Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beauty and the Beholder

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. - Scott Adams

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

My goal as I write in this blog is to find things that tickle my fancy and to share them with you. Those of you who know me, know that I am not an artsy kind of guy. Yes, I enjoy good art, but I would be hard put to describe to you what I think constitutes good art. Were you to force me to describe good art, I would choke out words like 'beauty' and 'higher truth' and 'transcendental' and such in the hopes that you would go away and leave me alone.

Often I am presented with 'objets' that someone obviously considers to be art - and that may in fact be art - but they just beat heck out of me.

The Incheon International Airport is a case in point. If you click that link and look at the pictures you will see what I mean. The airport structure is very flowing and aerodynamic. I don't find it particularly aesthetic, but your mileage may vary.

Being a freight dog, we don't get to go through the main entrance that the passengers use. We go around to the east side of the airport to the teeming and busy cargo ramp. For those who do enter the airport normally, there is a large sculpture that greets them at the entrance. As us freight dogs taxi out to take off this work is very easy to see out on the horizon. At night, bright lights illuminate it - you can't miss it. It has elicited more than a few comments over the years in what is supposed to be a 'sterile cockpit environment.' I give you this picture:

As I have said before, good art encourages the observer to impose interpretations upon it. I suppose one could say that the sculpture engenders the soaring promise of aviation to the hopeful souls on the globe below.

You are looking at the front side of the sculpture as the artist intended you to first see it. Us freight dogs usually see this thing from the backside and trust me, it looks different from that side.

Personally, I think the artist is having a giggle at our expense. I offer this blog as evidence supporting my viewpoint. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section.

As always, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gooey Ducks

"Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic." - Frank Herbert, Dune

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

On Hanukkah, (Dec 12, 2009) we 'operated' from Anchorage down to Seoul, Korea. It is not often that a freight dog experiences whimsy professionally and I feel compelled to tell you about it when it does.

The last 'cans' to get loaded before we close up the jet are the 'Haz Cans'.

We make a lot of money flying Hazardous Freight that the people carriers are not allowed to have on their jet. 'Haz' is closely regulated and monitored by the FAA and the EPA. There is a huge 40 page or so chapter in our Flight Operations Manual giving me detailed guidance in how handle this sort of freight.

'Live animals' are included on the Haz paperwork because the proximity and location of the two needs to be considered and planned for. Usually, the First Officer goes back and inspects the loading of the Haz, does a 'bufoonery check' on the paperwork and brings it to me for approval and my signature.

On this flight, he has a goofy look on his face as he hands me the paperwork. He says something that sounds to me like:

"There are gooey ducks loaded on the main deck."

"Say whut?", sez I, somewhat stupidly.

"Gooey Ducks".

"Whazza Gooey Dux?"

"I think they are burrowing clams. They are a delicacy in Asia."

At this point, I am intrigued. However, there is a time and place for everything, and learning more about gooey dux ten minutes before push-back, start-up, taxi and takeoff is not a good idea. What is important is knowing what we have to do to maintain an environment conducive to delivering the gooey dux to the customer in the desired condition. So, I ask:

"Whaddawegoddadoo for the gooey dux?"

"Looks like it says keep the temperature at 60 degrees or so."

I can do that, so I sign the haz paperwork and we blast off into the long, delirious, burning blue and cruise for 8.5 hours to the mysterious Orient and Seoul, Korea.

Safely tucked away in the Seoul Hilton, I made it a high priority to begin researching the novel new concept of gooey dux. I found this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoduck

So....a geoduck is a very large clam prized in asia as a delicacy. Ugly critters - although they may be genesis of the phrase: 'As happy as a clam.' On the other hand, maybe not.

I can now add geoducks to lobsters, seafood, baby chicks, horses and live turtles to my personal menagerie of animals I've flown with.

I ain't doing 'snakes on a plane.'

