Oct 8, 2016 – Building a 2017 Schedule

Getting ready for a new phase of my aviation second life here, so I’d better start writing about what’s been going on this year.

This post has been particularly difficult to produce. There are many details I want to convey, but I need to do it in a way that keeps in interesting and digestible. The words I choose here must also reflect the deep appreciation and personal pride I feel toward the friends that have surrounded me this year. These are talented people who have seen value in sharing their time and talents with me. These are not selfish people.

ADJUSTING TO RETIREMENT: I never thought I’d need to get analytical about retiring and spending more time on my own. Over the past 12 months I’ve had a range of emotions and ideas about this, and have come to the conclusion that I need to be busier than I have been this year. Not nearly as busy as PHI, nor living in hotels as much as either PHI or Piedmont. What I do need, I believe, is to develop a local opportunity that will still fill my days with something meaningful. I need to build whatever I do into our lives (Bev’s and mine) in a way that also supports family.

I still think like an engineer, so I make lists to understand the problem; develop alternative solutions that will affect the desired change or outcome; and then start trying each of them out. Life is what happens while you are in the middle of all that; rarely follows the script you intend; and keeps it all very entertaining. I most always land on my feet though.

PROBLEM DEFINITION: Since leaving Piedmont last December, I’ve had an entire year to think about how to keep myself occupied going forward. Bev and I even had some time together during the first quarter while she recovered from a medical procedure. Once she got back to taking care of her parents, running her business, and doing volunteer work, I found myself with more time on my hands than ever before. I started getting bored.

WHAT TO DO? Several opportunities to keep working in some capacity have come my way without my looking for them. Others needed to be developed before they would become viable. I sought to piece together some combination of these activities that would create some sort of retirement routine or schedule for me. Who the hell would have thought that having an entire year off would be considered a problem?

The word got around about where my head was, and my friends and networks have came alive. I have a solid network in the utility and aviation spaces, and good people started working on my behalf. Several interesting possibilities came together as a result.

FLYING THE B-25 PANCHITO:  I was given the awesome opportunity to earn an SIC rating in DAMF’s Panchito earlier this year. I loved every minute of it, as any pilot would.  As you’d expect, I am not the only volunteer clamoring for time in this majestic machine. It seems that there are enough of them doing the ground school and flight instruction in the B-25, that future opportunities that come my way will be limited. I certainly want to stay involved, but won’t clear my entire calendar to be on standby in the hopes it will happen. I’ll stay as involved and ready as I am able.

Flying PANCHITO is most definitely part of my plan for 2017.

AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE: I have always considered myself as having little aptitude for mechanical work.  That idea was reenforced in the years in several attempts to repair appliances on my own. My performance had been dismal until YouTube’s step-by-step instruction videos made it all so easy. I can honestly say that the service has saved me thousands of dollars in repair costs.

Working on cars is bit more complicated than fixing an appliance, however. More than once, I’ve spent more money trying to accomplish simple automotive repairs than I would have spent using qualified technicians in the first place. Now I use only qualified mechanics to work on my vehicles, and use a reliable pen to write out the check.

Airplanes are like cars – only more complicated and filled with critical parts that could kill you if you don’t get it right. I didn’t have to think too hard about how to manage maintenance on those things, so I found the Sussex Aero guys in Georgetown to take care of my airplane. The thought that I’d turn a wrench on anything with wings never entered my mind. Besides – I’ve always been far too engaged and occupied in whatever else I was doing to find the time to work on my own machines. I’ll fly them – you fix them.

Upon retirement, I joined the Delaware Aviation Museum Foundation, and suddenly had both the time and the interest to learn about aviation maintenance. With their guidance, I began to do more things and even see a few successes while working on the B-25. Matt and Larry understood where I was coming from, and have taken a personal interest in bringing me along. People are awesome. I’ve spent quality time this year with both of them, receiving training and encouragement along the way.

While I’ve always been happy with the work Sussex Aero has done for me, I now had the interest, confidence, and opportunity to do some of the work myself. I may never have this chance again, and here was Matt Sager there to potentially guide me. He is an expert in aviation maintenance, and I asked him if he’d be interested in doing an owner-assisted annual with me. He agreed right away.

Since beginning what has become an extensive annual for N833DF, I’ve been using tools that initially scared the hell out of me. I’m getting more comfortable now, and have safely learned to build several new oil lines for my airplane. Matt is a patient teacher and consummate professional; inspecting the work I do at every step.

