Flaming Enthusiasm

Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” ~ Dale Carnegie

Swiss pilot Yves Rossy is making history as the first person to achieve sustained human flight using a jet-powered wing strapped to his back. While his accomplishments to date are impressive, three points in particular stand out to me as being worthy of personal consideration and application.

The first two were points Rossy made during a Fox News interview in 2008. Rossy jets along at an average of 125 mph, with no flight controls beyond subtle movements of his body, and he says that he must work hard to relax in the air because “if you put tension on your body, you start to swing around.” I’ve found this principle to be valuable on many levels. It works mentally, physically, emotionally and is the secret to unlocking genius, original thought and unmistakable self-possession.

The second is similarly instructive: “I’ve had many ‘whoops’ moments,” Rossy said. “My safety is altitude.” Altitude is almost always your friend in aviation. It buys you time to think, time to plan, time to act. The same is true in relation to every phase of living. Your attitude determines your altitude and altitude is your friend. When you are possessed by flaming enthusiasm, when your heart and mind are caught up unto the spirit of victory, you gain a cushion of air that helps you to keep you from crashing to the ground when the usual factors that provide lift in your life fail you.

The final point is Rossy’s brief mention in the TED video clip below of his translation of the principles learned at the controls of the airplanes he’s flown into practical application while he’s wearing the jet pack. Life is full of such synergies, and the more successfully you parlay the breakthroughs and victories in in part of your life into the other, the more likely it is that you will shorten the learning curve in your next endeavor.

I hope that you have a few minutes to enjoy this interview. The feeling might come up in you that Mr. Rossy is crazy and that his enthusiasm borders on madness; such is the fate of an aviation pioneer who is obsessed with defeating the “flying problem.” After all, the Wright brothers were viewed by the locals at Kitty Hawk as two crazy nuts who thought that they could fly.


On Parenting and Flying

Prepare for the unknown, unexpected and inconceivable . . . after 50 years of flying I’m still learning every time I fly.” ~ Gene Cernan

I’ve learned a great many lessons as an aviator over the years, all of which have left me a better pilot. What I didn’t expect, however, is that those experiences would also improve my parenting skills.

Here are a few of the lessons I discovered in the air that, properly heeded, can make a you a more capable parent on the ground:

  1. A good pilot doesn’t manhandle the controls. A good many pilots are “Type A” personality and they must learn to resist the temptation to force the aircraft to submit to their will. Most aircraft are inherently stable and as such respond more favorable to a gentle touch. Lesson learned: Just as a thumb and a finger on the yoke are almost always more effective than two clenched fists, finding the least forceful intervention when dealing with children provides for an overall smoother experience for both parent and child.
  2. A good pilot uses all available resources. This is true in both pre-flight planning and during the flight. In small aircraft a pilot may even enlist the help of his passengers to keep an eye out for traffic on a busy day. Lesson learned: children love to participate, long to be helpful and love new challenges. Look to include them creatively in what you are doing, especially around the house. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from others who have more experience than you.
  3. A good pilot stays ahead of the aircraft. Many aviation accidents occur because an inexperienced (in relation to the craft or the mission) pilot gets behind the aircraft in his thinking. This is an uncomfortable and unsafe position that every pilot finds himself in at some point in his flying career. In such critical moments he must take a deep breath and say to himself: “Fly the airplane.” Lesson learned: Your children are going to get out ahead of you every now and again. Don’t sweat it! You’re an adult and there is no better time than this to take a deep breath and bring your experience (both to-do and to-not-do) to bear on the situation.
  4. A good pilot learns not to let distractions consume his focus. Distractions are inevitable. A strange noise, an unfamiliar sensation, an unusual sequence of events can happen when you least expect it (if not during every flight over large bodies of water). Take note, keep it in perspective, but don’t forget to…yes, you guessed it…fly the airplane! Lesson learned: Be willing to be surprised by your children. They will inevitably come to you out of left field, despite your best attempts at making them good little girls and boys. Stick to the basics where you can…there is no replacement for a loving, caring and attentive parent. By the way, don’t be afraid to do the unexpected with your children. They will love it!

