14 Minutes

A few days ago a female Japanese pilot took off in a Cessna 152 from a Florida airport and didn’t come back.  She apparently had over 400 hours and an instrument rating and was renting the plane in order to build time to get an airline job back in Japan.  Unfortunately her having 400 hours and instrument rating weren’t enough to keep her out of trouble when she decided to take off into poor, terrible really, weather conditions.  And to make matters worse she did it at night.  I don’t know the exact sequence of events but it sounds like she encountered low clouds and visibility while flying VFR and got herself lost.  She did manage to contact air traffic control who tried their best to help her but she ended up losing control and spinning into to water just offshore.  Inadvertent flight into IFR conditions has killed hundreds if not thousands of pilots over the years and will continue to do so because pilots are stubborn morons who have big problem admitting that they’ve screwed up and JUST TURN AROUND! Guys, it’s not that hard, if you fly into weather that is worse than you expected, low clouds, poor visibility, icing, thunderstorms, whatever, turn around immediately!, go someplace else, land, re-group, and live to fly another day.  But no, you keep going, hoping it will get better until it’s too late.  I’m currently teaching both my son and daughter how to fly, a job that doesn’t stop when they get a license, and trying to teach them how to make the decision to call it quits and chicken out is the hardest lesson to get through their thick heads.  Mostly because they’ve grown up hearing my stories about how I pushed the limits and got away with it.  do as I say not as I do kids.  I had a buddy that tried to fly his skydiving plane through a line of thunderstorms to go and visit his mother.  I helped him check the weather and told him not to try it but he went anyway.  Halfway there the clouds closed in on him and he managed to set the plane down on a road in the middle of nowhere.  It was a very close thing and he told me that it happened so fast you wouldn’t believe it.  When I pushed him for more details he admitted that he had pushed it when the clouds started forcing him lower and lower but that he thought he could make it.  Classic example of what I’m trying to teach my kids.  I’ve included a link to the voice recording of the accident that you can listen to or not it’s up to you but it’s scary knowing that from her first call to the time that ATC lost contact with her is just 14 minutes.  The FAA estimates that a VFR pilot that encounters IFR conditions will usually last only 178 seconds before losing control.  I guess her IFR rating gave her a little more time but you would think it should have saved her life.

http://bcove.me/doszgxc7

From about the 6th minute to the 12th minute of this recording is pretty hard to listen to… she is becoming more and more scared..

Fourth Time’s The Charm

Just a quick update, two days ago Lonnie Dupre reached the summit of Denali completing the first solo accent ever in January.  While Lonnie was setting foot on the peak my back country buddies and I were in northern Wisconsin for our annual cross country ski weekend.  This weekend started out 29 years ago as a work outing at our boss’ cabin and has turned into a great climbing and skiing team.  As you can tell our weekend and Lonnie’s were very much the same.  On Saturday night we had T Bone steaks and cheese cake followed by a hour long night ski session on the lake with temperatures in the -15 below F. range while Lonnie slept in a snow cave at about -40 F.  The next day was a hard one with a three hour ski through the untracked wilds of Wisconsin where at one point we almost ran out of wine while Lonnie climbed his way to the top of McKinley.   So basically our weekends were almost identical.  Okay, we actually did do some hard skiing and climbing trying to get in shape for our back country ski trip we have planned for next month and I don’t know about the other guys but I need to work out more because I was feeling it and we were only climbing at 1000 feet above sea level and didn’t have packs on.  I guess I’d better up my workout schedule.

   

Lonnie descending by headlamp.

IMG_1818-1Weekend warriors.

Seat Belts, What Are They Good For?

You might be thinking that I’m going to go on and on about how as a Libertarian minded person I’m opposed to “for your own good” laws such as the mandatory seat belt laws.  We could discuss how it’s none of the governments damn business how I live my life and what safety choices and chances I make and take.  Sure you could counter about how many lives and health care dollars have been saved because of such laws and I could point out that now that we don’t have saber tooth tigers anymore stupid people need to get taken out of the gene pool somehow and that using the excuse that the public can’t afford the bill if you get hurt so we must ban things that are dangerous is precisely why we shouldn’t have government health care.   No, I’m going to talk about the other reason they invented seat belts.

