Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Station

FOB Delta

It's been an eventful few weeks since the last update, so first of all I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and are looking forward to a happy and safe New Years. We had a relatively trouble free trip over, staying in Kuwait only long enough to recover from the trip over, go to the range to test fire all the weapons and take our in briefing.

The C-17 ride

So after three days we loaded onto a C-17 and flew into FOB Delta, in Al Kut, southeast of Bagdad on the Tigris River.

The birthplace of Abraham

We immediately got started on our environmental training and orientation flights. The environmental training is intended to be an exposure to dust conditions which can cause visibility problems when landing or taking off, but since this is the rainy season the dust at the training site was pretty meager. Since we normally train in the Arizona desert our company routinely operates in high blowing dust areas so we're in pretty good shape. Our local area orientation flights started as soon as we finished the environmental, and consist of flying along with the crews we're relieving to become familiar with our routes and the local procedures. Once these were completed we started flying regular missions, normally with one crew member from the old unit until we completely take over responsibility for the missions which will probably happen before you read this. We've been paying special attention to the way the outgoing unit does things since they've had a year to work the bugs out of their operation. We're planning on implementing much of what they've been doing in our procedures. Why reinvent the wheel?

Inside the CHU

FOB Delta is a relatively small FOB that is pretty well provisioned. The Army has gone with Containerized Housing Units (CHUs) to put people in, and since there are relatively few people here we're in one person CHU's. Kind of like a college dorm in a shipping container. Showers and facilities are in separate trailers nearby, and each "Pod" is surrounded by T- walls - concrete barriers designed to protect against shrapnel from rocket and mortar attacks. Right outside the door is a concrete and sandbag bunker should the need arise. The locals seem to like lobbing in an occasional rocket, although nothing has come close to anything valuable. Since a rocket or mortar draws a forceful response within minutes (sometime seconds) they're more interested in lighting the fuse and getting away than they are in accuracy.

CHUs from the outside - Note the bunkers

The CHU's have 220v power and air conditioning and are almost embarrassingly comfortable. Other facilities include a tiny PX and some fast food places, barber shop, internet cafe, gym and chow hall and a free laundry service, nothing further than about 3/4 of a mile away. There is an infrequently running bus around the FOB, but I generally walk anywhere I need to go. Some people have bought bicycles for a faster trip.

Our work area is about half a mile away and consists of trailers with their own bunkers and T-walls and huge "clam shell" tents used as aircraft hangers. There are a couple of Sadaam era bunkers here as well.
The office

The work day varies with mission requirements. Right now I'm assigned to the reserve mission which puts my shift from 3:00 am to 3:00 pm. We cover the early flights and act as an alert crew for any short notice morning missions. I'll be on this schedule likely for a couple weeks and then rotate on to days. My normal day consists of getting up at 2:00 to shower, shave, etc, walk down to the flight line and check the schedule to see which crew I'll be flying with and what aircraft is assigned. I'll check the logbook to make sure all of the inspections are in order and to see what outstanding problems exist, then go out and prep the helicopter - removing tie downs and covers, preflighting and getting my gear set up.

The line

By this time the gunner has brought the weapons out so we mount those and stow all the gear that gets signed out before each flight. I'll hang around with the pilots to run up the APU (auxiliary power generator) and we'll make sure the proper codes are loaded in the radios, as well as doing the preflight and control checks up to the point where we start engines. At that point the aircraft is "cocked" and we go into the operations center for our mission brief. Normally we have two aircraft assigned per mission. Once the mission brief is complete we have a crew brief, then generally go to breakfast. We'll usually man the helicopter a half hour before scheduled launch so we have plenty of time in case there are any last minute delays. It's always easier to wait for your time hack than it is to try to catch up. A typical mission will have us fly a ring route to several different FOBs acting as kind of an airborne bus route. We'll pick up passengers and cargo that needs to move around southern Iraq and usually stop for lunch at one of the locations, not to mention two to three refueling stops. These flights usually last somewhere between 3 and 5 hours.

