Combat vs. Training, Lessons Learned

The difference between flying combat missions and training sorties is a lot more subtle than the obvious fact that you can really get shot at in combat. No matter how much you want to train the way you fight there are peacetime training constraints you just can’t get around and you unconsciously carry those conditions with you unless you really work to recognize them. One goal of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots’ Association (River Rats) is to mentor new aircrew members and help them understand the differences between the training environment and flying real combat sorties.

Lieutenants of the 34th TFS at Korat in 1972

Lieutenants of the 34th TFS at Korat in 1972

I did my F-4 transition training at what was George Air Force Base near Victorville, California. We did not have a supersonic training area and anytime someone went supersonic and created a sonic boom the base got irate phone calls that reverberated down to the squadron and the pilot was in trouble. Also, at that time, Air Force air-to-air tactical doctrine was something called fighting wing which originated in World War II and carried through the Korean War. Basically, in fighting wing the leader was offensive and the wingman’s job was to be defensive and protect his leader by staying close to his leader to protect him. The Navy at that time was teaching a tactic called Loose Deuce where the wingman was expected to maneuver in concert with the leader to gain a position of advantage and bring weapons to bear as quickly as possible and he would be cleared to shoot to end the engagement. When I got to my operational unit I encountered a squadron with enlightened leadership. My flight commander took me into the weapons and tactics office, reached into the back of the classified safe and pulled out a navy operations manual (NATOPS) on Loose Deuce and said when you can fly Loose Deuce we will put you on air-to-air escort missions in North Vietnam. Until then you will fly interdiction and close air support in South Vietnam.

Ready for an interdiction mission in South Vietnam

Ready for an interdiction mission in South Vietnam

My flight commander took every opportunity to get extra gas from the air-to-air refueling tankers when we came back from a mission in South Vietnam so I could practice Loose Deuce tactics.  Actually, my first five missions were interdiction with a fast FAC (forward air controller) in the southern panhandle of North Vietnam. After awhile my flight commander said I was ready to fly escort for the bomber F-4s striking targets in North Vietnam. When you flew escort you wanted to maintain a high energy state to be able to aggressively engage any MiG that tried to attack the bomber aircraft you were escorting. That speed put us right up against the Mach at the altitudes we were flying. On my first mission to North Vietnam I was number four in a four-ship escorting a flight of F-4 bombers. Needless to say I got out of position and fell behind the proper position. My back seater told me to get forward where I should be and my conditioning from training made me say, “if I go any faster we’ll be supersonic”. In one of the calmest voices I’ve ever heard my back seater said, “Rich, they’re already mad at us.” That was my “aha” moment, this was a whole different environment and the rules were different.

A pilot I worked for several years later had a more significant “aha” moment in North Vietnam. He was flying an F-105 on a bombing mission in North Vietnam and was egressing the target at a high rate of speed after delivering his bombs and he got an indication in the cockpit that a gear door was open. Nine times out of ten it was just a matter of a an indicator switch not being properly adjusted and the door being only a fraction of an inch open but the proper procedure was to slow below gear lowering speed to prevent any damage to the gear door. My friend instinctively followed the checklist procedure and slowed down which allowed the anti-aircraft artillery gunners to accurately track and hit his aircraft forcing him to eject in North Vietnam. He had time on the ground waiting for the rescue helicopter to come and get him to contemplate that it would have been better to bring the jet home without a gear door than to not bring the jet home at all and have the opportunity to practice his escape and evasion skills for real.

The positive G limit for the F-4 was 9 Gs. One day my hootch mate put 12Gs on his airplane doing a defensive break against a missile he thought was tracking him. The over G broke the motor mounts on both engines and dictated maintenance perform a major over G inspection of the entire airplane. The operations commander for the wing felt compelled to admonish my hootch mate about the over G and ordered my hootch mate to report to him to discuss the matter. The operations officer asked my hootch mate why he put 12 Gs on the airplane. The captain looked at the colonel and said, “because that’s all I could get.” The interview was over.

