Monday, May 27, 2013

Week Eight: Time to Wait...

Hey guys,

This will be a bit shorter of a post due to the shorter week and pretty limited events. Also I didn't mean to rhyme in the title haha.

I wish I could tell you about my next couple of flights and how they're going... but unfortunately I've been extremely unlucky and delayed in that department so far. Because there are 27 of us going through UPT (at our phase of the program) they cannot possibly send us each to our initial check rides at the same time. So there is a natural spread between the class. I guess my name drew the short straw, because I've not been getting any rides this week, though not for lack of trying. As it stands I have one ride, the dollar ride I explained last week, while there are people in my flight with four right now.

I did the get chance to fly twice this week, however, so I wasn't forgotten. Just unlucky. I was scheduled to fly with a different IP this time, which is the norm. This time it was a lieutenant colonel, and he turned out to be a nice guy. He was worried about his wife possibly going into labor haha. So that was a factor included in our brief. Basically he said if he got called on LOWELL (a radio frequency that gives out notifications) that she was in labor we were gonna turn around and get back immediately.

So we got to the jet, started it up, and started taxiing. Meanwhile, the weather (which was supposed to be nice...) was looming dark. I had the aircraft on takeoff, and I managed a good one my first try, keeping it on the offset centerline and rotating smoothly off the ground. I put the gear and flaps up and continued my climb. All of a sudden, we got weather recalled... The departure frequency hailed us and vectored us back into the pattern, where we promptly landed. I wasn't flying the whole way back, so I just kinda sat there and looked around. It started raining on us and there was lightning arcing through the sky. Pretty cool.

Back on the ground, my IP said he saw in his mind an awful scenario: that we would have to be diverting to the alternate airfield... in Wichita, Kansas. Apparently we were minutes from having to do that. So he would be extremely far from home with a child on the way, and would not be able to live that one down haha. But we were alright in the end. It was considered an incomplete ride, so I have to do it again.

Besides that it was a whole lot of sitting around, studying, going to the gym, getting quizzed and such. On Thursday I briefed for another flight, but that was more directly cancelled by weather. As in, we didn't even leave the building. So that's cool...

Oh and we had to turn in 44 boldfaces on Thursday and 50 boldfaces are due tomorrow. Now's the point where if we mess them up, even the tiniest fraction of one (if one letter or number is off, the whole thing is incorrect), the person who messed it up and the person who checked their work owes more boldfaces. The number corresponding to which day of Fifteen Days we're in. So messing up tomorrow would mean 8 boldfaces for both people. So as a class we have been pitching in to help everyone get theirs done. It wastes so much time, and there's so many better things we could be doing with our time. I haven't messed any up so far (knock on wood) but we have to turn in at least one every day, so there's plenty of room for error if you get complacent.

Anyway, this weekend has been awesome. FOUR days off. Which is freaking amazing. I got a lot of relaxation and fun into these last four days, but now it's back to work.

That's it, like I said, not much went on. Hopefully this next week will be more action packed. Though it's still only a four-day week!

~ Dakota

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Week Seven: Time to Fly

Well, this is the week! We hit the flight line on Wednesday of this week and it's been a radical change from everything we've been doing so far. But along with other less-desirable changes, we also get the awesome parts as well: actually getting up in the T-6 and controlling this awesome aircraft!

Starting out on Monday, we went in for our initial brief with our new flight commander. It's kind of weird because our class of 27 now gets split up into two flights that do everything flying-related separately. I'm in D flight along with 13 others, the Delta Dogs. C Flight is the Cobras. Our flight commander went through a lengthy powerpoint presentation on expectations, and after that we got the rest of the day off.

Oddly enough, we also had the entirety of Tuesday off as well! So I took advantage of this free day by relaxing as much as possible and enjoying my remaining freedom from studies and stress.

Wednesday, it began. The 15 Day Program is the first fifteen days of flight operations in UPT. It's meant to suck, and they keep us pretty busy with things to do. A typical day looks like this: you show up EXACTLY at the designated show time; any earlier and you bust your crew rest period, meaning you have to leave earlier as well. We go on a 12 hour on, 12 hour off period, so they HAVE to release us at that 12 hour mark, to the second. They make a big deal out of that.

