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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Seems Like Old Times

I talked about the trollies I rode to high school.  Here is a video I saw recently.  It passes very near to the 3 homes I remember living in with my parents as a kid.  It starts near our home in Bellevue, then goes over a rickety old bridge which has since been replaced into West View on Center Ave.  It crosses Princton Ave., where the last home my parents owned was located.  Then it passes West View Park, the nearby amusement park, which has been closed for years.  Eventually, it passes West View Ave. in Ross Township, near the first home I remember living in.  This is where we built the log cabin as kids.  

All that occurs in the first 10 minutes of the video.  Then it goes down Perrysville Ave. on the North Side, near the hospital in which I was born, near where PNC Park and Heinz Field are now located.  From there is skips to a tunnel through Mt. Washington to South Hills.  Then it shows one of the two remaining inclines on Mt. Washington and you can see the old Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad terminal, which is now Station Square on the South Side at the Smithfield Street Bridge.  My dad worked for the P&LE. 

Burning Oil

That top picture will apply to several chapters in this story.  I just found it on the internet and wanted to post it here, so I don't lose it. The second one is just a joke, but it will probably come in handy later also.  You can borrow them, if you would like.

Dan Wylie was hired by Allegheny Airlines, our home town airline, in March of 1978, at age 22.  When he quit at Graham Aviation, he had said, "I'll be burning oil in 6 months."  (Jet engines burn kerosene, oil, instead of aviation gasoline.)  Dave went to work for an air taxi operator in Indiana PA. BS was gone, Weber was gone.  I was left without my chili meeting pals, with Redman and McCowin.  I was trying to get along and they seemed to be also.

I began to feel that my time was passing.  My dream to be an airline pilot was slipping away.  All my friends at Butler seemed to think that none of us were destined to be airline pilots.  I had my own doubts.  That is why I decided to get the helicopter license.

The guy I flew to the first Steeler Super Bowl bought a King Air C-90 a really nice turbo prop airplane.  That means that instead of an internal combustion, piston engine, it had a turbine engine that pushes propellers.  Much smoother and safer.  More reliable.  More expensive.

McCowin was checked out on it, but the powers that be wanted me to begin to get checked out.  Necessity is the mother of all qualifications.  They needed me to fly as a copilot with McCowin for a company that had that requirement.

He was making a big fuss about being careful and attentive when starting the turbine engines.  After the P Navajo, which he had never flown, that was a joke.  All you had to do with the King Air was watch the engine temperature during the start to make sure it did not exceed a maximum marked by a red line on the gauge.  If it looked like it was going to, you shut it down.  BFD, especially considering what would happen in the future.  

In flight, it was even easier.  With big, air cooled piston engines you had to be careful not to push or pull the throttles too fast at any time, because of the possibility of cracking a head.  With the turbo prop, there were fuel controllers to prevent you from increasing or decreasing power too rapidly and you did not have to worry about cooling it down by reducing power to idle as quickly as you wanted to in flight.  But, you know, he was the Big Captain again and I was just a little captain.

Dan's dad, JB, was a captain at Allegheny.  He and Dan sat me down one day and explained the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 to me.  They explained that, as far as I was concerned, it meant that there was going to be lots of airline pilot hiring and my self inflicted handicap would not be a problem.  They told me to get a flight engineer rating to enhance my resume.

I started checking around.  Most flight engineer schools were associated with airlines and were very expensive.  They used the full motion simulators of the airlines.  I found a company that was considerably less expensive and they also taught the quicky, weekend classes to prepare you to pass the written test for the rating.  It was called Flight International and was located in Atlanta.  

You probably remember me telling you about the flight in my friend's Aztec to Norfolk with my kid brother.  That is where I attended the class for the FE written.  It consisted of a two day ground school, then a third day to take the test.  It was my first exposure to learning transport category, jet airplanes.  It was just learning the correct answers to the questions, then taking the test before you forgot them.  That was in early July, 1978.  My last flight with Graham Aviation was in Early August, with Bravo Hotel, no less.

Dan and JB had convinced me that time was of the essence.  Flight International had a class in early August and I signed up, sending them a deposit check.  Redman was on vacation, so I asked McCowin if I could take the time off.  He said OK, but Redman was not happy.  August was in the middle of the busy season.  I went anyway. 

