Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Communication and Navigation

Has anyone else ever heard said, “Communication is often our weakest link”. Communication is important for all of us. Means of communication runs the gamut from simple and effective to loud, outrageous, and possibly obnoxious and unpleasant. Communication is not complete until we receive a response from the one spoken to indicating that they comprehended what they were told.

In aviation, proper and complete communication is very important in the interest of safety and mission enhancement contributing to successful mission accomplishment. A simple miscommunication in an aircraft can end in catastrophe. Poor or inappropriate communication in a marriage can lead to divorce. Army aviation has a saying, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. (BTW, I'm content in any one of the three positions as long as I am where I belong.) The Army goes to great measures to teach good communication in the cockpit. Here is a story told in an Army Aviation safety meeting I attended:
A Bad Day Joe was the co-pilot for a Mohawk mission. Normally Joe was an easy going cheerful guy, but on the morning of the ill-fated mission it was obvious that Joe had awakened on the wrong side of the bed. Joe’s PIC (Pilot in Command) detected his melancholy mood and elected to keep all communication to only that which was necessary to get the job done. They filed their flight plan and preflighted their aircraft only speaking when professionally necessary. Then they went through the run-up procedures and taxied out to the runway for takeoff. All this was done with no pleasant and extraneous communication that normally takes place between people in most situations except for those that require the bare minimum necessary like a critical surgery or some other complex dangerous process. Once cleared for takeoff with the throttles pushed forward and the aircraft quickly approaching takeoff airspeed, the PIC finally decided to make a social extraneous comment to Joe. The PIC said, “Come on Joe! Cheer up!” Joe said, “Roger gear up.” As he hit the switch that retracted the landing gear and the aircraft still not at takeoff speed bellied in on the runway.
Ouch! Point made...

One of the very first things I learned in a helicopter was that I did not have to look at my instructor pilot when he spoke to me or I spoke to him. There were plenty of other things that needed watching and took priority over a social convention expected in polite society.

I also experienced an instructor pilot that was a screamer as my first instrument instructor. This poor means of communication came close to almost costing me my opportunity to become a helicopter pilot. It did cause me to get setback and graduate a class behind the one I started with. But, I think this experience helped me to become a better instructor pilot when it was my turn to decide if I wanted to be a screamer or a smooth easy communicator in the cockpit. Here is a link to a sampling of some of the critiques I received from some of my students in my instructor pilot days: IQD~No Slack!

I chose to make the cockpit environment as pleasurable and comfortable as possible for my students while still allowing them the best possible chance to learn. I did have one memorable student that passed through my cockpit and ended up not making it for a peculiar reason. I would patiently explain things to this student over, and over. He was definitely slow on picking up the information that he should have been getting. After several days of this I finally sat him down and asked him a few questions.

Me to student, “Able, did you ever have an instructor pilot scream at you?”

Student to me, “Yes sir.”

I wasn’t that surprised by his answer. I knew there were a few screamers out there. I had personally experienced one. His answer to my next question did surprise me though.

Me to student, “Well, how did you like that?”

Student to me, “I liked it.”

Whoa! He liked it? That puzzled me. A screamer in the cockpit definitely creates an unpleasant ambiance and, in my opinion, a setting not very conducive to learning. I had to explore this more. Me to student, “Why did you like it?”

Student to me, “Because that way I knew when I was doing something wrong.”

After that little conversation I started “SCREAMING” at Able whenever he did something wrong. I saw a little improvement, but he was already pretty far behind and having to scream in the cockpit is not the ideal atmosphere you want to promote or have exist as normal in an aircraft cockpit. There may be a rare appropriate time with a “weak” copilot if an operational necessity dictates the need for safety, but you don’t want it to be the norm.

Able got passed on to another instructor pilot. I shared with his new instructor my conversation and experiment that for Able, screaming at him when he did wrong did seem to help. But, the other instructor looked at me a little incredulously and understandable so because of the content in the paragraph just above this one.

Able didn’t make it. And, he probably didn’t really need to make it. Many good instructors, me included, like to take a weak student and bring them up to speed. I was once a weak student in a particular area and feel very fortunate to have made it. I also feel like I turned into a well rounded strong pilot with a lot of the credit going to the men that I had mentoring and instructing me along with the things I experienced. But, an instructor has a very important responsibility to insure a student doesn’t make it through when it becomes obvious the student has no business being given Pilot in Command responsibility of operating an aircraft. It is a tough call and usually we push making the call if it goes against the student as far as we reasonably can. Because of that, sometimes weak pilots slip through that probably shouldn’t have. I had the pleasure (or displeasure) of flying with one in Korea once.

I was in the Second Platoon. I had been well groomed and turned into a BZ (Buffer Zone) pilot, then a BZ check pilot, and a flight leader by the men who mentored me. Normally Second Platoon pilots flew with other second platoon pilots and first platoon pilots flew with other first platoon pilots. Cobra platoon pilots who were also Huey pilots flew with all of us depending on the mission.

We had an airmobile training exercise where I was chosen as flight lead for the second platoon. For some reason I was assigned a weak first platoon copilot to fly with me.

