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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 1: Ground school

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It's 0900 on Monday morning. First day. The process begins—as does the training folder that will follow each of us for the rest of our career.

A notebook, highlighter, operations manual, Jepps, chocolate, and coffee. Let's get this party started.

There are ten seats reserved. Surprisingly, although I got hired the day after my 40th birthday, I'm actually #3 in seniority. (Most airlines assign seniority in classes by birthdate, starting with the oldest and working downward.) Of those ten, nine are here, which is actually a pretty good show percentage. Many pilots apply and interview at several places at once, so in the month or so in between they may end up taking a position at a different airline, so 90% attendance is pretty good. The one that didn't show was ahead of me, so I've already moved up a seniority number and I've only been here 15 minutes!

All airlines do the same basic things in similar ways. Most of the differences have to do with routes, authorizations, the capabilities and limitations of the equipment that airline flies, etc. This means that Week 1, "Basic Indoc", is going to be 90% the same no matter where you go because most of this week covers the FAA regulations and how to apply them to that particular airline's operations, and other things the FAA requires every airline to include in their training curriculum.

Today is the first day of the next three weeks of your life.
The modules are numbered in a logical sequence, starting from your duties and responsibilities as a soon-to-be airline pilot, working through 14 CFR 121, what the company is authorized to do (the types of navigation and approaches, airports it can fly into, and so on), how the company's dispatch and flight supervision procedures work, and end by reviewing basic aviation subjects you already know about from the studying you've done for all the writtens you've taken and the experience you've gained to make it to an airline class in the first place. Many of the review modules harken all the way back to the old instrument rating days (weather, the 1-2-3 rule, alternate planning, ATC procedures, how the FAA constructs instrument approaches, etc.).

One of the big changes in this class are a module dedicated to the new Part 117 rest requirements, which are a lot more complicated than the old-school regs. Like most laws, they have some pros and cons. They actually take some common sense into account: for example, if you have to get up at 4:00 a.m. to start a day, you're not going to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by the afternoon, so your duty period will be shorter. The downside is that you often end up with a couple fewer days off per month because you can't cram as much flying into each day. They're complicated enough to spend an entire module on to make sure you understand them, but fortunately the company's scheduling software keeps track of the Table B requirements for them and for you, so you know at a glance exactly when you'll "time out".

We get assigned our all-important "Blue Books", which we'll carry in our flight bags for as long as we're with the company. The two parts of the Blue Book (which is about things that are identified and actually fly, not the old Air Force UFO project) are the AOM and GOM: the Aircraft Operations Manual and the General Operations Manual. This week we're covering the GOM half, since what we're covering are the general operating procedures we're expected to follow and understand. The following two weeks will go into the AOM half in detail.

Since we now have our AOM/GOM, we're assigned reading from it from here on out. (And, yes, you will be quizzed on the reading.) By the end of the first week, the reading will cover the entire GOM—334 pages in total. Now you can see why in my previous post I emphasized studying the flows, limitations, and memory items before coming to class: the pace is very fast. During my interview, one of the HR questions I was asked was if I had ever had to learn a large amount of material in a short time. I was in the Army as a cryptanalyst, and our AIT consisted of covering almost an entire Bachelor's degree worth of material in only 17 weeks, so I was able to answer with a confident "yes". The foreshadowing of that question becomes clear now, especially since we'll cover both the aircraft's systems manual and the AOM in weeks 2 and 3, which is another 862 pages worth of material.

While we were at lunch on the first day, the company left us some nice, cheap swag on our desks: a lunch bag (with notepad, note cards, Post-Its, and even Cup-O-Noodle and microwave popcorn for the long study sessions to come) and a United Express pen with a mini-flashlight on the end. (Which unfortunately comes in handy when doing a pre-flight inspection so early the sun hasn't even risen yet and your brain hasn't engaged enough to remember to take your flashlight out of the flight bag.) They also stocked a chest full of vending machine goodies for those days you end up too busy studying to take a lunch break. Sure, it doesn't cost them much, and maybe I'm morale-bribed pretty easily, but they didn't have to do any of that, so it's a nice gesture. After it's all over, I estimate that it probably cost the company around $20,000-30,000 to get each one of us through training and on the line, so what's another $100 or so?

In the middle of the week, we were introduced to the CPT: the cockpit procedures trainer (AKA the "paper tiger"). This is like the cockpit posters I've been using to study from, but instead of them being spread out on the dining room table, they're rigged up roughly how the cockpit is laid out itself:



These are used for flow checks (which go into your training folder) and so you can practice on your own after class to build some muscle memory for how they'll actually go. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses in any subject or occupation, and the flow checks that begin this week start to show my weakness from the GA world, where flows are short. Although I've had no problems keeping up with the reading and absorbing the large amounts of material thrown at me, the flows themselves are the only thing giving me a spot of difficulty. My brain just abhors memorizing sequences without understanding what they mean, so I tend to miss a switch here or a knob there this week. This is why you want to come in as prepared as possible: you'll find your own weakness in something at some point, and you can use the time saved on things you've already become good at to devote to whatever ends up being your personal sticking point.

Toward the end of the week, ALPA (the airline pilot's union that represents our pilot group) took us out to dinner. Although as probationary members for the first year, we don't pay dues (and therefore don't get to vote), they still covered a night at a restaurant by the office to welcome us into the fold.

To round out the free goodies, the company also started providing $500 worth of uniform gear this year in order to attract more First Officers in the current highly-competitive market, so we got measured for that, too. After a busy week in the classroom with two more weeks of it to go, it's a nice reminder of what you're there for. With day after day with the head down in the books, looking up and seeing the uniform was a good way to take a short break.

