Friday, January 30, 2009


Months before I admitted it to myself, Ed Rankin called me out on it. "You're a puddlejumper," he said. "A puddlejumper, just like me."

Ok. I admit it. I'm a puddlejumper. There, I've said it, and I don't feel guilty. On a nice day, that's all I want to do. I didn't want to climb in the Seminole and roar off into the wild blue yonder. I wanted to hop in the Cub and meander around.

What to do on a beautiful Saturday morning? Puddlejump.

A nice evening? Puddlejump.

Puddlejump. Puddlejump. Puddlejump.

That's what I like to do. And if you string a bunch of puddlejumps together, you can even go somewhere! In short legs, the trip is enjoyable. You can get out, stretch your legs, and meet some new people along the way. Not a bad deal.

I'm trying to reveal a bit of what has been termed a mild obsession with all things Cub, and why I reference that cute-as-a-button little airplane so often. This isn't the first time I've contemplated such things. Hence, here's something I wrote back in November of last year, which I hope will demystify a few things.

"There are some things in life which we must admit we cannot explain. Why do little brothers find it necessary to pull hair? Why does the dog drink from the toilet when she has a perfectly good bowl of water? Why are yawns contagious? Or how about why we love certain people, why we’re still fond of Spaghetti-Os, why we’re ticklish or not, why we love flying, or why we’re so attached to certain aspects of it. To attempt to box these concepts in deprives them of their inherent, imperfect beauty. Chaos is a part of family life. The dog has personality quirks, but we still love her and she loves us. Yawns . . . well, that’s one that’s more difficult to explain. The fact of the matter is, many things in life don’t make sense, and efforts to quantify them often falls short of fully conveying what we feel. Regardless, I’m going to attempt to offer you some insight into my unnatural affection for Piper-produced yellow taildraggers.

The little Piper Cub is so iconic and identifiable for a reason. It has trained generations and introduced them to the wonders of flight. Young pilots prepared for war by beginning their flight training in humble Cubs. It is simple, pure, and unadulterated fun with its entire lack of complexity. Its basic nature teaches the pilot feel, not reliance on instruments.

By and large, Cubs are organic. Each one has an individual character and its own unique quirks. Just like people, they respond best to a confident and firm, yet gentle, approach. The fabric stretched taut over their bony frames possesses a living quality not found in metal aircraft. Drumming your fingers along the fabric, the vibrations sound much like a heartbeat. The fabric itself is reminiscent of skin.

Beginning in the cockpit, you see that few instruments crowd the small panel. This is a straightforward, honest aircraft, a throwback to the ways things—and people—used to be. It does not smell sterile, but lived-in and casual. The fit of the cockpit is snug, making one feel much like they are wearing the airplane and are connected to it on a very intimate level. Sitting in the back seat (the primary seat), one’s view of the instruments is typically blocked by the instructor sitting in front of them. One of the things you realize is that, in a Cub, you don’t need the instruments. If you care enough to listen, the airplane will speak and tell you everything you need to know. It takes a while to finally hear all of the whispers, but it’s well worth the effort.

The skylight above offers an upward view, while the right-hand door drops down for a heartstoppingly wonderful view. Unlike other aircraft, the Cub makes no attempt to isolate you from your surroundings, and, in fact, makes every effort to ensure that you are in touch with the environment you exist in. The world we live in has many different beautiful facets, from sparkling city skylines to mountain ranges to infinite rows of corn to brilliant emerald green fields and pine green forests, and it’s a shame to insulate oneself from these surroundings. Flying is an escape, but it is also a simple, yet profound, change in perspective. Winging above the earth gives one pause to contemplate their place in life, or simply to refresh their own views and reconnect with the rest of the world outside of their work and other stresses.

I can’t claim to be a grizzled veteran who’s flown everything with wings, but I’ve logged time in a fair variety for my level of experience, I think. So far, my logbook contains a 152, 150, Cherokee 140, Luscombe 8F, two Piper Seminoles, a Beech Bonanza, two J-3 Cubs, a PA-18 Super Cub, and my favorite “no, really” entry, a Citation CJ1. Each airplane has taught me something. I made my first two landings in the 152 (hey, those first two were really nice!) and sweated through some landings in the Cherokee. I struggled landing the Luscombe at first until I convinced its owner (politely) to let me try landing on my own, then promptly greased the first landing on, though I can’t say they’ve all been that nice. I still think it’s reluctant to come unstuck from the ground, at which point I’m reminded of its “high-speed” wing (can I legally put “high speed” and “Luscombe” in the same sentence?) but still enjoy flying it when I can. The Seminoles are a really expensive weight training program so far, as they’re heavier on the controls, and I’ve only managed one really nice landing in one. I kept getting in trouble for starting to level off at 20 feet off the ground, and then I figured out that it was all my Cub training coming back—except you can’t three-point a Seminole, or at least Piper doesn’t recommend that practice. The Bonanza made me feel short as I still couldn’t get full rudder deflection even with a couch’s worth of cushions. Hence, I had some peculiar-looking wandering take-offs. It served as a great intro to more complex airplanes like the Seminole. The Citation was pretty cool, and I got to take off once, which isn’t bad for a first logbook entry.

Every airplane has taught me something. Each one has caused me to ponder a while, both about my place in aviation and about how to fly correctly. What, to me, separates the J-3s and PA-18 is that I truly feel like I’m flying. Perhaps it’s simply a mental thing, but I can’t quite shake it. There is something about those classic fabric-covered taildraggers with the drop-down door. They have a heart and soul all their own, an intangible quality that can only be experienced and never fully explained. Even then, not everyone gets it, and that’s ok. Bonanzas are fabulous airplanes for what they’re designed to do, but they are not intended to fly simply for the sake of flying. My beloved Cubs are carefree, nostalgic, and rather unpractical. Maybe that’s their appeal. They are simply fun. Cubs are not in a hurry like the rest of the world. For a lesson in patience, fly a long cross-country in one. You’ll notice things you were moving too fast to notice before, and therein lies the highest education a Cub can give you—don’t get caught up in the rush of your everyday life and forget to notice the little things, to take a little time to do something for yourself, to challenge yourself and to enjoy yourself, to take a second look at something or to do something you might otherwise call “illogical” just for the experience.