In combat you need to be prepared for things to not go as planned and be flexible to adapt to new circumstances. In short, when things change, change the plan. I was tasked to lead a two-ship to escort B-52s and protect them from MiGs while attacking targets in southern North Vietnam near one if their airfields at Vinh. We were to protect two flights of B-52s with target times of 1 and 2 o’clock in the morning. The plan was to take off from Korat in central Thailand, go to a tanker in Laos, meet the first flight in the Gulf of Tonkin, escort them into and out of North Vietnam, go back to the tanker for more fuel and repeat the process for the second flight. After that we would go back to the tanker to get enough fuel to go back to Korat. Everything went as planned until we were on the tanker after escorting the second flight of B-52s. The tanker crew told us the airborne command post needed to talk to us. I got up on the tanker’s wing and changed frequencies to the command post where I learned that the flight that was scheduled to escort the next two B-52 flights at 3 and 4 o’clock had maintenance problems and couldn’t make it and we needed to cover the 3 and 4 o’clock target times. So we repeated the process of escorting each B-52 flight and refueling in between. After escorting the 4 o’clock flight we were back on the tanker and once again we were told to contact the command post. The escort flight for the pre-strike photo reconnaissance mission also had maintenance problems and we were now assigned to escort the Recce aircraft. The RF-4 joined us on the tanker and gave us his route over several targets in central North Vietnam. The pre-strike Recce mission was called the run for the roses as it flew over the targets for the main stike of the day against targets in the North Vietnamese heartland. Thanks to Petula Clark strikes against targets around Hanoi and Haiphong were called going “Down Town”. Off we went to fly west to east across North Vietnam from Hanoi to Haiphong and protect the RF-4 from MiGs. After that we went back to another tanker and then home to Korat. A planned 4 hour mission with one type of escort turned into an 8 hour mission with two types of escort in two completely different environments.

Crews for a 2-ship Flight in Vietnam

Crews for a 2-ship Flight in Vietnam

You also take things you learned in combat back to the peacetime environment that need to be exorcised from your flying. Flying out of our base in Thailand we routinely flew into bases in South Vietnam where small arms fire in the traffic pattern was likely and shoulder fired heat seeking missiles were possible. Because of this we would fly very tight overhead tactical patterns to minimize our exposure at slow speeds and low altitude with an on speed base to final turn rolling out over the overrun and touching down in the first 500 feet of the runway. My assignment after Southeast Asia was to Germany and while it is an operational command with war time tasking it is a peace time command for training. Everybody’s first flight in Europe has to be with an instructor pilot so my new flight commander who was also a squadron instructor pilot got in my backseat for my first F-4 flight in Europe. We went out single-ship to do some basic aircraft handling maneuvers and then came back to the base for an instrument approach. After that we went out to see the VFR entry pattern and do an overhead pattern to a full stop landing. I did the pattern like I had been doing them in Vietnam, very tight and very aggressive. In the debrief after the flight my flight commander said that my VFR overhead pattern was the best that he had ever seen but I should never do it like that again. In Europe the rule was wings level at 300 feet AGL and a mile on final.

The rules can change depending on the environment in which you are operating. The challenge for a pilot is to recognize the changes and adapt to them.

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FAA Proposed Rules for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

The issue about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is not a question of “if” but rather “when and how” and the FAA finally released the proposed rule making regarding small, unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). All pilots of manned aircraft need to review, understand and comment on the proposed rules as this is how we will be interacting with the UAVs and their operators.

The entire NPRM is available at

A summary is available at

An initial review of these documents shows a very pragmatic approach to regulating the non-recreational use of UAVs while ensuring UAV operators understand and integrate into the national airspace system. The proposed rule provides realistic safeguards for manned aircraft operations. While the NPRM is very comprehensive, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon from either the perspective of UAV operators or pilots flying manned aircraft. The FAA specifically requests public comment and suggestions in several areas of regulation and operation where they have made assumptions they realize are open to discussion.

Take some time to review the NPRM from your perspective and provide your comments to the FAA.

