Captain Tammie’s life in the Navy

One of the pilots behind the most impressive recent demonstration of airmanship in the airline world gives us an interesting window into the life of a U.S. Navy pilot in her book Nerves of Steel.

Some background from this blog:

Captain Tammie had a rural childhood with an intact two-parent home, but not much money. The situation was made more challenging by a sister’s cerebral palsy. The reward for doing well in 4th grade was a .22 rifle.

She started in the Navy in 1985, more than 10 years after the first Naval aviator identifying as “female” (Barbara Allen Rainey, killed in an apparent stall/spin accident in a primary trainer) but at a time when Navy officers identifying as “women” were an often-unwelcome rarity. On the theory that “tax dollars are free,” primary training is not done at 10 gallons/hour in a piston-engine plane, but in a jet-powered two-seat aerobatic Bonanza:

Training started quickly with a few weeks of ground school—navigation, aerodynamics, and meteorology. We would be flying the Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentor, so we studied the aircraft’s systems—hydraulics, fuel, electrical, and flight controls. All of this came before we ever set foot on the flight line. My primary instructor, called an on-wing, was Captain Coston, a Marine Corps C-130 Hercules pilot and a perfect gentleman. Never once did he show a hint of dismay that he’d been assigned “the Navy girl.” Initially he was one of few people in my flight who actually spoke to me. When the time came, Captain Coston took me out under the blazing Texas sun and introduced me to the T-34. Compared to the Cessna 172 I had flown for a few hours back in New Mexico, the T-34 was a hot rod, a tandem-seat turbo prop with 550 horsepower.

Step up to turbojet:

From Corpus Christi the Navy sent me to VT-26, an Intermediate Jet Training squadron at NAS Beeville, Texas (also called Chase Field), to learn how to fly the mighty T-2 Buckeye. The T-2 was never considered the sleekest jet in the military’s lineup. The plump-bodied Buckeye had straight wings with tip tanks and dual engines along the belly of the fuselage. Due to its shape, it was affectionately referred to as the Guppy. But the T-2 had its virtues, one of which was it was built like a tank, just perfect for taking the pounding of aircraft-carrier landings.

Breaking into the club could be challenging:

Things were going well until I was assigned to fly with Captain Cornejo, an exchange pilot from Venezuela. He had been a member of Venezuela’s flight demonstration team, so he lived and breathed formation flying. Unfortunately he didn’t even try to hide the fact that he considered it an insult to be assigned a female student. On our first flight together he came out to the plane while I was doing the preflight check. He was steaming. “Women don’t fly!” he said to me. “There’s a reason they don’t fly!”

To his credit, Captain Cornejo was open to a change of heart, and change he did. I had a great formation flight, which apparently impressed him. By the time we taxied in and shut the aircraft down, I had won him over. He even went to the scheduling office and requested to be my formation instructor for the duration of the program.

Not easy:

Our initial practice took place on a nice, stable runway painted to look like a carrier deck. Beside the runway was what we called the “meatball,” a light system that lets pilots know if they’re on the proper glide slope. Landing Signal Officers (LSOs) stood beside the runway and talked to us on the radio as we flew our approaches, just like they would on the aircraft carrier. We did Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) twice a day for a few weeks. We would take off, turn directly into the landing pattern, and do touch-and-goes until we were out of gas. We made hundreds of passes. In Primary Flight Training, Captain Coston had taught me the “heading, airspeed, altitude” scan. For carrier landings, pilots learned a more advanced three-point scan, which we would repeat from the moment we rolled into the groove to the moment our aircraft’s wheels hit the deck: meatball (glide slope), lineup (with the centerline on the runway), and angle of attack (another term for airspeed).

There was no carrier landing simulator for the T-2, so the first time a Buckeye pilot got a picture of what an aircraft carrier looked like was from behind, when flying out to land on it—solo. The joke was you couldn’t pay anyone enough to sit in the back seat the first time a pilot had to “go to the boat.” The real reason was the student needed to be 100 percent focused on the task at hand, not worrying about what an instructor in the back seat was thinking. For this qualification, the instructor was the LSO watching and talking to you over the radio from the flight deck.

