30 November 2005

Air America

I finally had a chance, while driving for several hours through rural Wisconsin, to listen to the liberal radio talk network "Air America." I wish they'd chosen a different name, for two reasons.

First, the name "Air America" implies that it represents the thoughts of the majority of Americans. In other words, a visitor to this country might tune in, thinking, "Hey, Air America! This must be the voice of all Americans!" Let me tell you, it isn't.

Second, using the name "Air America" is an insult to the real, original Air America, the government-owned airline that flew so many important missions in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s, and whose pilots and crews distinguished themselves in the service of our country.

OK, on to my point: In listened to most of two different shows. Again putting myself in the shoes of a recent immigrant to this country who has not yet made up his or her mind about what political party to join, I was struck with the overwhelming negativity about our nation that I heard from the Democrat camp. In the space of one particularly viscious half-hour, I heard one host and his guest use the following phrases and words:

"Bush lied." (At least 5 times)
"Evil Administration."
"We are losing the war."

"This situation we're in is actually worse than Vietnam."
"There were no WMDs. Period."
"Iraq is a mess." (Twice.)
"Cheney is a damned liar."
"2100 of our innocent young people have been slaughtered for no good reason."
"...Stupid Texan..."
"...Halliburton cover-up..."

"...National disgrace..."
"...Corruption in the Administration..."

"Impeachment is warranted and appropriate."

The ignorance, negativity and sheer, blind hatred was so strong that I was actually taken aback and had to turn it off for a few minutes to regain my composure. I turned it back on, and the blather resumed.

It occurred to me that the far-left liberals' big problem is that no one can maintain a rational thought process wih such blood-in-the-face irrational hatred flowing through them, so there's no way that people like this will ever see anything other than their own view. There's no way to have a back-and-forth dialog with anyone like that, so there's no point to it. In this case, it had ceased to be a talk show anymore -- it was just a Psychotic Rant show. So I turned it off.

And it'll stay off. I have no further need for Air America, not even to hear how the other half thinks. It appears that many Liberals simply don't think. They just feel. That's a big mistake in this day and age, and it hampers our nation's ability to become what it truly could be.

I'm a Conservative (or, perhaps, a budding Libertarian). Like everyone, I want the war to end, and to see all our soldiers come home soon. But to blame our President for this war and demand an immediate pullout from Iraq is as absurd as blaming him for the attacks of 9/11, or for the 1991 Gulf War, or for Watergate.

Come to think of it, the talk show host I listened to on Air America probably blames Bush for at least one or two of those, too.

21 November 2005

Good Luck, Delta. (Looks Like You'll Need It.)

Like all airline pilots, I’ve been closely following the recent trials and tribulations of Delta Airlines.

Delta’s pilot force, like a growing list of others before them, are now discovering that their profession is being dismantled by forces far stronger than any union, or by the eighty-plus years of tradition and expectation that those before them had created and defended. Traditional compensation models for pilots evolved to reflect the fundamental understanding that pilots, like doctors, are professionals whose skills with their hands and minds can make the difference between a routine experience and tragedy. They are highly-trained, highly-motivated technicians who often make more life-and-death decisions in one eight hour workday than most people make in a year. Society used to understand this.

These days, however, the professional respect for pilots that has always been taken for granted is being attacked from all quarters, including from the very judge who has been assigned to Delta’s bankruptcy case.

Prudence Carter Beatty, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in New York who’s hearing the case, added an unwarranted and ignorant attack on professional pilots with her recent courtroom comment about how much money airline pilots make.

“You know, what’s really weird,” she said, “is why anybody [agreed] to pay them as much money to begin with. I mean, they get paid an awful lot of money.”

In mid-September, Judge Beatty was quoted as calling pilot’s pay “hideously high.”

She has also been heard to say that the only good thing about pilots is that they have to retire at age 60.

Remember, this is the judge who is tasked with impartially determining if Delta pilots should have to suffer another pay cut, on top of the substantial one they’ve already taken. Delta employees can be forgiven if they think their case is already lost, even before the proceedings have fully gotten underway. This judge, without hearing much evidence, obviously has allowed whatever previous biases and stereotypes she has accumulated in her life to override the safety mechanism on her mouth.

I never thought I’d become casually conversant in U.S. bankruptcy law, but since my company’s recent and highly-visible experiences in Chapter 11, I feel like I know quite a bit about the process and the emotions involved. I know exactly what Delta pilots are now feeling. If you’re one of them, I can only offer my observations and advice.

