Night Flight with The Monkey

CLICK HERE for backstory on The Monkey.

~~~

Flying… it’s definitely a drug. If I were to ever OD on something, I’d want it to be aviation.

I’ve been working ’round the clock the last few weeks. I’m passionate about what I do and am honored to play a key role in enhancing the safety of a national event. But it’s been exhausting. I’ve started to get cranky. More so than usual.

The Monkey, neglected and bored, was beginning to act out around the house… trashing the joint… slinging poop everywhere… drinking all my booze. The latter was unacceptable.

It was time for a fix. An aviation fix.

Since I’ve had The Monkey these last couple of months, I’ve gotten him down to an airport in Connecticut and one in Rhode Island. My goal is to get him to all of the New England states before passing him along, so this time I decided to head for Maine.

Maine is a beautiful state with so much to offer. It has, uh, snow. And, um…

Well, anyway, we threw together a quick flight plan to Portland, figuring that since it’s a city, kinda, it’ll at least have lights and maybe we’ll be able to see it to land.

~~~

First step before doing ANYTHING in New England is to hit a Dunkin Donuts. It’s actually a requirement for living  up here. If they catch you going more than a couple of days without frequenting a DD establishment, you get deported to some place called “Ohio.”

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First step before doing anything with The Monkey, on the other hand, is to – assuming one hasn’t already – go ahead and bring sexy back.

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the above.

~~~

Once we got to the airport, the sun began to set. Made for a beautiful preflight. I was definitely excited to be getting back in the air.

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The night couldn’t have been more perfect. Calm winds, clear skies and a quiet frequency.

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And, as you can see, The Monkey actually maintained a pretty good attitude…

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It was my first time flying into a Class C airport as Pilot-in-Command. I figured there’d be a lot of big planes trying to intimidate my little plane. Or that the tower guys/gals would be screaming at me for getting in their way or messing up their perfectly organized pattern.

I was ten miles out and admittedly nervous when I made my initial call. “Here goes the shitstorm,” I thought, bracing myself –

He was obviously enraged and just masking it well. I’ve never even gotten clearance to land at my own airport that far out before. Maybe his boss was looming over him. So, I decided to test the waters again, this time with a request to brighten up the airport for my arrival. Everyone loves a special snowflake.

What a jerk.

Anyway, we decided that since the coffee hadn’t hit our bladders too hard yet and we both knew there was whiskey waiting for us back home (you work up a thirst when you fly), we’d just do a quick stop and go, then head back.

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I made a pretty sweet landing on arrival at KBED… or as they say up here, a pretty wicked landing. Guess I didn’t have as much rust built up as I feared.

~~~

Unfortunately I did not get to partake in a celebratory beverage at the house. As usual, The Monkey beat me to it… ugh.

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It’s really getting to be about time for him to move along. Especially since I’m getting sick of picking him up from State Police HQ ever morning.

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Otherwise, it was a great night. I feel rejuvenated. Alive again. Like maybe I can get through these next couple weeks at work without completely losing it after all.

Maybe.

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Above the Clouds with JetBlue

Rolling into a small local airport, you’re almost always guaranteed to see two things… old men and equally old planes. A wave is created every time something outside the norm happens – a pilot has to make more than one go-around, a warbird lands, a pretty lady climbs out of a plane (…triple waves if she’s the pilot).

When the Ninety-Nines descend on an airport for one of our monthly meetings, we tend to generate some ripples. I was ready for more of the same arriving at Norwood Memorial (KOWD) one day back in January. When I got there, however, huge waves were already crashing against the hangar doors, and it certainly wasn’t from us.

There were kids everywhere! People were holding signs. Cheering. Clapping. Smiling. Despite a cold day, there was a definite warmth in the air.

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(Photo credit: Martha Oberstein)

Baffled, and intrigued, I stopped an adult to ask if he knew what in the heck all the buzz was about. The gentleman’s named turned out to be Gary, and the event was one being hosted by his charity. He offered to stop by our meeting and tell us about it.