Larry Kelley, Panchito’s owner, has graciously offered up his own museum hangar for me to use while the airplane is laid up. He didn’t balk when the work became rather extensive and drawn out either, going so far as to displace his own airplane out on the ramp to make room. He allows me the use of the equipment and resources in his hangar, and stops to help whenever I need him. I appreciate all he is doing for me. I don’t know what else to say, other than thank you.

The DAMF experience is providing me with excellent hands on experience in various airplanes. The work I am doing there gives me a better experience than I’d ever get by taking individual classes (safety wiring, riveting, oil line building, inspections, etc). You just can’t beat the hands on training and real-world experience. You spend your days surrounded by more talent than you bring to the table – just like at Piedmont. One cannot help but improve in this environment.

Where is all this going?  At this point I have begun to record my maintenance activities so that I might someday apply for the Airframe and Power Plant mechanic tests. Yes – I did just say that, and it’s a long way from my position just a few paragraphs ago. I’m not saying I will definitely take it this far, or make it this far, but wouldn’t it be cool if I did? For now, it is a viable option that I will develop a bit further as a potential avocation for later in life.

I will be in a brand new hangar next year, and my annual inspection might be less intense than it is this year. God willing, Matt and I will be doing it again in December as my experience grows.

Doing aircraft maintenance on Panchito and N833DF is most definitely part of the plan for 2017.

PLAYING GOLF: Christopher and I have been hanging out quite a bit this year. He is my middle child by a few minutes, and I have been blessed to be able to spend some time with him this year. He was living on a golf course, and convinced me to try the game again. His enthusiasm and positive attitude toward the game pulling me right in, and I can’t believe I’m out there doing it now. We would often cap the game off at the 19th hole, until Beverly showed up to have dinner and drive me home. Good times.

When I showed up for golf, I was still using a 25 year old mixed set of clubs that I had accumulated over the years. After only a few games, Chris convinced me to make a small investment in newer clubs, or to at least talk with a pro shop to see what they thought. I took those clubs to a shop, had a good chuckle with the golf pro there, and left shortly thereafter with a starter set of clubs. I had only spent about $400, but things started to improve right away. Practice and patience is paying off. I’m seeing improvement and having a great time.

Life is what happens while you are making other plans, so naturally, Chris earned a big promotion and promptly moved his family to Louisiana. Shit. He was gone in a matter of weeks, and the good times at the local golf course came to an abrupt end. The experience had taken root, however, and I’ve been playing about once a week both up north and at the beach. It is a great way to spend time with some great friends. I do miss Christopher though.

In the coming years, I have every intention of taking trips to the Carolina’s and Louisiana for golf. Look for new posts on those trips next year!

Playing golf is most definitely part of the plan for 2017.

ANGEL FLIGHTS:  I could do more Angel flights to stay busy – that is always fun. I enjoy the sense of mission, and getting folks where they need to be in a compassionate and professional manner.  Most recently, a passenger and his wife showed their appreciation of my professional approach to the flight in a very nice letter to me. They noticed the level of planning I’d done on a challenging weather day, and the extent to which I’d go to get them home in a safe way. Very cool.

The personal satisfaction I get from all that has me working hard to get my aircraft back on line. I’d like to volunteer to move that couple again specifically, because they are comfortable with me and have an appreciation for the care I put into it. That really makes it worth doing.

While the aircraft has been down for it’s annual, I’ve turned down four special flight requests. One of them was for a State Police family through word of mouth. I was very much saddened to have to turn that one down, as it is incredibly rewarding when you get the chance to pay back someone like that. Military, Fire, and Police all matter to me.

Flying volunteer missions is most definitely part of the plan for 2017.

GOING FISHING:  Thanks to my son-in-law Scot for taking me salmon fishing for the first time this year. I had a great time up in New York and really want to repeat that experience again this year. I began accumulating fresh water gear for next year’s trip!

Just a few years back I put together a deep sea trip for my sons and some family friends. That trip was on calm seas and everyone came home with a nice catch or two. All of us had a great day, and would like to repeat that experience.  Hopefully all of our busy lives will converge again in 2017 to do just that.

Going Fishing is part of the plan for 2017.

WRITING AN AVIATION BOOK:  I’ve made significant progress on writing my book this year. Unfortunately, the more time I have available, the harder it seems for me to be able to write productively. I guess I am more productive when I am under pressure.  Go figure.

Writing my book is part of the plan for 2017. Progress is slow, but I look forward to sitting in my sunroom where I am now, watching a snow storm, and writing the final chapter of the first draft.

