Thursday, November 29, 2012

Flight Instructor Hall of Fame

While practicing instrument approaches other day, I was struck by how fortunate I have been.  So I decided to write about some of the flight instructors I have had over the years. 

The first entry in my log book is from my sister’s neighbor.  A quiet, unassuming man, not very tall who was approaching the end of his time at Boeing.  He has a charming wife and three daughters about my age.  He took me out in a little Cessna 150A from Wings Aloft.  Not knowing any different, it did not seem odd to me when he helped me into the parachute.  In my first "flight lesson" we looped, and barrel rolled, and spun, and aileron rolled, and talked.  Turns out Col. J. Rev Allender did a fair amount of flying in the Air Force before moving on to a civilian career.  He flew F-104 Starfighters.  Two of the Starfighter flights ended in what Rev euphemistically called "separate landings."  You can read about him ejecting TWICE.  Rev went on to be one of the Air Force’s test pilots on the SR-71 Blackbird (#215).  He told me he did the envelope testing for altitude and speed - how high, and how fast will it go?  He also told me that he still cannot tell me how high, nor how fast it will go.  In civilian life, Rev became an instructor for Boeing, teaching new crews how to fly the 747. 

Years later I was able to take Rev out for instrument practice in my plane, where he demonstrated the ILS at airliner air-speeds.  Straight down the ILS at 140 knots, and the needles never moved outside of the small circle in the middle of the gauge.  Rev also gave me my introduction to tail wheel airplanes in his personal Cessna 140

My next instructor was Lewis Townes.  Perhaps I was inexperienced and impressionable, but Lew is the best natural pilot I have ever flown with.  Lew and the airplane are one.  Where I wrestle the plane onto the runway, Lew introduced the two gently.  We once flew down the runway touching one wheel, picking the plane back up, and then touching the alternating wheel, picking the plane back up, and then touching the alternating wheel back and forth five or six times.  It was amazing.  Lew went on to fly KC-135 aerial refueling planes and later C-17 transports.  He was flying for Untied when Al-Qaeda hijacked the planes and used them as missiles.  Lew was furloughed in the airline slump that followed, and never went back.  When Lew got married, my wife and I flew to his wedding, I thought it fitting. 

I still see Lew, and have a great admiration for him.  When Lew left, Sean helped me complete my private pilot certificate.  Sean went on to become a pilot for Alaska Airlines. 

My check-ride was with a serious military man.  I’ve read many descriptions of Col. Bob Roetcisoender, but this one stands out: "His appearance and his office scream efficiency."  Like Rev, Bob also has a storied Air Force background.  Crew-member on a B-47 bomber during the Cold War, commander of a Titan strategic missile wing (ICBM), and SR-71 Blackbird Reconnaissance Systems Officer (#160).  I introduced Bob to Rev, and Bob said, "I remember reading your reports!" He is a serious, disciplined, and skilled pilot.  Since that first check ride, Bob has since gifted me with an Instrument and Commercial certificates.  I consider Col. Bob a great mentor. He has accompanied me on test flights after maintenance and provided me with his safety pilot services in efforts to keep me IFR current. 

There were more instructors; Mike Hatler started my IFR, and gave me a complex endorsement, Jason Mauk lured me into a lesson I won’t forget - and later flew me from JFK to SEA as Captain of a Jetblue Airbus, Howard Hurley taught me practical ways to enter a hold - "when you cross over the fix, make the shortest turn to the outbound course, and figure it out from there."  Howard reports to have flown all of the "Century Series" aircraft (F-100 through F-106).  Carolyn Moeller gave me my High Performance endorsement and then went on to win the FAA flight instructor of the year award (not related to my endorsement). 

There is one instructor I have spent more time in the plane with than any other.  When Mike left for bluer skies, I was scrambling for a new IFR instructor.  Again I stumbled across a gruff old military pilot – but again, no ordinary pilot.  Col. Charles Smith was transitioning out of the Army Reserve and into civilian retirement.  Chuck was the commanding officer of the Army Reserve unit at Paine Field and coordinating relocating the unit to JBLM.  In the Army Chuck had flown Beavers, Barrons, King-Airs, Bells, Hueys, and Chinooks to name a few.  But never jets or fighters.  When Chuck was a teen, his father owned airplanes and Chuck tells of teen pranks committed with Cessnas.  He tells of flying with the crop dusters, dead-sticking and bouncing planes across irrigation canals to make the runway.  Chuck did not fly the planes with excess power; he flew the planes for real.  He flew in the system, in the soup, and at the nap of the earth.  He tells stories of duct-taping glow sticks to the tips of the helicopter rotor blades so they could see them easier with night vision goggles while flying in tree-lined valleys.  He tells of wrapping fuses with aluminum foil gum wrappers and putting them back in to complete night IFR flights. 

I believe Chuck has chosen me, not just as a student, but as a friend, or even a surrogate family member.  A couple years back, Chuck was awarded a “Wright Brothers Master Pilots Award” for 50 years of aviation experience.  I was honored to write a recommendation for him.  In it I said, "Since that first day I have added IFR, Commercial, and Multi-Engine privileges, all with Chuck sitting in the right seat next to me.  And Chuck has pushed me beyond the practical test standards for each one.  His depth of experience drives him to expect more of me and all of his students.  And I am both a more cautious and confident pilot due to Chuck’s high expectations.  I believe those that fly with Chuck come away better pilots for the experience." 