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His organization, Above the Clouds, aims to bring hope and happiness to kids facing serious adversary, such as homelessness, disability and terminal illness. They have three programs – Dream Flyers, Cadet Flyers and Discovery Flyers. While all three programs offer kids a much needed escape from their daily struggles, each has their own special purpose.

The Dream Flyers program is a one day event that basically just gives kids something really fun to look forward to – going up in a plane! They are assigned a pilot, showered with attention and fed lots of yummy food. That’s what was going on that day at KOWD.

Discovery Flyers assigns each teenager a volunteer pilot to act as a mentor. The pilot introduces them to aviation and gives them opportunities to fly with them. The kids are invited to periodic field trips and are encouraged to assist on Dream Flight days.

The Cadet Flyers program takes it even further by encouraging teenagers to stay in school by offering incentives. In this program, teens who meet certain obligations can actually learn how to fly and will be brought all the way up to their first solo.

I was so moved by his mission, and by the positive energy I saw outside in the kids, that I immediately tossed my name in the hat as a volunteer.

The first event I attended was held yesterday at Logan International (KBOS). JetBlue kindly offered to give the kids a “behind the scenes” tour of their terminal. This tour included going up in their Operations Tower, touring an Airbus and sitting up in the cockpit, and, over free pizza and drinks in their employee lounge area, hearing from mechanics and pilots who work for JetBlue talk about how they got into aviation, what they like about it and career paths for those interested.

Each child was paired up with a volunteer. I found the girl who looked the most withdrawn and apprehensive, and picked her. It took me a while to shake her personality out, but when I did, I felt privileged. She was a truly beautiful person with a truly incredible smile.

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While it was certainly cool touring the tower and exploring the plane, seeing these kids’ faces light up with joy and watching them smile these big, beautiful smiles, was wonderful. It was an honor to spend a day with them.

Major kudos to JetBlue for making this event possible.

Afterwards, I met up with a few of my Ninety-Nines friends for lunch at the Astro Diner Bistro. A great way to conclude a great day.

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A little Vineyard, a little Blue

Looks like I have one last aviation-infused weekend coming up before I go off the grid for a month.

On the menu:

Saturday – Flying a new pilot to Martha’s Vineyard for lunch. Will be curious to learn whether I’ll be more relaxed flying over water now that I’ve done the underwater egress training, or far more tense now that I know what it’s actually like to escape from a situation like that!

Sunday – JetBlue tour at Logan International. This will be my first event as a volunteer for Above the Clouds. The field trip offers a behind-the-scenes look into JetBlue. The kids will get to meet with mechanics, chief pilots, and ground crew, visit the JetBlue Operations Tower, and explore the cockpit of an Airbus. Should be a lot of fun… and not just for them!

Topping it all off will be a nice lunch with some of my Ninety-Nines ladies in Boston.

Some pictures from the Ninety-Nines meeting at North Central State Airport in Rhode Island last weekend –

Yes, the monkey was there…

 

 

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Surviving a Plane Crash in Water