Most of D flight waiting outside until exactly our show time (I'm taking the picture).

Then we start our formal brief, sitting at attention while we're briefed the weather, notifications, and any other important info for the day. I haven't sat at attention since freshman year!! So that sucks. We also then have something called standup. Naturally, one of us is called to stand up and work our way through an emergency procedure. If you do something wrong, make the wrong decision, or kill yourself in this simulated emergency, you get told to "sit down." Which is bad. However if you successfully navigate the battle of wits with the IP running the emergency, you get told to "have a seat." Which is good.

We then have shotgun questions, during which they go around the room and throw questions out to each individual. So you better hope you know it or you'll be standing until they work all the way around the room and you get to try again. Because we're in the 8th Flying Training Squadron, we also have to know Warnings, Cautions, and Notes for every emergency procedure, meaning there's just more stuff to memorize.

Our squadron's sweet patch...

Then we brief to fly, or head over and do our scheduled sims. This is when we split up and do our own schedules, because everyone flies at different times with different IPs. On Wednesday, I was excited to get up in the air and do my dollar ride (first ride in an aircraft). But alas, I was fated to do a sim ride. So I gathered my stuff and headed over to the sim building to do another sim. Got another E, so that's good.

All of my classmates flew that day, except for me and one other. Not a big deal: the syllabus separates people naturally, because there are not enough sorties to keep everyone equal and sometimes people get sick or have issues that prevent them from flying. In that case, you might get unexpectedly bumped up to fly, so you have to be prepared for ANYTHING you're opted for. After waiting around for the 12-hour mark, we finally finished up and got released. At 8:30 at night. Woo.

Our T-6s. You're lucky if you get one under the shades!

Thursday I was on the schedule to fly! I was going to take off at 12:12, which is kind of cool haha (considering my Academy class year). But we got weather cancelled.... I actually got all done up in my G-suit and harness, got strapped into the jet, started it up, and then we cancelled and shut it down. Haha talk about anticlimactic. So I got moved to the later block of flights, and eventually got back out on the flight line. It was actually pretty nice, because it was much cooler, and that cockpit gets REALLY hot, especially under the sun.

Ready to go!

Well, we started it up again and started taxiing out! I had control of the aircraft, so I was ecstatic. It was surreal. I can't explain how cool it feels to be in this bubble canopy, looking out the front windscreen and seeing this massive prop blurring around. And how high it felt, much higher off the ground than a DA20 or anything like that. I was already in love, and we hadn't even taken off yet. We got to the runway and held short, doing our last checklist items. I was pretty nervous when I looked down at my checklist and the next step was "Seat Safety Pin - Removed and Stowed". This meant I had to take out the safety pin guarding the ejection handle. I carefully moved my hands to the yellow and black handle sticking up between my legs and grabbed the pin. My seat was now active and would eject me if that handle got pulled! For the rest of the flight I had to remember to keep away from it!

Pulling onto the runway was really cool, and eerie. The runway stretched off to infinity. My IP took control of the plane, revved up the engine, and released the brakes. We were off in an instant. It was such a rapid acceleration that I couldn't help but feel out of control, like when you're riding a bike too fast and you feel like you might crash. I had to remind myself I wasn't even in control haha, my IP was. And he knows what he's doing. In a flash we were going 85 knots, and we rotated off the ground. A few seconds later and we were at 100, 110, 120 knots and climbing. I remember thinking, "I can't believe I do this for a living."

Then we were off to our working area for maneuvers. The coolest part was flying through the low-hanging clouds in our flight path. It felt really weird to just fly straight through them. Even though I knew what was on the other side of them (nothing) it still felt like there was this big brick wall we were going to hit! You really cannot see ANYTHING through the clouds.

A couple minutes later and we were climbing up to 13,000 feet and the cabin began to pressurize. Finally, my IP asked that fated question, "Are you ready to fly?" I said I was. Then he passed it over to me, I shook the stick and said, "I have the aircraft."

