Where were you on July 20, 1969?

For those old enough to remember, July 20, 1969 marked a tremendous achievement not just for America, but also for the entire world.

 On July 16th the Apollo 11 rocket—with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on board—blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On July 20th their capsule circled the Moon as Armstrong and Aldrin deployed to the lunar surface aboard a separate craft, while Collins remained in orbit aboard the “mother ship.” After spending over twenty hours on the Moon, the pair rendezvoused with Collins and began their flight back to earth. They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24th.

 Scores of books, films, and first-hand accounts have documented Apollo 11 and the five other manned lunar missions that followed. Ironically, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, doubters and conspiracy buffs have concocted wild tales that the entire project was staged by the government in a movie studio and never really happened! Go figure…

 Where was I on July 20, 1969?  I was a 17 year-old Plebe Midshipman, three weeks into summer training at the Naval Academy. While our company crowded around a tiny black-and-white TV set in the Academy’s bowling alley, we watched Neil Armstrong step onto the Moon’s surface and declare, “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

 

 

Are pilots going the way of the dodo bird?

Will there be a time when pilots are no longer needed? The notion may sound farfetched, but think about it for a moment.

 Remotely controlled aircraft have been with us for many years, and as one might expect, the military has led the way. The Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper have proven their worth as lethal weapons platforms in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Likewise, the Navy now deploys its own autonomous vehicles—the MQ-8 Fire Scout helicopter and the MQ-4C Triton fixed-wing drone. Most recently, there’s news that the Army has shown interest in using a dual-rotor drone, the DP-14, for casualty evacuation. There’ve been some failures (note the MQ-4C crash in September 2018), but overall, these pilot-free machines continue to show amazing capabilities.

 On the civilian side, I predict that we’ll see pilotless cargo jets flying within a decade—first on oceanic routes, and then domestically as well. As for fully autonomous passenger planes…maybe that’s a stretch. I can’t help thinking, however, that more than a few airline executives have mulled over the cost savings of eliminating pilots.

 

Classic Rotors Ramona, CA

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Looking for a nice daytrip while in San Diego? Take the scenic 45-minute drive to the “Classic Rotors” aviation museum in Ramona. You won’t be disappointed.

Located on Montecito Road on the north side of Ramona Airport, you’ll find a huge collection of fascinating military and civilian rotary aircraft. Admission is free, but after viewing the museum’s impressive collection you will probably want to make a donation.

Visit their website at www.rotors.org. Be sure to note days and hours when the museum is open to the public.

On a personal note: While in Ramona check out the “Marinade on Main” restaurant. Connie and I have eaten there several times and have always enjoyed the food.

 

 

Aviation thoughts: Fixed-Wing or Rotary?

The U.S. Navy trained me to fly both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. Had I not been granted the privilege of attending the Naval Academy and subsequently become an aviator, I would have likely been an education major in college, taught social studies and coached high school football. Teaching and coaching are certainly noble professions, yet my life would have been totally different had I not been a naval officer and professional pilot.

 Over the years some folks have asked me what type aircraft is the hardest to fly: fixed-wing or rotary? I always qualify my answer by establishing that I’ve never flown in combat, and never had the opportunity to land a plane aboard ship—though I’ve accomplished that task scores of times in a helicopter. As for what aviators call the “stick and rudder” skills needed to operate a flying machine, I’d have to say that piloting a helicopter is more of a challenge, and definitely harder to master as a novice pilot. Unlike fixed-wing, helicopters are inherently unstable, and manually hovering a helicopter is comparable to balancing one’s self on a bowling ball while juggling. With that in mind, landing a helo on the rolling, pitching deck of a small ship during a storm at night is guaranteed to raise any pilot’s heart rate!

But flying an airplane presents its own unique set of demands, particularly when operating in high altitude, transoceanic, or all-weather environments. Pre-flight planning becomes more critical when considering jet stream winds, forecast turbulence, icing and thunderstorms. Normally, a helicopter crew can plan their mission to avoid such factors.

 In conclusion, I’ll say that both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft have undergone huge technical advancements since the era when I learned to fly. Computers, digital instrumentation, and more reliable turbine engines have made aviation a much safer endeavor. As I observe the newest aircraft being developed, I’m envious of the young men and women who will fly them.

 Blue skies!