Flying can teach you a lot about life, but only a Cub can really show you how to live."

I guess what this comes down to is a simple joy of flying, and the little airplane that enabled it. I can safely say that I would not be where I am today without the influence of the Cub. Sure, I'd probably still be flying, but likely without the same mildly insane passion for it. I wouldn't be writing this. I wouldn't be trying so hard to share my passion with others and simultaneously show others how to share their love of flying. In sum, I owe a lot to those Cubs. They have shown me what it means to be passionate. They have made me believe in myself and my ability to influence the lives of others for the better.

They've also made life a bit difficult. You see, now I have a nearly deified airplane to which all others are compared. I wondered at the beginning of the school year (and still wonder today) if professional flying is for me. Will it suck the fun right out of flying by making it work? And would it be fun anyways, since I've already established my definition of fun? That was half of the reason I decided to double-major in economics. I wanted the flexibility to have a good job that would support my Cub addiction after college so that I could still fly and enjoy it, even if it were not my job.

But then I sat in statistics class for three and a half hours. It was, in a nut shell, horrendous. While the material wasn't bad, the whole atmosphere was oppressive and forced. Apparently no one majors in a business-related field because they think it will be fun, and so the whole class carried with it an attitude of only putting up with the misery. Though I enjoy the intellectual aspect of economics, I wonder if that world is right for me.

In case you haven't noticed, pilots are a different sort. They experience the world and view it differently, having seen it from a spectacular new perspective. Maybe, then, I'm just struggling with how to live in two different worlds--that of the business world, which is endured rather than enjoyed, and that of the flying world, which is filled with passion.

I still haven't decided which is best for me, which is ok, though frustrating. I don't intend to force anything in my life. I have a fairly generic life goal, and it's my theory that there are a myriad of roads leading to that end goal. I'll take life easy, like the Cub taught me, yet still work for what I want, without forgetting why I want it.

Truth be told, I feel that too many people forget why they are doing what they do. Perhaps I'm completely wrong, but it seems like generally (and certainly not always) people today fly to become airline pilots, versus being an airline pilot because they couldn't fathom doing anything other than flying. It's a problem I see and ponder. Where has the fun of flying gone?

I know it's still out there, because I've seen it. What I don't see is that side being presented to most students; certainly it is not shown to many students who start flying through college curricula. Even the flight school I worked at had a very rigid feel to it, and that's why I didn't learn to fly there.

Maybe I'm entirely off my rocker. However, I absolutely loved the way I learned to fly, and that wonderful experience only enhanced my passion for aviation further. Thus, I can't help but wonder if I would have ever felt this way had I learned to fly at more regimented, sterile flight school. These thoughts and musings are why I started this blog. Though it may be selfish of me, I want everyone to see aviation the way I do, so that they see it's not just schedules and flight plans.

I want the young child down the street to know how I feel when I gaze out the door of the Cub and survey the beauty around me. I want the elderly man across the road to feel the emotion welling up inside when we float away from the cares of the earth. I want people to feel enthralled and whimsical once again.

I want them to dream of things beyond their reach again. And I'd really like your help in spreading that message.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sensible Nonsense

It's funny how we feel we need to justify everything in our lives in this era of insecurity. No one is happy with their body, and every one is an avid social climber trying to prove themselves to others. It's all very tiring, the whole front we put on to please the others around us, from treating people a certain way to dressing a particular way to attitudes we adopt despite not truly being that way.

One of the things I find most beautiful about flying is its individual nature. It means many things to many different people and is a personal passion.

I learned to fly for myself. Not for anyone else. I was lucky enough to have people and organizations support my goals so that I could pursue my dream my way. I can look back on that decision and smile every time I think about it.

I cannot say that everything I do in life is so pure. Every other aspect of my life is tainted and tinged with the influence of others, for better or worse. From the way I dress to the way I act and speak around others, I am a composite personality, a mix of myself and those around me. It's certainly not a bad thing, but it is something I take with a grain of salt. I would not entirely undo the effects others have had on me, but I do occasionally look back on my life and wonder why, perhaps, I didn't stand up for what I really thought at the time.

Sometimes that balance of my personality and others is for the best. I'm not always right, I know, and the humility I have been taught by interacting with those more experienced or knowledgeable than I am is, without a doubt, priceless. I'm grateful for all of those who have shaped me, for better or worse, out of kindness or cruelty, because they have clarified for me who I am and what I want out of life.

Despite this, I often feel like I cannot fully be me in everyday life. I'm clearly not the first to experience this, but that doesn't make it feel any better. Some days I am fraught with insecurity and self-hatred because I do not seem to fit in exactly as society would wish that I did.

That's why I connect so much with flying. It's more than just a literal escape; it is, indeed, a psychological escape. I can be me as much as I want in the airplane, and most of the time the airplane is just fine with that. In fact, sometimes being me works out quite well (on a good day)!

Ever since my first solo, I've always appreciated alone time in the airplane a lot more. It's not that I don't like flying with others, since I love sharing aviation with those around me. It is simply that I feel at peace. Everything is well and good again, and if I had to hazard a guess as to why I feel that way, I'd have to say it's because I have to be self-sufficient in the air. I can blend the influences of others into my decisions, but, ultimately, I must be the one to decide what I'll do, from whether or not I should do another touch 'n' go to whether or not I should turn back due to weather.

