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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Little Behind

Hey everyone! I'm a little behind these days on keep this updated! I have been working pretty hard for great folks over at NYCAviation.com ! I have also been doing some article for airlinereporter.com and most of all, I have the privilege of guest blogging on capnaux.com!

I will try to keep this a little more current! In the  mean time, please check out those great folks!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

MH17 and the Great Graphic Image Issue

Okay, so maybe it’s not the great graphic image issue I made it out to be right there, but I've certainly heard a lot of chatter about it. Granted this has been mainly in the online response sections to articles on various media outlets, but it’s chatter all the same. I thought that this would be a taboo subject to write about, so being as sensitive as a train wreck, I nominated myself as the man for the job.

I find myself in an interesting position when it comes to dealing with graphic images in the media, the silver screen, or in real life situations. I have been involved in public safety in one aspect or another since I was 17 years old. I started out by getting my emergency medical technician’s license at 17 and worked on different rescue services throughout time. In addition to this I've professionally been both a police officer and public safety dispatcher. As you can imagine, I've seen my fair share of horrible losses of human life, and no, they’re not pretty.

  I don’t care what anyone tells you, the first tragedy is not anymore pleasant than the tenth one that you see. The difference is that you know how to process it. You know how you’re going to react, and what you need to do to take care of yourself and stay well. I would compare this to a physical injury. Being involved in what we called a “critical incident” was akin to an mental health injury, if you will. You had to apply the appropriate first aid. This could be anything from walking it off to a big operation. The important thing to remember, is that everyone handles these things differently.

On to the aviation side of this, we have on our hands with MH17 a very unique situation. It’s not often that an innocent jetliner gets dropped out of the sky into a war zone. I won’t get into my political rant and speculations, as they’re just that. I will say, however, what we do have is an airliner shot down in the age of the internet. An age where cell phone cameras abound, and the ability to put your images online with the tap of a screen are available in even third world countries.

It has been my experience that the news in that region of the world is far less censored than American news. Graphic images are posted freely, and seemingly without much regard for those who may find them. There is however, a large cultural difference here at play. You are dealing an area that has seen war, that is living war, and has lived in war. Modern conveniences are not as abundant, such as safety equipment or excellent medical care. It is a safe bet that death has been a much more up close and personal experience for the folks living in this region.

Which brings me back to this: They know how to process it. I’m not saying everyone does, so I suppose I shouldn’t say “they”. To be fair though, a large number of them have experienced deadly accidents or violence first hand. I watched a  journalist’s graphic video on the issue of the deceased recently. The victims were scattered over a large area, many in dismembered, over a sunflower field. One thing that caught my particular interest was the plight of a family who had two bodies in their field. It amazed me that they had them so nicely covered up in plastic sheeting weighted down with rocks. When bringing the film crew around they uncovered them gingerly. I felt that this was a sign of great care and I gained a new respect and common ground with these folks whom I would never meet.I say common ground because in my public safety career I worked with numerous folks who were extremely compassionate and conscientious in this same manner. Despite the emotional toll it took on them, they were consummate professionals.  

But alas, everyone has a breaking point, and despite reading only a translation, you could hear the desperation in the tone of their voice. Their plea was to have the bodies removed. The exposure to this “critical incident” would take more than “walking it off” for this family.

Many of the comments after this particular piece were aimed at the graphic image content and how it was disrespectful of the victims. Interestingly enough, the mix of ethnicities and religions on the aircraft all view death and burial in different manners and levels of importance.The problem comes when the people doing the reporting, the people doing the clean up, and the people doing the grieving are not all on the same team.

I personally feel that this type of reporting is often necessary to show people the reality of the situation, not just a canned and sanitized sound bite. I can only relate this to the police department. In the event of a major accident where someone died and there was to prosecution, the prosecutors office would sometimes come to the scene to witness it first hand. They would get to smell the smells, hear the sounds, and touch the hardware. This impact on them personally allowed them to pursue the case a with a clearer understanding.

Several of my friends live a clean, fairly safe, comfortable life here in America. They’re not exposed to death and violence unless they choose to be, in most cases. Face facts, we’re pretty lucky up here in Maine. It has always amused me that as Americans we let so much slide in terms of violence, sex, and death in video games, movies, and music, but when we present real graphic images of the news, that’s no good. Ah, the privileges we have and some don’t even realize how lucky they are.

I’m certainly not advocating that we go posting pictures of the deceased in mainstream media. I’m saying in the proper journalistic setting, aimed at the proper audience who has been forewarned, this type of reporting is extremely valuable in accurately representing the magnitude of the disaster. I feel that sugar coating the issue wouldn’t provide the social justice needed for those who died. The story of their death needs to be told, and the visual just happens to be part of that story.