I had managed to remain unattached and air mobile for several years.  I knew I had to be able to move fast when the time was right.  I packed my bags and drove to Atlanta.  My brother, Jim, lived there and he said I could stay with him while I attended the school. 

Down East

There were lots of flights to the big cities of the East Coast.  In many ways, going there was like going into the Army.  There was a culture shock for me.  Pittsburgh is more of a Mid Western city in temperament, than an Eastern city.

The first time I was in someplace like New Jersey or Philadelphia, I behaved normally and kind of got blown away.  If you read my original episode Pivotal Night, you know that I was going to make adjustments, so this did not happen again.

The first few times I crossed the Appalachian Mountains eastbound after that, I reminded myself about the attitude and demeanor of the people I was about to encounter.  I borrowed from my drill sergeant experience and became much more aggressive and assertive than I was normally.

I would approach people and start telling them how things were going to be and they seemed to react in a more respectful manner.  I think they respect people who act like they are in charge.  They do not respect people who seem to have their tails tucked between their legs.

Over time, I have learned to know and love people on the East Coast.  I think they are simply reacting to the nature of their environment.

When I flew north, west or south out of Butler, the people sometimes seemed to be even nicer than my fellow ridge runners from Western PA.

Warning:  Graphic violence and adult language.

Friday, January 22, 2016


The last two winters I worked at Graham Aviation were nasty.  One had extremely cold temperatures for more than a month and the other had lots of snow.  I was getting tired of living in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

I had flown all the way to Los Angeles twice in light airplanes and considered moving there.  Florida was another place on my list.  I just wanted to live some place where it was warm.

Tom Jones had tried to get me interested in skiing.  We went to a little ski resort that had been set up at an abandoned coal mine in what is now suburban Pittsburgh.  Then I went to Seven Springs with Tom and Dan Wylie and their girlfriends (eventual wives).  I did not have any fun either time, because I did not know how to ski.  Tom said, "This is how you snowplow, but you want to get your skies parallel, like this."  He demonstrated, then split.  I mostly slid down the hill on my butt.  Seven Springs was even worse, because it was crowded and I kept crashing into people.

You may remember that Dan was flying for a company that moved canceled checks at night.  Prince had started working there also and he and Dan were flying together one night when the weather turned very nasty, very suddenly.  

I had been flying a trip earlier that day and had noticed how quickly the altimeter settings were dropping as the controllers were giving them to me all day.  It was a foggy day and the winds were warm and strong from the southwest.  A big low pressure area was coming with an occluded front.  This meant a wild mix of winter weather was coming. 

The rain started in the early evening and several hours later, I felt the trailer move with a jolt.  It had been hit by a wall of fast moving air.  The temperature began to drop and the rain turned to sleet, then heavy snow.

Dan and Prince were trying to land at Pittsburgh at this time and the sudden wall of wind hit them and made landing impossible.  They hurried to Erie PA to get on the ground safely in front of this condition.  

Next morning, Route 8 was covered with thick ice, that had ruts from the cars that had driven on it as the temperatures were dropping so rapidly.  I don't think I have ever seen anything like that since.

The next winter was the one with lots of snow.  What they both had in common was that Jimmy Carter was president and there was a fuel shortage.  We were having to wait in line to buy gas for our cars, landing at airports that did not have fuel and freezing our asses off every where we went, because everyone had their thermostats turned down.  This was the beginning of my political awakening. 

Captain Twirly

I just came across the pictures and video above recently and thought they were fitting in light of some of the things I have said previously.

The air taxi and pilot service business was building at Graham Aviation in the 70s.  I think much of the credit goes to Jim Weber.  He was a real promoter and started habits that the rest of us began to imitate.  I'm talking about getting a thermos filled with hot coffee on the way to the airport and buying donuts or pastries for the passengers.  Finding an early morning edition of a newspaper was one of our practices.  We were always talking to our passengers about buying planes and/or taking more trips.  It was fun to work out the numbers for a multi-stop trip and compare the cost and time to going on the airlines.  

We were having several customers who bought nice, new planes - Senecas, Navajos.  With these, we were able to deal with the weather better than we had been able to with the older twins and singles.  They had seating that was better for the passengers to have meetings and discussions while traveling.  They were faster and more reliable for business trips.