The reward for making it through the first five days is the big Week 1 test: the first opportunity to get weeded out and/or get an ugly mark in your new training folder companion. It is a computer-based assessment with 50 questions and a 70% minimum. I ended up with over 90% and felt well-prepared—our training department did an excellent job! Not everyone passes every class, but everyone in our class did. A weekend off and on to Week 2: Systems!

See the series index here.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 0: The post-offer stage

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In my last post, I went over what a typical airline interview is like. If you're lucky, your company will tell you right away if you're hired. Mine did, and as a welcome aboard present gave me a packet of material to study before showing up for my class date three weeks from then.

Airlines differ in philosophy when it comes to preparing for ground school. Some of them do not want you to study anything before coming in because they don't want you to be studying the "wrong" things or the right things in the "wrong" way (meaning not the way they do it there). Others expect you to have already studied quite a bit so they can spend your ground school time on cramming in a huge amount of material in a short time.

My airline is one of those who expect you to come in with a lot of material already memorized. Fortunately, knowing what it is you need to know beforehand is easy: they give you 21 pages of material and three cockpit diagrams to spend a lot of quality time with. If it's in there, they want you to know it. If it's not, then you don't need to yet. The study packet's introduction makes this clear in a more verbose way:

(From the study packet)

At this stage of training, basic rote memorization of these items is sufficient and expected. You may be tempted to increase your knowledge of the aircraft, or even other... policies and procedures besides what is included in this guide. Resist that temptation! [Emphasis theirs.] Expend your energies and efforts learning what is included within these pages. During ground school, you will undergo three weeks of intensive training in all aspects of our company policies, aircraft systems, and flight crew procedures. Our ground instructors are skilled at directing your learning, ensuring it is focused on the proper areas of study during this time. However, this process only works if you show up on Day 1 with a thorough understanding of this Pre-Training Study Guide.

Although I'm not usually big on quoting things verbatim, this is good advice straight from the horse's mouth. They wrote the packet, they wrote the ground school curriculum, and they know what they want.

Unlike college, where 21 pages of mere reading might have constituted an assignment, you'll be expected to not just read those pages but also memorize them. Depending on when your interview was in relation to your class date, you'll probably have from 2-4 weeks to work on getting that accomplished, and you'll need it. In that time, you'll have enough to learn to keep you busy without adding to it by doing additional research. You'll probably end up with questions as you study or things that don't make sense or you'll be curious about why you do x in such a way. Your questions will be cleared up once class day comes, so just keep on plugging away.

The packet included three main categories of things to have down cold before class starts:

Memory Action Items, which are defined as "the procedures necessary for the safe handling of certain emergency situations. It is expected that when presented with an emergency situation... you should be able to list the appropriate crew response from memory." The introduction goes on to warn you that "there will be daily spot-quizzes during the first two weeks of ground school to test your recall of these memory action items." (And, yes, that wasn't an idle threat. We did have daily quizzes beginning on Day 2.)

These aren't actually all that different that what you may have done when preparing for your private or commercial checkride. When preparing for your oral and flight test, you probably (or at least should have) memorized a few critical items to check in the event of an engine failure or a fire. Things like switching fuel tanks, putting the mixture to full rich, etc. The biggest difference here is that there are 21 different procedures to memorize instead of just a couple.

Limitations, which like the previous section isn't all that different than the things you studied when doing checkrides before. As above, there are many, many more of them to memorize. I counted 21 (which by total coincidence is the third time this number has appeared) different sections of limitations, each of which ranges from 1 item to as many as 12 different items. Some of them you've seen before (like the max crosswind component, max takeoff weight, flap extension speeds) in your Cessna or Piper. Others you probably haven't, like Max Zero Fuel Weight, which in many cases is more of an issue than Max Takeoff Weight.

Flows, which will probably seem new to you but actually aren't. If you were taught GUMPS (of which there are almost as many variations as there are instructors, and which I taught as gas, undercarriage, mixture, props/pumps, and switches), you've done a flow. I also taught my students to use a flow pattern when checking instruments and gauges at runup. For example, I taught them to check the flight instruments in a "backward C" flow: airspeed 0, attitude indicator level and erect, altimeter set and within 75 feet, VSI 0, DG set to compass, and turn coordinator level. After checking these, then use the checklist to make sure they were all completed. This is the same way the company will expect you to do it, as in their own words, "flows are used for flight deck configuration without reference to a checklist, although a checklist will usually be called for at flow completion to verify critical items have been completed."

As before, the biggest difference is in the number and size of the flows you'll be expected to know. There are 8 of them, and one of them has 25 different items—and some of those items in it have more than one substep. Remember: at this point you're just rotely memorizing. Follow the flow along on your cockpit diagrams (it's why they gave them to you, after all) and practice, practice, practice. You'll be evaluated on them at the end of each week of ground school, and you have to pass the last evaluation of the course to get signed off to move on.

What a flow looks like. (I happened to be studying the Before Taxi Flow at the time.) The page is highlighted in blue and what it looks like when done are the numbered steps in red. You'll be expected to do that (plus many more) from memory.


Wow, that's a lot of memorization, isn't it? Well, there's a good reason for it: there are other things you'll have to memorize once ground school comes (like systems and their components, flight profiles, and so on), and if you didn't start getting some of it out of the way ahead of time, you'd never get it all done in the month or so of ground school ahead.

Now that you know what to learn, how do you actually go about learning it? The intent of this post was to show you what to expect between the time you're hired and the time you start class, so that's beyond this post's scope.

However, just so you don't think I'm blowing you off, I'll give you a simple answer: learn them the way that has always worked best for you. By the time you're ready for an airline, you've already gone through high school and college. You've had plenty of experience figuring out whether you learn well via flashcards, making up acronyms or little songs, talking through lists with your eyes closed, or whatever crazy thing works for you. As with anything, the most important study habit you can have is to have one!