The joke in Army Aviation is that when flying with a weak copilot the PIC assigns the copilot to sit on his hands and monitor the standby load meter. By sitting on his hands, the copilot can’t mess with anything he shouldn’t. Monitoring the standby load meter is extremely innocuous. The load meter won’t do anything but rest dead on its peg, unless the main generator fails; then the standby load meter will perk up and show a load. A main generator failure is extremely rare. I never made any of my copilots do that. It is basically a means of telling your copilot he is worthless without saying those words. Not too good for one’s self esteem, but probably apropos for some guys depending on their personality and degree of incompetence they possessed.

I only flew with Ruby this one time. If I had the opportunity to fly with him more I may have gotten to the point where I might have subjected him to the above abuse of sitting on his hands and monitoring the standby load meter, or I may have chosen to possibly try to mentor him into being a stronger pilot if I thought he might have it in him. It's no fun wasting your time on a fruitless cause. It could be very difficult leading a flight on an airmobile lift with a weak copilot. Because navigation is the more important aspect of flying, it doesn’t matter how skilled and competent a pilot is at manipulating the controls, if the pilot cannot navigate he is worthless. I had good navigational skills which may be one of the reasons I was chosen to be a flight lead.

In a typical dual pilot situation one pilot flies the aircraft while the other pilot navigates. The pilots switch off sharing stick time. Unless my copilot was a proven competent navigator, I only gave them the map when I had good boundaries such as an easily recognizable river, highway, ridgeline, or valley that could indicate the copilot was getting lost, or I was very familiar with the area and didn’t need a map to know the same. As flight lead, I always navigated an unfamiliar route on the first sortie while allowing my copilot to fly the route. Once I was familiar with the route I took a turn flying, and from there we usually swapped off trying to share stick time equally depending on how many sorties we made.

I was unfamiliar with this route of flight for this day's airlift, so I allowed Ruby to fly the aircraft while I navigated the first time around the route. This is tactical navigation flown at low level using topographic maps for navigation that show way more detail than the typical aeronautical chart. Unless you personally experience it, it is hard to describe the satisfaction you get when you talk your pilot into an LZ (Landing Zone) that you have never seen before and the first time you see it is as the aircraft is decelerating to land on short final.

Our LZ this day was a ridgeline with pinnacle pads. We were a flight of five. As we rounded the valley where I could see the ridge with the landing areas marked I pointed out a knob of a hill on the ridge where our pad was supposed to be located. I told Ruby, “Shoot your approach to the right of that knob.”

He could see the knob, but he couldn’t see a landing pad. Ruby said, “I don’t see a landing pad.”

I said, “I don’t care, shoot your approach to the knob.”

Ruby said, “But, I don’t see any landing pad.”

I said, “So what, just shoot your approach to the knob!” He should have started to decelerate and begin his approach when I first told him to shoot his approach to the knob.

Ruby said, “But, I don’t see any landing pad!”

He hadn’t even began to slow the aircraft down. I had let him go to where this landing could not be salvaged. We were too fast and had gotten too close to the landing area to safely make an approach. In hind site, I had identified the correct landing area, my navigational duties were done, when Ruby first balked at my instructions of where to make his approach to land, I should have set my map down, taken over the flight controls, and made the approach myself. Live and learn. If I wanted to be cutting and caustic at his failure to follow my instructions I would have said, “I have the controls. Sit on your hands and monitor the standby load meter WOJG!” (WOJG = Warrant Officer Junior Grade) Fortunately this was just a training situation, and I was the one that ended up getting some good training out of it.

I took over the controls once it was too late to salvage the approach and led the flight on a go-around for a second attempt. If this would have been a for real combat situation I would have put the whole flight at risk causing this go-around. Even though Ruby played a part, the responsibility was mine. I could have salvaged a bad communication situation simply by taking over the controls sooner and made the approach myself.

This is interesting, because I find often in life when I am confronted with a situation for the very first time I often do not handle it as I think I should have in retrospect. But, usually it is just training for a very similar situation that will happen in the future and because of my initial failure, I am now ready to perform appropriately and properly whenever the situation presents itself again in the future. Gotta love the lessons we learn in life. Sweet Jesus!

We made our go around with me now on the controls. I flew my aircraft back to the point where I had told Ruby to start his approach. I began our approach to the right of the knob where I had initially told Ruby to do so. There was absolutely no sight of any landing pad through out the whole approach until we came to a high hover beside the knob, then just hidden behind the knob a landing pad came into view. I hovered over and set her down. Then I looked at Ruby with possibly a little contempt in my eye and a grin.

I had to take a little flak in the debrief which I deserved, but at least I had learned a good lesson. I was also glad I never had to fly with that first platoon self-loading-baggage anymore. (self-loading-baggage is a derogatory term often used by pilots in EMS to refer to medical crewmembers who present themselves as high and mighty and knowledgeable in all things applying to aviation. These are the self-appointed experts who don't realize the vast quantity of things they really don't know.)

