It’s time to perform a little CPR on this blog! Let's be honest, everybody hates an idle blog, and with Christmas out of the way I’m running out of excuses.
Did I mention Christmas? If you missed it, NORAD was tracking Santa's progress this year. http://www.noradsanta.org/ I am wondering if Santa busted any Temporary Flight Restrictions or other critical airspace. How does he deliver presents flying his sleigh to 1601 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington, DC? I tip my hat to Santa for being able to get clearance though P-56. The Jolly Dude really knows how to cut through the clearance processes doesn’t he? Has anyone caught the N- number on that sleigh? Is it properly placarded? What tests have been performed to prove the reindeer propulsion system to be safe? Has the exhaust been properly analyzed for the EPA? Not only does Santa manage to get his overweight sleigh off the ground and through some very tricky airspace, I wonder how he deals with OSHA for his repetitive exposure to toxins and heat found in one chimney after another.
The logistical nightmare, known as Christmas, is only partially about the gifts. What about the people? You know … Friends and Family? So, I ask, “What delivers the people home to be united with family?” Here is the answer I’ve got....Airplanes. (This isn’t a blog about train travel.) Families, Santa and people rely on airplanes so much during the holiday seasons.
I remember working over the holidays being part of an airline crew moving plane-loads of people around for the holidays. Often I thought about my role and the airplane's role during the holidays. Most of the passengers took it for granted, but that's okay. It made me realize that aviation is silent infrastructure. It enables families to be connected so meaning can be added to the gifts given. It puts realization to the words in Christmas songs like "There is no place like home for the Holidays" and "All I want for Christmas is you!" Imagine if airplanes didn't exist. The way we celebrate holidays would be completely different. And, personally, I wouldn't have any money to buy anybody presents because I'd be out of a job.
One recent flying lesson I gave involved uniting a family for Christmas. The student was a Father flying to the University of Illinois to pick up his Daughter and her friend to bring them back for the Holidays. There is something unsaid and magical about incorporating the student’s flying lesson with their personal life. Creative lesson planning let me fly down to the University of Illinois with him and see the smiles and excitement of a family uniting.
Aviation is powerful. Heck, even Santa relies on it. Simply put, the holidays would be different without the airplanes. It’s a neat thing to be a part of.
PS - Thank you to all the crew members and airlines who worked over the holidays to unite families and deliver invaluable gifts this year! You guys rock!
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.
Email – email@example.com
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!
You can tell a lot about your pilot when you look at how he is dressed. Really. And I say “your pilot” with great intention here. That is to set off the difference between a pilot who has a job that he performs to transport people and things from one place to another, versus a fun-loving pilot who jumps in his own plane to go bore holes in the sky.
Thinking just about the pilots who have the job to transport celebrities, the CEO and other executives, or the passengers on an airline flight - - What’s the best way to judge how well they might do their job? You don’t have the chance to talk with their co-workers, or check out the scores they got on their last evaluation. Just look at that pilot and tell me how much faith you have that he, or she, will get you where you want to go, safely and on time. What clues do you have to help you make this judgment call? I think the big clue is the wrinkles in the pilot’s shirt.
I get to see a lot of pilots as I fly to different airports and wait for my corporate passengers to finish their business before we fly back home. During that waiting time, I often work near other pilots to check out changing weather, or to file a flight plan. I get to see who has a good work habit, and who is just barely getting the job done. Wrinkled shirts are a pretty big tip-off.
A pilot who has a freshly pressed shirt, probably also arranged his schedule to get a good night of sleep before his day of flying. His conversation is usually crisp and decisive. But, you say, “Just because he is alert, well organized, and has a pressed shirt doesn’t mean he knows how to fly well, or that he can handle the plane well in an emergency.” Well, I have to say you’re right. But, if the pilot is alert, he has a better chance to avoid the emergency in the first place.