The reward that you get for all this work before the real work starts is that ground school lets you learn a lot of neat new stuff every day. You'll learn about systems that are way more complex than the Cessna or small twin you're probably used to, how the pros fly approaches, and many more things that will expand your knowledge and capabilities as a pilot. However, you won't get to the end unless you start before it begins!

If you haven't bought The Turbine Pilot's Flight Manual the first several times I've mentioned it, do it now. It isn't specific enough to interfere with your future airline's ground school, and it's broad enough that it covers a lot of the things you might be learning about for the first time. I didn't find out about this book until after I had already been on the line for several months, and it would have made my life a lot easier had I known about it before I started.



Next stop: Week 1 of ground school!

See the series index here.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 0: The interview

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In Part 1 of this series, I went over my qualifications and gave some suggestions of things to consider when choosing an airline to apply at. This time, I'll get into more detail about what the interview itself was like. And, no, there will be no "dress nicely" or "smile and make eye contact" tips in this post to waste your time.

I mentioned before that a resource I wish I would have known about before my interview is the excellent overview book The Turbine Pilot's Flight Manual by Greg Brown & Mark Holt. (If you prefer an eBook, there's a paper copy bundled with the e-formatted version here.) It is a gentle introduction to the world of the bigger aircraft you'll be interviewing to fly, and it will make your life easier in ground school once you get hired. This book is definitely worth the money, and I'm not just saying that because if you purchase it with one of the links above or the picture below, Keyboard & Rudder gets a small commission. Seriously, if you haven't bought it yet, do it now and thank me later!


There are tons of sites covering airline job interview questions. Some airlines even post their own list of topics you might be asked about during your interview. For example, here's a "helpful" pilot study guide from Endeavor (PDF). The reason I put "helpful" in scare quotes is because when you look at it, it almost boils down to "just study everything."

However, there is an easy way to get way more specific information on what to concentrate on: interview gouges. If you search "[airline name] interview gouge", you'll find not just a vague list of topics, but specific questions people were asked in that specific interview. Not only that, you'll also get other useful information about how that airline structures its interview day, how many people you'll talk to, etc.

No matter which airline you're interviewing for, your day will look something like this:

  • Welcome and company background presentation
  • Written test(s)
  • Human resources interview
  • Technical interview with one or more current company pilots
  • Sim evaluation

 

 Welcome and background presentation

Every company does this. The only difference from company to company is how long they spend talking about themselves. Your only requirement here is to pay attention, smile, and nod occasionally without nodding off.

Written test(s)

Every company also has one or more written tests. You will definitely get one that has several dozen questions either straight from the ATP written test bank or extremely similar to the ATP written. Although it hadn't been that long since I took my ATP written, I brushed up for this hurdle by re-reading the Gleim ATP written test prep.


Some airlines administer other tests, usually ones that measure personality or general intelligence (like the Wonderlic). You can't really study for these, and you're not expected to, since they're not exactly pass/fail exams. The Wonderlic is the same test that NFL prospects take, and there are a lot of places you can practice for it, but don't spend a lot of time on it. Get a feel for the flow of the test and get back to studying the important things, like your ATP or instrument questions. After all, if you bomb the technical written portion, your day is going to be a short one no matter how well you did on the non-technical one(s).

Human resources interview

This isn't all that different from any HR interview you'd have for any job anywhere. The questions are general and pertain to your personal background and history. Chances are you're going to be only with the HR specialist, who probably doesn't know much about aviation besides what they'll need to know to make sure you're qualified. (Don't take that as a given, however, because many of them are very sharp people.) That means you're going to get generic TMAAT ("Tell me about a time...") questions, why you chose this company, what are your career goals, etc. at this point in the interview.

Some companies use this as another screening point to cut the field down before proceeding to the technical interview. If you don't get chosen to proceed to the technical portion, that doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong with you. You may have just had the bad luck of interviewing on a day when there are 30 applicants and only 8 spots, in which case HR will eliminate half of the people on the spot and the next interviewer will eliminate half of the ones who made it through to them. Or you may have just drawn the short straw that day and the next lowest person compared to you had three times as many hours as you do and a fistful of type ratings. No matter what happens, use it as an opportunity to hone your interviewing skills.

Technical interview

You may get this next, or you may do the sim eval first. In many places the order it takes place just happens to be luck, as the schedule will have some people in the sim while others interview. Once you've made it past the first two hurdles, the interview starts becoming more fun, because now you have a chance to sit down with someone who already flies for that airline and talk flying. As a pilot, isn't that what you love to talk about most anyway?

One of the things you'll find the most help when preparing for this part is a humble instrument guide. Dust off your old instrument oral exam guide and the FAA's Instrument Procedures Handbook.

Why the instrument stuff? Because that's what 80% or more of your technical questions will be about. Once you start flying in the airlines, all your flying is "in the system". Much of it will be into busy airports like EWR, ORD, ATL, etc. and in conditions you might not have experienced before. Being sharp on instrument procedures will help you the first time it's 300 overcast at Newark and New York Approach is so busy you can't even check in and they just spit out at you "Foobar4762decendandmaintain3000toTeterboroflyheading170tointerceptthe22Llocalizer190orbettertoGIMEE." Yeah, that's going to happen, believe me, and maybe 10 minutes after you got out of a "hold as published over COATE" that was sprung on you 90 seconds before you made it to COATE intersection. (Seriously, that is a real example from what happened to me my second week on the job.) Flying into New York is fun, but your interviewer is there to make sure you've got what it takes first, or at least enough knowledge to figure it out on the fly.

Since you're going to the wayback machine and reminiscing about the good ol' instrument rating days, you'll also find that the list of tips I wrote for acing an oral examination also apply quite well here. After all, the technical interview is basically an oral exam, with the difference being passing one gives you a signed new certificate and the other gives you a signed new offer letter. The principles of both are almost identical.