For once in my life, I can make a decision that is wholly my own. It is a huge growing-up experience--no one is there to catch me if I screw up, and my life (and possibly those of others) is in my own hands. You become your own harshest critic. Instead of simply wanting to be like someone else because they're popular, you begin to look deeper. Is this someone I truly respect? Are they worth emulating?

There's an oft-repeated saying that goes like this: "To some, the sky is the limit. To others it's home." Presuming you can overlook the slight corniness, it is very true. I know that I can't explain the intangible sensation I experience when the Cub levitates off the lush grass into a brilliant blue sky. I can't explain the emotion that flows freely when I look out that giant picture-window opening and view a vibrant green tapestry framed by the friendly yellow airplane that taught me so much about life and passion. I can't explain the satisfaction that comes from one of those landings where the airplane shushes onto the runway without batting an eye. I can't tell you how inexplicably lucky I feel when I wing quietly over the countryside, feeling at once both one with the airplane and one with the world around me. I cannot express the peace there is when I gaze at the world below me, free of its limits and cynicism. For a moment, I'm an optimist, gleefully and almost stupidly so. I escape to my happy place, where all is well, even on a bounced landing.

I can't tack a value on that or try to quantify it for today's bean counters. I fly because I love it.

Since when did things have to make sense? This weekend I drove 6 hours, one way, to make a skiplane fly-in. By all accounts, it was mildly insane and definitely nonsensical. Yet, if you would have called me mad as I turned out on heading, happily surveying the world from my perch, I would've wondered how you could place a value on that experience.

Oddly enough, I found myself doing a bit of math later on. I compared the cost of gas from driving back home to the cost of renting an airplane for the same time and found myself to be quite fiscally responsible (the "rental cost" I incurred for this trip is roughly equivalent to the rental rates of at least 15 years ago). But again, would it really have made a difference? Would free gas or $4/gallon gas have made that moment any less beautiful? I really don't think so.

Life doesn't have to make sense. In fact, it rarely does, so why keep trying to make it make sense?

Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the little things in life that make you happy, whether it's a sunset on the porch or from the air.

And enjoy these skiplane fly-in pictures : ) Because anyone nuts enough to fly out in that cold weather surely understands that flying doesn't need to make sense!

The Luscombe, with its naked primer green legs.

Uncle Jer, armed for the frigid temps

A good turnout, despite the cold.

Super Cub departing

Uncle Jer on his way back to home base

A Champ on its way out

Citabria heading home

Pacer departing

Aeronca Sedan departing

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Special Form of Ridiculous

I was recently chatting with a fellow aviation enthusiast who worked at a flight school, and he told me about what became the topic of this post. He was required to complete an online flight school security program created by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

After he briefly described what the program was about, I told him we needed to find it so I could share it. I worked at a flight school and had never heard of it, nor did I really think it was necessary.

If you're curious too, you can find it here: I went through both of the courses, which were differentiated for flight schools with aircraft and flight schools with simulators (they're very similar, and I'm not sure I know of any flight schools that only have simulators and not aircraft, but this is the TSA, after all).

Suspicious behavior is defined as "activity that creates uneasiness or uncertainty without being criminal or illegal."

In other words, you can toss innocent until proven guilty out the window. As you go on in the course, it becomes evident that basically anyone with an interest in aviation should be a suspect.

I'm going to list all of the "suspicious behaviors" or indicators below and then comment. My comments will be indicated by hyphenation (--comment--).

Suspicious behaviors include:

~"Transient aircraft with unusual or unauthorized modifications."
*This includes "Tape over the aircraft registration numbers," "Unusual adjustments to strengthen the wheel wells," and "Other modifications to make the identification of the aircraft difficult or that indicate the aircraft has been used for other than normal operations"

--I don't know about you, but I'm not enough of an expert to be able to tell what is or is not an STC'd modification, nor am I well-versed enough in all aircraft of the world to know if it is simply a different model than what I'm used to seeing. As for those wheel wells, since I usually fly fixed gear airplanes, I guess I never need to worry about this! Terrorists only use retractables I guess. My point in this being, the TSA has zero knowledge of aviation. But I'm sure you already knew that. And God forbid the TSA go to Alaska, since I'm pretty sure all that cool stuff they do, like landing on sand bars and the like, is not classified as "normal." That, indeed, is the problem. As aviators and enthusiasts, we're supposed to eternally concerned with acting "normal" so we don't draw attention to ourselves. What, then, is normal? If you're the TSA, normal is paved runways, towered airports, security checks, strictly business or transient trips for a reason, and chain-link fences. That sure leaves a lot out, doesn't it?--

~"Unknown persons loitering for extended periods with no specific reason to be there."
*This includes "By aircraft" and "In the pilots' lounge"

--Well, there goes the entire population of my airport . . . According to the TSA, you cannot simply enjoy being at the airport. You cannot go there to get to know people, learn more from pilots, or to watch airplanes. No wonder so few youth get involved. Had the airport I went to been hostile, it's doubtful I'd be writing this today. How many other youth have given up on learning to fly because they were presented with such a hostile, closed environment and no way in?--

~"Pilots who appear to be under the control of another person."

--Someone from my home airport would probably make some crack about traveling with their wives, but I digress.--

~"Persons wishing to rent an aircraft without presenting valid flight or medical certificates or identification."

~"Persons who present seemingly valid flight or medical certificates but who do not display a corresponding level of aviation knowledge."

~"Persons who seem unfamiliar with aviation procedures trying to rent an aircraft."

--A fair amount of people are completely unsure of the requirements for getting a pilot's license. Since when is being unfamiliar with something a cause for suspicion?--

~"Any pilot who makes threats or statements inconsistent with normal uses of aircraft."

~"Events or circumstances that do not fit the pattern of lawful, normal activity at an airport or a flight school."

