Friday, December 5, 2014

Not Part of the Plan

Before I worked for the airlines I often wondered what it would really be like.  I'd heard stories, but I'd also heard many say, "until you get there and experience it for yourself, you'll never really know."  Despite that, I thought I'd tell you how my day went a few days ago so you could get a small glimpse into the life of an airline pilot.

My alarm woke me at 4:15am, which is not an uncommon time to have to wake up.  I immediately noticed a missed call from crew support (if you have any early show and don't want to be disturbed by friends and family who go to bed at a normal hour, the "Do Not Disturb" on your iPhone will become your best friend).   I knew a rainstorm was coming to SoCal, so I assumed our plane never made it to Carlsbad (CLD), maybe low visibility?  I called Crew Support back to find out what was going on and was informed our airplane never made it to Carlsbad but was still in San Diego (SAN).  Thankfully we had the same show time so I met my crew down in the lobby at 5:20am and we took a ride from the hotel in Carlsbad to SAN.

This set us back a little bit, but we were scheduled to have an hour break later on in the day, so we figured we could still get done on time if we gave up our break.

With our empty plane, we made it to Los Angeles (LAX) from SAN just fine, though we landed at our next schedule departure time (and might I add, I did the most beautiful landing at LAX).  We could have landed 20 minutes earlier, but LAX was landing to the east, something that happens very rarely- we're talking once a year or so.  Because of that, everything turns from normal operations into complete chaos.  To add to the wind change, causing us to land on the opposite side of the airport, it was also raining cats on dogs, and IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions- in the clouds) the entire flight.  The weather was like this the rest of the day, which I secretly enjoyed as I rarely see rain anymore- perks of living in a desert.

This is the pic I took in-between flight before I braved the storm to do the walk around.

I borrowed this sweet jacket to do the walkaroud so I didn't get completely drenched.  

We finally got to the gate in LAX after the longest taxi of my life, got all our passengers boarded within 10 minutes and were off to our next destination, CLD.  We made it to CLD just fine, but now we were running an hour late.  Again, because LAX was using different runways it took us twice as long to get airborne than it usually does.

In CLD we boarded up our 'starting-to-get-angry-passengers' because we were a bit late.  We made sure we had the required amount of fuel on board and were off, back to LAX.  Halfway between CLD and LAX, Air Traffic Control (ATC) informed us we could expect to hold for 3-5 holding patterns (and maybe more), which is about 12-20 minutes, which is about 250-500 pounds of fuel.  We told ATC we may have to divert because we didn't have fuel to play around with... especially not 500+ pounds... and from experience, many times holding turns into much longer than planned.  They told us it could easily be another 30 minutes, so we decided the best and safest thing to do was to divert back to CLD.

As much as we didn't want to, and as much as we knew our passengers really wouldn't want to, we made the safe decision to fly back to CLD.  We landed safely in CLD with the legal amount of fuel.  Even though it was a HUGE inconvenience to divert back to CLD, it was the best decision.  I never want to be stuck with air beneath me and no fuel.  No thanks!

There is always one passenger (remember that) who thinks his world is crumbling down around him when things don't go as planned.  He yelled at the poor flight attendant on our way back to CLD and then some more at the gate agents after we had landed.  Thankfully I couldn't hear what he was saying, but I know he used some pretty choice words.  He must not have realized that we don't have control over the weather... though that would be awesome if we did.

We added more fuel in CLD, let Mr. Grump get off, and slowly made our way back to LAX, this time running quite a bit late;  about 1 1/2 hours at this point.  Keep in mind we still had not seen any blue sky by this time of the day.  Only rain, rain, clouds, and more rain.  Though I LOVE the rain, it does get a bit exhausting fling in it all day; definitely more exhausting that flying in calm/10/clear.

We were supposed to change airplanes when we got back to LAX, but since we were running so late, they managed to swap things around a bit and let us keep the same plane to our final destination, San Luis Obispo (SBP).  Hooray!  Swapping planes can be a bit of a pain.  It wouldn't be bad if I didn't have my suitcase, my flight bag, my headset bag, and my cooler.  I'm not complaining by any means, I choose to bring all that stuff with me, but it is SO nice not having to swap planes throughout the day.

Nothing too eventful happened up to SBP, but again, since the winds were all crazy, we ended up having to fly past the airport to start the approach to the runway favoring the winds.  It was an ILS approach, which is nice, but for some reason our autopilot didn't want to follow the course smoothly, so the captain ended up having to handfly- after a super long day of approaches, long taxis, a divert, rain, ice, clouds everywhere, turbulence, quick breaks with no time to grab real food, etc.  You get the point.  But we made it safely to SBP with the captain shooting a beautiful approach and making a nice touchdown.

Of course the day was still awesome- I mean, I got to fly an airplane, in rain, and fly some pretty awesome approaches- but it was exhausting!  And we got done 2 hours later than planned.  So as great as this job is, if you decide to become a pilot, know that:


Friday, October 24, 2014

Are We the Right Fit?

I'm sure most of you know now that I flight instructed much longer than any normal person would (5 years!!), and had more than enough hours to go to the airlines when I finally did.  Even with the hundreds of traffic patterns I did, and the steep turns, and how many times I had to remind my students of "safety first," I still loved every day of it.  I tried to be the best flight instructor I could be and felt I did a pretty good job.

That being sad, there were still students with personalities so different than mine that we were not a good fit.  I couldn't explain things in a way that would help them understand.

During my flight instructor days, I was always proud of the fact that I could teach any student to land an airplane smoothly- no slamming it onto the runway or turning one landing into three.  It is a finesse to be able to do that, and I felt my students mastered it quite well.  I even had multiple examiners call me after the checkride to tell me that my students had awesome landings (proud CFI moment).  Here's a pic with me and one of my students after her first solo- she did awesome!  As did all my other students, but that would be too many pictures to share in one post.  :)

However, I had one student about a year after I began flight instructing that I could not teach to land.  We'd spent countless hours in the traffic pattern, but to no avail.  I could not figure out what the problem was.  The approach was always so beautiful, but then it got a little sketchy during the flare with me having to take over the airplane more often than not.

After weeks of trying I didn't want to waste the student's money anymore, so I sent him with a new instructor.  There were no hard feelings and it wasn't awkward.  I kid you not, just a few days after flying with this other flight instructor, he could land like a pro.  Did this offend me?  Of course not!  I was happy for him and the other flight instructor.

For whatever reason, my tips didn't help him out at all; but this other instructor was able to teach him things I could not.  If you are having issues with your flight instructor, or if you are a flight instructor having issues with a student, do not be ashamed to switch things up a bit.  You should both want what is best for each other, even if that means meeting with a different flight instructor.  Make it a positive experience for all the parities involved.

Happy Friday, and have fun flying!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bring on the Spins!

I remember my first day of spin/aerobatic training like it was yesterday.  I'd heard so many horror stories of 'spins gone wrong,' so I was pretty nervous.  I'd also heard stories of people puking, and I did not want to be one of those.  Of course I didn't show that I was nervous and headed into it like any other situation- like I knew what I was doing.
I read everything on spin training that I could get my hands on, so when my flight slot in the school's Decathlon came, I was ready... nervous, but ready.  

This was not the exact Decathlon I flew, but it looked very similar to this one.

I ate a small breakfast, just incase... well, you know, and was on my way out the door.  The instructor I flew with first took me to get our parachutes.  He took me through the ropes of that (I was so glad I hadn't told my mom I was doing this!).  I distincly remembering the instructor telling me that if we got ourselves into a situation we couldn't get out of, he would give me only a few seconds to jump out first; if I hesitated he wouldn't wait.  What!?  No problem, I said, I won't hesitate.  I mean, I had to play it off cool.

No this pic isn't of me, but I'm sure if we'd had to bail, I would have looked something similar to this.  

