Thursday, July 30, 2009
In part one of this interview, Kristine, a 22-year-old senior at ERAU told us what path she took to get to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Now let's take a look at what lies ahead after the diploma.
World of Flying: What kind of major/minor and classes are you taking?
Kristine: I want to have a broad range of career options when I graduate, so I’m pursuing a degree in Aviation Business Administration, with minors in Aviation Safety and Flight. The aviation business major is basically the same as a normal business major, but it has a strong emphasis on aviation. Professors really try to relate basic business principles to jobs in airline or airport management, or other aviation-related jobs. I've learned a lot in my business classes. I've interviewed airport managers and met with one of the top managers at Boeing.
The aviation safety classes have truly been the most interesting classes I've ever taken. My professor is often quoted in news articles after aircraft accidents, such as the recent Air France crash, and he has experience investigating them. The Prescott campus also has a "crash lab," which uses actual aircraft accident wreckage that is placed in a natural setting, and recreated to look the way that it did when NTSB investigators arrived at the scene.
World of Flying: Tell us about your flight training course work.
Kristine: The flight minor is essentially the same ground school and flight courses that everyone who flies takes, regardless of their major. The way the curriculum is structured at ERAU allows students to choose whether they want to pursue a single engine training "track" or multi track. By choosing the single engine track, students complete their private pilot and instrument training in the 172. They then complete the commercial course in the 182RG, and finally the multi engine commercial add-on rating in the Seminole. The multi track exists so that students can leave here with more hours in the multi engine airplane. They do their private training in the 172, but then complete a multi engine add-on to their private certificate. They then do their instrument and commercial training in the Seminole, and finally a single engine commercial add-on in the 182. This ends up costing much more because the Seminole rents for about $100 an hour more than the 172, so the instrument training is very expensive.
World of Flying: What career are you hoping to have upon graduation?
Kristine: My ultimate goal always has been, and still is, to fly for the airlines. But right now I'm keeping my options very open because there is no way of telling what will be available when I graduate in 6 months. I'm hoping to have my CFI rating and get a job as a flight instructor, but I know times are tough and most flight schools aren't hiring. If flying is not an option then I would like to explore other career fields. I'm interested in general aviation airport management, aviation safety and accident investigation, and general aviation advocacy. So, I might choose to explore other career fields immediately upon graduation, but I will continue flying and building hours no matter what I choose. I am confident that no matter what, I will eventually be able to say that I am an airline pilot.
World of Flying: What is life like on the ERAU campus? Is it a crazy party school, or is everyone more serious because it is an aviation university?
Kristine: I would say this campus is a mix of people that want to party all the time because they just moved away from home, and people that really couldn't care less about partying. The general stereotype on campus is that the pilots never want to do anything but party, and the engineers have no social life or time for anything but homework. I have to agree that this does apply to some people, but for the most part people are more serious. There really aren't very many parties, and it's usually just smaller groups of friends that get together. For me, Prescott is more of a place for outdoor activities. If you want to move to Arizona and party, you'd be much better off at ASU!
World of Flying: What are the ages of the other students? And, what kinds of things do you and your fellow students like to do in your off time?
Kristine: Most students are in the typical 18-23 year old range. There are some older students that have returned to school after serving in the military or pursuing another career. In my opinion, these are the people that are most passionate about aviation because they've decided to come back. But everyone here, at least in my degree program, is very intelligent and many of them have had internships and jobs in aviation already. Prescott is more of an outdoor activities type of place. There are lots of great trails for mountain biking and hiking, and a few small lakes for fishing or kayaking. Las Vegas and Phoenix are fairly close to Prescott, and it's pretty easy to go there on the weekends. Skiing and snowboarding at Flagstaff is also fairly close – about an hour and a half northeast of here, and the Grand Canyon is about two hours north.
World of Flying: Tell me one thing about ERAU that the public does not know.
Kristine: You do not have to be an Aeronautical Science major (the degree for those who want to be professional pilots) to fly at ERAU! The school does not like to tell people this for some reason, and most people are not aware that there is flight minor. Students can choose a degree in a completely different field, like business or global security, and still receive the same pilot training! All one has to do is register for the ground school and have the proper prerequisites – you don't even need to declare the minor if you don't want to.
World of Flying: Describe one thing that ERAU does better than any other school you could have attended.
Kristine: It allows students the opportunity to make the most of themselves and pursue their dreams. The school has so many resources available, and most of the professors are here to help students in any way that they can. Students help each other out, and can discuss a similar passion. That's what really sets ERAU apart, is that every single student here has some sort of passion for aviation. It makes for a very unique atmosphere, and one where I think everyone feels connected.
Monday, July 27, 2009
If my life had been recorded on Tivo and I could hit the rewind button back to the mid-70's, I can assure you I would pursue a career track that led straight to the left seat of the 767 I am riding in as I write this from FL370 over one of the square states on my way to EAA Airventure. Instead of the convoluted and unconventional routing I took to get to the left seat of my own aviation ad agency, I would have enrolled in my Dream School, Embry-Riddle in Prescott, AZ.
I have always known ERAU to be THE place to get an aviation-related education, but I did not know precisely why. So recently, I found Kristine, a 22-year-old senior at ERAU on Twitter, and she was gracious enough to provide very thorough answers to my questions about her school. Her material is presented here in two parts. In part one below, we find out what path Kristine took to get to ERAU, and look at what this sort of education costs. In part two, we'll discover just what she aims to do with her career once she graduates.
World of Flying: Give my readers a background on you, pilot license held, ratings, hours and types of planes flown.
Kristine: I hold a commercial ASEL pilot certificate with an instrument rating, and I'm currently working on the AMEL add-on to the commercial certificate. I have just about 200 hours of total time, and most of that time has been spent flying Cessnas. I obtained my private certificate on 12/31/07 in Sacramento before transferring to ERAU, and did all of my training in a Cessna 152. At ERAU, I did my instrument training in a G-1000 Cessna 172 and my commercial training in a Cessna 182 RG. Right now, I'm flying the Piper Seminole twin for the multi add-on.
World of Flying: Describe how you fell in love with aviation.