It was really weird talking to someone I couldn't see, but who was sitting just five or six feet behind me. In every plane I've flown so far, the seats have been right next to each other. This was a pretty cool experience, feeling alone up front, but realizing the IP was also back there and keeping a watchful eye out for trouble. Soon enough we will be able to go completely solo, though.

When we got into our area, I started practicing some turns. It's crazy how responsive this aircraft is. Any slight movement of the stick and the wings roll quickly, or the nose pitches up or down. A bigger movement and you're at 60, 70 degrees of bank. I also felt my first substantial Gs in an aircraft. My IP took it back and did a quick turn, pulling around 3 Gs. I was surprised and didn't do any AGSM to help stay conscious. I started to get tunnel vision, and it felt pretty weird! After that I stayed on top of my G-awareness.

Not us, just a cool picture.

We also rolled inverted! This was the first time I've ever done that, and it was pretty sweet. Looking up at the ground above you is definitely a weird feeling haha. After messing around some more in the area we started to head over to our practice airfield for landing practice. You're moving pretty quick up there (usually greater than 200 knots!) and the ground definitely moves by quickly underneath you. My IP demo'd a couple traffic patterns and landings, and then gave it to me to try. I got a couple on my first ride!

We eventually headed back to base and landed, pulling off the runway and putting the safety pins back in our seats. Then we shut down and got out. The whole experience just shot by in an instant, but really took about two hours! We then went inside and debriefed the sortie.

It was an awesome experience and I couldn't wait to get back up. It made all the suckiness of the 15 Day Program worth it. Unfortunately we got weather cancelled again on Friday, so no one flew and we ended up getting released early (score!)

This weekend was fun, and I spent a lot of time hanging with friends at our local bar, Callahan's. It's pretty much the pilot bar haha. Overall it was a relaxing weekend. Now I need to study!

Sorry for the long post, but this first flight was worth describing!

~ Dakota

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Week Six: How About This Weather?

Happy Mother's Day everyone, hope your weekend has been a good one like mine has.

This week started out with the Contact review session and exam later in the day. Overall no real surprises on the test, and I nabbed another 100%. It mainly dealt with energy management throughout flight and also had a lot to do with stalls and spins. Energy management is using the energy your aircraft already has to your advantage by trading altitude for airspeed and vice versa. For example if your altitude is really high, you can trade that for airspeed by descending rapidly. Likewise, if you're traveling really fast, you can bleed off airspeed and climb to gain altitude.

We also had our second walkaround of an actual T-6, but this time the focus was doing an exterior inspection. This is something that's done before every flight, and is a quick and dirty check of all the control surfaces, mechanisms, and general condition of the jet. While there are a ton of checklist items to complete on this, it's expected to have it done as quickly as possible. So it will take some getting used to, but eventually we'll have it down and know what to look for. It's mostly a redundant system to ensure the plane is safe; the crew chief (an enlistedman who actually "owns" the jet) is responsible for ensuring it's in good condition. But as the "renter" of the plane, it's important to inspect it for bumps and scratches, just like you would with a rental car (hah).

We had just the one sim ride this week. It was in an OFT again (one of the spherical chambers) and was much more intensive than any of the others so far. No EPs this time, just normal procedures. Which aren't easy, at all. There's quite a bit to do: checklists, radio calls, navigation, oh and flying your airspeed and altitude. It can add up, but practice will make it easier. I'm sure I'll be very overwhelmed on my initial rides. By the way, the traffic pattern speed for this plane is 200 knots! That's 230 mph, all while getting ready to land! Final approach airspeed is 105 knots (about 120 mph) which is crazy to me. I guess I've only flown in small planes and that's why it seems that way. The max speed of the DA20 was about 120 knots haha! Now I'll be on final approach just below that.

Speaking of which! We start this upcoming week! I'm pretty excited for it but nervous as well. There's something called the 15 Day Program that's not a very fun part of UPT. More on that later...

