite the speed reader, too).

Far from a dry narrative of the scientific development of aircraft engine technology, the book is more of a social commentary into the transition from propeller driven passenger airplanes into the standard we hold now for our commercial airline conveyance: jet aircraft. Just ask anyone who finds themselves facing the set of stairs into a "puddle jumper."

Airline travel in its beginning stages was loud, bumpy and, um, prolonged. The airplanes utilized big heavy turbine or piston engines with propellers that caused noise and vibration in the cabin. Plus, un- or under-pressurized airplanes can only fly as high as the body can handle, leaving it down low in the turbulent air currents and often storms. The flights were also slow, taking quite often days to fly across the country, but, let it be said, faster than it took to drive. And there wasn't much in the way of regulating the environment for the passengers. Recommended items to pack were warm clothes, face-masks (no air purification) and sick sacks.

So the 1952 appearance of the de Havilland Comet was a welcome addition to the "glamorous" jetsetting life style - only now it was literally, "jet-setting." The British airplane featured a cabin for 36 passengers, "ensconsed in seats covered with a blue herringbone-weave, wool-faced tapestry," and a library, seperate bathrooms for men and women, and, most importantly, a special Comet Cocktail served only aboard the jetliner (presumably not served to the pilots, as well). The airplane's sleek design incorporated four engines enabled speeds of 500 miles per hour, seven miles above the earth, and a fuselage with a fatal flaw. No one at the time was able to determine why three Comets exploded while in flight. You could google the answer right now, but I would suggest that the process as laid out in Jet Age is much more interesting and detailed and worth the read.

Far from shutting down the development of other jet airliners, the competition to build a better mousetrap led to the expansion of the R&D divisions at Boeing, Douglas, Lockheed, et al. And the procurement departments in the commercial airlines of the day, such as Pan Am, Trans World, and Eastern, among others who actually still remain in existence. I won't go into depth into these areas, nor with the insertions of historical factors (like, of all things, ballooning, and the Messerschmitt jet fighter built by the Germans in 1944), but know that the contributing facts put forth by the author seamlessly blend in to the comprehensive retelling of how the jet engine was conceived, built, refined, and then put into generally accepted practice, and the people, some quite famous, who made it possible.

I therefore can confidently recommend this book, especially because you won't learn just about the jet engine, but also the businesses and personalities of the day, how politics and finances have shaped the airline industry and how women have come to play a part in it. Ok, yeah, first as stewardesses but also, eventually, as pilots (there IS a Girls With Wings tie in!). Jet Age, by Sam Howe Verhovek, is really a educational and entertaining book telling the story behind the story in how airlines and their airplanes have evolved.

I'm so glad I was contacted by their "people."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My AOPA Summit '10 trip to CA

This November I left the weather in Northeast Ohio to almost the exact same weather in Southern California. No kidding, a solid week of sun and mid-60's in Cleveland, in November and I missed it? Yes, but what I got to experience in SoCal was SO much better!

I have to admit, however, I was totally dreading this trip on the airlines. I have not flown commercially since my furlough started in January, and given all of the bad press the TSA (short for Transportation Security Administration) has been receiving, I expected quite the molestation ritual. Surprisingly, at my airport it was like nothing had changed - when I flew back home out of LA, either.

I first visited a long time friend, Barbara, proprietor of Plane Mercantile, a wonderful eclectic store of antiques and nostalgic aviation items. We met at the first appearance of the Girls With Wings retail line at the Ninety-Nines International Conference in DC in 2006 when Barb walked up to me after a long day of driving from Cleveland and setting up tables to ask if I wanted to share dinner. Actually, I believe she called it "beer." She was a great source of information then and still is - about many things, but mostly about aviation. She has an encyclopedic memory of the growth of aviation over the last century, with several works including "Pancho: The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes" an excellent and complete of the life and times of the famous society aviatrix and owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club.

Barbara and I meet yearly at many aviation events, like Women in Aviation's annual conference. This year she also had a booth at EAA's AirVenture, or (Spl)Oshkosh. And, of course, we both had a presence at AOPA's Aviation Summit. More about that later. First, I wanted to also share with you that Barbara and her family have a love of all things aeronautical. Even her sons are pilots. Her husband, Philip, has had a career as an engineer and test pilot that a wall of citations and awards clearly demonstrate. So I was more than willing to go have a $100 hamburger (see previous blog entry) in their Beechcraft Model 18, or "Twin Beech", a 6-11 seat, twin-engine, low-wing, conventional-gear aircraft.

We flew to Mojave Airport, where we just happened to actually see a very famous aviation engineer with some serious mutton chops, not so coincidentally, in a restaurant named Voyager. Besides being the home of Mojave Air and Space Port, a world renowned flight research center hosting the latest and most advanced aeronautical designs, it is also a boneyard. Mojave's dry desert climate and acres of available open space makes this an ideal location for aircraft storage. Numerous large Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed, and Airbus aircraft owned by major airlines are stored on site. Some aircraft reach the end of their useful lifetime and are scrapped at Mojave. Others are refurbished and returned to active service.

