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The Husky is now in its winter hangar and we dislike having to drive so far to enjoy flying Fire Horse. The hangar is dark and cold but the runway is long and plowed, so it’s the responsible thing to do. Good judgment is smart!

Minimize Risk

Most of us have an intuitive understanding of danger, hard-wired as we are to avoid loss or the possibility of loss. That can be a good thing unless it unreasonably restricts what we might otherwise safely enjoy or when the fear itself is larger than fact.

How real is the danger?

Basic risk management involves recognizing the true nature of a threat: Listen to instinct; know what’s happened to others; train for it and preplan. Then compare the potential cost to the potential benefit; do it formally or informally, but do it.

Know your personal style

This seems on its surface to be only about piloting but for almost forty years aviation management practice has been making  its way into the board room, operating rooms, and into the family circle. It began with a tragic accident.

Avoid risk with good decision-making

Seeking the sky, Husky heads into deep winter on a longer, wider, safer runway

In 1977 on Tenerife in the Canary Islands two fully loaded 747s careened into history when they collided on the runway. This deadliest of accidents was the final link in a chain of irony, confusion, coincidence, and bad luck. From it grew the NASA training program that pilots know as crew resource management and business professionals recognize as participative management and employee involvement. The FAA now introduces pilots to their own dangerous attitudes with the chance to modify them before they result in an incident or accident.

Smart people doing dumb things

As a passenger you might fear equipment malfunction or violent weather, but most aviation accidents are entirely avoidable if you address failures of communication, leadership and decision-making that cause them.  In other words the path to most accidents starts before the prop ever turns. Stick with me here because the same dangerous attitudes can also ruin your business or your family. Life has costs, potential legal and liability hazards, financial pressures, human factors, public relations challenges, technical breakdowns, emotional facets, operational perils, and more. What you believe turns into how you act and that can create danger. Know yourself to manage that risk, the first step to improving how you interact with the most important people in your life.

Five Hazardous Attitudes

As pilots we’re taught to identify dangerous thinking along with a prescription for each to avoid trouble before it starts. Do you recognize any of these in yourself?

  • Anti-authority: rejects advice, doesn’t follow the rules, and is proud of being a non-conformist—better to listen to the voice of experience or remember that the rules are there for a reason.
  • Impulsivity: acts first, thinks later—slow down and think before you act;
  • Invulnerabiity: believes it can’t happen to him or her,  that they carry a special shield of invincibility—remember that the worst really can happen to them;
  • Machismo: is the show-off, the pilot who declares, “If you think that’s good, watch this!” And yes, it’s not just men but women too—in the interests of safety and responsibility substitute pride in following guidelines and obeying rules;
  • Resignation: gives up too easily when confronting a challenge and is willing to leave it to fate—be like The Little Engine That Could and say instead, “I won’t give up. I can do this!”

Never risk a higher value for something of lesser worth!

Attitudes like these may cause less dramatic or violent outcomes, but they also result in loss of respect and opportunity. Cut corners, hurt feelings, lack of respect for others, arrogance, self-importance, failure to anticipate unintended consequences–they break other things that could help us run more successful businesses, have happier families, or live more satisfying lives.

Make every risk to benefit trade count! Among the greatest treasures of life are interpersonal peace, personal pride, getting the most from effort spent, earning respect, enjoying life, gaining happiness, having a loving home. Let’s be smart and don’t trade them for anything that’s less valuable.

Wishing you wind beneath your wings

John Skattum in this month’s Air Facts Journal says you know you’re a pilot when you start pre-flighting your car. It’s true! But flying isn’t the only way to learn good management practices about the rest of your life; if it’s not flying, find something that works for you. As for me, I’ll always choose safety over convenience. The hangar may be dark and cold but the runway is long and plowed. Spring will come!

 

Looking forward when you’ve lived more than one hundred years!

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

If you have good genes and reasonable health, your age is just a number.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, centenarian plus eight

For the last twenty years of her remarkable life, I was special assistant and friend to Marjory Stoneman Douglas who wrote the book on the Florida Everglades, was its feisty Evangelist, earning kudos from presidents, queens and princes! I asked her at the occasion of her 100th birthday celebration, how old she’d think she was if she didn’t actually know and she answered, “Interesting question! Age thirty-five, I’d think.” Now at the time, she was both blind and deaf and couldn’t see the etching of old smiles lined across her face, so she chose the age at which she was most vigorously alive, pursuing goals, writing passionately. She was always a bit embarrassed by the fame and fuss advanced age delivered her though she used it to advance her cause. Born in 1890 she lived purposefully until the age of 108 years–just a number after all! It was my happy privilege to help her navigate the high expectations (her own and those of others) on declining energy through those last years of her life.

