Posts Tagged ‘ Flying ’

Experience Is The New Gadget

Every few years or so, Apple comes out with a new gadget, and competitors flock to rip it off to compete in the marketplace.  The reason that the iPad and iPhone have been such massive successes is not because of their new, wiz-bang gizmo…it’s because of the experience that people get when they interact with that gizmo.  Love it or hate it, Apple has the smoothest, most reliable user interface on the planet.  You can’t trip up an iPad even with multiple apps open, whereas my (first-gen) Samsung Galaxy got a wireless version 2.0 upgrade and would freeze up just making a phone call. Not only that, Apple products feel expensive, and elevate the user’s social status by having them.  Image

In any case, the consumer market will shift more toward experiences in the near future, as technological advances happen more and more frequently and people begin to become unimpressed by them.  Truthfully though, experiences are what life is about, not gadgets. 

Think about it.  You’ve been chasing them all along.

When I was 8 years old, I absolutely relished the first ride I ever had in a small plane.  When I was 18, one of my friends asked me, “What could possibly possess you to dive into a puddle while it’s 38 degrees out?”  When I was 22, my Aunt Lori (a dental hygienist), asked me, “What would make you want to get your tongue pierced?”  When I was 24, my Dad saw my tattoo for the first time from afar, and yelled, “What is that?!” at me from down the hall.  Even now, at 31, my wife tells me that entering a room full of people she doesn’t know is “my version of hell.”


Our dog, Kilee. She’s about 2 years old here.

Each of these things has given me an experience.  Good or bad, it’s given me a story to tell, a way to connect with others who have experienced the same thing.  If I meet a person who is shy or averse to meeting new people, I have an idea of what their boundaries are likely to be, given that my wife is the same way.  I can relate to someone who is describing the pain of getting a piercing or a tattoo, or someone describing the freedom of the wind in your face on a motorcycle, or the visceral feeling of leaving the ground during the miracle of flight while you are in control of the airplane.  I know the absolute exhaustion that comes from working 12-hour overnight shifts, and drinking at 7am on your Friday (which is actually Wednesday morning) to blow off steam after work.  I know the familiar burn of cigarette smoke entering my lungs, and I understand the jokes that old guys make about it burning when they pee because of kidney stones.  I understand the frustration that comes from a new dog entering your household.  I know the feeling of control someone has over a vehicle that has a manual transmission, and I know the sheer, effortless beauty of my wife in the morning.

It’s the same reason you ride roller coasters, go on reality TV shows, train to climb Everest, or move out of your parents’ house:  you want to know what it’s like on the other side, or at the top.  It’s life’s experiences that make you a rich person, not the amount of money you have…but if you are someone who knows the feeling of paying cash for a quarter-million dollar car, you also have a unique experience with which to share.  The saying, “The first million is the hardest” wasn’t coined by a homeless guy, after all.  Anything to relate to those around you.  Networking is the engine of the world, and experiences give you the fuel.

I think you’ll see a rise in experience-based products and services in the next ten years, particularly for the upwardly mobile.  There are already several hundred seats booked for the first flights into space, once they become available, and they aren’t cheap.

For ideas to chase your next awesome experience, check out my friends over at Bucket List Publications.  They’ve got fantastic ideas, if you are in need.  If you aren’t, they have a contest going to see who has the Biggest, Baddest Bucket List around, and you can submit your own to win a chance to actually complete it.  

What’s on your bucket list?  What would you do if money was no object?  What would you do if you could not fail at it?  What have you been aching to do for years, but put off because you “just can’t afford it?”  Also, what things have you knocked off your Bucket List that were awesome?



And Now, For Some Clarity.

Having been on the trail lately for a job which will keep me a little closer to home, I am often asked in interviews, “OK, so…what’s your story?”  I usually explain, “Well, When I got out of high school in 2000, I went to Kansas State at Salina to learn to fly, got my Private Pilot’s License, then switched majors and moved home to go after my mechanic ratings”–at which point, I usually hear, Why?

I have several answers that I give for conversations’ sake, but the honest answer is simple:  I have no idea.  I’ve thought about the why for ten years now, and I still cannot put my finger on it.