AUTHOR’S NOTE: After making this post, with the permission of Survival Systems USA, a longer, more refined version was accepted for publication in Plane & Pilot magazine.  That article can be found here: Dunk Tank Training

~~~

Brace, Brace, Brace,” I repeated in my head.  Knowing impact was imminent, I crossed my arms, gripped my hands neck-level to the top of my belt straps and dug my chin deep into my chest.

I only managed one small, shallow breath before the plane flipped and rushing waters overtook me. My initial reaction was one of panic, but I knew that panic could lead to death. Instead, I did my best to stay calm until the violent motion of the crash ceased. The wait felt like forever.

When the movement finally stopped, I opened my eyes and was met by a sea of darkness. The door closest to me was apparently jammed. I felt around trying to orient myself. Keeping my left arm in the brace position, I ran my right hand down to my leg for reference and up to the rim of the panel in front of me. If I held onto that rim, I knew I could follow it down to the exit on the other side of the aircraft.

Pressing my feet firmly into the floorboard, I used my left hand to unlatch the seat belt and slowly began scooting towards the other door. My feet hit some kind of obstruction along the way. I had to lift them up and over it, taking care not to let them drag behind me. I had to keep my bearings.

When I reached for the door, it wasn’t there… maybe it came off on impact. So I curled the fingers of my right hand around its frame, pulled myself through and began swimming up to the surface of the water.

19 seconds

That’s how long it took from the moment water began flooding my sinuses to the moment I broke free on top. When I reached the surface, the wind, lightning and rain stopped, and the lights of the room were turned back on.

I had successfully completed my final run in aircraft ditching and underwater egress training.

This short video shows some of the training involved, as well as the final simulation described above

The two day course, “General Emergency Duties,” is one of several offered at Survival Systems USA, Inc in Groton, CT. I had heard about it after reading an article in the NY Times and was immediately intrigued.

Physically, I found the experience less challenging than I anticipated. Psychologically, the course was quite difficult for me. All my childhood insecurities came flooding back – I’m not good enough. Not strong enough. Not smart enough. But exposing my insecurities and discovering what I really fear was a big part of why I wanted to do the course in the first place.

Last blog: Simulate a plane crash?

Some pictures from the day…

They encouraged anyone with anxieties about the aircraft ditching part to go first. At the time, I was nervous, but not super anxious, so I hung behind. Big mistake.

When I started watching the other students getting dunked, my anxiety levels shot through the roof. By the time they progressed onto the larger aircraft simulation device, all I could think was, “Nope.” Actually, it was more like, “HELL nope.

Once it was my turn, I was a petrified mess. Instead of doing the Shallow Water Egress Trainer (aka, the “SWET Seat”) seat twice like most students, I had to do it four times – a couple extra until I could get it right.

Thing is, unlike the other students who were there because their companies required them to be, I was there because I wanted to be. I could have left at any time. But I didn’t. Although, after watching round after round of others being dunked, I definitely gave it some thought.

The second I climbed into the big blue Modular Egress Training Simulator (METS), I looked up at the instructor in front of me and said, for the first time in my life, “I can’t do this.”

Yes, you can,” he reassured me.

No, I can’t, I thought.

What are you most afraid of?”

I’m going to panic.”

And panic I did. The first time we hit the water and flipped, I went straight for my belt to unleash myself. My arms were flailing around looking for the door. There was nothing calm and methodical about my movements. I was all over the place.

But I got better with each run and, surprisingly, the final one in the dark with the wind, rain and lightning was the one that scared me the least. By that point, I was finally getting a handle on things. More importantly, I was finally getting a handle on myself.

While I contribute much of the reason I was able to complete the course to self-determination and refusal to fail, I also owe part of my success to an exceptional instructor. He calmed me, made me feel safe and stayed by my side the entire time. Despite my fears, the only danger I faced that day came from within.

Their halls are filled with lots of pictures of previous students, including a few big names-

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(don’t mind the Monkey photobomb)

Here’s arguably the most famous couple in the modern aviation world, John and Martha King –

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Other than underwater egress training, the course also included topics such as open water survival, high altitude decompression, fire fighting in a smoke-filled cabin, and First Aid/CPR/AED. It was a great experience and I recommend it to anyone interested in learning real world survival techniques and what you can accomplish when you do not let fear dictate your decisions.

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For more information: Survival Systems USA

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with this company. Just a very satisfied client.

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Simulate a plane crash?

I read this article in the New York Times a while back and became intrigued –
Need better workplace morale? Simulate a plane crash.