You would think that this would have been welcomed by the ownership and management, but we sensed that it was not.  Mr. Graham owned another business, which was his cash cow and we came to believe that Graham Aviation was never intended to do as well as we were doing for tax purposes or something like that.  At least, that is what it seemed like to the pilots.

As I said, Jim and BS left and Dave and I were the senior pilots, as we were bringing on new guys.  We were almost always gone from the airport every day from oh dark early to oh dark late.  We had to make several calls back to the office each day to talk to the office people about our future schedules.  Remember, this was long before cell phones.

The man who owned our old twins, the Twin Comanch, the Aztec and the old Navajo sold them and bought a used Pressurized Navajo.  I loved that plane.  At first, Dave, who we called Captain Twirly, was the only pilot checked out on it, but you know the old axiom: Necessity Is The Mother Of All Qualifications.   Eventually, I was checked out and learned that this plane was a real challenge.

First, it was difficult to start.  It had 6 cylinder, piston engines that produced 425 horsepower each.  They were fuel injected and turbocharged and were pushing geared propellers.  When they started, they sounded like the engines of very powerful cars at the drag strip, but you had to be good to get them started.

My memory is not perfect on this, but I think Dave might have gotten his Captain Twirly name while sitting on the ramp trying to get 2 of these beasts running.

It involved a very precise fuel priming process and you usually had one attempt on the first engine, before the battery was dead.  Once you got the first one running, the second one was started from the alternator of the first one.  If you drained the battery, you needed a power cart to substitute for the plane's battery.  This took time and made you look like a bozo before your passengers.  Not good.  If the air temperature was cold, you had to preheat the engines, but this was true of all the planes, just more so for the P Navajo.

Once you got it running, you were really enjoying the sound of those 2 big engines that were taken about as far as you could take a couple air cooled 6 cylinder engines with any level of reliability.

Then you started thinking about taxiing and notice how tiny the wind screens were, compared to the other Navajos.  This was certainly because of the structural requirements of pressurizing the airframe.

When you passed people on the outside, you know the sound of your engines made them turn to see what was passing.

Once airborne, you noticed that it did not have the nice, stable feel of the other Navajo models.  It was a little squirrely and required much more attention to hand fly.  The engines required a much softer touch also.  They were very sensitive to rapid throttle movement.  This could cause big internal temperature changes and crack a cylinder head.  It took some planning to descend, because you could not just pull the power all the way back.  We started a descent with the power set at cruise power, then slowly reduced it a little, while watching engine temperatures.

I think the plane was certified to fly as high as 25,000 feet, but it was more practical to fly it in the high teens.  This gave you more options than the non pressurize planes, but was not nearly as bullet proof for flying over weather as a jet or turbo prop.

The owner of the plane wanted to send Dave and me to the Piper facility in Lock Haven PA to attend the school on the Pressurized Navajo.  This would include both ground school and flight school.  

This is where our old friend, Sky Prince comes back into the picture.  He knew and was friends with the guy who owned the plane. Prince had somehow talked the owner into letting him attend the school with us. The only problem, is that our boss, Jack, did not like Prince and did not want him going with us.  At the time, we only guessed this was the situation, therefore we decided it would be better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.  As we were loading our bags into the plane on the far side of the new hangar, Prince sneaked in and off we flew.

On the second or third day of ground school, Dave was called to the phone.  It was Jack and he told Dave to fly the plane back to Butler immediately.  School was over.

This is when it gets a little crazy.  You may remember I told you Wild Bill McCowin had been chief pilot and was fired for being unreliable due to a drinking problem.  He was fired by Jack.  However, McCowin was pals with Mr. Graham and had somehow convinced him that he was now fit to return to duty.  He had been telling Mr. Graham and many other people that we were "running our own little air force".  There seemed to be some resentment about this.  I guess Jack felt he was out of the loop.  We just thought we were doing our jobs.  

Dave was demoted from chief pilot and McCowin was reinstated.  I cannot tell you more about how that went down, but it did.

Dave quit.  I stayed and tried to get along with McCowin, which was not all that hard for me.  I do think they thought I would be the one who would get pissed off and quit.   We were all very surprised by the way things turned out.