As I mentioned previously, parenting is a sacred trust and there are many lessons which can be translated from other activities in your life if you are observant and keen to connect the dots. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Failure as a Success III

The modern jets we fly on today are born of an accumulation of successes and failures over the decades. Aircraft designers constantly dream up new design elements in an effort to improve the safety, efficiency and handling characteristics of the aircraft we fly commercially, privately and in the military and some of them work while many of them do not. To be sure, progress comes as a result of both success and failure.

You are likely familiar with the Wright Brothers and their exploits in early aviation history, but most are unaware of the fact that Wilbur wrote a letter to the Smithsonian early on to request information and publications on aeronautics long before the testing of the Wright Flyer I. They studied the successes and failures of aviation pioneers such as Sir George Cayley, Chanute, Leonardo da Vinci and Lilienthal as a means of guiding their thinking on the project. Most are also unaware of the fact that the brothers went back and forth from their bike shop in Ohio to Kitty Hawk, NC over the course of three years trying new controls, airfoil shapes and the like, systematically seeking progress by testing their ideas – to the point of failure or success.

Never frown upon failure. Look at it this way, failure rules out one or several of the choices which do not lead to success. Armed with such information, your next approach can be, if you are careful to learn your lessons, more informed. As William George Jordan noted:

Failure is one of God’s educators. It is experience leading man to higher things; it is the revelation of a way, a path hitherto unknown to us. The best men in the world, those who have made the greatest real successes look back with serene happiness on their failures. The turning of the face of Time shows all things in a wondrously illuminated and satisfying perspective.

Many a man is thankful today that some petty success for which he once struggled, melted into thin air as his hand sought to clutch it. Failure is often the rock-bottom foundation of real success. If man, in a few instances of his life can say, “Those failures were the best things in the world that could have happened to me,” should he not face new failures with undaunted courage and trust that the miraculous ministry of Nature may transform these new stumbling-blocks into new stepping-stones?

The next time you experience failure, don’t look down, rise up! You can and should gain perspective from each and every failure you experience in life. To do anything less is a terrible waste of a valuable lesson.

Satisfying Restfulness

“Here is a country lovely and unspoiled. Here is a simple and satisfying restfulness…a place to charm the mind while nature mends nerves worn thin by living too fast and too hard. Here, in short, is peace, and play, and freedom.” ~ Howard Coffin

Howard Coffin, photo courtesy of Sea Island Company

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to visit Sea Island or St. Simons Island, Georgia, you’ve likely heard the name of the man who developed the area as Georgia’s premier coastal tourist destination. Howard Coffin, a native of Ohio and a graduate of the University of Michigan‘s engineering program, came to be known as the Father of Standardization in the automotive industry.

In World War I Coffin was named to the Council of Defense, our country’s unofficial war cabinet at the time and put in charge of the military’s aircraft production. When the war ended he parlayed his newly developed aviation experience into a new and exciting industry in the United States, civilian aviation. As Board Chairman of the National Air Transport Company (a forerunner to United Airlines), Coffin helped launch commercial aviation in the United States.

His interest in automobile racing as a means of advertising the automobiles he built drew him to Georgia and during one of the races he learned about the sale of one of Georgia’s coastal islands, Sapelo Island. He and his wife developed a mansion on the island and from this new base they began purchasing and developing other plantations in the area.

What a remarkable set of accomplishments built one upon another! Coffin’s ability to leverage previous experience and opportunity into future expansion is a quality that many successful people seem to possess. To take this approach you must hold the attitude that everything matters. Everything might not have the same importance, but everything and everyone, counts.

While I do not share the commonly held belief that “everything happens for a reason,” I do believe that the unexpected can be used to advantage in any situation. Random things do happen and the more accustomed and prepared  you are to moving from victory to victory, the more likely it is that you will make good use of everything that comes your way.

The barrier islands off the Georgia coast are a rare treat and I would highly recommend a visit to anyone who loves peace, beauty and the rich marsh and sea air. Enjoy your weekend!

Teamwork: Asking Questions and Keeping your Cool

Imagine yourself in the seat of an Air Traffic Controller, sitting in a darkened room somewhere staring at screens with moving targets and talking with the pilots of those moving targets as they whisk along miles high in an aircraft that is likely moving at several hundred miles per hour. The pilot of a jet who just checked in with you was speaking unusually slowly, saying something about having trouble controlling the airplane.