Paul Johns, centenarian plus two

We have another centenarian friend, Paul Johns of Iola, Wisconsin, in whom it’s easy to recognize several common traits with Marjory. He celebrates his 102nd birthday today! Paul looks and acts years younger, has a valid driver’s license–no restrictions and a current ham radio operator’s license good for another decade. With enough electronic gear for someone half his age, he stays in touch via email and Facebook. In his nineties he enrolled in technical school to learn how to repair computers. A few years later he designed and still builds arguably the best radio antenna for small, fabric-covered airplanes.

While others struggle with names and memory, our friend seemingly remembers everything. No problem meeting someone he hardly knows; even out of context he’ll call them by name. Engage him in conversation and you’ll learn interesting details from long ago and as recent as yesterday.

Paul Johns is a pilot’s pilot and an engineer’s engineer. An anecdote told by a friend reveals a small detail from a long and amazing life. As a nurse adjusted Paul’s blood pressure cuff, with humble tone he spoke a startling sentence that began, ” When I invented that . . . .”

Paul Johns first learned to fly in 1929 when he was fifteen years old followed by another 66 years of active piloting. In his mid-seventies he built an airplane that he flew into his eighties. Some years ago he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Recently he was surprised and delighted by the renaming of Central County Airport near his hometown of Iola, Wisconsin, to be known as Paul Johns Field, an honor from the Central County Flyers and dozens of friends who join him on Fridays for the regionally well-known Lunch at Iola.

How to live to one hundred!

From these two I’ve learned that luck is another name for diligence and productivity. Both Marjory and Paul built purposeful lives that compelled them always onward and upward. Yes, they had luck on their side, but they also persevered through the challenges. Each of them collected a lifetime of unique experiences along with friends of all ages. Marjory never gave up and Paul still lives fully engaged, with a vigorous mind and plans for the future; there’s too much to do and a life to live. It reminds me that life is short no matter how long you live, that there is no do-over, that you’ll regret more what you didn’t do or try than what you tried and failed. Live!

Happy 102nd birthday, Paul! And thank you for these lessons.

 

 

A recent article by Jane Myhra in the Waupaca County Post highlighted select others of his lifetime achievements:

  • piloted the Boeing 314–the Flying Boat or Clipper–for Pan American Airways;
  • set up an instrument training program for Navy pilots in 1939;
  • recorded over 220 Pacific crossings during World War II for the Naval Transport Service, navigating the distance only by following the stars;
  • engineered, designed and built testing equipment to measure sound waves with laser light decades before most of us had even heard of lasers.

The largest paddlesports gathering in the world takes place each March–this year just as winter suddenly switched places with spring. For kayak, canoe, outdoor equipment and clothing enthusiasts, all those who’re interested in learning to select, purchase and use the gear, this is the weekend for 20,000 vendors and consumers to gather at the Alliant Center in Madison, Wisconsin! We’re not among them this year but reminded of the beautiful Wenonah canoe from Rutabaga Sports suspended from the garage ceiling. It’s our annual reminder that it’s time to dust off the cobwebs, wind the lines, and get ready!

Gig Harbor, Washington

So here’s a toast to spring and farewell to the last bits of snow disappearing today! The kayaks below were photographed by me several years ago just inside Gig Harbor from Puget Sound. Kayaks seem to be more popular than canoes these days but either is an intimate ride on the water. This lonely spit of land is a few hundred yards from the Gig Harbor lighthouse; that day a storm was brewing and the kayak owners were nowhere to be seen.

GigHarbor-Kayaks-900px-70pct-sRGB

Galloping Gertie to Sturdy Gertie! Crossing Puget Sound at Tacoma Narrows

Our arrival that day was by flying Fire Horse, an Aviat Husky A1C-200, from the airport at Pullman in eastern Washington State. This is the double span Tacoma Narrows bridge which crosses the point where Puget Sound “narrows” to less than a mile in width. The need for an easier way to cross the sound was recognized one hundred years earlier. Finally, in June of 1940 a bridge called Galloping Gertie opened and from its first day everyone knew it had serious problems, an unstable design that allowed huge vertical oscillations in even small winds. Immediately engineers tried to dampen and correct the problem but not before the bridge collapsed on an early November day that same year.  The first span of the new bridge below opened ten years later and is appropriately known as Sturdy Gertie! The fascinating story of the area from the Puyallop people to the 21st century and the tale of the bridges is told by the Washington State DOT with these links (will open in a new window).

