Work From Home Friday #1 or "Your Clue Phone is Off The Hook"

Prologue – 8 October:

I’ve been at a trade show all week on the exhibit floor, and haven’t had much time to do anything else. But I DID complete the second written exam. Just like the other one: take home, open book. I forgot all about it and rushed home from work and knocked it out in about an hour or so.

Out of 25 questions, I missed 3 for a grand total of 88%. All of the errors were “RTFP” errors, in that I would have gotten the right answer had a read the effin’ problem correctly.

That’s what I get for rushing through it.

9 October:

I think I may have a clue.

No, not the kind of clue that makes navigating the big mine field of life a breeze, but a teeny-tiny, little clue. It’s about why I still feel a little apprehensive about hopping in the plane and getting back up in the air.

To be fair to myself, and I am often not, I have been busy. I’ve had some events that were on the calendar way before I started training, and this week, I spent four days at a hyuuuuuge conference which took a lot of extra time and energy. So it’s fair to say that it’s OK that I haven’t flown in a couple of weeks.

Today was a “work at home” day, which because of the extra hours I put in these last couple of weeks, translates to a “be available” day. I was. Available, that is. I spent part of the morning up in town having my photo taken for a security badge. (The commute took longer than getting the badge.) So I’ve definitely done my part for God and country and I feel no guilt with having spent about an hour or so out at the airport this afternoon.

Last night was ground school class 10. We were learning how to compute weight and balance for our particular aircraft. Most of it was pretty straightforward, but at one point, there was a whole gaggle of numbers on the white board (remember when they were “black boards?” That’s not racist, is it? Just checkin’.) representing various qualities required in the computation.

I was a math major for awhile. Something like four years. Numbers don’t intimidate me. Much. I flunked out over abstract stuff — Abstract Algebra to be precise. Anyway, I was completely following the discussion and the notations on the blackboard, but for the life of me, I couldn’t see it. All I saw were trees, not the forest. I fully grokked the idea of interpolation and extrapolation and approximations and mathematical significance which my classmate Jim and I discussed sotto voce during the lecture. But I’ll be damned if I could divine the MEANING of the numbers and SEE their interrelation. The big picture escaped me completely.

It got me to thinking, what IS it that bugs me? Why is it that understanding but not Understanding (with a capital “U”, if you know what I mean) bugs the shit out of me. Why is it so frustrating? Why is it so disconcerting? Why does it frighten me?

Armed with this observation from class last night and its associated question, I wondered why it felt so similar to the frustration I’ve been having with the flight lessons. I can’t seem to see the forest for the trees there, either. Then it hit me:

You’re a STUDENT, you idiot — you’re not SUPPOSED to see the forest just yet!

Seems as though I put the proverbial cart before the proverbial horse. I damned the torpedoes. I failed to remember the Alamo. But mostly, I was being far too hard on myself for not understanding that I wasn’t understanding what I shouldn’t have been understanding in the first place.


It’s ok. I know what I meant, and really that’s what’s important.

Back to today. I spent some time out at the airport purchasing yet another damn reference manual and spending yet another damn $45.00. So I took an hour or so just watching planes take off and land and listening to the communications among the aircraft and the tower, just one source of angst among many. And I just watched and listened. Watched and listened. I allowed the bigger picture of take off, landing and tower comms just wash over me. No effort. No puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler was sore. Then I thought of something I hadn’t before:

Relax. Let my brain do it’s job. It’ll inform me just as soon as it has all the puzzle pieces necessary for me to identify the picture. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, the picture takes shape long before the puzzle’s complete. But it takes more than just a few pieces.

And I’ll find all I need. One at a time. The instructors have them all and want ME to have them as well.

I just need to be patient and allow myself to relish in the joy of learning.

I’ve always believed that the epitome of human experience is not wealth, fame, sex or power. For all their obvious charm, these things are genuinely fleeting. I believe the singularly most amazing experience is that flash when the light finally dawns. That very moment when understanding actually occurs. When you answer your very own clue phone. There’s absolutely no feeling quite like having all of those little neurons lining up to produce understanding. And none better. It can’t be forced, but it WILL happen all in due course.

I can’t deny myself that feeling by putting up artificial obstacles. I absolutely must place myself in the proper situation to allow it to happen just as it should happen.

I just need to get the hell out of my way.

Flight Lesson #3 Canceled or "You Are Now Cleared for Final Approach-Avoidance."

Has it really come to this? Have the events of these last years shaken my confidence so deeply? Or have I always been paralyzed by the possibility of failure?