Kristine: I grew up flying with my dad, who holds a commercial ASEL pilot certificate and airplanes have always been a part of my life. My family went to lots of fly-ins and I just have a lot of memories being around airplanes growing up. When it came time to decide what type of career I wanted to pursue, it was natural for me to lean towards aviation. It has always fascinated me and it's something that I'm really passionate about. I can't imagine not being around airplanes. It's also somewhat unusual for girls to be interested in airplanes, and I enjoy being different. In elementary school, I always thought I was the coolest kid around because my daddy had an airplane. If I was having a bad day or people were picking on me or something, I'd just think to myself, "whatever, my dad has an airplane and yours doesn't!" I always told my friends and teachers that I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up, but I don't think they ever took me seriously. If only they knew what I'm doing now!
World of Flying: Why did you choose ERAU?
Kristine: I chose ERAU for several reasons. The biggest reason is the reputation in the aviation industry. It really is a top-notch school that prepares students for whatever career they want to pursue. From the start, the flight training puts an emphasis on crew resource management and prepares students to operate in an airline cockpit. In my experience, the flight instructors have all been very professional and passionate about flying. The school is very structured and uses standard operating procedures, online flight scheduling, and really stresses proper checklist usage and visual "flow" patterns for completing them.
Another reason for choosing ERAU is the connections that professors have to the industry. I've had professors that are retired United captains, accident investigators, airport managers, and one who maintains the FAA's bird strike database. For the most part they have very close ties and connections within the industry, and they are really there to help students get a job when they graduate or an internship during the summer. The school hosts a pretty large job fair every fall, which gives us the opportunity to network with potential employers and other members of the industry. I also liked the fact that everyone at the school has a similar passion. There aren't very many schools where you can walk across campus and hear people talking about where they flew the day before! And, I’m no longer the only person that looks up when a plane flies overhead.
World of Flying: What will your education cost at ERAU, and how is that being financed?
Kristine: While ERAU is certainly not the cheapest option for a college education, in my experience they have been very helpful and generous with financial aid. I will say that tuition is about $13,000 per semester. Since transferring here, I have received about $7,000 to $8,000 per semester in scholarships and grants through the school, which do not have to be repaid. I also take out about $4,300 in subsidized loans per semester that accrue no interest while I'm still in school, and have to start being repaid within 6 months of graduation. I have also received a total of $11,500 in external scholarships (through The Brier Foundation, the Aviation Distributors and Manufacturers Association, the Arizona Business Aviation Association, and Boeing).
Of course, flight training also takes out a huge chunk of money, on top of tuition. The 172 rents for about $160 an hour wet, the 182RG is about $180 an hour, and the Seminole is about $250 an hour. Then of course you have to pay for the time with the instructor. There are ways to save money with these expenses too, though. In the summer, the school has been offering a 10% discount on flight training, and if students tell their instructors that they want to be scheduled as often as possible, that will help too. If you study hard, the flight courses can be completed in the minimum hours required. I am very, very fortunate and thankful that my parents have helped me finance my education and flight training at this school, because I would not be here without them. They have made sacrifices for me, and I hope someday I can repay them. However, a lot of people attend here with no help from family members, and loans are available. The financial aid office is usually very helpful and really wants to help students finance their education.
Stay tuned for part 2...
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I will not try to cover up the truth or weasel out of this: As Airventure gets closer, I am starting to get more and more excited as each new minute ticks off my Timex. On years when I am not going to EAA's Annual Bratfest and Airplane Orgy, I read about the news from there, sort of blowing through it from a distance. It is always gut-wrenching torture.
But this year is different. This will be my fourth Airventure, and it is shaping up to be one of the best yet. I again tried this past Tuesday to describe Airventure to a room full of non-flyers at my weekly Toastmasters meeting. As I spoke about rows of perfect flying machines to a sea of blank stares, I guess I lost them at "...and there's even going to be a P-38!!!!!!"
So as my departure time crawls ever closer, here is a few things I wish to see while at "Oshkosh" next Monday and Tuesday:
Jets, Jets and more Jets: I'd LOVE to get a few minutes of "alone time" with the HondaJet, hopefully in a candlelit room with some Luther Vandross playing softly. This sexy jet seems to be dipped in pheromones and sends pilots like me into an almost erotic orbit - it makes us fantasize about doing the kinds of things to this particular make/model that only goes on behind closed hangar doors. Oh. Baby. Sure, I am also dying to see the PiperJet and Cirrus' SF-50 Vision jet up close. But there is just something about the HondaJet that brings out the aviator animal in me.
Addison Pemberton's Boeing 40C: If you read my blog, you've probably read about the Canyonville Mail Plane crash. That wreck came back to life in Spokane, WA by one of this planet's most talented team of biplane artists, those skilled craftsmen (and women) who restore our most prized flying possessions. I cannot wait to see this gorgeous and HUGE biplane up close and personal.The Smile in the Sky: I've never met an airplane I didn't like...each and every one of them is magical. Airplanes have personalities, and they have life. Of all the makes and models in our sky, no single make/model exemplifies this better than the Douglas DC-3, and of those left flying, no single -3 does it better that Duggy. If you want to feel an airplane's soul breathe, take a few steps forward from the door to Duggy's flight deck. If you can't feel the buzz, if you can't feel this beautiful bird's heart beating around you, then maybe you really aren't an aviator after all. And, how can anyone have a bad day after looking at that big smile?Airbus A380: The world's largest passenger airliner is coming to Oshkosh, and who among us is not blown away by that news? I have not seen actual numbers for the "minimum runway length" required to land this behemoth at KOSH, but on this forum, discussion on then topic by some airline guys were saying it requires a minimum of between 1,900 meters (6,233') and 3,500 meters (11,482'). With runway 18/36 shown as 8,002' on Airnav, it is going to be a landing to watch no matter what the POH says.Virgin Galactic VMS Mothership "Eve": a.k.a "WhiteKnightTwo," VMS Eve is the next generation of civilian space carrier vehicles and is sure to draw a mega crowd all week. Anything Richard Branson and Burt Rutan touch turns to solid gold these days, and Virgin Galactic represents the tip of the commercial space travel spear. This is a must see for me.