It seems we had been ratted out by the head line boy, Clarence Foringer, who was actually a geezer and had seen Prince boarding the plane as we left.  I never trusted that sneaky little bastard, but I will never understand why the plane owner could not have insisted that Prince go with us.  I think he was paying for all the training.

McCowin had been out for maybe 4 years and I'm guessing when Jack talked to Mr. Graham about the Prince situation, his wishes wrt McCowin were over ridden.  He kind of opened the door for that move.  This is just my speculation.

Any way, the stage was being set for my departure from Butler Graham Airport.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Blades of Glory

Quotes like this are how I rationalize my lack of a college education.  That and the fact that many college graduates I meet today don't seem to be very well educated, compared to the way I was by the time I finished high school.  Perhaps I've watched too much Watter's World.

Just to jump ahead of the story several decades, I skied with my cousins over the weekend.  I briefly mentioned that Tom Jones introduced me to skiing in my 30s and there is a big story behind why it became a favorite activity of mine, but I have to develop a few more situations before we can get into that.

For now, let's finish up the helicopter thing.  In the last post, I showed the various controls and explained that learning to hover was the real challenge of rotary wing flying.

This might help explain why.  The cyclic is like a stick between the pilot's legs.  It moves the attitude of the chopper in pitch and roll.  It makes the nose go up and down and banks it left and right.  It does this by increasing the angle of the blades of the rotor in the appropriate position only to change the attitude.

The collective changes the angle of all the blades all the way around the rotor to cause the chopper to ascend or descend.  

Any increase in rotor blade angle will increase drag on the rotor and begin to slow its speed.  The speed needs to remain constant, therefore you must add power to adjust and maintain the rotor speed.  Power is increased by twisting the throttle, which is on the end of the collective.

When you add power, the body of the helicopter wants to spin in the opposite direction of the rotor.  There are pedals on the floor that cause a change in the blades of the anti-torque rotor on the tail.  

So, you can see, that any change in any control causes an adjusting change in all the other controls, when hovering.  If the wind is not blowing, things are relatively easy.  When the wind is gusty, the pilot literally has his or her hands full.  It has been described as dancing on the head of a pin and requires a very high level of concentration.

You are taught to become aware of the rotor "disc" as part of its arc swings above the forward part of your field of vision.  My instructor, Pete, said that it was easy teaching me, because of my previous experience flying planes.  I had an air awareness and there were crossover concepts that made it easy for me to understand.  The fact that I was flying many hours in a short period of time was very helpful.  I had learned that with my own students.

If they allowed large chunks of time between lessons, we had to spend part of the lesson going back over things already learned to assure that they were retained.  If not, they had to be retaught.  Sometimes, I would ask if money was a problem and advise them to figure out what their total cost would be and borrow that much to consolidate their flying.  In the long run, it would save flight time and therefore it would save money.

I flew the chopper as often as I could and it took about 10 hours to learn to hover.  Pete would have me use one or two of the controls while he used the others.  Then he would have me use the others and slowly try to incorporate more and more into what I was doing.  Eventually, I was doing it all, but the aircraft was bouncing around a lot.  Then one day, it suddenly stopped and I had it. 

They say it is like trying to pat yourself on the head, while rubbing your stomach.  I think it is harder.  I can do that pretty easily.  But you try it.  Ha!  You're actually trying it, aren't you?

Then we could start doing the maneuvers necessary to pass the commercial helicopter check ride.  Some of these were hovering in a square, forward, to the left, then backward and to the right .  We practiced landing on a pinnacle at an old slag heap near an abandoned coal mine.  That was kind of fun.  You had to hover into the pinnacle slowly and put one of the skids on the pinnacle while the other one was hanging in space.  This was to learn how to rescue people from a mountain.  You always had to be aware of the width of the rotor disc, while doing this.

One maneuver was the auto-rotation, which is what you did when the engine failed.  This was very tricky.  When you first started the engine, the rotor was not turning.  There was a centrifugal clutch that engaged the rotor as you increased engine speed, while sitting on the ground.  When they engaged, you increased the speed of the engine and rotor to a green band on a tachometer that showed the speed of both with two needles.