Chuck has welcomed me not just in the airplane and in his office, but he and his saint-of-a-wife have welcomed my entire family into their home for meals, and bridge, and movies. 

When my wife gave me a training flight in P-51 Mustang, my instructor was John Posson.  John seems like a regular enough guy, but when he is not thrilling Stallion 51’s customers, he is flying formation aerobatics in an L-39 Albatross as the left wing of the Patriot's demonstration team. 

During my tail wheel training I got in one flight with Arnold Ebneter, who also is a retired military pilot, having flown the F-105 Thunderchief or "Thud."  But Arnold's most recent claim to fame is having designed and built his own airplane, the Ebneter E-1, and then flying it coast to coast, setting two records

Thank you for all who have made this such a great ride! 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A good challenge.

OK geek friends, I think #2 on this list is pretty compelling.

Replace Email

Here are things I think should be required. 

  • guaranteed delivery -- eliminate "Did you get the mail I sent you?"
  • Verified identity -- eliminates anonymous spam.
  • Ubiquity -- can be on any domain like email.  Facebook messaging or proprietary is no good.  
Add you thoughts!

Friday, March 09, 2012

New toys from google

I just installed the blogger application to my phone from my desktop over the web.  

Go to and click the link to the right that says:

Get Blogger

Blogger for Android

Download from Google Play

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

21 Down, 29 to go.

Recently we went on a family vacation to Arizona.  Ahead of our departure I looked up flight schools (fixed base operators of FBO in pilot speak) in the Phoenix area and there are plenty.  Unlike my seven state tour of earlier this summer, I knew I would not be crossing any state boundaries, and all I wanted was to land a plane.  I didn't even want to get checked out.  Just grab an instructor and head for the sky.

On Tuesday I started calling the FBOs on my list hoping to find an open spot on their schedule for me to fill.  We were staying at the Squaw Peak Hilton, making Scottsdale the most convenient airport.

I called Alliance Flight Schools during business hours and got their answering machine.  Weird.

Next I tried Arizona Flight Training Center and, the phone was never answered.  Even werider.

But then Alliance called me back, and I scheduled a flight for 9:AM Thursday morning with Mike.

I was just pulling out of the resort on Thursday when my phone rang.  I hit the button on the steering wheel (I love Bluetooth).  Mike was sick and had to cancel.  Bummer.

I switched to the aerobatic school in Chandler.  Flying inverted is always fun, and I want tail-wheel time.  But try as I might, I could not find a phone number on their website using the tiny browser on my phone. Turns out it is right there on the upper right.  In an image.  So my phone cannot find it to help me dial.  I wonder if these guys ever tried to use their own website while I send them an email.

Mark Bolstad from Alliance calls and says he is available Friday at 2:PM -- I book it.  The aerobatic school emails me back.  Too late.

My briefing with Mark is pretty simple.  We are flying a Cessna 172, a model with which I am very familiar.  I want to land at least once.  I want to fly around.  Mark knows the airspace, he will keep us out of trouble.  Plus he can play with my new Garmin 796 while I fly.

We take off and fly to the west of Squaw Peak, and then turn right and fly east bound between the south side of Squaw Peak and the north side of Camelback Mountain.  We look at the resorts at the base of the mountain, and make some turns around an abandoned swimming pool that Mark refers to as a "Skate Board Resort."

Track of the flight
We fly further east out past the Talking Stick Resort an around a redrock peak.  Mark pushes me close to the mountain to stay out of Falcon Field's airspace.

I ask Mark about Fountian Hills, and he points to the north.  We fly north.  Mark points down to the west at a golf course where his girlfriend works. As we arrive at the lake we find the fountain is turned off, but we circle anyway.  Mark says he grew up here, and is parents live on the northwest side of town.  We go circle their house.

We head further north to Carefree, and fly a big circle looking at the houses perched on the mountain.  As we cross around the east side we spot a new home being built wedged into the rocks.  It looks small at the base of a pile of BIG boulders.  I think if I were the owner, and saw it from the plane, I would question the wisdom of building there.

We turned pointed the plane back south east towards the Scottsdale airport, picked up the current weather conditions and called up the tower.  Mark took care of this and the playing with GPS.

No matter how good the flying was, every pilot is always judged by the final 3 feet before touchdown.  Drop too fast on those last three feet and hit hard or bounce and everybody in the plane knows what kind of pilot you are.  My first landing was pretty good.  I was proud of if.

We circled around for a second go at it.  Mark wanted to see if the little plane on the 3D vision display touched down at the same time we did.  My second landing was spectacular.  No bump or collision with the ground.  Just the soft scrubbing of the tires on the ground as we rolled out.  I was a thing of beauty. And Mark reported the GPS matched exactly our wheels touching the runway.

Adding Arizona, my 21st state.
He also said he wished he could teach his students to land like that.  I revealed my knowledge of good landings.  There are three secrets to a good landing, and no one pilot knows all three of them -- including me.

To prove my point, the third time around we arrived with a solid thud and we called it a day.  1.1 hours and one more state off my list.