TacomaNarrowsBridge-900px-50pct-sRGB

Sometimes a quiet ride on calm water needs only a small boat. These are working boats along Puget Sound near Point Defiance, rough and rugged.  A map to orient the bridge, the sound and the harbor to Tacoma and Seattle is here.

TheHawthorn-U_9644-1000px-50pct-sRGB

This flight really happened and in just this way, but no camera was there to shoot it! Photoshop to the rescue . . .

Photoshop composite

Off-shore flight near Ft. Pierce, Florida

It took eight separate photos composited with lots of lighting and perspective adjustments along with added elements to create the scene after the fact.

Happy Birthday, Photoshop!

This month Photoshop, the most successful image tool in the world, is 25 years old! Creatives everywhere and in nearly every medium use Photoshop for some part of their workflow. Almost everything visual is touched directly or indirectly by Photoshop. It’s not only changed the way images are created but the way we see the world.

Top 10 reasons to love Photoshop and respect those who use it well
  1. Photoshop provides a safety net for when you miss the shot entirely (see above)
  2. Photoshop can improve the shot when what you took isn’t quite what you wanted
  3. Ten real butterflies can look like a thousand—ditto for flowers or bricks or anything else
  4. A single beauty dish and two Speedlights can emulate a much more extensive and expensive setup
  5. Composites can be made to look like they really happened that way (see above)
  6. Photoshop can bring the imaginary to life, as in “anything you can think of you can create”
  7. Your color palette is more or less infinite
  8. Nothing else can do what Photoshop does; there is no real, effective competitor
  9. If an image is a wreck it’s not Photoshop, it’s the user
  10. Photoshop frees the artist to focus on art like nothing else can and do it faster and less expensively.
Modern tools for darkroom tricks

Photoshop tools are analogous to what early photo masters used to develop their images. Ansel Adams anticipated the digital age, calling it electronic, and believed it would be the next major image-making enhancement. Like the dodge, burn, and sponge tools of 19th to 20th century darkrooms, Photoshop offers synonymous digital processes to deliver even greater control to the digital darkroom. The 90% of creative professionals who use Photoshop daily understand that no software replaces imagination and skill. Yet their work is often lumped together with pretenders who get into visual trouble using Photoshop like a hammer!

Photoshop mishaps
Photoshop-mishaps-1

Missing part of left arm

Photoshop-mishaps-2

Fingertips missing

A web search of “Photoshop disasters” will turn up many examples of missing body parts, ridiculously enhanced ones, and deeply disturbing body postures. Such mistakes are unfortunately common like Glamour’s November 2011 cover with Kristen Stewart missing part of her left arm to Vogue’s September 2011 Kate Moss wedding layout including this one of her daughter’s fingertips airbrushed away. Throwing the verb photoshop about—as in, “Did you photoshop that?”—without referencing the quality of the actual image is an insult to those who do it so well that you get the enhancement without shouting the tool.

Inventing new ways to work and how we see

If you don’t already know layers and adjustments, healing and warping tools, or filters with smart objects, you’ll be astonished by liquefying content, altering perspectives, relighting and refocusing, rethinking the shot after the fact. And the tech teams at Adobe are always working on wondrous ways to challenge the skill of image artists everywhere.

Anyone can take a photograph but it takes an artful eye to perfect it. If you don’t like the result, blame the artist. It’s time to stop using “photoshop” as a dirty word!

Giant arrows are for pointing the way!

Once there were hundreds of giant arrows made of cement pointing the way across America, directing traffic for transcontinental airmail routes. In some wild, lonely places where the weeds grew faster than towns, the arrows remain, forlorn without fresh yellow paint, cracked and waiting to be rediscovered by the adventurous or the lucky few.

Giant Arrows across American

This is the beacon tower and generator shack sitting atop one of the giant arrows at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, still standing in September 2013

 

Giant Arrows included infrastructure for ground maintenance and transient pilots

At right is the same station as it looked in the early 1920s–the two forefront buildings for administration and crew quarters are long gone. In the background you can see the generator house with the prototype black band and the tower.

We’d heard that one of the giant arrows could still be found at Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Last month offered a chance to fly a low course down the wild runway chasing antelope out of the way before flying a proper pattern to land. Later that same afternoon we found the beacon tower at Rock Springs as well.

 

 

 

 

One of the Giant Arrows is at Medicine Bow, Wyoming

Back-country wilderness strip at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and our Husky.

In 1920 the world’s first ground-based air navigation system was authorized by the Congress of the United States

Pilots flying their wood and fabric taildraggers needed guidance from station to station. This first continent-spanning airway was an impressive beginning but in inclement weather with reduced visibility or in the dark of night a pilot couldn’t reliably follow railroad tracks and early road maps. These open-cockpit airplanes only had a magnetic compass for navigation plus a turn and bank indicator and altimeter for flight instruments.