After our flight lead took us out of the stack and maneuvered down toward the carrier, he led us into the break over the ship. When it was my turn, I would break hard left and pull my throttles to idle. I’d pull about five g’s to bleed off my speed from 350 knots down to about 130, roll out after 180 degrees of turn on downwind (heading in the opposite direction from the ship), and put my landing gear and flaps down. Then I’d put my hook down to make my first “trap,” or arrested landing on a carrier. The hook hung below the back of the aircraft and was designed to catch a cable wire and stop the jet. I came into the break at eight hundred feet above the water, held that through the break turn, then descended to six hundred feet on downwind until it was time to start the descending turn. If I did this right, I’d come out right on glide slope when I rolled out of the turn behind the boat. Each aircraft was spaced about one minute behind the aircraft ahead. This allowed the deck crew just enough time to disengage an aircraft from the arresting cable after a trap and to get the cable reset while the aircraft taxied out of the landing area. It was poetry in motion in one of the most dangerous work environments in the world. About halfway through my approach turn, I started to pick up the meatball out the left side of my canopy. It was slightly high and settling into the center as I came around the corner, which meant I was right on glide slope. As I rolled into the groove, the LSO said over the radio, “One twenty-six, call the ball.” “One twenty-six, Buckeye ball, six-point-two,” I said, indicating my call sign, aircraft type, and fuel state. Knowing the fuel state of every aircraft operating around the carrier was critical, particularly in a training environment. They never wanted an aircraft around the ship that didn’t have enough gas to get back to shore.

On that first attempt of mine, I had lined up properly and caught a wire. I had my first trap! As much as I wanted to savor the moment, there was no time for that. A yellow shirt (taxi director) gave me the signal to throttle back to idle and keep my feet off the brakes. I felt a tug backward as they retracted the arresting cable. The yellow shirt gave me the signal to raise my hook and start taxiing with a hard-right turn. The first order of business was to get across the line designating the edge of the landing area. One of my classmates was rolling into the groove right behind me, and I needed to be out of his way.

Also not easy going out:

Next up was my first catapult launch. To prep for this “cat shot,” I followed the taxi directions, which lined me up with one of the Lexington’s two catapults. When directed, I lowered the launch bar on the nose gear of my jet, and the catapult crew secured the plane into the catapult’s shuttle. They raised the blast deflector behind the plane as I confirmed my aircraft’s weight with the crew. I was directed to push my throttles up to full power—I could feel the jet squat as it went into tension. I gave the shooter (the officer in charge of operating the catapults) a sharp salute, signaling that I was ready to go. He looked down the catapult track one more time to ensure that it was safe to launch me, returned my salute, and pushed a button that sent me on an E-ticket ride. I accelerated from zero to about 150 miles an hour in two and a half seconds, and it felt like someone had kicked me in the backside.

The deck of an aircraft carrier sits about sixty feet above the water, and the cat shot sends a jet straight off the bow of the ship. We’d been warned not to climb out after the launch too quickly at that airspeed because, at that altitude, there would be no chance of recovery if a pilot raised the nose too fast and stalled. Besides, the instructors teased, “It makes you look like you’re afraid of the water.” The last thing I wanted was to look like a sissy, so I overcompensated a bit. After the cat shot I kept flying straight ahead about sixty feet off the surface . . . for a while. The feeling of being launched was so intense, I guess I was lost in the moment, enjoying the ride. My instructor took note of my low flight. Afterward he jokingly scribbled in my logbook: “Check for mackerel in the intakes.”