Something is wrong, very wrong, but you’re not sure what. You move quickly to assess the situation, drawing on your training, your inner calm and your now adrenaline-rich blood to help you diagnose the problem and prescribe a remedy.

This scenario happened to a controller not too long ago and fortunately for us, the conversation between the disoriented pilot and the controller were recorded by ATC. The plane had suffered a decompression, which meant that there was an insufficient concentration of oxygen in the air to sustain normal brain function. The pilot was suffering from hypoxia.

One of the challenges of hypoxia is that the initial symptoms are euphoria and a carefree feeling. If the oxygen starvation continues, the extremities become become less responsive and flying becomes less coordinated. Hence, you’ll note the pilot mentioning that he was having trouble controlling the airplane.

The only way to avoid going unconscious is to breath supplemental oxygen from a tank aboard the airplane or to descend to levels where the air is thick enough to support normal brain and other organ function.

Sit back and listen carefully. You’ll be amazed at how professionally the controller handled the situation.

I always think of that controller when I am flying. It’s comforting to know that there are such capable, confident and intelligent people watching your back when you are in the air. The controller was no doubt trained for such emergencies, but it takes a special person to maintain the emotional control necessary to successfully navigate such a tricky and delicate situation.

We used this clip in a staff training recently as we provide support to doctors who often call in sounding not to different from the pilot of that airplane. Their confused, unsure of themselves and unclear as to what steps they should take to help their patients regain their health.

We cannot do the thinking for them, but we can ask questions in a way that allows them to regain their self-assurance and move forward on sound footing. They, like the pilots, are the experts of their profession and supporting them is a privilege and a delight!

It is easy to get into a panic when the normal approach to something doesn’t work or when it is more complex than you’re used to, but when that happens there is nothing more important than remembering to ask questions. Assess. Reassess. List the knowns and move from there. Keep your cool, remember what you know and look for what you might have missed.

Take the time necessary to do the job right and you will eventually find your destination!


Professional Skepticism

In a previous post entitled The Honest Skeptic and the Alternate Plan, we considered the importance of honest skepticism in the living of life. The honest skeptic, as opposed to the lesser skeptic, or worse, the “yes man,” recognizes the need to question when things don’t appear right.

In the world of aviation, pilots, air traffic control (ATC) and ground control share are mutually responsible for detecting and correcting errors. It is this cooperative atmosphere that make air travel as safe as it is. There are roughly 5,000 aircraft airborne over the United States as I write this blog (see http://www.flightaware.com) and I can assure you that coordinated the safe passage of each of those flights is a monumental task.

In 1986 Atlanta Tower manager Harry McIntyre wrote a Letter to Airman titled “Professional Skepticism” which outlined how the spirit of cooperation can make air travel safer:

Safe, orderly, expeditious – the watchwords of the U.S. Air Traffic Control System. These words, from the beginning of ATC, have carried the missionary message to the controller and pilot on priorities and purpose.

Our ATC system has produced many successes as it has evolved from its rudimentary beginnings to today’s sophisticated technology. The most important ingredient to this success, however, has not been technology but the cooperative relationship between pilots and controllers communicating with one another – exchanging data, making judgments, executing decisions, and yes, correcting errors committed by each other.

The person in the best position to identify and correct human errors is obviously the person who made the error. But as we often say – “to err is human.” I suspect we say this because we tend to overlook our own performance or see it better than it actually is.

In the ATC system, there’s another person, either the pilot or the controller as the case may be, who can identify and correct the error committed by the other. This does not mean that pilots and controllers need to assume an adversarial relationship or even be each others’ critic – rather, it means we must “question” when we are in doubt in any aspect of the operation at hand. As a term of reference for this need, let’s call it “Professional Skepticism.”

“Professional skepticism” is objectively reviewing the operation at hand and questioning or seeking clarification when communication or events don’t appear right. As professionals, we must be sure of our data and therefore question and seek clarity whenever we are in doubt.

A review of several incidents reveals that too often we avoid the direct method of seeking clarity and opt for the indirect, vague style. We probably tend to do this in deference to the other professional. For safety’s sake, we must avoid this “gamesmanship” and be a “Professional Skeptic.”