 

A system of lighted beacons atop giant arrows was needed to keep the airmail moving

In a fierce blizzard (1921) a relay of six airplanes and six pilots flew routes coast to coast in opposite directions. One determined pilot named Jack Knight flew three segments of the trip from San Francisco to New York. He succeeded in large measure because of a long series of bonfires along the remotest parts of the route that were tended by postal employees.

As a result of this grand proof of concept, funds were appropriated in 1923 and work began immediately on the first segment of lighted beacons from Cheyenne to Chicago. Why here in the middle of the country? A pilot could start at either coast and reach the long stretch of numbered and color-coded beacons by nightfall to follow them through the dark landscape.

Giant arrows across America

The beacon towers were placed on the mid-point of the concrete arrows to shine their lights forward and back along the route.

By 1926 a 650 mile route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City was marked every 10 to 15 miles with a yellow painted arrow and a 51 foot steel tower topped by two 100,000-candle 24” rotating beacons pointing back and forth along the airway. A generator shack for continuous power and quarters for crew to keep it running completed the scene. At night pilots could see the flashing lights over forty miles away and flying closer to the beacons a clear panel at the top projected light onto the overlying cloud deck to help determine the ceiling.

The first of the giant arrows and its beacon were built at Rock Springs, Wyoming

By 1929 the giant arrows spanned the continent with 13 intermediate stops. Mail could now travel from New York to San Francisco in just 30 hours. So much achieved in so little time!

Another of the giant arrows can still be seen at Rock Springs

In 1930 a spacious hangar was built at Rock Springs with room for two 18-passenger airplanes and a waiting room. Amelia Earhart visited here and hangared her “Little Red Bus,” the Lockheed Vega she flew across the Atlantic, the one that’s in the Smithsonian. $45,000 bought a lot of hangar in 1930!

One airmail pilot offered route advice; decades later his words give a pretty good idea of the challenges faced by aviation pioneers:

  • CHE + 0 (miles from) Cheyenne Wyo. — Can be identified by the barracks of Fort Russell. The Cheyenne field is three-quarters of a mile due north of the town and due north of the capitol building, whose gilded dome is unmistakable. The field, though rolling, is very large and landings may be made from any direction. A pilot landing here for the first time must “watch his step,” as the rarified atmosphere at this altitude (6,100 feet) makes rough landings the rule rather than the exception. Fly west over or to the north of Fort Russell, which is about 4 miles from town, following the Colorado & Southern tracks to the point where they bend sharply to the north.

CHE + 80.   Elk Mountain Wyo. — To the north of the Medicine Bow Range, a black and white range of mountains, the black parts of which are forests and the white snow-covered rocks. Elk Mountain is 12,500 feet high. Fly to the north of this conspicuous mountain over high, rough country. The Union Pacific tracks will be seen about 15 miles to the north gradually converging with the course.

  • CHE + 134.  Rawlins Wyo. — Follow the general direction of the Union Pacific tracks to Rawlins, which is on the Union Pacific tracks. The country between Walcott and Rawlins is fairly level, but covered with sage brush, which makes landings dangerous. Rawlins is on the north side of the Union Pacific tracks at a point about a mile east of where the tracks cut through a low ridge of hills. Large railroad shops distinguish the town. The emergency field provided here lies about 1¼ miles northeast of town at the base of a large hill.  Landings are made almost invariably to the west. Surface of field is fairly good, as the sage brush has been removed. Easily identified by this, as the surrounding country is covered with sage brush. Landings can be made in any direction into the wind if care is exercised. Several ranch buildings and two small black shacks on the eastern side of the field help distinguish it. Leaving Rawlins follow the Union Pacific tracks to Creston.
The Rock Springs beacon and arrow are hidden behind newer buildings and forgotten

The original beacon house and light tower still stand at Rock Springs, Wyoming, surrounded by newer buildings. Rock Springs was a favorable place to begin the beacon system as somewhat lower terrain gave safer passage through the mountains. It served as the region’s Flight Service Station for 70 years until decommissioning in 1991. The current FBO staff was unaware of its long history.

CHE + 231.  Rock Springs, Wyo. — After passing Black Butte, Pilot Butte will be seen projecting above and forming a part of the Table Mountain Range. This butte is of whitish stone. Head directly toward Pilot Butte and Rock Springs will be passed on the northern side. The field is in the valley at the foot of Pilot Butte about 4 miles from Rock Springs. It is triangular in shape, the hangar being located in the apex. The surface of the field is good. The best approach is from the eastern side.