Tammie Jo gets assigned to teach “out of control flight” in the T-2 (what civilians would call “upset recovery”). She meets her future husband on the job, but it is a few decades too early for universal workplace sexual harassment litigation:

I sat down. “There’s a student pilot I met at church. We flew a cross-country together and are starting to spend some time together. I think he may ask me out. I like him but don’t want to do anything that would create a scandal of any kind.” Commander Grant stood, came around from behind his desk, and sat beside me. “Tammie Jo,” he said, “in order for there to be a scandal, someone of importance has to be involved.” He remained quiet long enough for the humor of his statement to sink in. “I’m the commanding officer, and I’m married. If I dated a student, that would be a scandal. Neither one of you is important enough to create a scandal. I suggest you not kiss him in the ready room. Tell whoever you want—or don’t tell anyone at all because your peers will give you grief. If you fly with him, I know you’re professional enough to grade him fairly.”

Women at the time were not allowed to fly in combat, but Tammie Jo eventually moves to a training outfit with A-7 Corsair jets. On a formation flight she experiences a primary flight display failure and has to transition to the backup “peanut” gyro for attitude (“artificial horizon”) information. In hindsight, the smartest thing to do would have been to exercise her pilot-in-command authority, break out of the formation, and ask ATC for vectors to a field that was VMC (clear weather). Instead, she expects her formation leader (a male douchebag, of course) to lead her down to near-minimums for an instrument approach. The guy ditches her and the results are a little ugly:

Black Socks hadn’t bothered to get me lined up with the runway on a final approach course, so Lemoore Approach was going to have

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Zoom IFR class materials available for other flight schools

We just wrapped up a three-session Zoom IFR training class and the learners (generally Private pilots, but some instrument-rated pilots getting a refresher). I thought that other CFIs might be interested to use our materials (PowerPoints and some PDFs from the FAA).

The class relies on the following: (a) the FAA materials are excellent, and (b) a lot of folks who were fortunate enough to get an education prior to coronapanic and associated school shutdown are good at reading. No need to spoon-feed the material slide after slide as though learners are incapable of reading a book.

(Each Zoom session was a little over an hour, including questions and answers. There was a bit of inadvertent action on camera, but nothing as exciting as what the righteous Trump-haters at New Yorker magazine put on (example of why we need the New York Post, despite the Twitter ban).)

From a recent IFR trip to Washington, D.C. (note shadow of the Cirrus, enveloped in LGBTQIA+ goodness):

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Finally a good argument for buying a Cirrus?

“The Looming Mechanic Shortage: What If Your Airplane Breaks And There’s No One To Fix It?” (AOPA) is by Mike Busch, who helps a lot of owners of piston-driver airplanes manage maintenance.

Good old days:

When my Skylane needed maintenance, I took it to the Cessna dealership on the field, which employed a half-dozen factory-trained airframe and powerplant mechanics who worked on nothing but single-engine Cessnas all day long. The Cessna dealership also had a parts room to die for, so when my airplane needed some component to be replaced it was likely to be in stock. Owners of Pipers and Beechcraft on the field enjoyed the same happy circumstance at their factory dealerships.

Today:

Sadly, those days are gone. The Cessna and Beechcraft dealerships at John Wayne Airport are long gone, and the old Piper dealership now exists primarily as a shop catering to bizjets and turboprops. If you base a Cessna single at John Wayne and need maintenance done, the Cessna authorized service center on the field is Jay’s Aircraft Maintenance Inc. It’s a good shop, but the fact that it’s an authorized service center doesn’t mean that it only works on Cessnas the way it used to. According to Jay’s website, “We are equipped to perform maintenance on any aircraft under 12,000 lbs., including but not limited to those manufactured by Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft, Cirrus, and Socata.”

So, the A&P/IA who starts the annual inspection of your Skylane might well have just finished working on a Comanche or a Baron or a Cub. He’s most likely a generalist, not a specialist. Instead of knowing a lot about a few aircraft models, he knows a little about a lot of aircraft models—occasionally just enough to be dangerous. That’s not good.