There you have it, a personal wish list. Is it next week yet?
Thursday, July 16, 2009
If you're like me, we live every day as part of the GA community, an exciting place to thrive in any of the 50 states that makes up this country of ours. We are familiar with the rules, regs and costs, we know the drill for chasing $100 cheeseburgers forwards and back.
But we also know that there are GA aircraft and pilots in other countries, and when we stop to ponder that, we find that most of us knows little to nothing about flying in other countries. So recently I went about manifesting a connection with a foreign pilot who would be willing to go on the record about flying in the United Kingdom and the European Union.
I found Liz Hamilton, an energetic, active private pilot with 76 hours in mostly Piper Warriors in the UK. Liz earned her PPL in May of last year, and is currently working on her Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) rating. I posed a few questions to her, and she has explained the many differences in flying on different side of the pond.
World of Flying: You told me in an email it costs "about £140 an hour to rent a PA28" in England, which converts to $229 USD! The plane and instructor costs the equivalent of $261 USD. How can anyone afford to earn a pilot's license at those kinds of prices?
Liz Hamilton: "I’m not going to pretend it’s not more expensive over here than in other countries. This can really depend on the area that you fly in though. I live right on the outskirts of London and fly with the British Airways Flying Club, which in my opinion is one of the best schools in the UK, but it certainly shows in the price. It varies quite a bit when you start looking at places further north which can be reduced to £80 an hour ($130).
To obtain a PPL that allows you to fly in both the UK and Europe it takes 45 hours of training. This includes minimum 25 hours of training with an instructor and at least 10 hours of solo flight. You must do at least 5 hours of cross country flying (solo) and a qualifying cross country of over 150nm involving two landings at away aerodromes. I think it cost me in the region of around £8,000. ($13,109 USD)...so yes...expensive, but worth it."
World of Flying: Talk to me about user fees.
Liz Hamilton: "I think you’ve got to bear in mind that a majority of the cost in flying is based on the fact fuel prices are currently so high around Europe so it’s really only the flying part that is the most expensive. Only the big airfields cost a lot to land at (Bournemouth International costs around £40 ($65), most are only about £5-£15 ($8-$25), and some just ask for a donation! You get free landing cards from Pilot magazines a lot too. As far as my experience goes I haven’t been charged for crossing any air traffic zones (military and commercial) which is lucky because I do it a lot. And although you do of course get charged for some instrument approaches (talk downs etc.) it’s priced pretty fairly."
World of Flying: Do you see less people flying in the UK because of user fees and/or high rental and aircraft ownership costs?
Liz Hamilton: "I don’t think it’s user fees that are the problem in the UK it really is the fuel costs. Fuel is £1.55 to £1.77 per litre ($5.10/gal to $6.69/gal USD) in this area which is just insane. I think what’s most sad is the fact that aspiring pilots (like myself) get little to no help financially unless they are willing to sell their soul to the devil or re-mortgage their parents house. There’s the interest and a lot of people still learn to fly, it’s still very popular in the UK and can be fairly cheap, but what’s wrong is that in a lot of cases it’s only the people with money who become pilots and not the people with talent."
World of Flying: Tell me how you get your pre-flight weather
Liz Hamilton: "As a British person I of course love talking about the weather! I always use www.metoffice.co.uk which is great for aviation and what’s best is its free! There are of course some parts of it which need to be paid for but my flying club always provides the extra weather reports needed for flight plans so I’ve not had to spend a penny on it yet."
World of Flying: Describe what kind of weather is found around the UK.
Liz Hamilton: "The weather is probably one of the most exciting parts of flying in the UK because one minute it can look great and the next minute will be some of the scariest flying you’ve ever experienced. I had the pleasure (?!) of flying in nearly 30knot winds gusting up to 40knots when I was just training. Of course it’s not really that bad a majority of the time. You’d be surprised at how amazing the weather is in winter. My favorite time of year to fly is actually in the winter on a clear morning when its frosty on the ground and airplane literally shoots into the sky. It does rain a lot here though."
World of Flying: How often do UK pilots travel around the rest of Europe?
Liz Hamilton: "As you can imagine it’s quite costly to fly those sorts of distances unless you’re doing it with other pilots too to share the cost. My club does organize a lot of trips to France and through to Germany though and since most Pilots in the UK hold the European license (like I do) there’s nothing stopping you. I know they recently visited the factory where they build the A380’s in Germany. I’ll be saving my money for the time-being, though I am actually planning to fly to the Isle of Wight very soon."
World of Flying: What is the primary means of navigation for most UK pilots, GPS or VORs?
Liz Hamilton: "GPS?! Surely that’s cheating. If they ever let me loose in a glass cockpit I’m sure I’ll be a complete convert but I was trained to use VOR’s and ADF’s and for the time being I’ll stay loyal to them. Besides, where’s the fun if you don’t get lost once in a while?
In all seriousness though I believe that navigational training in the UK is some of the best training you can get. Along with contending with the weather you have to contend with some of the busiest airspace in the world! I only live 30 miles away from Heathrow so you can imagine it gets quite exciting at times. I also have other busy International airports like Luton, Gatwick, Stanstead, Southampton, Bournemouth and London City airport all within a 100 mile radius. If you can fly here you can fly anywhere in the world."
World of Flying: What do you primarily use your flying privileges for, pleasure or business?
Liz Hamilton: "I wanted to be a pilot practically from birth I think. My Dad was a Pilot and flew initially for Air Canada before flying as a training Captain for British Airways until he retired. I started flying when I was 21 (after university) because I had lost the dream somewhere along the way thinking I could never afford it, so I didn’t start until I had a job and could fund it myself. When I started I was thinking it was just for pleasure, but it only re-affirmed what I’d always wanted and turned out I was pretty good at it too. I finished the whole PPL course, including qualifying cross country, in just 33 hours and won best private pilot’s license of 2008 from my club, breaking a 60 year tradition of guys winning it. I now consider it to be a hobby that is also helping to secure my future, hopefully as a pilot. At 150 hours I can start training for my Commercial Pilot’s license so I will be doing that as soon as I have the hours.