Typical flight conditions - lots of smoke and haze

Once we're back we refuel and I'll do the daily inspection while the gunner returns the weapons and gear and the pilots debrief. If there are no new issues on the helicopter it usually takes about two hours to complete the inspections and logbook entries so the aircraft is ready to fly the next day. A daily inspection is good for 14 days if the aircraft doesn't fly, so we always make sure to do a daily after the last flight of the day. That way we find any problems that may come up, and the helicopter is ready to go for the next day's flight. At that point it's usually the end of the work day so it's time to go eat dinner and hit the internet cafe or PX for a bit. On days that I'm not scheduled to fly I'll do maintenance. We have Delta Company which is the maintenance company for the battalion located here, but their job is to handle major maintenance and phase inspections, much of the normal work the crew chiefs handle ourselves.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009


We're close to finishing up at the mobilization station now. In November we completed our Mission Readiness Evaluation which involved a battalion air assault mission, more scenario training and briefings, a personnel recovery exercise and more gunnery (for those who had not yet completed all of the required exercises). The air assault mission was at night using night vision goggles where we put 10 helicopters into a relatively small LZ and inserted 90 troops in a simulated hostile area. This requires some coordination between flight companies to make sure the timing is right, but mostly the emphasis is on safety. Of the 90 troops most had never done an air assault, and many had never flown in a helicopter before. We spent some time with them before the flight to make sure they were familiar with what they needed to know and do, and mostly telling them to take their time. The exercise went flawlessly, even though the evaluators simulated a downed aircraft on the landing zone. This involved setting up security using some of the ground troops and sending our downed aircraft recovery team in who rigged the Blackhawk so it could be airlifted out by a CH-47 Chinook.

We didn't actually airlift it - once every thing was rigged and verified correct it was unrigged and flown back under its own power. Meanwhile we went in and recovered the troops we inserted, again all under NVG's and with no incidents. A good time was had by all. An aside to this mission was learning that a skunk has a three Blackhawk reaction time. As we were lining up to start the air assault we noticed a rather startled skunk trying to get out from under our rotor wash. As we passed over him the Chalk 2 (the second ship in line) saw him and applied a little power to mess with him a little. This caused the now annoyed skunk to do a face plant as he was blown over. Skunks being what they are this guy had enough and sprayed Chalk 3. Everyone (except Chalk 3) was pretty amused by this. We've since noticed a skunk hanging around the barracks, so we've decided it's the same one stalking the pilot of Chalk 2.

In the Personnel Recovery exercise each crew started in a helicopter out in the field and were given a scenario where they had been forced down and needed to move cross country to a pick up point. This exercise had us operating our survival radios, navigating, moving cross country in rough terrain occasionally encountering bad guys. This was quite frankly one of the best training exercises I've ever been in - the scenario was realistic and very little was simulated - we were even able to communicate with the real search and rescue people who monitor some of the high tech equipment we have. This is unusual since it involves using the real assets we would be dealing with in the middle east. While is was some what physical it managed to cover everything from combat operations to land navigation, communications, reacting to IED's, etc. It was also a nice workout.

Finally there were additional gunnery exercises for the people who had not yet qualified in all the required areas. Normally this is a timing issue more than anything else - while day firing can be done while in the training progression, you have to be fully qualified with NVG's before you can shoot with them, so we still had a couple of crew chiefs and gunners that needed the night portion.
The other big training push right now is "environmental" training, meaning desert operations and particularly dust landings and take offs. Our company was largely signed off on these already since we normally train in the Sunoran Desert. Some of the newer crewmwmbers in the company as well as the other two flight companies have been sending crews to New Mexico to get some practice in on the techniques.
With Thanksgiving we were allowed a short break to travel home and spend the weekend with family. A four day weekend followed that was all too short. It was great to spend some time with Her Accuracy. I also managed to get over to Quantum and get a flight in the R-22. It had been three months since I'd flown as a pilot so it was nice to see that while I was a little rusty, I hadn't forgotten anything. I plan to get flying in at every opportunity, the next of which will probably be during my R&R break sometime next year.

We flew back to Ft Sill that Sunday, and on arrival eight of us hopped in a van for the drive down to Ft Hood in Texas to attend a unit armorers school. This was a week long course covering maintenance and repair of small arms for the unit level. The course was pleasant and informative, and I was very impressed with Ft Hood. That's a proud installation and it shows, especially after all the exposure to training commands I've had lately.
We arrived back at Ft Sill after the course with very little left to do - some final work on the aircraft, a little currency flying, and final packing is all we have left to do.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Ft Sill Update