The picture on the right shows them not engaged, while the picture on the left shows them engaged.  There are different indicators for each and they need to be matched in the green band.  In my memory the green band on the Hughes 300 was much smaller than in this picture, so it required very close attention.

Remember, that if you pull the collective the chopper ascends, so when you are first sitting on the ground after start, you must pull the collective.  This will drag down the engine and rotor speeds, so you must twist the throttle up to maintain the green band.  This will cause the body to twist with torque and you must counter this with anti-torque.  Fun, huh?

When the engine is running and the rotor is turning and creating lift, air is passing downward through the disc.  When the engine fails, you must very abruptly lower the collective, which disengages the clutch and separates the engine from the rotor.  The rotor is now free wheeling, driven by the air moving upward through the disc, and providing some lift and the ability to land the chopper with some control.  The glide path is very steep, nearly vertical.  You are sitting in a plexiglas bubble and the spot you will be landing on is pretty much down, between your knees.  You have a little choice on where you are going, but not much.  I was always impressed and a little alarmed at first, at how calmly Pete would sit next to me with his legs crossed as I practiced these. 

I could go on and on with this and tell you all the ways I scared the hell out of the FAA inspector who gave me my check ride, but let's just say I passed and have never flown a helicopter since, except for the time my friend, Mike Stephan, let me try to hover the Jet Ranger he was flying for a company.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Keep coming around, please.

I was beginning to become frustrated with how my career was going.  Jim Weber was hired to fly a Navajo Chieftain for a company that made truck trailers and eventually he was managing an FBO for them at the Akron/Canton Airport.  Bob Smith had gotten a job near his home town, flying a Jet Ranger helicopter and working in the office of his company.

Dave Orris and I were still doing the charter and pilot service flying.  Dan Wylie was working his way into that, but he had some kind of issue with Jack Redman and quit.  I was living in a trailer near the airport and told Dan he could move into my spare room, until he found a job.  He eventually found a job flying for a company called Great Western, which we called Not So Great Western.  They flew canceled checks at night in Beech 18s, both with the original, radial engines and with turbo-prop conversions.  Dave and I were dating two ladies who were cousins and did some double dating, so we had developed a good friendship. 

I had started working at Butler in 1973, before my 28th birthday.  I would leave there in the late summer of 1978, around my 33 birthday.  I was giving myself another handicap in getting an airline job to go along with not having a college degree.  I was getting long in the tooth.  

My original goal was to go to work for the local airline, Allegheny.  It was widely known that they did not hire pilots who were older than 30.  

All of this was playing on my mind and I was struggling not to get pessimistic about landing an airline job, but I had to be realistic.  I started considering looking for a job with a smaller company, flying smaller planes.

I was also approaching the end of the 10 year span that the GI Bill would pay for my flight training.  I had gotten all the licenses and ratings that I could for fixed wing aircraft, except for what was then called the ATR, Airline Transport Rating, a kind of PhD of flying.  I thought that I would not need to spend GI Bill money on that and thought about getting a type rating in a jet, but they cost more than the balance of my account.

Eventually, the idea to get a commercial helicopter license popped into my head.  Tom's dad had sold the Bellanca, bought a Cessna 421, sold that and bought a helicopter.  I was looking more for a job with a bigger company that flew planes and helicopters for their corporate flight department.

I made an appointment for a first lesson at a flight school for helicopters at Latrobe PA.  That is where Arnold Palmer is from.  I would be flying a Hughes 300, a small, piston engined chopper.

Wow, preflighting one of these things was fun.  There are lots of nuts and bolts with safety wire, to make sure none of the parts depart.  The wings on these things are moving and you want them to keep coming around.

My first instructor was a Nervous Nellie, whose real name I can't remember without looking it up in my log book, which I am not going to do.  He made me a little nervous too.  Then I was assigned to fly with Pete Pernell, who was another former Viet Nam War helicopter pilot.  Pete was very calm, very experienced and much better suited to be my instructor.

He kind of reminded me of Dave and Jim, when they instructed me at Butler, because they just sat there calmly and only spoke when it was necessary.  We practiced all the maneuvers I needed to learn to pass the commercial helicopter check ride.  We also worked on learning to hover.