Before I ever even started flying I was convinced that I was a shit hot pilot. After reading dozens of books about the dog fights of WWI and WWII I knew that I would have been there I would have been an ace. I just needed to get into a cockpit to show the world how great I was. At least those were my thoughts when I was thirteen. Buy the time I actually started taking flying lessons in my early twenty’s my opinion of my natural ability had softened somewhat, but I still needed that first humbling experience to bring me down to earth, so to speak.

Just days after my first solo I went out to the airport for a flight lesson only to be told by the cute flight school receptionist that my instructor wouldn’t be able to make it out that day. I tried to pretend I was disappointed but I was really ecstatic because the last time I talked to my instructor he told me that I could fly by myself if he wasn’t there but I was to stay in the landing pattern at the airport. That meant for the first time I would be able to just grab the keys and log book from the receptionist and go flying, just like a real pilot. I went out to the little Cessna 152 trainer, did a through pre-flight then climbed in and started the engine. Grinning from ear to ear I taxied to the runway and the most professional voice I could muster requested permission from the control tower for take off. Once aloft my grin got even bigger if that’s possible. I was finally flying by myself. I’d flown solo before but always under my instructors supervision, now I was responsible for myself, master of my own destiny, the pilot in command. I stayed in the pattern like my instructor told me to and did two touch and go’s but the little red devil on my shoulder had other plans.

Hey Kerry, let’s leave the pattern and go do some REAL flying!”

It was tempting. The guys in the control tower had no idea I was supposed to stay in the pattern and there was nobody at the flight school but the receptionist and a mechanic. No one would have any idea I’d been gone. I looked for the white angel on my other shoulder to try and talk some sense into me but he was a no show.

Crystal tower, Cessna 65 tango, departing the pattern to the west.”

Cessna 65 tango right turn approved.”

And just like that I was free. I flew west to the flight school’s practice area and immediately started screwing around. Steep banks, baby wing-overs, stalls, the works. I was in heaven. I’d grown up listening to my uncle Kerry tell me flying stories about his life as an aviator in the U.S. Navy and dreaming of flying fighters off an aircraft carrier into combat. I had thousands of hours of flight time in my daydream log book and now I finally had the chance to prove I was as good of a pilot as I thought I was. I swooped, dived, turned and banked as aggressively as the under-powered trainer would let me.

After a few minutes of aerobatics that I’m sure would have made my uncle proud I decided to try something new. I pulled back on the control yoke and climbed steeply. Just before I lost all my speed I pushed on the yoke as hard as I could putting the plane into a steep dive and floating me out of the pilot’s seat in a negative G maneuver. The whoop of delight died on my lips. Instead of gently floating off the seat and hanging there in zero gravity for a few seconds my body fell forward into control panel trapping the yoke under my chest in the full down position. In a flash I realized why it was important for pilots to wear their seat belts snugly. The Cessna continued diving at the ground below and I desperately tried to pull on the yoke and level the plane out but trapped against the control panel I couldn’t get any leverage. As a large airplane manual flew past my head I pushed myself back into my seat, held myself there with one hand and tightened my seat belt with the other. As soon as the belt was holding me in place again I hauled back on the yoke with both hands and pulled the Cessna out of the dive. More than a little shaken I decided to cut my airshow short and head back to the airport.

After landing and shutting the plane down I sat in the cockpit for a few minutes contemplating my actions. On one hand I was very angry with myself for making such a boneheaded mistake and almost getting myself killed. On the other hand I was kind of proud of myself for not panicking in an emergency situation. With the two attitudes conflicting with each other I decided to go with pride. After all, I told my self, all the great pilots did dumb stuff early in their careers. The trick was to learn from your mistakes. At least that’s what I told myself.

Then I remembered something my uncle Kerry told me when he heard that I’d I started taking flying lessons.

Remember Kerry, when a young man starts flying he’s issued two bags, an experience bag and a luck bag. When he first starts out his experience bag is empty and his luck bag is full. Every time the pilot survives doing something stupid or dangerous he takes a little out of the luck bag and puts it in the experience bag. The trick is to fill the experience bag before the luck bag runs dry.”

Those words rang true in my head as I realized I’d just made my first withdrawal from my luck bag. I hoped it was a deep bag.

By the way, just for the record I always wear my seat belt when I drive, and when I’m flying it’s usually uncomfortably tight.

 

Speaking of Passing The Tourch

In the spring of 1979 a skinny red headed 17 yr old raised his right hand and solemnly swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; That was, what? 36 years ago? Holy crap.  It seems like just yesterday I was standing there reciting the oath and wondering just what I was getting myself into.  Turns out it was best decision of my life.  fast forward to December 2014 and there was my  son, number one son, taking the same oath and joining my same unit.  Full circle, I couldn’t be prouder.