"Rock Drill" map on hanger floor

It's kind of funny with my background being in Field Artillery that our mobilization site is Ft Sill, the Army's home for all things artillery. I was last here a couple years ago for annual training with A Battery, 2-180FA. While the facilities and support are OK, we are kept fairly isolated from the main portion of the base and have limited transportation. I also have to admit to being confused as to why this is an aviation mob site. The area is not particularly well suited to training for either the desert (Iraq) or mountain (Afghanistan) environment, and aside from the fact that there is an airfield here there doesn't seem much to commend it. There are quite a few ranges, but most are dedicated to howitzer and rocket fire. It seems to me that Ft Hood in Texas, Ft Carson in Colorado or Ft Rucker in Alabama would make more sense since they actually have the infrastructure built in. This is particularly evident for terrain flight and air assault training where the area available is limited. The aerial gunnery options are also tight compared to the Barry Goldwater range in southern Arizona that we're used to. This is not to say that the training is ineffective, it's just somewhat limited by the environment. Of course, we also don't have the same preflight hazards here as back home.

I think this guy wanted to go for a ride

Once we leave the military reservation for cross country flights the local area does work well for us, although I'm not used to having the machine guns out when flying over civilian populations. We don't carry ammunition on these flights, but I really don't like training the weapon anywhere people might be even unloaded. We have flow several missions to local airports practicing what are called ring routes where we deliver people and cargo where they're needed. These flights usually consist of three to four hours of flight time with landings at several fields and are used to evaluate our ability to execute missions on time with minimal notice while having to deal with real and "notional" maintenance and scheduling issues. Our evaluators also throw in simulated mortar attacks and other environmental problems to stress the system. While is seems trivial, just the mechanics of getting helicopters, weapons and crews all together and ready to go at the right time takes some practice. Once all the pieces are in place the crews are evaluated during the flights for their ability to perform the various crew functions, communicate effectively and operate as a team in simulated combat conditions.

As a crew chief once we're on our mission profile the primary responsibility is maintain airspace and surface surveillance, sometimes referred to as looking out the window. Most of the area we fly over is farm country, and from the air it's beautiful country - one can see how a farmer gets so attached to their land. It's also a nice break when we get to talk with some of the locals during fuel stops. The high point for me so far was a stop at Duncan (waving to Bag Blog) where we were met by three local children who were clearly excited by our arrival, but demonstrated excellent airport manners by staying well away from the ramp area.

A photo op with our young visitors

Even when we invited them to come look at the helicopters they ran off and got permission from their father first, and asked very politely if it was alright to take pictures of us. I'm not sure who enjoyed the experience more, them or us.

Once the flying and maintenance for the day is done, we've still got things that need to be done. Nearly everyone has responsibilities that need to be taken care of in addition to our primary work. Safety, hazardous materials handling, training - lots of little behind the scenes things that can be tedious, but need to be done.

Tommy working on driver training documentation after hours

This coming week we'll be doing night missions so I'll be back on the night vision goggles. It will be interesting to see what kinds of missions we get.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Mob Station

We've wrapped up our state training time now, and are officially mobilized on Federal orders. The last month has been busy, occasionally frustrating, but mostly productive. From a practical standpoint a National Guard aviation unit can be broken down to three type of soldiers. What most people think of for the Guard are "M-day" soldiers. These are the one weekend a month, two weeks annual training guys. The next group are AGR. These are full time National Guard soldiers in key positions. They can be thought of as kind of a cadre responsible for most of the organizational and planning tasks necessary for the unit to make their training time as effective as possible. Finally there are the technicians. While it's not a requirement for the job, many technicians are M-day soldiers whose full time jobs are maintenance and support government positions. When the unit is between drills these are the guys who do the work to keep the helicopters flying. Now that we're on an active duty status we've been working on two major tasks - first integrating the M-day soldiers into the full time maintenance process to clear as many "gripes" as possible on all the aircraft, get all the inspections coming due soon done so as not to interfere with our training requirements at Ft Sill, and to make sure all the helicopters are ready to go. The second task is to get the air crews current. While the Guard provides for additional training periods for aircrew, due to their full time jobs not everyone can take full advantage of the opportunity. These soldiers have been the priority for flights. Of course we've continued training on mobilization tasks, qualified everyone on aerial gunnery, had a PT test, etc. We also had the opportunity to spend a little time with family before leaving for Ft Sill.
The flight out was unremarkable taking about eleven hours of which about seven hours were actual flying time. (The video above of our departure was put together by Her Accuracy. Nice job, Sweetee!) We did stop a couple of times for fuel and lunch along the way. Unfortunately when we arrived we had to immediately proceed to an in briefing. I guess it's good to get it out of the way, but I'm pretty sure none of the flight crews retained any of the information. In addition to the thirty Blackhawks of our battalion there are a half dozen or so Chinooks from Ft Eustis here that are mobilizing for northern Iraq.
Our first few days here consisted of verifying paperwork, which went quickly, getting our RFI (Rapid Fielding Initiative) issue of flight suits and enough cold weather gear to keep us toasty in the outer reaches of the solar system. This confirmed to me that we are indeed going to the desert. My last deployment was to an area where "cold" meant 50 degrees, and they issued us gear better suited to the arctic.
The weather at Ft Sill didn't cooperate for the first week we were here, severely limiting our flying. This week the skies have cleared up and we've resumed crew training flights. Since I'm already qualified I'm only flying at night with the night vision goggles supporting pilot currency flights. We'll be starting our mission and evaluation flights before too long, until then I'll be doing a fair amount of maintenance work. We still have some ground training to do yet as well. Much of it is of limited value to an aviation unit, but after some regrettable training deficiencies that became apparent early on in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Army has decided that every one gets additional training on common soldier tasks prior to deploying.