As a conclusion, I discovered this link:


I pity da fool who ain't seen Mike Rowe's, Discovery Channel show, 'Dirty Jobs'. I post this link with some concern as I am not allowed to view this video in mysterious Asia. I have heard from reputable sources that the show plays off the prurient nature of the geoduck reproductive process.

You cannot say that you have not been warned.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blue Eyed Soul

A north wind in Texas didn't care whose ass it stung, just like a sad song didn't care whose heart it broke.
-- Dan Jenkins, Baja Oklahoma

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

You will find below a music video. I highly recommend that you don't play it if you are somewhere that you might find it embarrassing to get a little misty eyed. The song is about the 'Angel Flights' that return our fallen heroes home from the battlefield.

This song has a lot of connections to my kids in various ways. I found out about the song when my oldest son, George, sent me this email this morning:


Normally, I think country music is a big bag of gay, but I know you guys liked Radney Foster from the Texas/Del Rio music scene.

Four fans of freedom!


George - sensitive and sentimental soul that he is - is at present deployed to Kuwait and flying missions throughout the area in the C-130s you see in the video. The 'Four Fans of Freedom' is a motto of the guys who fly the Herks - one of the few airplanes in the Air Force that still have propellers. He has flown missions with fallen heroes in the back of his airplane.

On to Radney Foster and Del Rio. We lived in Del Rio, Texas for about 11 years. My youngest daughter, Katie was born there and both Jaime and Katie pretty much grew up there. Radney's family is a well established family in the city and well known. Radney's mom was both Jaybo and Katie's first grade teacher.

Radney Foster gave a charity concert once to support their school. It was one of the best concerts I've ever been to.

I post this to tug on your heart strings a little. It certainly tugged on mine.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~ Thornton Wilder

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

Happy Thanksgiving from Guangzhou / Canton, China!

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


"A man who has a million dollars is as well off as if he were rich."
John J. Astor III

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

This post is a continuation of the trip I started discussing in Sun Dog's got Seoul.

FedEx puts us up in some very nice hotels - your Sheratons and your Hiltons and such. This is not so much because they love us and want us to have a nice time. It is more that they know that we are much more likely to get adequate rest and nutrition at the nicer places. This is especially true on the international trips I fly and is a direct reflection of an effort to 'protect the freight'. It is highly unlikely that they can replace me on a short notice basis since I may be the only pilot within 500 miles or so qualified to fly the jet to the next location. Protecting our 'Absolutely, Positively' reputation demands that we stay in establishments where we won't be woken by drunken brawls.

We landed, went through the customs rigmarole, loaded in the van and entered Seoul, South Korea's daunting traffic snarl for the hour or so ride to the Millenium Seoul Hilton. This Hilton is located in the center of Seoul, at the foot of historic Namsan Mountain, Home of the Seoul Tower. It is very near the Namdaemun Gate, a famous historical site. It is also a short bus ride from Itaewon street, a well known shopping, bar and restaurant district that butts up against the Yongsan US Army Post.

As, I say, we stay in a nice hotel, but normally we are on the lower floors where the lesser mortals breathe. I know, in general, that the upper floors of a hotel like the Hilton have some much nicer accommodations than I am used to - but I am pretty apathetic about it all. My requirements for a successful layover are a bed, a hot shower and a place to plug in the trusty ol' laptop.

When we checked in, the front desk staff had a surprise for us. We heard: "We are full today." Now, normally, these are words that strike fear, trepidation and hopelessness into the heart of your tired and oppressed professional aviator longing to sleep free.

Then we heard: "Except for a suite. You'll have your own room, but you'll share a common area. It's our nicest place! Will that be ok?"

Okeydoke, whatever. So, the bellman escorted us to our 'room'. First, we needed our plastic key to authorize the elevator to go the top floor. This piqued my interest. The second to the top floor in Millenium Seoul Hilton contains the "Business Lounge". The top floor holds the "Executive Lounge". The bellman then proceeded to escort us past the executive floor receptionist to the corner suite on the executive floor and open this door.