The short of it is that somewhere in Connecticut is a place that will put you into an aircraft-like device, drop you into water, spin you upside-down and, only after water has completely filled the vessel – and apparently your nostrils, you then have you try to escape with your life.

The craziest part is that there are actually people willing to pay money to participate.

Obviously I sought to become one of those people.

The course starts this weekend and, to be honest, I’m a little nervous. Some of the reviews I have read haven’t exactly been encouraging…

That motherfucker is Satan’s own jungle gym, forged in some obscure pit of hell for the sole purpose of torture and general nastiness,” said one participant.

When will congress label this as torture?” added another.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m doing it. Due to financial constraints, I’m really not flying much on my own these days. I certainly do not have any intentions of flying across large bodies of water in the near future.

Ok, fine, I’m lying. I know why.

The truth is that I’m a sucker for oddities and exploring all life has to offer. Die, or nearly die, a couple solid times and you start to get a taste for absorbing as many experiences into your life as possible.

I guess a part of me is also curious how I will handle being put into such a situation. Given the nature of my day job and the fact that I’m also a pilot, I’d like to think that I’m mentally equipped to face a panic-inducing event and do what is needed to survive. But am I really? Or will I let fear dictate my response?

Here’s all that the two day course covers (other than just the water dunking):

Cabin emergency response training:

  • Fire fighting in a smoke-filled cabin environment
  • Crewmember duties, responsibilities and emergency coordination
  • Hazards to aircraft and crewmembers
  • Survival equipment carried on aircraft
  • Aircraft accident/incident history
  • Crewmember incapacitation
  • General hijacking and other unusual situations
  • Operations above 25,000 feet and rapid decompression
  • Emergency breathing systems and oxygen delivery systems
  • Proper brace positions, emergency exit jettisoning and cabin evacuation
  • Life raft deployment

Emergency water survival skills:

  • Life Preserver Units (LPU)
  • Surface survival formations and hypothermia mitigation positions
  • Boarding and righting a life raft
  • Use of surface rescue devices in use by Search and Rescue responders
  • Underwater escape training using the Modular Egress Training Simulator (METS™)
  • First aid training:
  • The carrier’s first aid kit contents
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • Use of an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED)

Curiosity killed the cat, as they say. I have no intentions of being killed, though, so I guess we’ll see what this next adventure brings.

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Map of the Cross Country Adventure

This map shows all of the places I ventured to over the last week.  All points and lines on the map are clickable, and include pictures. The skinny light blue lines are commercial flights.

Here’s the recap of the trip:

Crossing the Country in a Single Engine Airplane

Adventure Day 1, Murphy’s Law dictates my life

Adventure Day 2, National US Air Force Museum

Adventure Day 3, Some Issues…

Adventure Day 4, too tired for decent update

Adventure Day 5, wow… just wow

Adventure Day 6 – Part 1, Full Motion Simulator

Adventure Day 6, Part II – Flight to Grand Canyon and beyond

(Background on the Monkey: The Monkey, and why I must make this trip)

One final picture just for laughs…
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A modern Amelia Earhart 🙂

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Adventure Day 6, Part II – Flight to Grand Canyon and beyond

After a morning of playing in the flight simulator, my friend had to skip off to a meeting for a while. I spent the next few hours bumming around the airport. Was a beautiful place to bum around…

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After lunch, we met back up and headed off for another adventure in the Cirrus. I got to fly left seat again and was told that at the conclusion of the flight – depending on how things went – I would earn my high performance aircraft endorsement.

This was, by far… by miles… by infinity, the most amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring flight of my life. After departing KVGT, we hit up the following locations –

  1. Hoover Dam

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2. The Lake Mead Narrows – My friend talked me through the maneuvering. Below is a video recreation from the actual flight path he recorded in CloudAhoy:

 

3. Temple Rock

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4. Grand Canyon

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We circled the Grand Canyon Skywalk as well –

 

5. Lost City

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6. Valley of Fire

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The entire flight path looked like this:flight-path

GoPro Video, wing view (unfortunately the camera died as soon as we hit the Canyon):

 

My life has been forever changed. Oh, and yes, I successfully earned my high performance aircraft endorsement!

Since my flight home that night was a redeye, I was able to go out and explore Las Vegas for a few hours. I’m not really one for loud, flashy places, but I can see the appeal.

 

The Monkey seemed to dig it…

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Special thanks to the Bell Captain at Bally’s for helping to make my time in the city a pleasant one.

Definitely a trip I won’t soon forget.

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