--I'm not sure what "normal activity" is in the TSA's dictionary, but I'll bet it has nothing to do with fun.--

~Persons trying to access an aircraft through force.
*This includes "Without keys,""Using a tool or makeshift pry bar to gain entry into an aircraft," and "Unfamiliar persons on the flight line"

--Just because someone new is on the flight line does not mean that terrorists are trying to steal your airplanes. Just saying. Give them a chance, and try to get to know them. Automatically assuming they're a terrorist won't do either of you any good.--

~"People or groups who keep to themselves."

--Remember, only terrorists have bad days when they don't want to talk to everyone.--

~"Members of your airport neighborhood who avoid contact and refrain from
conversation with you or other airport tenants."

--The airport community itself is the greatest security measure ever. However, that does not mean that those who prefer to keep to themselves are terrorists. Most airport tenants are wise enough to respect those who keep to themselves. Since when must we snoop to be safe?--

~"Dangerous cargo or loads being loaded onto an aircraft."

--What's dangerous? The bottled oxygen used on high-altitude flights could explode. TSA rules are so vague that we begin reading into every little thing and trusting no one.--

~"Students who are vague with verbal answers or when filling out their student

~"Students who are overly concerned as to whether the application includes a
background investigation."

~"Students who continually want to fly over sensitive locations or critical
*This includes "Nuclear facilities, power plants, dams, etc."

--I can understand repeated inquiries being suspicious, but let's not forget general curiosity. I always thought flying near the major-league baseball park near where I live was cool. One of the appeals of flying is the new perspective on things we thought we once knew. Let's not get too paranoid.--

~"Students who ask questions that do not seem relevant to the instruction."

--I asked where the bathroom was once . . . You'll have to pardon my jest. Some things may be peculiar, like a macabre interest in the damage caused by aircraft crashes, but again, try not to overreact at the expense of some one's interest in aviation.--

~"Students who seem interested in only one part of training or who leave the program prior to training completion."

--I'm a student that left the multiengine program before completing it, but that's because I'm currently all out of money. Not everyone leaves because they just wanted to know how to crash an airplane into a building. Additionally, an instructor should know a student well enough to sense something wrong by the time they've spent several hours with them. The TSA itself notes that many students stop training for other reasons.--

~"Student attempting to pay with cash only."

~"Students speaking secretively or evasively passing notes in an attempt to avoid
drawing attention to themselves."

--Passing notes? Are we back in 4th grade?--

~"Students who perspire excessively or who have excessive nervous energy."

--I'm really glad the TSA didn't stop by after my first solo!--

~"Student who is easily agitated."

~"Any other activity that appears inconsistent with the intent to obtain full certification."

Next comes the scenarios. The TSA presents you with a scenario and asks what your response should be. As with the indicators, some are in the "no duh" category but some are simply ridiculous in their accusations.

Scenarios include:

~"You observe an individual you do not recognize working in the engine compartment of one of the flight school's aircraft. He is wearing no uniform and has no identification badge. Additionally, he has a toolbox open at his feet and he is taking tools from the box and using them in the engine compartment."

--The TSA recommends questioning the individual to ensure he is not an impostor. Fair enough, but let's not forget that most GA airports are small communities where you know the person working on the airplane or you offer to help a transient.--

~"You notice a man with some type of instrument in his hand walking around one of the aircraft on the parking ramp. Upon further investigation you realize the man is using the instrument to jimmy the lock and pry the airplane door and window open."

~"When entering the gates to the flight school training facility you see a man standing outside of the fence taking pictures. The man seems to be taking all sorts of pictures including aircraft taking off and landing, aircraft on the parking ramp, and photos of the hanger."

--First of all, I'd respect the TSA a whole lot more if they spelled "hangar" correctly. Secondly, as an aviation photographer, I resent the way my hobby is criminalized. In my case, the flying side of aviation was so unattainable that I hoped I would be able to get to know the pilots by sharing photos of their airplanes. Eventually that worked out for me, but I hate to think how many other photographers have formed the opinion that aviation is a hostile, elitist hobby.--

~"While walking on the flight line you see an unfamiliar man who appears to be altering an aircraft’s registration number. Taking a closer look, you realize that he is using tape to cover-up and alter one of the numbers on the aircraft’s registration. He has changed the “8” to look like a “0”."

~"During a routine aircraft walk-around inspection, you notice a plane on the flight line that has had its wheel wells strengthened. Further investigation shows that an additional bar has been welded on the undercarriage of the aircraft to each wheel of the plane. This aircraft is a typical, single propeller plane and is not commonly used for transporting heavy loads."

--Again with the wheel wells . . .--

~"On the way out to your aircraft you notice an individual working on a plane next to yours. Curious, you look into the plane and watch as the man works beneath the aircraft’s console. It looks as though the man is making alterations and changes to the wiring beneath the console."

--Wait a minute, the TSA just said you should be curious! But you can only be curious about aviation if you intend to catch terrorists. So for all of you who were curious about learning to fly, well, you're just a terrorist.--

~"Locking your plane up for the night, you happen to observe the wheels and undercarriage of a plane nearby. You see brush stuck in the wheel wells and splashes of dried mud on the undercarriage of the plane. This plane has definitely been landing in areas other than standard runways."

--I can't mock the wheel wells anymore. I think it'd be beating a dead horse. But, I have to question "standard runways." Evidently standard runways are always pavement, because the TSA has clearly not seen some of those more "matured" grass runways. And mud, well, that's just part of grass runways. However, since the TSA doesn't know anything about general aviation, they further perpetrate the idea of a cold, unemotional aviation that is nothing but numbers, devoid of fun and emotion. Unfortunately, that's what general aviation is all about in its purest sense.--

~"You observe an individual walking around the parking ramp looking at various aircraft. You do not recognize him and you watch as he takes time to peer through the windows of the different aircraft."