Me and Bryan, ca. 2004-05

I guess the simple answer is that I wasn’t sure how to be a man yet, at that point.  I had all this freedom, no one to answer to, and despite being there for school, no clear goal.

When I watched the rest of my family drive off down the road that first day after they moved me down, I remember feeling a little trepidation, a little sadness, and a level of excitement and adventure I have only felt a few times in my life (one of them was my first solo).  When I met my roommate Bryan–who could have been my twin brother–I knew we would get along well, and there wasn’t a moment to waste.  We were both very outgoing–the ones with our dorm door open on move-in day, getting to know the other residents as they passed by.  We found collective ways to get involved–with student government, with our baby at the time, Phi Delta Theta, and secondarily, with our classes.

We did all the fun and dopey things you do when you are newly placed into the microcosm of a satellite college campus in the country.  We went “Puddle Jumping,” whereby you run out and jump into the biggest puddle of water you can find after a good rain, even though it was 37 degrees outside.   We piled into the back of a guy’s truck and literally chased thunderstorms, trying to get a glimpse of a real tornado after the sirens went off in town.  TOP GUN was almost never turned off the lobby TV, if it was on when you got there.  (Neither was it changed from CNN for five days after September 11 happened.)  We grinned knowingly at the Wal-Mart checkout lady as we innocently picked up some supplies from the automotive section–an oil funnel, some plastic tubing, and a shutoff valve.  I picked up smoking at eighteen, and we would spend hours–hours–at Russel’s (the restaurant/truck stop right off of I-135 on Salina’s north side) smoking, drinking coffee, and hammering out the issues at hand, whatever they were.  Many times, we’d have as many as twenty people there, and we’d end up staying through the shift change.  (It was really ignorant to do that, but I didn’t know it back then because I hadn’t had a server job yet.  We tipped as well as we could.)  We invented The Cigarette Olympics, whereby two people at ends of a long table would toss a cigarette at each other, and the goal was to catch it in your mouth.  We spent long hours talking each other through life’s biggest plans (Bryan’s island–“Hinnland”), and grandest failures (Bryan and Delton were instrumental in getting me through them at the time, as was my old friend Kevin).  Those people are still my dearest friends, even though life took us on different paths to different states.

Since KSU-Salina was an old Air Force base, whenever something big was happening, we’d filter out to the runway to see it.  My fondest memories are standing next to the runway (though it was fenced off) and watching the Navy slam their planes into the numbers in preparation for actual carrier landings, or standing literally under a B-2 Spirit at about four hundred feet as it slowly lumbered into the air on takeoff, bound for wherever in the broad daylight.  There was an old Lockheed Constellation who was a resident there–named “Connie”–and her four huge engines never left the ground in both of the years I was there.  If you Google Salina, KS and zoom in on the airport in Earth view, she’s still there on the north end of the ramp, as a matter of fact.  (You’ll also see a bunch of buildings to the right of the North/South runway; that’s the Kansas-State at Salina campus.)

"Connie" the Constellation

I had such a great time there, so why’d I move back?

Well, for one, I was slacking in school, and hadn’t yet developed a work ethic related to studying properly.  By the end of my time there, my grades had gone down hill, I was broke (aren’t we all at that age?), and I had begun to really miss the friends I left behind, and the house I grew up in.  I returned home confused, aimless, despondent, and (by my own standards) a complete failure.  It hadn’t helped much that my own Mom, to combat her feelings of embarrassment among our extended family and friends, griped that she’d “sent me down there to learn to drink and smoke.”  The worst part was that she was right, and I knew as much as anyone else did.  I was as lazy in grade school as I was in college, and I’d given up trying to impress my parents long before, but that first night I slept in my own (old) bed was a new low for me.

What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I was trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to be.  Did I want to be like my Dad?  What felt normal?  What felt right?  What do I stand for?  What’s this politics stuff all about?  How do I feel about one night stands?  How do I feel about people who continually threaten to commit suicide when it’s so obviously for the attention?  How do I feel about a friend getting an abortion?  How do I feel about driving drunk, or being around those who do?  How do I feel about drugs?  How do I feel about a friend being a closet alcoholic?  I had a relatively uneventful teen-hood, and all of a sudden, I had an adult lifetime’s worth of situations before me that I was completely unprepared for.  