At this point, I must indulge in an aside to this story. Until very recently, I would have had to admit to not having your basic clue as to who or what a Swarovski is. I'm sure that I had seen more than one Swarovski crystal in my illicit past, but I remained apathetic - much like it took that stupid Devil wears Prada movie to penetrate my awareness that Prada was a brand name. I often get the strangest looks from my gorgeous wife and daughter when I admit to branding obtuseness such as this.

It is a fine example of synchronicity to experience exposure to the Swarovski brand name twice in such a small time frame.

Our suite as we walked into was purely and overwhelmingly "made with Swarovski elements." My first impression when entering this suite was to ask the bellman if there was a guest book somewhere. I wanted to know which heads of state and other such criminal elements had stood where I was standing. There were - I am not making this up - more square feet in this suite than in the house I am presently making mortgage payments on. Through the entry way, we turned right and climbed these stairs to see this 'Vista'.

At the bottom of the stairs are the small kitchen and the servant room areas for the hired help to doss their weary heads.

At the top of the stairs was this sitting area that I can think of no reasonable use for. It just connected my room which you can see straight ahead with my FO's room which is invisible behind this picture.

Standing in front of that couch, I looked over the rail to see this.

My room had Swarovski elements sewn everywhere.

There were two - count 'em - two bathrooms with Swarovski Crystal elements outlining the mirrors.

Finally, even the light fixtures had Swarovski Crystals spreading a cheery light throughout the room.

At this point, please go back and review my requirements for a good room. "A place to plug in my trusty laptop" brings a chuckle to my lips as I type this. For it was obvious that the sort of well-heeled VIP who normal stays in the executive bedroom of a suite of this opulence has no thought of laptop connectivity - he has people for that sort of thing. After looking for 10 minutes or so, I had to call Hotel services to come up and pull the cable out from behind the decorative desk and connect it to the hotel network. It was obvious that I was the first guest in many a moon who had asked for a laptop to be connected in that den of luxury.

As an aside, the sharp look of appraisal that the tech geek who performed this task gave me, said, very plainly, "What is a mug like you doing in this room?"

As a final observation, the potties serving this suite were the 'Cosmo Crappers' I have written of before.

With that observation, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Mystery, Continued

"We have not succeeded in answering all our questions. Indeed, we sometimes feel we have not completely answered any of them. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole new set of questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever. But we think we are confused on a higher level and about more important things." Anonymous

Gentle Readers and Love Ones,

Back in February, I posted this. It was about my quest to learn more about Marine Private First Class Gilbert H. Whisler. PFC Whisler's name appears on the marble wall of the Arizona Memorial honoring the Marines and Sailors killed on the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor Attack - A Day that will live in Infamy.

If you have not read that post, please click the link before you continue reading here.

First, I have an issue to set straight. I was completely out to lunch on the derivation and beginnings of the name 'Whisler'. Our family name traces its origins to Switzerland where it was spelled 'Wïssler' with the cute little double dots over the 'i'. The name made it's way to the US before we won our independence and the progress of the spelling change went thus: Wïssler -> Whisler -> Whistler....or so says the voluminous research my uncle did before he passed on. While my intriguing story of the grandfatherly argument and fallout is compelling, I have no proof that it is correct. I apologize for misleading you.

The next thing to tell is that after reading my post, an old friend and frequent esteemed reader sent me this link to a fine short history called "Battleship Arizona's Marines at War" by Dick Camp. I ordered the book from Barnes and Noble and found some interesting things.

PFC Whisler was a member of the ship's golf team.

In the back in the appendices is a copy of the "Muster Roll of Marine Detachment Arizona, December 1941." Footnote "C" applies to PFC Whisler and 15 other Marines to include Lt Simensen and says: "At about 8 a.m. killed in action on board USS Arizona while engaged in repulsing Japanese Air Attack at Pearl Harbor. Remains interred at Red Hill Cemetery, Oahu." Most of the names of the Marine dead on the muster show a notation of Footnote "B" which is "Missing in Action."

