How my view of the world changed

Previously I wrote about the rescue of Marcus Luttrell from the perspective of the pilot that picked him up. It changed the way I view training, the process of building skills, and keeping skills current. I also now think differently and the small role I play in the world / unit. Below was my message to the cadets regarding an approach they may consider applying to their CAP “career” and beyond.


Civil Air Patrol is not just another youth organization to keep you busy. The Civil Air Patrol is the Air Force Auxiliary with real missions. The CAP has a reporting structure to Air Force staff. By participating in CAP you are indirectly helping the Air Force fulfill it’s mission. The cadet program is a stepping stone to prepare you to participate in SAR missions or to help others perform a SAR mission.  If you leave CAP, you are short changing your ability to support missions to be of service to your community, state, and nation. Those are more than words in the Cadet oath.

Like the maintenance crew that worked on the helicopter’s and aircraft that rescued Marcus Luttrell, every CAP member contributes to successful execution of CAP missions. Large organizations cannot be successful by putting many responsibilities on a few people. Being part of a large organization means you may feel your part is small and insignificant. Looking at the big picture, having a small role helps you spend the time to excel at your responsibilities and eventually take on more responsibilities.

As Cadet airmen, you are building skills (training) to become leaders. As cadet NCO’s and staff, you are building your skills to lead and the skills of the Cadet Airmen you lead. You won’t be a cadet forever. Hopefully you become Senior members, continue training, and become part of a ground or air team. You may train for years before getting assigned a mission.  If your role in a mission is to make sure the radios have freshly charged batteries and are in working order, that is a crucial role that contributes to the success of the mission.

In the past couple of weeks, the California wing with support of squadrons not far from us, were called to perform a mission, they found the pilot alive, and coordinated his extraction to safety. When I first began writing this series, I could not have known this actual event would take place. The recent event confirms all that I have said. We don’t know how or when the call for help will come. Once the smoke clears from the King fire, CAP may be called upon to document the extent of the damage. Local CAP units are probably preparing mission plans for when the call comes. As CAP members, Seniors and Cadets we can tell the story of how we are still a vital organization with real missions.

I hope I have inspired you to remain active in CAP and to see it as an organization that will need you for your lifetime. There are many roles  to fulfill and skills to learn, relearn and practice. There are many opportunities to improve the organization. There are many fun activities to participate in and yes it all takes work. The rewards may not be obvious now. There is at least one pilot that is probably still thankful for a prepared CAP crew and will be for some time.

I’m signing up for more training. How about you?

Posted in CAP

It all comes together

This is part three of a three part series I wrote for the the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Newsletter. In August of 2014, I attended a presentation by an Air Force Reserve Helicopter pilot. The story changed my outlook on things significantly. I wanted to tell the cadets that life is a journey but not with the same old stories. The significance of this story for the cadets won’t be the same as it was for me but maybe someday they will remember what I wrote and it will make sense.

A day later, the Marines received word that an Operation Red Wings member, Marcus Luttrell, was confirmed alive in a village on the side of a mountain. While the Seals and Marines planned the rescue mission, Spanky and his boss remained at the back of the room. They only task was to stand by in case additional support was needed. As the mission planning was taking place, another message came in that another American was found on the side of the mountain. The report was unconfirmed. The Seals felt they had to determine if the report was valid. The recuse team turned to Spanky and his boss and said “You guys get Marcus. We’re going to look for this other person”. Spanky admitted they hadn’t been paying close attention since their original task was to stand by. Now, they had to finish the mission planning and be airborne soon. To compound the stress on Spanky, his boss said they were going to fly a “Spooky approach” to the landing zone. This meant the lead would swoop in low and fast over the landing zone and then climb sharply to provide cover. Spanky would then fly to the landing zone and pick up Marcus.

The landing zone was a terrace cut into the mountain. This would provide a very narrow clearance for the rotor blades. Also, the mission was being flown at night. A cloud cover was over the village and the air was humid. Night vision goggles (NVG) are less effective in humid weather. A lantern flare is designed to provide light up an area at night. The AC-130 gunship was to drop the flare. This would compensate for the limited effectiveness of the NVG. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the flare. Spanky needed to rely on all the skills practiced under better conditions.

After landing, the PJ’s jumped out to retrieve Marcus. A couple of men in Afghan garb approached the helicopter from behind. This was not safe and unusual. The PJ’s were concerned the mission was becoming an ambush and were ready to fire. Marcus revealed himself. He was dressed in the local clothing to hide him from the Taliban. Marcus was loaded into the helicopter and they departed.

