Monday, January 26, 2015

The problem with instructors

            One of my mentors said “The problem with instructors is that after a while we think we have found the one true path and that everyone else is an idiot.”
            I think the truth is that we discover the one true path for us and we are idiots like everyone else. 

            All joking aside after a few years of intense studying a specific subject one begins to have insights.  Those insights can lead to a deep understanding of the subject.  Then, if you are lucky, you meet someone who has a completely different perspective.  It takes discipline to shut up and listen but if you do there is a potential for a “paradigm shift.”  I dislike buzz words but sometimes they capture the idea.  When people accepted that light acted like a particle AND a wave minds were blown and progress occurred.  The “pitch for airspeed and power for altitude” Bernoulli or Newton and other mental models are useful but not comprehensive.  It is difficult not to cement our minds into the theory that we understand and disregard others.

            On the other hand, people who tout their ability to “think outside the box” sometimes are merely undisciplined.  A basic understanding of the current theories and ideas about a subject allows one to have an intelligent conversation based on something other than conjecture.  I do not have a problem with someone who says “I believe __” and does not try to disparage people who believe otherwise.  The people who say “I think” and then merely regurgitate someone else’s opinion can be frustrating.  I used to enjoy agitating people like that, now I generally avoid them.  This is the dilemma, if I think I understand the problem better than them; could be I missing a jewel of an insight by ignoring them or am I being an arrogant fool?

Who stole my ___

One of the sayings we had in the military was “Which one of you lousy son of a #$@s stole my…oh, here it is.” 
            My mama said “Put things back where they belong.” I am still learning that lesson.  I am quick to blame others, even if I don’t say it aloud.  You would think that after thirty or forty years of repeating the same lesson I would figure it out.
            I used to think it was because I was drunk that I could not find my beer when the reality is that I tend to have CRS (Can’t Remember Stuff). 
            On the good side it is really nice to find an item you have been looking for. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A neat trick

A friend of mine taught me a neat trick.  He taught me how to fly an airplane.  That is a pretty neat trick.

My grandparents taught me to read.  That is a really neat trick.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Uncle Bob

My uncle Bob heavily influenced me.  In his own words he could be described as a “hard working, hard nosed, hard drinking Polack.”  As he matured he quit drinking which helped me recognize that you could still be mannerly and have fun without drinking to excess.  He took a lot of grief over his ethnic background but showed that the best revenge is just to live an incredibly successful life.  He gave me my first real job and I learned a lot.  My minimum wage co-workers and I were compensated fairly for our skill set.  I was inspired to pursue my education and training so I could both make more money and have more fun doing it.  The example of his love towards my aunt was inspirational.  He, like most men, is not as verbal in his expression of affection especially to snot-nosed young punks like me but he always showed it.
Bob Probizanski gave me my first skateboard!  It was a product sample from Century Fiberglass back in the day.  It was merely an orange toy to the adult world.  It opened the world up to me.  I was instantly cool.  I learned balance momentum and persistence through that piece of modern magic.  Urethane wheels and real trucks gave me a platform to explore the urban playground that was Riverside California in the late 1970s.  Some of the scars I earned remain, some do not but the lessons shaped me into the man I would become.
You gotta be tough.  Suck it up sunshine a little road rash is part of the game.  The big words we use now are risk management but to an adolescent “can I pull of this trick, how much will it hurt if I don’t and how many cool points do I get with the chicks” is just a simplified way of calculating danger.  The broken bones are visceral feedback on improper decisions.  The whole realities of how good are you and how much does God love you all over again.  I continue to skateboard but tend to be mellow cat in my approach rather than radical Ronney.
I have so many good memories of skating it is hard to express how much it meant to me.  I won a contest when I was in middle school and became an “honorary” member of the Pepsi skateboard team.  They gave me a t-shirt because I tried a handstand.  As an outsider from Louisiana I was accepted in the middle school hierarchy.  I recall the dark times learning how drugs ruin good people and how skating made me separate the drugs and alcohol intake so I could perform. 
That first board was quickly shredded and I learned the value of good equipment and how to care for my ride.  I was inspired to earn money to get a sturdier board.  The people that loved me showered me with safety equipment and I was soon at a skatepark.  We moved to the country and my skating took back seat to cross country running, school and motorcycling in the desert but I never lost my love of skateboarding.  While in the Air Force I rode in the Philippines, Malaysia, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Guam, Australia, and Indonesia.  I know the “go for it” attitude require to drop into the bowl at Upland gave me the fortitude to leap from airplanes and other seemingly counterintuitive actions that continue to fascinate me.  Balance, momentum management and gravity games have been a central part of my life.  Thank you Uncle Bob.
                                                     Passing on the gift

