Skybird: Dale Brown’s Ops Report LOGO

© April 2002 Second Edition,
Air Battle Force Inc.

Featured Article:
Hit The Gym, Phase Two
(continued from First Edition)


19-29 April 2002 Mountain Home, Arkansas

-- Twin Lakes Playhouse production of “Steel Magnolias,” sponsored by

The Twin Lakes Playhouse is one of the finest community theater groups in the USA, with talent and production people from all over the country who come to northern Arkansas for retirement or the world-renowned trout fishing and get involved in this group. Well-known for their audience-participation “mellerdrammers,” “Steel Magnolias” is one of their first Broadway-style dramas.

17-20 May 2002 Aviation Seminars Weekend Instrument Course, San Diego, CA

My wife Diane is going for her instrument rating to add to her private pilot’s license and multi-engine rating, so I thought I’d attend at the same time, as a refresher.

Remember the old saying, “The most dangerous part of flying is the drive to the airport?” That is true for commercial and airline flying, where the accident rate averages one per month--it is definitely NOT TRUE for general aviation, where the accident rate is TEN TIMES greater than the commercial side and the fatality rate is THIRTY TIMES greater!

Put it this way: If you ride a motorcycle to the airport, you have a slightly better chance of surviving the flight than you do the ride to the airport.

Why is general aviation flying so dangerous? Reason one: training. General aviation pilots simply don’t get enough training. We are required to get a flight review every 2 years and get an instrument competency check if we don’t fly enough instrument approaches--that’s not enough, unless you fly ten or more hours a week in instrument conditions. Most of us private pilots average about 2-3 hours per week. The airline pilots fly as much in one month as we do in a year, and they still must get a physical and take a check ride twice a year.

The insurance companies may mandate annual simulator training for more complex aircraft. The reason they mandate such training before they’ll write coverage is because so few pilots get any training.

Reason two: standards. Commercial pilots and the airlines have rigid company standards for each and every phase of flight: you will do this here and in this fashion or you will not fly. Period. There are no such standards in general aviation. That’s part of the allure, the freedom of private flying, of course, but that also contributes to the danger.

I ALWAYS fly IFR (instrument flight rules), as if I’m in bad weather, even if the weather is clear in a million. I ALWAYS get a weather briefing no more than two hours before a flight, and I ALWAYS file a flight plan. I ALWAYS plan a flight to have not less than one hour of fuel on board at landing. I ALWAYS shoot an instrument approach to an airport I’m going to land at, no matter what the weather, unless the airport doesn’t have one or if the pattern is too busy. I ALWAYS fly the plane by reference to the aircraft instruments, even if I can see the ground and the horizon. Those are some of the standards that I adopt and never violate, and I think it makes me a better pilot.

This is not an endorsement, but I do recommend Aviation Seminars’ weekend ground schools. The purpose of crash courses like Aviation Seminars is NOT to make you a knowledgeable aviator. Its purpose is simple: to get you to pass the FAA written exam, which is required before you take a check ride for a license or rating.

It is the “take a sip of water through a fire hose” method of training: Aviation Seminars will cram six months of information in your head in fifteen hours of intense review; then, while you keep your head straight so the data doesn’t leak out your ears, you RUN, don’t WALK, to the test center and take the exam. You then regurgitate the information onto the answer sheet. Most test centers give you the results right away.

Go ahead and laugh, but it works--they have an impressive pass rate, they offer unlimited free course retakes within a year, and if you take the test, flunk it, retake the course, and flunk it again, they’ll refund your money.

The weekend courses don’t prepare you for the check ride. You may retain some of what you’ve heard in a cram course, but it won’t stick very well. Training and experience is the best way to get ready for the check ride. You may not be as well trained as if you had attended a formal ground school, but you’ll have that piece of paper saying you passed the test--and, more importantly, you’ll know how much you don’t know.

As much as I’m looking forward to the instrument course, I WILL NOT re-take the FAA instrument written exam. It’s a ball-buster. Good luck, sweetheart!

11-17 June 2002

The Cayman Caravan and International Aviation Week on the Cayman Islands

This is the ultimate adventure for any pilot: flying with several dozen of your buddies from Key West, Florida, across Cuba to Grand Cayman Island for International Aviation Week. Skybird: Annual Events in the Cayman Islands Aviation Week LOGO Unlike the fears expressed by us ex-Cold Warriors, flying across Cuba is safe, legal, and hasn’t been a problem despite several unexpected forced landings there. Caravan organizers help pilots in planning and preparation, including filing all necessary Customs and overflight request forms. Cuban air traffic controllers speak English, their radar system is excellent, and no one has been shot at yet (you are more likely to get intercepted by an American fighter jet these days!).

When I called about information on the Caravan, I spoke with Ross Russo, an Air Force fighter squadron commander who was profiled by Dave Gwynn in a recent article in the Pilot’s Audio Update. Ross is an airplane owner, and Gwynn told about how Ross approaches flying his own plane as seriously and as competently as he flies his F-16 Falcon. My kind of guy!

I’m not sure if my schedule permits me, but if you go on the Caravan or attend the Air Show, look for me on the beach in the Cayman Islands!

Air Force Civic Leaders Tour, 18-19 July 2002

Sponsored by the Air Force, the 940th Air Refueling Wing, and the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, the Civic Leaders Tour welcomes civilians on a special VIP tour of Air Force operations. The purpose of the tour is to acquaint influential civilians “up close and personal” on day-to-day Air Force operations. Various Air Force units conduct these tours many times throughout the year all around the country.

The tour starts at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, CA, with a tour of the Ninth Strategic Reconnaissance Wing and the U-2 Dragon Lady spy planes. The tour then loads up in a 940th Air Refueling Wing KC-135 Stratotanker and heads off to Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, NV. On the way, the tanker is tasked to perform air-refueling missions, and those on the tour get their turn in the refueling pod with the boom operator to watch the refueling. Although the refueling missions are scheduled ahead of time, you never know what might show up on the boom: you might be scheduled to refuel a B-52, but a KC-10 tanker, a B-2 stealth bomber, F-117 stealth fighter, or F-15 Eagle might show up as well! Skybird: Air Force Civic Leaders Tour LOGO

At Nellis AFB, the tour gets a look at unmanned reconnaissance aircraft operations with a tour of the Global Hawk unit. The tour also looks at the Red Flag Operations Center, which controls the world’s most extensive air combat war games; the USAF Thunderbirds Demonstration Team headquarters; and the Threat Museum, a look at enemy fighters and anti-aircraft weapons from around the world.

My old buddy Dennis Hall is the volunteer coordinator for the tour; he can be reached at

As usual, my book tour schedule and other real-world events determine if I can participate--but I’m looking forward to this tour as well! Skybird: Reno Air Racing Association LOGO
September 2002
The Reno National Championship Air Races, Reno, NV

I live just 40 minutes from Reno, but I’ve never been to the Air Races--an inexcusable omission that I plan to correct this year (I actually planned to go last year, but the September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent grounding of VFR aircraft led to cancellation). I finally did see the racecourse at Stead Airport near Reno, and believe me, you will be right in the middle of the action. See you there!

Next month:

-- More exercise nuts and bolts
-- Nuclear warfighting: Why it should be an option for America

Robert Gottlieb
Trident Media Group
(212) 262-4810

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