My technical interview consisted in large part of flying a short flight along a Jeppesen low-altitude en route chart. I point out that it was a Jeppesen because if you're used to government charts, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the Jepp symbology, since that's what the airlines use.

Although it was made a little more difficult by me being so much more used to government charts, a lot of the questions were more about general instrument navigational skills and procedures. For example, "How many ways can you identify this intersection?" "What does this racetrack mean?" "How would you enter this hold?" "What do you have to do when you enter it?" "Here's the METAR. Do you have the minimums you need to shoot an approach?" "Will you have them three hours from now according to this TAF?" "If you don't, how far past the final approach fix can you go to attempt the approach?" As you can see, most of these are general knowledge and not Jeppesen specific, and almost all of it comes from the instrument rating.

While you won't be asked questions about this next thing, your interviewer is also silently evaluating whether you're the kind of person they'd want to be sitting next to in a cockpit for several hours. Given the choice between a candidate with fair skills and a fun personality versus one with great skills and an overbearing personality, the "lesser" skilled one will get the job 9 times out of 10. That's because technical skills can be trained and polished, whereas personality can't.

Of all the questions I was asked, by far the hardest one was, "What will make you a good captain?" Even though you're interviewing for a spot as a First Officer, airlines don't want to spend tens of thousands of dollars training someone who would be a bad fit come upgrade time. I knew this company would be a good fit when I thought for a bit about his question and admitted, "I can't think of a way to put it without sounding arrogant," and he replied, "That's OK; we're all pilots here," and we all had a good laugh.

Sim Eval

Most places also have you perform a short ride in a simulator. It may be a large, expensive one that is also used (or used to be) in their training department or it may be a small desktop sim. Either way, it's not usually a company's way of abusing you; its purpose is mainly to separate those who are great at memorizing canned interview answers but can't fly from those who are great at memorizing canned interview answers and can fly.

Relax and enjoy the flight. Your evaluator understands that you're most likely totally unfamiliar with the equipment you're being asked to fly. They're there to get a general feel for your ability, not to give you an IPC. Just follow their instructions and have fun, because a large part of it is their way of finding out simply whether you can follow instructions. Those who can will usually do well in training, after all.

Conclusion

Prepare to be there all day, and possibly for more than one day. A short airline interview still consumes about four hours, and 8-12 hours is common. After all that, you may get the offer you came for right away! However, if you don't, don't despair. If you've been there 12 hours, then so have the interviewers, and they may simply not have the energy left to put their heads together and review everyone that day. An airline hire is a five-figure investment by the company, and it's a decision they may not want to make without rest.

Almost all airlines have a policy of notifying you within two weeks either way. If you don't get it, remember what I wrote above and don't take it personally. There are many factors that are totally out of your control that may have played a part. Debrief yourself about your own interview by reviewing what you think went well and where you could have done better. Just as with anything else in life, keep what worked and work on what didn't.

If you got your offer, congratulations! Now you're in for even more long days ahead, and come sim training you'll be wishing for something as easy as an all-day interview! Get ready to spend some quality hours at home with a pre-class study packet and some cockpit diagrams:

What my dining room table looked like for weeks.

And now it's on to the post-offer stage!

See the series index here.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 0: The pre-hire stage

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I'd planned to start this series much earlier, but the process (plus keeping up with regular life) has been more energy-demanding and time-consuming that I expected—and that's even after taking Hofstadter's Law (it always takes longer than you expect) into account.

I hadn't planned to enter the Part 121 (airline) world, but then again, when I learned to fly years ago, I hadn't planned to become a flight instructor either, and that worked out pretty well anyway. Aviation has a way of drawing one in little by little. One seemingly big step leads naturally to another one: the "how do I even become a pilot?" step leads to the "can I actually fly this thing solo?" step, which leads to "I just passed my checkride... now what" step.

Some people stop at that step, whereas for others it's just the first flight of stairs leading to an instrument rating. Many stop at that floor, and others—like me—want to see what's the next step after that. That leads to the commercial certificate, then the CFI.

I loved instructing, and didn't expect to move on from there. (Notice that I didn't say "move up", because instructing is a worthy and worthwhile position on its own, not a "lower class" aviation job.) But there was still another step I hadn't taken: the airline world.

Since I didn't get into instructing just build up 1500 hours and run, I had over 2100 hours when I applied. Even so, this didn't even put me in the top half of the class of 9 I was in as far as hours went.

Probably the hardest thing to build up is the required multi-engine time. Most airlines want at least 50-100 hours of multi time. Having a lot isn't a negative, but it's not a huge help, either, since they know you're going to build up plenty with them anyway. You need a decent knowledge of multi-engine procedures and aerodynamics, but spending hundreds of hours in a twin with both engines running isn't all that much more impressive than getting the rating and enough hours to be insurable and meet the ATP aeronautical experience requirements. Once you know "dead foot, dead engine" and "identify, verify, feather", you'll do it so many times in the sim that having barely more than the interview minimums isn't as big a handicap as you might fear. I'll devote a post on some ways to get multi time later. Mine came with a bit of luck, by meeting someone who owned a Baron and needed an instructor to accompany him on trips.

Once you've built up the experience to qualify, it's now a matter of choosing which airline(s) to apply to. There are a lot of factors to consider, and no answer is the right one for everyone since everyone will weigh their factors differently. Or you could take the lazy road and just put your application into AirlineApps.com and go with whoever calls first, but do you want to trust the next several years of your life to luck?