I didn’t know until after I’d already made the decision that I’d done the right or wrong thing.  Once, I went by a girl’s house whom I’d met at a movie theater while waiting in line.  I found out after I got there–and after she’d changed into the stereotypical “something more comfortable”–that she was engaged (the electric guitar gave her away).  I knew I had a decision to make, and twelve years later, I still feel good that I left.  Twelve years later, I see how stupid it was to have blown a portion of the rent money on beer, and to waste the chance of a lifetime–an essentially all-you-can-fly school program–in the endless pursuit of instant gratification.  I now see how sleeping in front of a toilet because of alcohol was not a bragging right.  How not remembering the night before isn’t funny, nor is puking in someone’s car.  How making nearly zero progress in two years was not helping.  How publicly embarrassing an ex-girlfriend to people she didn’t know was still hurtful, even from three states away. How being friends with everybody wasn’t paying my bills.  How taking your family for granted was foolish.

I finally kicked smoking for good about six years ago, and I haven’t shotgunned a beer since I lived in Salina.  Now, I tip for a server’s time, not for the $1.65 cup of coffee I drank six cups from.  I came out of A&P school with a 3.47 GPA in 2004, and have finally picked up the drive and motivation to develop myself into anything I want, knowing full well that it will take work.  I’ve tried a couple of times over the years to apologize to that ex-girlfriend for what I did, but I’d be surprised if she’s genuinely forgiven me for it.  In her shoes, I probably wouldn’t.  She’s part of the reason I try so hard to treat my wife well, though, I can tell you that.  My sister has made me an Uncle twice now, and I make it a point to call her, my brother, and my Mom at least twice a month–even if it’s just for a couple of minutes catching up.

So, why did I leave Salina, KS instead of getting my act together and finishing what I started?  Heh…your guess is as good as mine.  I guess it’s possible that without failure, there can be no success…but I’m sure it’s something far simpler than that.

Sometimes You’re The Windshield, Sometimes You’re The Bug.

Some times, I learn things the hard way.  Let’s just call it that right out of the gate.

I was a student pilot at Kansas State-Salina, and embarked upon my first solo cross-country trip.  Thank God for GPS, that’s all I can say.

I left Salina, KS, and flew to Emporia airport.  My calculations seemed to be more or less correct (I was taught “Clock, Map, Ground”), and I have a relative idea of where I was.  As I arrived at the airport and prepared to do a touch-and-go (to satisfy the requirement for actually landing at the airport) I made three attempts to land on a north-facing runway, with a ten knot crosswind from the west (my left).  Each time, before I could get on the ground, I kept getting blown to right of the runway.  By the time the third attempt failed, I decided to continue on to the next airport because I was losing daylight quickly.  It was November, and I was scared enough on a clear day.  Best not to test the aviation gods by continuing into dusk.

CRAB: Facing into the wind, but tracking straight ahead

I made the next airport in relatively quick time.  On my first attempt at Harrington, KS, the same thing happened–I kept getting blown to the right of the (again) north-facing runway.  The second time, I remembered what my instructor had said once, and I performed a “crab”–a maneuver where you arefacing into the wind direction, but are still tracking straight across the ground.  (The picture shows a plane on take-off here, but it’s the same concept if you are landing.)   You can see a more clear example of this kind of landing here.

I did exactly what the video clip showed–crabbed the airplane into the wind, got her on the ground, everything was fine.  Then, this happened.  Since this was to be a touch-n-go, I pulled up the flaps, hit full throttle, and kept my takeoff roll going.  Except, unlike in the video, I did not get in the air.  Right at the point the plane lifted off the ground for a split-second (roughly 55-60 miles an hour), the plane caught a gust and I panicked, locked up the brakes, and lost control of the plane.  My wheels were skidding sideways as I stood on them, trying to bleed off the speed, and my left wing rose in the air, as if the airplane was going to flip right over on its back.   By the grace of God, my left wheel slammed back down on the the ground, I skidded off the runway, through the taxiway, and roughly two hundred yards into a wheat field.  I came to a dead stop, with the propeller spinning at idle, as if nothing had happened.

