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SKYBIRD:
Dale Brown’s Ops Report
July 2003
Copyright © 2003, TDPI

After Action Report

Just like any strike mission, there is an "After Action Report," followed by "Lessons Learned." Everything you do, big or small, can have an After Action Report and Lessons Learned tacked onto it. Here are mine:

Lesson Learned #1 -- Get-Home-itis

A popular saying in the Air Force is "Lean Forward," which means "Keep working towards your objective even if things start to go wrong." Generally that's a good philosophy--but it's gotten plenty of aviators into trouble too.

The weather in northern Arkansas for takeoff was layered clouds and light rain--not perfect, but not bad either. But the forecast for my planned destination, Sugar Land Airport near Houston, was awful--high winds, heavy rain, and thunderstorms in all quadrants, with the possibility of embedded thunderstorms (severe storms hidden within innocent-looking rain clouds so they can't be seen on radar) and supercell thunderstorms (storms with over 40 meters/sec. vertical, horizontal, and circular movement), which could spawn tornadoes.

I'm from the Pacific Southwest, where late spring weather is good and towering thunderstorms are rare and generally small and avoidable. I knew that thunderstorms build up rapidly in the Midwest and Gulf regions during the afternoon--but I launched anyway, around two p.m. "Lean forward."

Smart? Maybe not.

I can download current weather observations and NEXRAD radar images via satellite and display them on a moving map in my cockpit while in-flight, and with ninety minutes to go until arrival, I could see the weather had only gotten worse. In addition, now I was dodging thunderstorms in south-central Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana. With radar and a Stormscope--a device that plots lightning discharges as far as a hundred miles away--I was able to stay at least twenty miles away from every thunderstorm and even managed to avoid most every heavy rain cell.

"Lean forward." I had a job to do, places to go, people to see, a schedule to keep. Press on. Keep going.

In aviation accident reports, "Lean Forward" sometimes shows up as the term "Get Home-itis"--a pilot's overwhelming and sometimes irrational urge to finish the flight, no matter what. Low fuel, bad weather, maintenance problems, darkness, lack of skill or preparation--no matter what the deficiency, some pilots press on with a flight simply because "I HAD to get home" or "I HAD to be there."

Was I in the throes of "get-home-itis?"

The most important thing to consider when the situation gets iffy in flying is lining up your options, or your "outs" as we call them. What will you do if this or that happens? Where will you go? Is there a safe and reliable direction to fly? If there are no "outs," perhaps you have no business flying in the first place.

I was well-versed in thinking about "outs" since cracking the cylinder over Nowhere, New Mexico just a week earlier. Back then, I had lots of "outs." The weather for my destination in Albuquerque was good; I had lots of fuel; and I was already at altitude. If I had to shut down the engine, I could still safely fly the plane to my destination and land. The Cessna 421 flies very well on one engine and even has a decent single-engine climb rate if not too heavily loaded.

But I had fewer "outs" on this trip to Houston. The plane was flying great, but this time the weather south, east, and west of my route of flight was terrible. The only direction where the weather was OK was near my takeoff field, and even then I would have to climb and descend through clouds and rain, surrounded by the Ozark Mountains, to make a safe instrument landing.

I was legal, but was this a safe and enjoyable trip? I was the pilot in command. The responsibility for the completion of a safe flight was mine alone. Would I ever brief a proposed flight to my wife and son by saying, "We'll be flying to Sugar Land Airport this afternoon, where the weather is forecast to be heavy rain, wings gusting to forty knots, wind shear, and possible supercell thunderstorms in the vicinity"? Would I go on such a trip if a pilot friend of mine briefed such a weather forecast?

But I was flying alone, and I was already airborne. I had things to do, places to be, people that were waiting for me. I HAD to get to Houston…

… or did I?

After twenty minutes of dodging thunderstorms and getting a terminal forecast from the Enroute Flight Advisory Service that was pretty dismal, I finally decided that discretion was the better part of valor and did a one-eighty back to Mountain Home, Arkansas. I wasn't going to insert myself into the boiling cauldron of thunderstorms, with all those dozens of diverting aircraft zooming around southeastern Texas. Yes, it was two hours of flight time during which I had gone exactly nowhere…

… but I was alive, I was back on the ground where and when I wanted to be, and my aircraft was in one piece without any extra dings or cracks. That was a victory. I hope I didn't lose any fans or goodwill by not making a scheduled event, but I know I didn't lose something more valuable--my life.

Lesson #2 -- Supporting Those Who Support Me

With all due respect to Carl Reiner and Jane Seymour, I was disappointed that they didn't connect with their fans a little more during their book signings at BEA in Los Angeles. A lot of folks spent a lot of time waiting in line to meet these celebrities and get a signed book, but very few of them actually got to meet them.