Channel 3 news coverage of the departure.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Work Ups

The whole pre-mobilization thing is kind of an interesting experience. We are now on active duty on state orders preparing to depart to our MOB station. This is somewhat new to me as for my last deployment we were only on state orders for a couple of days. Since then Arizona has developed a pre-mob team whose job it is to provide the training required by 1st Army for deploying troops. In theory this means that we won't have to do these particular briefings and tasks at Ft Sill, but frankly I'll believe that when I see it. That being said I have very little in the way of criticism for the training team. They're currently working Aviation, Military Police, Engineering and Administrative units all of which have their own specific requirements. They've clearly worked to provide us training in areas useful to our mission while acknowledging that some of the required tasks have little application for us. The training actually started the weekend before our activation with a three day "Combat Life Saver" course. This is an advanced first aid course that I had before the last deployment, but was happy to get again. (It requires annual certification to remain current.) The course has been adjusted continuously as dictated by the current situation and covers initial first aid, assessing and stabilizing the injured soldier up to and including starting an IV. The last time I took this course there was more emphasis on chemical agent treatment since that was a current threat at the time. While it made for a long weekend, it was a good class and well presented. The following Saturday we began our active duty with a day of last minute finance briefings, administrative processing and generally practiced standing in line. Complain as I do about the admin stuff (see my last post) it was actually pretty painless. That Sunday we began three days of classroom briefings and training. Twelve hour days of briefings causes more fatigue than you would expect. Still, we were in nice, air conditioned facilities... Thursday morning at 4:30 found us at our facility drawing our personal weapons and protective masks for a few days of field training and qualifications. Thursday and Friday morning was spent at the Florence Military Reservation near Phoenix qualifying with the M9 pistol, zeroing the M4 carbine, familiarization training for the M-2, M-240 and M-249 machine guns and several training lanes covering employment of grenades, Claymore mines, individual movement and IED recognition and response. Friday afternoon we moved up to the Flagstaff area for M-4 qualification (day, night and with gas masks). There were also classes on the Chemical Protective suits and a class on combatives, however our command decided that air crew would skip that due to the possibility of injury. Our aviation medical staff take their jobs very seriously and we've had people taken off flight status for seemingly minor injuries and conditions. For those not familiar with military jargon combatives is what used to be called hand to hand combat and consists of beating the daylights out of each other. It's a good workout, fun, and I usually recover in a week or so, but as much as I enjoy it I can understand the commands position on the subject.
Hat tip to FuzzyBear Lioness for the timely YouTube pointer...

An aside to all the weapons qual is that someone somewhere has decided that the crew chief and gunner in a UH 60 must be under gunned with only a .30 caliber machine gun and a 9mm pistol, and that we needed an M-4 for protection. Right. So now I carry get to carry 36 pound of weapons, plus ammo, plus all my other gear in the event of a forced landing. I guess they want us to stay put...

