Are there times when you think you really could be losing your mind? Like when you get home from the weekly shopping trip to the grocery store and, after unloading the car, you realize there were some items you really wanted to buy on this trip and you totally forgot to pick them up? Let’s further set the mood for this moment by pointing out that it is raining cats and dogs out there and you really don’t want to get the car out of the garage for another trip to the store. Yup, there will be no eggs for breakfast in the morning, or bread for sandwiches at lunch.
I am glad I will have several frozen entrees that I won’t really need for a few weeks, and the ice cream sandwiches my waistline suggests would be better suited for someone else’s shopping cart. But, I’m really in a funk because my shopping trip didn’t end up with the things I intended to acquire … all because I kind of lost it mentally for about 30 minutes due to the distractions of some very good merchandising. Basically, I was detoured from my shopping objectives toward fulfilling the aspirations of other people who wanted me to buy their product.
Make a note: the store had everything I wanted in stock. All I had to do was put it in my basket and bring it home. My funk is not the store’s fault. I simply didn’t stay on course.
I see that same funky feeling with some pilots. A lot of the times you don't get exactly what you want out of aviation. We pilots (in all shapes, sizes, ages and qualifications), are all vulnerable to not getting what we want out of aviation. I have seen it with my own two eyes from young student pilots to 40-year airline-pilot veterans.
Students, for instance, have their heart broken and ultimately give up when pursuing the joy of flight. Their dreams are crushed by the high turnover rate of instructors and a feeling of not progressing to their dream. Recreational pilots often succumb to a lack of the social element in aviation. When recreational pilots look to share their passion with others they have nobody to turn to. Seasoned airline pilots have allowed the turbulent aviation industry to tear their families apart and jeopardize their financial well-being. I would imagine that if you were to talk to these people in aviation, they aren't getting exactly what they want out of aviation.
In reality, everybody in aviation has the ability to get exactly what they want. Just like they have the opportunity to get exactly what they want at the store. If you forget something at the store it’s your own fault. It isn't the store's fault, because they had everything that you wanted. It’s such a hard concept to acknowledge, but it's your own fault if you don't get exactly what you want from the store or even from aviation.
In the same way merchandising at the grocery store changes the shopper’s behavior to better suit the seller’s needs, aviation changes our behavior as pilots to get what it needs. In my opinion, it is important to turn the tables and use aviation back. Make sure you get exactly what you want from aviation. That’s only fair, because aviation gets exactly what it wants from you.
Student pilots can change instructors until they find one who connects with what the student wants to learn. Recreational pilots can join a flying club to find people who share their interests and provide the social relationship that helps pilots grow and improve their skills. And, seasoned professional pilots may require a change in employment to reduce their turmoil so they can regain control over their own lives.
I feel that is the way that you can get exactly what you want out of aviation. It’s hard work but it’s doable. If you feel bad about your opportunities in aviation, change the way you think about what is happening to you. Identify what changes you can make in your life to make flying more fun for you. It has been my experience that you will be rewarded with incredible opportunities that would never present themselves otherwise. Your future will be morefun-filled, because aviation can be FUN! And that’s most likely what you had on your list when you came into the world of aviation in the first place.
Yes, FUN should be in aisle #1.
Weather is to pilots like the media is to an election. Sometimes it works out absolutely perfect in our favor and then in a quick second it can turn against us (thought we needed some election humor this time of year). The truth is weather is very real and affects us as pilots every time we prepare for a flight. Not just during that flight however but watching the trends throughout the day so we can became mini weather guessers!
I had recently found myself looking quickly at weather making that go decision before a flight but not visualizing the entire synopsis. The how and why of weather changes, if you will. I started reading Mr. Robert N. Buck’s book Weather Flying the fourth edition and have challenged myself to better understand the weather that affects me as a pilot. This book is the practical side of aviation weather from the mind of Robert Buck who spent 4 years of his aviation career specifically flying into weather for research. It really describes to readers how to combine the preflight weather briefing with actual conditions and prepare for changes. I highly recommend every pilot read this book.
The Aviation Weather curriculum we remember in our ground school book is a great foundation to understand how it affects us as pilots. However, we should use this knowledge to dig deeper and better understand what we see from the front seat of the aircraft. Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts or TAF’s, METAR, Prog Charts, and Airmets/Sigmets and many others are great ways to determine what is happening and what may happen during our flight. We can also get an idea with local weather on the news, or our morning newspaper, and even that WWW thing everyone is addicted to (including myself). This all sounds simple enough, those of us who fly now or are learning to fly use that info to make that go/no go decision for every flight.
After we receive all available information concerning weather for our cross country flight visualize it and determine what we might see. Do not settle with just looking at both hourly reports (METAR) which say the winds are calm. I challenge you to evaluate it further and give yourself a proper weather definition. Even if it is VFR at our departure and destination airport with calm winds aloft in the middle, eventually that perfect weather will move on and something will replace it. The goal is to attempt to determine if it will affect our flight and how fast are things changing.