Now, I am only 5 feet tall and at the time only weighed about 100 pounds.  The parachute straps were barely small enough to fit me and it felt like I was sitting on a couch cushion through the entire flight.  I'm sure I looked funny, but I didn't care.  And honestly, that was the least of my worries.
When we got airborne, and climbed to a sufficiently high altitude, the instructor demonstrated the first spin.  I thought I was going to die for a second- by far the weirdest sensation I had ever felt!  I remember "hanging" onto the ceiling... like there was something to grab on to, and like that something would protect me.  I felt like we were in that spin for hours, maybe even days!  And then he recovered, I realized I had survived, and I wanted to do it again!  I did the next one and it was so much fun!  I could have stayed up there all day doing those, no joke.  We did quite a few spins and then he decided to teach me some aerobatic maneuvers.  We did airleron rolls and my favorite- inside loops (at least I think that is what they are called).  You start the loops in straight and level flight and then pitch up like you are going to stall, but keep going up, up, upside down, and over.  Oh my gosh!  Such a rush.  I decided right then and there that if I could have afforded it, I would have done aerobatic training for the rest of my life.
After my flight session was sadly over, I called my mom to tell her what I had done.  As I'd suspected, she was so glad I hadn't told her sooner.  I've done plenty of spins (on purpose, of course... never by accident) since that day, but nothing was ever as fun as doing aerobatic training in a shiny red Decathlon.  So if you ever get the chance to do some aerobatic training, do it!  You will not regret it.  It might be scary at first, but once you do it a few times you'll feel like a pro! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Learn to Laugh

When it rains it pours.  What I mean by that is, when one thing goes wrong, it seems to turn into a chain reaction and it isn't just one thing anymore; it's 20 or 30!  You can get all angry and annoyed, or you can just laugh it off and move on.

As an airline pilot, I have had main days of "pouring rain."  A few weeks ago a I flew a 4-day trip all over Southern California, mostly in and out of LAX.  Day 1 was perfect.  The weather was gorgeous, the temperatures were in the high 70s/low 80s, our gates were open each time we arrived at our desitation airports; we couldn't have asked for a better day of airline flying.  Our good luck didn't last long.  Day 2 was our chain reaction of "pouring rain."

The plane that we were supposed to start out in that day was a bit behind, so we started the day out late.  Because we were late on our first leg, our gate at LAX wasn't open anymore when we arrived, so we had to wait on the taxiway for a bit.  Our break in LAX was now shortened so we had much less time than originally planned.

The flight attendant ran inside to grab some food, the captain to grab a release, and I stayed with the plane to began my preflight duties.  Halfway through my walkaroud I realized there were passengers starting to board.  What the--- apparently the gate agents just sent the passengers down and the rampers were going to let them on the plane without checking to see if there was a flight attendant on board.  I had to stop the situation (not in my job description) and hold the passengers at the bottom of the stairs.  They were not too happy, so I tried to ease the situation best I could!

We got that whole situation figured out, boarded all our passengers, started engines, and were ready to go.  We got our clearance from ramp control to taxi out of the alley when... just kidding... ramp control asked us to do a U-Turn in the alley, go back to the bottom of it, and then U-Turn again to get out of the way of incoming traffic.  Oookay... that's a little weird.  But we complied.

Then getting a word in edgewise to ground control to get out of the alley was nearly impossible.  However, we finally made it out of the alley and on our way to the runway.  The rest of the trip went the same way; one thing after another after another.

We got flow from SAN to LAX, which we never get into LAX, and had to wait an extra 20 mins before we could takeoff.  We had plane swaps in 25 minute turns, angry controllers, got stuck behind aircraft mowing slower than I thought possible,  long taxi instructions, vectors taking us away from the airport, 15 mile downwinds, etc etc.  It was quite a 4-Day trip.  But I still loved every minute of it.  How, do you ask?  How could I enjoy working with all of that?  Because I learned to laugh.

Instead of being annoyed at having to do 2 U-Turns in the alley, I found it quite comical.  Who can say they have done that before?  Instead of being annoyed at having to swap planes in a 25 minute turn, I told myself it felt nice to get up and walk around and stretch my legs out for a bit.  Twenty minute delay?  Now I have more time to chat with the awesome captain I was with.  Telling the passengers they have to wait to board?  Now I actually get to speak with them face to face instead of just over the intercom; I was able to talk to some really cool people.

So when you get those days of "pouring rain" step aside, realize how comical the situation really is, and learn to laugh.  The situation is going to be that way no matter your attitude, so why not make it a positive one?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Changing my Perspective

I've been debating writing this post because it is hard to admit the error of my ways.  However, I realize there may be many others that are in the same boat as I, so I decided this post could help somebody.

A few months back I flew with a captain who drove me crazy!  It wasn't just one thing, but a combination of many things.  Now, I usually pride myself in being able to get along with anybody, so it bugged me that I didn't enjoy flying with this captain.  I tried to get over it, but I couldn't.  I flew with him a few weeks after that, and my experience flying with him again wasn't just annoyance now, I was flustered, angry, and felt totally defeated.  Why did he treat me as if I didn't know what I was doing?  I've been flying this plane for nearly 2 years- I know what I'm doing.  That day, I left work  hoping to never fly with this captain again and was determined to bid avoid him for the rest of my first officer career.

My plan would have worked except I didn't realize he was on my schedule again in just one weeks time, and I didn't realize this until the day before.  Oh man!  I thought of calling in sick, but that felt too dishonest, since I wasn't really sick.  I thought of dropping it, but realized there wasn't  enough reserves to do so.  I was going to be stuck flying it; there was no way out.  So I made a decision- if I was going to have to fly with him, I could love it or hate it; but I get to choose.

I went to work that day trying to think of some great qualities about this captain.  I really had to dig deep, but I was determined to think of something.  I told myself he didn't realize how unpleasant he was to fly with, he was just trying to do his best and always take safety first.

I cannot tell you how much changing my attitude changed my perspective on how I saw this captain.  This, in turn, changed the way the entire day went.  Instead of getting annoyed at him for questioning me on everything, I told myself he just wanted to make it home to his kids each week, which made him overly-cautios.  I began treating him with kindness, and then you know what happened?!?  I began enjoying our time together.  We talked about his career aspirations, his goals, and other things that were important to him.  I began to see him as a person and a great captain.

Later that day we had a 2 hour break inbetween flights.  When I came back out to the airplane, he had done the walk around, received our clearance, and listened to ATIS for me.  He had gone out to the plane earlier than required to get those items done.  Now maybe it wasn't a big deal to him, but it was to me.  All this time I thought he was awful, when really it was me!  My initial perspective on who he was was incorrect.  This captain has quirks just like everybody else, but it was my choice to get annoyed and frustrated with them.  It was also my choice to change my attitude and find the good qualities in this captain.

Everybody has their own little quirks, and in the aviation industry especially, we have to learn how to deal with everybody's quirks.  As crews, we work in a tight environment where tension can quickly decrease  the safety of a flight.  This is just my opinion, but I think that as first officers we have to learn to be moldable and make every flying experience, no matter the captain, enjoyable.  I'm not saying we have to be fake or pretend to be somebody we aren't, but we have to figure out a way to enjoy the day and keep the flight environment safe.

You see, once I told myself that this captain was a good person, I saw him as a good person.  I still noticed the things that initially annoyed me, but I saw them as him being cautious and safe.  I've flown with him many times since, and each experience is an enjoyable one.  

Can you change your perspective?  Is there somebody you could have a better attitude about?  If there is, resolve today to find their good qualities and make each day enjoyable for you and the rest of the crew.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Aviation Debt-Free

Before I write this post, I want you to know that I am by no means a financial advisor or accountant or anything of that nature.  But in my years of aviation I have been asked many times how I paid for my training (mostly student loans) and then how I paid them off so quickly.  So here goes...