The book gives a fine account and confirmation of the story I related in the previous post of Lt. Simensen's attempt to rally the troops. I hope and assume that PFC Whisler was in this party and died on his feet fighting.

He was interred in Grave #519 where I assume he remained until he was moved to the Punchbowl in 1949. Red Hill is an area on the east side of Pearl Harbor.

This is a very interesting book and if you can get a copy I highly recommend it to you.

Continuing my research, I googled "Bloomfield, Iowa + Whisler" to discover that the American Legion Post 078 in Bloomfield is called the "Reed Whisler Post". This intrigued me highly and I got the post's phone number and called them. The phone was answered by a friendly lady working in the bar. I introduced myself and told her that I was curious about where the name of the post came from and why.

She told me that it was named for the first Bloomfieldians to die in combat in both WWI and WWII and that there is a Bronze Plaque memorializing them. I then asked her if there were any books or documents there in the post that might give me more information. She gave me the phone number of a Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who was a submariner in WWII. He was the local expert on WWII and the men who fought it from the Bloomfield area.

I called him, introducing myself again and what I was looking for. He was very helpful and owned a rare copy of a book called "WWII Gold Star Boys" that lists of all the men killed in that war from the state of Iowa. He photocopied the page that detailed PFC Whisler and sent a copy to me.

Please click the image to zoom in and read the text. You will see that PFC Whisler joined the Marines in September of 1940. He had been a Marine just a little over a year when he was killed in action.

I asked the CPO if he knew PFC Whisler. He answered that yes he did but not very well. That Gilbert was a delivery man for the local grocery and that was when he often saw him.

I also contacted the Bloomfield Democrat, the local paper. I talked to a nice but harried newspaper lady there who promised me a copy of PFC Whisler's obituary if she could find it. Since it has not arrived, I assume that a copy does not exist.

I hope that you find this as interesting as I found it. In any case, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, November 14, 2009


"How many things, both just and unjust, are sanctioned by custom!"

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I have occasionally started this blog with the words: "I don't want this blog to become a political one", and then proceeded to start some mildly political screed. That bit of misdirection will continue today. It is my fervent hope that I always tie in some kind of travelogue / Gadabout connection in these things in the hopes that you will see things in a different light.

In any case, I have spent a great deal of my lifespan in Asia and the vast majority of that in the Republic of Japan, specifically on the island of Okinawa in my first assignment in the Air Force. Further, on a whim, I chose to take Japanese / Nihongo as my language my freshman year at USAFA. So, while I would not hold myself as a great expert on Japan and the Japanese culture, I think I have more than average experience in the place.

Bowing or Ojigi in Japan is pretty much the accepted greeting. It's also - like two dogs first meeting - a way to establish who is higher in the social order. (Bad visual image there...sorry!) Generally speaking, the lower the bow and the more obsequious looking you make yourself, the lower you are in relation to the one you are bowing to. And vicey versey.....

I long ago opted out of the competitive nature of bowing. I do bow while in Japan, but it is a gaijin bow - a quick nod of my head, but lower than an American nod of affirmation. Say quickly lowering your head so that you almost touch your chin to your chest and just as quickly returning to an erect stature. It's important to maintain eye contact throughout while doing this. It's the kind of response that says: "Hey! How you? I ain't a total rube here. I know you guys bow in greeting and I know there is a social measurement aspect to it all. I'll greet you, but I ain't playing the social games."

Seems to work for me.

In general in Japan, people ignore one another. Osekkai is the custom. I wrote about that here. I find myself making eye contact in Japan more often than most gaijins do. I am 6 and half feet tall and somewhat large. This attracts attention in Japan. So I find myself doing the gaijin bow greeting fairly often.

With all that setup, I give you this link to www.powerlineblog.com - a truly political blog.

Personally, I think our President would have been much better served by the gaijin bow. I suppose one could argue that the lower bow shows the modesty and virtue that is supposed to be a hallmark of this administration's "Hope and Change". I personally don't want my Chief Executive to lower himself or raise himself over the other elected leaders of the world's democracies. (Don't ask me what I think of bowing to an unelected tyrant......)