It’s easy to ignore in everyday life. You get into a routine and establish a sort of procedural equilibrium that keeps you on track and is moderately self-correcting. Kind of like a gyroscope that resists change to its spin around the three axes. If you stay out too late, yeah, you suffer for a day or two, but your mind and body recover quickly and you get back in the routine in relatively short order. Other things take a little longer, but only a little. Like vacations. Go away for two weeks and see how much longer it takes to get back in the swing of things. Usually you’re at about ninety percent by the time the jet lag wears off. That’s not so tough to handle.

So why did I spend all week trying to find excuses to cancel my flight lesson today?

I know at least some of it had to do with the fact that I hadn’t done my part by putting in the additional study time to approach it confidently. But hell, I can memorize radio frequencies and learn radio communications “scripts.” Hell, I used to memorize whole three-act plays without an enormous about of trouble, so I know it’s not an uphill battle to shoehorn the necessary information into my head.

So why did I spend all week trying to find excuses to cancel my flight lesson today?

Get this: I took the dogs out this morning for their respective excretory reductions in mass and liquid, and looking up at the cloudy, grey sky, half of me thought “Oh, thank GOD the weather’s lousy! I won’t have to fly.”

HAVE to fly?

I’m supposed to be WANTING to fly. In fact, I am paying a shit load of money to BE ABLE to fly.

So why did I spend all day trying to find excuses to cancel my flight lesson today?

Once I finally got out of bed around nine-ish, I looked outside. Perfect day. And we’d just had our ground school classes on weather, so I was pretty confident that a cloudless, blue sky and calm winds would not prohibit me from going off into the wild blue yonder. “Ok, I can do this,” I think to myself. “Let me run some errands and I’ll still have oodles of time to get my act together.”

So I got to Target and buy a book bag for all my aviation references for class. I stop by and check on the RV, and then call the Toyota dealership and see if they can fit me in for my 85,000 mile service. They are kind enough to do so, and I head over. “OK, there’s still time. If I get out of there in short order, I’ll still be able to make it.”

After about 45 minutes, Eddie, the service writer I’ve known for awhile comes in and tells me that their nineteen point inspection showed that I needed a new water pump, and serpentine belt.

“How long will this take?” I ask mind rushing through rough calculations of time and distance. Can I get all this done and still make the lesson at 4?

Eddie assures me that it won’t take too long and if it’s going to take longer than normal, he’ll let me know so I can cancel.

So why did I decide to use the water pump replacement as my excuse to cancel my flight lesson today?

I had the time. I had the skill to do the lesson. I was soon to have the now fully functional Prius chomping at the bit to demonstrate its new-found health by whisking me to Manassas Airport by 4pm.

Why was I so relieved when I called and canceled?

This is perplexing from the perspective of logic. There was no good reason NOT to go, and I made it a point to stretch an “emergency” auto repair into a good enough reason to avoid flying.

Needless to say, I am neither pleased with my decision nor myself. This is unacceptable behavior. I knew this all along. Yet, a part of my brain decided that for whatever reason, it wasn’t going to happen.

Check that. Reason and my brain played no roles in this decision.

OK, time for take two.

This will not happen again. I will not allow myself to avoid flying again. I will not permit whatever insecurities, fear of failure, fear of success, or chicken-shit cloud forms around my head to impede my better judgment. I KNOW better. I cannot allow myself the luxury of another such failure.

I didn’t used to be like this. Challenging tasks didn’t paralyze me. They were exhilarating. I never avoided things because they were hard or frightening. I’ve jumped out of jet aircraft, for crying out loud!

What the fuck happened?

Here I stand, looking around and wondering what happened.

It’s up to me to keep this one little failure from becoming an epic one.

Ground School Examination #1 or "If You Don’t Know the Answer, Just Circle ‘B’"

I discovered last night just how many books and other study guides you can fit on a king size mattress.

Check that. I discovered last night just how many books, other study guides, MacBook Pro’s and DOGS you can fit on a king size mattress.

I spend a lot of time in bed. Well, technically ON the bed not IN it. And not for the two REALLY obvious reasons that people are in bed: watching “The Tonight Show” and reading the Sunday paper. (Well not so much “The Tonight Show” since Conan O’Brien took over.)

Last night, however, was the night before the big test. And I was WAY behind the power curve and knew it. So I dashed home after work prepared to do nothing else but review the material, fill in the little dots on the test form and then settle down for a long winter’s nap, even though it’s only September.

I gathered the 40-plus pounds of books, maps, charts and other reference materials and plopped them on the bed making sure to choose the ones undoubtedly containing the answers. I gathered the unused-to-date flash cards as well, figuring that if I went through these while I was working the test questions, I would be able to reinforce my learning.

But not until I took a power nap. Just a quick one.

So I closed my eyes and relaxed. My eyelids were already heavy during the commute home, so there was absolutely no problem relaxing.