I looked at the (sole) terminal at this podunk little airport…there was absolutely no movement–no lights on, no people, no planes on the ramp, nothing.  I did what I felt anyone else would do in that situation:  I turned the plane around, and taxied back up onto the the taxiway to the head of the runway.  I was alone, and my single driving thought was, “I need to get home.”  I set the parking brake on the plane, got out and crouched down to check for brake fluid or other damage with the engine still running(as if I had a clue what to look for), then climbed back in.

I lined her up on the runway, did the Sign Of The Cross and said a short prayer, and slowly pushed the throttle fully open.  As I picked up speed, everything seemed normal.  I stayed on that runway up until the very last second, when I lifted off, and was promptly blown to the right of it.  I had survived and gotten into the air once more.

I flew the 60 or 80 miles back to my home base (thanks to the GPS), and had to ask for a more westerly-facing runway, which I got.  It really was difficult flying into the sun as well; it was nearly 5:30 when I got back, after all, and the plastic windshield was dispersing the sunlight and making it essentially opaque–very hard to see in front of me.  I parked the plane on the K-State ramp, got out, and did a post-flight inspection.  I was mainly looking for damage to the propeller, wingtips, or landing gear…I didn’t see any, but I was only 18–what the hell did I know?  I went inside and made a beeline for the “Incident Report” folder.  I filled out a report detailing what had happened.

I walked from the Aviation building to my dorm room, walking past the cafe (where dinner was still being served) at 5:45 PM.  My roommate walked in at six on the dot and said, “Are the rumors true?”

I said, “What rumors?”

He said, “Someone had an accident–was it you?”

Kind of amazing how quickly news spread, even before Facebook or Twitter.

I’ll tell you what, I learned a lot of hard lessons that day–and continue to, actually.  It’s been nearly 12 years since that accident, and I carry it with me wherever I go.  I’ve learned to be a safer pilot because of it, I’ve learned that I have the courage to pluck up a battle plan when the time comes for one (though I hadn’t realized at the time that flying the plane back demonstrated an act of courage–or stupidity–that most folks don’t have), and I’ve learned the sheer importance of preparation.  I didn’t even know I was unprepared, and it’s made me a little paranoid that sometimes I start thinking my confidence is going to get me in trouble.

The upside is that when I fail, I’m not quite as hard on myself as I used to be.  It’s the natural course of learning, after all.  Of course, when you fail, it sucks, but as far as I’m concerned, if you haven’t failed, you aren’t doing enough with your life.  In my business, at least, the adage goes, “If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t doing any actual work.”  It’s the classic hot-oven scenario at its best.

So.  Now you know one of my deepest, darkest secrets.  It isn’t something I bring up at parties, or brag about surviving.  I hope that it hasn’t scared you away from aviation–don’t forget, my mistake here could have been easily avoided.  In fact, the fact that I’ve gone through this already should make you want to ask me questions about it.  I’d fly with a pilot who has made some mistakes over one who hasn’t anyday–because until you make that mistake, you just don’t know what it’s like to be there.  When you are talking about life and death, I’ll stick with the guy (or gal) who figured it out and survived.

What kind of crazy stories do you guys have?  What mistakes did you make as students?  Or as professionals learning your craft?  What pitfalls should we all do our best to avoid?  It doesn’t even have to be aviation-related; it could be related to business, sewing, construction, excavation, anthropology–anything.  What are the pitfalls and mistakes in your industry?  The best answer gets ten bucks to Starbucks!

Airport Body Scanners: Too Far In The Name Of “Security”?

Image from Google

As many of you have either seen on the news or had to deal with recently, more and more airports are getting these full-body scanners, as seen at right.  The problem with them is that they produce a near-naked image of you, seen below.   There have been whisperings of these scanners coming for a couple of years now, but nothing propelled them so quickly into every major airport we have as that moron who tried light his panties on fire last Christmas on a flight into Detroit.  From what the blogosphere has been seeing, you do, in fact, have the option to refuse to go through the scanner, and you’ll be subjected to a pat-down in lieu of it–but not just any pat-down.  Ooooh no, I watched right there on the news this morning as some girl who must’ve been no older than 17 or 18 years old got a “pat-down” from a TSA employee that would have landed me in suspension if I’d have pulled that in high school.  The “pat down” is looking more and more like getting “felt up.”