Beyond that first instinctive judgment about your pilot, what did you expect him to look like, anyway? There is an image that the pilot needs to project. It’s not an image about how much the pilot is being paid, or how the company wants the pilot to look. The image is a personal thing that belongs to the pilot. It should project how he takes ownership of the safety of every passenger and piece of cargo on board. It should also project what the pilot’s family wants them to be as they earn their living and provide food for the dinner table. Finally, it should project how much the pilot loves doing his job. If you are a competent pilot who cares about your job and loves doing your job, a wrinkled shirt isn’t part of your image.
Just iron your shirt! Do it for yourself!
I make my living by flying professionals and top executives around the country. If my passengers aren’t wearing “suits” as a fashion statement, you can be certain their shirts have no wrinkles, and their pants are well-creased, without wrinkles. If I am going to be caught flying these executives around, I want to look like them. They take pride in their job. And looking the part is never compromised.
As their pilot, I take ownership of the responsibility the executives have to the company they work for, the jobs they create, and effect they have on the global economy. I am part of their team and I should look the part.
Occasionally, a pilot needs to say "no" to some pretty powerful people. That responsibility should not be taken lightly. When you have to tell the CEO of a major company, or the higher-ups at your airline, "No. It is unsafe to fly." That is a moment when you will be judged. Do you want to be wearing a wrinkled shirt?
I didn’t think so …
Pilot Rule #1: Don’t Gamble.
Clark W. Griswald is my hero. An all American family man who put’s everything on the line to make sure his Griswald Family Christmas’s, European and Vegas vacations are the best experience for his family. I love it. You don’t see Clark W. Griswald, a.k.a. Sparky, gambling. Well, I take that back, let’s not count the $22,000 he loses on his Vegas vacation.
His mental checklist when leaving the house on these vacations is pretty darn impressive. Every square inch of his suit cases, and every cubic inch of the family truckster, are strategically planned. I need to take packing lessons from Clark.
Pretty much every trip I take as a pilot I am gambling, just the same as Derrell Sheets is gambling when he buys a Storage Unit on Storage Wars. I gamble on how much clean underwear, clean socks, shirts, and ties I pack in my bag. If I have a day trip, forget it. I don’t even pack or bring a suit case. The funny thing is that I have been bit in the behind almost 100% of the time when not packing the appropriate amount. And, if you don’t bring a bag at all, Murphy’s Law will absolutely guarantee that your trip will keep you travelling for more than one day and you will end up wishing you had packed a bag. It’s a gamble with 100% odds against you.
You’d think I’d learn by now. Every time I fly, I should bring a packed bag. I haven’t learned. Rebounding from my hapless situation, people standing near me get to hear interesting quotes like: “Oh, hey, K-Mart clearance rack, we meet again.” “Siri, where is the closest Target?” or even “What the hell, Google Maps won’t load on my phone and I can’t find Walmart.”
Ultimately, the successful outcome for how well you rebound after you get caught without your overnight bag is showing up the next morning with a clean shaven face as well as minty fresh teeth and breath. There are so many different paths for a successful outcome it’s all up to you.
You’ll never have to be mad at Google Maps anymore if you don’t gamble. But maybe that’s how Google Maps stays in business? Based on my historical sample of this game, the house will always win.
I’m pretty young to be shocked by changes in the world. Why should I expect things to remain as they are? Doesn’t change happen all the time … to everything? Actually, it’s pretty difficult to point to something and say “It will stay that way for decades.”
Pause for a moment and ask yourself how you would feel if your hometown went out of business. I mean they shut their doors and everybody left. What happens to the dreams of everyone who grew up there? What was worth, to grow up there, after all?
What is it that gets me in such a philosophical state of mind? And, why all the questions? Well, there is a trend going on that scares me. It also pisses me off. I think I’ve found one small way we’re going in the wrong direction that will have a huge impact on life. And, yes, it does involve flying.
You see, Flight Schools around the country are closing up shop, one right after another. The whole community of high-quality aviation teaching institutions is going out of business. I mean they’re shutting their doors and everybody is leaving. There are still ways for people to “get a pilot’s license.” But there are not that many places where there is a full degreed education program that teaches you all about aviation.