I accrued nearly $50,000  in students loans to pay for my flight training.  That cost does not include my school tuition, books, housing, etc.  I earned a BS Degree in Aviation Science Professional Pilot from Utah Valley University and did my flight training while I was pursued my degree.  It took me only 4 years to accrue that debt, and only 4 years to pay it off.  Most people think I'm exaggerating a bit when I tell them that, but that is the truth!  Here's how I did it.

I worked my way through college.  My first semester of college I worked at Cold Stone Creamery and Shopko.  Sadly, having those two jobs barely helped me pay for my tuition and housing; the summer between my first and second semester of college I took a break from flying and schooling and worked at Liberty Safe, creating the interior for gun safes.  Of course that was not an ideal job, but it helped me save so I could pay for my tuition for the upcoming school year.  During that summer,  I interviewed for  a receptionist position at a car dealership and was given the job.  I started out part time but was soon offered the full time position.

During the second school year I attended classes in the morning, had my flight lessons around noon, and then headed to work after that until 9pm.  That job was perfect for me because if all my work-work was done, I was allowed to do homework as long as all the phone calls still got answered.  Because I was allowed to do homework at work, I began taking online classes from UVU as well as classes in the classroom.  That was a lifesaver for me.  I was able to pick up a few more hours at the dealership the next semester and take more credits at school.

My third year at college I landed a job in the UVU Aviation Student Support Center assisting students who were interested in taking college course online.  For the easy and fun work I got to do there, I was paid quite well and was allowed to do homework as long as it didn't get in the way of my work.  Again, another life-saver job.

With all of those jobs, I never had to use student loan money for college tuition.  It can be done, but you have to get creative and maybe get a job that allows you to do some homework in the downtime.

As far as my student loans go, each school year I applied for Financial Aid.  I typically received a little bit from subsidized loans (I didn't have to pay for the interest while I was still in school), unsubsidized loans (interest accrued while I was still in school), and grants (free money for making such little money).  My grants total was under $1,000, but every little bit helps!

Financial Aid didn't cut it for me, so I had to apply for some additional loans.  I received a loan from 2 different banks.  For some reason I'm drawing a blank on which banks they were, but they were the ones the school recommended at the time.  I didn't have any co-signers for my loans (I didn't want somebody to be stuck with my debt if something happened to me), so I had to accept higher interest rates.  But I am a firm believer of taking care of myself, so that seemed like a reward, not a punishment.

By the time I finished my flight training and all the interest had accrued while I was in school and not paying, I was nearly $50,000 in debt.  That sounds like a lot, but I had a plan.  I didn't want to be paying my loans for the next 30 years so I did a little research and devised a way to pay off my loans as quickly as possible.

Avoid Frivolous Spending.  
I bought a Honda Civic for $4,800 while I was still in school and paid it off in less than a year (yes, I needed a car).  I kept that car the entire time I paid off my students loans.  Many of my friends bought  beautiful new cars while they were in school- I felt at times that a new car maybe was something I needed, but it wasn't.  I always came to my senses before it was too late.

I always looked for great deals as far as housing goes.  I found a sweet apartment just before I graduated that was only $250 per month for a single room; of course I had roommates, but doing so helped me to save more and pay more on my loans.  Plus, having roommates ended up being such a great experience for me!  To this day, we are still great friends.

Later on, I ended up moving in with my oldest sister and her family because her and I wanted to spend more time getting to know each other.  She didn't charge rent (wahoo), but I did my portion of house chores to (kind of) make up for it.  That helped me immensely in getting rid of more debt.

Have Discipline
Do I Need It, or Do I Want It?  Ask yourself this question each time before you buy something.  You have to have discipline when learning to fly, so why not carry that over to managing your money?  Instead of going to the 3-D IMAX theatre, maybe go get a RedBox movie with some friends and watch a movie at home.  Instead of going out for dinner, go out for lunch when many menus have smaller and less expensive items.  Instead of shopping at Nordstroms, shop at Marshalls.  I think you get my point.  Have discipline and you will have your loans paid off in no time.  Every little bit helps!

Have a Plan
I'm not sure if it is the same today, but when I graduated from college, loans went into repayment 6 months after graduation.  When I received all the balances for my loans, I laid them out next to each other and devised a plan.   Initially I thought it would be best to consolidate them into one big loan, but no bank would do that for me (no cosigner and not enough credit history).  Not consolidating them, however, made paying them off so much easier for me.

I got online and set up automatic minimum payments for each loan; that way I wouldn't have to remember to pay each month- what a life saver!  Then I picked the smallest loan with the highest interest rate to pay off first.  I made a monthly budget for myself and figured out how much EXTRA money I could stick on this loan.  It wasn't much in the beginning, maybe $200 or so.  But I was able to pay that small loan off in just under 1 year.  It felt so good to pay off that loan that it gave me the momentum to keep going.

I took all the money that I would have put on that loan (that was now paid off) and added that to the minimum payment for my second loan; I was paying an extra $700 or so on the second loan now.  That loan was my biggest one, so it took me a couple of years to pay it off.  But putting that much money each month on a loan makes it easy to see the number decreasing, which motivated me to keep going.

Two years later that loan was paid off!  I had only one more loan to go.  Those payments were over $1500 per month (I don't remember the exact amount), but because I had never had that money for fun spending, it wasn't hard to see it go.  So I added that money to the minimum payment of my third loan.  Towards the end, I was so antsy to just pay it off that I put a few thousand dollars on it to just get rid of it.   And I did it!  Paid off $50,000 in 4 years!

To reward myself, I took that money that I would have paid on my loans and put it towards a new car.  One of the motives I had while paying loans was "When these loans are paid off, I'm going to buy a brand new car, not used, but NEW."  And I did, on April 9, 2012... and then paid off that car in a year.

I'm not saying that paying off my loans that quickly was easy, but it was so worth it.  There were times when I wanted to go on some elaborate vacation with my friends, or just give in and buy my car NOW, but I didn't.  I had discipline and waited patiently for those things.  

Another plus of having my loans paid off was the reduced financial stress my first year at the airlines. It was okay that I had to take a huge paycut because my loans were all paid off!  It actually didn't feel like a paycut because if I deducted the money that I was paying on student loans, I actually got a raise working at the airlines with no debt.  I fly with other pilots all the time who having been flying much longer than me who still have student loans.  If you pay off your loans with only minimum payments, you will waste so much money in interest.  If you can afford to, I highly recommend paying your loans off much quicker.  Eliminate frivolous spending, have discipline, and work hard to pay of your student loans.  You can do it!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Do it Right the First Time

A few months back there was a water leak in my apartment that caused a section of our carpet and wall to get moldy (gross!).  Maintenance came over to investigate the problem and decided the leak was coming from our old shower head.  They replaced the shower head and called it good.  A few days later, we noticed the carpet was still soaking wet, as well as the wall now, and mold had started growing.  We called maintenance again and they came over only to realize they hadn't really fixed the leak.  After tearing apart the wall they found a leak in one of the pipes.  It was a quick fix, but a section of our carpet now had to be replaced as well as a huge section of our wall.  Had maintenance fixed the issue the first time, they could have avoided tearing apart such a huge section of our wall, and having to replace and clean our carpet- it ended up being a much bigger deal than it needed to be.  How does this relate to aviation, you might ask?  The same goes when taking a checkride- do it right the first time and you can avoid a lot of wasted time and money (and emotional stress).

A lot goes into preparing for a checkride, so why take the test before you are ready?  I've mentioned in a previous post (click HERE to read that post) that I failed my instrument checkride; I feel that if I had just waited one more week and practiced my flying skills a little more, that would have given me the confidence I needed to pass, and I would have passed my first attempt.  Of course I learned a lot from failing, but I still think it's better to just pass the first time.