Sunday, August 02, 2009


An interesting tidbit about the process of taking a National Guard unit from its normal drill status to mobilized and deployed is that the closer you get to your mobilization date the less useful training you are allowed to do. This weekend was the last drill prior to our mobilization date, and it was consumed by SRP - "Soldier Readiness Processing." Admittedly having all of the paperwork in order is necessary, but since the process is repeated several times - once when you get the word you're on deck at about a year out, again when you go on alert about six months out, just before you mobilize at about a month out, and just after you mobilize since the mob station doesn't trust you any further than they can throw you one has to wonder if the real driver is the admin types have heard that paperwork is secondary during combat deployments and it causes them to succumb to a panic attack. So in spite of the fact that we have crew that still need to progress in their qualifications and a whole herd of gunners to train up, (actually we decided that rather than herd, flock or gaggle they should be referred to as a murder of gunners) our helicopters sat on the ramp all weekend. Oh, well... Once we go on state orders our schedule is going to be a lot more mission oriented.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Air Force Museum AAR

Being an Air Force brat I grew up around military aircraft. As such I've always enjoyed going to air museums and shows, but having never lived near Dayton, Ohio I've not had the opportunity to make it to the Air Force Museum. Since Her Accuracy and I were over due a vacation, we decided to stop by for a couple days on the way to visit my parents. There's a lot of history to be seen there, and rather than trying to describe it all go here for some photos.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer Doldrums

The summer heat is finally here and I'm going through my annual slow down as I acclimate to the higher temperatures. Lots of progress to report but the clock keeps ticking and our deployment will be starting before we know it. Currently we're still working on getting all of the qualifications we can taken care of, since the more we do now the less we need to worry about as we mobilize. I've progressed to RL1 day/night meaning I'm a mission qualified crew chief for day and unaided night flights. I'm still working on my night vision goggle progression, I'm flight qualified (RL2) but not yet mission qualified. Since it doesn't get dark till relatively late that limits the number of flights I can do to once a week. I still have to work during the day... I should be RL1 NVG in July if all goes well.

Update: Got surprised with an evaluation flight - Now RL 1 Day/Night/NVG.

* * *
In the civilian world I've now got my flight instructor certificate for Rotorcraft/Helicopter so that's another major milestone out of the way. I was hoping to get my Instrument Instructor Certificate before the deployment as well, but with all the things I have scheduled for the next two months there's no way I could complete it before we left, so that will be my first project when we get back. Until then I'll be getting current for my instrument rating and getting a little more practice in the R44. I may also be able to get some ground instructor certifications knocked out as well.
* * *
This weekend we had our annual aviation safety day, a requirement for all flight personnel. Safety training is important, but all too often it is brutally boring. I'm happy to report that this year the Brigade did a fine job. Our keynote speaker was Astronaut Mike Mullane who provided us an excellent insight on some of the issues NASA faced during the shuttle program, and talked frankly about some of the institutional problems that contributed to the Challenger and Columbia losses. As a space flight geek for as long as I can remember I found his presentation fascinating. His book "Riding Rockets" is pretty damn good, too. The Army Safety Center was out and discussed some recent accidents and the Flight Surgeon an interesting presentation on the Swine Flu. No, really... He was good!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Touchdown Autorotation

People wonder what happens when the engine quits on a helicopter. The answer is the same as with an airplane - you glide to a landing. The mechanism is a little different since the "wings" on a helicopter move a bit faster than the crew does. So when the engine quits we set the controls to allow the wind coming up through the rotor to spin it like a windmill. As we get to our landing spot we flair (nose up) to slow the helicopter down, and as it settles we increase the pitch of the rotor blades to cushion the touchdown. The above video is me with the schools Chief Flight Instructor practicing a touchdown autorotation. By the start of the video I've already set the engine to idle and have established a glide. I'm about half way through a 180º turn to line up with the runway. Most of the sound you hear is coming from the tail rotor. At about 40 feet above the ground you can see the tail drop in the flair, these as the helicopter settles I level the skids and you can hear the rotor slow down as I cushion the touchdown.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Donald Layman
Darrel Kasson
Charles Browning
Richard Peris

