Friday, April 18, 2014

Spin Endorsement

The endorsement reads “I certify that Pat Pilot has received the required training of section 61.183(i). I have determined that they are competent in instructional skills for training stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery techniques.”
This endorsement is required to become a flight instructor. About a third of all fatal general aviation accidents are stall/spin related. Too many commercial and military aviation accidents also have this root cause. Most, if not all of these accidents are rooted in a deficit in training. The first few hours in an airplane set the basics for the rest of your flying career. The four fundamental flight maneuvers of straight and level, turns, climbs, and descents set the foundations for all subsequent training. Understanding the effects of manipulating the flight controls is the key to being able to perform these maneuvers.
Wolfgang Langewiesche wrote ‘Stick and Rudder’ many years ago but it still speaks to the core of the issues. One of my students explaining how the controls work to grade school students said “Yes, No, Maybe.” The elevator pitches your head for “yes.” The rudder yaws your head for “no.” The ailerons roll your shoulders for “maybe.” This keeps the concepts of up and down out of the conversation. Airplanes aint natural. Our instincts and “common sense” understandings will kill us.
You have never heard of, or seen a monkey fly an airplane. The joke at UPT is that “we can teach a monkey to fly, but we don’t have the time so we got you.” But you know the air force would if it could. The monkeys would be cheaper and certainly whine less than pilots. You can train monkeys to do almost anything. The reason it is doomed to failure is that airplanes act a somewhat inconsistent manner depending on where in the flight regime one operates.
When lots of air flowing is over the wing pulling back creates more lift and we go up. Turning the yoke to the right lifts the wing and we start turning right. But wait, the nose pulls left if we don’t give a touch of right rudder. Adding throttle increases the noise from the engine and things happen. If we don’t make any other control inputs we will climb, and go left. We can make inputs and stay at the same altitude and go faster.
When not much air is flowing over the wing pulling back causes the nose to drop sharply down. Trying to lift the wings with the yoke does not seem to do much but make the nose drop more. Adding throttle causes things to get worse and all of a sudden the world is spinning. PULL HARDER…ADD POWER…witnesses stated that the aircraft impacted terrain in a nose low attitude. Impact forces exceeded tolerances for human survival.
What is a spin? A spin is an aggravated stall with autorotation. How do you do that? Just stall and add some yaw (rudder). What the heck is a stall? A stall is when the airflow separates from the wing and stops producing lift. What causes a stall? Excessive angle of attack causes a stall. How do you recover from a stall? Reduce the angle of attack. This dooms the monkey. When primates are scared they hang on tight, pulling back maybe even into the fetal position.
I had a student once who said “I want to be a professional pilot.”
“Yeah, lots of people do.” I responded.
“No, I mean really.” He said. He had his private certificate and wanted to progress through instrument, commercial, and instructor as rapidly as he could. That was March 2006, by December he had achieved his goals. For the sake of the story he was a shrimp salesman. (Really he sold food to restaurants) This guy was serious, training several times a week. It pushed me to perform at my best. The spin endorsement was a challenge to me. I realized I needed more training to provide him “competence in instructional skills in training stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery techniques.”
I sought out the best in the business to teach me. Mr. William “Bill” Kershner was known as the spin doctor. I signed up for the basic aerobatic course and begin a journey that will last as long as I can fly. Mr. Kershner began flying in 1945 was a Naval aviator and test pilot. He wrote many very useable books combining country-boy comics and PhD level mathematics in a humorous style that promotes learning. He was fighting cancer at the time and provided the ground instruction while his most excellent protégé translated the academics into practice. Catherine continues to build upon the legacy.
With these new insights I trained Steve and others. The joy of aerobatic flight continues to motivate me to understand and practice as much as possible. A solid understanding and respect for stalls and spins is essential for all pilots but especially instructors.
A common misunderstanding is the role of airspeed. “Speed is life” is a saying that has some validity. If you keep airflow over the wing it flies. The airspeed indicator gives information on the difference between ram air pressure at the pitot tube and the static port. Indicated airspeed is what you read off the instrument, calibrated airspeed is indicated airspeed corrected for instrument and position error. The difference can be large and is not calculated for uncoordinated flight. Slips and skids describe the types of turns made without appropriate rudder inputs. Often pilots use slips on purpose and skid due to a lack of proficiency. Additionally the airspeed indicator lags a few fractions of a second behind what is occurring and gives little indication of the trend. What causes a stall? Excessive angle of attack causes a stall. The airspeed indicator gives us old data of questionable accuracy of an indirect measure of a byproduct of angle of attack.
Angle of attack is the angle between the relative wind and the chord line. When we load up the wing by pulling back on the elevator we increase the angle of attack. We need to do this when turning, because some of the lift that was formerly opposing gravity is now changing our direction. The term load factor is a ratio of the lift produced to the weight of the airplane generally measured in Gs. The stall speed increases at the square root of the load factor. In a 2G turn an increase of 40% means that if it “normally” stalls at 50 knots it now stalls at 70. This why it is good advice to keep bank angles mellow especially when close to the ground, like in the pattern.
The results of these misunderstandings can lead to risky mistakes. A pilot that thinks “I just go real fast and then I won’t stall” often ends up losing directional control on landing and or running off the end of the runway. Most light aircraft do not have spoilers, thrust reversers, or 16 wheels with an advanced anti-skid system designed to stop the airplane. The smaller aircraft are designed to fly at much lower speeds and stall at much lower speeds. The ideal landing strategy is to stall the wing either just prior to landing or shortly after touchdown thus making the wings quit producing lift. This takes weight off the wings and places it on the wheels. The effect of additional speed on landing distance can be dramatic. (hope the runway is long enough) The airplane still wants to fly and any errors in crosswind technique bump up the hazardous of directional control, and off you go into a ditch. (hope the runway is wide enough)
The points I am trying to make is that pilots should be taught to understand, respect and control the angle of attack. Stalls are predictable controllable events. Flying the aircraft with the concept that pitch and power equal performance leads to confidence rather than chasing the airspeed indicator. If the airplane is flown at the recommended approach speed it is much easier to control. That is a lot of background information that should be passed on to pilots. Learning how to initiate and recover from intentional spins is loads of fun.
We start with a thorough preflight with additional emphasis on weight and balance. Some of the other details we look at include making sure there is no slack in the controls and that all loose items in the cockpit are secured. Next we make sure the weather is conducive and select a practice area that is both safe and legal. During the climb to altitude we review the pre-maneuver checklist.
Clear airspace: making sure there are no aircraft, birds or obstacles at, above and below our altitude.
Heading: picking a visual reference to help maintain orientation
Altitude: legal and safe
Performance: airplane configured properly
Safe place to land: in case of engine trouble