I was awakened with sloppy dog kisses as Chloe, the smallest of the three, decided to join the other two on the bed. But not, of course, without her official greeting and demand for affection. Of course, she trampled across the flash cards and sheets of paper scattering both about the duvet. (There! I’ve finally done it. I’ve worked the word “duvet” into a casual sentence. I think I’ll pat myself on the back for that one.)

Once I got Chloe settled in her little bit of mattress real estate, I sat up, opened the test booklet and dove in again. I should mention here that I did some of the questions earlier at an undisclosed location, so I didn’t have to start from scratch. There were three or four questions from earlier which I had serious trouble understanding. And they knew it. Those were intimidating questions. I could hear them laughing and mocking me from inside the test booklet. Just as I turned to the page on which they were printed, I could hear them say to each other “Shhhh! Shhhh! Here he comes – act naturally!” and reminding me just how half-baked this test this really was.

Out of fifty questions, I answered most correctly from memory. I also double checked my answers against the printed materials, and then corrected the ones I missed. But these last few questions weren’t going willingly. No sir, they were going to withhold their answers as long as they could until reinforcements arrived.

One was a question of logic involving altimeter settings, and I won’t bore you with the details. But when I thought about it, not only was it painful, but for some reason, my brain went into a do-loop (as opposed to a loop-de-loop) and I just couldn’t see the answer clearly. I got the math right on the first try, but the “why” of it was escaping me.

The others were all regarding classes of airspace and reading maps and charts.

I can’t tell you how many times I scribbled “RTFP!” (Read the effin’ problem) next to the offending questions in a futile attempt to force the demise of ambiguity and rescue the truth from among the other two “answers.”

But it was not to be.

Even though I will pass the test, it was a humbling experience which reminded me why I hated college. I never studied then and I flunked out of both the math and the physics departments. And just like in college, I tried to take the shortcut to the solution by relying on my own perspicacity rather than the tried and true method: studying in advance.

So I am still a little confused about airspace and altimeters. But it’s become painfully clear to me that old (study) habits die hard. The truth is, I’m a lousy student and to succeed at this course, I will have to… let’s say modify my habits so that I can prevent the desperation of an exam.

But learning is supposed to be about rescuing the truth, isn’t it? Finding the correct answer? Seems as though I rediscovered the truth about my study habits, another lesson I’ve learned that wasn’t in the course syllabus. One I could have remembered and avoided.

Seems as though I had the answer to THAT question all along.

Ground School Week #3 or “I’ll Take Potpourri for $200, Alex.”

No flying this weekend. Previous engagements precluding sleep well into the wee hours of the weekend make for unsafe flying. So I’ll wait a week or so to get back up in the air. Work will provide some obstacles until the end of NEXT week. Then I am going to start flying at least twice a week, if I can sustain it financially.

First written test on Tuesday. Open book, to be completed before class. Sounds way too easy, so I MUST be missing something. I’ll be very meticulous in filling out the mark sense form!

Ground Lesson #5 or "I Used to Think that the Most Intimidating Thing on the Planet Was Hot Women."

Let me start by saying that yes, I’m still having fun at ground school. But at times, I think my poor little brain has exceeded its capacity to store and retrieve information.

But back to the subject at hand. Women intimidate me. It’s true. I see a tall, gorgeous hottie (Or even a short one. Ok, ALL of them.), and I break out in a cold sweat. I stammer and stutter my way through conversation when all I REALLY want to do is just stare. And drool. But we’ll leave out the description of mucosal secretions for another discussion.

Since Ground Lesson #5 last night, all of the hot women of the world are now safe from being covered in Dan drool. I found something far more intimidating than y’all.


Yes, airspace.

What I mean by “airspace” is the classification of various areas in which aircraft operate. It’s different over airports. It’s different over open terrain. And it’s different around big cities. But that’s just the beginning. For each of the six (if memory serves) classes of airspace, there are nine requirements which must be strictly observed for EACH of the six classes. (Enough of the memory crap – I had to look that one up.) It makes for a chart that’s obviously nine by six, or 54 different things to memorize. And that doesn’t count the “except on alternate Tuesdays” or the “if the weather’s crappy, this doesn’t apply.” Oh, no! No such luck that it would be simple and straightforward. I don’t know why I would expect such simplicity from an agency of the federal government, but that, too, is another discussion.

Ok, I can do this. I can memorize this. I’m not THAT old yet. Flash cards – yeah, flash cards is the way to do this!


You mean I have to be able to APPLY this to charts and maps, too?


Sidebar: When I lived in Los Angeles, I had the good fortune to live next door to the Penthouse Pet of the Month for September, 1992 or some such. For the first months I lived next door, every time she walked past the kitchen window in full model regalia, meaning short-shorts, heels and a clingy tank top, I’d drop whatever was in my hand. I’d just forget I was holding on to a plate full of spaghetti and meatballs and down it went, the victim of both gravity and my own hormonal imbalance. I was in the pool one sunny California afternoon, and when I looked up after diving in the water, there she was lounging luxuriously at water’s edge in a Harley Davidson one piece bathing suit. I was stuck in the water until she left. Damn good thing it was cold water, too. (Didn’t help at all that her bedroom and mine shared a common wall.) Anyway you get the point.