This was the real challenge of the rotary wing machine.  It is very much like flying an airplane when moving forward through the air, but just hovering in one spot was a major challenge.  There is a cyclic stick, which is similar to the stick in some airplanes.  It controls the attitude of the helicopter in pitch and bank.  Then there is the collective, which is kind of like a parking brake handle.  It controls the angle of the rotor blades all the way around to make the bird ascend or descend, while hovering.  The collective has a twist throttle on it to control engine speed.  It is similar to a twist throttle on a motorcycle.  When the rotor blades start turning, they create torque, which makes the body of the chopper want to turn in the opposite direction.  A review of Newton's Laws of physics may be in order here.  The torque is controlled by the pilot with an anti-torque rotor on the tail and a set of pedals similar to rudder pedals on a plane.

I'll talk more about learning to fly a helicopter, if I survive the upcoming mini ski trip.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Encouraging Words

Keeping students or trainees apprised of their progress was always advised in all the instructor training of my career, whether it was in the army or in the studies for the flight instructor ratings.  Praising them for what they were doing right was just as important as pointing out and correcting what they were doing wrong.  In my experience, sometimes praising students created problems.

I did not do a scientific study of this, but developed the impression that every time I praised a student for doing an excellent job on something, they were so busy patting themselves on the back, that they screwed up the very next thing they were supposed to do.  Often they screwed up the next several things they were doing.

I was frequently impressed with the performance of some of my students, especially when they seemed to master something quicker and more easily than I had.  I did not have a problem with praising performance or even with bragging about my students, but after I developed my impression of praise followed by screw ups, I did become a little reluctant to do so.

Even as a parent, I was observing this reaction.  My own children and members of their sports teams, which I helped coach, would do the same thing.  If one of the coaches gave them an atta boy, the very next thing they would do was screwed up.  

I guess it might be best to save the praise for the debrief and hope the effect wears off before the next game or practice.  Correcting mistakes requires a more immediate application.

The most important point is to learn about the student and what is necessary to help them succeed.  What I loved about the instruction I had been involved in up to this point is that it was not just getting people ready to be able to choose the correct answer from several possible choices.  They were learning how to apply what they learned to actually be able to accomplish something.  Shoot a rifle, perform CPR, fly an airplane. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Flying Words

Every time I think it is time to move on from Butler Aviation, I think of another story.

Our manager was Jack Redman and every time we had an issue with him, we would go to Weber's house and his wife, Kerry, would  cook up a big pot of chili so we could have a chili meeting.  I guess we had a couple of those, but don't remember if we resolved any issues as a result.

I had a few issues with Jack myself.  One of them was when a customer, who requested that the pilot who flew with their people would go to the site with them, tried to get a reduction in what they paid the pilot per hour for waiting time.  These were the electricians who climbed the stacks at power plants.  We would go with them in their rental cars and sit at the bottom of the stack all day when they were working.  What fun!

The union contract of their electricians required someone to be with them, when they were climbing, with a walky talky radio, in case something went wrong.  If we pilots had not gone to the site, they would have had to pay another electrician to sit in the rental car all day.  I don't know what electricians made in those days, but I'll bet it was more than the $6 per hour we were getting for waiting time.

With all the other customers, we had the option of going with them, if we were invited, or we could just hang out at the airport.  This allowed us to walk to a restaurant, watch TV, or find a recliner to take a nap. Our days usually began and ended in the dark.  Sitting in a car at the base of a smoke stack is very boring. 

Jack brought Dave and me into his office and tried to make the case for us to accept this lousy deal, because this company was such a big customer.  It kind of pissed me off that he would do that, because he was putting it all on us, instead of being a leader.

I told him that this was the only customer who almost required us to go to the site and that they were saving money by not having to send an electrician.  At that time, I was the guy who usually ended up flying with them, so I was opposed to the reduction.  I guess he bought that argument, because nothing changed.

Another episode I had with Redman was after I had flown as much as I could for 2 years in a row.  Previously, my income had been going up each year, but I finally got to the point where I was flying the most lucrative trips.  My income was the same for both years and I did not see how I could increase it by flying more.  I asked for an increase in my hourly pay.

We made a small salary, but the biggest part of our income was based on production.  If we didn't fly, we didn't get paid.  If we flew, we made money and the company made money.

