Last chair second

The Klash

On a Saturday in January I spent the day competing in CrossFit — “the sport of fitness.” I pushed as hard as I could, mustered every bit of strength I had, left everything out on the floor. Without question I did terribly, placing 29th out of 32 competitors in the scaled division. To put it simply, I was out of my league.

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A few months prior my home gym, CrossFit Klew in Somerset, New Jersey, announced that it would hold its first ever competition. I’d been training six days a week for six months, quickly igniting an obsession with the feeling after a tough workout and the lure of progress under expert supervision. I’d grown stronger, faster, more confident, and I had deeper reserves of energy and stamina. Excited by the prospect of competing on my home turf with a guaranteed cheering section and no pressure, I signed up and trained with more focus and intensity than ever.

The weeks leading up to the competition raced by, and a nagging ankle injury slowly healed. The workouts were posted, and though they were going to be difficult they were all within my reach: a mix of things that I do well, such as rowing and pull-ups, and things I don’t do so well, like push jerks and overhead walking lunges. But with all the coaching I’d received, and the encouragement from my ever-supportive, very strong, also-competing girlfriend, I was confident that I could do it.

Competition Day

Early morning darkness on a cold Saturday in January. Taking a few deep breaths on the edge of the bed, knowing that if I stand up it will be a long time before I lie down again. And there is so much unknown between now and then. Breathe in. Finding comfort in a routine I learned years ago to combat stage fright, a top-down mental check of every muscle, consciously relaxing them one by one. Breathe out.

Stand up to a whirlwind. A hurried breakfast, a last-minute check of the gym bag. Pulling in to the crowded parking lot. The gym already buzzing with pre-competition activity. The familiar barbells and rowers, the unfamiliar faces. The tentative stretches and wishing for someone to tell me how to warm up. The first heats of competition I’m up next Starting line 3, 2, 1, GO!

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Afterwards my friends and fellow competitors asked how I felt, how it went, what I thought. I feel sick, it went bad, I suck at this, I thought. “I had fun,” “115 pounds overhead was too heavy today,” and “this was a great event,” I lied, trying to sound positive.

Close friends, perhaps sensing the cracks in my positive attitude, comforted and encouraged me. They reminded me that I started CrossFit just eight months prior, that this was my first competition, that at least I got to work out all day and now I could go eat whatever I wanted.

They were kind and true, and I appreciated it. But something just wasn’t right, and I don’t mean the tightness gripping my lower back. I tried to brush it off, but it was unbrushable. I tried to push it out of my mind, but it was unpushable. I clung to the words my friends had said, convincing myself that I had had fun that day.

I had fun, but to be honest I hated it.

I hated it.

hated it.

That day will stick with me for a long time, quietly stoking a fire, just like another day almost 20 years ago.

SCPA

In the Fall of 1999 I was a 15-year-old sophomore at the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is among the finest arts-focused high schools anywhere, and I had just transferred in from a private school.

Brimming with confidence in my academic and musical abilities, I walked into the imposing hundred-year-old building. I had four years’ worth of private lessons on violin and clarinet, and I showed enough talent on the latter instrument to be a section leader or principal player in local, regional, and state bands. But when I walked into that building I’d never played the violin in an orchestra, and I was registered for the top orchestral group at the school.

The Send-Down

I was the new kid, untested, unheard. The conductor hadn’t even heard me — he wasn’t at my audition earlier that summer. He had no way of knowing where I should sit, so when I walked into the orchestra room that first day all he could do was scratch his chin and point me to a random empty seat. It happened to be near the front of the first violin section.

That didn’t last long; to put it simply, I was out of my league. I didn’t have the technique, the ear, or the basic sound quality to hang with some of the most talented kids I’d ever met. So one day in class I had to move. Standing up from a seat at the front of the hushed orchestra, with my violin and its case with the noisy handle, and walking around to the back of the second violin section — last chair second.

It wasn’t a big orchestra, maybe 30 kids. But it was a very quiet room for those endless seconds. I could feel their eyes on me as I walked to my new seat in the back of the room, sat down, and fidgeted with the hair of my bow. I felt like an impostor who’d been discovered. I realized I was an impostor who’d been discovered.

I hated that feeling.

Hated it.

It could have made me quit, could have extinguished whatever motivation I had to play such a difficult instrument. I could have walked down the hall and played first clarinet in the wind ensemble and been perfectly content. Forget about that feeling sitting there in the back of the room.

But it had the opposite effect. It lit a fire, a flame of motivation that would drive me to get better. Push me to finally learn how to practice, to spend every free period at school in one of the practice rooms, to count the minutes until the next time the violin would be in my hands. The fire would grow with every step forward I took, intensifying my dedication to practice, feeding on progress under expert supervision.