Connor joined my old Minnesota National Guard and got a Black Hawk Crew Chief slot.  His plan is to go to basic right after graduating high school this spring, come back and start college, possibly playing football but he’s not sure he wants to risk getting hurt, then attend the 15 week Black Hawk school next winter.  As soon as he gets back to his unit he will start boarding for a flight school slot.  Connor will have his private pilot’s license by then, if not his helicopter rating, and I’ve been assured that unless he does something really stupid between now and then he is almost assured a slot in flight school.  After graduating college he plans to join the active duty Army and transition from Black Hawks to flying the Apache.  I’m not really sure how difficult it is to get into the Apache but if anyone can do it Connor can.  Once he fulfills his commitment to the Army he plans to join the Coast Guard as a helicopter pilot or get a job as a medivac pilot.  These are some pretty big and detailed plans for an 18year old and I’m sure a lot can and will change between now and then but at least he has a goal, which is a whole hell of a lot more than I had at his age.  Until he attends basic training he will spend his weekend drills in a holding unit with other un-trained soldiers learning how to stand at attention, tie his boots, wear a hat, and not call enlisted men sir, “We’re not in the Marines, Private!” They supposedly will conduct some actual training but if I know the Army, and I do, I’m sure there will be a lot of wasted time.

When Connor came back from his first drill weekend he told us that he’s loved every minute of it, I was pretty sure he would but it was still a relief.  His only complaint was when he was informed that if a Sergent was making fun of him all he had to do was tell him to stop and he would have to………seriously.   What the hell.  Connor was disgusted with the emphasis the Army was putting on diversity and anti-bullying.  ” I suppose if the enemy is shooting at you and hurting your feelings you can just ask them to stop and will have to” Connor said.  He’d grown up listening to me and my old Army buddies at deer hunting camp telling (mostly true) stories about how tough basic training and epically the drill instructors were.  When I went to basic they were still allowed to hit us, in the snow, uphill, both ways.  Connor was actually looking forward seeing if he was a tough as his old man but it sounds like they’ve turned basic into some kind of summer camp.  Although having to sit through 10 different lectures on sexual harassment is its own kind of hell so maybe it’s a wash.

Zulu Cobra — the Bell AH-1Z Viper

Leave it to the marines to get the most from hand me downs and a tiny budget.  Having the Cobra and Huey share components saves them a ton of money.  Money they can use to buy air to air missiles baby!

Servicing the AH-1Z Viper aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD 8)— U.S. Navy photo by Mass Comm Spec 2nd Class Alan Gragg

Servicing the AH-1Z Viper’s hingeless and bearingless rigid rotor system aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD 8) — U.S. Navy photo by Mass Comm Spec 2nd Class Alan Gragg

The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) has evolved their Bell AH-1W SuperCobra (highly capable twin engine Cobra) significantly into the Z-variant with the new designation AH-1Z Viper. Similarly with their advancement of the Huey to the Bell UH-1Y Venom the Vipers are more than an improvement as they have a four rotor blade system, as opposed to the previous twin rotor blade, of previous models — as well as much more power. The USMC has also greatly simplified aviation logistics with regard to Vipers and Venoms since they share tail booms, engines (2 x GE T700-GE-401C turboshaft at 1800 shp/1340kW), drivetrains as well as avionics — there is commonality greater than 80% which should also keep costs in check as well as easing logistic duties. The four blade rotor system no longer has hinges or bearings (only 25% of the number of original parts hence 75% less things to fail) which revolutionizes the helicopter’s performance envelope. The Viper’s wing stubs are longer and have added wingtip stations for mounting air-to-air missiles as well as Longbow radar. The Marines have an extremely potent hunter aircraft in the Viper with a combat radius of 125 miles, a cruise speed of 184 mph and a weapons load of a chin turret 20mm rotary cannon and six pylons which can mount a mix of Hydra 70 or APKWS II rockets in 7 or 19 shot pods, up to 16 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles in 4-round pods as well as wingtip mounted AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.

As an infantry support, anti-armor attack and anti-helicopter aircraft the Viper is formidable and can be also used to counter jet attack air aircraft in the proper circumstances such as in canyon country where the helicopter can use terrain masking to await in ambush.