As I sit back and look at places I have learned to fly or train, they have all gone, or are going, out of business. Recently, the University of Illinois announced it will terminate its ‘Institute of Aviation’ program. When the sun finally sets on the Institute of Aviation, the last of the schools that taught me about aviation will be gone. That doesn’t just make me sad. It outrages me!
You might think I’m getting worked up over nothing that matters. In the grand scheme of things this powerful and high-ranking decision doesn't affect a lot of individuals, right? Oh, wait a second, I forgot, it does....my bad. Did we forget to count the number of passengers that a pilot will fly in his or her career? How about the dollar value of cargo transported by an airplane and its pilot during his or her career? And who will manage the airports and their various operations? Will these people be educated in their field, or just gravitate into the job when they’ve worked as a gate agent for thirty years. I’m not just talking about the life of the pilot here; and not just the airport employee, either.
A pilot's economic foot print is a pretty significant shoe size. It is one of the most undervalued potentials that I can think of. So why are flight schoolsclosing instead of opening? Because the economic value of a pilot is so important, the government won’t let organized pilot and flight attendant labor groups go on strike. The labor groups need special government approval before they can strike, due to the value they provide to the micro- and macro-economies. There is a massive disconnect here. Pilots are pretty creative individuals, why are we closing the very pilot incubators (flight schools) that help individuals maximize their economic input, and value to society?
The YouTube video below was made by one of the last classes of the Institute of Aviation. Here is what the video description says:
BEHOLD: The future pilots of America.
And the University of Illinois wants to get rid of the coolest major on campus....... blasphemy I tell you! SAVE THE INSTITUTE OF AVIATION!
It couldn't have been said any better.
What would make you proud to ride on a particular airline? Would that be, perhaps, the coffee they serve onboard? I doubt it.
So, an airline "proudly" serves Starbucks on board all their domestic AND international flights. Does that make them your favorite airlines? Let’s be honest with ourselves, you don’t book your flight because of the onboard coffee being served. The airlines are doing it wrong! They have forgotten how to serve their customers.
Look at Starbucks. Starbucks is more than just coffee. In fact people probably don't even really go Starbucks because of their awesome coffee. They go for other reasons, like me. I absolutely love Starbucks. I am proud to say that I go almost every day and it’s not for coffee (well sort of). If I were to place a theme on the experience on Starbucks it would be "Always Making It Right, with Genuine Effect." When was the last time you felt that your favorite airline "made it right" and meant it? We'll get back to this......
I may be crazy, but I see the baristas working much like an Airline Crew. If you've ever been part of an airline crew, it’s a lot of fun with the right people. Having been part of a great airline crew, I see myself, conversely, working with my favorite Baristas at the Starbucks in Forest Park! 7231 Madison Street Forest Park, IL 60130. Their interaction triggers some amazing memories from when I was working for a pilot at an Airline. The personal interaction between baristas is exactly the way pilots and flight attendants work together. The Starbucks crew is making your drink exactly the way you want it. The same can be said about a good flight crew -- making your flight exactly the way you want it. At the end of the day, my absolute favorite Starbucks crew makes me want to let them know that they are my favorite. I bet you have told a pilot or flight attendant "Nice flight" or "Great landing!" It’s the same thing!
The Starbucks product is ultimately a lifestyle, not coffee. It has its own circadian rhythm. The first people to show up for coffee are the early bird exercisers getting a “cup o' Joe” on the way back from their morning run. Next, between 7:30 and 8:45 am, you'll see people going to work stop in and grab coffee for their commute to work. It is relatively calm around 9 am, but then at 10 am all the "Starbucks Coffee House Meetings Start." People do business here, they meet here, they have fun here. Starbucks is a lifestyle choice. Can the same be said about the airlines? Not really.