I explained all that to Jack.  He already knew that.  He said if I got a raise, I would be making more than he made.  I pointed out that my efforts added directly to the bottom line, while his did not necessarily.  I also said, "Maybe you need a raise too."  Some times I just can't help myself.  These things just fly out of my mouth.  

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Psycho Babble

While hanging around in a corner drug store in West View, the little suburban town where my folks lived, I saw an interesting looking paperback cover on one of those little circular, rotating book stands.  Something about the color scheme grabbed my attention, but the title is what made me pick it up and read all the stuff on the cover, inside and out, including comments from reviews.

The title included a word I thought I had seen before, but was not sure exactly what it meant.  Psycho Cybernetics.  Cybernetics was the word that caught my attention.  It is the study of systems.

I did not know it at the time, but I needed something like this book.  
Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon.  He noticed that all of his patients did not react the same way to corrective surgery.  Some would get a nose job, look in the mirror, be very happy about the change and have a life that was more successful than the one they had been living.  Others would look in that mirror and go back to the same self defeating patterns that had made them unhappy.  Why?

Maltz began to study and concluded that it was because of the self images of the two different types of people.  Many people go through life with a low opinion of themselves.  

The first book was written in 1960 and may be a little out dated for some people today.  I read and reread the heck out of it in the 60s and 70s.  I thought some of it was for people who were far more messed up than I was, but there was much in it that I found helpful in dealing with the internal challenges of building my aviation career.

You know, these kinds of books always give examples to make a point, so let me use a few.  Dr. Maltz talked about how people worry about upcoming challenges.  They roll the situation over and over in their minds, trying to contemplate all the things that can go wrong.  He said that this is negative programming of the mind and attitude.  You are practicing failure in your mind.

He talked about studies that showed that your imagination can create very nearly the same kinds of reactions in your body as similar, real experiences.  Therefore, by constantly reviewing potential failure, you are experiencing all the mental and physical aspects of real failure.

He suggested positive worrying, imagining things going as you would like.  Sit down in a quiet place and daydream about how things would go, if they went as you wanted them to go.  Do so in great detail.

This I did.  I would start thinking about getting up early in the morning, going through all the routine stuff you do when you have to get ready for work.  Brushing my teeth, taking a shower, drying off, getting dressed, all imagined in great detail.  I daydreamed my self all the way to the crew room at the airport, where I arrived in my dark blue (of course) uniform, with my big hat with shiny wings.  It felt good.

Maltz pointed out that we are like machines in a way, designed for success, which we achieve through failure.  He used the example of a missile that is designed to hit an airplane.  When it is first launched, it has been assigned the task of hitting an airplane.  It is launched in the general direction of the plane, up.  It has a way of sensing where the airplane is and makes an initial course correction.  It continues to monitor the plane.  When the plane becomes aware of the missile, it makes a course change.  The missile realizes its current course is now a mistake and has to make an adjustment.  This failure/correction process continues until the missile strikes the plane.  Sometimes it does not strike the plane and another missile is necessary.  If the missiles do not have an acceptable rate of success they must be improved.  Eventually they gain an acceptable rate of success.

You could make the same analogy for a baseball outfielder chasing down and catching a fly ball or even a pilot flying a visual approach to land.  There are tons of algorithms and adjustments going on in the attempt to cause the desired result.  We learn and we improve, because of our failures.

This is all basic applied psychology stuff, I just happened to stumble on a book that taught this to me in a way that I could understand and respond to.

It has been decades since I first read that book and many years since I read my way completely through it.  Periodically, I will go back and thumb through it and read something that makes me say, "So, that's where I got that from."  This book helped me adjust the way I saw and thought about myself and the world in which I was trying to succeed.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Lost In Life?

There have been some hints along the way in this blog, but perhaps it is time to spell something out.  The purpose of this blog is to inspire those who may read it to learn to fight to overcome obstacles.  My story, so far, may seem like I was having a wonderful time and I was, but it is also about having a vague goal to be an achiever in my life and then developing a more specific goal of finding a way to make it happen.  It is about developing a focus on the goal and not allowing outside influences to deter you from working toward it. 