I encourage such questioning in my company at every level of the organization. Each of my staff is tremendously valuable to me and each brings a unique perspective to the oversight of our corporate activities. As a company, we do not dwell on errors any longer than necessary to ensure their prevention in the future. Nor do my employees hold another’s errors over his or her head. The Golden Rule applies.

Where there is a shared concern for a larger goal it is easy to come together, to put aside petty differences and to help each other perform at the highest level possible. Receiving correction graciously from a subordinate or from someone from another department requires humility and sensitivity on both parts. Treating others as you would wish to be treated makes the the necessary tone and approach clear in ways that no handbook or conflict resolution policy could illuminate.

We need one another. No one person is complete in and of himself. It makes no sense to alienate those who are there to help you in the achievement of your larger shared goal and it makes all the sense in the world to support those around your success ultimately depends upon their success.

I learned about flying from that.

There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.” ~ Orson Wells

Several years ago my uncle and I flew up to Boston to pick up our new company airplane and fly it back to Georgia following the installation of an anti-icing system. The first third of the trip was uneventful, we flew over Long Island, JFK, passed within spitting distance of Manhattan, and then turned slightly inland over New Jersey, per Air Traffic Control’s (ATCs) instructions.

Piper Inadvertant Icing Protection (TKS)

The new inadvertent icing system was designed to cover the airplane with an antifreeze solution through a porous titanium plate along the leading edge of the wings and tail and through a slinger on the propeller in the event of an accidental encounter with icing conditions. As we were leaving, the installers recommended that I cycle the system every two weeks or so to keep the lines clear and verify its functioning.

We had just asked ATC were granted a climb from 6,000 feet to 10,000 feet in an attempt to get above of the moderate turbulence that was ruffling the lower altitudes in the region and once we were established in the climb I had the idea of testing the new system. Wasting no time I advised my uncle of my intentions and flipped the switch to “Max.”

The fluid came out as promised, slowly coating the plane with a comfort-inspiring viscous solution that prevents ice from adhering to the airframe. Two minutes later our peaceful climb was interrupted by a THWACK! from the engine cowling in front of us. Was it a bird strike? Did we throw a rod? The engine purred along as before but the alternator warning light and horn soon came on, dashing our hopes that there would be no further repercussions from the sound we heard.

The emergency training my instructor had drilled into my head quickly took over. I made sure that I kept control of the airplane instead of falling prey to panic or distraction and handed my uncle the POH (Pilot Operating Handbook) that sat between us and asked him to read the procedure for a failed alternator out to me, to confirm that my memorized steps were accurate. Keeping to my course I focused my attention on the moving map display to determine the nearest airport. I then called ATC, advised them of the sound we had heard and asked to divert to the nearest airport to inspect the problem.

We followed the procedure carefully detailed in the POH, landed at the nearest airport and shut the engine down. After removing the cowling with the help of a mechanic who happened to be on the field despite the fact that it was Sunday morning, we discovered that the alternator belt had broken in flight, hitting the cowling as it went, producing the disturbing THWACK! we heard somewhere northeast of Washington DC.

The mechanic assured us that it was no big deal, especially given that we had a backup alternator. After stopping in for pizza at the restaurant on the field, which incidentally is where we confirmed we were in New Jersey when the waitress asked “How are yous guys today?”, we flew to a nearby airport for the repair. Three days and two commercial flights later the plane was good to go.

Eager to determine what caused the belt to go in a new airplane, the shop foreman and I dug into it a bit further and discovered that the tube the fed the prop slinger (basically a ring with a channel on its underside) was misaligned when the anti-icing system was installed and when I turned the system on it sprayed the slippery solution all over the front of the engine, including the alternator belt.

The belt no doubt began slipping, built up heat and broke, shutting down my alternator. Needless to say I have since added an item to my checklist before every flight, namely, making sure that the feeder tube is properly aligned with the slinger ring.

What I learned from this experience is that extra attention and caution is required during the break-in period of anything new and that it is important to run tests of those new systems in as controlled an environment as possible. I was also reminded of the importance of staying calm, cool and collected when the unexpected happens. Finally, I learned that I can – and should – add items to my preflight checklists as experience dictates.