In the aviation community there are many who will be affected by this tragedy. Some of us will set about it intellectually, looking at policies, procedures, and politics. Some may have it nagging at the back of their mind as they walk down the jetway to scoot off to another meeting in yet another state. International crews will no doubt have the elephant in the room for some time to come. All will be sad.
I feel safe in saying that there is a little button on all of our hearts labeled “melt”. This button certainly leads to a different part of the heart for all of us. In my case it is kids and stuffed animals. My son has a sock monkey. I think I love it more than he does. As a cop I gave tons of “stuffy” away to kids in traumatic situations. You’d be amazed at the amount of hope and comfort a “stuffy” gives. If you ever get a chance to read “JetHead” Chris Manno’s blog, do it. Read the one about rescuing the stuffy. He nails it on the head and became my new hero, right behind John Glenn. I tell you all of this because the last picture of wreckage I looked at from MH17 was an image of mangled seats, and on the ground next to it: a stuffy. Someone hit the “melt” button and the hard shell went away. Leaving behind horror. No more processing, just stark, cold, horror.

It is my sincere wish that each and every victim is repatriated and cared for by their family in the manner of worship that they so choose. They’ve earned that. Even the stuffy.




**Notes: Please remember: All views are my own. I’m not an expert on culture or religion, this is all just a take on things from my basic education and slightly more trained than john q citizen position. This work is not copy edited so please expect poor grammar.




Sunday, June 15, 2014

Book Review: There I Wuz Adventures fro 3 Decades in the Sky by Eric "CapnAux" Auxier

Things to Consider: 
Please remember, this is my fun writing for me and fellow avgeeks. It is not copy edited and grammar and spelling may be a little rough. Enjoy! 


The Review



 I recently had the good fortune to obtain an advanced copy of There I Wuz! Adventures from 3 Decades in the sky Volume 1 by Eric “Cap'n Aux” Auxier, published by EALiterary Press. It is a compliation of aviation stories from Auxier's aviation career, as well as guest stories from other aviators. I felt this is an excellent book for anyone involved in the “avgeek” aviation enthusiast community.

The first indication one has as to the qualifications of the author is that the forward is written by Karlene Petit, international airline pilot, author, and television news commentator on aviation matters. The second indication is the lineup of guest authors, which also includes fellow author/pilot Mark Berry.

The bulk of the text is not one continuous story, or even a series of stories. All of the stories are separate, yet they still seem to tie together the overall theme of Auxier's career in aviation. There is, however, a large dose of humor in most of the stories, such as found in the story I Nearly Wet My Pants, a story about a flight where Auxier's bladder “overpressure relief valve” was tested to its limit.

Several of the stories will be recognized from Auxier's blog, www.capnaux.blogspot.com, which has now moved over to www.capnaux.com. There are also some previously unpublished accounts as well. You'll notice from the title that this is Volume 1. One of the stories, in particular Gone with the Hurricane, directly states that the rest of that story will be told in Volume 2. This particular story sees less of the typical Cap'n Aux humor, and more of the serious, reflective Eric Auxier. The story reveals a little bit of why Eric Auxier is the man he is today.

If you're an outsider to aviation and just wanted to read a book about an airline pilot's career from start to finish, than this is not your book. However, if you're curious about some of the behind the scenes aspects of aviaiton, than this book will certainly offer you a great cross section of stories from the pointy end of the plane. This particular work caters to the “blog” crowd, as there are lots of links to guest authors work that can be found on line.

As a devout “avgeek” and lifelong aviation enthusiast, I found There I Wuz to be extremely entertaining, enlightening, and just plain funny. I would recommend this book to “avgeek” and outsider alike, offering not just the stories in print, but resources for finding further adventures on line.




*Full Disclosure: I was provided an editor's copy of the book by Eric Auxier free of charge. This, however, in no way has influenced my opinionn of the text. My opinons remain my own. I'd be happy to tell Eric his book stinks if that were the case, but it's certainly not. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Word About Sacrifice

A Word about Sacrifice

Like some Americans, I am guilty of getting hung up on some materialistic and luxury items. Today I caught myself complaining that my company didn't give us Memorial Day off. Then I remembered what it was all about, and shut my mouth.

To those of you that know me, shutting my mouth is somewhat of a foreign concept. I've never been a stranger to making my opinion known. In some ways, I'm doing that right now, and quite frankly, I have no shame about it.

Starting in EMS, then moving to emergency dispatching, then law enforcement, I got to see my fair share of death, misery, and destruction. This doesn't even begin to hold a candle to what close friends and co workers of mine have seen in combat zones. Things that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

My dear friend and mentor passed away several years ago now. I miss him very much. I can't begin to imagine the ache that a parent feels of the loss of a child in service. I worked with a young lady who lost her brother in Afghanistan. A young life cut short. She never really discussed the hurt with me, as we weren't close, but you could see it in her eyes. That always stuck with me. An older co worker once said of his child in service that “It's easier to go off to war yourself than to see your child go off to war”.

I would also like to point out that all of the Gold Star Families I have met have something in common: they don't complain. Not at all. Even though they are hurt, they speak of how proud they are that their child, brother, sister, spouse had served. That they were just doing their job. But no one complains.

I recently gave up my seat on a flight to a gentleman headed to a specialist appointment. He was a service member with a prosthetic. I don't tell you this because I'm trying to tell you how great I am. I'm telling you this because that man taught me something. He taught me that he had a smile with one foot. That he didn't give up. That I could make the journey of multiple connections easier than him, but he wouldn't complain if he did. If he's missing an appendage, than he probably knows some people who gave it all. And to all of them, thank you. And God bless you.