I generally start with some power on and power off stalls to relax the pilot. I used to demonstrate the first spin with a power on entry now I ask the pilot. The power-on entry is crisp and sure but more dramatic. The power-off entry is mushy and often deteriorates into a steep spiral but does not tend to make the pilot apprehensive. After a few incipient spin entries we progress to fully developed spins. The generic spin recovery is:
Power - to idle
Ailerons -neutral
Rudder -full opposite
Elevator - briskly forward
(Dive) -recover smoothly from

Power to idle because we are descending fast enough and it eliminates torque and other left turning tendencies. Ailerons neutral because of the effect of aileron deflection and wing camber (angle of attack). Rudder full deflected against the spin, this is how we eliminate the yaw. Elevator briskly forward to break the stall (reducing the angle of attack). This leaves the aircraft in a nose low attitude (dive) and we can rapidly build up airspeed if left unchecked. Vigorously recovering from the dive may lead to an accelerated stall. (Remember the load factor stuff?)
Spinning is a lot of fun. Recovering from the spin is an integral part of the fun. Aerobatics help hone the skills by controlling the entry and exit to specific headings and attitudes. I love being able to help train the next generation of trainers. The stall spin accident remains one of aviations biggest killers. The Colgan tragedy in 2009 resulted in sweeping changes in certification standards for passenger airline flight crew. The changes added a considerable number of hours and ratings for a co-pilot. Interestingly the accident crew would have been qualified under the new rules. In my opinion the idea was that the inexperienced regional crews just don’t know how to fly so let us make sure they have lots of hours before they can warm the right seat. Later that year an Air France aircrew maintained an aerodynamic stall from 38,000 feet. These tragedies might have been prevented if the pilot(s) had reduced the angle of attack. I am in no way judging the competency of the aircrew for I have no idea how I would react faced with the same conditions. I do however try to instill in my students a firm grasp on what causes a stall and how to recover.
Don’t let the monkey kill you.