If you take the checkride before you are ready,  you still have to pay for the examiner and airplane, then pay your instructor again for additional training, then pay the examiner and airplane fees again (though most examiners will do the retest fee at a lesser rate).  You will spend more money if you take your checkride before you are ready because you are paying for a checkride twice.  Maybe that doesn't seem like a big deal, so let me throw out some numbers here.  Most examiners charge $400 for the checkride, and airplane rentals cost around $150 per hour (checkrides are usually 1.5 hours).  That's $625 you will never get back and that could have been saved had you waited until you were ready.

If you fail a checkride, it goes on your record forever.  I don't say that to scare you, but it is a fact of life.  Every aviation interview I've had asked me about "Have you ever failed a checkride?"  It would be so awesome to be able to say "No."  But if you can't, have an explanation of why you did, what you learned, and how you improved and became a better pilot because of it.

I flight instructed for 5 years; it was very easy for me to know if a student was ready or not for a checkride.  If your instructor doesn't think you are ready (and your instructor really does have your best interest in mind) then don't take the checkride until you have their stamp of approval.  Instructors put just about as much energy into you passing the checkride as you do- they want you to pass.   They want you to feel the joy of succeeding at something you've worked so hard to get to.  If they think you need a couple more flights, then you probably need it.

Of course there is still a possibility of failing, but it will just be bad luck, not that you didn't prepare properly.  Through all my years of instructing, I had only one student not pass on the first attempt, and it was on a maneuver I wasn't even worried about- short field landings.  The winds were just different enough that day, the turbulence just distracting enough, and the heat out-of-control, that he didn't land on the spot.  It wasn't that he hadn't prepared properly for his checkride, it was just a bit of bad luck.  So even if you are ready, and you still don't pass, don't be so hard on yourself.  You'll get it right the second time.

Before I would take a checkride myself, or send my students on checkrides, I would make sure I (or my student) could talk about each technical subject area in the PTS, and fly each maneuver on one flight within PTS standards.  If you can do that, you are ready!

If aviation is the career you want, I want you to succeed!  I want you to find checkrides enjoyable and rewarding.  I want you to pass the first time!  So study hard, and train hard.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Accept Only Your Best

When I was going through flight training I always thought I was doing great if I could hold altitude within 100', or airspeed within 10 knots, or heading within 10 degrees.  That is what the PTS standards teach, right?  If I can do that, I can pass a checkride and become a pilot.  But what I didn't understand is that those standards are simply there so the FAA has some way to grade us all the same; flying just within those standards will not make us the best.  Do you think the Blue Angels, when flying in formation say, "I'm only off 5 degrees, so I'm good."  Heck no!  Being off only 5 degrees could mean catastrophe.  I am here to tell you that you can fly better than the PTS standards.

You want me to fly at 16,000'?  No problem!

Looks like I needed a little more right rudder!
I remember, way back in the day when I was working on my Private Pilot's license, an airline pilot saying to me "If you can hold your altitude 100' low, why not just hold the correct altitude?"  It made sense to me, but I was still learning what an altimeter was, let alone fly at the correct altitude for longer than 5 seconds.  I always remembered what he said, but I got sucked into the PTS standards way of life and didn't take his lesson to heart.  I didn't mind so much if I got 75' low because I was still flying within the standards set by the FAA, and they always know what is best, right?  Right?

I continued my training and was soon teaching others how to become pilots.  It was then that the light bulb turned on.  I needed to be training these pilots for life, not just for a checkride.  I, of course, still showed my students the PTS standards, but I explained that if they flew these minimum standards, they were barely passing... and in school barely passing means getting all Cs.  Do I want to train pilots to be C pilots, standard pilots?  Heck no!  We want to be the best at what we do- that is why we are pilots.  We are competitive and we want to be the best!

Remember, it takes time to become a great pilot, but it is possible.  Don't expect "perfection" (of course 100% perfection is not possible, but you know what I mean), especially not on your first flight; if you do you won't make it past the first lesson.  Not once did I have a student fly "perfect" on the first, second, or even 15th flight.  It takes a lot of time and patience, but if you are determined, you will get there.

Here are a few things I did to get my students from their first flight to awesome pilots:

Prior to my students first solo I had my students practice the PTS standards, but I accepted deviations- if you are too hard on yourself, or if your instructor is too hard on you, that just brings negative learning, and that is no good.  The solo is amazing for building confidence and helping you (or your students) realize that you really can fly an airplane with no assistance from an instructor.

After the solo I would tighten the standards, but remind my students before each flight that I expected them to be able to fly within the PTS standards.  I didn't say this in a mean way, but in a motivating way, telling them that I knew they could do it!  "You can fly solo, so you can fly within the PTS standards, no problem."

After a few more flight lessons came the solo cross-countries.  Again, an amazing confidence builder.  To all students- now, not only can you fly all over the place by yourself, but you have had the time, alone, to practice your flying skills- with no flight instructor talking the entire time distracting you (I'm sure I never distracted my students from talking too much, I just heard stories of other instructors doing that).

Aiming for 180 knots, pretty darn close!
After the solo cross countries, and before I would send my students on checkrides, I would have them fly and hold 1/2 of all the PTS standards.  For example, I would have them hold airspeed within 5 knots instead of 10 knots.  But I tried to always remind them that if they could hold 5 knots off, they could hold the correct airspeed as well.  Why accept less than your best when you can do your best?

 Now I know I was not the perfect flight instructor, and I'm sure there are better ways to teach than what I did, but I really tried to teach my students to be great pilots for life, not just for a checkride, and I hope you will do the same.

If you are an instructor, do better!  If you are a student, accept more of yourself and remember, if you can fly 100' low consistently, you can fly your target altitude consistently!  Accept only your best!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Work Is What You Make It

One of the many benefits of working for the airlines is all of the travel opportunities- there, I said it.  These past few weeks have been pretty great for that.  I know a career at the airlines can be hard for some spouses, who may feel left out of the fun or feel stuck at home watching the kids or working.  It can be like that, but it doesn't have to be.  Make your career at the airlines an enjoyable experience for the both of you!

Last month one of my favorite female captains and I decided to bid for the same 2-day trip and have our husbands come along.  We bid for a trip that had only 2 flights the first day, got done at 1pm, and over-nighted in San Diego.  We met our husbands in San Diego and had the rest of the day to do whatever we wanted.  We spent some time at the pool/hot tub relaxing, eating great food, and visiting Old Town San Diego.  It was a blast and by far the best way to work/vacation.  I know I don't usually post personal pics, but I thought just this once might be okay.  :)

The past weekend I had to go to Long Beach for my yearly sim session.  I had studied so much before hand (which is why I haven't posted in a few weeks), that I could study no longer.  So my husband came out with me and we enjoyed our time on the coast.  My sim slot was from 4-10pm so we had the entire morning to do whatever we wanted to.  The morning after the sim (I passed, of course) we did a little bit more sight-seeing and then headed home.  It was great!  

Here's a picture of the lovely full motion sim.  I always wondered what they looked like when I going through training, so here ya go.  

My point to all of this is that working for the airlines doesn't mean you have to be away from your loved ones all the time.  You can turn your work days into mini getaways with your spouse so you can still see each other and continue to grow your relationship.  Life is what you make it, so make it something you can enjoy!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Want a Career as a Pilot? Here are Some Things to Consider

What do you want to be when you 'grow up'?  What do you want your schedule to look like?  How many hours do you want to work each week?  How much effort do you want to put into getting the career of your choice?  How much money do you want to make?  These are all questions many of you probably ask yourself all the time.  Though none of these answers would have changed my mind about becoming an airline pilot, it still would have been nice to have these answers early on in my training.  Following are some things to consider if you want to be a pilot when you grow up.

Training is Expensive
How are you going to pay for training?  Obviously it would be nice to have a close relative willing to pay for it, but how many of us have that?