Send comments identified by docket number FAA-2015-0150 using any of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to and follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.
  • Mail: Send comments to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
  • Hand Delivery or Courier: Take comments to Docket Operations in Room W12- 140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

While I will have some comments on the rules themselves, a major concern for me is enforcement of the rules after they are implemented. Anybody can go to a local hobby shop and purchase a drone that can be used for non-recreational purposes and not have a clue the rules exist. I think this needs to be a major consideration for the FAA as they move forward with these new rules.


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NTSB Process – After the Crash

What happens after The Crash? Fortunately, this is a question only a few people need ask, but it’s good for everyone to know. This discussion will focus on a major accident that destroys the aircraft and results in serious injury or death.

Asiana Airlines accident at San Francisco International Airport (KSFO)

Asiana Airlines accident at San Francisco International Airport (KSFO)

You know from your pilot training that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the agency responsible for investigating aircraft accidents. The NTSB also has the ability to delegate the actual investigation to the FAA for less serious accidents involving general aviation aircraft. When an accident occurs, the NTSB decides if they will investigate or if they will assign the investigation to the FAA.

If an accident is assigned to the FAA, one or two investigators—an operations inspector and/or an airworthiness inspector—gather the facts surrounding the event and send a report to the NTSB for analysis and determination of the cause; but even then, the NTSB determines the cause of the accident, not the FAA. The FAA investigator offers an opinion of the cause of the accident, but the NTSB makes the final determination.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) publishes rules and protocols for all aircraft accident investigations that all member countries adopt into their own regulations, creating a worldwide standard. In the United States, both the NTSB and the Department of Defense have adopted these rules for civilian and military aircraft; they apply to the investigations done by the FAA as well. Let’s look at a situation where the NTSB elects to investigate the accident, either because of the notoriety or the magnitude of the accident.

Under ICAO standards, the investigating authority (the NTSB in the United States) appoints an Investigator-In-Charge (IIC) who assigns technical experts as needed from either the NTSB or FAA, which may include but are not limited to operations specialists (pilots, dispatchers, and mechanics), air traffic control specialists, engineers, medical personnel, and meteorologists. Others have the right to participate in the investigation, if they desire, and are called “Parties to the Investigation”; but ICAO rules strictly define who may ask or be asked to join the investigation. In addition to representatives from the country where the accident occurred, these parties may include representatives from the country where the aircraft was registered (or the country of the operator), the country where the aircraft was designed, and the country or countries where the aircraft and engines were manufactured. The investigating authority can also ask for representatives from the companies that built or operated the airplane. Representatives of people injured or killed in the accident may not be Parties to the Investigation, but may attend public hearings where they may provide input or comments to investigators.

Depending on the accident the NTSB will release a preliminary report with factual information but no analysis two to six weeks after the accident.

Once the investigation is complete, the NTSB publishes a final determination of the cause or causes of the accident along with their recommendations to prevent similar accidenats in the future.  This can take up to a year after the accident. However, they do not release the analysis and reasoning that lead to their conclusion, nor do they determine liability.

If you are a survivor or relative of a crash victim, you will have to go to court and make a case for why someone should pay damages and/or compensation to you. To do this, you will need to hire your own investigator and technical experts to prove your theory of what caused the accident to the judge or jury’s understanding and satisfaction.

If you were the pilot or represent the estate of the pilot involved in an accident you will have to defend claims against you and make claims against others you feel contributed to the accident.

After an aircraft accident, there are two investigations: one by the NTSB, which determines the cause of an accident and makes safety recommendations to prevent future similar accidents, but which does not determine liability for the accident; and the second investigation, wherein those who seek compensation for damages or loss must develop a theory and produce evidence in court to establish their claim. Facts from the NTSB report may be used in this process, but no analysis or findings from the NTSB investigation may be used in the court trial. The court will determine liability and the amount of money the liable party or parties must pay.

The NTSB offers their opinion regarding the cause(s) of an accident based on all the information available to them but they do not have a burden of proof like a claimant does in a court of law when suing for liability and compensation or punitive damages.

I hope you never need this information but, if you do, I hope it helps.