Spanky is Lt. Col Jeff Peterson. He said that to this day, Marcus will text him around the day of the rescue and holidays. The message is usually a simple “Thank you for saving my life”. Spanky mentioned that it was all of his years as a maintenance officer and training for 15 years that prepared him for his most significant mission (to date). He had to be able to be good at his job, be patient, and be mentally prepared for the call whenever that came in.

Next time: How this story changed my perspective and my message to the cadets.


Posted in Uncategorized

All quiet on the southern front

This is part two of a three part series I wrote for the the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Newsletter. In August of 2014, I attended a presentation by an Air Force Reserve Helicopter pilot. The story changed my outlook on things significantly. I wanted to tell the cadets that life is a journey but not with the same old stories. The significance of this story for the cadets won’t be the same as it was for me but maybe someday they will remember what I wrote and it will make sense.

After flight training Spanky was assigned to a squadron at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas. While the terrain was dusty and rocky, the experience would serve him well later. He described the many years at Nellis as a lot of training and preparing for various missions while occasionally getting called out to help find a lost or injured hiker.

Fast forward to the year 2005. An assignment to southern Afghanistan offered a change of pace from Nellis. However, the action was in the northern part of the country. Most days were still occupied with being on standby or flying training and support missions. To remain sharp, Spanky knew that while he was signed off on the various objectives of his job and therefore “qualified”, he wasn’t proficient. He would identify tasks that he hadn’t practiced in some time and critique his performance and look for ways to become more efficient and precise. Spankys crew included a co-pilot, two para-rescumen (PJ’s) and two gunners. One of the gunners served two tours as a door gunner in Vietnam. He was calm. The other door gunner was young and was described as a nervous gunner. Besides keeping his skills sharp, he needed his crew to be a team despite the varous levels of experience. Applying recurrent training techniques helped him realize that if a life is on the line, the injured don’t want to wait for help. Days turned to weeks and then months.

In the summer of 2005, Spanky and his boss were notified a Chinook had gone down and 15 to 18 people were on board. That is all they were told. They actually learned more from watching the news. They flew five hours north to Jalalabad. The terrain reminded Spanky of the mountains in the southern Nevada desert only steeper. Things were about to get interesting.

At Jalalabad, Spanky and his boss were flying a two main formation. Their task was to search for possible survivors of Operation Red Wings and the Chinook crash. This was the week Spanky’s boss was flying lead. His boss would fly low and slow 100 feet above the trees in the hopes that survivors would show themselves for a pickup. Spanky was flying higher to provide cover. He was glad it was his bosses turn to fly lead.

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You can’t always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need

This is a part one of a three part series I wrote for the the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Newsletter. In August of 2014, I attended a presentation by an Air Force Reserve Helicopter pilot. The story changed my outlook on things significantly. I wanted to tell the cadets that life is a journey but not with the same old stories. The significance of this story for the cadets won’t be the same as it was for me but maybe someday they will remember what I wrote and it will make sense.

Spanky began Air Force Officer Training School in 1991. Upon graduation, he expected to be assigned to a flight training school and eventually fly fighters. Ten days before graduation from OTS, the Air Force closed all new pilot slots. He still had a commitment to work for the Air Force. He now had to decide if he wanted to go to the missile program or become an Aircraft Maintenance Officer. He chose the Maintenance Officer career field.

He was then assigned to the B-1 Bomber Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base near Dallas, Texas. To gain experience about the work the enlisted force did, one hot day, he went to help the maintenance crew with a brake problem prior to a flight. He removed his blouse to keep cool. The job was running late. The flight crew arrived and was frustrated with the maintenance delay. Spanky said the flight crew didn’t treat the maintainers very well. He said that if the flight crew knew he was an officer, they wouldn’t have treated the maintainers like they did. He vowed to not treat anyone as he had been treated especially if there is difference in rank. Everyone was part of the team to get the mission executed.

Meanwhile, Spanky continued to apply for a pilot slot and after a few years, he was assigned a slot. Even though his first choice was to fly fighters, he met someone that was in a rescue squadron and really enjoyed helicopters. Spanky liked the idea of having the mission of helping people and saving lives so he chose to go to helicopter pilot training.