World of Flying: Tell me and my readers something we do not know about flying in the UK
Liz Hamilton: "Easily the best part of flying in the UK is the aircraft you will be sharing your airspace with and the history that surrounds you. The one moment I will never forget is when I was doing a 40ft low flyover at the airfield in my training and out of nowhere a Spitfire dropped out of the sky and flew alongside me then spun off into the clouds. Needless to say I almost crashed into the ground at the shock of the whole thing, but once again I prevailed! This aircraft is one of only 44 airworthy Spitfires left in the world. The history is incredible and so easy to access. That particular Spitfire is actually based at the same aerodrome as me so I get to see it quite a lot and yet it never fails to give me goosebumps. I also have the opportunity to fly a Tiger Moth as one is based really nearby at Blackbushe which I think I’ll have to do in the New Year. As a country we are certainly proud of our history in the skies."
World of Flying: What is your version of the FAA like?
Liz Hamilton: "That would be the CAA or Civil Aviation Authority. They divide our airspace up into different categories so depending on what ratings you have depends on which ones you can fly in (Class A-G). I think this is a good idea because it keeps the big jets away and at the same time allowing pleasure pilots to have areas in which you can fly freely. With such a small country and such a large population of pilots the CAA does an excellent job in keeping us safe. You can make your own decisions on how good or bad you think they are from my previous comments but I will say this, as far as I’m concerned I have never had any problems with the CAA apart from how much they charge for Class I medicals. It cost me about £300 ($461 USD) when I did my commercial med. That is ridiculous for a couple of urine samples and an eye test! But a private medical is less, about £160 ($261 USD)."
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Had I not read this news on both CNN and the Washington Post's web sites today, I would think it were some sort of Internet myth gone crazy. But here are two respected members of the "traditional media" reporting something so shocking, it seems impossible to believe. Here's CNN's version published on their SciTechBlog:
"After a decade of costly construction, the International Space Station is nearing completion. But NASA won’t have long to enjoy the achievement. According to an article from the Washington Post, NASA space station program manager Michael T. Suffredini raised eyebrows when, at a public hearing last month, he declared flatly that NASA plans to de-orbit the station in 2016. That means the $100 billion research facility, which has been circling Earth since 1998, will ultimately burst into flames as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere and crashes into the Pacific Ocean."
So NASA, the planet's most successful space agency, plans to sh*tcan the ISS in about six years? According to the CNN blog, they quote WaPo as saying this:
"The rap on the space station has always been that it was built primarily to give the space shuttle somewhere to go. Now, with the shuttle being retired at the end of 2010, the station is on the spot. U.S. astronauts will be able to reach the station only by getting rides on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft."
Yes, NASA is killing the Shuttle program, this is not news. But spending north of $100 billion on what now seems like a doomed space penthouse is a supreme waste of taxpayer dollars. The ISS is NASA's crown jewel, their very reason for being. Without the ISS, what does NASA have left on their plate, Mars? Right, let's blow more billions to explore that wasteland. Oh WOW, water on Mars! Ice on Mars! Big whoop...can anyone explain why any of that is worth the money they are spending on that rock?
And how about the Moon? Wasn't the ISS supposed to be the launching pad for future Moon missions, a "Mother Ship" for those Next Gen space travelers who would be flying yet-to-be-designed craft to the Moon to put up real estate signs?
I want very much for this story to be a hoax. But in numerous places across the web, the WaPo article again quotes NASA's space station program manager, Michael T. Suffredini as saying in reference to the ISS:
"In the first quarter of 2016, we'll prep and de-orbit the spacecraft."
I cannot find it in my aviator's heart to mince words here:
After paying so much for the ISS, after spending so much on shuttle flights to supply it, staff it and build it, I cannot as a NASA fan support any decision to scrap the space station. I fully expected this wonderful project to be around for generations in some form, and now, just eleven years after on-orbit construction began, NASA says publicly they plan to kill it off. Should they proceed with this ill-conceived idea, I will join what I presume to be many of their supporters in losing any and all respect I had for the management at NASA who made this decision.
With the oncoming debut of commercial space travel, people with names like Branson and Rutan will be the ones pushing the envelope of space travel, not so much to find "galaxies far, far away", but to make a buck. As this next wave of space travel emerges and matures, without the ISS to anchor NASA, what will the agency become?
If NASA goes ahead and kills off the ISS, against the competition for space headlines from the commercial guys and without a real, strategic reason to conquer our Moon, NASA could relegate itself to nothing more than a listing on Wikipedia. As the proud agency who invented space travel, it will be sad to see them let the leadership role in that endeavor slip through their hands. How can we the taxpayer be assured that the "Next Big Thing" from NASA won't also end up in a flaming ball of very expensive but worthless space junk?
Of course, I am but one voice. As this story is just breaking today, I am pretty sure my one lonely song of opposition will soon join hordes of others as we create a pounding, ear-shattering scream to protest sending the ISS to a watery grave in the Pacific well before its time.
Win a very cool Tweetup badge on a real lanyard (example is here, but mine won't be orange) when you register for my #OSH09 Tweetup on Monday, July 27th at 730P. Details of the event are here.
The contest works this way:(1) Go here and register. Limited to the first 10 people who register and promise to actually show up at the event.(3) Not valid on any planet where Tweetups are illegal, immoral or prohibited by law.(4) I am only committing to 10 badges, and already have 7 attendees...so the next three registrants win a badge! If this somehow goes haywire and you do not get the badge you thought you have won, please do not sue me.
Monday, July 13, 2009
We lucky aviators who get to trek to KOSH for EAA's annual Airplane Orgy and Swap Meet in late July already know of the many wonders awaiting us in the Land of Cheese. We know of the acres of new, old and homebuilt aircraft, so many that your jaw hurts before noon on the first day from it being dropped so many times.
But for those going to Airventure for the very first time this summer, it is vital that we who have experienced the show help the "noobs" or "newbies" so they can hit the ground running on their first day of their time at Wittman Regional Airport, home to Airventure.