--While the TSA does point out that the person may just be someone interested in learning more, the fact of the matter is that we have nearly criminalized being curious about aviation. We are told to be immediately suspicious of anyone showing any interest, and that's bad. Instead of walking out to the airplane with the notion that you are possibly confronting a terrorist, make sure you walk out there excited to see someone interested. Even that subtle mental overhaul can make a huge difference.--

~"A man approaches you at the Customer Service Counter wishing to rent an aircraft. He requests a plane for a two-hour joy ride to enjoy the weather. He seems to have strong aviation knowledge, but does not present you with valid or proper flight or medical certificates or identification."

--Some enthusiasts learn all they can before heading out to the airport. The TSA presents the idea of a foreigner visiting as well. However, make this an opportunity for conversation, not suspicion.--

~"Walking through the Pilot’s Lounge an individual that doesn't seem to belong there catches your eye. You hang around the lounge to watch the man to see if your instincts are correct. You observe that he is not filling out any paper work, working on a flight plan, or checking weather and does not engage in conversations with any of the instructors or other students. He appears to be loitering in the lounge with no specific reason for being there."

--Again, there goes the entire population of my airport. There is something about airports, an intangible quality we're drawn to. Maybe it's simply because the airport is where we fly, and flying is a simple pleasure in life. Don't take away the joy of being at the airport.--

~"A pilot approaches you at the rental desk to check on the availability of one of the aircraft. He appears nervous, jumpy and keeps looking over his shoulder at the gentleman behind him. You observe the man standing behind the pilot and notice that he is concentrating on the pilot and seems to be concealing something under his arms. You have reason to believe that the pilot is under the control of this man."

~"An individual approaches you at the Customer Service Counter wishing to rent an aircraft. He presents seemingly valid flight and medical certificates, but needs a lot of help with the terminology when filling out some of the paper work. He also does not know the names of the different aircraft that he can rent or where he wants to fly. Some of his questions seem bizarre and his lack of knowledge of the various aircraft clearly shows that he does not have a corresponding level of aviation knowledge."

~"An individual trying to rent an aircraft wants to know what type of planes he can rent, how much they cost, and if they are already fueled. He seems unfamiliar with the aviation procedures and requirements when trying to rent an aircraft from this facility."

--Simple curiosity. Take the time to help other people out and not accuse them immediately.--

~"When instructing one of your students on the cockpit instruments, your student says, “Do you think it would be possible to fly an aircraft into the Hoover Dam? Imagine all of the damage that would cause.” This is clearly a threat/statement inconsistent with normal aircraft use."

~"An individual approaches you to sign up for flying lessons. You ask him to fill out the appropriate application and to return it when it is completed. The individual returns the application but has left several areas blank. You inform the individual that he needs to complete all sections of the application but he refuses to do so."

~"A student filling out an application is overly concerned as to whether the application includes a background check. He wants to know what the background check would entail, how far back in his history would they investigate, and who they might contact for information. He also wants to know when the background check investigation process would begin."

~"You are giving a lesson on take-off procedures but the student is constantly asking questions that do not seem relevant to the instruction. Some of the questions include, “Would it be possible if we could fly over a nuclear power plant?” and “Are there any major bridges that we will be flying over?”"

--Again, curiosity is normal and an instructor show know their students well enough to detect an abnormal interest. Unfortunately, things like this just make us more suspicious of every little thing.--

~"You have been making great progress with one of your students. You have completed training through the airwork, systems malfunction, and autopilot portion of the syllabus. In addition, you have completed several simulator lessons on take-off procedures and V1 cuts. Today was to begin normal approach to landing procedures for your student, but you have learned that he has suddenly dropped out of flight training. It seems as if he was interested in only one part of the flight training program – getting the aircraft in the air and maintaining
straight and level flight through the use of the autopilot and mode control panel."

--I love how the TSA adds that last bit of drama to make sure you get suspicious of any students that can't complete their training.--

~"An individual approaches you about taking flying lessons so she can get her pilots license. You sit down with the woman and explain the procedures and time frame for the flight school. After filling out the appropriate paperwork she hands you a wad of cash to pay for all lessons in advance."

~"A student is sitting in the Pilot’s Lounge and you notice that rather than interacting with other students or instructors he is sitting by himself."

--Go say hi and introduce yourself, then invite them over. Walk over there with a social intent, not a suspicious one.--

~"You observe that one of your students is perspiring excessively and has excessive nervous energy. He is sweating through his shirt and occasionally lets out nervous laughter. This is unusual because he does not seem to be in a stressful situation as he is just sitting in the lounge area."

~"An individual who is in-between lessons approaches you at the customer service center. He asks you some questions about future lessons but he appears very agitated. You try to answer his questions but he snaps at you and constantly interrupts you. Something is obviously bothering him."

--I sure was irritable after bad lessons. Different people deal with situations differently. I suppose we're all supposed to jump to conclusions instead of trying to be understanding.--

~"You are giving a lesson on take-off procedures but the student is constantly asking questions that do not seem relevant to the instruction. Some of the questions include, “When we get into the simulator, will we be able to fly over any major U.S. cities and bridges?” Or, “Do you think we could fly over the Golden Gate Bridge?” Or, “Does the simulator have a daylight visual model of New York City or of Washington, DC?”"

I've taken the liberty of not copying some of the identical scenarios for simulators. I feel that the spirit of the issue is thoroughly conveyed. I will not deny that some of the scenarios proposed are obviously suspicious, but I do believe that aviation is very good at policing itself.

What has been created is a culture of hostility and suspicion. If someone is brave enough or persistent enough to venture out to the airport, they are treated as though they don't belong. Employees make sure to keep an eye on the people they don't know and meet their curiosity with question after question.

In August I moved to school. As an aviation student, I was required to attend an informational meeting at the airport at the beginning of the semester. I was bombarded with presentations, forms, and questions before I even got to see an airplane. In fact, the flight school even requested financial information before a flight was scheduled, let alone conducted.