The airline experience used to be a huge lifestyle choice. Today, flying on an airliner is a commodity, and a bummer. If an airline could, once again, make their service, and your flight experience, a lifestyle choice, they wouldn’t need to advertise how they serve Starbucks coffee on their flights. You would prefer to book your flight on their planes to avoid the humdrum cattle-herding process expected of today’s travelers on other airlines. Heck, they could make flying on the airlines fun again. So, even though an airline "Proudly serves Starbucks" it doesn't make them a better airline. Today’s airlines seem to miss the point about every aspect of the “Starbucks product”. How do we make our airline and flight experiences better? Ever notice how busy Starbucks stores are at airports? Coffee drinkers make huge lines at these Starbucks for a refreshing burst of “comfort”. But the airport and airline experience are hectic outside your favorite Starbucks located next to Gate B7. Everybody has helped created this problem. How can we find a solution? Can you find the answer?
What would make you proud to ride on an airline?
The In’s and Out’s of Flying
In’s and Out’s? Shouldn’t that read, “Up’s and Down’s”? After all, flying is all about up and down, and there’s a lot of press that remind us of the Down’s in our industry. So Marc, what’s UP?
When I drive in the area of my home airport (PWK), I notice occupied cars parked by the fence or in the observation area. Sometimes the car is running, sometimes not. In all cases the driver is an active observer of any and all activity on the other side of the fence. The observation area has a picnic table, so it’s not unusual to see a single person or a family enjoying a sandwich while taking in the sights and sounds of the airport. It is clear these observers share our passion. Without speaking a word, we know what they are thinking and feeling. You can see the dream of flight in their eyes. It is clear as a CAVU day.
What isn’t as clear is the stark distinction between those that watch from outside the fence, compared to those lucky enough to gain “insider” access to this special place. To state it another way, the emotional separation between the “insiders” and “outsiders” is almost non-existent, but the physical separation is a deep and wide chasm.
This “Aha” moment hit me the other day when I drove by the observation area, and noticed a mini-van parked there. I made the turn and parked my car. I saw a man with three young children enjoying their fast food lunch. I had just picked up lunch and was pleased they invited me to join them at the table. The children couldn’t wait to tell me about the airplanes they had seen. Whether on the ground or in the air, they made sure I saw each one of them. The father didn’t know much about general aviation, but you could tell he was there for the kids…. and for himself. It was obvious we all shared the love and interest in aviation.
I finally told them I was part of the “inside the fence people” (not actually said, but you get the point), and asked if they were interested to join me for a quick tour of a community hangar and even sit inside an airplane. The answer was no surprise. We drove to the security fence, and as I pulled up to enter the access code, a sense of the anticipation and excitement in the van behind me welled up inside me.
The gate was opening and they were going to see what they thought was unavailable to them. As we walked into the large hangar, the gasp from the four of them was an indication of how unprepared they were of the realities inside the fence.
Moving out to the ramp and into the cabin of a four seat Piper, resulted in more oohs and ahhs than heard at the Fourth of July fireworks show. After a short conversation and an invitation to join us at our next club function, they thanked me and drove back through the fence and on with their day.
I could tell I had a big smile on my face. Just as flying makes my day, I had just used flying to make someone else’s day.
General Aviation needs to see growth in the “active” pilot community. I know it can be done and know the solution will come from within the community. What must be remembered is the community extends beyond the fence. There are insiders and outsiders. It’s up to the insiders to seek out those on the other side of the fence. And with a simple turn of a key, or a push of a couple buttons on an access panel, we can bring dreams to life and eliminate the fences that only serve to keep us from our potential.
Marc Epner is an instrument rated private pilot who earned his rating in 1976. After a 25-year hiatus, Marc rekindled his love of aviation in 2004 and has become a part owner of a SR-22. Marc looks for opportunities to be an advocate for general aviation through presentations, writing and flying. He is also president of Leading Edge Flying Club at Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK).
Over several days in north central Nebraska I had the opportunity to hear stories from fire fighters and local volunteers who battled 3 large fires through the scenic Niobrara River valley. During the hottest and driest summer for the US in many years, fire continues to be a major threat to many of us suffering from a drought.