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An Afternoon with Erich Hartmann

The most enjoyable thing about meeting Erich Hartmann, the man who shot down 352 airplanes, was learning that, like any pilot, he loved talking about flying. His flying experience was more than the famous fighter pilot. He learned to fly gliders as a youth and was a glider instructor at age 14. His mother was his first instructor. He got his civilian powered pilot’s license when he was 17 in 1939. After he retired from the Luftwaffe in 1970 he went back to being a civilian instructor pilot in Germany.

Because of his young looks his nickname, or call sign, was Bubi, German slang for young boy.

Because of his young looks his nickname, or call sign, was Bubi, German slang for young boy.

The mission the day I spent at Erich Hartmann’s house was to interview him and discuss flying safety. At the time (1983 to 1986) I was on the flight safety staff at the headquarters for U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. In addition to my duties as the action officer for flight safety and accident investigation for all F-15s, F-5s and F-4s in Europe I was also a contributing editor to the USAFE safety magazine called “Airscoop”. Military pilots, like all pilots, can’t be forced to be safe, they have to want to be safe and the way you develop that desire is by leadership and example. My thought was that our pilots would respect Erich Hartmann’s perspective on flight safety based on his qualifications as an accomplished fighter pilot who was, in fact, an old, bold pilot. I found out how to get in touch with Hartmann, asked for an interview on the topic of flying safety and he said sure. Since I was the one to set it up I got to do the interview but the interview team included the editor of the magazine and an interpreter. Although Hartmann spoke English he wanted a professional interpreter with aviation background in case he wanted to make some points that he might not know exactly how to say in English. His English turned out to be just fine.

Hartmann had two main points: Have good maintenance and know your pilots. On the first point Hartmann developed a very good rapport with his mechanic, Heinz Bimmel, who worked with him on all his aircraft. One time, when Hartmann was forced to land behind Russian lines, Bimmel grabbed a rifle and went looking for Hartmann to rescue him. Hartmann was captured but managed to escape and make it back to the German lines. On the last day of the war Hartmann put Bimmel in the back of his Bf-109 and flew to the American sector to surrender rather than being taken prisoner by the Russians. The Americans promptly turned both of them over to the Russians in accordance with the Yalta Agreements which said German POWs would go to the Ally in whose sector they were fighting. Hartmann then spent 10 years in Russian prisons before being repatriated to Germany. I asked him which was better, his Russian or his English and he said it was his Russian.

When it came to knowing his pilots Hartmann said he could tell after the first interview with a new pilot in the squadron if the pilot was going to be an asset or a liability. It was simply a matter of attitude. Even among fighter pilots, who are notoriously self-confident, he could tell which ones would listen and learn and which ones thought they already knew it all.

According to historians Hartmann was never shot down although he did make several forced landings after flying through the debris of an airplane he just shot down and a couple of times after running out of gas before getting back to a base to land. Needless to say there were no air-to-air missiles so all of his aerial victories were from gun shots, many of which were taken at less than 300 feet slant range (he liked to get close to his work) which explains the battle damage he sustained as he flew through the exploding frag pattern of the airplane he just shot.

His risk mitigation in combat, a form of aeronautical decision making, was his doctrine of “See – Decide – Attack – Coffee Break” meaning he would visually acquire a target, determine if he had an offensive advantage and only attack if he could do so safely. He had no problem passing up engagements where he couldn’t enter with an advantage. Finally, after every attack he would completely disengage, regroup and then start looking for another fight. He would often fly five or six sorties in a day. Hartmann is convinced that up to 80% of his targets never knew he was there until he opened fire which is why we place so much emphasis on visual lookout to this day. Hartmann feels his greatest accomplishment, surpassing his 352 victories, is that he never lost a wingman. There’s a bit of a stretch there in that he did have one wingman get shot down but he parachuted to safety so Hartmann never had a wingman get killed (lost).

After Hartmann was released from Russian captivity he joined the West German Air Force and flew F-86s and F-104’s. He got his checkout in the F-104 at Luke AFB outside of Phoenix. He then went head to head with the German Air Force leadership saying the F-104 was not a good choice for Germany and subsequently retired from the Luftwaffe in 1970. The F-104 became known as the widow maker. The German Air Force lost 282 F-104s and 115 pilots in training crashes.