It started to pay off. I remember the first time someone saw me leaving a practice room, having overheard me practicing but not knowing it was me, tell me I sounded good. Soon after, I had moved up a few chairs in orchestra. By the end of that year I was near the front of the second violin section. The beginning of the next year I was in the back of the first violin section. The year after that, my senior year in high school, I was sitting in the same chair the conductor had scratched his chin and pointed to on my first day two years prior. But this time I’d earned it.

A year after that I was sitting in the back of the first violin section of a college orchestra, having received a full scholarship to study music.

The Fire is Back

CrossFit is an obsession, and I feel about it the way I did about music 20 years ago. That feeling after the competition in January was devastating, but it was not one of defeat. I recognize it as a flame of motivation to keep getting stronger and fitter. Counting the minutes until I’m back at the gym with a barbell to lift, meters to row, ropes to climb, balls to wall. Putting in the extra time and trying to absorb as much as possible, from a coach’s corrections to the beauty and power of my fellow athletes’ Olympic lifts. Stoking a fire that feeds on progress and personal records and chalky fist bumps. I’m a man who knows that last chair second violin is not a dead-end, but rather just a good place to start a fire. 3, 2, 1, GO.

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Indiana Drones and the First Crusade

The FAA released a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems weighing less than 55 pounds.

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David Martin/Flickr

Some of the proposed rules include:

  • Drone operators must be 17 years old and pass a knowledge exam
  • Operators must remain within line-of-sight
  • Fly at or below 500 feet
  • Fly no more than 100 mph
  • Airport flight paths, restricted airspace, and temporary flight restrictions are prohibited for drone operation

At first glance, I think those rules are mostly common sense, which is to say they seem to benefit us pilots flying aircraft more than people flying drones. They also prevent the kind of insanity Amazon hinted at when they proposed package delivery by drone service. I started imagining drones buzzing 100 feet above the treetops, mindlessly tracking to our doorsteps to drop off the newest iPad or a pair of boots or whatever. To be honest, I imagine much further out, with hundreds, thousands, swarms of drones zipping around; my imagination is probably too inclined to a dystopian sci-fi future.

The FAA will accept public comment for a few months, then they’ll deliberate for a while longer and finally make an official rule change in the public record. The problem is that us pilots don’t have as much influence as an entity such as Amazon, and I’m afraid that the balance of the rules, currently in favor of pilots flying aircraft, will tip towards the drone operators. It’s a classic situation, the drone operators can claim the government is harming a potential market with unnecessary regulations which will undermine the case for greater safety concerning the people flying aircraft (and their passengers), who have much more to lose than a drone operator.

Imagine if this 10 pound goose were a 30 pound quadcopter:

Pilot in Hibernation

A few weeks ago I flew the Mooney from my home base in New Jersey to South Carolina. My father, a renowned aircraft mechanic currently working for Boeing, will spend the next several weeks completing the annual. At the same time, my partner in the aircraft and I decided to get the engine overhauled and the interior refurbished. It’s a huge project!

First, we bought the airplane last year with this work in mind. The engine was at about 1650 hours SFRM (since factory remanufacture), with a recommended time between overhaul (TBO) of 1800 hours. The interior, while functional, was not very comfortable and not at all fashionable. We negotiated the price of the aircraft down to reflect the need to take care of these two major issues.
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Pilot Selfies, apples, and oranges

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The NTSB recently release a “probable cause” report on the fatal crash of a Cessna 150 in Colorado last May. The agency determined the probable cause of the accident to be:

The pilot’s loss of control and subsequent aerodynamic stall due to spatial disorientation in night instrument meteorological conditions. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s distraction due to his cell phone use while maneuvering at low-altitude.

That last line is the first time the agency has identified cell phone use as a contributing factor to a fatal accident. They based that conclusion on footage from a GoPro camera, recorded on the penultimate flight a few minutes earlier, that showed “the pilot and various passengers…taking self-photographs with their cell phones and, during the night flight, using the camera’s flash function during the takeoff roll, initial climb, and flight in the traffic pattern.”

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Old School Flying

The recent controlled crash of a Cirrus SR22 off of Hawaii helped put into perspective an excellent book I read a while ago. The book is Three Eight Charlie by Jerrie Mock. In it, Ms. Mock tells the true life story of her circumnavigation of the globe in a modified Cessna 180. Over the course of 29 days in 1964 she flew more than 22,000 miles, starting and finishing the journey in Columbus, Ohio.

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Flight training: Instrument rating

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Getting my instrument rating was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. And, more importantly, it is one of my proudest achievements.