But that's just me.

With that, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Monday, October 19, 2009


Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

Without really knowing why - I offer this University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey video. It is touted as being "The Most Awesome Thing Ever to Open a Hockey Game."

Remember Tremors? Sure you do. Now think ahead to Tremors 3: Back to Perfection. I gotta say....A Polar Bear with a hockey stick is a whole lot more frightening than an A** Blaster is.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Yokota Military Charter

"Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles with the cold."

Andre' Maurois

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

This is not so much a travelog as it is a family story. As I tell it, I find myself fighting to not drop into long tedious explanations of details. I hope you enjoy it.

In September, I picked up a military charter out of ‘Open Time.’ FedEx is part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet and in this specific charter we had contracted to fly freight for the Air Force from Yokota Air Base, just south of Tokyo, Japan to Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska and then a short hop down to Elmendorf AFB on the northern outskirts of Anchorage, AK. As my son and daughter-in-law live on Yokota AB, I jumped at the chance to trade my boring old 'been there-done that' trans-Pacific trip for this military charter and a chance to visit them.

One of the bigger headaches in my job is the problem of how to commute to work to begin each trip. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in the Twin Cities of Minnesota but am ‘domiciled’ in Anchorage, AK. FedEx expects me to be on-site in Anchorage, well rested, nourished and ready to fly at the beginning of each trip. This usually involves two legs of jump seats on company airplanes and about a day of lead time. I spend about 10 hours sitting in a long aluminum tube just to get to and from work each direction every month.

This charter was different. For operational reasons I don’t understand, the company chose to have one crew fly the jet into Yokota to ‘position it’ for the charter. They bought them a plane ticket home to the states then they ‘positioned’ my crew by buying us tickets to Yokota from Anchorage. My contract allows me then to cancel those tickets and use the money to buy alternative tickets. As long as I show up in Yokota in time to be fully rested, ready to fly and within budget, I can get to Yokota however I wish.

When scheduling approved the swap, I immediately called George and Brook. This is much easier than it would have been a generation ago. You taxpayers and the USAF have paid for them to have a US phone number and it only costs the caller US long distance rates to call them.

I knew George was due to deploy to Kuwait and the Iraqi theater for 6 months. I hoped that this charter would get me there before he had to leave but I was out of luck and I missed him. Brook answered the phone.

Readers Digest used to have a “My Most Unforgettable Character” story each month. Brook would be high on my list of unforgettable characters. As her Dad once told me, there are only two kinds of people in the world for Brook: Friends and Friends she hasn’t met yet. I have always enjoyed being around her – she is never boring and one of my favorite people.

When I told her I was coming, she said: “Great, Daddy Geoff! Since George is gone, you can be my date for the Air Force Ball Saturday Night!”

Those of you who know me well know that this filled my being with a joy and a light – Not. I didn’t even like AF Balls when I was still in the Air Force. The Uniform of the Day for one these things is Mess Dress. Since I am officially a retired Air Force Officer, I am legal to wear the uniform and I actually have a Mess Dress that fits.

I have one that fits because I bought the thing for George and Brook’s wedding. One of the requirements of a Mess Dress uniform is the complete display of the wearer’s medals, ribbons and other devices. I am very proud that I served in the Air Force long enough to earn the right to wear command pilot wings. However, the rest of my ribbons and devices reflect my mediocre career. In 1986, I chose to transfer to the Training Command from Strategic Air Command because at the time, SAC pilots were only getting 15 hours a month of very boring flying whereas an instructor pilot in the training command was getting a lot of interesting and rewarding flying time.

This means that – much to my late mother’s relief – I have never heard a shot fired in anger and if I wear a uniform my awards reflect that I was a REMF. In this day and age with so many young heroes and heroines serving voluntarily in our armed forces, I don’t particularly like to advertise that.