Hartmann’s house in Weil im Schönbuch, just south of Stuttgart, was located under one of our air-to-air training areas (MOAs) for F-15s, F-4s, F-104s, F-18s, F-16s and Toronados. He often sat on his patio watching and critiquing engagements.

Erich Hartmann flew west in 1993 at the age of 71. A good biography on Erich Hartmann is called “The Blond Knight of Germany” by Raymond Tolliver and Trevor Constable.

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Are You Getting Good Weather Information

Severe Weather Storm

Severe Weather Storm

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) doesn’t think pilots are getting all the information or the best information to make decisions during preflight or while in flight when they go to the typical aviation weather sources, specifically the Aviation Weather Center or the Flight Service. Technically the Aviation Weather Center’s web page is not an official source of weather information for preflight planning. In order to have a documented weather briefing from an approved source you need to get your weather through a flight service station briefing or a DUAT or DUATS weather briefing. But, guess where they get their weather information, from the Aviation Weather Center and the National Weather Service.

There are non-aviation related weather products produced by the National Weather Service (NWS) that are not normally addressed when agencies provide pilot weather briefings.

The NTSB cites accidents where the aviation weather provided to pilots during preflight planning did not paint as clear a picture of the forecast weather as other products available from the National Weather Service. In a recent NTSB Safety Recommendation to the FAA the NTSB said they are “concerned that although weather hazards are identifiable by NWS meteorologists, routinely issued aviation weather products may not alert the aviation community to the presence or full severity of these hazards”.

Here are some examples from the NTSB letter:

“On January 17, 2010, a Cessna 182R collided with mountainous terrain 9 miles northwest of Corvallis, Oregon, resulting in two fatalities. While several NWS aviation weather products were issued for wind for the state of Oregon that day, the NWS Weather Forecasting Office in Portland, Oregon, had issued a nonaviation-specific high wind warning for wind much higher than that forecast in the aviation weather products. On November 10, 2011, a Eurocopter EC130B4 helicopter collided with mountainous terrain near Pukoo on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, resulting in five fatalities. While NWS aviation weather products for wind and turbulence had been issued, two NWS nonaviation-specific weather products advised of wind magnitudes 13 to 15 knots higher than what had been advised in the aviation weather products.On May 24, 2012, a Gulfstream American AA-5A impacted terrain about 40 miles northeast of Lakeview, Oregon, resulting in one fatality. While NWS aviation weather products advised of broken ceilings, rain showers, and moderate turbulence, an NWS nonaviation-specific weather product advised of wintry conditions and significant wind gusts.On March 3, 2013, a Mooney M20E impacted terrain after departing Angel Fire Airport, Angel Fire, New Mexico, resulting in four fatalities. At the time of the accident, there was a substantial crosswind to the runway with a sustained wind of 33knots and gusts to 47 knots; however, an NWS aviation weather product only advised of wind gusts to 25 knots, while two NWS nonaviation-specific weather products discussed stronger wind gusts.”

One source of aviation weather information that is not widely disseminated is weather advisories produced by NWS forecasters located in each air route traffic control center called Center Weather Service Units (CWSUs)