There were many issues for me along the way and many of them were self imposed.  For example, many airlines require a college degree of their applicants.  The reason is that there are so many applicants for the jobs, that the airlines use this as a way to thin the herd.  I gave myself the challenge of getting an airline job without having a degree.

During my years at Butler, I decided to make an effort to do something about that.  I was using the GI Bill to pay for my flying and since flight hours were so important and tough to come by, I was using all the money to pay for flight lessons.

I had a few extra dollars of my own and thought I might dip my toe in the water of college education, by applying for external studies courses at the University of Pittsburgh.  My counselor told me that there would be lots of writing required in college, so it might be a good idea to take a remedial writing course, to sort of warm up and get me prepared.

I agreed.  I had to attend a class in the beginning and then would just complete writing assignments and mail them to the "professor" for his grading and advice.  

This was in the 70s.  My last time spent in a classroom other than the military, was in high school in 1963.  I had attended 12 years of Catholic school, where things were run like a tight ship.  Then I had attended many classes in the Army.  'Nuff said.  I had been trained to teach in a military manner, with military bearing.  Remember all the discussion about demerits?

It goes without saying, that when I went to Pitt for class, I was obviously older than all the others in the class.  I sat down and started looking for the "professor".  People were kind of milling around, slowly migrating to their seats.  They all looked like the young college students of the 70s.

Finally, I see a dude standing in the center of the area at the front of the classroom.  He had long unruly hair and a scraggly beard and raggedy clothes.  I would not have been surprised to see gnats buzzing around his head.  He was facing the chalk board, away from the class.  As the students settled and became a little quieter, he turned and just stood there, as if he were daydreaming or something, kind of rubbing his hairy chin as his eyes were turned upward.

You have to remember that my instructor training had taught me that when you are first meeting the group of students you are going to be teaching, you must make an impression of competence.  By that standard, "professor" was failing as far as I was concerned.

I forced myself to pay attention and started mailing in my offerings, but it was just not possible for me to get over this first experience with what was happening to higher education in our country.  I have to hand it to anyone who can get through it.  I could not do it.

My younger brother, Kevin, is such a person.  Kevin was a great left handed baseball pitcher as a kid.  I worked with him a lot and he was like a sponge, absorbing all I could teach him. He had a fastball that looked like a BB to batters and a palmball that looked like the moon.  By mixing them together, he had batters swinging at air.  He could make the ball break either way, curveball, screwball.  Because of his age, we agreed not to throw these breaking pitches after he learned how to throw them.  It could be harmful to his young, developing arm.  When the kids on opposing teams learned he was pitching against them, they groaned.

Kevin excelled at every level as he worked his way up, then suddenly, it was gone.  He was pitching in a game and could not throw the ball over the plate.  He had perfect control before this.  His coach, for whom he had played for several years, knew something was wrong and took him out of the game.

It turned out he had injured his knee the previous off season playing pick up basketball and this changed his throwing motion, leading to an injury to his elbow.  He had lost his goal.

He was still a good kid and worked a couple part time jobs, but I could see that a light had gone out.  He seemed to be off the track a little to me.

I suggested learning to fly.  He was old enough to drive.  I told him to ask our parents if he could drive to Butler with their car.  If that was allowed, I would teach him how to fly and we employees got a nice discount on the airplanes.

Since he was so young, I believed there was no hurry, so we had him flying several different airplanes.  Once I was flying a friend's Aztec to Norfolk VA to take a class and we would stay with our cousin there.  I took Kevin along and let him fly the plane both ways.  When we were cruising, I showed him how to set up the autopilot, then told him to slide his seat back and put his feet on the panel.  I pointed out that there were guys in airline jets making a ton of money doing exactly what he was doing.  I saw the light come back on.

He took the bull by the horns with very little input from me after that.  When he graduated from high school, he attended a community college that had an aviation school.  He would be taking regular college courses and getting college credit for his flight lessons.

While he was at the school, he became aware that the school had an air traffic controller program.  He thought it would be a good way to earn additional credits, so he signed up.  His timing was good and he ended up getting a job as an ATC in Philadelphia.  That was a long time ago.

Eventually, he was able to transfer to Pittsburgh (PIT) and was there to help with our parents as they aged.

Today was the day he retired.