Image From Google

The reason these machines have drawn outrage is simple:  We humans are known to have common sense.  They tell us that, “Nooo, we would never save these images on a database,” and of course (quite rightly, IMHO) nobody believes them.  The part that makes me shudder is to think about how helpful it would be to them if they did and could refer back to them for analysis, after an incident.  Throw in a mandatory date/time stamp and name on each image, and you’ve got a fantastic tool to go through and look at whether or not Christmas Day Idiot’s explosives would have even shown up on the scan.

They have also told us, as the saying goes, to “IGNORE THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN.”  This is in reference to the person who got picked that day to look at the (more or less) naked bodies of the American Public.  This person reviews these images in a separate room, which I would imagine is designed to give us the sense of a professional, sterile atmosphere.  My problem with that is that it isn’t lost on me that people with foot fetishes might work in pedicure shops.

And think how bad it would be if you worked at the airport, like I do?  Lawsuits are  in play now because of the legality of it, and I am hopeful that the we can find a better, less invasive way to lull the public into the delusional state of warm-fuzzy security comfort that we crave.

Also, it begs the question: Just exactly why are these machines being forced on us?  Click this link to follow the dollar. Who’s surprised?

A quote I read recently is apt here:  “Any person who would forfeit even a small bit of liberty in the name of security deserves neither, and will lose both.” (Anon)

In the meantime, have you had to deal with these things yet?  What has your experience been with them?  Which airports do you know for sure have them around the country?  Let’s be aware, not paranoid!

Freshly Paved Asphalt

This morning, I met with a woman out here named Mary, and I found it ironic that she would be my flight instructor because I saw her on the “Local Legends” clips of the news not twenty-four hours after I booked with her.  She was probably friends with the Wright brothers and, at 73 years old, she knew so many historic facts about the area that I’ve lost track of most of them already.  We spent about three hours together today, and the first half-hour of my lesson today was both of us just getting to know each other.  She asked a lot of the same questions that I would have, had she not beat me to them, and you could honestly feel that she genuinely cares about her students.  She isn’t just another instructor, and you aren’t just another student to her.

I did the preflight (a mechanical checklist, basically…I’m pretty adept at those right now), and soon enough we were in the airplane (a Cessna 172), and getting back on the bike again.  Mercifully, she handled the radios today, as I would’ve been a little overloaded at times; as expected, there is a lot that I’ve forgotten.  We spent about 1.1 in the air.  Takeoff was easy enough, of course–airplanes are designed to fly, they just want to if given enough speed–and we took a tour over the area just north and west of Tucson.  She pointed out the landmarks and mountain names, and we flew right over the Silverbell Copper Mine (gorgeous from the air).  It’s really something to get your bearings on an area as vast as the country is from the air, where there are no signs to point the way.   When the time came to land, my approach was pretty sloppy (decidedly eight years old), but my final approach turned out to be pretty stabilized, and the landing was up there with any of my other best on the Grease-O-Meter.  (For anyone wondering, pilots usually refer to a really smooth landing as having “greased one in.”)  Like riding a bike.

Over all, the flight was everything I’d hoped it would be.  I got used to the aircraft and its quirks (it’s a 1967 model), and learned something about what skills I still have, and what I need to develop.  In a week, we’ll be up doing nothing but pattern work (takeoffs and landings) to get me current again, and after that, we’ll take a cross-country trip so that I can brush up on my trip planning skills.  With any luck, the cross-country will go smoother than my first solo one did, back in the day.  Feel free to ask about that one, if you have yet to hear the story and are interested.

I drove straight from the airport to my bi-weekly Toastmasters meeting, where I Toastmasted for the first time.  I had been slightly nervous about it since I’d only found out last night that it would be my role, but it was as easy as any Student Government or Phi Delt meeting ever was to lead.  I worked straight off the agenda, and the meeting ran itself.

I’m pretty proud of myself, I’ll admit.  I walked out of that meeting to my car, and had one of those cheesy moments when I smiled to myself and thought, “I’m finally on my way.”  I was nervous about getting back in the plane…but Mary assured me there was no need for it, and it turned out that there wasn’t.  I was nervous about the Toastmasters meeting, but  again–nothing to worry about.  Conquering fears, becoming stronger, continuing training…these are the things that I’ve chosen as my road to follow, and so far, I’m driving a Lexus down a brand new highway.