We also began studying weather this week, which is a MUCH more complex series of academics. It's important to know weather cycles and what each type of front does and what hazards are there to avoid, but there is quite a bit of knowledge jammed into a little crash course. Even grazing the surface of weather, there was still some trouble setting it all straight. This is typically one of the most-failed exams in UPT. So I was studying quite a bit, and taking extensive notes. Did you know that weather is not your friend while flying? And that it just wants to kill you, basically? Yeah. Haha.

Seriously though, there are many hazards to keep an eye out for. The ideal would be flying in clear skies, minimal winds, and no clouds in sight. As they say in the aviation/parachuting world: "Blue skies." We also learned how to read METARs and TAFs, which are weather reporting systems used by the military. I'll write one down for you and see if you can interpret it.

METAR KEND 051853Z 04011KT 1/2SM VCTS SN FZFG BKN003 OVC010 M02/M02 A3006

Makes tons of sense right? Haha. It's actually not that bad, once you know what to look for. The above says this report is a METAR (current weather) for Vance AFB on the 5th day of the month at 1853 Greenwich Mean Time (Zulu time, standard in aviation). Winds are blowing from 040º (northeast) at 11 knots. Visibility is 1/2 statute miles. Thunderstorms in the vicinity, moderate snow, and freezing fog. Clouds broken at 300 feet, overcast at 1000 feet. Temperature is -2 ºC, dew point is -2 ºC. Altimeter set to 30.06 inches of mercury. So these would be very poor flying conditions.

We ended the week with the Weather exam. I was pretty confident going in, but a bit nervous as well. It proved to be the toughest of the tests so far, but I still passed, missing 3. I should've been able to get those questions right, they were pretty easy... but I at least got the harder ones all right.

As far as the work week goes, that was about it. I also worked through an... issue, I guess you could call it this week and last week. In one of the very first weeks, back in aerospace physiology my G-suit went missing. The reason I didn't notice was because I still HAD a G-suit, it just wasn't mine. I had apparently grabbed a training G-suit that belongs to the Aerospace Physiology Unit (APU). So for all these sims I've been having, I've worn this "borrowed" G-suit. Well eventually I noticed and brought it to the attention of Life Support and the APU. And of course, everyone kind of freaked out. These things cost about $860 bucks... So I began searching everywhere I could think to look. It would make sense for it to be at the APU right? Well it wasn't. It wasn't anywhere, and I was at a loss for where it could actually be. No clue.

Well in a last-ditch effort I sent an email to my classmates about it, and unexpectedly got a call from one of my buddies. He said his G-suit hadn't been fitting him right and that he remembers vaguely grabbing one that wasn't near his stuff. So I'm hoping that it's actually mine! If so, that spares me a lot of trouble, though my friend will now have to deal with what I've been going through.

So we'll see... Haha, not an ideal situation for anyone.

Oh... and we also had our first "casualty" of UPT. No one was hurt or anything, but my friend from prep school, Matt, got appendicitis this week and had to go to the hospital. Relatively routine, but now he's been forced to wash back a couple of classes. Being so close to flying (three days!) he is physically unable to do it, so they've pushed him back. Not a huge deal, but still sad to lose one of our classmates, especially one from NWP.

That's about it, sorry to end on a sad note. Uhhh.... happy stuff... hmm. I closed out my donut debt this week! Got some pretty fancy special frosting design ones and they were gobbled up. So that's cool I guess.

Yeah, I know. Pretty awesome story there.


~ Dakota

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Week Five: Sim City and Patch Creation

Hello there, and welcome to the fifth edition of the groundbreaking epic tale brought forth for your enjoyment by yours truly.

Alright, that was lame, I was just trying something different for my intro... haha.

This week was a very different one, as we were more involved in our own personal schedules than in a group schedule. So for the majority of the week the class didn't really see each other too much. On the plus side, I ended up with very reasonable wakeup times and end times, but others weren't so lucky. Overall though, things went well.

We took our Flight Fundamentals exam, which covered basic flight procedures such as airport operations, takeoff, landing, climb/descent, cruise, etc. I missed one question on this one... so that brings my total missed to four. We also delved heavily into emergency procedures this week, not only in class but in practice. We had three sims this week! One per day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It has been pretty awesome spooling up to get to the flight line, and starting to actually DO stuff instead of just learn stuff.