Praise God, I have a medical!

Spring 2014

The trees are green and the flowers are blooming. The snow and ice is finally gone but in typical North Carolina fashion it was in the eighties on Sunday and may dip into the lower thirties by Wednesday. I have the second round of plants in the ground, I hope they survive. I tend to plant early and often. Sometimes I am lucky and I get an early crop and other times the gamble does not pay off.
My FAA medical is still not approved. The most recent update is that it is on the doctor’s desk which is better than the janitor’s desk. The route so far has been “we received it” to “a reviewer’s desk” to the “doctor’s desk.” I do not have a clear picture of where it goes from there or how long it takes. The reviewer to the doctor took three weeks. I am flying and teaching but it severely limits my potential client base.
Ben and I started basic obedience training last week. It will be interesting to see if he can become a therapy dog. He is a wonderful listener and has made my life better. I hope to be able to bring some of that love to others.
I continue to adapt to the new normal. The damage from the treatment has lingering effects. Pain and fatigue are the most prominent. I am somewhat paranoid over recurrence but then getting killed by someone texting and driving is probably a bigger hazard. My brothers continue to inspire me to quit whining and work hard at the rehabilitation exercises.

As Easter approaches I thank God for all my blessings. My apprehension of death is still palpable but my faith in the promise of salvation is stronger. Our lives on this planet are short and often feel meaningless. I choose to believe that our lives have consequences and not just the things we do for a human audience but even our thoughts when we are alone. That is because I do not feel like I am alone. I choose to believe I have an eternal soul created by a loving God that came to earth to rescue us. One of my great friends said “The Bible is just a story.” It is a wonderful love story that, if true, changes everything. “Now we are just arguing over imaginary friends.” quipped the critic. But my imaginary friend says I should love you like you are a child of God; do you really want to convince me that he does not exist? Jesus Christ saved my soul and changed my heart. Happy Easter and God Bless.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spiders, snakes and flamethrowers

I love gardening. I live on a lake. The ditch on the side of my property is lined with rocks to expedite the flow of water. The weeds grow between the rocks and make the ditch a snake habitat. Running a weed eater is frustrating because the rocks slice the string. I am pretty sure the snakes are scared of the sound but water moccasins are not polite like rattlesnakes; they do not warn you. That is my excuse for buying a flamethrower.
It is one of my favorite tools. It kills weeds, spiders, snakes and other varmints and is fun to use. I have only caught a few trees, the neighbor’s fence and myself on fire. It reminds me of a time on Fort Leonard Wood with Gordy Tully…but that is a story for a different day.

Whirlwind of emotions

This last week has been interesting. Thank God I am alive and getting stronger every day! The ups and downs of recovery are fascinating. It is awesome to be able to ply my trade. It is totally worth avoiding the mind numbing medications to be able to focus. When I relax the stupid pain hammers me. That is irritating.
I have been able to work in the garden which brings me great joy. I am faced with the reality that I can not lift and move things like I could last year. My mind imagines knocking out a few hours of work and my body conks out an hour into the job with out a lot accomplished. It disappoints me to fall short of my goals. I realize those objectives are set only by me and being upset is counter productive. It is like I aged twenty years in six months. The problem is that I am not twenty years wiser.
Trying to establish the new “normal” is a process. Pushing the limits is natural. It is OK to get pissed if it improves performance and you do not punish other people because of your shortcomings. Remember to savor the moment. I am incredibly blessed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