Aviation is exceedingly unfriendly nowadays. Few FBO employees will or are allowed to take visitors out to see the airplanes or to show them around. We are so afraid of losing what freedom still remains in aviation that we attempt to hoard it, as though by making would-be pilots and advocates endure a gauntlet of questions and checks will ensure only the best enter the world of flying.

Is that the kind of image we want to project? I think not.

I cannot make a business change its practices, and that is not my goal. The best vehicle for change in aviation is you--the local pilots and the grassroots aviation organizations. Chapters are able to work on a local level, networking with schools and individual youth.

Look around you.

If you won't make the effort to reach out to youth, who will?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Remember When . . .

Remember when it was ok to be interested in aviation? When people didn't give you a sideways glance and file your headshot away in their memory in case you were a terrorist because you had questions about airplanes? Remember when it was normal to ask to see the cockpit of an airliner?

Remember when it was normal for kids to bike to the airport and wash airplanes in exchange for flying lessons? Remember when airport security was the characters that hung out at the airport, who wouldn't let you get past them without chatting? Remember when there were no gates or gate codes and everyone got along just fine?

Remember when "pilot" didn't immediately mean doctor or lawyer with a penchant for expensive toys?


I don't. Not really.

Concerned yet? You should be.

At 19 years old, I barely caught the end of the era of being able to sit in airliner cockpits without being turned away for "security." For a lot of kids, the first spark of curiosity comes when they wonder what's going on up front in that big airliner that's taking them on vacation. Deny them that chance, and even at a young age, they are impressed with the notion that aviation is a highly exclusive club and common people have no place in it.

I was never allowed to bike to the airport. My mom cited a highway and concerns of me pestering the people at the airport. Many parents are extraordinarily concerned about their children's safety and what may happen to them as they ride a bike to an airport. Regardless of whether you agree with that concern, it exists and it is a factor in the dearth of youth becoming involved. Let's also not forget the drastic loss of small airports throughout the country. Remember, though, that we cannot have airports without pilots or airplanes, and if we don't get youth involved, we won't have any of the above. If the kid can't come to the airport . . . bring the airport to the kid. More on that outreach later.

My family always considered flying to be a hobby for the rich. It had all the marking of that sort of thing--gated communities and all. Until I visited a small airport, I remained under that assumption. The problem lies in this perception of aviation as exclusive, because if flying is only something the rich do, it's off-limits for the majority of the population. That clearly is not the message that should be sent. Having traveled to multiple grassroots airports, I can safely state that the majority of aircraft owners and pilots sacrifice a lot to fly and are quite average people.

Did you notice that all of the challenges and barriers facing youth are all related to perception?

Open the doors.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Personal Connections

Why is this issue so important to me?

I think I see things very differently from others involved in aviation. The average airport is chock-full of middle-aged men. I am not a middle-aged man, needless to say.

As a younger enthusiast, I've faced very different challenges to become involved in aviation. While it is easy to recognize that not that many young people are interested in aviation, I see why they are not involved--and it is not because they are not interested. The interest exists, but aviation is, in many ways, unattainable.

I also feel as though new regulations and threats to grassroots aviation affect me more. The older pilots out there have a vast array of experiences, and are disappointed to see more restrictive regulations placed in effect. I, however, have only recently discovered the joy of flight and sometimes feel that there is no future for that fun aviation that I love so much.

And yes, that statement should scare you.

Something needs to be done to start changing the public perception of aviation, and something needs to be done to ensure a future for aviation. So far, the efforts I have seen are not enough, and I do think it's because the older generations do not see the problems that I do.

So call me selfish for wanting to make sure there's still room for my brand of fun in the future.

Or maybe we should all be a little more selfish--because in feeling as though we need to protect the future of our passion, we'll introduce a whole new audience to a life-changing adventure.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Containing Aviation, and Setting it Free

More on keeping all things flying-related within neat chain link boundaries.

Often times, pilots and enthusiasts regard the airport as a safe haven. It is where we can simply be airplane people, where our aviation affliction is accepted and not questioned. In a lot of ways, we are what contains aviation to airports. Confronted with negative portrayals of aviation in the media, we choose to retreat to our safe haven to lament what the world has become, instead of working to improve the public perception.

I'm not about to say that the flying community is doing nothing, I'm just saying that we're not doing enough, or at least that the methods we're using aren't successful enough.

Yet, instead of radically overhauling aviation youth outreach efforts, we sit back and wonder why we don't see young people at the airport anymore. I am continually reminded of one of my instructor's youth experiences: "When I learned how to ride bicycle I fast became a kid on a mission, pedaling as fast as I could to get to the little airport and do some serious “hangar flying” in either a Champ or Cub," he wrote.

Despite my early interest in flying, I was never one of those kids who biked to the airport. Why? Partially due to a four-lane highway, but also due to my mother telling me I wouldn't be wanted there. She didn't want me pestering employees or causing security alerts, despite the fact that the world of grassroots aviation is a sight different from her perceptions.

Young people are discouraged by an unknowing public, and those of us "in the know" are not doing enough to reverse the idea of the airport as a hostile, forbidding place. It's time to take a cue from the church--missionaries seek to spread their faith to others, and they are not afraid to take it to the streets. The notion of aviation as a religion of sorts is not new, and it continues to be applicable. Like the missionaries who brave untamed jungles, unwelcoming local populations, and other difficult environments, aviation proponents need to do more on the local level.

It's time to get your hands dirty. Go to local schools, elementary through high school, and throw a college or university in there if you can. Flying is fun education, and it's a real application of what students are being taught in their classes. Start with a hands-on educational visit. Bring some basic props to show younger kids how airplanes fly, and leave the more scientific stuff for those who are older or still curious. Invite the kids to a field trip to the local airport--this is what EAA chapters are for! Tour the FBO, let them sit in airplanes, see the tower, feed them, and send them home with information on Young Eagles.