Mountain Wave

Mountain Wave

Another weather hazard the NTSB feels is not getting enough emphasis or dissemination is mountain wave activity (MWA). Pilots will often get forecasts of turbulence with no mention of mountain wave and just as importantly you can have smooth air with strong mountain wave activity present. I’ve had this happen to me on two occasions, once VFR and once IFR, and in both cases the downdrafts exceeded the aircraft’s capability to maintain altitude. In each case I allowed enough altitude for the possibility and was able to safely transit the area. The first was a VFR flight from San Diego to Lake Havasu. The winds were out of the west and although the air was smooth the down drafts on the leeward side of mountain ridges were very strong. I maintained full power at VY and watched the aircraft descend at 500 feet per minute as I flew through the down drafts. It occurred over the valleys to the east of the mountains so the altitude I had to clear the mountains allowed me to ride it out. The second was an IFR flight from Phoenix to San Diego. I intentionally went the southern route through Yuma and Imperial as the downdrafts and turbulence around Julian VORTAC are notorious when the winds are strong and have caused many accidents. I heard others on center frequency working to maintain altitude. I made sure I was well above the minimum enroute altitude (MEA) as well as the clouds as I approached the mountains east of San Diego. At first I was able to maintain altitude but fighting the head winds and down drafts I was making a huge 40 knots of ground speed. Because it is a mountain wave activity you progress through down drafts and up drafts. Eventually, I got to one down draft where I couldn’t maintain altitude and I let center know. He cleared me for a 2,000 foot altitude block and I was able to regain lost altitude each time I encountered an up draft. I went through two cycles of that before I got to the windward side of the mountains and no longer had trouble maintaining altitude but I stayed high as long as I could before starting the descent to get through the cloud layer and land.

Currently neither the NWS nor the Aviation Weather Center are not required to provide advisories when mountain wave activity is present so your only clue may be strong winds over the mountains, listening to the radio on flight following to hear how others are doing and, possibly, PIREPS if pilots report mountain wave. Two air traffic control centers, Denver and Salt Lake, provide weather warnings about mountain wave activity in their weather products.

To address these problems the NTSB recommends the FAA ensure that preflight weather briefings include any products created by the NWS and that the NWS include mountain wave activity in aviation weather products. The NTSB also recommends that weather information produced by air traffic control center weather service units be included in the information that is briefed to pilots.

What can you do in the mean time? Well maybe watching the Weather Channel and local media forecasts in addition to getting the required aviation forecasts can help give you a better picture of the situation and isn’t such a silly idea after all. If what you are hearing from non-aviation sources differs greatly from what you are getting from flight service or DUAT/DUATS you should consider using the more extreme of the two values. Also, now that ADS-B IN weather information is available in the cockpit at reasonable prices, you can keep up with the weather information in flight. You no longer have to rely solely on the stale information you got during your preflight briefing.

ADS-B Weather Display

ADS-B Weather Display

The entire recommendation letter from the NTSB to the FAA is available at:

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Aviation is more than Pilots

We often say that aviation is more than pilots. We know it’s true, but it’s always nice to see it demonstrated. That was the case recently at a formation – clinic fly-in with Red Star Yak and CJ-6 pilots and several T-34 pilots at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona. This is an annual event and the organizer does a lot of coordination to make this an enjoyable and productive training weekend.

Falcon Warbirds hosted the event in their “new” hangar, which was built in World War II to train pilots from America and several other countries as well. It’s not just local pilots who take part in the event: several came from California, one T-34 pilot flew in from Houston, and a Yak-52 pilot came from Denver. Arrangements were made at the Arizona Golf Resort for a group rate, as they are every year, and the hotel staff were eager to make our stay pleasant.

Arizona Golf Resort

Arizona Golf Resort

With 15 to 20 airplanes flying 2- and 4-ship training sorties, advanced coordination with the air traffic controllers in the tower—for standardized departure and arrival procedure—made life simple for pilots and controllers alike. Several controllers took advantage of invitations to fly in the back seat and see the operation from the pilot’s perspective during event. The tower controllers were kept busy and they thoroughly enjoyed the additional activity because it had been coordinated ahead of time and they were prepared.

4-Ship Training Flight

4-Ship Training Flight

Two mechanics familiar with the aircraft being flown made themselves available from Thursday through Sunday, and they were kept busy. On Saturday’s first flight, a CJ-6 developed an oil leak. With the cowling removed the mechanics quickly discovered that one of the cylinders had unseated and was loose on the crankcase housing. They were able to remove the cylinder, check the bolts, replace a defective bolt and re-install the cylinder in time for the airplane to fly after lunch. Another CJ-6 was making strange noises. The mechanics found a cracked exhaust manifold and were able to repair that with a weld.