When fiction gets too close to the truth

It’s been said that good fiction should be believable, otherwise the story will come across as just fantasy.

With the above in mind, I’ve sometimes found it challenging to script characters and scenes that are convincing, yet not overly influenced by actual persons or events. It’s a different matter when referring to historical persons or happenings by name. Most readers easily understand that these are real people and occurrences, and not the author’s imagination. Provided the references are accurate, these “doses” of non-fiction can add depth and granularity to a story. James Michener mastered this style of writing by injecting historical facts and mentioning actual persons in his books. Good examples of Michener’s technique can be found in novels like Texas and Centennial.

But fiction has the potential of rubbing against the truth, and that may provoke unintended reactions or even offend. I discovered this with my first novel, A Golden Weekend, which like many authors’ initial efforts, was somewhat autobiographical. More than a few folks confronted me and said in effect, “You can’t fool me; I know who so-and-so actually is in the story!” I received similar feedback with Rotorboys—an action adventure based loosely on my experiences flying helicopters in the Western Pacific. Some Navy friends were sure that I’d formed characters in the image of familiar people, and modeled scenes on real events.

So how can an author write believable fiction without crossing the line, or worse yet, offending someone? My only guidance is to tread lightly when reflecting on real people or actual events while developing a story. In the end though, perception is reality for some readers and you can’t please everyone. Just saying…

 

 

A return to the days of Ferdinand Marcos?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently invoked martial law in an effort to stem the threat of Islamic militancy on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. While the world turns its attention toward atrocities committed by ISIS in the Middle East and Europe, the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf (meaning "bearer of the sword") has conducted a string of kidnappings and beheadings in the Marawi region of Mindanao. 

Duterte's warning that he may declare martial law throughout the entire country harkens back to the 70s and 80s when then-President Ferdinand Marcos instituted a nation-wide form of martial law in response to the violence led by an armed wing of the Philippine Communist Party, the New Peoples Army.

"Those who fail to learn from history are domed to repeat it."

 

 

A must see... The Udvar-Hazy Center

Wow, what a place! Two giant hangars house this massive display of aircraft.  In my opinion equally enjoyable as the Center's older cousin, the Air and Space Museum in nearby D.C. Personal favorites: the diverse rotary wing display; Enola Gay (B-29 bomber); Space Shuttle; restored WWII German aircraft. Click the below link for more on the UHC:

Udvar-Hazy Center

Marine CH-46. Nice machine but I prefer it in navy haze grey

Marine CH-46. Nice machine but I prefer it in navy haze grey

How to write the next best seller in 3 easy steps...Not!!

Occasionally, some folks will ask me serious questions about writing: topics such as how to develop characters; storyline arcs; plots and subplots, etc.  My answer is always the same: I’m the wrong guy to ask, find someone more knowledgeable! During the ten years that I’ve been trying to write believable fiction, the most important lesson I’ve learned is how little I really know about the subject. The late, great Elmore Leonard once opined that it wasn’t until he’d penned about one million words that he felt he’d found his voice as a writer. My two novels (A Golden Weekend and Rotorboys) total barely one hundred fifty thousand words, so by Mr. Leonard’s standards I’ve just scratched the surface.

Nonetheless, here are my own top three rules when attempting to communicate via the written word:

1.     Write about what you know. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, if your topic is something you understand and are passionate about, the words will probably flow much easier.

 2.    Have references at hand. Use a good dictionary and thesaurus - hard copy or online, it doesn’t matter. Also, old standards like Strunk and White’s The Element of Style and Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition will prove invaluable when you’re struggling to remember where to place an apostrophe or the difference between the words lie and lay.

 3.     Get a second set of eyes to read your work. What made sense to you when you wrote it may not translate as clearly to someone else. If you prefer not to hire a professional editor (the going rate is 3-4 dollars/page), then at least have a friend or a relative look over your work before sending it out to the cold, critical public.

Closing thought: Some of my friends choose a designated spot and time of day to do their writing. As an airline pilot, I’ve never had a predictable schedule or set location that I could count on, so I’ve squeezed my writing in whenever/wherever possible. My two novels – and their respective sequels - have been composed at all hours and at locations strung out between Paris and Tokyo. Bottom line is to find a routine that works best for you.