Stats

Aircraft: 1980 Mooney 231, Garmin 430W, HSI

Total flight hours before IFR training: ~100 with about 40 in type, 60 cross country

Final hours of simulated or actual IFR training: 41, almost all in the Mooney, all with an instructor

Actual IMC during training: 2 hours

Back to Basics

According to Wikipedia, cognition is the set of all mental abilities and processes related to knowledge: attention, memory, judgement, reasoning, problem solving, decision making, comprehension, production of language, etc. All of these processes are important in VFR flying, but the stakes are higher under IFR and they are off the charts in clouds (actual IMC). Consequently, you should expect IFR training to stretch the limits of your cognitive abilities and it will do so at the expense of your other abilities, such as flying the airplane.

Before you start training, practice the basics of flying to make sure they are second nature. Practice holding a heading within 10 degrees, and an altitude within 100 feet. Make a cross country flight with flight following to make sure you’re comfortable speaking with ATC, and try to absorb their vocabulary and syntax so your communications are short, precise, and informative. Communication is crucially important in IFR, so for more help, spend some time listening to a busy frequency on liveatc.net and try to imagine the airspace and the traffic inside it.

Which Instructor?

Of course, any instructor with a CFII is qualified to teach students in IFR. However, if possible, work with a seasoned instructor. The 20 year old CFI that just got their instrument teaching endorsement (the “double i”) probably doesn’t have all that much actual instrument experience. For my money, I want to learn from someone with as much actual experience as possible. I want to hear about their difficult flights and how they handled situations like thunderstorm avoidance and in-flight icing. Further, a “seasoned” instructor will better accommodate your learning style and might be able to help you overcome the challenges along the way quicker. Seek out that instructor at your flight school, and let the 20 year olds teach the VFR students.

The Tests

Honestly, I had more difficulty with the written test than the practical test. It is difficult to put into words, but I think my problem was that the written test had a lot of information that didn’t apply to the IFR flying I was doing (for instance, questions about ADF navigation). I made sure to study and take practice tests often, identifying my weak areas and not taking the written exam until I had ironed out those weaknesses. There are many self-study courses available, and I used the Sporty’s IFR course on the iPad and found it to be helpful. However, I referred to an IFR textbook (Jeppeson) when the videos and other information on the app didn’t answer my questions.

Predictably, I found myself very anxious leading up to the practical test. The oral portion of the test was straightforward, with an emphasis on understanding the details of the IFR enroute and approach charts. One other area of emphasis was in emergency procedures, and we spent a long time discussing lost communication scenarios. The actual flying was less stressful–easier than my recent lessons which had focused on partial-panel approaches. I don’t have much to say about the flying–make sure you are thorough about briefing the approaches before you fly them. Imagine flying them before you actually fly them, paying special attention that you don’t overlook minimum altitudes at intermediate points in the approach (trust me, you don’t want to bust minimums). Fly well and you will get your instrument rating on the spot and, trust me again, you will feel great. It is a huge accomplishment that only other pilots will truly understand (the general public seems perplexed by the concept of IFR).

The Flying

I got my instrument rating in mid-November, which hasn’t allowed much flying in actual clouds so far in the Northeast United States (my aircraft is not certified to fly in known-ice conditions). However, I’ve done some IFR flying, and look forward to the warmer months when my instrument rating will expand my opportunities to fly. In the meantime, I’m having scheduled maintenance performed during these cold months, and who knows, maybe I’ll get my multi-engine license…

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Aircraft Ownership : 6 month edition

My thoughts on owning a 1980 Mooney M20K-231, so far…

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1) Partner up!

There is just so much work involved in owning a small airplane, let alone the sheer cost of it all, that having another person to share responsibilities is crucial. I co-own N4006H with a friend who I met via a former instructor; we are in totally different points in our lives in terms of kids, careers, incomes, etc. But we share a common love of flying and especially for Mooney aircraft. From there we spent time building first mutual respect, then a friendship, as we went through the process of searching for the right airplane. There really is no disadvantage to having a partner–maybe even two partners–except for our inherent dislike of sharing anything. I’m not saying that partnering with just anybody with the means to buy an aircraft is a good idea. Go get to know this person, talk about what their goals and mission profile will be for the airplane. Talk about jobs and families and get used to sharing info you’d usually keep private, like salaries and medium-to-long term life and career goals. It is incredibly rewarding to share the experience of owning an airplane, but also very challenging, so you have to make sure you will be compatible. On another note, you might wonder how scheduling time works. Generally we check in with each other every week or so by text or email and discuss any planned longer trips in person. So far we haven’t had any conflicts that were difficult to resolve, and I expect we could both fly 150 hrs a year and still not have any trouble.

2) Things break–a lot–so be prepared mentally and financially.

Since we took possession of N4006H we’ve had problems with an oil leak, a broken Com 2 radio, and a failed vacuum pump. These are all relatively minor problems (the vacuum pump thankfully did NOT fail while in IMC!), but they certainly add up, each requiring 1-2 hrs of shop time plus whatever materials are needed for a fix. There are no shortcuts; things break and they are expensive and you will want them fixed right away because you were inevitably planning a cross-country to see your sister next week.
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