EAA describes their shindig this way (from airventure.org):
"There's really no place in the world like the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual convention, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. With so much to see and do, EAA AirVenture can be a little overwhelming, especially if you're not traveling with friends who do know the ropes. During the last week of July every year, the family of EAA members gathers and invites the world to participate. More than 500,000 people attend Airventure each year. EAA is a big aviation-minded family who make fast friends with other airplane folks. Neighborhoods that reappear every year in the campgrounds, reuniting with long-lost friends who can participate in more than 500 educational forums, seminars, and workshops. It's impossible to see everything in one day, or even a week."
In pondering this post, I began to reflect on my first venture to Airventure, and thought best to pass along a couple of observations:
One day is NOT enough: If you are planning to try and experience Airventure in one show day, don't try it. Sleep in your car if you have to (more on that below), but schedule at least two days. My first time went like this: I came through the main gate, and was drawn like moth to flame to all the big shiny objects displayed in Aeroshell Square. After being blown away with every new step, I wandered the four main exhibit halls before devouring my first brat cooked on the "world's largest grill".
After grub, I headed out towards the runway, to the airplane parking areas. I turned south and saw rows of airplanes as far as my eyes could see, not kidding about that. As I strolled, every row revealed another make/model that I had admired my entire life. In that row – or two, or six – would be every flying example of that make/model, all restored to show condition. You name the make/model, there will be numerous examples of it line up, ready for your gawking.
I spent the next three hours wandering farther south, and STILL could not see the end of the rows of airplanes. SO I caught a shuttle back to show center, found a piece of grass, and settled in to watch the afternoon air show. In that display, every name in the business brought their "A" game to Oshkosh, and after sitting there dumbfounded, I left the show on a high from the sound of many radial engines, the smell of exhaust smoke and overdosing on planespotting.
The next day, I returned to the show, and quickly hit a few vendors I wanted to shop. I again made my way to Aeroshell Square, but this time, wandered north from show center. I ended up in the warbird area, and in similar fashion to the other end of the field, here were endless rows of perfectly-restored aircraft. I am one that gets lathered up when in the general proximity of even one P-51 Mustang, and on this day, I lost track in trying to count them all. My fuzzy recollection is that I counted 51 different versions of the Mustang, do not quote that exact number, but it was several rows of planes, each many, many planes long.Where to stay: Friend, if you haven't got a place to sleep nailed down for this year's Airventure by now, you WILL be sleeping in your car over at the Wal•Mart parking lot. I found out the hard way that in order to stay in an actual hotel room within 20 miles of the show, you need to book the room a year in advance, and even that is iffy. People have been coming to this show for so long that they traditionally re-book their rooms for the next summer as they depart this year. I have stayed as far as 35 miles away in a fleabag trucker's motel, at a nice Baymont Inn that was 44 miles from the show, and last time there, I rented a girl's bedroom in a house 10 minutes from show center. Got way lucky on that one.
This year, I began my lodging search in JANUARY and still could not find a room near the show. No private residence had an opening, so I jumped on a $50/night dorm room at the University of Wisconsin that is not air-conditioned. I hear the heat is brutal (they actually tell you to bring your own fan) but the keggers and panty raid parties are killer.
So there you have it, some sage advice from a three-timer. I will assure you of this: If you go, you WILL be hooked for life. It will be like no other event you will ever experience, it will be 100 times more than you expected.
UPDATE @1036A on 07.14.09: A few readers have correctly pointed out that I omitted any mention of camping at Airventure. Yes, it seems camping on the grounds or at adjacent Camp Scholler is "always available" and you can check out availability here.
Friday, July 10, 2009
This is part two
of this interview.
Part one is here.)
In part one of this interview with Capt. Ken Wells, a veteran Captain for Southwest Airlines - known on Twitter as @SWA_Captain – we discussed pay issues, and Wells' road to the left seat. In this final second part of this installment of "Av8rdan Asks", we will get into some far different topics. Enjoy...
World of Flying: Walk me through the entire process of how you as a Captain obtain weather information and briefings, and how go/no-go decisions are made.
@SWA_Captain: Our process is very automated. Before every flight, we get a detailed weather packet, with 20-30 pages of observations, forecasts, enroute weather, turbulence plots, radar summaries, NOTAM information, etc. We are required to carry (per FAA) fuel to the destination, plus to the most distant alternate, plus 45 minutes of reserve, and we also carry 25-45 minutes of “contingency fuel”. A typical one hour flight never pushes off the gate with less than 10,000 lbs of fuel, and we typically burn about 5,000 lbs per hour at cruise altitude.
While there are some complicated exceptions, the general rule is if the weather forecast at the destination is for less than 2,000’ ceilings, or less than 3 miles visibility, for our ETA +/- one hour, then we are required to have an alternate. So when I get my flight release from the operations agent, our dispatchers have already calculated required fuel loads, alternate airports, etc. We review the flight release and the weather packet, and then have the freedom to amend it by talking to our dispatchers, but that is fairly uncommon. The great thing is that our dispatchers are VERY conservative, so we never worry about our fuel loads; we always have plenty of fuel, and then some.
World of Flying: Aside from the official company weather briefing, what do you do personally to get a better "big picture" of the weather?
@SWA_Captain: I do look at the weather channel in the mornings before I fly, but it’s more to see if I will be encountering any problem areas that might create delays. We have lots of color radar pictures available at the gate areas before each flight, and some guys now carry their iPods to look at some Doppler radar images at cities we are headed to (before flight) if there is weather at the destination. Once in flight, we only have our Doppler radar displays to navigate around stormy weather, but we are also in constant contact with our dispatchers while in flight, to make changes as weather develops. It is a very detailed and well-oiled machine. We can get routes for “best wind”, for “mountain wave” avoidance, and other things, so when I get the paperwork before the flight, the dispatcher has planned the route to avoid any problem areas of weather/turbulence, also in coordination with Air Traffic Control in and out of the major cities. There are RARELY any surprises.
World of Flying: What is the most frustrating part of your job?
@SWA_Captain: The most frustrating thing is that litigation in our society has forced us to have checklists and procedures for everything, and common sense is no longer a part of the equation. I don’t think I should have to have a step in the checklist before pushback from the gate that says “cockpit door closed”. Duh.....that should be obvious. But if an accident or incident occurs, the fix is to mandate a change to EVERYONE’S procedures, even if it was a single pilot’s error, or something out of the pilot’s control.