Apply for as many scholarships as you can.  The more you apply for, the more likely you are to get some.  School counselors should know of some companies to go through, Women in Aviation offers quite a few, or you could do a google search.  As far as searching for them on your own, be careful to apply for ones that are not scams- some websites just want your email so they can send you junk mail.  I applied for many scholarships and received 2.  I was super thankful, but it wasn't enough to pay for everything.

Some schools also offer financial aid.  I was able to get some grants (because I made such little money), subsidized, and unsubsidized loans.  These helped too, but it still wasn't enough for me.

If scholarships and financial aid don't cut it, and you don't have anyone willing to pay the bills, loans are an option.  Read the fine print when you sign for a loan.  Make sure you know what the interest rate is.  Also, if it is an education loan, know that most (at least the ones I had) still had to be paid off even if I passed away and even with NO COSIGNERS.  Crazy!  They'll find someone to pay it off, even if it isn't going to be you.  Because of this, my goal was to pay off my loans as quickly as possible.  In the event something did happen, I didn't want someone else stuck with my debt.
*I'll do a later blog post that explains how I was able to pay off my debt of $50,000 in 3 years on an CFI salary.

How Much Time Can You Commit?
Aviation is not a career that you can slack and still make it.  It is tough; it is competitive; it can be stressful at times; but it is this way because airlines need the best.  If you are not on your A-Game all the time, safety could slip through the cracks.  This career is all about making the best and safest choices, so it will take effort to get where you want to be.

Becoming a pilot is so much more than just flying an airplane (anybody can do that).  To name just a few of the additional items you will need to know--numerous checklists, aircraft systems, weather, regulations, airspace, airspeed limitations, how the body responds to altitude, how to make the correct decisions, etc.  You will spend just as much time in the air as you will on the ground to get a license, and that is a fact!  You need to commit quite a bit of time studying and learning if you want a career in aviation.

The End Goal
What is your end goal?  CFI?  Airlines?  Cargo?  Corporate?  Private?  I had many of these questions early on, so I attended a few aviation conferences where I could meet and speak with others in all of these career fields.  You don't have to decide immediately, but it is nice to know what each one entails so you can find a good fit for you.  I LOVED flight instructing, but for me, I wanted more- I always knew that if I didn't enjoy what I picked I could always go back to flight instructing and be completely happy.

So how did I narrow down my choice?  I don't really enjoy being on call, so I knew that corporate or private might not be a good fit for me.  I also don't like working into the wee hours of the morning, so maybe cargo wasn't the best choice (though it typically pays pretty well).  After speaking with many aviators, I decided the airlines would be the best fit for me.  I only had to be on call for less than a year and I rarely work past midnight, so I'd say I picked what worked best with my goals and priorities.

Network, Network Network!
If you want a career in aviation,  you have to network.  I'm not talking about getting business cards from someone you meet for 5 seconds, I'm talking about people who can vouch for you.  Be kind to your flight instructors, excel on your checkrides, keep in contact with your teachers, always be honest, have integrity, and truly care about those you come in contact with.  If you do this, you will have no problem finding people who can vouch for your character and get you in the 'network.'

When I finally decided to go to the airlines, I had people ask me (who worked at the company I wanted to work for) if they could write me letters of recommendation; I don't say this to brag, but I say this to show the importance of always treating others well and doing your best at all times.  People will appreciate it and will want to help you out when it comes time.

Good luck getting a job at the airlines without networking.  It is first WHO you know, then what you know, and not the other way around.

Being a pilot is a career of 'starting over' every time you switch companies.  It doesn't matter if you were a captain on the 787 and have 50,000 flight hours; if you go to another company, you will start back at the bottom as a first officer.  For this reason, be picky in your company selection.  Don't just go to the first company that will hire you- make sure you can be happy there.  Most people only work for 2-3 airlines in their entire career.

If you decide to work for the airlines, seniority is not your friend in the beginning, but it is awesome once you have some!  You can get the schedules you want, you'll begin to make decent money, and your quality of life will increase dramatically.  Which brings me to my next question...

Quality or Quantity?
What is more important to you- a good quality of life, or more money?  I don't think either answer is right or wrong, it just depends on what your priorities are.  For me, it's always been about quality of life; I would rather have an awesome work schedule and get to see my family as much as possible than to make a few extra bucks.  I plan to stay at the regionals for a few years longer than others because I have such a great schedule that allows me to work but still be true to my priorities.

Being on reserve and having no control over my schedule is one of the hardest things I have ever done; but for others it is no big deal.  In fact, some people bid to be on reserve even if they have the seniority to hold a line!

On the other hand, I've spoken to pilots who don't understand my logic at all; their goal is to upgrade as quickly as possible and then get to the majors asap- because seniority is everything.  The sooner they get to the airline they want to stay at for the rest of their career, the sooner they can start building seniority there.  Some of these pilots only see their families 1-2 days each week because they have crazy reserve schedules and then pick up extra trips to build more time.  Of course there is an end in sight, but it doesn't sound like much fun to me.  However, if that works for you, and you don't mind sacrificing a few years to have the career of a lifetime, then great!  If Quantity is what you want out of life, then go for it!

Flying is an Amazing Career
Like I mentioned earlier, I think flying is the most amazing career!  There are so many different opportunites and career choices to choose from.   If you like to fly, there is a career out there for you.  If you want to look forward to every day you get to work, flying is for you!  If you want a career that is never boring, where you get to meet new people all the time, get to see new places every day, flying is for you!  So what are you waiting for?  Figure out what you want, and then start working towards getting it.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Do a Preflight, Every Time!

In the beginning of my flying career, I did preflights inspections because I was told to, not because I necessarily saw the importance of them.  I trained at a busy flight school with thorough mechanics, so I didn't really see the need of a preflight.  I mean, I don't do a walkaround before I get in my car, why should the airplane be any different?  Needless to say, I realized the error of my ways and do a walkaround every time!

I didn't have anything too eventful happen when I was in training, but that all changed when I got my Certified Flight Instructor's License (CFI).  I don't think it was bad luck, but things were bound to happen with the amount of flying I was doing each day.  My first instance had to do with checking the tire pressure on the walkaround.  I never did that; well, maybe on the day of my checkrides, but never on a normal training flight.  On this particular day, the tire did need a little bit of air, but I looked at it with my eyeballs, called it good, and me and my student were off for the flight lesson.  I don't remember anything about the flight, but I definitely remember the landing!

I was coaching my student through the approach and landing phase, as he was still learning how to successfully land an airplane.  He did a pretty good touchdown, but then forgot to use the appropriate amount of rudder (or so I thought).  We slowly started drifting to the left of the runway with me saying sternly "keep it on the centerline...where are you going?.... the centerline is over there...More Rudder!"  My student's response was "I have full right rudder in!"  I didn't believe him (lots of students say they have the appropriate amount of rudder when they don't), so I pushed on the rudder with him.  He was right!  Full rudder did nothing.  We must have a flat!

Thankfully we landed on the centerline so we had 75' to drift to the left on our 150' wide runway; and Da20s approach at 60 knots so we were barely moving by the time we touched down.  But once we stopped, still on the runway, we couldn't really move forward with our flat tire.  The mechanics had to come out and change the tire for us on the runway.  I felt bad for the few airplanes that had to go around, and for the time the controllers had to spend switching the runway in use, because I knew that if I'd checked the tire pressure on my preflight inspection, I would  have noticed it was low and this whole situation could have been prevented.  Lesson learned!

This next situation never happened to me, but I was up flying once, and I heard ATC say, "Katana 123NH (I don't remember the exact tail number), we just got a call from the fuelers, looks like you left your fuel cap on the ground by your parking spot."  Ooops!  You do not want to be that person, so make sure you do a walkaround, and check the fuel cap.  I can only imagine how unnerving that would be to do a steep turn and see your fuel gauge drop to zero.  No thanks!  I'll take the 5 minutes and do a preflight walkaroud!