Eight Years Isn’t So Long, Is it?

Eight years ago, I made the decision to switch careers in the middle of college.  Like many kids my age, I had to “come into my own” and figure out that working hard will get you to where you want to be.  Only now am I realizing that a great work ethic and extensive network of people will get you there far, far faster.

In a couple of days, I’m finally able to get back into an airplane as a student (thank you, tax return).  Being now in my late twenties (and a little more wise), I have gotten out my old Private Practical Test Standards (PTS) book, and begun the arduous process of relearning the things I used to know fairly well.  I am determined never to get caught with my pants down because of poor preparation, as I did so many times in school.  I’ll also have to adjust to the sheer speed that things need to be done–after all, as an aircraft mechanic we do literally everything by the book, with the manual detailing each step with verbage and pictures, and you have time to study it to make sure that your work is correct.  In the cockpit, many times, you don’t have that option, and your decisions could be life or death, or the difference between saving the aircraft or major damage.  Sure, you’ll pull out the Emergency Procedures checklist if your engine quits, but no matter how long you study it, gravity will still do its job.  In an aircraft, you have to know those procedures like the back of your hand.  But of course, that’s what flight training is for.

I have been fascinated by airplanes ever since I was a kid, and I noticed that, like most things you want and then get, eventually the novelty wears off, and you begin to take that thing for granted.  For me, that was flying.  I spent my whole life wanting to fly, and when I finally got there, I lost the enthusiasm to pursue a career that would suck the life and fun out of flying for me.  (Plus, I needed to build those practical skills that I was always so proud of my dad for having…I have, and I’m proud to have them as well.)  Once again, I have begun to take my mechanical skills for granted, as my job has sucked the ever-loving life out of the fun of fixing things.  I suppose I’ll eventually grow apathetic about flying once I get a job doing it to build time, but this time around, I have an entirely new set of skills on which to place a flight foundation.  Almost as soon as I realized I wasn’t content to do one thing for one company for the rest of my life, I realized I wasn’t limited to doing it, either.  And oh boy, once I realized I had more options than I knew, it set my imagination on fire.

What have you been putting off that will light a fire under your butt to go and do?

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth”…

Every pilot knows this line, but many mechanics may not.  It was written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr, who was killed at the age of just 19 while flying a Supermarine Spitfire (yes, THAT Spitfire, with the awesome monster mouth on the cowling inlet).  He wrote the poem, actually a sonnet, in August 1941, shortly before his death.  Flying a Spitfire at 19…I guess I was born in the wrong part of the 20th century!

Anyhow, the poem describes the feelings one gets when piloting an aircraft, and I felt it today, even though I was merely a passenger reading about flying in a magazine.  I looked down from our vantage point at 38,000 feet (headed west, if you’re direction-vs.-altitude-keen), and saw a snowy, cottony blanket of clouds for most of the trip.   It drew my eye naturally toward the separation of earth and sky at the very farthest point on the horizon for a long while, and I marveled at what must be literally the longest sunset on the planet; when you’re flying west at five- to six-hundred knots, and the Earth spins at roughly 1,000 knots, it just never seems to end.  Once it got dark, and the sky above matched colors with the sky below, I saw a shooting star far, far off the left wing of the plane, that made me wonder if I’d been the only person to see it.  I wished on it, and smiled to myself about it.  My soundtrack didn’t hurt, either…I bought Brad Paisley’s new album, “American Saturday Night,” not long ago, and a song called “Then” was playing at the time on my iPod.  That song was the first dance that Allison and I shared at our wedding, as newly minted husband and wife.  (If you like today’s country music, I don’t see how you couldn’t enjoy the music on this album.)

Anyway, it’s a neat little memory that I keep with me to remind me of a certain point in my life–the broke-as-a-joke, newlywed point in my life.  Soon though, we’ll dig out of it, and start running on all 12 cylinders, and  get on with our biggest plans.  I’m sure of it.  Until then, old poems and new music seem to invade the consciousness of my goals…

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