Trying to figure out airspace is much more difficult than talking to my neighbor would have been had I ever worked up the nerve to talk to her. The study of airspace redefines “difficult” for me.

Here’s an example: “Generally, if the airspace is not Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class D, and it is controlled airspace, it is Class E airspace. Class E airspace extends upward from either the surface or a designated altitude to the overlying or adjacent controlled airspace. When designated as a surface area, the airspace will be configured to contain all instrument procedures. Also in this class are Federal airways, airspace beginning at either 700 or 1,200 feet AGIL used to transition to/from the terminal or enroute environment, enroute domestic, and offshore airspace areas designated below 18,000 feet MSL. Unless designated at a lower altitude, Class E airspace begins at 14,500 MSL over the United States, including that airspace overlying the waters within 12 nautical miles of the coast of the 48 contiguous States and Alaska. Class E airspace does not include the airspace 18,000 MSL or above.”

And a partridge in a fucking pear tree. (And I thought the thousand-page-plus Health Care bill was hard to fathom.)

So hot women of the world, here’s to you! It’s been nice and it’s been fun, but you’ve been replaced. You’re no longer the most intimidating thing on the planet. I can deal with you now. But let not your heart be troubled: this won’t last long. Because once I get the hang of airspace definitions, I have no doubt you’ll be returned to your rightful place at the top of the “scares the shit out of me” list.

That’s because once I understand airspace, it won’t be a problem anymore.

But I’ll never understand women.

Flight Lesson #2 or "I’m Glad They Put Shock Absorbers on Airplanes!"

Yeah, you see this one coming, I suspect. But here goes anyway…

I flew yesterday afternoon. It was another perfect day here in Virginia. I arrived early, dropped off a check for flight hours at the front desk and sat in the classroom reviewing the stuff I should have reviewed the night before. From this, I concluded that my study habits haven’t changed a lick since college. I suppose there’s some comfort in consistency.

Anyway, at about 12:25, about 25 minutes after the scheduled time, my instructor lands with one of my fellow students, We exchange insincerities and head off to the cubicle where the flight instructor hangs his hat. (Or wings. Not sure what the correct aviation analogy is. I guess we haven’t covered that chapter in ground school yet.)

After a VERY VERY almost unsettlingly VERY short pre-brief, he says “Go file your flight plan. I’ll observe.” I had only seen this done once, but dutifully got on the phone with the disembodied voice of the woman who does whatever it is she does with the flight plan. Check. No problem. I look over to get the thumbs up from the instructor, and he’s on the cell phone. I chose to interpret this as a sign of confidence in my abilities, though I think he was just ordering pizza or some such triviality.

Out the plane and up the air we go. I learned a LOT from this guy. He’s very good, though it was tough to hear his soft voice through the intercom.

We did turns and talked about level flight and ascents and descents and all sort of things, then headed back. And, of course, it was up to me to line it up and get it on the ground. Which I did, albeit with a startling bump.

So here’s the deal, I think. You know when you’re learning basic stuff, somethings are SO basic that the teacher, who’s been doing it for decades, doesn’t even think to mention it?

I still don’t think anyone’s told me exactly how to land a goddamned plane yet!

It’s kind of important.

I have seen it done now a few times, but no one has ever sat down and laid out the proper steps for my poor little brain to put in sequence and follow. I can even dance when I’m choreographed. Why didn’t someone think to tell me how to land? I could probably do that, too, if someone would just freakin’ tell me!

It was a case of not knowing what you don’t know and not knowing which questions to ask in advance of the necessity of the knowledge. It’s a little late to ask “Hey, how DO you get one of these things on the ground anyway?” when you’re on final approach.

So it bounced. And bounced hard. The impact startled and surprised me, though in retrospect, it shouldn’t have. After all, I flew the effin’ thing right into the runway. Shouldn’t have been a surprise.

The instructor must have thought I had it under control, ’cause he was startled as well. But he took charge and got it all back under control and the rest of the procedure was just fine.

It was still a blast. I got high marks for the day with the instructor even saying that I might be a little ahead of the other students, so I must be doing something right. But I learned a valuable lesson.

Quoting from Don Rumsfeld, “… we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

It sounds like gobbledygoop and bureaucratic doublespeak. But in this rare case, I think he got it right. In the case of my attempt to land the tiny little aircraft, I was in the realm of “the one(s) we don’t know we don’t know.”

Ok, he was almost right. He forgot to add “… but should.”