For instance, we will never be able to prevent birds from flying around airports, yet we are beginning drastic measures to prevent another Hudson River event, and it’s going to cost airlines and the public millions of dollars. I don’t think I should have to be wanded at the airport security checkpoint because the TSA agent is looking for stuff that I might use to gain access to the cockpit. Duh! In my uniform, I already have access to the cockpit. If my ID and biometric information (which is slowly coming to be) checks out, let me bypass security.
World of Flying: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
@SWA_Captain: I have been flying for 26 years, yet every time I climb into the cockpit seat, I love it. The freedom of flying, and seeing all corners of our great country never gets old.
World of Flying: Would you recommend your line of work to young people today?
@SWA_Captain: It is an incredible job. The best kept secret is that I work 12 days a month and make about $200,000 per year. I love it. But make no mistake. I trained extremely hard to get here, and the pay is for the incredible responsibility I have for the 137 passengers I am carrying on every flight. Like Doctors, we have our passengers lives in our hands; I take that VERY seriously. We make the job look easy, but when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, and we have a rare emergency, our intense and ongoing training allows us to operate coolly under intense pressure.
With that being said, in today’s economic environment, I think it is going to be difficult for pilots to progress in their careers to get where I am. Hiring is very slow, and upgrading is even slower. Like I have taught my daughters, (who are not pilots), pick a career path based on what you think you would love to be doing. Do NOT pick a career based on how much “money” you will make. You can make a lot of money and be miserable, and have a low paying job that you love to do, and you are on top of the world. So if a young person has been bit by the flying bug, by all means, I would recommend it. But the days of airline pilots working 8 days a month and making $300,000 a year are long gone, so I wouldn’t do it for the money.
World of Flying: If you were in charge of FAA tomorrow, what one thing would you immediately change?
@SWA_Captain: I would spend the money to upgrade our Air Traffic Control system nationwide, and push for free flight, where aircraft can file direct to all points, and have the automation that is available today keep things de-conflicted by altitude and route of flight. The days of Jet routes and roadmaps in the sky are outdated with the GPS navigation systems of today. Updated Air Traffic Control equipment would also allow more aircraft to be in a given amount of airspace and significantly cut down on the delays we experience today.
As but one example, it is silly for all aircraft eastbound out of Chicago O’Hare and Midway to be on 30-40 mile in trail departures and one hour delays because of a single group of thunderstorms that are 80 miles east of Chicago. Yet, I have seen this repeatedly. More modern automation would allow for instant re-routing around weather systems without the congestion that saturates the controllers and equipment in use today. Of course, this is all coming from my view sitting in the cockpit; my opinion of course. My hat goes off to the thousands of controllers who do a fantastic job everyday.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of Captain Kenneth Wells alone, and not necessarily those of Southwest Airlines or the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.
Monday, July 06, 2009
This is the second in a series I'm calling "Av8rdan Asks", in which I lob softballs underhand at some of the people in various aviation professions.
Ever since we pilots have been tots, at one time or another, we've all answered "Airline Pilot" when asked what we wanted to do when we grew up. As little kids, we would eye the flight deck of those gorgeous 707s with a gleam in our eyes, dreaming of wearing the uniform, complete with REAL wings, not the cheesy plastic ones the FA gave us when we flew in back with mommy and daddy.
Yes, you can always tell the future left seaters at the airport terminal...they are the ones with face blastered up against the window grinning as they watch ground crews push back gigantic airplanes down below. You'd think I must have been one of these kids, but you'd be wrong:
O.K., for full disclosure, not ALL young boys dreamed of being a pilot. Known as "Danny P. Dot" (my very first official screen name?) back in 1961, I used to say "garbageman" when asked at five-years-old about my career aspirations. Yeah baby, the thought of hoisting heavy plastic cans of someone's fetid trash onto my shoulder and then dumping it into a stinky, noisy truck was oh so cool. Or not. Maybe it was Cowboy. Or Astronaut. Or Fireman. Whatever.
Recently while looking at some dire hiring reports from some of today's struggling airlines, the realization unfolded that I really did not know what the job of "Airline Pilot" is really like. Do you know? Does anyone "in the back" really know?
So I put the word out, and Ken Wells, a veteran Captain for Southwest Airlines, accepted my request to be my second candidate in my becoming-quite-popular "Av8rdan Asks" interview series. I recently started the series with an interview of Sara Keagle, a Flight Attendant for a major airline, and the results - found here - were very well-received. She helped set up the interview with Wells, which is presented here.
The material from Capt. Wells - known as @SWA_Captain on Twitter – was so detailed, I found it hard to edit, so I am making this post into two parts. In this first segment, I will present the Captain's words on what the job pays, schedules, the "nuts and bolts" of his profession. In part two, we'll get into some more philosophical topics and throw around some of Wells' opinions on hiring, airline weather guessing procedures, answers about whether the job is worth pursuing for young people and what he'd do if he ran FAA for one day.
World of Flying: Describe your current position, flight hours, make/model you are currently flying and what you've flown in the past.
@SWA_Captain: I am a Captain at Southwest Airlines, flying the B-737/300/500/700. We fly all three versions, the classic (round dial fleet – 300/500) and the Next Generation glass cockpit auto-throttles – 700. SWA does not have any -800 or -900’s. I have over 14,000 hours of flight time. I have been at Southwest for 14 years, and was in the United States Air Force for 12 years before that, where I flew T-37’s, T/AT-38’s and F-15’s.
World of Flying: Tell me what your schedule is like, days on, days off, days on a row, how far you have to commute to get to the flight deck, etc.
@SWA_Captain: I have a driving commute of three hours to get to my Houston Hobby crew base. Since I only drive once a week, it’s not bad. As a fourteen year Captain in Houston (which is a pretty senior base) I bid around number 184 out of 325 Captains. Most of our monthly lines are 12-14 days, consisting of 3-days trips, usually. We have some turns (1-day), some 2-days, and some 4-days, but never more than a 4-day trip. I usually bid for straight 3-day lines, PM trips, and usually hold Wed/Thurs/Fri or Sun/Mon/Tue. Working three days a week is great, and it gives me enough time to have my own small business on the side: a landscape lighting company.