Some factors to consider:

  • Whether your airline has a base where you live and, if not, how easy the commute is to where you would be based.
  • The type of equipment they fly. (Shiny regional jets, big turboprops, small turboprops, etc.)
  • The stability of the company. Many regionals live and die by the terms of the CPA (capacity purchase agreement) they have with the major or majors they fly for.
  • Upgrade time. This has a major effect on when you start logging that all-important turbine PIC time as a Captain.
  • The company atmosphere and pilot group.
  • Pay and benefits. This isn't as big a factor as you'd think, basically because the pay scales are low at just about every regional, and by the 2nd or 3rd year most hourly rates are in the same ballpark. However, as an example of how benefits make a difference, one major regional that I ruled out flew a particular aircraft that they had major, long-term maintenance problems with, yet their benefits didn't include cancellation pay. If you were working for them, you could show up at the beginning of your four-day trip only to see all those hours vanish, along with your paycheck.

All of these factors will combine to give you the big QoL: Quality of Life. As I said, each one of these will have different weights for different people, so I can't give you the One True Answer—although that doesn't keep the online pilot forums from being filled with hundreds of people who claim to have the "right" answer.

I recommend rating each one of these factors for yourself on a scale from 1-5, with 1 being "don't care" and 5 being "critical". This will help you consider whether the airline you're looking at will be a good fit for you, rather than just taking the word of "PilotDewd007" who said in one of the forums that "Come to XYZ because it's super kewl here!"

As an example of my thinking, here's how I rated each one for myself when I was considering where to apply.

Commute or home base: 2. As long as I can get there, I'm happy. Being home-based would definitely be better, but the airline world changes so much that what's a base today might not be one tomorrow.

Type of equipment: 1. To me, turbine time is turbine time. I'd fly anything from my Cessna 172 to a Embraer 190 and be perfectly happy.

Company stability: 5. I'm too old to sit around getting furloughed over and over again just because the company bought too many jets a couple of years ago and can't afford the payments now.

Upgrade time: 5. Beginning a 121 career at 40 means that I need to upgrade in a decent amount of time so I can still have 15-20 years left when it's time to move to a major. I don't have the luxury of spending 7-9 years as a regional FO.

Company atmosphere: 4. While I can tend to get along with most people, being surrounded by a bunch of uptight and/or cocky people, or pilots who are miserable because of management vs. union issues, for the next several years was not something I wanted to deal with.

Pay and benefits: 2. My wife is an RN, so we already have a good, stable paycheck and a decent health plan.

After you evaluate which places might be a good fit for you and you've applied and got an interview, it's time to prepare for that interview. One of the nice things about evaluating your priorities is that you've also done a lot of the research that you'd want to have done before the interview in any case. After all, you're almost definitely going to get the "Tell me why you applied to our company" question during the interview, and you want to have something more impressive to say than, "Because your planes have two wings."

I will devote an entire post to my interview later, but for now, I will say that the run-down (or what's known as the "gouge") at AviationInterviews.com for the company I interviewed at was spot-on. If you put "[airline you're interviewing at] gouge" into your favorite search engine, you'll have plenty of things to study before your big day so you can dazzle them with your knowledge.

A resource I wish I would have known about before my interview is the excellent overview book The Turbine Pilot's Flight Manual by Greg Brown & Mark Holt. (If you prefer an eBook, there's a paper copy bundled with the e-formatted version here.) It is a gentle introduction to the world of the bigger aircraft you'll be interviewing to fly, and it will make your life easier in ground school. I found it only while getting ready for my recurrent training, so my initial training was over before I started reading it. Even so, I picked up quite a few things from it, mostly of the "Oh, so that's why such-and-such is like that." This book is definitely worth the money!


I'll dazzle you more with my interview experiences in my next part in this series, "Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 0: The interview". If this helped or there's something else you wanted to know, leave a comment!

See the full series index here.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Monday, June 30, 2014

What do beer and thunderstorms have in common?

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We all know that beer and flying don't mix. What you may not know is that the same thing that causes trouble for your beer also causes trouble for your flying.

If you're already a weather expert, this post may help you visualize some of the terms you already know in a different way. If you're not, have no fear: you're going to be ahead of the game because you'll understand more about some technical weather terms that you'll see on your private and/or instrument written exams than I did back when I took mine.

Those terms are "convection" and "latent heat of condensation". I made it all the way past my instrument knowledge exam without truly understanding what made convection work. I knew that it was an upward motion of a parcel of air, which was enough to bluff my way though the questions on thunderstorms, but I never could understand why a blob of air would just keep rising until it couldn't rise anymore.

The answer (and, like most things in meteorology, it's a general answer, not a 100% of the time answer) is contained in the concept of "latent heat of condensation". In this case, to keep things simple, let's look as "latent heat" as meaning "stored heat", which might make it easier to see what's happening.

In the spring of 2013, Dale Durran, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, studied how much of an effect the condensation that appears on the side of a beer can has on warming its contents. In this press release, he calculates that a sheen of condensation roughly the thickness of a human hair could warm the beer by 9 °F (5 °C) in only five minutes! That's a whole lot of energy in a small amount of moisture.

To see if those calculations are correct, Durran and his colleague Dargan Frierson performed some experiments, the results of which were published in this not-overly-technical and easily readable paper called Condensation, atmospheric motion, and cold beer. One of the important parts of the paper investigates how much of the heating is due to stored heat of condensation being released and how much is due to heat being transferred from the surrounding air.

They plotted the difference in heat from the surrounding air and that released in the process of condensation and came up with this:

The plot shows that the temperature rise due to latent heating increases dramatically with relative humidity. Moreover, the increase is much larger at 35 °C than at 25 °C, because of the approximately exponential dependence of the water-vapor content of saturated air on temperature. At 35 °C and a relative humidity greater than 60%, the temperature rise due to latent heating exceeds that due to heat transfer from dry air: Latent heating is the dominant factor warming your cold beer.
(Incidentally, this explains why thunderstorms are so rare in the winter: the cold, dense air in wintertime can't hold enough water vapor to store enough heat for them.)