To the rest of us: Take a minute. Stop comparing what you have versus what your friends have. Take inventory of the fact you're alive, have what you have for limbs, and you're not being shot at. And be thankful some stranger died in the name of freedom so we could be here.  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Don Campbell: A good man

Another Good Deed
     Donald Campbell was only in his mid 50's when he passed away that October afternoon. He was piloting a Cessna 207 for Penobscot Island Air to the island of Matinicus. Matinicus is in Penobscot Bay, off from the Midcoast area of Maine. Penobscot Island Air flies out of Knox County Regional Airport and services the islands. They hold many contracts from UPS to government entities. To many people they are a lifeline. 
     I'm not really sure what Don was delivering that day, but I know he was alone, which leads me to believe he was flying supplies or mail. I've never read the FAA report, but I am aware from others that the winds were at a sustained high and gusting about five knots higher. I'm guessing around the high twenties to low thirties wouldn't be unheard of. On that fateful day, Don crashed and was killed while attempting to land. And the world lost a great son, father, husband, soldier, and mentor. 

     Now I titled this another good deed, because it seemed to me that Don was a man of many good deeds. He retired from the U.S. Army as a mechanic. I met Don through the Knox County Flying Club. We were both starting in aviation in one form, but we were at totally different points in life. I have always collected military things, and Don was kind enough to give me some things from the Army for my collection. As time wore on, Don charged forward, gaining multiple licenses and ultimately flying for Penobscot Island Air. He really loved his job and the people he serviced. He was always at work, it seemed, and he always went above and beyond. 

     My favorite good deed happened when I was about fifteen. I was at the airport one day doing some cleaning in the flying club when Don showed up. He brought the plane out, I believe it was his dad's Cessna 150 but I forget, and began to hunt around for things to wash it. I helped break out the required equipment and we got to work. It was a bright summer day and Don was always fun to talk to. I'll never forget that when we were done he said "Well I suppose I've got to take you with me, you helped me clean it, after all." I wasn't expecting this as I didn't know he was going anywhere! It wasn't uncommon for guys to just come and wash their plane and hang out. Soon we were headed to Limington-Harmon Airport in Limington, Maine. We enjoyed a great breakfast at the fly-in hosted there and roamed around the airport a bit. Some folks had some very nice planes to look at, and it was fun meeting some new people. When we took off to head home, Don let me do the honors of flying us back. It was really a great day. 

     I never could have imagined I would one day live so close to that little airport in Limington. The same way I couldn't have imagined reading the news that morning in October of 2010. Although we had lost touch, Don was one of the many people whose kindness helped shape me into the man that I am today. I can not thank him personally anymore, but I can honor his memory by sharing this with you. I believe that you only truly die when the last person has spoken about you for the last time. I hope that Don's kindness inspires others to live an honorable life like he did. Thank you for your good deeds my friend. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

More to Come

Saturday was an amazing, beautiful day. I took a swing by the Sanford Regional Airpatch to see what was shaking. Judging by the full apron at the FBO, there were lots of hundred plus dollar hamburgers being eaten at the Cockpit Cafe next door. While sticking my nose over the fence, I saw a beautiful Super Cub with Tundra Tires taxi in. I haven't seen one of those in some time. Tundra tires aren't all that common up here as one may think. Just then, a Mooney departed at the speed of stink, and it was gear up before it left the ground it seemed. The pilot must have been Navy...

At any rate, there will be more stories from the blog soon enough. I have a couple I'm working on, but they're just not done yet. 

In other news, I am looking  forward to seeing the Delta MD-88 disrupt the morning solitude on my way to work tomorrow. Nothing like a little Mad Dog action to sooth the soul before headed into the office...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Part Three: Two Men, a Plane, and the Legend of Harvey

I Hate Ohio (no offense)
        However, if you take offense, then you clearly have a distorted image of Ohio. As we climbed out of Missouri and headed toward Ohio, I couldn't help but think things could only improve from here. Boy, was I was wrong. 
         We plodded along in the Might Cherokee and got passed along from center to center, listening to the big airliners above us doing their elephants on parade thing across the imaginary highways of the sky. I dutifully minded the GPS system and occasionally took the controls, fulfilling my duties as "domestic relief pilot". The weather was beautiful, and were not bothered by any nasty clouds. It seems the duty midwest thunder storm was on leave that day. 
         One of the interesting things I noticed about Ohio is that it's flat. Like pretty darn flat. Eventually, we had the airport and all that was Sidney in sight. Steven put the Mighty Cherokee into a the local pattern, announced our arrival, and made a pretty acceptable landing. As some of my naval aviator friends would say, it actually looked "shit hot" as far as general aviation goes. You can damn well bet it was the best looking Cherokee landing Sidney has seen to date. 
         I have to admit, it was one of he most quaint little airports I had ever seen. I expected to see an old man push a J-3 Cub out of the hangar and depart into the golden sunset. It was that good. I kicked the over wing door open to let the warm summer air into the cockpit, thus alleviating the stench of sweaty man and Capri Sun. The sweet smell of fresh cut grass immediately filled the cockpit, and I actually let my hard feelings toward Ohio go away for a minute. A minute. That was about how long it was before the we had to YIELD to a non-airport related, giant piece of farming equipment on the ramp. Don't believe me? Check this crap out. 