Don’t get me wrong….in my career I had the opportunity to put my personal thumbprint on the flying skills over well over 500 student pilots. I like to think that I gave them some perspective that stood them well later in their flying careers and that is a source of pride to me.

In any case, I chose to pack my suit instead of my mess dress despite Brook’s pleading and off I went.

My commute on this trip was the best I’ve ever had since I started flying out of Anchorage. I checked in with Northwest / Delta Airlines at the Minneapolis Airport, deposited my aging carcass in a Business Class seat on a 747 and ate and drank my way across Canada and the Northern Pacific while watching movies, reading my book and fitfully dozing. All while getting paid. This is a good deal.

On the ground in Narita International, I cleared the Japanese Health Inspection and Customs inspection in record time and found my way to the bus counter run by the USO. For $20 American, I found myself on a bus directly to Yokota AB where Brook would pick me up.

I got off the bus about 10 pm Japan Time. We had expected to go out to dinner but I had not slept well on the plane and the two hour bus from Narita to Yokota so I disappointed her and went to bed and crashed. Sorry Brook.

The next day we had breakfast, walked the dogs and got caught up. After a nice lunch at a local Indian Restaurant, we went to Yokota Base Operations to try and figure out how I would get to the airplane the next morning. A mildly funny story ensued.

I am wearing shorts and a knit shirt. I borrowed George’s flip flops. Base Operations is literally only a few hundred yards from the kid’s house on base. We walked over. I introduce myself to the sergeant and his staff behind the desk and started asking how I would make my way onto the FedEx MD-11 parked just out the large windows looking out on the ramp. After some initial confusion while trying to decide I really am who I am, the staff is a great help. It helped that I had my retired AF ID card and my FedEx ID badge.

They put me in contact with Nori-san who is in charge of getting the military charter guys like me on and off the base. I introduce myself to Nori-san on the phone and he immediately jumps to conclusions:

“You are in the wrong place! You are supposed to go to the Palace Hotel in Tachikawa! How did you get on base?”

“Nori-san, I’m not in the wrong place and I’m not going to the hotel. My son lives on Yokota and I’m staying with him. I’m just trying to find out how to meet up with you in the morning so I can be escorted onto the flight line and out to the airplane.”

We go back and forth one or two times before I convince him that I really know what I’m doing and I have a place to sleep. We agree that he will pick me up in the morning in front of base operations at 0500.

After that Brook went to get her face professionally made for the ball and I took a combat nap and ironed my suit. She looked fabulous when she returned.

Brook has been taking Taiko Drum lessons and she had invited her sensei to go to the ball. At the appointed time, Takako-san shows up wearing the traditional kimono complete with tabi and obi. Shi is a very friendly person who speaks wonderful English. I’m 6’ 6” and Brooki-san is around 6’ herself while Takako-san is under 5’ tall and very Japanese. We made quite the trio.

There are more pictures of the ball at this link. Be sure to click it.

The air force had buses going around the base picking up Ball-goers so they wouldn’t have to drive to and from the Ball. This was a great thing. Brook chatted with her neighbors and friends during the short drive over to the base Theater where the Ball was held.

The buffet layout was wonderful and had some really great sushi. (No Basashi!) I had decided that I was not going to drink that evening because I did not want to put me, the Air Force or FedEx in the position of wondering if I had quit before the appointed 8 hours from ‘bottle to throttle.’ The rest of the ball goers were having a great time.

Brook introduced me to a million people. Like most military bases, Yokota has a relationship with the surrounding community. The brass was hob-nobbing with the local government officials. The Four-Star Pacific Air Forces Commander was the guest speaker but since I no longer have to listen raptly to General Officer's give speeches, I didn’t. I’m sure he was heart-broken.

There were a lot of Japanese locals and they were having fun.

I will admit to a moment of disorientation here. I spent 22 years in the Air Force and went to a million parties just like this one. Although I knew no one personally, these were all my kind of people and I felt at home. They were talking about things I am used to talking about and behaving in ways I understand. They were partying hard. It had been 15 years since I had been to a party like this but I felt like I had never left.