  • CHE + 246.  Green River, Wyo. — Follow the Union Pacific double-tracked railroad from Rock Springs. There is an emergency field here which is distinguished [on] account of its being the only cleared space of its size, near the town. Green river is crossed immediately after the city of Green River is passed. Here the course leaves the railroad which continues in a northwesterly direction. By flying approximately 230˚ compass course from here, Cheyenne [Salt Lake City] will be reached.
Original station interiors were utilitarian spaces

The original station interior at Rock Springs

Technologies have always changed us and made new opportunities

But technology never stands still–within twenty years the giant arrows were outdated. Most of the steel in the decommissioned towers went to the war effort. In most places the evidence is entirely gone.

There are exceptions. The Aviation Heritage Museum in New Mexico, has successfully restored one of the old sites, similar to those rediscovered in Utah and elsewhere which inspire hopes for their preservation.

Others like Medicine Bow are mouldering away in the sun, backdrop to cattle ranching and wilderness. An incredible place to visit. Whether you’re a pilot or not, AirNav gives particulars for the primitive airstrip (80V) that are fascinating. I learned for instance that there are on average only 20 aircraft operations a year, that the runway we landed on is graded annually and is in fair condition (the other is not maintained and is considered poor), that there is a lot of wildlife in the vicinity of both runways. There are gopher and badger holes, berms, ditches, fence obstructions, soft when wet, rough and uneven the entire length. And of course, there are no services.

Except we learned that the small hotel in town would pick you up if you called. Nice!

NOTE: In March 2014 five of my photos (with credits to Sharyn Richardson – Light Pixie Studio) were published in The American Surveyor magazine (the top journal for professionals in land surveying and GPS technology) to illustrate the cover story, “Arrows Across America,” by Mike Mickelsen, including the two-page lead. Check it out here.

Wild west at the Medicine Bow station

A bull stands guard with his harem at the old beacon station in Medicine Bow

It’s another year of wildfires in the American West, not unusual but headline grabbing for sure. We’ve just returned from our third annual trip to Afton, Wyoming, home of Aviat and birthplace of our very own Fire Horse Husky! And it’s the second year for smoky transits across Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Montana. California makes big headlines for their raging Rim Fire at Yosemite, while Oregon and Utah also do battle with Vulcan.

After refueling at Pocatello, Idaho, I flew north toward Salmon, Idaho, over Craters of the Moon National Monument. Big Southern Butte is one of the largest lava domes on earth, a coalescing of two domes rising 2500 feet above the surface west of Idaho Falls. Take a look as seen from 12,500’ MSL. When I’m shooting my husband flies, otherwise I’d rather be flying than almost anything else.

Notice the band of grey-brown band above the horizon and at the same approximate altitude as we are. Dense smoke makes aerial photography more time-consuming because filtering and color adjustments are required in post-production. Only afterward could I see the scene as clearly as you can here! [To see what I mean, hover your mouse over the image. That’s what it looked like straight out of the camera.] One trick is to use blending modes in several layers—Darken and Multiply work well for mid-to-dark tones while Overlay and Soft Light often work for mid-to-lighter tones—and then paint-in the effect where you want it while varying opacity. Experiment to find what gives you the best result from each image. Yes, you will need a photo editing program like Photoshop or Topaz FXLab. Hover your mouse to see the original, unretouched.

A rugged, back country taildragger like our Husky can land almost anywhere. It’s a 200 horsepower “pack leader” that’s made for short fields and rugged terrain. There’s a rough strip (U46) northwest of the Big Southern Butte that gives ready access to climbing, hiking and mountaineering as well as amazing views of the Snake River plain and the Rocky Mountains. We’ll save it for another trip in sky clear conditions.

A week later we landed for fuel at Glacier National Park north of Kalispell in western Montana to find a pair of airtankers on the apron at the Glacier Jet Center. It’s a Canadair CL-215 firefighting flying boat designed to operate in the heavy winds and gusts found over forest fires. As for the skilled pilots who fly them, it’s a career for the bold and the brave as it takes mad flying skills while navigating perilously close to active fires, rising thermal currents, and thick smoke.

Amphibious aircraft like this are water bombers called Scoopers for the efficient way they deliver their payload of up to 1,176 gallons of water or 12,000 pounds of foams, gels, or retardant chemicals. Despite their size and 20,000 pound empty weight they are capable short takeoff and landing aircraft. This Scooper was built in 1986 and is owned by a company in Arizona on duty in the summer of 2013 to fight wildfires in West Yellowstone and the Shoshone and Flathead National Forests.