          Now, Steven, being no dummy, and also having a penchant for airport loaner cars, planned each facet of our flight to include being able to use the airports car for wayward pilots. After we shut down, tied down, and grabbed our gear, we headed to the FBO office. After taking care of getting our aircraft fuel situation covered, we asked about the car. Sure the guy says, take the car, it's right out there. He inquired as to when we were shoving off. We said we'd like to be headed out around 8 or so. Well, that was no good. You see Harvey, he has to use the car to check the runways for any debris (FOD) etc in the morning. We can't make a move until Harvey checks it out. And he can only use the car to do that. 
          I could have understood all of this if the car was, say, bright yellow with flashing lights on it. Sure, maybe it had a radio in it or some sort of measuring equipment. I could understand that. But that's not the case. It was a beat up old police cruiser, devoid of any type of special airport equipment. In the end, it was a car to use for free, so we went ahead and thanked him kindly and wandered into town. 
         Downtown Sidney was kind of neat. I  looked a lot like one of those fifties posters with the hold cars out in front of a diner or something. On the way toward the hotel we went under what I knew, from my years as the child of a rail fan father, to be a viaduct of the C&O railroad. When we finally wheeled into the hotel my prayers were answered. There was a Sonic in the parking lot. Now this may not seem to be a big deal to those of you near one, but the closest one to me, still, is two states away. I do love me some hot dogs and tots. 
          We parked the car and checked into the fabulous hotel. It was a hotel that would prepare anyone for a  career of flying and staying hotels bid out by the airline. We headed out into the fast failing sunlight towards the palace of tots that was built in the parking lot; Sonic. So we're standing there trying to read the menu in the dark, and then it occurred to us, they may be closed. I mean, it was after all a light up menu, and it was pretty much dark at this point, and it wasn't lit. So we did what anyone would,  we stared at it. Here are two men that can operate a piece of machinery to haul us home, but we could only just stare at a menu board. It was really the only thing for us to do. Clearly. 
           The story has a pretty happy ending though. The staff remembered to turn the sing on. You would have thought they were expecting the Presidential  Medal of Freedom for doing so though. Holy cow. We lugged our food back to the hotel and chowed it down over a few episodes of whatever Ohio type TV was on. I didn't really pay attention as I was tired. 
            
                                                Steven after the menu lit up. 
              Speaking of tired. We got up at the butt crack of dawn, packed our gear, and headed down for the free breakfast. Half he reason Steven picked the darn room was that it came withe free breakfast It was actually pretty good considering it was free. Everything tastes better when it's free. So after we ate, we knew it was coming up on Harvey time. Now by this point, we had cursed his name, his family, and his religion for causing us to have to leave so early. We had quite the mental image of him built up and were actually anxious to see him. 
                                                                          "The" car. 
                We headed across the flatness and made our way back to the airport in a reasonable amount of time, arriving before the requested time. Upon our arrival, however, there was no one there. This afforded me the chance to snoop around and see the old Air Force T-33 they had on static display there. As time ground on, the gentleman we had spoken to the previous night showed up. As it turns out, Harvey wasn't coming in after all. That's right folks. Not. Coming. In. Me, I was, well we shall say, not impressed. My hatred for Ohio returned, and Harvey, wherever you are, I'm sure you're a nice guy, but I never want to run into you. Ever. 
                 So, after the gnashing of teeth, some final checks were made, final pees were had, and we cranked up the Mighty Cherokee and pointed her east. It was a happy departure. Let's face it. Ohio is all frabbed up. 
                                                                           T-33 
                                                             Sidney's ramp area. Pretty neat really. 
              Departure was smooth and we cruised into the sun, slowly clawing our way toward Maine, one click of the DME at a time. The Mighty Cherokee was a great plane, but this particular model had a design flaw. The version I flew had nice high back seats in it. This little sucker had low back seats that were original to it. Not fun going across the good ol' USA. As is evidenced by me sitting here typing this, clearly I survived. 
              The rest of the trip actually flew by rather quickly. We made a quick stop in the Finger Lakes region of New York to get some fuel. After that we headed straight to Eastern Slopes Regional Airport in Fryeburg. It was a beautiful day for flying and it was a laid back flight. We managed to aviate, navigate, and communicate all within the law, with no near misses on top of that. 
             It really was a great trip and it afforded Steven and I chance to do and see a lot of things. I am forever appreciative of his parents for shipping me out there, and even more so to Steve for having me along for the ride. It was a great adventure I won't soon forget. 