My first sim of the week was awesome. I was fortunate enough to get into an OFT simulator. Picture a giant sphere completely closed off except for one door into it. Once you walk inside, the majority of the inner surface of the sphere is made to look like what you see while flying! There are multiple projectors showing the outside conditions, even your wingtips sticking out on either side. So when you're sitting in the cockpit, it's about as close as you can get to flying. Pretty cool stuff. That specific sim ride dealt with the normal departure and recovery procedures from and to Vance, so it was very hands on with flying, radio calls, checklists, and staying calm and controlled.

My two later sims were in a UTD (no screen anywhere) and an IFT (screen in front) and dealt almost entirely with emergency procedures (EPs). While going through different phases of ground ops and flight, the instrument panel would light up with warnings and abnormal indications based on what the instructor punched into the computer controlling the sim. And then you'd have to deal with them. A few of the more interesting ones were engine fires, engine failures, immediate airstarts (starting a failed engine while already flying), and of course ejection. On all three sims I got three more excellent grades! 

We had to deal with some more CAIs this week, as expected. We started learning Contact, which if you remember is the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) maneuvering portion of UPT. On Monday we have the exam, and we haven't even had any human instruction in it! Good stuff.

There were also some humorous and fun parts to this week. The weather has been crazy: one day it's sunny and freaking hot, the next it's cloudy, rainy, and windy. Pretty ridiculous variation, though at least we're not getting snow in May (like Colorado is... haha). We also got together as a class and narrowed down our class patch options. The class patch is an age-old tradition in UPT. The patch defines your class and is worn (after everyone solos) on the right side of the flight suit in place of our squadron patch. There's usually some inside joke or theme, and almost always people try to slip in (so to speak) some kind of sexual innuendo. In fact this type of thing is extremely common in the pilot world, and I'm definitely one of the bigger perpetrators of subtle impropriety. Remember the joke about not being able to be a pilot AND a grown-up? Yeah that's pretty much the case.

Perfect example: my original patch submission. The concept was agreed upon by a lot of people in the class, but I put it down on paper. Completely inappropriate, absolutely NO chance of getting approved by upper leadership, but totally awesome. I decided to take the picture down... haha.

UPDATE: I removed a lot of the patch section of this post based on events that happened the week after this post.

The class voted and chose a design that's pretty funny, but it's just a concept. No one actually has a patch drawn out. Even though I don't really agree with it... I decided to help out as much as I could to at least make it well done and something to be proud of. At least it will be MUCH better than this pink abomination patch a class above us has chosen. The theme is "My Little Pilot" based off of My Little Pony. It's horrible. The fighter guys hate it, so whoever heads into T-38s is in for some heartache haha. Anyway, I will post pictures when I get it all sorted out and finalized.

Lastly, on Friday night I went to my first ever Drop Night for the class that is about to graduate. This is when they find out what aircraft and base they'll be going to. It was pretty awesome to see. They'd call up each individual of the class, make fun of them for the stupid stuff they'd done over the year and then dramatically reveal their aircraft. Starting with three on the screen, zapping one of them off, and then finally getting rid of the second to reveal their new aircraft. Sometimes they'd even psych the guy out by showing their supposed plane and then switching it at the last minute! One guy's possibilities were amazing. His three aircraft were an A-10, an F-15, and an F-16. Win-win-win, am I right? He ended up getting an F-15. Freaking sick. They would then salute their squadron commander and grab a rose for their wife/fiancée/girlfriend and go back to their buddies to get congratulated. Then everyone proceeded to party (or pout, in some cases). Plus there was free beer for everyone in attendance so that was pretty cool. One year more...

Honestly I'm more nervous about track select night, where we will find out if we will be flying the T-38 or the T-1. That's more defining of the future, I think.

That's about it for this week! As of this writing, only 11 more days until we hit the flight line! I can't believe how fast it's gone, and I'm stoked to get up into the air.

Have a good week and see you next time,

~ Dakota