To my fellow professional pilots: A significant portion of your happiness and fulfillment in this world may have hinged, in the past, on the existence of your airline, your career, and your way of life. It’s my contention that that was an understandable mistake. We all believed – with good reason – that our many years of building flight time, the long pursuit of FAA ratings and experience, the difficult process of actually getting a job with an airline, our endless training, our many nights away from home, our hectic and stressful schedules, the constant scrutiny and checkrides to which we are subjected, and our years of safe and faithful service to our companies and passengers, was enough to warrant a secure paycheck and a comfortable retirement. I have learned, since 9/11, that these assumptions were wrong. It took four difficult years of near-constant stress and worry about my career and my self-identity for me to realize that I must take 100% of the responsibility for my own happiness. Now, I will never have to rely on any company, institution, or employer to provide “life stability” for me.

As it turns out, “Social Security” is not secure. A “Defined Benefit” pension is not defined, and it’s not a benefit any longer. “Guaranteed Health Care” is not guaranteed. Nothing is as it once seemed. You and your loved ones are your only true support system.

This epiphany will not come easy to you. You might have to go through a major bankruptcy or corporate liquidation in order to internalize it. You must adopt the attitudes and attributes of a free-lancer if you want to be truly happy and truly free. You must find whatever it is that makes you truly, deeply happy, and make it your reason to leap out of bed in the morning. You must begin to explore the possibilities for an alternative career or an alternative course for your life.

When you were a kid, you probably felt that you could be anything in the world you wanted to be. The world was wide open. After years of settling into the “groove” of your chosen profession, it’s easy to forget your youthful idealism. Time to get it back. When you re-discover that you’re still completely capable of being any damned thing you want to be, you’ll stop worrying about what’s going to happen to your employer. There are an infinite number of ways to be employed. If you’re like me, and all you ever wanted was to fly, you may not believe that you can do anything else, but believe me, you can, and you can be happy at the same time.

If you’re one of the people at Delta, Northwest, Independence Air, ATA, Aloha Airlines, or other struggling air carrier, and you’re now standing at the edge of a dark career pit, looking down and wondering how deep it is, I want you to know from personal experience that the abyss does have a bottom, and you’ll make it out the other side eventually. Maybe your company will succeed, maybe it will fail. Just don’t make the mistake of equating your company’s struggles with your own.

In the mean time, I wish all Delta pilots good luck as they face a judge who's seemingly bent on adjusting our profession further downward.

15 November 2005

License Plate Frames

If you're a combat veteran from any era, you ought to check out former Dave Heffernan's website, US Air Combat. He's a former USAF pilot who makes really nice license plate frames that let you tell the world who you are. Nobody will ever cut in front of you on the highway if they think you were a Delta Force sniper. Even if you were a T-37 FAIP.

11 November 2005

Veteran's Day

It's that day when we honor those who've served our country. I'd like to especially thank some friends of mine. Brad Burroughs, Pete Jahns, Pat Olson, Lance Donnelly, Steve Phyliss and Randy Roby -- you guys gave it all, and I haven't forgotten.

I'm thankful to have known and flown with you.

06 November 2005

All Hail Nomex

It was a beautiful day in the Phoenix, Arizona area today as I flew past at 37,000 feet. As I scanned the ground southwest of Gila Bend, a flood of memories washed over me. I remembered dozens of Air Force training missions to the bombing ranges there, and through my binoculars I could see much of the landscape I once spent so much time memorizing and studying. I could even see many of the individual targets that I used to shoot at. Trains, mock airfields, vehicle convoys and good old fashioned target circles -- all of them were clearly visible in the clean morning air.

One particular memory dominated.

My instructor and I were leaving the range one afternoon at low altitude, when blazing 220-degree air began blowing into my cockpit. The bleed air valve had failed. My Nomex flight suit, though resistant to fire, did little to block the heat on my legs and midsection. I briefly considered ejecting, then decided to head for the Gila Bend Auxiliary Base, just a few miles away. After a brief consultation with my instructor, he radioed the tower that I'd be landing there in a minute or two. The pattern was rushed and painful, and my landing sucked, but nothing ever felt as good as opening the canopy at 60 knots on the rollout and feeling the rush of "cool," 100-degree Arizona air.

A post-flight look at the cockpit revealed some interesting details. The paint on the left and right cockpit subpanels had begun to bubble. The left leg of my flight suit was scorched and slightly brown. The metal seat belt clasp was hot to the touch 15 minutes later.

My Nomex flight suit saved my skin -- literally -- and I now insist that my warbird students wear them. It's cheap insurance. When I see people climb into their jet warbirds wearing jeans (or even shorts!), no gloves, and a David Clark microphone instead of a helmet, I have to wonder about their sanity.