In the coming months I plan to share more thoughts on writing, and also to post excerpts from my next novel, Verbal Orders. 

 As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for your interest and be well!

 

 

A breath of fresh air... Hillsdale College free online courses

Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Michigan, offers many outstanding free (yes, I love that word) online courses. Considering that it's a presidential election year, you might want to check out their latest offering, "Public Policy from a Constitutional View Point." I've found it to be a breath of fresh air in our current world of political blather.

https://online.hillsdale.edu/

Could this signal a return to Grande Island, the Chuck Wagon and Magsaysay Boulevard?

Sailors and Marines who served at the Subic Bay Naval Complex, Philippines, during the 60s-90s will fondly recall the above mentioned destinations, respectively: a tropical island retreat; a grungy country western bar; and Olongapo City’s main drag. After last week’s ruling by the Philippine Supreme Court, U.S. Forces could once again be stationed on Philippine soil after a two-decade absence. (Although I suspect that Grande, “the Wagon” and Magsaysay are vastly different now). Details of the Court’s ruling have yet to be ironed out, however, one thing is clear: the Philippine government needs America’s military presence to counter Communist China’s unchecked dominance in the South China Sea (SCS). China has been aggressively dredging the SCS floor and pumping those sands on to numerous reefs in an effort to “build” sovereign islands in locations currently claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Airstrip and radar facilities have already been constructed on at least one of these man-made formations. Several vital issues are at stake for the Philippine people: fishing rights currently protected under United Nations Law; claims to oil and gas exploration areas; commercial shipping lanes; and free fly-over zones for military and commercial aircraft. The Obama administration wisely expanded a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines in 2014. Likewise, our State Department’s willingness to negotiate the return of U.S. Forces to the Philippines should be commended as well.

For more details on this topic, you can click the following link:

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/beijing-remains-%E2%80%98undeterred%E2%80%99-the-south-china-sea-14863?

 

 

Aviation technology advances during the last three decades

“What’s it doing now?!!!” was a phrase uttered frequently by pilots when introduced to new the generation of computerized aircraft like the Boeing 757 and Airbus 320 during the 1980s. Imagine a plane that could fly itself precisely from point-to-point, automatically descend on the most fuel-efficient profile, and then land without the pilot ever having to touch the flight controls or engine throttles! What sounds blasé now was such an intimidating thought that many seasoned pilots avoided checking out in these new jets, preferring instead to fly the venerable 727 or 737 – aircraft flown more hands-on, or in aviator speak by “stick and rudder.”

Aviation technology has advanced dramatically during the last thirty years with the advent of stronger, lighter materials and the use of computerized automation. For instance, the Pratt-Whitney PW2000 series engine – installed on the Boeing 757 and Air Force C17 Globemaster – generates nearly three times the thrust that the original 727 engine did, while consuming about the same amount of fuel per hour. Likewise, composite airframe components, when used in place of heavier aluminum and steel, save airlines millions of gallons of fuel each year. Navigating by inertial reference units (IRU) and GPS allow aircraft to fly more direct (read faster and cheaper) routes. Prior to IRU and GPS, airliners relied on ground-based navigation aides while over land, or when transiting the ocean, by employing a navigator who fixed a position using the sun and stars. Fly-by-wire technology, used exclusively on modern Airbus equipment, eliminates flight control cables and mechanical fuel control systems. With fewer moving parts, these electronic features are proving to be more reliable than the ones they replaced.

Overall, commercial aviation is safer and more efficient than ever. And the advancements haven’t been limited to just airplane hardware. Savvy travelers can now surf websites like Priceline to cherry pick the best fares, check-in online, and then at the gate, perform a paperless scan of their boarding pass using a smart phone.

To answer that perplexed pilot who once asked “What’s it doing now,” I’d have to say that “it” is doing just fine, and making life better for all who step onboard an airplane.

 

 

USS Oriskany

Recently visited the USS Oriskany Memorial in Oriskany, NY. History buffs will recall that the Battle of Oriskany was a critical engagement during the Revolutionary War. While growing up in upstate NY, I never realized how many local towns have shared namesakes with U.S. Navy ships - Oriskany, Herkimer and Saratoga to name a few. Please follow this link for more on the "Mighty O."   http://www.navy.mil/navydata/nav_legacy.asp?id=51