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas in Mexico

            My uncle, my mother, my wife and I spent Christmas in Mexico.  We connected with family members that we did not know existed a few years ago.  I felt at home almost immediately.  We ate, sang, laughed and played late every night.  We rose early and repeated the exercise until exhaustion.  It was wonderful to be so loved so unconditionally so quickly.  We celebrated Christmas with the family in Mexico City and then went down to visit another aunt in Cuernavaca.  A one day excursion to Tepoztlan and then it was time to go. 
            The whole experience was great fun.  One of my favorite parts was the marshmallow battle following the opening of presents.  I am so glad we connected although our hearts ached for Christina and Alexander the entire time. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fifty years on this planet

I had an incredible birthday.  I ate breakfast with my wonderful family.  I did my chores and went to work.  My incredible bride allowed me to go to practice my profession.  I have worked on most of my birthdays.  
            Back in the day I did a water drop into Lake Moultrie, SC on my birthday.  We were working on CRRC (Combat Rubber Raiding Craft) para-drops. The rubber boat, called a Zodiac 470, is like the ones Jacques Cousteau used on his shows.  The particular method we were using was called a hard duck.  The fully inflated boat, loaded with the majority of our gear, was placed on a palette and the parachute attached via straps through the bottom of the palette.  We were dressed in our diving gear (did I mention it is December 18th?) because the water was cold. The jump procedures are a bit non-standard because we are following the duck out of the back of the C-130 rather than the normal method by the doors.  (The paratrooper paradigm = jumping out of an airplane = perfectly normal).  Dive fins on our feet add to the challenge of walking out of the aircraft.   
As we near the drop zone the load master opens the ramp and cold damp air rushes in and takes your breath away.  Or was it the view out the back?  As the slipstream of the aircraft curls the air behind the moisture is squeezed out making the wake turbulence visible.  Our jumpmaster issues the jump commands and soon we are standing next to the boat watching the drogue chute pull the main chute of the duck into the slipstream.  In the next few moments we witness an extraordinary trick where a boat is snatched out of a plane traveling about 130 knots.  Soon after clearing the aircraft the main chute catches air and violently decelerates the boat, the pallet and all the contents and it floats down to the lake.  As we waddle out the whole show is repeated except it is our body going through similar physics.  As you gain experience you learn that body positioning as you enter the slipstream is critical.  The feedback is visceral, immediate and intense.  Under canopy the crisp Carolina blue sky reflects off the lake's surface.  "Wow this is my job!"
The incredible scenery is the backdrop to intense concentration as we attempt to maneuver our steerable round parachute to land upwind of the boats.  These chutes are reliable and provide some forward drive but are not as maneuverable as the square ram-air parachutes.  Parachutes are awesome at slowing your fall.  In the water they work well at sailing for a moment but, when they get wet they are very effective at drowning young paratroopers so don't get caught up in it.  If you land down wind you probably not be able to reach the boat in a timely manner.  If automatic disconnect for the chute on the boat is not released it can capsize the boat, and destroy our equipment rendering us ineffective.  A skilled crew can land upwind, get dragged by their chute to the boat and begin de-rigging the boat post haste and be underway in moments. 
This year on my birthday I worked with an instrument student on his long cross country.  We flew to New Bern, NC and did the VOR4 to a touch and go followed by vectors to the ILS4.  We reviewed the lessons learned and then flew to Edenton, NC and executed the LOC19 to a touch and go followed by the published missed approach and then returned to our home base at Sanford and practiced the RNAV (GPS) 21 partial panel with a circle to land.  We flew 5 hours much of it night.  We learned a lot. 
I try to provide insights and help the pilot attach meaning to their perceptions.  Most times I merely point out observations provided by the circumstances.  Instrument flight is primarily a cerebral event because we try to fly the plane in a stable manner and keep our pitch and bank angles very mellow.  I like to say "There is nothing hard about instrument flying, only two or three hundred really easy things that will kill you if you don't do them right." Pilots and paratroopers have this in common; survival depends on two things, skilled performance and how much God is smiling on me today.  Disciplined practice, top notch equipment and inspirational teamwork can help keep us safe.  Our ultimate survival is also a matter of chance.  The story is that when you get your rating you have two cups.  One cup is full of luck.  The other is experience.  Try to fill up the one cup before the other is empty.  I have been incredibly lucky and survived errors that could have killed me.
I try to learn all the time.  Learning is fun!  Knowledge is power only if shared.  I am blessed to be able to do this as a profession.  Watching the next generation blossom into ever more incredibly skilled people inspires me.  At the end of the day I chatted with my good friends and peers over a cup of coffee and went home and had a wonderful meal with my family.  We watched movies and Alex played guitar.  The next day Bernadette and I hung out and muddled through our to-do list.  I love hanging out with that woman.  This week three of my students passed their checkride.
I have a great life.  In fifty years you should have attained some wisdom.  I wish I had been paying attention and taking notes much earlier in my life.  My pop taught me a few principles but very few rules; #1, tell the truth, #2, do the right thing, #3, pay attention.  They are hard to live up into.  Becoming grounded allows one to see things clearer.  As the winter solstice approaches I become more aware of the movement of the heavenly bodies and recognize how short my mortal life is.  What an AWESOME ride it has been so far!   Thank God for every second of this experience. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A festive article