 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An emergence of passion

Reminders
      
     Among all of the reading that I have poured myself into since beginning the journey of aviation, there is one very common theme: perseverance. Except for the very lucky few, aviation is not a career, or hobby for that matter, that one just wakes up and gets fully involved with. There is a lot of hard work and perseverance that goes into doing aviation professionally. There is also a lot of hard work that goes into doing aviation well. 
     It all starts that same way, I'm pretty certain. You get that initial exposure. Maybe it's a Young Eagle's program flight. Maybe it's a family vacation that you go on your first airliner during. For some, it has been getting shuttled around in the service, for some television and movies. There are also a large faction that gotten bitten by the bug while looking up at the sky. 

     I was bitten by the bug while just a little boy. My father would bring me to the air port in Owls Head to look at the planes. This of course being Knox County Regional Airport (KRKD). Back then there was a little trailer, a hangar or two, and a wooden post fence that separated the parking lot from the tarmac. We used to watch the Beech 1900's from Colgan Air pull in. They captain and F/O would jump out and pull flight attendant, ground crew, and pilot duties all at once. They would greet the passengers, load the luggage in the aft hold, and take the tickets. 
   
     I barely remember this part of my own recollection, but the facts have been verified.  Dad and I loved to watch Thomas Watson Jr, president of IBM, former Air Corps pilot, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, fly his Bell helicopter. As I have said time and time again, things were different in aviation back then. You could stand at a fence and talk to a flight crew face to face. 

     The airport in Owls Head really had a way of pulling passion out of many over the years. Originally built as a U.S. Navy base during World Wart II, it was designed to teach carrier pilots about flying in bad weather; or so the rumor went as it was always fogged in. In all seriousness, it was home to many Allied country's pilots as well as U.S. pilots, many of whom married local women and came back after the war. All of those young men, plying their wartime trade, all had a touch of passion in them. Let's face it, for the time, it was like having Top Gun in your back yard. 

     This knowledge led me on a quest in eight grade to complete my research project on the topic of the naval air station. I learned a great deal during that time, and even had a chance to explore some of the remaining original government structures on the airport. I think there may now only be a utility building left. I know when I was flying, the maintenance garage was the old crash rescue station. 

      When it came time for me to do the actual flying, I was there in KRKD doing it. My head was stuck to the sky, my nose stuck in books, and my butt stuck in every empty seat of every flight possible. I sat in the back during some lessons and watched Ed instruct. I took notes, I listened, I watched. I figured it out. If I couldn't be the one flying that day, I'd damn sure learn something all the same. I didn't give up trying to learn new things. I kept pushing. 

      I had the great fortune to volunteer at the Transportation Museum during that time. It was an amazing experience for sure, but it wasn't necessarily the place to toss a teenage boy. My salvation came through the flying club and a man named Gary who was rebuilding a plane. I became enlisted in the task of grimy restoration work. It was hard sometimes, but I kept pushing...and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I learned a lot about air craft maintenance that kids my age wouldn't have dreamed of. (Nor cared about excepting a very few). 

       My solo date came and went. I tell people I soloed on my 16th birthday, but I didn't. I soloed the day after. We were socked in so tight that not even Penobscot Island Air had made a move in a day or two. Ed and I went around once and were on the instruments 75% of it. 

      Life and death got in the way of aviation, but little things over the years kept my head coming back in it. A trip here, a trinket there, that sort of thing. There is one thing that never went away for me though. I don't care if it is a wee baby Cessna 150 or a Boeing 767, watching someone takeoff still stirs something inside of my heart. The process of seeing something so large, so menacing even, hurtling down the runway, only to leap into the air like a big bird and head skyward, calls to my very soul. Just the excitement you get talking about aviation, or the prospect of seeing your favorite plane land, or flying in general, just being up there, that excitement doesn't go away, no matter how long you've been out of it. 

     The other morning while driving north bound on the turnipike while headed to work, I saw a Delta MD-88, it's black exhaust trailing behind it like streamers, clawing it's way into the pink morning sky in the icy 20 degree weather. While I knew there was a good chance the flight crew, at least the junior ones, weren't making much money at all, that moment I knew they were the richest people in the world. They were doing something they absolutely loved, while getting to look at a postcard beautiful scene, and there is nothing better that that. You can't buy happiness. 

       As I have found out as of late, happiness is about perseverance. In my personal experience, you can't get one without the other. So long as my passion remains in the forefront, I will continue to push forward on this journey...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Part Two: Two Men, a Plane, and the Legend of Harvey

First Stop: Dalhart, TX
Steven and I climbed out of Prescott, AZ at the official flight plan time of "ZeroDarkThirty", and pointed the nose of the tiny Piper toward Northern Texas. As I said before, I love the desert with all of my heart and there was something amazing about seeing the sun come up over it from 3,000 feet. It was the perfect combination of friends, desert, and planes. 

One of my main duties as "domestic relief pilot" was handing up beverages and snacks, as well as holding the GPS. Yeah, I said it, holding the GPS. The GPS was an older model and the bracket had long surpassed its useful service life. It spent some time on the floor, as Steve's stick and rudder flying is pretty spot-on. Within fifty miles of Dalhart I started to notice what I thought were shrubs, or maybe even rocks. But the funny thing is, they were moving! Was I going crazy? If so, it was far too early in the trip for that to happen. After a brief discussion, it turns out that they were cattle. Now here in Maine, 100 cows would be a lot of cows. Like a wicked lot. There were literally thousands here!