So we've established that beer gets warmed by the release of stored energy as water condenses on the can. What does this have to do with thunderstorms?

Well, consider a cylinder of air that is a mile wide instead of the size of a beer can. Since a beer can is only about 2 1/2 inches wide, this parcel of air is going to be 25,000 times larger, and yet a mile-wide blob of air is not all that big in atmospheric terms. Think of how much stored energy is in that, yet while it's still locked up in water vapor, it's invisible!

Now let's give that cylinder of air a nudge upwards. This nudge could come from encountering a mountain range, or (quite commonly) a lift from a cold front sliding in underneath it and bullying it upward. Once it starts to rise, some of the water vapor will condense as the air cools adiabatically, and a cloud will begin to form. If there is not much moisture (i.e., water vapor) in the air, the cloud might be a small puff or a little layer.

However, given enough moisture (like on humid days), the energy that was stored in that water will be enough to heat that little blob and make it rise even more. As it rises, air from below it will be drawn up to replace it (otherwise there would be a vacuum behind it). The air from below will come up, deposit its moisture as a cloud, and heat itself up. That will make that blob rise, draw up more moist air from below it, and on and on until a towering cumulus (more formally known as cumulus congestus, but you'll usually hear pilots refer to them as "towering cumulus") forms.

This process is what convection is all about, and why pilots are always on the lookout for convective activity. If the atmospheric conditions are unstable enough, that towering cumulus can form into a full cumulonimbus: the dreaded thunderstorm. You can see a dramatic picture of the difference between the two in "Why there is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime".


The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SPECIAL PROGRAMMING NOTE!

You've probably noticed that the last several months of posts haven't appeared. Is Keyboard & Rudder dead?

Not at all. I've just been extremely busy.

What could possibly keep me so busy I haven't written?

Going to the big new world of the airlines, that's what.

Yes, after several years as a happy flight instructor, a recent change in circumstances has led me to enter the Part 121 scene. It's an exciting new world, with new procedures, new routes, and new equipment to learn (for me, the Dash 8), and that's what I've been up to since early this summer.



Once a flight instructor, always a flight instructor, so I'll be writing about the experience of joining a regional airline. Over the weeks to come, I'll be posting a blow-by-blow account of what the process and training is like.

The first posts in the series are about getting ready for the interview, what it was like, and what I've been doing since getting hired and waiting for class to start. If you're considering a career in the airlines, or just wonder what it's like for the "other half", you should find this upcoming series interesting.

Even if you're not interested in going to an airline, I've always tried to glean the best aspects of all types of flying (military, commercial, and general aviation) to make myself and my students better aviators, so you'll probably find something to make your own flying (or learning to fly) a little better and safer.

I hope you enjoy an exciting bundle of posts, and thanks for reading!

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The "Fun Curve" of Flying

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One of the ways learning to fly changes your life is that it presents you with challenges that you can either face up to or run away from. Dealing with these teaches you about who you are and makes you better at dealing with life's obstacles.

One of these challenges is dealing with learning how to press on even when things aren't as fun. Life itself is a series of ups and downs with its good times and its bad times, and flying is just life on a smaller scale.

Unlike life, however, I have a map for you that will tell you when the good times will be and when the not-so-good times will come. I call it the "Fun Curve":

Click image to embiggen.
It is divided into five stages, with an angry red box in the middle where pilots are made and sorted out from regular people. These stages are:

1. New maneuvers: Everything is brand new and it is amazing. You have no idea what you're doing, but who cares? Just being in the air is as fun as can be, and there's plenty of time to get good at all this stuff later!

2. Pre-solo: There's the first sharp dip in the Fun Curve. You're testing out 50 different ways not to land an airplane, and halfway through you start to wonder if you'll ever get it right. That's when you enter the red box. Those with persistence will be rewarded with even less fun, as flying around in circles around the pattern time after time after time gets wearisome. Just as it gets so close to the bottom as to try even a saint's patience, you get that first solo and things are way more fun again! Those without persistence drop out before that unforgettable day.

3. Post-solo / Cross-country: You've shown you can fly all by yourself, and now you can go out into the practice area and practice what you want, when you want, for as long as you want, without some constant chattering in your ear coming from the right seat. After that, cross country flights take a lot of planning, but they're fun because you're going places you've never been. That's great until it's time for...

4. Checkride preparation: The second sharp dip in the Fun Curve, and the second most common place where non-pilots fall by the wayside. You've spent all that time practicing on your own, thinking you were doing pretty well, and now the right seat is filled with an irritating yipping instructor again. You do the same things over and over again—again. When you're not flying, you're studying for the oral portion. When you're not studying for the oral, you're wondering if you'll pass the flight portion. If you stick with it, eventually you end up getting that second big instructor signoff: the practical test endorsement. You pass and end up as a...

5. Licensed pilot: This is where the one line splits into two.

The green line represents those who continue to learn and master the art of flying. With most things in life, the better you are at something, the more you enjoy it. The more you enjoy it, the better you get at it, so this line goes slowly but steadily upward.

The red line represents those who (in what is an unfortunately common trajectory) stop improving their skills after they pass. Eventually they've seen all their buddies' houses from the air and eaten all the $100 hamburgers they wanted. After that, flying gets dull for them, and they often stop flying altogether.

For the second group, there are two pieces of good news. First, it's often possible to become one of the green liners by deciding to pursue an instrument rating or a tailwheel endorsement or a seaplane rating or doing any of dozens of things that bring the spark of newness back into flying. Second, even if you do drop out for years, after you have your license it's good forever. All you have to do is get with an instructor, brush off the rust, and get back in the air.