Barry asked me to write a festive article.  Everyday is Christmas for a pilot. People ask “How are you?” “Awesome!” I answer.
I woke up. I am blessed with life; I woke up breathing non-toxic air under a roof that does not leak and in a warm bed with no one shooting at me. I went and brushed my teeth and drank some water with no fear of dysentery. What a magical time.  How many gifts I have!  Every day is Christmas for a pilot.
My breakfast was nutritious and delicious. I do not want for food as a matter of fact I have to restrain my gluttonous tendencies. I am blessed more than most; I kiss my wife and my children as I leave for the airport.  Should I take my truck, or my car, or my motorcycle? What a magical time.  How many gifts I have!  Every day is Christmas for a pilot.
I get a standard weather briefing on the way to the airport.  I live in a delightful time where I can speak to another human that is miles away and discuss the intricate knowledge gained from satellites and radar.  What a magical time.  How many gifts I have!  Every day is Christmas for a pilot.
Arriving at the airport I am greeted by my friends as I head out to pre-flight the aircraft.  I examine with exacting glee the product designed by geniuses and shaped by of hundreds of skilled craftsmen.  What a magical time.  How many gifts I have!  Every day is Christmas for a pilot.
After some time I find myself applying throttle and accelerating down the runway.  Before you know it we are in the air and climbing!  Some days I get to fly in and out of the clouds. I get to glimpse at sights that only the birds and the angels see. Last night was a light show.  Ribbons of light made of angry motorists stuck in traffic but it's beautiful to me. What a magical time.  How many gifts I have!  Every day is Christmas for a pilot.
After multiple vectors to and fro we roll out on final and see the approach lights all in a row, flashing white leading to the green and red of the runway with beautiful blue lights of the taxiways trimming the edges with wisps of green taxiway centerlines. What a magical time.  How many gifts I have!  Every day is Christmas for a pilot.

Sometimes I get to give people their first ride in an airplane. What a magical time.  How many gifts I have!  Every day is Christmas for a pilot and some days you get to be Santa Claus. Merry Christmas.