He didn’t get what he wanted. In some ways it was what he needed. He picked up a unique perspective that many of his peers may not have received. He learned about what makes up a team and how to keep a team together.

Next time: All quiet on the southern front.

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Humble beginnings, middles, and ends

A recent promotion in the Civil Air Patrol, a meeting with the Air Force Reserve Group NCO of the Quarter Board, and Air Force Reserve training generated many thoughts about humbleness.



The weekend started with me meeting the NCO of the Quarter Board in my Air Force Reserve Group. I had to provide an opening statement about my history. It’s difficult to talk about my achievements. I don’t feel I have many. I spoke for about 5 minutes and if I properly addressed each accomplishment, I probably could spend 20 minutes. My Air Force / Air National Guard experience isn’t much different than many that have also served. Many people have received their degrees, worked in aviation, and have a pilots license. I spoke with pride on the outside. On the inside, I know I have a longer list of the things I want to do and yet of the things I have done, I need to do more of.



Some of the training that did take place over the weekend was putting power on the C-17 and opening and closing the cargo door. A couple of senior airman (one stripe below me) were the qualified ones conducting the training. I didn’t have a problem with that. It was a good reminder that rank is a limited indicator of experience. In training, rank has no place. It’s experience that matters. Completing the training still doesn’t make you an expert. It’s now up to me to open the manual read the steps again to reinforce the hands on and better understand the “why” of each step.


By the end of the weekend, I found out I did not get NCO of the quarter and I know why. I messed up a key question: Name the Air Force Commands and what they do. It was then I had a brain fart moment. I named several but not all. One that I did not name was the one I belonged to: Air Force Reserve Command. Everyone in the room was part of that Command so why state the obvious, right? Unless the other NCO’s really botched their interviews, there is no way a Board member could bestow the award to the individual that forgot their own Command. Even if all of the NCO’s made the same mistake, I think the Board would have to be in a position to say “Well, I guess this quarter we don’t have a winner”. If no one earned it, don’t settle for less. Is that too humble of a concept in this day and age of participation trophies?


People (who didn’t know I botched the question) said, “There’s always next quarter”. At that point I wasn’t ready to consider another try. Next quarter may be too soon to be prepared. I’m warming to the idea of a quarter in the not too distant future though. I’m there to work on aircraft not win awards. However, a recent blog I read said:

“People everywhere are looking for you. Get on the radar.”

That motivated me a bit to not delay my visit with the next Board.

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One and Done

Since the original purpose of this blog was to track my progress on getting back into flying, I should probably update how my last BFR went. My BFR was due Jun 2013. I didn’t get around to it. My previous flying was Feb 2013. The family activities and joining the AF Reserve kept me pretty busy. My medical expired in May 2013.

I renewed my medical in Dec 2013. I didn’t know when I would get around to the BFR. I figured I had to take small steps in order to keep motivated. I tried scheduling a BFR in Feb 2014. The flight school I was using had experienced some changes in the previous year. They also had a fair number of students making it harder to schedule a plane and instructor during a time that would work for me.

I decided I had to look at a another route to get it done. I went to another airport which rented planes about $15 an hour more than my preferred airport. It didn’t matter. I had to get it done. I scheduled a flight the first weekend in April 2014.

Since it had been so long, I thought I would need at least two lessons before the instructor would sign me off. We met and did the ground portion. It was a couple of hours of discussion. Good review. Then we flew. A few of the standard steep turns, stalls and emergency procedures. We went to Sacramento international and did a few laps in the pattern. The landings weren’t too bad. After about 3 I was setting down a bit firmer. We returned to the home airport. The instructor said he would sign me off and suggested a I practice a few more landings on y own or set up another time with him but otherwise I did fine. I was a bit surprised in a good way.

I haven’t flown since but I am today. I’m getting my privileges reestablished at my preferred airport after having let my account lapse. So it’s a good opportunity for some dual and to work on those landings.

Posted in Flying

Filling the gap

Filling the gap.

Gaps in life seem to be a common theme for me lately.

  • There hasn’t been a blog update in about 6 months.
  • I haven’t flown in about a year.
  • My BFR expired in June 2013 and I need to get it renewed.
  • I’m still dealing with getting up to speed in my Reserve unit after an extended gap in service.