Winds – What direction are they coming from? Are they bringing in warm moist air or cool dry air? Winds can help you determine which side of the front or pressure system you may be flying on. Also performance for the aircraft being flown may be different when climbing or descending through a high or low pressure. Consider those wind flow characteristics clockwise, outward and down in a high, and counterclockwise, inward and up in a low. A climb to altitude through a low pressure system may be quicker than a climb through higher pressure. Although if moisture is presented to a low the climb may be good but the weather very interesting!
Temperature/Dew point – Has a front just passed or is it about to? What change has caused a rise or drop in temp? Different locations along either a warm or cold front will bring different weather scenarios that we should be aware of. Remember when the temp and dew point get close together we have visible moisture. So be aware of temperature changes and the raising of the dew point through moisture and humidity.
Terrain – Ask an experienced pilot at your local airport about terrain and weather trends and be ready to take notes. These tips are a valuable piece of the pie when figuring out this weather stuff. Terrain has a huge impact on what the weather does for us. Land and sea breeze along a coast line or a large lake provide humidity and its own small weather system of highs and lows. The ascending or descending air along the Rockies can cause fog, cloud cover or even thunderstorms throughout the day.
Clouds – Why did they form? Many times clouds are not a major concern on our flights. They are above or below us and we really do not worry about them. Take the time and visualize why they formed. When temperature is cooled to its dew point and cannot contain the moisture any longer (100% humidity) visible moisture or clouds appear. Also, determine the type of cloud Stratus or Cumulus; these can be excellent clue to ride conditions along the way.
When gathering information also take a look at Fronts, High and Low pressure systems, the jet stream, and the time of day and season we are in. All of these combined create the weather that we experience every day. This practical knowledge will help us better visualize weather as a whole and provide a confident evaluation of what we may experience in our aircraft.
Take the 5 day challenge and become your personal meteorologist. Over the next 5 days take a look at the prog and wind charts at an altitude that you may be flying at. With those use your aviation weather foundation that you have learned, and practical knowledge of terrain, temperature, wind, and cloud formation and visualize the weather you may come across for a flight in your local area or a cross country you would like to fly.
All comments are welcome. Let me know how you did. Enjoy the ride.
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Twitter - @tbammon
“Experience” in aviation qualifies you for different career positions, allows you to afford a nicer car, to fly larger airplanes, and make more friends. People get caught up in aviation experience, puffing the log book to satisfy their shiny jet syndrome.
Actually, I think “Aviation Experience” is a pretty ridiculous notion. It misses the mark of what it’s all about. Come on, what is really an “appropriate” level of aviation experience? In order to answer that question you have to first think about another question that asks “Appropriate for what?” Flying? Are we talking about handling an airplane? Dealing with weather? Working with a co-pilot? Working with your flight crew? Working with your ground crew?
Now, one more question … Do you see where I’m going with this? It takes thousands of hours to be qualified to say that you've reached an "appropriate" experience level. Don't get me wrong I love flying and making new entries in a logbook, but there is some things that are far more important than just ink hitting the mint green paper of your Log Book.
Logbooks don’t have entries for the trust you are building with partners that help you have a wonderful aviation experience. And really, at the end of the day, logbook entries are "love stories." Not physical romance, but the romance of aviation. Aviation is very powerful. In the fact, in my life it creates friendships that are deeper than so many other relationships I find elsewhere. I’m thinking about the responsibilities you owe the other person you are flying with, and vice-versa. Whether you are a student, flight instructor, airline pilot or flight attendant you owe a level of safety and flight enjoyment to the other person. Oh, I didn’t mean to leave out the ground crew and maintenance team.
Every time I go flying now, I don't fly just for flight time in my Log Book. I fly for “Aviation Experience” which, in my opinion, is a series of trusting friendships. Ultimately it doesn't matter which airplanes you end up flying or which airport you fly out of. It’s about being able to share a story at the end of the day with your friends. I feel a serious responsibility to reciprocate that level of friendship to the people I fly with. When I look at my flying time as this series of trusting relationships it becomes much more relaxing to fly, even when I’m shuttling corporate execs to their next meeting..
What about you? Why not think about it like this … The Pilot’s Log Book is just a place to keep track of hours. Your “Aviation Experience” file is full of people’s phone numbers, memories of harrowing landings, great evenings waiting out a weather delay with crew eating lousy hamburgers and drinking non-alcoholic beverages, and memories of finding an old mini-tube of toothpaste folded up in a sectional map.
I don’t think you need to get your panties all bunched up worrying about the next step in your aviation career as a professional or recreational pilot. Aviation is meant to be enjoyed. And part of aviation is the ride! Make sure you cherish the friendships you make along the way. Friendships aren’t always entered in your Log Book, but they are sure to give it purpose.
So, sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!