Mechanic at Work

Mechanic at Work

A local custom helmet maker was there for the entire weekend for repairs and to sell new helmets. A master parachute rigger spent Saturday with us to provide overnight repacking services. He briefed us on establishing a habit pattern of donning our parachute before getting in the airplane and removing it after we deplane to preclude inadvertently unbuckling the parachute in an airborne emergency egress situation before stepping over the side. He also suggested storing parachutes inside as ultraviolet rays are damaging to parachutes and packs over time.

The City of Mesa’s airport fire department stopped by with one of their engines to make sure everything was going well.

CJ-6 Line Up

CJ-6 Line Up

There were two professional photographers documenting the activities both on the ground and in the air.

And family members were drafted to help with the logistics, running the registration table and taking care of the catering chores, which were extensive. Each morning they provided coffee, donuts and fruit to start the day. They made another trip each day to local restaurants to bring us great lunches, and then they set up and catered the awards banquet on Saturday night.

Two Red Star standardization pilots were available to give check rides to pilots ready for their wing or flight lead checks.

There is a distinction between pilots and aviators. Pilots fly airplanes while aviators are people who love aviation. By those definitions, you don’t have to be a pilot to be an aviator; and there are some pilots (not many) who are not really aviators.

Bottom line: aviators from different sectors of the community came together to make a great weekend of formation flying. The culmination was a 16-ship mass formation fly-by at the Williams Gateway open house at the old Williams AFB east of Chandler, AZ.

16-Ship Flyby

16-Ship Flyby






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Sun Tax

The Sunbelt extends from California to Florida across the southern United States . While there are multiple benefits to living in the Sunbelt, there are costs and drawbacks as well; we refer to them as “sun tax.” The cost of living in the Sunbelt can be higher than other areas. We take tremendous amounts of grief, and get no sympathy, in the winter from our friends and family who live in the northern tier.



One perceived problem to pilots living in the Sunbelt is all the foreign pilot training that goes on at our fair-weather airports.  Foreign student pilots are drawn to the United States for more than just weather. In addition to the excellent training, it is actually more economical to train here. It is less expensive to come here and get their pilot certificate than do the training in their home country even when you add in the costs of getting here, housing and meals. This also provides a great economic boon to the communities where flight schools cater to foreign pilot training. One student will spend around $50,000.00 for flight training from zero time to a commercial/instrument rating and will pay rent for a year in addition to food and transportation.

However, local pilots frequently complain about being imposed upon while struggling to understand pilots whose mother tongue is not English. But requiring foreign students to work in English, both on the radio and in their daily interactions, while they are here actually enhances  safety because they get a better command of English. This facilitates their integration into the international aviation environment. I admire them for taking on this formidable challenge.

When I was stationed in Germany, it was always fun watching our new pilots struggle to understand German controllers speaking English. As soon as they were starting to get comfortable with the German accent, we would take them to a fair-weather training base in Italy or Spain. This would not only force them to deal with those new accents, they would also have to work with French controllers to get to either destination.

While in Germany I also flew gliders. The soaring club I flew with didn’t have any English speaking instructors. I had done tow launches in Canada but the Germans exclusively used winch launches. It’s a very time-compressed activity so it was important for me to be able to keep up in German. This gives me a great empathy for all the foreign pilots training here in English. We do them a great favor by expecting them to speak good English, but we can do that without being mean or ugly to them. I also must give great credit to the tower controllers who work with our foreign visitors, and I encourage the controllers to be patient and firm as well.

My latest experience in the international environment was a trip to Normandy, France last summer when I rented a Cirrus to fly over the D-Day beaches and Mont St. Michel. There was no ATIS at the airport in Caen, and when I came up on the single frequency for ground and tower, everything was in French. I asked the instructor if he wanted to make the radio calls and he said I should. I made the call in English. The controller didn’t skip a beat and responded in English with the airfield information and clearance to taxi.

Carpiquet Airport, Caen, France (LFRK)

Carpiquet Airport, Caen, France (LFRK)

We really need to appreciate what the rest of the world goes through to be able to meet the International Civil Aviation Organization’s mandate that the language of aviation is English. The next time you hear a foreign student working hard to communicate in English, think what it would be like to be in his or her country trying to fly and having to speak that language rather than English.

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