Tomorrow:

The COVID-19 lockdowns have been a disaster for A&P schools. According to the Aviation Technician Education Council, one in five A&P schools has suspended operations, with many other schools voicing concern over their long-term viability. Forty percent of the schools expect a decline in 2020 graduates averaging 28 percent. Half expect that enrollment will decline in 2020 and 2021 by 31 percent.

Perhaps electric airplanes, with their minimal powerplant maintenance needs, will save recreational pilots. Or maybe the collapse of the airlines will deliver mechanics back to the small shops.

But I wonder if this is an argument for getting a Cirrus, the most popular of today’s little airplanes. With about 8,000 of these in the field and the fleet getting regular use by owners, perhaps that creates enough of a critical mass for a real support network. Of course, there are a larger number of Cessna, Piper, and Beechcraft planes out there, but the ones that get high utilization tend to be in flight schools that do their own maintenance.

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Department of Bad Business Timing: Microsoft Flight Simulator released today

For the first time in 14 years, as of today it is possible to buy a new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. How’s that for bad timing? If this thing had been released in mid-March, after 13.5 years instead of 14, when governors had locked Americans down into their electronic home bubbles, how much more money would it have made?

The Icon A5 is included! Also the Airbus A320. You need to spring for the Premium edition to get the Cirrus SR22.

Who has tried out this new game? How great is it?

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Twin Commander pilot completes pole-to-pole around-the-world trip

From November: “Twin Commander pilot departs on a pole-to-pole flight”

Today: He’s back!

Robert DeLaurentis did this trip in a 1983 Twin Commander, N29GA (made by Gulfstream at the time! Compare to the latest G700 if you want to see how inequality has grown and how much richer the richest rich bastards are today!), pulled by two Garrett/Honeywell TPE331 engines (jet engines that spin propellers, i.e., turboprops).

Navigating the coronapanic restrictions turned out to be more challenging than navigating the globe/poles.

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Security Theater intersection with Coronapanic Theater: illegal to fly over an empty stadium

The Boston Red Sox are playing in Fenway Park again, but fans aren’t allowed into the stadium. After the jihad of 9/11, the major league sports teams were able to realize their dream of blocking banner-towing airplanes from flying over stadiums. The banner-towers were competing with the teams for in-stadium advertising dollars. The dream of eliminating this competition had been out of reach for decades due to a legal/FAA doctrine that airspace belongs to the public and therefore the teams couldn’t own the airspace above their stadiums.

After 9/11, the teams got Congress to lean on the FAA to put in a “temporary flight restriction” (the temporary restriction will soon turn 20 years of age!) forbidding all aircraft from overflying within 3 nautical miles and 3,000′ (of course, a helicopter 3 miles away and at a normal helicopter cruising altitude would not really be an “overflight” since it wouldn’t be visible from the stadium). This is in the name of “security”, though it is unclear what the practical effect could be on security since the typical terrorist is already violating a variety of regulations and laws by carrying out a terrorist act.

Given that the stadiums are 99 percent empty, has the rule been relaxed? No! So we’re not allowed to do our helicopter tours over Boston (we don’t need to fly over Fenway Park, but it is quite close to the center of the city, so a Fenway TFR makes the tour essentially impossible). Families heading to Cape Cod in little planes won’t be able to take the conventional shortcut through Boston and over Logan Airport.

This was sold as a way to keep a determined jihadi from wiping out 30,000+ people with a Cessna 172 or similar (though, as noted above, it was unclear how it ever could have worked to achieve that end). But now it is being applied to ensuring security for a handful of baseball players who are all alone in the stadium.