While I love the idea of the Young Eagles program, it has its limitations. First, most of the recruiting efforts target organizations like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. While that's an excellent approach, it dramatically reduces the number of potential Young Eagles and future enthusiasts. This is not something that can be done instantly. It takes cultivation. Plant the seed of curiosity and build upon it. Don't throw kids into an airplane, buzz around the patch, land, and send them off with a certificate. Take more time, and for God's sake, don't put kids in the backseat. That's not flying, that's riding, and the average child will see it as no different than riding in the family minivan (and that's not flattering at all).

In short:

~Kids fly up front, never ride in the back (at least for Cherokee- and
172-types--Cubs and Champs are a bit different)
~Kids get to fly the airplane
~The kids get to learn a bit about what they have done--walk them through the
preflight, and have them help get ready to fly

That's all it really takes. Pay attention to them. They are not cargo, they are the future, and if we want personal flying to have a place in the future, we'd better pay attention.

For you ride-givers and ground support:

~Pay attention, and add a personal touch--show them the airplane and some key instruments, try to show them recognizable landmarks
~Talk to them about flying
~Invite them back to fly again, or offer to show them the hangar or other airport facilities
~For older flyers, offer encouragement in the financial sector. Make sure they know that scholarships are available to help them out and make flying attainable. As a chapter, set up scholarships for local youth and promote them vigorously.
~Host regular open houses for the community, and promote the event community-wide--don't just stick to established groups like scouts.
~Let your passion show--as part of an establishment that seeks to keep aviation bottled up, take a step in the right direction and let people know of your passion. Offer to take them flying and show them!

I have to close with this picture of Maria. It's perhaps my most favorite picture to date. It is simply a picture of a kid having fun in an airplane, and I often wonder if her brief experience planted a successful seed, or if it will just be remembered as something that was neat, but so far away from reality that it will never be seen as something within her reach.

As Dick Hill was quoted as saying to Steve Krog once, regarding the fun of flying, "You weren’t burnt out from flying, you were just flying all the wrong stuff. If you don’t intend to fly for a career, then go fly the stuff you enjoy flying and then fly for the pleasure of it." You don't have to fly airliners or big jets to have fun!

There is no greater gift than the realization of dream. We, as pilots and aviation enthusiasts, have the power to help kids realize those dreams of flying.

This is supposed to be fun! Share it!


More Background Stuff

Here's an article I wrote for the fun of it a while ago. An edited version of it was published in EAA's learn-to-fly e-newsletter "Reach for the Sky" in the December edition. Here's the longer, more complete, unedited version of the "285T's Gift" section (does not include "Keeping the Faith").

P.S. You can find Reach for the Sky newsletter here:

Keep flying. Always, always keep flying. Don’t work so hard to get your license, pass the checkride, then disappear from the airport. Learning to fly is certainly financially draining, especially by the end of the process, but always keep flying.
In my case, flying is as necessary as breathing. I can’t explain how, or why, but it just is. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m extremely partial to J-3s, but flying is flying. I’m not about to say that flying a Bonanza is the same as flying a Cub, but you can enjoy either, though in my case, I’m likely to have more fun in the Cub. But that’s just personal preference, and maybe some ingrained genetic predisposition.
In any case, here’s my “keep flying” story. I spent last summer in Texas (which is a terrible time for a Midwesterner to visit) for an aviation internship. While there, I learned a slew of amazing things that I would never have otherwise been exposed to. I helped make a fiberglass mold (I can measure resin like a pro, but boy, does it smell!), spent a week and a half half-upside down in an airplane cockpit doing some wiring work, learned how metal could be shaped and formed, learned how to safely transport airplanes on the ground, learned how to research Airworthiness Directives for applicability, learned how to machine custom fittings, how to maintain an airplane through general preventative maintenance, how to rivet, and how to cover fabric airplanes. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something along the way as it was certainly a whirlwind summer that I wouldn’t have passed up for the world.
I passed up an opportunity that summer. The foundation which facilitates this internship is run by several very dedicated and well-intentioned people. They lined up a Cessna 172 for the interns to receive flight training in, and had several wonderful instructors willing to donate their time, simply for the joy of giving some kids the gift of flight. I never made the sacrifice to get out and fly and start working on some instrument requirements. I passed up a fabulous chance to fly with an experienced instructor and get a head start on another rating, all at no cost to me. And I didn’t. Yes, I’m still kicking myself.
For the first few weeks I definitely felt as though I was in a foreign environment. I was 800 miles from home, with new people, in an unfamiliar home. Having learned to fly at an airport that was delightfully vintage, with a population primarily of Cubs, Champs, and Luscombes, I was a fish out of water in this world of airline pilots with Bonanzas and other high-performance airplanes. I longed for my beloved Cubs, something familiar. After some trials in the Bonanza, I began to doubt myself. It felt like all the work I had done to get my license had been for naught.
There were two Super Cubs based at this particular airpark, and I was always pleased to see them out and about. At last! Something familiar. I watched them with a particular fondness as they tugged at my heartstrings a bit. Maybe more than a bit.
One day myself, one of the other interns, and Mr. Keyt, our internship coordinator and Foundation founder, drove through the airpark to find a part someone else had, and we stopped to say hello to the owner of one of the Super Cubs.
Oh! What wonder! An airplane that was fabric-covered, and seemingly so much more alive and biological than the rest! What a beautiful creature. I was thrilled just to see it close-up in the flesh.
We chatted for a while and moved on. We went back to work on our many tasks, and the Super Cub remained a fond memory, until its owner walked into the hangar and asked if myself and the other intern present would like to go flying.
What?!?! Of course! As one very proud Cub pilot I was excited to see how the big brother of the J-3s I loved so would compare. Since I had no place to go after our traditional quitting time, Rey, the other intern went first.
For a little background . . . there was also an experimental Super Cub on the field. I had flown in it twice and embarrassed myself both times. It seems I never got close enough to use full rudder deflection, and, well, it just didn’t fly like a Cub.
I was itching to hop into this Super Cub though. It seemed like hours until Rey and Mr. Wood reappeared, and I leapt up to go, having collected my headset and even having put on the one pair of shoes I knew I could reach heel brakes with. Imagine my confusion as I looked at the pedals in the front seat of the Super Cub, wondering where they had hidden the heel brakes (Piper had switched to the now-traditional toe brakes). And a starter? How modern. A radio? We were certainly in the space age now!
At the back of my mind, however, was a nagging fear that if I was allowed to fly I’d make a fool of myself. Doubt had surfaced once again amidst all my excitement.
And fly I did. I basically had the airplane the entire flight, which I was extraordinarily grateful for. Mr. Wood took me over to a small grass strip (wonder of wonders! A proper Cub runway!), demonstrated a nice landing, then handed the airplane to me. He even talked me through a different takeoff procedure which the Super Cub seemed to prefer to my J-3 technique.
Somehow, some way, that first landing was perfect. I don’t often say that (that would be lying, after all), but it was. Maybe the stars aligned just so in some faraway galaxy. Maybe nature was on my side. Whatever it was, the Super Cub caressed the brown, dry grass so gently I had to laugh. A month away from Cubs and I grease it on? Too funny. I commented to Mr. Wood, “Well, I guess I got lucky on that one! Every once in a while it works out that way.” To which he responded, “No, somebody taught you right.”
Indeed they had. I still recall those words. They are, in fact, some of the most complimentary words that have ever been uttered to me, and I cherish them to this day. I had done something right. I had proven my capability to someone else, but, moreover, I had proven my capability to myself. Super Cub 285T gave me my confidence back. It restored my faith that what I was doing was right, both in the airplane and in pursuing aviation as a career. All was well with the world once again, and my little Cub pilot heart was once again at peace.
That’s not to say all the landings were perfect. The second was an accidental wheel landing (though it was pretty good), which I didn’t admit was accidental at the time. The third was nice as well, though not as nice as the first. But the view was sublime, with the door open and the window up. Steep turns reminded me why I loved flying and why I had pursued my pilot’s license. Everything felt right. Instead of struggling with managing and fighting the Bonanza, I was wearing the Super Cub, and everything was good and natural, tactile and delightful.
I was proud to be able to show Mr. Wood the spin technique I had been taught for the J-3. After getting a feel for stalls, I went to spin the Super Cub with Mr. Wood’s permission (how cool is that?!). I had to sigh with delight as the Super Cub obeyed my control inputs and spun just right. I had done something right again. I had been able to show the owner a different technique after he had said it could be difficult to do. At that point my little Cub pilot ego grew, if only out of pride and joy. A smile threatened to split my face in half. How fabulous!
I wanted to try a loop, but we had been struggling with the intercom and I certainly didn’t want to yank this airplane into a maneuver without its owner’s consent. I was not disappointed, though, as Mr. Wood demonstrated a Super Cub barrel roll a few times. What a wonderful experience! I had never barrel-rolled before in my life, and it was awesome.
My expanded Cub pilot ego was shortly brought back to size after two less-than-ideal approaches and subsequent go-arounds. To top the flight off was a memorable arrival. Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! It seemed I could almost hear the bungees stretch and grumble in complaint. Oops. I apologized to the airplane under my breath several times and also expressed my apologies to its gracious owner as well.
Months later, I still smile when I recall that flight. There have been many lovely J-3 flights but only one fantastic Super Cub flight, and the fact that that red-and-white airplane singlehandedly renewed my love of flying makes it a memorable flight. 285T and her generous owner gave me the gift of the love of flying, at a time when I wondered if my intentions had been true. She reaffirmed my every decision and rebuilt my self-esteem. It was the most amazing experience, because it felt real. Free of restrictions, limitless, and wholly enjoyable. I can never thank Mr. Wood enough for his gift. He may never know the significance of that hour, but I am eternally grateful. The best thing that I can say about it is, it felt like flying.

What I was truly trying to convey in this writing was the simple joy of flying, something that markedly few people ever get to experience. Airports have become hostile places, ringed with chain-link fences and endowed with a certain elitist mystery. Many people have an interest in flying, but have no idea how to become involved. These fortresses of airports, oddly enough, are not so much designed to keep these would-be enthusiasts out as they are to keep those involved with aviation in.

You see, if we can neatly contain aviation within that fenced plot of land, it won't be a bother. In a lot of ways, the aviation community is like the mob. Outside of your like-minded contacts, it's not much of a huge discussion topic. It might come up occasionally, but by and large, it is easy to go without realizing there is another aviation enthusiast nearby.

The exclusive nature of airports is perhaps the biggest challenge facing aviation today. We keep everything concerning flying in a small, sterile area so that the rest of the world doesn't "contaminate" it. Mostly, what this security hype does is dissuade the curious from seeking further aviation exposure. Without an "in," it's nigh impossible to gain airport access. One bad experience with an unknowledgeable airport employee can ruin a possible relationship.

The long and short of this entry comes down to activism on behalf of us who have become involved. I'll try to cover more of what I've experienced later (in the pm later).

--Amy : )

Friday, January 16, 2009


I suppose I should start by introducing myself. I'm Amy, and I'm from near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I'm a private pilot with a tailwheel endorsement, with most of my flying time in J-3 Cubs and a Luscombe 8F.

I'm currently in college at Minnesota State University, double-majoring in aviation (pro flight) and economics, while considering a third major in aviation management, but we'll see. I'm a member of the university's flight team, aviation club, and Women in Aviation chapter. So far it's been fun, and I hope to do a lot here over the next few years : )

That sort of thought is exactly what brings me here. There are a lot of things that I, as a young person involved in aviation, see as areas for improvement. We can all recognize that the population of pilots is decreasing, and we easily see that something must be done, but the measures we are taking is not enough. Hopefully through this journal I can at least reach a few people who can help : )