One year survivor

March 20, 2013 the ENT doctor from Fort Bragg called and gave me the results of the fine needle biopsy. “You have cancer, blah, blah, blah.” I had prepared mentally for the diagnosis but it still hammered me emotionally. I did not process many of the words after “you have cancer.”
I went to work and let the client know I would be unable to fly with him. It was a teachable moment. The IMSAFE checklist is an acronym to assess the pilot’s fitness for flight. Illness, well that sucks, possibly legal to still fly. Medication: not at the moment. Stress: just a bit, and the show stopper for me. Alcohol: not yet, but sounds tempting. Fatigue: it explained a lot. Emotion/Eating: not sure how to handle the emotions, and I am not hungry.
My experience in the service helped me appreciate the fragility of life. Too many of my brothers died too early. Everyday that I wake up is a gift and is not taken for granted. I understood that the cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence unless left untreated.
Watching how it affected my loved ones was the toughest. My wife, my mother and my children did great. The fact that they can not do much to “make it all better” is hard to deal with.
Some people treat you with kid gloves and avoid talking about the realities of the situation. Other people only want to talk about it. My advice to the friends and family of someone affected by cancer is to let them know you love them and remember “they ain’t dead yet,” in other words all hope is not lost. Keeping a sense of humor is very important. Laughing and crying are fine responses and trying to keep up any façade falls apart under stress anyway.
The treatment was tough. My faith and my marriage became stronger. The bonds of friendship were essential to our success. Thank God for my many blessings. My wife is an awesome caregiver. My friends and family provided a support network that filled in the gaps when we were cracking under the pressure. I would name names but I know I would forget someone. Thank all of you.
I am so grateful that I am alive. The second year of cancer survival is going to have its challenges. The pain makes sleep difficult which adds to the challenge of establishing a good rest cycle. Weakness and fatigue are still issues. Lymphodema and peripheral neuropathy are lingering side effects. The stiffening of the scar tissues and possibly radiation fibrosis are additional side effects. Sticking to the physical therapy routine will help my recovery no matter the technical causes.
Diet and exercise are the foundations of any recovery program. Maintaining discipline is the challenge. Prayer helps. Thank God for all my blessings. I am getting stronger; I am teaching and flying again. Food is a source of pleasure again. This weekend we celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. I am indeed one of the luckiest people ever.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Five months later

It has been about five months since my last treatment. Praise God I am alive and kickin’. The long road to recovery continues to teach me lessons. Patience, perseverance and gratitude are the main themes. I want to be as strong and healthy as I was before the treatment. That may or may not happen. Six months of treatment will probably take more than six months of recovery. The massive amount of abuse my body endured will take time to heal. Some of the after effects may linger for a long time. The neuropathy, the fatigue, and the missing parts still hinder my performance.
Sometimes I get tired of being tired and pissed off at being in pain. The solutions offered by medical science have crummy side effects. Chemical pain management makes my mind too slow to fly and ride motorcycles. Diet and exercise are the solutions that work. They take time. Rest is part of the recovery process. I have to remind myself that I am not a lazy bum but a recovering cancer survivor. I have been able to return to work and that is awesome. I have to closely monitor my fatigue level to insure I provide a safe and conducive learning environment and that I do not hinder the healing process.
I want to return to full time work but I am approaching it with caution, and without a medical certificate it is not really feasible. The FAA is moving at the speed of government. AOPA and I continue to try to track and expedite my medical. I have not started riding my motorcycle yet, so motorcycle safety is not an option. I do not think I could handle the hours or the physical demands anyway. Teaching college for Embry-Riddle is an option but the courses I am cleared for are not on the schedule.
When I count my blessings it puts it in perspective. I am alive. I have no evidence of disease. My wife is not pushing me around in a wheelchair anymore. I am not 127 pounds and puking my guts out. I am grateful they did not have to cut out more parts. Some of my cancer comrades at UNC lost parts of their jaw, their voice box, and parts of their face. Some of them lost the battle. My friends and family continue to shower me with love and support. I am one of the luckiest people on the planet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dawg Tarred

Ah um dawg tarred o this…
Yesterday Ben and I were supposed to start obedience training. The class canceled, again. I will have to seek another provider. Ben is reasonably well mannered but far from being a therapy dog. He is, however, the perfect dog for me. He has made the cancer journey easier and it would be nice if we could share the love.
My daughter has moved to Louisiana. She is trying a new adventure. It is a great opportunity for her and my mom to bond. There is a bit of culture shock. My mom lives in the woods outside of Gloster, La. The film ‘Water Boy’ is not too far off target. I loved living there. We moved to Riverside, California right around puberty. That was traumatic. I was a country boy in the big city. Among other things they made fun of my accent; “dude, say dog.”
The formative years set the stage for our personality. I tried hard to fit in. My music changed from Hank Williams to Kiss. Just as I was becoming accepted the disco craze started. I made a half-hearted effort to go with the trend but could not stomach the fickle nature of junior high social hierarchy. I figured out I did not want to make the effort to be “popular” if it meant pretending to like things I did not. I was still an idiot but I knew I liked bluegrass and punk, functional clothes and DAWGS.
Recovery continues. I thank God everyday for allowing me to be. Thanks for the prayers and support.