Related:

  • “Baseball Is Playing for Its Life, and Ours” (NYT, August 2): protected from attack by family Cessnas and four-seat Robinsons, the young healthy baseball players are nonetheless besieged by a virus whose victims average 82 years of age with underlying health conditions. “Baseball was entering the war against the pandemic, and the world was positioned to benefit from the information that would be gathered. The league, armed to the teeth with power and privilege, access to testing, cash flow, precision data collection, and high-powered, lower-risk athletes playing outdoors, was supposed to prevail. … baseball and other sports will help get us there by aggressively gathering information about the risks we are all facing. In the end, this will be prove to be more valuable than anything normalcy can provide. We are playing to survive.” (i.e., we will learn more from Major League Baseball than from all of the MD/PhDs working for the Swedish government!)
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Oshkosh (EAA AirVenture) would have started today

Pilots of homebuilt, antique, and retired military aircraft would have been gathering in Oshkosh leading up to today’s official opening of EAA AirVenture.

The event, of course, would have been shut down by the governor even if the organization had tried to proceed. So we’re left with memories from last year. Here’s Bo Feldman, age 18, who made it to Oshkosh, Wisconsin by powered parachute…. from Florida!

Who wants to bet on whether coronapanic shuts down Oshkosh 2021? (WHO: “I would say in a four to five-year timeframe, we could be looking at controlling this.”)

Related:

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American Airlines: the magic of air travel in the Age of Corona

A friend recently flew Dallas to Boston on American Airlines (AA2579). He was accompanied by his 15-year-old son.

Has American adopted my dream scheme and blocked off the middle seats except for families traveling together? Not exactly! In fact, my friend and his son were both parked in middle seats, but not in the same row. Each was seated next to two strangers. Everyone was supposed to be wearing a mask on the flight, but a guy sitting next to my friend was not wearing a mask and was, in fact, coughing. The family now has direct seat-adjacency exposure to four unrelated people (would have been 0 under my plan!).

The Boeing 737-800 was almost 100-percent full. There were no special boarding or unboarding procedures for plague-minimization. It was the usual Fall of Saigon attempt to get everyone into seats and bags into overheads. I asked if people had to raise hands to get sequenced for using the bathroom and the answer was “no”.

What about the luxurious cuisine and wine list for which American Airlines is justly renowned? “They handed everyone a bag with a bottle of water and a snack at boarding.” The flight attendants came through the aisles only towards the end to pick up trash.

The wife is a medical doctor. She decided to place both father and son into home quarantine on their return!

Readers: How much would you have been happy to pay for this experience?

Vaguely related, my most recent flight on American Airlines, Miami to DCA back in February:

Disclosure: As a former Delta Airlines (proud union) employee, American is the frenemy!

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Karen’s Mask Law Compliance Update (Boston to Minneapolis and back)

Here is one Karen’s report on the extent to which Americans are complying with the new mask laws. This is based on a May 30-June 3 trip from Boston to Minneapolis via Cirrus SR20 (“only a little slower, door-to-door, than a Honda Accord”). Stops included the following:

  • Massachusetts
  • Upstate New York (Syracuse, Niagara Falls)
  • Michigan
  • Wisconsin
  • Minnesota
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Upstate New York (Elmira)
  • Massachusetts

The first thing to note is that travel in the U.S. today is a lot like travel within Europe in the Middle Ages. Every state has its own rules and every city within a state may have additional rules. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, people are supposed to wear masks when walking on a deserted sidewalk or in an empty park. In other parts of Massachusetts, the rule is to wear a mask when in a store or in a crowded outdoor space. In Niagara Falls, the law requires a mask indoors, but not outdoors. In Minnesota, the state recommends that people wear masks in stores, but it is not required. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the other hand, masks are required indoors (except for Black Lives Matter protesters entering stores?).

Our hotel in Niagara Falls, New York was typical. There was a sign on the door saying that everyone had to wear a mask in the lobby. Half the employees were wearing masks. Among the guests, compliance was 100 percent for Asians, 30 percent for whites, 10 percent for Hispanics, and 0 percent for African-Americans. In the adjacent state park, some of the employees had masks on, but almost none of the people walking around did (except at a few key viewpoints and when passing on bridges, people were at least 6′ apart most of the time).