The three major fires battled in North Central Nebraska were the Hall, Wentworth, and the largest being the Fairfield fire. All three fires burned approx. 70,000 acres of land, which put homes, livestock, property, and local’s way of life in danger. No one was seriously injured during the week long fires, and although several homes were lost many others were saved. Over 90 volunteer fire departments from Nebraska and South Central South Dakota assisted.
Eventually Federal firefighting crews were called to assist local volunteer fire departments. The most talked about subject of the fire was the “hot shots” or extreme fire professionals if you will. These guys would load up the gear and take off down into the bottom of the canyon where the fire was for hours. Engaging in highly trained fire suppression tactics they try and contain the fire or assist in moving it where it can be contained. These hot shots are incredible fit since they could be battling the fires for hours without much support. Some individuals said they would do pushups and sit ups once they crawled out of the river valley. Another told a story of a mountain lion which was distraught because of the fire and was considering taking his revenge on a hotshot. The hotshot simply used his torch to create a ring of fire around himself and the large cat ran off. I will let you decide if you want to believe these tall tales, I do.
Along with the feds came the aircraft. Helicopters spotted and dumped water on hot spots they got from local ponds or the Niobrara River. Spotter aircraft circled high above to direct efforts most effectively. Even large twin engine beasts dumped fire retardant near homes being threatened by the blaze. These made the journey from Rapid City, South Dakota a 40 minute one way trip. The Nebraska National Guard also assisted with Blackhawk Helicopters transporting water to carefully planned locations. I did not have the opportunity to see this airshow in action but I can imagine it was an amazing sight. Imagine for a minute an area that is fairly accustomed to aircraft flying aloft at several thousand feet but now helicopters are gathering water out of your small farm pond and a large fixed wing Aircraft just dumped an orange fire retardant to protect your house from the fire. What a sense of relief that must have been. Also consider the skill and expertise it would take to pilot these aircraft. Although they are pure professionals and to them it is just another day consider the turbulence above an extremely hot wildfire. Very intense I am sure, and then to precisely drop water where it is needed, awesome. Like my friend and coworker Al Waterloo says great people doing great things in aviation. This statement is very true here. (Forgive me for not naming aircraft by the time I had arrived most officials/aircraft had went home, I only got close to the Nebraska National Guard Blackhawks).
Now with keeping with the aviation story. I was asked to assist in charity flights for local volunteer firefighters to see an aerial shot of what they had experienced the previous week. A very small task compared to the firefighting pilots and firefighters who had been working all week. However, I had several days available so I hurried home excited to share my passion with those in my community affected by the devastation. By this time the fires were mostly contained and only a small amount of smoke remained. The flights were created for volunteer firemen and a free will donation from community members who wanted to view, with the proceeds going back to the local volunteer fire departments. The Piper Cherokee 180 and fuel was donated by Mr. Jim Jackman, (aircraft based at KANW) and scheduling which went flawlessly by Mrs. Andrea Walz, and Ms. Ashley Emerson. Over a period of 2 and a half days operating out of KRBE and KANW we flew 20 hours with over 100 passengers, and raised close to $2000 for local volunteer fire departments. For some the flight was a first and others a first in a long time flying in a “4 seater”. The stories these folks told and pointed where the fire started, the names of creeks and canyons below they sat for days keeping the fire contained, and where the infamous Long Pine fire truck was lost was just as exciting to me as flying was for them. The town of Norden was also a flyover point since part of the tiny town was lost due to fire but the large dance hall had been saved. One gentleman explained how a 500 gallon propane tank had black burn marks on the side but had not ignited in Norden. During those two extremely busy days we saw a lot of smiles from community flyers who had not spent much time doing so the previous week. This is to me is what aviation is all about being able to share flight with others especially during a tragedy such as this. In the grand scheme of things it would have been great to spend more time sharing this adventure, and the money that was raised will not cover a fraction of the fuel costs accumulated by fire trucks. However we do see a common good in a community when devastation strikes. Especially in this case many people pulled together to support our firemen using a tank full of water in the back of a personal truck, delivering food to the front lines, or moving cattle and other livestock from danger. This is just one short story. I know there is a bunch more.
If any readers have any more stories I would love to hear them. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org