USMC AH-1Z Viper departing the flight deck of the USS New Orleans (LPD 18) — U.S. Navy photo by Mass Comm Spec 3rd Class Dominique Pineiro

USMC AH-1Z Viper departing the flight deck of the USS New Orleans (LPD 18) and note the wingtip mounted missile.

Passing The Tourch

I got a call from my father a few weeks ago and he told me that Drew, the son of some good friends of theirs, had finally retired from the Air Force and wanted me to give him a call when I had a chance.  I was intrigued because of all my parents friends children that became pilots, 5 or 6 of us by last count, a surprisingly big number, Drew was the only on the get into fighters.  And Drew didn’t just fly any fighter, he flew what I would’ve chosen to fly if given the choice, the A-10 Warthog.  I gave Drew a call and he told me that he was now  living back in Minneapolis, flying for Delta, and bored out of his mind.  I can see that.  After twenty years in the Air Force, living all over the world and flying A-10 during a period that the Warthog REALLY came in handy, I imagine getting plunked back down in the suburbs and driving a bus was a bit of a shock.  Drew told me that he had an 18 year old son that he wanted to spend more time with and two of the things they wanted to start doing together were skydiving and flying and was there any way I could help them?  Skydiving and flying, yep, I can help with that.  His plan was for both of them to come out to my skydiving school this spring and learn how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes but before he signed his son up for lessons on how drive said airplanes would I possibly have time to take the young lad for a short flight to see if he actually like it?  Most certainly I said.  Now you might ask why Drew, who was a decorated combat fighter pilot/airline bus driver needed me, a scruffy looking ferry pilot with questionable morels and personal hygiene to take his only son flying? It’s because like most fighter/airline pilots Drew hasn’t flown anything without a jet engine and a million dollars worth of avionics in years and in Drew’s case ever.  So not only hasn’t he been checked out in anything smaller than the A-10 in years but like a lot of airline pilots, tiny airplanes scare him.

So Drew and his son came out and met me at the local airport where we all piled into a Cessna 172 I’d rented.  I let Drew’s son, I’ll cal him Logan, because that’s his name, sit in the left seat and do all the flying.  Logan did great.  I didn’t have to get on the controls on takeoff and he was smooth and steady on the controls unlike a lot of non-pilots I’ve let take the controls over the years.  We flew a few miles from the airport and I ran him through a series of stalls, slow flight, steep turns, wing overs, and some cloud busting.  Basically I just wanted him to have fun and get comfortable in the air.  Throughout the flight Drew sat quietly in the back taking pictures and generally being a proud papa.  I’m sure he was a bit apprehensive about how Logan would react to being at the controls of a small plane.  It’s every pilot’s nightmare that his son hates flying or it scares him to death because every pilot I know wants to pass the torch of flying to his children, especially his son, yes I’m a little sexist, sue me. All and all Logan did a great job and can’t wait to start flying lessons.

After the flight Drew took me out to lunch where we both had a couple of local Pale Ale’s, to calm the nerves don’t you know, and did what pilots do over a few drinks after flying, tell flying stories.  Drew had his share of good material after 20 years in the A-10 and I countered with my own boring stories of ferry flying.  When we were done Drew presented me with a 30mm shell casing from his beloved Warthog during the 2003 Iraq invasion.  This was a great gift and it turns out a perfect addition to my military hardware collection because I just happen to have a 30mm cannon shell.  How do I happen to have such a shell you might ask?  It’s because back when I was a young lad in college I spent three summers as an intern working for Honeywell where we were building and testing experiential munitions such as the 300mm anti tank shells.  My job was to actually build to rounds and then take them out and shoot them.  That job was a blast. Get it? A blast? Anyway, here’s what they look like.

     IMG_7241IMG_7242It’s now going to live on the fireplace mantel in my man cave.

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Winter Acent Of Denali

I’ve always loved climbing but aside from some scary but recreational rock climbing and some serious, and sometimes scary, back country climbing on skis I’ve never had the opportunity to do any “real” mountain climbing.  And by “real” I mean something in the 20,000 foot plus range. The thought of spending a month or more assaulting a mountain, climbing higher and higher, establishing camps and hoping for good weather for a final summit push fascinates me.  It’s one of the few dreams I’ve yet to achieve and I’m not sure I ever will because once I started back country skiing the thought of putting in all that time and effort climbing a mountain and then just turning around and walking down again didn’t make any sense to me.  I mean if I’m going to go to all that trouble to get to the top of a mountain it sure as hell will be because I’m going to get some epic skiing on the way down.  Here’s a couple of photos from past trips.