World of Flying: Tell me about the pay structure on your airline. How long does it take typically to move to the left seat, and then what can a Captain earn?
@SWA_Captain: Our pay structure is a little different compared to most airlines. We are paid by the “trip”, from the historic length of our first flights from DAL-HOU, which was 243 miles (DOT). So we are paid trip pay per leg, based on the mileage of that leg, with some additional factors built in for city pairings that might have additional delays on them because of ground delays (like in Philly or La Guardia). One trip equals 243 miles, or is about 50 minutes. In other words, today’s flights are: DEN-LAX/blocks 2:30 of flight time/pays 2.90 trips. LAX-SJC/blocks 1:05 of flight time/pays 1.20 trips. SJC-ONT/blocks 1:10 of flight time/pays 1.30 trips.
Our pay works out like this: New hires make $46.00/trip (about $54.00/hour) and Captain pay tops out at the 12 year point where you make $174/trip which is around $204/hour. When I was hired in August of 1995, the length of time to upgrade was about 6 years. Like everyone in the industry, we have been hit by the recession/fuel prices, and also by the recent legislation raising the Captain retirement age to 65, so we have seen our pilot hiring stagnate. We are forecasting no pilot hiring for 2009 and 2010, and current upgrade times are moving out to 10-12 years to upgrade. Of course, we are waiting for economic conditions to improve, at which time we might rapidly ramp up our hiring and aircraft acquisition, and you would see the hiring numbers go up and the upgrade times come down.
One great thing about SWA is that we have no airline hourly limits imposed upon us. Through picking up or dropping trips in our open-time system, trading with other pilots, etc, we can fly as little (zero trips) or as much as we want, right up to the FAA limit of 30 hrs/7days, 100 hrs/month, and 1000 hrs/year. If you just fly your average monthly line, you are flying around 80 hours per month, or 90 trips. In addition to our trip pay, we receive $2.15/hour per diem for each hour away from our domicile on a trip. We also have duty rigs that assure we are paid a minimum of 6.5 trips per day worked, or .74 trips per hour on duty, or a trip/hour ratio of 1 trip per every 3 hours away from domicile. All of these rigs are compared to the scheduled trip pay total, and you get the highest of them.
We don’t do a lot of hub and spoke flying, so you will average about 4-5 legs per day, and less than one plane change per day, which is nice. Your trips will take you all over, so even though I am based in Houston, I’ll see Texas flying (the Texas Two-step), I’ll see the west coast, the east coast, and all point in between. The variety is what makes it stay fun, even after 14 years.
World of Flying: What was your specific route to the left seat, how and where did you received training, and how many years did it take to make it to the left seat?
@SWA_Captain: My flying career started with a college degree (USAF ROTC), Air Force pilot training, 6 yrs as a T-37 Instructor Pilot, three years as an F-15 combat pilot, 3 years as an AT-38 Instructor Pilot, and then I came to SWA. I was an FO for six years, and have been a Captain for eight.
World of Flying: Since the Buffalo crash, I read about increased scrutiny at the regionals to bring their pilot training up to the same levels as the majors. Do you feel there is a difference between the training of regional pilots and majors pilots?
@SWA_Captain: The biggest difference between regional airlines and the majors is not training, it is simply flight experience. SWA requires all applicants to have an ATP and a B-737 type rating. We also require experience as the Captain/Pilot-in-command in turboprop and turbojet aircraft. The regional airlines don’t require as many flight hours or an ATP, so the experience level for new hires will be less. All the training itself is going to be quality, and it is overseen by the FAA. The bottom line is that regional pilots are going to be less experienced when they are first hired, but will build their experience as they fly. Regional Captains used to be upgraded as fast as in a year to a year and a half, but I don’t think that is the case now, as everyone’s hiring has slowed down with the recession.
Remember, things have changed from the way they used to be. Regional airlines used to pay $15,000-$30,000 per year and have quick upgrades because they had a lot of transition as pilots left for the major airlines as soon as they had enough hours. Now, when no one is doing a great deal of hiring, the movement is not nearly as much.
Part two of this interview with Captain Wells coming soon. Might as well bookmark this page now and send the link to all your flying friends so they can get this valuable info too.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of Captain Ken Wells alone, and not necessarily those of Southwest Airlines or the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
My loyal readers will know that when the wind gets to howling here in Western Oregon, you can often find me in the first open space I can find to fly one of my two Parafoil stunt kites. If you're not sure what these are, they are not pleasant little toys your grand-kids fly, no, these are serious lift-creating, wind catching machines attached by two high-test cords to the ends of your arms.
I have always been sort of a Charlie Brown kind of kite flyer, and may even hold the world's record for trashing just about any kite I get my hands on. If there's a tree, I will find it, if the kite has a stick in it, I will break it. But these Parafoil kites are different, they look exactly like the canopy-style parachutes you see most skydivers use these days, and are flown by abrupt but controlled yanking on the two control lines. Yank hard in a stiff wind and the kite spins a quick three-sixty, yank the other line and it spins back around - thankfully - so you don't have to become instantly insane trying to fly it with crossed lines.
My two kites both handle the same, but with one major difference. The 4-foot Spectrum Parastunter handles quick in a brisk wind, and if you let it get too high directly overhead, it can lose lift, stall and ball up in a mess of ripstop nylon and tangled control lines. My big 12-foot PowerFoil is a beast, it catches large amounts of wind, pulls very hard on its operator's extremities, and with the right amount of wind, it could haul a large child all the way to Hawaii.
Both of these kites are tremendous fun to fly, but are as unpredictable as they are astonishing. One minute they are rocketing through my airspace, and the next minute when the gust dies down or when I'm trying a three-sixty at maybe 50 feet AGL, they come crashing to Earth. I can't EVEN imagine what it would be like to actually use one of these wings for human flight, but then again, I am not a Paraglider pilot. Yes, people get great pleasure flying a much large equivalent of my kites, and the thrill they get when doing so must be ridiculous!