When we got back from this trip, Philip, also a A&P (airframe and powerplant mechanic) with IA (Inspection Authorization), offered to conduct a little ground school using their Cessna 150. So he removed the cowlings and proceed to point out all the parts of the engine, to which I was known to utter a few "Ooooh's" and "Ahhhhh's," and "Really's" and "No Kidding's." I'm a pretty visual learner, and all of this talk about fuel mixture and carb heat, etc., on a piston engine, no less, when I'm used to turbine engines, REALLY helped me to understand more about how the small engines work. He also walked around and demonstrated the angle of attack on the propeller and because of gyroscopic progression, makes the airplane yaw to the left, requiring right rudder on takeoff...  ok, I can see I'm losing you non-pilots. Here's some more information if you're interested. Anyway, I can tell you that two hours was priceless - and I'm hoping to be invited back out again for more (that's a hint, Barb and Phil!).

It was then time to travel to Long Beach to begin setting up the Girls With Wings booth at the AOPA Aviation Summit. After carrying my items in, box by box, from the farthest spot my car could have been parked, to the location of my booth (I can't afford to pay the people that provide logistical support for these events to move my things and so I therefore use my own muscles - it makes up for the overeating I usually do on such trips!), I had a Girls With Wings presentation to do! Again, I am so lucky to be meeting such great people promoting more girls' interest in aviation - and one of those people is Monika, the woman behind the documentary Flyabout. Monika and I had just participated in a joint event at Kent State University call Women Take Flight to interest young women to explore the many exciting opportunities for careers in journalism, aviation and filmmaking. Over 150 folks attended!

Monika also has a 7 year old daughter who's in Brownies, so I did a presentation for her troop and a group of older Girl Scouts. The girls were amazing - very interested and involved in this introduction to “everything” a pilot needs to know in order to complete a flight. This interactive presentation incorporates various aeronautical tools. My talk always begins by asking the girls if they think they could ever figure out what a pilot does, to which they invariably reply “no.” After showing them navigation charts, demonstrating the methods of communicating with ATC, and playing a game explaining what the flight instruments do, I remind them that they told me at the onset they never thought they would be able to figure out how to fly! See more about the presentation. [I tried to upload video here, unsuccessfully. You can go to the webpage to view three new videos!]

The next day the AOPA Aviation Summit kicked off. I could not have had such a successful booth there without the help of the aforementioned Monika, and Ceci, Adrienne, and Carole - among others. It was AMAZING how many visitors said the came there just to meet me after the article in the AOPA Magazine about GWW. Many folks brought their daughters by just to purchase their autographed copy of the Penelope Pilot book - like Cary here. I would also like to thank Rod of myTransponder for allowing me to participate on a panel "Making Aviation More Social," the video of which is now being shown on AOPA Live. I was able to meet with three CFI's of the Year on this panel, but I treasured the opportunity to meet all of the attendees of the event. Next year, Hartford, CT, September 22-24!

Break down of the booth after the event was much easier with the motivation of being done. Plus I had a good night's sleep to look forward to. Having a booth is hard work, but it's the best way for people to learn about Girls With Wings. Yes, we do also sell items here, but that helps us a little with fundraising. Plus, the more people sporting a "Yes, Girls Can Fly" message the more the word will be spread. Sunday we went to the Griffith's Observatory, a very famous landmark in LA that you might recognize, and Monday (after I took the boxes of remaining GWW stuff to the Post office), we visited Paramount studios. California, although quite smoggy, is really a beautiful place. I've flown over and into it plenty of times, but this was my first chance to see it from ground level.

If THAT wasn't enough, my fellow AcroCamper, Michelle, took me for a ride in her Super D to see it from the sky! We flew over to Camarillo, CA, for a bite to eat. Do I look a little green in this picture? It's not from the food. Nor did we do any aerobatics. No, I would like to have one of these in my hangar, but for now, I am so appreciative of friends that are willing to share! Michelle had been considering a Bonanza, but after AcroCamp, knew her future was in a taildragger. She actually picked it up from the factory and had it custom painted in her favorite color, orange. I'm telling you, the new paint was like satin. And the white interior, at least for now, was spotless. No, you local flight schools, Michelle will not be offering this airplane for you to lease quite yet!

And the next morning's two hour drive to cover less than 20 miles to get to LAX nearly concluded my California trip (I had to pull an OJ Simpson in CLT to make my connection). Big thanks to all mentioned above for their willingness to volunteer, extend their hospitality, stop by and say hello, etc. It was a trip I will never forget!