The two main things to take from this curve are:

First, if you're at a point in your training that you're starting to doubt whether you'll ever make it (or perhaps you've already dropped out because you thought you where the only one to ever have trouble learning to land an airplane), you can see that you're going through the same thing the other 600,000+ pilots in the United States went through, too. If they could make it, then so can you.

Second, you can see that the curve shoots up sharply after the low points. That's my way of saying, "It may suck right now, but once you get through it, it's fun again. Trust me."

Just like anything involving human behavior and psychology, this curve will not be identical for everyone. However, I've seen this pattern so many times in so many students that it probably won't be too far off for you. If you'd like to share your own experience, leave a comment below.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Bringing you what brings the weather

I recently had a chance to visit the National Weather Service office in Cleveland as part of a Northeast Ohio Chapter of the American Meteorological Society event. While the weather happens up above, the people at the NWS are the ones who bring it to you.

Whether you're planning a flight or a picnic, or want to know if you need to go shopping for a new pair of ruby slippers, the forecast you need comes from a two-story building on the west side of the field at Cleveland-Hopkins. The Doppler radar you're used to watching on the TV or on the Internet is right in the parking lot:

The CLE Doppler site. Note the NASA hangar in the background.
This system is what controls it:


Did you ever wonder how that annoying screechy tone and bad weather news gets to your television? Through these stations, that's how:


In the event of severe weather, the staff goes over to one of these units, pushes some buttons indicating what kind and where, and it's on the air.

Close-up of the rack above the monitors. (Click image to embiggen if you want to read the labels.) Still looking for the button that says "Global Thermonuclear War" on it.
I don't think any of these six monitors let you zoom in to see if your long-lost wife is working in the garden, but they do let the forecasters see a bunch of weather data at once:

If that looks like the WKYC Doppler 3 radar image at the upper left, that's because it is. Apparently the radar goes from the dome in the parking lot to Channel 3's office downtown, then gets piped back to the NWS office where it came from in the first place.
One of the more interesting things to happen while I was there took place at this desk:

The windows have a nice view of the airport.

There was a staffer in the chair and I was talking to another one while standing behind it. I mentioned that I keep the TAF site for Cleveland and Mansfield bookmarked on my phone so I can check it easily throughout the day. I asked if this is where they come from and he said, "Sure. Kirk here just put the last one out a few minutes ago."

So I got to meet the guy who writes the crazy TAFs I've written about, and he even spent a while showing me how they get made. I always wondered if they have a mini-model or some sort of local forecasting aid that does most of the work like the continent-wide models do. As it turns out, when it comes to TAFs, it's still plain old looking at the maps and using the brain to figure out what's going to happen—much like a pilot's typical preflight weather planning, but with professional tools. (One of the tools he introduced me to is Bufkit, which is great if you like Skew-T diagrams.)

Many of the places you use as a pilot or as a taxpayer are available to check out. Go see what else is out there for you to explore!

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

A successful failure

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(Note: it wasn't until long after I wrote this post that I found out that Apollo 13 was also given the same nickname. This post is about a training flight that "failed" in many rewarding ways, not astronauts that survived despite incredible odds.)

This month, the FAA launched an initiative called "Got Weather?" to help pilots get better at evaluating weather and its hazards on their own. Each month has a separate topic, and May's is turbulence.

It's no secret that weather is one of my favorite things about aviation, so to contribute to their initiative, I'm capping off my May schedule of posts with a little story that blends turbulence, equipment failures, a failed forecast, and a failed landing attempt into an extremely successful flight.

It was a dark and stormy night.... Well, actually, it was a clear blue day. Slightly on the breezy side, but not horribly so. The winds were a steady 14 knots, about 70 degrees off the runway. A little outside the comfort zone for the person I was flying with, but sometimes you have to get outside of that nice comfy spot to expand your skills. The key is to get out of that comfort zone safely, and since 14 knots is both within the 172's maximum demonstrated crosswind component and my own proficiency and currency envelope since I fly this particular aircraft several times a week, this instructional flight should be a... breeze.

One of the flights I always have my students do is a trip from Lorain County to Carroll County to Burke-Lakefront and back to Lorain County. This is a busy flight, since it hits Class B, C, and D all in one shot. (Because there's so much going on in it, it is the basis for one part of the final project my AVIA 111 students do, too.) People who learn to fly with me don't get to duck under airspace or shy away from talking to controllers. Once you get used to talking to them, you'll quickly learn that they are one of your best resources. Use everything in the cockpit, and the radio is in the cockpit, right? The reward is that once you make it to Carroll County, you can eat the best pie in the state of Ohio.

From SkyVector.com


So, the plan for what we're going to do is done. The preflight is done. One part of the preflight preparation was the TAF, which was calling for winds lighter than the actual ones. They were supposed to be 10 knots, increasing to 15G25 right around the time we would be returning. That's something to make a note of, because that often means that the weather is going to end up worse than forecast. But that was just an opportunity for a nice crosswind takeoff.

One of the first parts of the plan was to contact Cleveland Approach and get cleared through their Class B. The frequency was already in standby before takeoff, so a simple switchover and callout was all that was necessary. It went like any other, until the controller couldn't make radar contact. We reset the transponder and tried again. No luck. It looked like either our transponder was dead or his system was having issues. We finally agreed to just stay under his Class B shelf and continue on course.

Once we started getting close to Akron-Canton's airspace, we tried again. This time it was the same failure to make radar contact, except that the controller said that he was getting a transponder code of 7777 instead of what he had assigned us. (That's really bad because only the military guys get to use that squawk code.) Again we reset the transponder and again it didn't work. Now the problem was definitely with us. We agreed to circumnavigate his Class C and continue on our way.