I know sometimes it may be freezing outside, or outrageously hot, or maybe you are short on time, but you will never regret the time you took to do a thorough preflight.   You will only regret the times when something negative happened because you forgot to.  So do a preflight, every time!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Be an A+ Flight Instructor

A great flight instructor has the ability to do so much good; a bad flight instructor has the ability to do so much damage.  I never had a bad flight instructor myself, but once I started teaching and doing stage checks, I could tell immediately which instructors were there for the hours and which instructors were there to help (the money and hours was just an added bonus for them).  If you are training to be a CFI or already are, strive to be the best at your job and treat your students the way you would want to be treated.

Because I feel it is so important to be a great flight instructor, I've decided to pass down some of my knowledge.  Here are my tips on how to be an A+ Flight Instructor:

Show Up Early
I'm not talking about hours early, but just enough time to get everything out that you will need to teach that day.  Before your student arrives, get in the mindset to teach the lesson, wether it be a ground or flight lesson.  It isn't very professional to show up late and have your student waiting for you.  I know it happens every now and then, but don't make it a habit.  Respect your student's time and be there before them.

Be Prepared to Teach
Know what you are going to teach before you teach it.  "Winging" it is not okay when you are a flight instructor.  When I first began teaching I would spend an hour each morning before work reviewing all the lessons I would teach that day.  After years of doing it, however, 5-10 minutes was sufficient.  Set aside enough time to review before you teach.

Teach only Truth
I got really good at finding answers when I was a CFI because, as crazy as this sounds, I don't know  everything.  Students can tell when you are making things up.  If you don't know the answer, look it up and give them the right answer, or see if they can find the answer.  But never make up an answer!

Remember when you were a kid and would tell a lie to your parents... remember how they always knew you were lying?  "how do they know?"  Well, students are the same way!  They know when you are making things up.  So let your ego down and tell them you don't know.  I learned so much while teaching by admitting I didn't know something.  Students will look up to you when you admit that (as long as it isn't with every question they ask).

Make Learning a Positive Experience
This photo was taken on a cross-country with one of my students to Denver.
Such a fun experience for the both of us!
Negative learning is not learning at all.  If your students dread coming to their lesson, you need to change how you treat them.  They are paying you to help them accomplish something they cannot do on their own.  Make flying fun!  If they are getting discouraged and can't stand to do one more touch-and-go or flight in the practice area, change up the lesson a bit.  Land at a different airport or fly somewhere new for a change.  Your students should look forward to the time they get to spend with you to learn and fly.

Encourage Your Students
If your students nails a landing, tell them!  If they did the entire maneuver without loosing a foot of altitude, tell them!  This will build their confidence and they will improve dramatically.

If they botch a maneuver, however, like porpoise a landing, tell them how they can fix it, and point out the things they did well- were they on centerline? was the approach was stabilized? did they remember to make all the required radio calls?  If you say something negative, always say a positive with it.  This will encourage your students like you won't believe.

What you don't want to say is "you are going to beat this landing into the ground!"  I said that once, by accident of course.  I was trying to find the right words to tell my student she was going to do the most perfect landing, and those are the words that came out.  Not really motivating, but we did have a good laugh.

Give them Homework
A student cannot come prepared if they don't know what to prepare for.  Give a homework assignment after each lesson.  If it is a ground lesson, let them know all the topics they need to study.  If it is a flight lesson, let them know the maneuvers you will be practicing so they can review the maneuvers and chair fly them at home.

Hold them accountable for studying!   A few years into flight instructing I decided to experiment- I told all my students that if they came unprepared (with no good excuse) for a ground lesson I would have them sit and read me everything they were supposed to study.   A few months into that sememster I had a student come completely unprepared for our lesson, so we sat for 2 hours and he read aloud the entire section he was supposed to study.  He never came unprepared again, and word got around that I lived up to my words.

My caution is, don't be mean about it.  Students have busy lives too.  Sometimes things just get in the way.  That paticular student understood that I was doing this for his benefit, he was able to learn a valuable lesson, and we laughed about it later on.

Prepare them for Life, Not Just for the Checkride    
Your student will pass a checkride no problem if you prepare them for life, not just for the check ride. The checkride is a C standard; what the average pilot should be able to do.  You want your students to be A pilots, not C pilots.  Teach them why they are performing maneuvers.  For example, we don't just do S-Turns for a checkride; we learn them to use them!  Jus the other day, I saw a Southwest pilot do some small s-turns on final to give more spacing between him and the aircraft in front of him.  Prepare them for life!

Flight Instructing is such a rewarding career if you become an A+ instructor.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Eat Healthy and Have Energy!

I've always heard people talk of how important it is to eat healthy, how much better I will feel if I do, and how much more energy I will have.  I always thought I was doing pretty good until I began working at the airlines.  Flying is a a demanding job that requires a lot of energy and no room for error.  If you get tired at an office job, no worries; just get up and walk around for a minute and you're good to go.  As pilots, we don't have this luxury- we can never allow ourselves to get tired, which is why it is so important to take care of ourselves!

 A few months after I began flying for the airlines I was scheduled to work a PM trip.  I am a morning person, and always bid for the AM reserve shift (4am to 4pm), but I was needed on a PM shift so that's what I was scheduled to work.  I packed some healthy meals, but added some crunchy chips and cookies to keep me awake if I started to get tired, which eventually did happen.  So I cracked open my junkfood to help keep me awake.  And the drank some diet coke.  I felt great for a bit and then I started getting tired again.  So I snacked on some more junkfood and drank some more diet coke.  But once my sugar high was gone, I was even more tired than before.  By the last leg this cycle was coming to an end, with my body wanting rest after all the junkfood I had eaten.  I was supposed to fly the last leg, but my sugar high was long gone.  I had no option but to let go of my ego and let the captain fly the last leg.

I felt so horrible for asking the captain to do my work- to fly my leg!  I'm sure he thought nothing of it, but it was a low for me.  How could I have let myself get so tired?  Maybe junkfood wasn't the best thing to keep me awake.  I decided I would never let that happen again.  I began researching and watched every documentary on Netflix regarding healthy eating and why it is so important.  I loved my cookies and cakes and daily snacks, so I needed a lot of motivation to get me started on my healthy eating path.

Once I changed the way I packed my food for trips, I noticed a difference immediately!  I don't remember if my next trip was an AM or PM trip, but I remember that I didn't get tired at all!  And the food I ate kept me full for longer than 30 minutes.  It was amazing- life changing!  I had so much energy!

I want you all to feel energetic all the time, so here is a sample of how I pack- this was for a 4-day trip a few months back.

You'll want to invest in some sort of a cooler.  This is the best one in my opinion, it is from (thanks to a few of my awesome students for buying it for me!).  It looks small, but it can easily fit 4 days worth of healthy food in there.

I try to always pack at least 1 serving of fruit per day.

These tortillas are great because there is no fatty oil in them,and they taste oh-so delicious.

Sometimes I bring veggies to fill my tortillas with, but this time I brought natural almond better and creamed honey.  If you are buying Tupperware for your flight bag, I recommend square ones- circle ones take up more space.

Choose granola bars and snacks wisely- not all are created equal.  LARABARs and KIND bars are my favorites because they have only a few ingredients- all of which I can pronounce.  I always pack some nuts as well; make sure the ones you are buying are not coated in oil.  The ones shown in this picture have salt on them but no oil.  And they are so good (I bought mine from Costco).

I love protein drinks because they are easy, delicious, and filling.  Shakeology is the best protein shake I have found, but it is a bit pricey, so I usually just buy my protein from Costco.  

I fill my Ziplocs with a scoop of protein, some dry milk and 1 teaspoon each of fat-free-sugar-free pudding banana and cheesecake.  Adding the pudding mix makes the protein shake taste like an icream shake.  