DSCF53902007_0228skiwithguys20060

All that being said I’m still fascinated with high mountain climbing and epic stories of survival.  That’s why I got Super Girl (my daughter Claire) one of my favorite books for Christmas. “Epic”  Super Girl has always been an adventurer and just started climbing this year in college. I’m sure she will love this book as much as I did.IMG_7230

What got me started on this post is the fact that Lonnie Durpe guy is attempting to make the first solo ascent of Denali in January.  I went to school with Lonnie and was on the gymnastics team with him.

At 20,320 feet, Denali (aka Mount McKinley) in Alaska is North America’s highest mountain. Denali’s high latitude (bordering the Arctic), along with its unpredictable weather and vast crevasse fields, makes it a challenging summer climb even by Himalayan standards. During winter, it proves even more formidable, with winds often exceeding 100 miles per hour, temperatures plummeting below -50º F, and sunlight averaging a mere 6 hours. Only 16 people in nine expeditions (4 solo, 5 team) have ever reached the summit in winter. Of those 16 climbers, 6 died. Only 1 team of 3 Russian climbers summited in January, the darkest and coldest time on the mountain, and for some literally the dead of winter.

One of the stories in EPIC is about a winter attempt of Denali where three men are trapped by hurricane force winds in a tiny snow/ice cave just short of the summit for 5 days as their food and fuel for melting ice for drinking runs out.  It’s a great story of human endurance but it didn’t sound sound like it was any fun at all.  Anyway you can follow Lonnie’s progress here  https://www.facebook.com/oneworldendeavors    or here http://www.oneworldendeavors.com/

I think this is Lonnie’s third attempt, having been stopped just short of the summit and forced to hunker down in a snow cave until his supplies ran out the last two times by high winds.  Good luck Lonnie, you’re going to need it.

I’m Playing Checkers, They’re Playing Chess

As many of you might have noticed I haven’t been posting a whole lot lately.  I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been traveling all over the world having amazing adventures, meeting interesting and exotic people and making tons of money but that’s not the case.  You see the problem is that, boy this is hard to admit, I’m an addict.

Hi, my name is Kerry and I’m a deer hunter.

the-meeting

It’s again the time of year where millions of semi-drunk men head into the woods with lethal weapons in search of the elusive, some say fictitious, Whitetail Deer and I’m one of them.  Starting in September I become completely obsessed with hunting and run into the woods every chance I get.  I’ve never added up the amount of time I spend deer hunting from September to January, mostly because if my wife found out she would kill me (she thinks I’m having an affair), but it is safe to say that if I spent that many hours working at Burger King I could retire.  Of course then I’d just spend my time hunting so I’d be back where I started I guess.

Spending a lot of time in the woods doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always very successful.  Hours upon hours spent sitting in a tree stand or sneaking around on the ground rarely result in seeing, let alone getting a shot at a big buck.  After hunting for forty years I’ve shot many decent bucks and does with both rifle and bow but only managed managed to bag 3 what I would call “Trophy” bucks.  That doesn’t mean I’ve only seen that many monsters in the woods, it means only didn’t screw up the opportunity three times.  More times than I care to remember everything fell into place and I managed to get close to a big buck only to have something happen.  The wind shifts and he smells me, I move and snap a twig, or the buck just senses that something isn’t right.  Either way the result is the same.  The buck snorts (the alarm sound they make when they sense danger) turns on a dime and is gone in a flash leaving me shaking with adrenalin and cursing the hunting gods, my poor performance, and overall bad luck.

But the ninety five percent of the time I spend hunting alone isn’t the only thing I love about deer hunting.  Once rifle season starts my father, son, and a gaggle of drunk old Army buddies descend on my hunting cabin for two weeks of poker, scotch, and cigars.  Oh, some of us do manage to get up in the morning and head out to the woods but that’s optional.  This year we were pretty successful. My dad shot an eight point buck, number one son got a doe and passed up a number of small bucks and I managed to drop two nice big does and a beautiful eight point buck.  All in all it was a great hunting season but with the temperature dropping to eighteen below zero Fahrenheit today I guess it’s time to hang up the bow for the year and spend some time with the wife, that and the fact that hunting season’s over.

▶ The Unrideables: Alaska Range

A CRASH IN THE MOJAVE

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