CONSULTING: I began to look for part-time or even full-time engineering consulting work as an option for staying busy. I made it more difficult for myself by clearly defining limitations on my involvement, and advertising that. There is no sense making a few extra dollars if you are living in a hotel, or not doing what you enjoy most.

Out of convenience, I extended an LLC that I already had for my airplane to accommodate an income stream. I decided not to advertise, other than by updating my LinkedIn information. As soon as I did that, conversations began with three different firms that noticed the change. Each of these opportunities sounded pretty interesting, but no work would materialize until they won a bid that included me. I set my rates appropriately high.

Building a consulting business has been part of my plan for 2016. I have a good number of restrictions that make it more difficult to hire me, and an interest in having free time locally that limits travel. Doing this work is an unlikely part of the plan for 2017, but my options are open.

LONG SHOT AVIATION:  I’ve been applying to FlightSafety over the last 10 years, but never saw any indication of interest from them. Mind you I indicated on those applications that I was only interested in part time work while I planned to continue with my already full schedule (while still at PHI). I was honest with them, and admitted my interest in building a smooth and risk-less transition from engineering to aviation. These Hail Mary passes saw no success, and I wasn’t surprised.

When my situation changed this year, I stopped at the FlightSafety booth at Oshkosh to discuss how best to restructure my resume. I explained that I wanted to renew my chances of getting into the Wilmington, DE facility specifically, and that no other location would work for me. The staff there could not offer any help , but did promise to have someone call me. Sure – I’ll fly home and sit by the phone, I thought.

Just a few weeks after that conversation, the Director of Recruitment actually did call me. We talked about my credentials, and he asked for my resume so that he could review it. He told me that he’d look into this further, and get back to me to tell me if there were any roadblocks to my employment there. It was an interesting call, but I wasn’t terribly optimistic. I did appreciate his time and professionalism, and told him as much.

True to his word, Dan called me and we talked for another 30 minutes. He said my resume was fine, but that there were about 600 resumes for every position they currently had open. I was competing with candidates who had jet time in the type they were training in, and the fact that I had zero jet time was hurting me. He told me that there were openings up in Teterboro with the King Air if I was interested, which could at least get my foot in the door. Getting into Wilmington would be unlikely.

The next FlightSafety call came from the center manager at Teterboro, and was arranged by Dan as a follow-up. I very much appreciated the time these guys were taking to educate me and provide guidance, and was liking this organization even more. FlightSafety’s reputation as an employer wasn’t been the best by word-of-mouth, but I wasn’t seeing that here. Piedmont’s reputation was similarly tarnished before I joined them, but I found the experience there amazing. The schedule and pay sucked, but I knew all that going in.

The center manager and I talked very frankly about the challenges I’d have commuting up to Teterboro. I told him I was highly doubtful that this would be worth my doing, but I promised to do the numbers. He invited me up to look around, and I admitted I might do that even if I knew I would never take the job. The honest and direct exchange was refreshing – I think for both of us.  I told him I’d call if I decided to continue.

I seriously thought it through over the next few hours, and then completely eliminated it as a viable option. My wife and I need to be together, and that doesn’t include my staying in hotels routinely every week. I regrettably dropped FlightSafety from my future plans.

This dream wouldn’t die easily, though. I read a Facebook post where a flying friend of mine, Tom, had just started working for FlightSafety in Wilmington. What?!  I knew he also had no jet time, and was proud of him for getting in. I dropped what I was doing and asked him if I could call him to talk about it. What I learned on that call is that he was at a CAP meeting when a contact mentioned the opportunity to him. He applied, and blammo! Right place – Right time. He is in!

I emailed Dan, the Director of Recruitment, to tell him about Tom’s experience, and ask him for advice in replicating Tom’s success in some way. In this case, Dan was not helpful, but at least it kept my name in his head a bit longer.  I went online and applied one more time on the FlightSafety job board.

Tom and I talked a few times in the subsequent days about how I might get in. He was interested and supportive, and I very much appreciated his efforts. People are awesome. Can’t say that enough. Tom promised to ask around and mention my name at the facility, so I sent him my updated resume.

Several more weeks went by, and I heard nothing.

Finding an interesting aviation engagement that will allow me to sleep at home most times may be a pipe dream, but will remain part of my plan for 2017. It is highly unlikely to be successful, but I’ve been both lucky and prepared to take advantage before.  Full speed ahead.

Fly Safe.