A good copilot listens to his/her PIC and obeys without question. There is an appropriate time for questions when a good copilot has the proper discernment to know when to ask. Ruby’s first question may have been appropriate and needed to be tolerated. Many times it is better for someone to say something that is not necessary, than to not say something that is necessary. If he was made of the right stuff, he would have never balked the second time by repeating his spoken complaint. Worse case, he would have shot the approach I told him too, and when we got to the point where I spotted the landing pad and there was truly no pad then one of two situations would have occurred: 1). I navigated him to the wrong place, "my bad", and we executed a go-around from that point in an attempt to correct my erroneous navigation. Still painless and safe except for the flak I would have justly deserved at the debrief. Also, highly dangerous in a for real combat scenario. 2). I navigated us to the proper spot and the people who did the AMR (AirMobil Recon) blew it and didn’t brief us properly. In a for real combat situation you don’t get the luxury of an AMR, and may have to improvise. We did a lift once on a route that had not been used in years. The 2nd situation could have also been this scenario where the AMR guys didn’t blow it if an AMR was done. The pads were overgrown with trees a good twelve to twenty feet high. We belly’d in to the tree tops and hovered as the ROK (Republic of Korea) Marines jumped out into the tree tops. Second time around, we had freshly cleared landing pads! Hurrah! I don’t remember the details on this lift, whether or not an AMR was done, whether or not we were briefed on the condition of the landing pads. It was good training though regardless just to see how the pilots and the ROK marines handled it.

Another lift I led took place in the far reaches of TAC Zone C. It was a long flight. I was in tactical mode and led the flight low level to the PZ (Pickup Zone), flawlessly navigated the route to the LZ. My copilot on this day did a good job, and was an asset instead of self-loading-baggage needing babysitting. I took my turn flying on some of the sorties after navigating the first circuit, and we completed the lift without a hitch. I stayed on the controls leading the flight back to our home base. I also was still in tactical low level mode. After about five minutes the copilot said, “Don’t you think it is about time we gain some altitude?” Altitude is your friend in a non-hostile environment. It gives you more time to react and handle an inflight emergency should one occur. I considered his question. The lift was really over and he had made a good point. I said, “You’re right. As I pulled pitch and took us up to a comfortable 1,000 feet AGL (Above Ground Level).

Shift gears a little bit: I tell my wife that we are a good team, and I believe we are! We are not a well oiled team like combat ready Army trained helicopter pilots, but we are a good team. Husbands and wives have roles to play. I’m comfortable sitting in the PIC’s seat or the copilot’s seat. I’ve flown both. It also is a role to play. I value my wife’s input. The trick is discerning apples (like Adam chose to eat) from good advice. Every time I’ve accepted an apple as Adam did, there has been trouble, but my wife’s good advice has also saved us from unimaginable hardship. e.g. I believed in ProximityCast so much that I would have mortgaged our home to get the funds to pay someone to build it. I desperately needed a means to provide for my family after losing my ability to fly. I thought ProximityCast had the potential to become that means. She did not like the idea of mortgaging the house and putting it at risk. The worst case could have proved quite unpalatable: ProximityCast could prove to be a flop without gaining any traction so important in the dot.com world and our home would have been the price causing us to be homeless. I’d be comfortable living in an old school bus again, but with a severely handicapped child to care for that could prove very difficult for my wife to deal with. We are setup comfortably and well for all my son’s needs right where we are at. So, I buckled down and learned the technology I needed to build ProximityCast myself and bootstrapped it. ProximityCast has proven to be a flop and has not gained the slightest bit of traction like I really believed it would have. God! I’m glad I listened to my wife. That piece of advice was no apple and saved our bacon for now anyhow.

Who knows what the future might bring. I know that with Jesus, come what may, it will be all good even if it seems like a tough pill to swallow.

Speaking of the proverbial apple, I believe that since Adam failed and accepted that original apple from his wife that put us into the fallen condition we humans find ourselves in, God wants men everywhere that have wives to learn to discern between apples and good advice. Forbidden fruit and appropriate fruit offered to us by our wives. If we can collectively learn to discern the difference and have the strength to do as we ought, refusing the forbidden fruit while accepting the good, I believe we can improve our human condition. It is not an easy lesson to learn though, and it is not always easy to discern the difference. But I know from what I have seen and experienced, that it is possible.

I could ramble on about communication and navigation between spouses, but least you grow weary I better call it quits for now. My wife has tagged me as “one more Dave”, so true to form I will share one more brief addition before I go today.

Getting to be a husband and a father has been one of my greatest privileges in this life. I believe Heavenly Father has a sense of humor though when He blesses us with children. Children have the ability to give a parent the most joy and the most heartache one can possibly experience in this life. When a child does something that fails to make you happy, I think Heavenly Father looks upon us, smiles and says, “Yeah, now you know what it feels like!” Life is a precious gift and a wonderful learning experience even with the tough lessons. Cherish it!

Old Fashioned Man
wrote and sang by JoLynn Robert
One sweet lady! ThankYou Jesus!

May your ability to communicate and navigate through the trials of life improve if they need improvement. There is One whom I know who can help you along the journey if you ask Him and allow Him to provide the assistance we all can use.

Revelation 3:20
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Mark 4:23
“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”



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