Saturday, April 18, 2009

An Anniversary Lunch Trip

My wife (Her Accuracy) and my self have developed a tradition of taking a helicopter flight to celebrate our anniversary. This year it was to Payson for lunch at the airport cafe, the Crosswinds Grille. Originally we were planning on going last weekend, but wind and weather didn't agree, and as I told Her Accuracy, I wanted this trip to be fun, not exciting. Waiting a week was the right thing to do - It was beautiful out Saturday morning with a light wind and clear skies.
Payson isn't all that far from the Phoenix metro area, about 80 miles by the route I planned, but in a light helicopter that makes for a nice trip of a little more than an hour each way. Rather that going a direct route we went north to bypass Gateway and Falcon airspace and then north east to Bartlett Dam. I always enjoy flying by the reservoirs near town. The blue water is so rich standing out from the desert. From there the plan was to fly east over the hills and then north up to Payson.
Right from the beginning it proved to be an interesting flight. As we were cleared onto the helipad a banner plane picked up its banner directly in front of us. If you've ever watched this process the tow plane takes a somewhat unusual attitude as it catches the banner. As a spectator it looks like the banner is trying to yank the plane from the sky while the plane is trying to yank the banner from the ground, and it's not clear who the winner will be. As is usually the case the tow plane won and was shortly off to his advertising gig. Traffic being light the tower cleared us to cross the extended runway center line instead of the usual mid field crossing so we turned north and started our timer. Our first navigation point was a canal crossing in an area
typical of the outskirts of town with irrigated farm land and a fair amount of open sky. This point is also a useful reference point in terms of staying clear of Falcon Fields airspace. We climb from 2000 to 2500 feet and transit past Fountain Hills. This whole time I'm keeping my eyes peeled for fixed wing traffic. Something you learn early is that helicopters in general aviation are like motorcycles on the road. No one notices you since they're not looking for you. Since an R-22 is pretty tough to see anyway I've always felt defensive flying is in order. Usually we stay down about 500 feet above the ground while most of the fixed wing prefer a little more altitude. Today visibility is excellent and what traffic is out there is visible from quite a distance.
We pass over some foothills and soon we have the rough country to the east in sight. Southern Arizona is mining country, and from the air the tailings mounds of mines long closed are clearly visible. As the area grows many housing developments are appearing near these sites and I can only hope the people moving in are aware of the open mine shafts that dot the country side. Soon we're passing over the Verde River, anemic as it is down stream of the dam. The reason Phoenix is where it is at is due to several rivers that pass through the area, although now they exist primarily as dry washes after having been dammed. While this provides for electricity and water storage, it does have it's price.

Our next leg consists of a slow climb to 5000 feet along the powerlines heading east from the dam. This route takes us through the lowest passes in the area to where we meet up with the Beeline Highway for the last leg up to Payson. As any pilot knows, power lines can be extremely difficult to see, and it's best to look for the towers. I also prefer to travel well to the side of the lines. Since we were traveling through several passes I was keeping an eye our for lines originating from one peak to another.

If you look closely at the hill off the nose in the photo, you can barely make out a transmission tower on the peak. The lines are running off to our right, and at one point are probably 300 feet above ground. The other bit of good news was that the angle of the sun was just right to reflect off the lines so I was able to maintain sight with them as well. After fifteen minutes following the power line right of way we found ourselves over our friend, the Beeline Highway. Turning north the terrain drops away, and the temptation is to drop down with it and keep that 500 foot altitude I'm used to, but our destination is on top of another plateau and our traffic pattern altitude is 5700', so we may as well stay here for the time being. Listening to Unicom there's a little bit of traffic at the airport, but by the time we get there no one is in the pattern. Part of being a good neighbor is to avoid annoying people on a Saturday morning so I've swung well to the west so as to avoid overflying the town proper. Winds not being a factor we set up an approach to Runway 6. With a density altitude above 6000 feet and most of my experience being at lower altitudes I shot a shallow approach (for a helicopter - it's pretty much a normal approach for fixed wing) to minimize my rate of descent. With a nice long runway I have the option of doing a run on landing if necessary, but with today's conditions it's not necessary. Clearing the runway I taxi over to the transient parking area and call in to close my flight plan and to get a whopping 5 gallons of fuel for the trip back. All while enjoying that magnificent high country view.

With the helicopter taken care of it was time for lunch... Chicken Fingers for Her Accuracy and a Chicken Fried Steak sandwich for myself. We can recommend both, and the Crosswinds Grill is very reasonably priced, although come to think of it, when you fly someplace for lunch pretty much everything is reasonably priced, isn't it? After a leisurely meal it was time to preflight the bird and start the trip home. A quick check of the weather showed that conditions were still excellent, but a pilot report indicated light to moderate turbulence on the route back. As it turned out it wasn't too bad, although my goal with passengers is to make them think they're on a couch with a view, not a helicopter. For my part I slowed down about 10 knots which helped smooth the trip out a bit. My better half doesn't seem to be prone to motion sickness, but flying in an R-22 is usually enough excitement without the chandelier ride effect. Fortunately she didn't seem to bothered by the chop and shortly we were passing Barlett Dam once more and re entering the valley where the air was smoother. While we didn't see many planes on the trip back we did see an MD500 and a Bell 407 set down on a wash on the Verde River, soon followed by an Apache not 2000 yards away. Sorry, we didn't manage any photos of those. Once past Fountain Hills it was southbound and home.