While we were working with Akron-Canton Approach, we started getting some bumps. There were no airmets for turbulence along our route, although there was one well to the east of where we would be. There were also no pireps of turbulence in the entire state of Ohio; the only scattered ones were in the area that had moderate turbulence forecast, and those reports were 1 light, 2 light-moderate, and 1 moderate. (I only include those pireps from about 10,000 or below, since our 172 won't make it into the flight levels without being strapped to an SSME.)

Naturally, neither forecasts nor pireps are solid-gold indicators of the absence of turbulence. Pireps are especially non-reflective, since they're only given by those who know how (which is actually pretty simple: just tell ATC you want to give a pirep and then say what it's like up there), aren't too lazy to, and aren't too busy fighting to keep the shiny side up in turbulence.

This, unfortunately, was one of those times when no news was not good news. The closer we got to the destination, the worse the bumps got. By 10 miles out, there were a few that definitely would have made a good moderate turbulence pirep for ATC. I have a rather high tolerance for getting bumped around a cockpit, so when even I'm starting to get a little irritated, it's at least moderate.

Now comes the time when a lot of metal gets bent: at the end of a cross country flight, so close to the airport that it calls to you like a Homeric Siren. The AWOS was reporting winds 80 degrees off the runway at 21 knots gusting to 27. You have the airport in sight. What do you do?

Discretion is the better part of valor. The wise pilot knows when to say when. These conditions were pushing up against my own skill level. I let him fly the pattern and try to land, with my hand right by the yoke ready to jump in if necessary, as I fully expected us to not even be able to touch asphalt.

We managed, after an approach that wouldn't win any trophies for precision, to land. Many times, the natural instinct after feeling wheels touch pavement in conditions like that, is to breathe a sigh of relief and be glad it's over. However, especially in a crosswind, the landing isn't over until the plane is in a hangar. As soon as the upwind aileron was released, the wind got under the wing and raised the plane up a bit on that side, pushing it toward the side of the runway.

It's never too late to go around, so power up, pitch up, clean up, and speak up. That's what we did and decided to skip the next leg and head for home instead, where it was a little saner—or at least it was when we took off. There wasn't even a thought of going back in the pattern and making a second chance at a landing.

On the way back, we were getting beat up again, so we used the time to see how well the wing leveler on the autopilot works. Use all the resources in the cockpit, which includes the autopilot when necessary. It did a passable job keeping the shiny side up until we got back to the home patch.

Back home, the winds had picked up to 17 gusting to 24 and at a right angle to the runway. However, this pattern and approach went much more smoothly, and the landing was a very nice one without me even touching the controls. As we taxied back to the hangar, I thought about the sentiment that Ernie Gann and Bob Buck expressed about how sometimes 1 hour of time in the cockpit is worth 100 hours in a logbook. This was one of those flights.

Why? How could I be so pleased after coming home with an empty belly?

Look at all the things experienced on just one flight:

  • A real (not simulated) equipment failure and working with ATC about it
  • A real (not simulated) in-flight change of plans because of it
  • A first encounter with real turbulence
  • An approach that shows why it's better to bug out than bend metal
  • Why textbooks (and instructors) say to keep that aileron down all the way through rollout. It's no longer just ink on a page but a real experience.
  • A real (not simulated) go around in tough conditions
  • A real (not simulated) decision to abandon the original goal
  • A real (not simulated) diversion because of that decision
  • A real (not simulated) need to use the autopilot to reduce workload. Autopilots are excellent tools if you use them as a workload reducer, not a brain replacer
  •  A confidence-building nice crosswind landing back at the home drome—and the yoke stayed fully deflected the whole time after that learning experience at Carroll County
If every flight "failed" this successfully, we'd all be aces in no time.

Got a "So there I was..." story? Leave a comment and share it.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's Discover Aviation Days 2014 time!

Every year in May, Lorain County Regional Airport plays host to Discover Aviation Days. Every year, it gets bigger, and this year is no exception.

In four years, it has grown from a small static display of a few aircraft for a few hours on Saturday to an all-weekend affair with large exhibits, Young Eagles flights, B-25 bomber rides, and an actual airshow with professional performers on both days, plus a night airshow starting at dusk on Saturday. There's even camping for those who want to stay both days.

Discover Aviation Days is organized by the Discover Aviation Center, led by the improbably-energetic Paul Koziol. With some help, in November he also created the Discover Aviation Center Flying Club, of which I am Secretary. As part of my communications role, I've finally managed to roll out the first issue of the club's newsletter, which you can read here.

Want to see how much it's grown in just three years? Check out the picture from 2011 on page 9!

Monday, May 19, 2014

What happens to hopelessly lost luggage?

It's extremely rare that I devote a post to someone else's material. After all, one of the big reasons I devote much of my time to writing Keyboard & Rudder is to bring you my own personal, peculiar take on learning to fly in a fun, offbeat way. Instead of simply rehashing the same old, dry, academic topics in the same old, dry, academic ways you can find a hundred places elsewhere, I try to cover either something you won't find anywhere else (like extraterrestrial airports) or to cover a topic in a way no one else does (like actually admitting when I make a mistake so we can learn from it).

Dan Lewis has had an outstanding newsletter called Now I Know for quite some time. (In fact, I linked to one of his stories in #10 of my post "Ten for 110: Ten things you might not know about the Wright Brothers".) Although it's not an aviation newsletter, he covers an offbeat range of things in an engaging way. Occasionally, the odd and the overhead line up, as in "Where the Bags Go," an extremely interesting post on what happens to luggage that gets hopelessly lost.

While you're there reading that, you can sign up for his free newsletter to get more like that in your inbox. (You'll probably want to!) In fact, his newsletter is so good that he's turned it into a book, which is where the article originally comes from:


 

(If you use that link to buy it, you help support this site with a small commission at no cost to you, you help support his newsletter with a sale, and you get a fascinating book... everybody wins!)