 As we skimmed along and I suddenly began to question Steve's breakfast choices. I looked down and we were above an enormous stock yard. So, it wasn't Steve after all. You can smell cow dung from 2500 feet at 130 knots. Crazy right? 

The next thing you know, we were looking at the chart and Steve was doing his pilot stuff and setting up for the approach into Dalhart. Enter the next new phenomenon: Crop dusters. Except, don't call it that out there. It's an air tractor. Uh, huh.  So, we hit the pattern behind the friendly neighborhood air tractor and made a nice straight in approach. Shutting down in front of the fuel pumps, Steve gave the line man the "filler' up", and we then headed inside. 

There wasn't much to see in the little office at the Dalhart airport. They had an airplane for sale, some stale donuts, and a soda machine. After having a couple donuts and a soda, we strolled around. It was clearly a WW2 training base, as evidenced by some of the old buildings, but that is about all I figured out. My research on it was a little ambiguous, but it kinda confirms that piece at least. There is also a prison there. We decided not to visit. 

We made one last trip to the rest room. There must have been a problem with people peeing on the floor, as we saw a neat poster above the facilities. I have posted it here for your enjoyment. Steve paid the bill, we took one last stretch, and strapped the airplane back on. 

Departing Dalhart was a little tricky. We were once again competing with the air tractor for airspace. I have to say, I really do appreciate the skill it takes to fly one of those beasts. Fact number one, they're huge. Fact number two, they're powerful, and fact number three, you need some excellent skill to whip that thing around the sky. I think my son is more gentle with his toys than they are with those planes. Excuse me, air tractors. 

                                                          Navion for sale in Dalhart
                                                        The infamous restroom sign. 

Next Stop: Nevada, MO
It was a beautiful day, visibility was clear and unlimited, and winds aloft were light. We clunked along taking int the country side, listening to the rest of the aviation world chatter about their business. Then came Nevada, MO. Nevada is a neat little place. Just don't say it like you think it's pronounced. It's actually pronounced Nah-vay-duh. Or so they'd have you believe. For those of you who know me, I pronounced it Ne-vah-da, like the state, just to be difficult. Shocking, huh? 

We managed to borrow the airport car to go get something to eat. After beating feet across the flat lands in the wrong direction for fifteen minutes, we finally got our asses turned around and headed toward town. It was pretty much like any other town, except, kinda southern. We attempted to go to a Chinese buffet, but it was closed. We were probably better off. Instead, we ended up at Carl's Junior. Not much better. But the price was right for two hungry flyers on the budget. As Steve would tell you , it was a "helluva deal". 

We headed back to the airport after our high end meal. In hindsight, it's a good idea we kept a low profile. When I looked the place up on line to see just how "southern" they were, the answer was "very". It seems my northern forefathers decided to burn the place to the ground during the civil war, and it used to be named Hog Eye. Good thing I didn't mention I was from the "deep north" I suppose. 

We headed back to the airport, paid the fuel man, and headed off into the afternoon sun. 

Next stop: Sydney OH to see Harvey. 
To be Continued. 



Monday, February 24, 2014

Part One: Two Men, a Plane, and the Legend of Harvey

The Great Cross Country

     One late June morning a few years ago now I received a phone call from my friend Steve asking me what I was up to during my coming days off. I replied that I didn't have much of anything going on, except for maybe screwing around and being lazy. I'm wicked good at both screwing around and being lazy, and if you catch me on a good day, you'll see both done at the same time. At that time Steve was in his final year of school at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. He had just bought a Piper Cherokee and wanted to come home for a visit. His father and mother wanted someone else to go with him, they'd just feel better that way, and offered to fly me out to Arizona to fly co-pilot on the two day trip back. So clearly I said yes. I mean, what aviation fan in their right mind is turning that adventure down?
   
     So I think that it is only fair to Steve to state right up front, that he is an excellent pilot, who now holds multiple ratings. He runs the flight department for a private corporation and has an office bigger than the biggest bedroom I've ever had. I think he has his own bathroom in that thing. I know for damn sure he has snacks, because as you'll read...he always has snacks.

     I left from Portland, Maine (KPWM) on a United flight, which would take me down to Dulles. I packed light, just a back pack with some flying gear and a change of clothes. Now, I soloed at 16 in a Piper Cherokee, so I've always had a soft spot for the little low winged beast. True, you couldn't see squat below you because the wings were in the way, but you had great up and forward visibility. The best things about the Cherokee was that you couldn't spin it, you couldn't stall it, and it was rugged. I decided that I would re-read the manuals for the darn thing on the short hop to Dulles. As it turns out, the guy sitting next to me was a non-rev passenger. He was a Delta pilot headed to work. We had a great chat about flying and his unique "fly to work to fly for work" life style. It was really eye opening about airline pilot life. A secret note was made inside my head that I wanted to do that.