Then suddenly…I realized that they were my kids - I was literally old enough to be their Dad. I still enjoyed myself, but that was a very strange adjustment to make.

At this point, I’d like to discuss party/aloha shirts. This was just starting about the time I retired. A mess dress is a very formal uniform. But somewhere around 1000 all the big brass leaves and an Air Force Ball becomes more informal. Off come the jackets and the dancing starts in earnest. A lot of guys and gals have paid tailors to modify the backs and sleeves of their Mess Dress pleated shirts to have loud and personalized designs. The best one I saw that night was a Colonel who had a nice Harley design on the back of his shirt. I wish I had thought to take some pictures. This one is of George at his wedding.

The Ball broke up around 11 and I was in bed by midnight. FedEx alerted me at 0430 and Brook made me a nice cup of coffee and walked the 100 yards over to the pickup place with me. Nori-san showed up on time and I hugged Brook goodbye.

It was a nice visit.

The flight from Yokota to Alaska was boring in the extreme - just the way you want it to be. On the west coast of Alaska we deviated from the normal track into Anchorage and flew north of Mt McKinley / Denali into Eielson AFB.

I suppose if I had asked they would have told me the details of what I was hauling but I really didn’t want to know. Freight is Freight. I did hear we had some equipment for the Japan Air Self Defense Force which was coming to Alaska for an exercise.

There was a mild icing foofaraw at Eielson AFB. It started snowing around 10pm or about the time we were full reloaded, refueled and ready to start, taxi and take-off. We had to be airborne by 11 pm local or stay the night as the base closed. Initially the AF said it would take 50 minutes for the deice vehicles to get to us. When I asked where they wanted us to stay for the night, 50 minutes turned into 10.

We got down to Anchorage and Elemendorf AFB at about midnight. There were no flights home at that time of night, so I went to Ilona’s Bed and Breakfast, got up at 0700 and had enough money left in my travel bank to fly home on Northwest / Delta.

It was a good trip.

On that note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Zero Tolerance

"Actions are judged by their results, not by their intentions." Jean-Francois Revel

"To live is, in itself, a value judgment. To breathe is to judge." Albert Camus

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I have often said here that I don’t want this to be a political blog. This entry will skirt the limits of that intention. I apologize in advance.

This article got me to thinking about flying, judgment and responsibility. Please click the link and familiarize yourself with it. It’s another story of Education and Zero-Tolerance run amuck. (Note, when I awoke this morning, I found this story has been overcome by events - the clue bird has landed on the school board. Still, I think I will post anyway.)

At present, I am sitting in the left seat of this MD-11. We are flying at 31000’ somewhere out in the middle of the Pacific, hauling 133 thousand pounds of freight from Osaka, Japan to Oakland, CA. Weighing in at a gross weight of 530,000 pounds of metal, plastic, freight, kerosene and pilots, we are cruising at .82 mach or 488 knots True Air Speed, with a tailwind of 120 knots. This means that effectively, after you account for the tailwind, we are traveling faster than the speed of sound over the waves below. Or, if you will, I am traveling about the same speed as 45 caliber pistol bullet but I’m a whole lot bigger.

On the other hand, this airplane is so automated that this is really just another milk run. The autopilot is on and connected to a set of cross-talking Flight Management Computers and maintaining my speed and altitude much more precisely than I could dream of doing. Through the Global Positioning Satellite system, we are maintaining a 95% statistically accurate position within 0.07 nautical miles of the required course. The Ground Proximity Warning System is armed and ready to tell ‘Bitchin’ Betty’ to scream at me if we should come in danger of hitting the ground. ‘Bitchin’ Betty’ is also watching the Hydraulic, Electrical, Pneumatic and Fuel systems and controlling their required parameters much more precisely than any Flight Engineer of times past could have hoped for.