I've used a few different blender bottles, and this one is my fave by far!  It is insulated so it keeps my drink cold for hours and it has a little spring in it to keep shakes from getting clumpy.    In the background you can also see my icepack.  I usually stick 2 of those in my cooler to keep my food cold all day.

After all that I also throw in a couple of frozen meals.  When I make dinners that can freeze well (for example, pastas or rice with veggies) I put 2 servings in a Tupperware and freeze it.  Then when I pack for my trips I can pull a couple from the freezer.  It's so easy and the frozen meals also help to keep my food nice and cold.  

Everything fits so well!  

Because I eat the way I do, I don't need any caffeine to keep me awake, even on those long and stressful days of flying.  If you are tired all the time, maybe think about changing your diet; the worst that could happen is that you will feel better and be able to do more.  :)  Have a happy and safe flying career!

Monday, February 24, 2014

How To Spend Less

Aviation is expensive!  I realized this very early on when I went to purchase my books for school. My private pilot ground kit cost more than all my other books (for non aviation classes) combined.  Then I went to buy a headset...expensive.  And then some books to help me study for my checkride...small books, but also expensive.  The list goes on and on, right?!  We all know that if something is for pilots, it is going to be expensive!  I've always been a bit thrifty, so instead of going more in debt for these things, I devised a plan to help me save a little money here and there so I could finish school and flight training with the smallest amount of debt possible.

Here are my top 10 ideas on how to spend less and still get the most out of your training:

I have based my numbers on $120/hour for the airplane, and $30 for the instructor.  Obviously your rates may be more or less- this just gives you a ballpark range.

1. Memorize or become very familiar with the checklists so you can run through them quicker.  I thought this was silly and unnecessary until I began paying attention to how long it took me to get through all my checklists.  I changed my .5 (hobbs time) taxi from the parking area to runway down to .2 hobbs time.   If you are paying $150 for the airplane + instructor fees, that is a $45 savings!

2. Always study and then review your notes before meeting with your flight instructor.  If you have a good flight instructor, they should always let you know what you will be working on next time.  Don't just say you'll study and then find a million other things to do instead!  Set aside some time to study ALL the material so you can come prepared.  I recommend studying shortly after meeting with your flight instructor while you still have the motivation and the "high" from flying.  Then an hour or so before you meet with your flight instructor, review your notes and make sure you still remember what you studied.  I could always tell when my students studied before they came.  Instead of spending 30 minutes on our pre brief (talking about how to perform the maneuvers, airspeeds, clearing turns, etc.) we would spend only 10-15 minutes.  If you are paying your instructor only $30/hour, studying on your own will save about $8.  May not seem like a lot, but how many times do you meet with your instructor?  That $8 will add up!

3. "Chair fly."  I mocked people who did this, until I finally let my walls down and gave it a try.  It really does work!  Sit in a chair and mentally fly all the maneuvers you will practice that day.  Think of everything you will have to do when you are in the airplane.  Airspeed, amount of bank, back/forward pressure, rudder pressure, aileron pressure, when to start coming out of a turn, when to call ATC and what to say... everything you need to do!  And if you are alone, I recommend saying everything out loud.  Saying things out loud will help you think more and remember more.   Chair flying will save your countless hours in flight because instead of needing to practice the maneuver 3-4 times before getting it right, you will most likely get it right on the 1st or 2nd try.  

4. Clearing turns- 2-90 degree turns or 1-180 degree turn is completely safe.  You do not need to do a bazillion 360 degree turns.  I did stage checks for years- the students who did 3 or more clearing turns before each maneuver usually had at least .5 more time spent in the plane than those who didn't- that means they spent at least $60 more than they needed to.  Of course you need to do clearing turns (please never forget to clear the area), but just clear the area and then begin the maneuver.

5. While practicing maneuvers with your flight instructor or when solo, talk out loud.  Again, this will seem silly in the beginning, but like I said before, talking out loud has a way of helping us think more and do more.  You won't have to practice the maneuver as many times to get it right if you talk yourself through the maneuvers- just like you would if you were "chair-flying."

6. Use FAAs free online books at  Nobody ever told me about these, I just stumbled upon them one day.  Click here to open a new window to the FAAs Handbook and Manual page.   Especially with the use of tablets, books are becoming more obsolete.  Why pay money for these books when you can download and use them for free?  I used the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautic Knowledge the most; but they have a vast amount of other useful books including copies of all the PTSs.  Instead of buying the book from your local FBO, just print it off of their website or dowload it for free.

7. If you do need a book that the FAA doesn't give for free, buy used books.  Would you rather have a shiny new book or be less in debt?  Hopefully you picked less in debt.  I used the most, but I am sure there are a bunch of other websites out there that sell used books.  Just make sure you are buying the most recent edition.

8. If you are doing instrument training, invest in Microsoft Simulator.  You can't log it, but it will help you get your scan down, be able to fly while switching radio and navigation frequencies, and help you to think about what you need to do next.  It will help make you a better instrument pilot.  You will realize when you begin your instrument training that there is a lot going on!  Practice makes perfect, right?  So practice on the Microsoft Simulator before practicing it in the airplane.  This will save you hundreds of dollars in the long run.

 9. Get a hard case for your foggles.  I broke way too many pairs of foggles by just putting them in my flight bag.  Also, write your name in permeant marker so nobody will be tempted to keep them in case you accidentally leave them in the airplane after your flight lesson.

10. Fly at least 3-4 days per week; 2 days is not enough.  If you don't fly enough, each time you get in the plane you will have to spend time reviewing the items you learned on the previous lesson.  If you have gone too many days in-between, that review time may be 30-45 minutes; if you flew the day before yesterday, you many only have to spend 5 minutes.  I had enough students during my flight instructor days to see a huge difference in students who came to their lesson 3 days a week instead of just 2.  They spent way less money and were able to get their license in as little as 2 months, compared to some students that took almost a year!

Things you do not want to do to save money are underpay your flight instructor or make them feel guilty if they say you need another lesson before your checkride.  :)  They are there to help you and have your best interests in mind (if they don't, go find a new flight instructor).  It will save you money to fly once more with your instructor and pass your checkride the first attempt than to take the checkride, fail, have to fly with your flight instructor again anyways, and then have to take the checkride again.  See my point?

Be smart, and save where you can!

As always, if you have any questions about this or previous posts, email me at  I loved flight instructing and if I can help you out in any way, I am happy to.  Fly safe!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

CFI, To Be or Not To Be?

When I first started flight training the thought of becoming a flight instructor was scary.  How could I know all that stuff?  How could I keep students from putting me in not-so-fun situations?  How could I train pilots to be safe pilots?  These questions stuck with me for years.  But when I finally decided to start my CFI training, I realized it wasn't as scary as I had initially thought.  It's a progression!  Of course the thought of teaching somebody else when I knew close to nothing was scary, but as the years went by my knowledge and confidence increased as well.  Are you on the fence about becoming a flight instructor?  Here are some of my pros and cons to becoming a flight instructor.

I'm sure you already know this, but I LOVED flight instructing.  I was planning on doing it for my entire career until I decided that I wanted to see and do more.  Flight Instructing is the most rewarding thing I have ever done.  But it's not for everybody, and if you aren't going to love it, then maybe there is a better way for you to accrue hours.

1. You get to learn every day!  If your ego is too big for this, then maybe flight instructing is not for you.  I had students teach me all the time, and I loved it!  My very first student was super smart with car engines.  Though I never admitted this to him, when I asked him how various systems worked (of course I was still testing him to see if he really knew) I learned from his answers.  Sometimes after he would leave I would research some of the stuff he had said only to find out he was completely right- when it came to systems, he was a genius.  I taught him tons, but he taught me stuff as well.  How awesome it was to get paid to learn while teaching.