     To add to the extra special nature of this trip, when I got to Dulles, it seems that all the regional jets did not get a jetway, you just deplaned via little airstairs and walked across the tarmac and inside. Pretty cool stuff if you stopped to take a couple of pictures really quick without managing to get arrested or draw too much attention to yourself. A quick shuffle inside the terminal and a ride on the famous double ended buses that take you across the airport and I was sitting on a United 757 ready to head Phoenix. I took a good snooze for most of the flight and ended up in Phoenix around 7pm local time, 10pm body time. Steve met me inside and as we headed to the car he warned me that it was a little warm out. He wasn't shitting. It was like walking into a blow dryer; I was in love. I love dry heat.

The Crash Pad and Departure from Prescott

On the way from PHX to Prescott,  I got to see something I had always wanted to see, and hadn't yet despite a recent trip to Vegas. A tumble weed! Maybe it was a long love of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns, but I had always wanted to see one. I mean, the west in general has been a love story for me. From the moment I first flew over the painted desert, high bluffs and plateaus, canyons, and rivers I was hooked. To see it from the sky truly sets my mind free.

The second important item on the way to the Steven crash pad was IN-N-OUT Burger. At this very moment I would do unspeakable things for an animal style double double and fries, and if you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, you're missing out. Big time. I guarantee Steven is laughing out loud reading this right now, because he knows how intense I get about my airplanes and my IN-N-OUT.

So after all of those exciting sights and cuisine, we arrived at a nice little development to a single story residence. With fake grass and all. It was as dark as a boot. Steven had a little Chevy Nova that was his around town car. It wasn't a cool Nova, like an SS Nova. It was the remake, the economy Nova. If you've been in aviation any amount of time, everyone knows you have an airport car, one you take to bum around the airport and your plane, and a normal car, one you take to normal people stuff. The Nova was Steve's airport car. It was a deathtrap on wheels. I'd have trusted one of the first DC-10's over this thing. At the same time, it was legendary. Probably because it was spray painted like the General Lee...google it, you'll laugh if you don't already know. So we went off road in this s-box really quick before bed. You haven't lived until you go bombing through the sand and cactus in a 20 odd year old economy car on a gorgeous Arizona night.

After all of that fun, we got back to the house. I hadn't been inside yet, and this was the best part. There was a couch where I would sleep that night. Cool. The rest of the furniture, well, let's just say it was economical. There was plastic patio furniture in front of the fire place, the kitchen table was covered in aircraft radios in various states of repair and there were two steel propellers lying on the kitchen floor. It was really aviation heaven.

The Departure

I was in Arizona for less than eight hours. Eight friggin hours out west was all I got. No more than six hours after my head hit the pillow it was time to roll. We stopped off at the gas station and grabbed a pile of snacks and some coffee. I was mindful that I wasn't flying business class, so I had a baby coffee. It seems they don't put lavatories in general aviation aircraft and I didn't feel like filling any bottles. Not to mention we were loaded down with Steven's luggage, our food supplies and I'm not kidding, eight cases of Capri Sun. Somehow, Steven lucked into one of his many deals and got the for next to nothing, so those were the drink of choice. Neat thing about those: They are hard to spill everywhere in a tiny airplane.

The desert at night is a very dark place. Compounding that issue, the early morning hours were near moonless and it was actually very cold. This was good as the lower density altitude and smooth air that the coolness provided would help our laden Cherokee soar into the early morning sky. After pre flight inspection, settling into the cockpit, and monkeying with the GPS, we did just that. Fun fact about the GPS. The bracket was broken and it sat on my lap for a good part of the way across these ol' United States. I still hate that GPS.

First stop: Dalhart, Texas. Home of a prison, a stockyard, and an airport. And not a lot else.

To be continued

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Come on, we're going to Canda"

Back when I was a kid...

Once upon a time, long before bad folks decided to start using commercial aircraft as a means to carry out terror plots, a young man could simply show up at a small airfield and "hang out". And starting at age 14, this was exactly what I did on weekends and summers.

Each morning I would climb on my bicycle and pedal the three miles out to the airport. Yeah, that's right, three miles. I was kinda fat back then too, but not by the end of the summer. I would arrive at the flying club building and soon be assigned to special projects. At first, these projects involved sweeping hangar floors, cleaning, and painting. As time wore on and trust was built, I did some more fun things, like pulling airplanes out by hand, fueling, and washing them.

Now at the time I wasn't aware that the joke was somewhat on me. While I got to be around what I loved, there were lots of old timers sitting back with a chuckle as I scrubbed their airplane and cleaned their hangars, all for the low price of allowing me the privilege to do so. Looking back, I must have looked pretty funny, a little fat kid pulling on a Cessna 180 with all of his might. One word: Sucker.

All kidding aside, this work allowed me get some hands on experience with lots of different planes. I was taught how to load them properly (lots of guys flew rich  people out to the coastal islands for vacation) And while cleaning interiors and exteriors wasn't a lot of fun sometimes, most of the guys would reward me by taking me flying.

Come on, we're going to Canada
One such morning, when I was a junior in high school, I had driven over to the airport to fill in some blocks of time for my flight lessons. Ed showed up and started screwing around with his plane. He came into the club building and started rooting through a box of approach plates. Without looking up he asked me what I was up to today. I told him nothing. As he headed toward the door without looking back he said " Come on, we're going to Canada."