After a recent Tweet on my afternoon's kite flying, I received some great information from Shannon Lucas, a paraglider pilot who is soon moving to Corvallis, Oregon just 45 minutes away from here to attend Oregon State University and complete his doctoral studies in aviation human factors. And from the following, you can just sense this pilot knows a few things about the human factors required to keep a mammoth kite wing in the air. Here is Shannon's verbatim description of paragliding:
"The exhilaration of leaving the Earth is common to all forms of flying. Leaving the earth under your own power, however, sets paragliding apart by touching humanity's ancient dream of spreading our arms and floating on the wind. On the ground, you learn to dance with the wing as it kites, beginning with clumsy, sudden, and exaggerated movements. In time, this erratic dance becomes a fine waltz with the finesse of a martial arts kata. A few steps into the wind, and you're flying.
But the paraglider is an aircraft that you wear, and in the air, it becomes a part of your body and mind and embeds itself in your psyche. Leaving the ground, you sit back in the harness, the wing is above you, and you're flying like you fly in your dreams with a full view of the ground below you and the horizon ahead of you. The wind in the lines is the only sound apart from the occasional beep on the vario to let you know you've found rising air.
Each flight is an experience with infinitude, and each carries the power of the first. Even the short flights down the training hill remain exhilarating."
Now that is eloquent writing, my flying friends. When I read this today, I thanked God I am a pilot, and am able to surround myself with people like Shannon and his Paragliding buddies. It is this kind of enthusiasm for flight that gets me up each morning, and when he makes it up here to Oregon, I can guarantee you I am going to chase him and his posse down and go watch them as they dance with the wind in their wearable aircraft through the pristine skies of the Willamette Valley.
Of course, the keyword here is WATCH, because I know I don't have a set big enough to actually fly a strap-on kite with my ass attached to it as ballast.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
In the daily soap opera that is today's general aviation market, one thing is certain: Here on the outside, We the People have no clue what goes on in the Board Rooms of America's large airframe makers.
For instance, we can watch endless Twitter updates and blog posts of people who THINK they know what is going on with the very fluid Cirrus Design's SF50 Vision jet program, but in reality, unless you are on the inside at Cirrus HQ in Duluth, please don't say with authority you know how to call this one.
So with that said, I must state for full disclosure that I am not affiliated with anyone in Duluth, except in my dreams where the best airplane I could imagine owning will be built. No, my total time rubbing elbows with the Cirrus elite comes down to this:
About three summers ago, I was strolling one of the back rows at EAA Airventure, probably on my way to consume another brat off Johnsonville's "World's Largest Grill". As I walked, I noticed that walking beside me as a sort of wing man was a guy wearing that year's Cirrus Design outfit, with a big ID badge telling me it was Alan Klapmeier. So I struck up a quick conversation, told him I am in awe of the wonderful flying machines his company makes, and how someday I would own one. The conversation lasted maybe two minutes, but in that time he seemed sincere in wanting to know my thoughts on the 'SR' line of airplanes he produced. I could easily see this was a man who actually cared about what this pilot thought...not as a prospective sale, but just because he bought into that age-old concept that in almost all situations, pilots treat other pilots with mutual respect regardless of class. It's just what we do.
Sure, it was only two minutes, and I have no other idea what Klapmeier is like when he's been crossed. But this I do know: When he and brother Dale first started talking about carving Cirrus Design out of the hinterlands of the cold, wet North, people said it would take drive, dedication and immense focus to succeed in building GA's first large-scale production composite piston singles. Well, we know where that drive got the Klapmeiers:
When you look back at the Cirrus sales numbers on the General Aviation Manufacturer's Association website for the last 10 years, it is easy to see this company knows how to build and sell airplanes. The highest year looks to be 2006 when GAMA says Cirrus sold 721 total planes. Nobody can dispute that is a success story without equal in today's GA marketplace. Yes, Cessna sells planes too, but they get to ride on 82 years of brand recognition. I believe the company the Klapmeiers founded is a bigger success simply because in 1984 when Alan and Dale started to produce the VK-30 aircraft, nobody had even heard of Cirrus. Today, it still brings a smile to this pilot's face each and every time I see one on a ramp, or hear any radio call from the hundreds of beautiful birds I share the sky with that have call signs ending in "Charlie Delta".
This past week however, news dropped that has set the GA community on it's behind, shaking our heads as we wonder what the hell is going on up at Cirrus HQ. You've heard it by now, but here is how AOPA reported it:
"Alan Klapmeier, chairman of the board at the Cirrus Aircraft, says he’s had a heavy travelling schedule for the past eight weeks, seeking investors to help him gain control of Cirrus’ SF50 Vision program. His goal is to raise enough capital to convince Cirrus’s majority investor, Kuwait’s Arcapita Ventures investment group, to sell him the Vision project and let him lead a separate company dedicated to manufacturing the SF50 Vision single-engine jet."
Slice that any way you wish, but in an economy where airframe manufacturers are barely surviving, this kind of big financial news about one of GA's most important programs is both shocking and chilling. Like I said, I am not even remotely affiliated with anyone at Cirrus, so the following is simply my two cents worth of speculation:
One has to assume that Klapmeier – who has been a catalyst behind the SF50 program – has seen some sort of writing on the Board Room walls, and didn't like what he read. That could have possibly been that Cirrus's other managers and financial backers were about to pull the plug on the Vision jet, and Klapmeier wasn't about to stand by and let the program die. So like he did when he and Dale first built Cirrus, he went out in search of a way to keep the program alive. This is really the only conclusion one can take, because why would he be seeking to start a completely new company and possibly re-name the jet “Aegis” if the program was going to be alive and well under the umbrella of Cirrus Design?
After the first shock and awe of this breaking news wore off, I have come to realize this is really a very good thing. I am 1000% on board with the Vision, and think it's design and performance goals are as wonderful as every other model Cirrus has developed. I am being Mr. Obvious in saying it would be a huge blow to the entire GA community to see the SF50 program go away, and we as aviators need to rally behind Klapmeier and anyone else who joins him to keep the Vision/Aagis program moving towards certification and production.
And no, sorry, I haven't got the millions Klapmeier will need to pull this off. But if I did, I can think of no single aviation executive I would rather bet on than him. I say that as a pilot who has met him for a total of two minutes, but usually that's all it takes for me to size a man up.