Me and one of my students after his first solo.  Way to go!
2. You get to create your own schedule (depending on the flight school, of course).  This was one of the reasons I stayed flight instructing for so long instead of going to the airlines.  If I wanted to spontaneously spend a day with my sisters, I could!  Instead of meeting with my students I could give homework assignments or reschedule our time slot.  If I wanted to get off early on Fridays, I could!  I loved having such a flexible schedule.

3. You get to fly all the time and get paid for it.  My first paycheck from flight instructing is probably the coolest paycheck I have ever received.  I went from paying hundreds of dollars per hour to fly, to making hundreds of dollars per hour (wishful thinking, haha) money while flying.  Getting paid to do something you love is so awesome!

4. You get to know some of the most amazing people.  Not only do you learn from your students, but you can become great friends with your students as well.  I keep in touch with many of my students, people that I never would have had the pleasure of knowing if I hadn't decided to become a flight instructor.  Though I was the flight instructor, I looked up to many of my students and still consider them great friends.

5. You get to help others fulfill their dream.  If this doesn't help motivate you to become a flight instructor, maybe nothing will.  Helping others is one of the best things you can do in this life.  There are so many ways to help others, but I think flight instructing was the best way for me to do that.  If you become a flight instructor, you get to help others work on lifelong goals every day you go to work.  How amazing is that!?

I have always felt like the pros outweighed the cons, but here are the not-so-great things of flight instructing..

1. Your work is never really done.  Students have questions all the time and they should be able to come to you to for answers- whether you are on the clock or not.  I heard of some flight instructors that would bill their students for a simple phone call- do not be that person.  Your students look up to you and sometimes have exhausted all their resources; would you rather have your students search for an answer for hours just to get frustrated and still not find the answer, or just call you and pick your brain for a few minutes?  I hope you choose the latter.  Flight instructing is not a job that you leave at work.  It is with you 24/7.

2. Sometimes students do not-so-smart things when they get stressed or nervous in the airplane.  This can be scary for you, but after a couple of times you will begin to notice the signs from your students and will be able to recover the airplane before things get out of control.  Student tries to porpoise the airplane, like a dolphin, all the way down the runway?  No problem- you'll know just what to do to help him recover (go-around, of course).  Fail the left engine and have the student womp of the left rudder?  No problem- you'll be able to safely recover the airplane a split second after it happens.  You get the point.  Somedays students don't make the best decisions, but you'll know the signs and will be able to get yourself out of sometimes tricky situations with no problem.

3. If they fail a stage check or checkride, it's hard for you to.  Once you begin teaching your student, you'll feel as though you put just as much work into them as they do.  If you're a good flight instructor that cares about your students, you won't send them to a stage check or checkride until you know they are ready.  I only recall one student not passing a stage check first attempt, and only one student not passing a checkride first attempt.  I felt as though I hadn't done my job, like I should've spent more time with them, and prepared them better.  Their setbacks will feel like your setbacks as well.

4. Preparing lesson plans is time consuming.  Thank goodness you only have to do it once!  I spent months preparing my lesson plans.  Some lesson plans took me days to complete.  But I wanted everything included in them- I wanted my students to learn everything they needed to.  It was time consuming, but definitely worth it in the end.

5. Flight Instructing can be exhausting.  Once a year I took a 2-day stay-cation.  It's like a vacation, but you stay at home.  I would read those books I always wanted to, sleep in, go to the gym, etc.  I just needed a break from working.  Because a flight instructor is working all the time, it can get tiring.  To make it so you don't lose your mojo, you might need a stay-cation as well.  Your students will not be angry if you decide to take one because you will be rejuvenated and be a better flight instructor when you come back.  Flight instructing can be exhausting, so take a break when you need it.

If you are thinking of becoming  a flight instructor, I hope these items help you decide if it is a good career choice for you or not.  Flight instructing is not for everybody, but if you want one of the most rewarding aviation careers, I highly recommend it.  If you do become a flight instructor, make sure you are a good flight instructor!  Don't overcharge your students, be prepared to teach each lesson, make learning fun, and most of all, BE SAFE!

If you have any specific questions about becoming a flight instructor, do not hesitate to ask me.  Email me at or leave a comment below.  :)

Monday, February 17, 2014

If It's Your Dream, Go For It!

I was not one of those pilots who knew from day one that I wanted to be a pilot.  In fact, I didn't even know it was possible for a girl to be a pilot.  I'd never seen that before, and it was never one of the careers that came up on career day in school.  I always thought I would just have to be a music teacher, since that's what I was good at.

When I was a sophomore, I decided to start taking college courses because I could get college credit and high school credit for each course.  I'd taken quite a few of the ones offered, so by the time I was a senior, I was down to just a couple remaining.  One of them was Intro to Aviation Science.  I wasn't entirely sure what that class was about, but I needed some more science credits for high school, so I decided to take it.  And it was so cool!  We got to learn about the history of aviation, the basics of flying, and listen to many of the awesome stories the teacher had to tell.   I loved going to that class.  I geeked out and went to the library each week to check out more aviation books- from aerodynamics, angle of attack, airspace... you name it.  If the library had it, I read it.

But some questions were always in the back of my mind...can women do this career?  Will it be weird if I am the only girl in my classes?  Is this career even possible for me?

Though I wanted it, I was still undecided about becoming a pilot.  But I wanted to give it a try, so I decided to apply for a couple of aviation scholarships; if I got a scholarship I would get my private pilot's license and then decided if it was something I really wanted to do.  I got both scholarships (wahoo!), so I was off to Utah Valley University to begin my college career and flight training.  I took a few aviation courses my first semester, but mostly only general education classes, incase I changed my mind about aviation.  I started flying shortly after the semester began.

Photo Courtesy of  Mat Haderlie
But once I started I could not stop.  I was addicted to flying!  It didn't matter anymore that I was usually the only girl in class, or that all my pilot friends were guys.  I realized that airplanes don't care about gender, so why should I?  Flying is the best career for me, and I've never regretted choosing this career.  But it was not always flowers and bunnies...

I had opposition all over the place.  I took a Ethics and Values class (required for any degree at UVU), and I literally had a student in that class tell me that it was a sin for women to be in the workplace, let alone be a pilot.  Women were supposed to stay home and take care of the kids and house- not work in a man's world.  That stung, but then I realized he was wrong.  Did he not realize that it was 2004 and not the 1900s?

I also had numerous friends (including friends at the airlines) ask me how they could change my mind about becoming a pilot.  They would tell me about the awful pay when starting at the airlines, how I would have to put my life on the line every day I hopped in the plane with a student, how I would have to be gone all the time and wouldn't be able to have a family.

Instead of listening to their negativity, I found solutions for it all.  I payed off all my student loans before going to the airlines so that my first year pay cut wouldn't be so bad, I trained my students on the ground before taking them flying so it wasn't a safety risk, and I chose to go to an airline that supports families.  I work 4-5 days a week and am usually only gone for one night of that.

Whatever problem you are facing while trying to live your dream of becoming a pilot, there is a solution- you just have to figure out what it is.  I am here to tell you that only YOU can decide to throw out all the negative comments and keep working towards your dream.  Of course there are going to days where you want to give up.  That's just life.  If you want this bad enough, YOU can find a way to make it work.  You can choose to listen to others who tell you to pursue something else, or you can listen to yourself and do it anyways.  I asked myself this question all the time "Will I be truly happy doing anything else?"  If the answer is no, then keep at it.

College was tough, but studying wasn't so bad because I was studying what I loved.  Flight Instructing had its challenging days, but I got to teach some of the best people I now know.  My first year at the airlines, with such low pay, was hard, but it was worth it because I got to go to work every day doing something that I love.    Because I chose to follow my dream and not listen to the Debbie-Downers all around me, I have been able to look forward to every day of my life.  And I wouldn't trade that for anything.

What's your dream?  Decide to do it, and then just do it!

Happy flying!  :)