So, given that this was like 2000, I didn't have a cell phone at this point. Come to think of it, neither did too many other people. So I did what any 17 year old high school kid would...I left my parents a message on their machine that said something like "Hey, I'm going to Canada with Ed, I'll be back at some point". And that was it. Now if that were my kid this day in age, I'd probably freak out, but as I said before, things were different then. Clearly.

We climbed into the plane and made a direct flight to St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. It was a beautiful late summer day and the thermals headed up the rocky coast made for some great practice on hand flying a course. Now there were GPS units then, and Ed had one...in his bag somewhere. We were doing the good old fashioned whiz wheel, paper chart, and compass navigating. If worse came to worse, we'd go IFR ( I Follow Roads).

We entered the pattern in St Stephen and Ed did his voodoo and greased a beautiful landing in the Cessna 172 tail wheel conversion. Customs consisted of calling the Canadian Customs folks who took our names by telephone and told us to have a nice day.

It was around lunch and Ed, who was perpetually hungry, decided we'd walk into town to eat. We soon came across a little red white and blue painted log cabin. It was a Chinese takeout place called Wong's. No shit. Wong's. Mr. Wong spoke neither French nor English. Ed, having been to "The Big War" (more on that later) also felt he didn't speak much of anything but "Wong-ese". To paint a picture as to the state of this place, the menu was painted on ply wood pressed up against the plate glass window. Sandwiched between the two items were the biggest mosquitoes I have ever seen. Ever.

After getting our order we adjourned to the picnic table. I sat on one side, and Ed sat down on the other. This lasted about three seconds before the rotted bench gave way and Ed went ass over tea kettle onto the tall grass. After getting his bearings, he found a milk crate and sat down. Looking at the food I asked him if he thought the food was good to eat. He stuck his finger in it and said "well, it's hot enough to kill anything swimming. I ate worse in Vietnam." It was that kind of day.

Soon after we sucked down our greasy Wong-ese food, we headed to the plane and departed for Bangor. For a young kid, this was the better part of the trip. I flew an approach into Bangor International five miles in trail of an Air Force C-5 Galaxy. For the uninitiated, this is the largest cargo jet the Air Force has. I learned a valuable lesson about "wake turbulence". When a small plane lands too close behind a large jet, the disturbed air from the jet engines is like flying the small plane into a brick wall. I also learned to make sure your seat is locked into position too. I got to experience the windscreen coming at my face at high speed before the seat caught. The odd thing about the whole trip was the Customs man at Bangor. He came over, had us fill out a form, and left. He didn't bat an eye at a 17 year old wearing a shorts and a tee shirt standing next a 6'6" 60 odd year old covered in Chinese food. He just grumbled signed the paperwork, got in his car, and left. Homeland security pre 9/11 at his finest.

When I finally got home that evening my father scarcely looked up from his book. "How was Canada?" he said. "Pretty good. Ed says hi." That was it. Not angry, not surprised, not even curious.

I was soon sent to the store to get him a copy of the Courier and a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke to go with supper. And that was it. Just another day in the life of a 17 year old student pilot I suppose.






Saturday, February 15, 2014

" I'll never start blogging I swear..." Glad I didn't put money on that.

So a long time ago I made a similar statement. One of the reasons behind all of that is my horrible grammar and spelling. Finally, at 30 years old, I decided it really doesn't matter if you're writing for fun. So here goes:

My name is Mike and I'm a 30 year old guy from sunny, check that, snowy southern Maine. I grew up on the "mid coast" of Maine, specifically Knox County. It was there that I fostered a love for aviation after watching the transportation museum Stearman, Colgan Air Beech 1900's, and MBNA's G-V set up for the approach above my house. 

I was lucky enough to have  an amazing friend of the family, retired USAF Colonel Edward Sleeper take me under his wing and teach me how to fly. I learned the old fashioned way, long before 9/11 ramped up security, and just slightly before parent's freaked out and sued people for damaging their children. Yes, I think I'm part of the last generation that was just sent outside to play. But more about all of that, and Ed, later. 

Fast forward a few years. Ed passed away when I had just started in the working world. At the time of his death I was in the reserve police officer training class, and working full time as a public safety dispatcher. After Ed passed, and with life picking up speed, I abandoned flying. A lot of this was due to the sadness of Ed's loss. I just couldn't imagine flying without him. Eventually, I would. 

The short story of why this is called Stall Recovery is this: After having been a golden child for a so long, I made some mistakes. After a saddening separation from my son's mother, sad in terms of not being with him full time anymore, a short time later I  found myself outside of public safety for the first time in my life. 

Forward to present day. I work as a customer service/inside sales/all around office guy for a locally owned, yet large, food distributor. Do I like it? No. Is it paying the bills? Kinda. Bottom line, is at 30, I have pulled out from the stall, got the wings level, and am starting to put the power on.(Hey, I had to put some quirky aviation talk in here, right?) We're only going up from here. I am fighting to get into aviation, in any manner, professionally. I am writing to share the journey of a 30 year old trying to get in the business. I'll share some stories, make some funnies, and let you know what's up. I hope you'll join me for the flight.