A few asides on the trip - I planned the flight intending to use GPS references, and being an old school guy I also noted my checkpoints and planned times and headings to each fix. As it turned out this was a good thing - while the GPS worked fine, the display was frequently unreadable in the bright sunlight. So the flight was pretty much all pilotage and dead reckoning. As it turned out my let times were right on and the flight was completed within 5 minutes of plan. It always amazes me how accurate flight planning can be, even for a pilot like me who is less than perfect at maintaining an exact speed and altitude...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Odd couple

I just noticed this photo in the batch I took at Luke this weekend. (Click in image for full size). It needs thought bubbles - MiG pilot, "Cool!"... Raptor pilot, "Snack!"

Thunder in the Desert

Luke Days 2009

Luke AFB puts on a nice open house and airshow every year that attracts a lot of interest. With the schedule I've been running it's not been something that I've been able to get to for several years. This weekend however, it turns out I didn't have anything scheduled so Her Accuracy and I went out Saturday. Some photos here.

For as big an event as it is they handle the access, parking and crowd control really well. Lot's of neat civilian and military static displays as well as flight demonstrations. The Raptor was awesome, and being a rotorhead I really liked the Red Bull aerobatic helicopter as well. We got some pretty decent video, but I haven't edited it yet. Also got to meet blogger chic[k]pilot who's started posting again after a long break (like I should talk...)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Still not ready to play nice.

One of my friends recently asked me if I wasn't getting a little "long in the tooth" for the kind of things I'm doing these days. I had to think about that a little bit, and decided it was worth exploring a little. My stock answer is that I got fat and lazy in my 40s and decided I didn't like it, but while that isn't inaccurate, it's really not as simple as that. I decided a long time ago that I really had no desire to work in a job that I didn't enjoy. I also decided that it would be in my interest to take jobs I enjoyed that also paid well. (For some reason a lot of people seem to think those two conditions are mutually exclusive.) This has worked well for me. When I got out of the Navy I had training and experience in electronics that allowed me to work into progressively better jobs in short order. Since I enjoy learning as well I increased my skill set and wandered into nuclear power operations, a computer science degree and from there into the computer world. Throughout this process I've moved around the country several times and met a lot of good people. Made good money and had a good time along the way. Still, after a while that becomes a little monotonous. A well upholstered, comfortable rut, but a rut none the less.
By the time 9/11 happened I was in those fat and lazy 40s I mentioned earlier, and that was something of a catalyst for me. Like many people in the country I wanted to do something, but I was pretty confident that it was a little too late to be getting back into the military, so I just started making some personal changes. With the help of Her Accuracy (my wife) I started eating better. Strangely enough, by eating the right portions of the right things I was actually losing weight while eating more. After about a year I had lost 65 pounds, and that gave me some energy I hadn't had in a long time. So I started running a little. Nothing extreme, run a couple minutes and walk a couple, and suddenly I was running 2, 3, 6 miles in the hills. And enjoying it. So now I'm looking better, feeling better, and I'm seeing improvements in my rifle shooting at matches. So in the summer of 2003 at the Nationals my gunsmith and shooting coach suggested I look at joining the Guard again and work with the team. I thought about it and after doing a little research and finding because of my prior service I could get back in, I did. Back into Field Artillery (I had done that for a few years in the 80's.) The shooting team never worked out since he got deployed to Iraq that year and I got deployed the next.

I enjoyed that deployment. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't easy and I missed being with my girlfriend (now my wife) a lot. Still, I spent a year doing something important to me. I wrote a little about that trip and my return in my last blog Pogue. Since our return Arizona has decommissioned the Field Artillery and as a result I'm now a UH-60 Crew Chief. My unit has received its mobilization orders, and later this year we'll be on our way back to the sandbox.

Here's a few photo's to start things out.

I'm looking forward to it. To those who understand I know I don't need to explain, and to those who don't understand no amount of explaining will be sufficient. Let's just say I see no reason to sit in a rocking chair on the porch as I get older...

And I promise I'll try to keep this blog reasonably current!