Some areas not experiencing a gap are:

  • Civil Air Patrol activity
  • Keeping busy
  • Desire to fly

Over the last half of 2013, I got to thinking about the Orientation rides (O-rides) that CAP offers and the Young Eagles rides offered by EAA. The situation for both is after the young aviator (between the ages of 8 and 20 depending on the program) has completed the ride, what is next?  Someone who is 15 or older, may be prepared to pursue flight instruction. For those under 15, they seem to be in a state where engaging with a ground and flight school program is too soon. It happens but it is rare. How do you keep the passion for flight alive in the 10 or 12 year old for four years or more? Once bitten by the bug, maybe the interest won’t die but there has to be something offer them which is not only fun but provides an experience that will prepare them for the next phase. Pilots are always learning and why not start at age 10 and fill the gap between that first ride and their first loggable lesson?

As the Aerospace Education Officer (AEO) for a local CAP chapter, I thought about putting together a ground school for the cadets that was age appropriate. I’m not a CFI and some of the material in Ground School is rather complex. My intent was not to prepare the cadets to take the FAA written at the end of the course.  It was to introduce them to the Ground School concept and further the aviation knowledge. They get from the standard CAP materials. We can think of my idea as Ground School Lite.

The CAP squadron has an Aerospace Education (AE) topic once a month. However, there is time for only an hour and the CAP AE topic base is broad. AE topics range from general aviation to Space, Rocketry, Robotics, and CyberSecurity is beginning to find it’s way into the umbrella of Aerospace. To address the problem I was seeing, a focused program would be required.

I identified Cadets that had a desire to fly either for fun or as a profession. More than twenty hands went up. After communicating the effort, the focus, the commitment that would be required and accounting for availability two Saturdays a month for 5 to 6 months, I ended up with about 6 cadets. That is a good number for a new program to start with. Today they will learn. Tomorrow, they will teach. This Aero Team as I call them will bring the lessons they learn back to the squadron to present an hour long topic. Eventually, those twenty hands that went up will get a lesson that will give them more to think about the next time they go for an O-ride.

So I had a need identified and an idea to fill the need. How will I be able to make the material more interesting and practical? I have the course material for an actual Ground School. The PowerPoint’s do a good job of presenting the material using animations. I’m able to take a topic and present material to a level appropriate for the audience.  They still won’t understand everything. The presentations include questions from the FAA written to measure understanding.

As good as the presentations are, who wants to sit in four hours of lecture. Through the CAP STEM program and donations from a couple CAP members, I am able to offer 4 simulators. Each use Microsoft X as the simulation software and have a yoke, throttle quadrant, and rudder pedals. The cadets certainly look forward to the second off of the 4 hour program where I present a mission that includes situations related to the material presented earlier in the day.

Simulation, as good as it is for home use, still offers challenges in order to provide a lesson where learning takes place. I stressed early on and each day that we have a class that we aren’t playing, we’re using the tools to learn. Adolescent minds being what they are, there is the desire to fly the F-18 or acrobatic plane offered by the sim. After the learning takes place, I give them time to fly as they wish.

During the sim sessions I stress the concepts of following a procedure, developing a sight picture, and run through the mechanics of tuning frequencies and locating their position.  For the navigation topics, I did teach them to set the auto-pilot in order to focus or looking up and tuning frequencies, and locating their position or hard copy sectionals.

Defining success is pretty easy. I’d like to see a variety of results over the next year or two. The problem that I started with was nothing existed in terms of aviation instruction for the 10 or 12 year old after taking their ride until they took a ground school or signed up for flight instruction. The minimum age for CAP is 12. The cadets in my Aero Team range between 12 (almost 13) and 15. If they all walk away with a better understanding of aviation, the gap was filled. If they all eventually take a ground school or a few hours of flight instruction, then I have really filled the gap. I’d be happy if just 2 or 3 sign up for the Ground school offered by our local EAA chapter. If they eventually, get a certificate (LSA or Private), the collective efforts of myself and local flight instructors have done our parts to keep general aviation viable.

My intent is not to pat myself on the back or seek approval from others. If there is shameless benefit for me, it is this will prepare me for my BFR. My real intent is to offer an idea for others to consider. Is an introductory ground school for the pre-teen or early teen something worth developing? My current focus is with the CAP. After a few more refinements in the program I’ve developed, I’d like to offer it to Young Eagles participants as an EAA program through the local Chapter. Maybe that will spawn an event at local schools. One gap at a time though. But first, time to get the calendar out the phone number for the CFI and schedule time to get that BFR knocked out.

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