Why? Because these celebrities mostly just signed books--didn't shake hands, didn't greet anyone, didn't have pictures taken, usually didn't even look up. And as soon as their hour was over, they departed--leaving a still very long line of disappointed fans in their wake.

I'm sure Ms. Seymour and Mr. Reiner are very busy, and because I met and got to speak with both of them, I know they're very nice folks. We weren't being paid to appear--we were there to support our books and our publishers. The books were free. Everyone was asked to be in line early and were warned that time and the supply of books was limited, so in all fairness, everyone knew the score. And we all had our "handlers"--folks from both BEA, our publishing house, and our own publicists, telling us to "sign faster, the line's getting longer, don't personalize, one book only, go faster, stop shaking hands, stop this stop that…"

But we love our celebrities, and it's a special occasion when we get to shake their hand or have a conversation with one, even if it's only a few words.

I hope to someday rise to just a fraction of the celebrity status of either Ms. Seymour or Mr. Reiner, but as I do I will treat my fans better than this. I will sign books as long as there are visitors waiting in line and books are available, and I will attempt within reason to greet every visitor in line personally, even if they didn't get a book.

Maybe I'm deluding myself. Maybe I'll never know what it's like to have hundreds and hundreds of persons standing in line for one of my books (although I did sign over 200 copies of Air Battle Force at BEA). But I think that's how all my readers should be treated, no matter how many of them have come out to see me, and I will treat them all like friends and valuable supporters.

Lesson #3 -- On The Road, Back At Home, and Back In The Office

I don't advocate "Lean Forward" when making flying decisions, but "Lean Forward" is definitely the attitude I need to have in most every other aspect of my life and career. It's too easy to get complacent and take it easy.

The first out-of-town leg of the book tour, Tahoe to San Jose, I got a little bit of a late start, which caused me to miss a couple of the unscheduled "drive-by" book signings. The delay was partly due to a small maintenance problem, but mostly it was due to the fact that I just didn't get my butt out to the airport early enough.

That bothered me. I had a long trip to go, I was responsible for getting myself to the events on time, and I needed to adopt a stricter attitude towards scheduling and pacing. In other words, I had to "Lean Forward."

During the book tour, I had several instances where I had very early-morning takeoffs, which meant even earlier wake-up calls. I resolved to get to bed earlier, get up earlier, move a little quicker, and adopt a more business-like attitude to traveling. There was plenty of "down time" planned into my itinerary--I could relax then. Otherwise, I had to be a lot more disciplined to avoid any more missed appointments.

When I got home, it would've been easy for me to kick back and relax, or hole up in the office, flip through the e-mails, and watch TV. But now I wasn't an author on a book tour with some down time--I was a husband, a Dad, and a homeowner, who had been away from home for several weeks. Things had to be done. My family hadn't seen me in many days, and they needed me more than I realized.

I had to "Lean Forward" again--but this time, it meant paying attention to the folks back home.

Finally, once the tour was over and I was back home, there was another little matter waiting for me--namely, novel manuscript number sixteen.

Take my word for this, folks: summertime at Lake Tahoe is simply incredible, and after nearly three weeks on the road and forty hours of flying time (about three times as much flying as I normally do in a month), I was ready to take it easy, enjoy Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains, and join my wife, son, and friends on the beach.

But it was time to "Lean Forward" again. I was at least a month behind in getting the manuscript in. Fine weather and beckoning beaches or not, it was time to get my butt back in the office and get cracking.

Contractor working on the roof? Fourth of July fireworks? Party in progress? Family in town? Doesn't matter. It's still time to "lean forward" and get the job done.

So don't worry: the new book is in progress and on the way. All it took was a little "Leaning Forward."

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Air Battle Force (MAY 2003)

Maverick Pilot Patrick McLanahan Takes aerial warfare into unknown territory in a heart racing new adventure.

Still smarting from recent losses, the brilliant but unpredictable former USAF Major General is accepted back into the fold and assigned a simple task: devise and build the air combat unit of the future. McLanahan's answer: the Air Battle Force - a rapid-response team of elite commandos protected by state-of-the-art body armour and supported by an armada of anmanned planes.

His idea is soon put to the test when the oil rich Republic of Turkmenistan becomes a battleground between Taliban insurgents, former Soviet overlords, Iranian opportunists and American oil companies and politicians. But can a handful of commandos half a world away, aided by an unproven force of robot warplanes, fight and win a war in which semingly everyone - even 'friendly' forces at home - want them to fail?

'Whe a former pilot turns his hand to thrillers you can take their authenticity for granted. His writing is exceptional and the dialogue, plots and characters are first-class... far too good to be missed.'
--Sunday Mirror

‘Dale Brown is a superb storyteller’
--WASHINGTON POST

‘Dale Brown is the best military adventure writer in the country’
--CLIVE CUSSLER

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Trident Media Group
(212) 262-4810

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