FBOs had signs on the door saying that masks were required. Employees were hanging out inside unmasked, however. The arrival of a NetJets Phenom 300 was always a great occasion for mask display among both crew and passengers. The FBO in Michigan told us that the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, had recently come through. She’s a passionate advocate for lockdown and masks, but came off her private aircraft unmasked and, without any TV cameras around, came through the narrow FBO building unmasked.

Wisconsin? The state offers the same guidance as the W.H.O. (formerly “experts” but no longer worthy of the title due to their anti-mask heresy): don’t wear a mask unless you know what you’re doing and are washing your hands all the time (“Do not touch your mask while wearing it; if you do, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp.”) No sign at the door of the FBO. Nobody wearing a mask inside or outside.

Eden Prairie, Minnesota: some signs recommending masks, but mostly official state advice signs to stay away if you have flu-like symptoms. Inside the Target, the employees were masked, but only about 40 percent of the customers. Mask use was low for the older shoppers. Ethnicity was a good predictor, as in New York: Asians were 100 percent masked. Muslim women who were otherwise covered from head to toe? 0 percent masked. Restaurants are open for outdoor dining; we enjoyed a meal under a tent and our young waitress had a mask… just underneath her nose.

Indiana: No masks at the FBO.

Ohio: Retail and restaurant workers were masked. Restaurants are open for dine-in, so we took advantage and had lunch at Tony Packo’s of M*A*S*H fame.

Upstate New York: No masks at any of the three FBO stops.

Return to Massachusetts: No masks at the FBO that had been an exemplary masked environment not even a week earlier. “Did you give up on masks?” I asked the guy behind the front desk. “There is a crowd of 20,000 protesting in downtown Boston right now. What’s the point?”

On walks around our neighborhood, which adopted a “You must have a mask around your neck at the ready whenever you’re out in public” rule, compliance with the law had fallen from 80 percent (a month ago, when the rule was new) to 20 percent.

Conclusion: Americans are capable of following an inconvenient rule for about a month.

Gratuitous Photos from Karen’s iPhone…

Niagara:

The right way to run shops in a plague environment:

Someone went a little nuts with the nose art for a Diamond Star DA-40:

One hand on the yoke and one hand on the life raft while crossing the 50-degree waters of Huron and Michigan:

“Nice Beaver” (Flying Cloud, KFCM, Minnesota):

I had planned to stay in downtown Minneapolis and walk around, but the civil unrest made it seem wiser to hole up in Eden Prairie. After two nights locked into the Hampton Inn, with only the occasional trip to a nearby strip mall for exercise and necessities, I had no difficulty understanding how people who’d been locked down for three months might riot. Midwestern cuisine:

Good news: outdoor dining is open. Bad news: Applebee’s is open.

Even at an FBO owned and run by African-Americans, Fox News prevails. Also, a shocking site for someone from Boston: an open gym!

Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby across the street from each other in suburban Toledo, Ohio. (The driver in front of us paid for our breakfast.)

Down by the river:

Preflight on the new propeller for the Cirrus:

At he National Museum of the Great Lakes, opening June 10:

Trip highlight: Hungarian(?) food amidst signed plastic foam hot dog buns. Where else can Alice Cooper and Neil Sedaka be next to each other? Or Nancy Reagan and Jimmy Carter? For the younger readers: Sam Kinison on British TV. (here’s where he asked an inconvenient question about an earlier plague)

Approaching beautiful Cleveland with the super-wide lens:

Full moon at 7,500′:

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Helicopter pilot and cosmetics entrepreneur

Nicole Vandelaar Battjes is the founder, CEO, and Chief Pilot of Novictor Helicopters, a Robinson R44 tour operator in Hawaii. Now she has launched a cosmetics company too! Nicol Cosmetics (pilot/founder is in the middle):

It is rare for me to get excited about cosmetics, but I am hoping this company is a big success.

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