I haven’t touched the controls in hours and the airplane really requires very little from me right at the moment.

But….I am most definitely not a passenger. I am the Pilot in Command and the Captain. If something goes wrong and I do not correct it, it will be my fault and no one else’s. My whole point of existing right at this moment is to sit above all the automation, all the organization and agencies on the ground that exist to keep me safe and watch it all. There are voluminous books that tell me how to do this and every 6 months I get classroom training and a check ride to prove that I am familiar with it all.

That familiarity includes this line in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs): There shall be no deviations from applicable FARs or FAA Operations Specifications unless an exemption or deviation is approved by the FAA.”

Sounds like Zero Tolerance doesn’t it? But the next line is: “However, no policy or regulation shall be interpreted as a substitute for the exercise of sound judgment.”

So there you have it. It's my job to follow the rules unless the rules are wrong - in which case I'm expected to violate the rules. Said another way, my job is to step in and prevent buffoonery. I get paid a lot of money for this....and I don't know that I am all that special. Most of my gentle readers have jobs that require the application of judgment.

Tying this back to the news article: School boards and school principals also get paid a lot of money to prevent buffoonery.

I think back to Mrs. Britton, my First Grade Teacher in 1960. Had she perceived a danger from me taking my multi-tooled Boy Scout knife to school – I had one too, boy was it cool! - and using it to eat, she would have handled it thus:

“Hi, Geoff, that’s a nice looking knife you have there. May I see it please?”

(Little Geoff would be a nervous wreck at this point, Mrs. Britton had him cowed.)

“I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to it. I’ll keep it for you.”

(Little Geoff could no more say ‘no’ than fly.)

She would have either given it back to me at the end of the school day and told me to leave it home in the future or called my folks and asked them to come get it some time. Her choice would have depended on how she viewed the ‘danger’ of me having it.

Problem solved.

Instead, the kid in the news article gets a 45 day suspension and gets sent to reform school?

"Say whut?", Geoff asks, sarcastically.

I do not understand Zero Tolerance but I am firmly of this opinion: we taxpayers pay school officials pretty good bucks to administrate our kid’s education. If you have made the effort to get the PhD in Education and "paid the dues' to get the experience required to become a school administrator, why in the world would you want to give up your authority and experience and pay obeisance to some Zero Tolerance rulebook?

It’s just a matter of time until a knuckle-dragger like me stands up in a School-Board meeting and asks: “If you educators have an all-encompassing rulebook that knows all and sees all, why do we need you? Why don’t we get rid you and your payroll and just pay some dumb flunky to read the book and do what it says?”

I can’t wait to see that townhall video on Youtube.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

p.s. I see that the School Board thought about this and reversed their ruling. They were idiots for putting themselves in the public eye in the first place.

p.p.s. Make sure you click the first 'Bitchin' Betty' link. I never knew what she looked like until I researched this.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dain Bramage

     "America loves football with an ardor that would dethrone reason,
  were reason enthroned in America."     - George Will

Esteemed and Gentle Readers,

I'm about to relate yet another flying story.  Recently, my brother emailed me a video link that had me rolling on the floor.  If you are 'of a certain age' you will remember it.  As best I know, the comedian is the source of the term "Dain Bramage."  (At this point, those of you reading this to young children will want to do some parenting and review the video before you let the kids watch it.)  It's about 7 minutes long and fairly important to the story I'm about to tell so please watch this video before you read on or set this aside until you can budget the required time.

Ready?  As is true with most of the tales related here, the setup will require some explanation.  

My last assignment in the Air Force was to be an Instructor Pilot in the T-38 at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas.  As I had achieved the lofty rank of Major, a lot of my time was spent in a supervisory role rather than as an active instructor.  I am familiar with the details of this story because I was due to be the new Flight Commander of the student pilot who stars in this saga.

The T-38 was and is a great airplane.  I really miss 'strapping it on'.

It 'kinda-sorta' had a pressurized cockpit.  Unlike airliners, the pressurization supplied was NOT sufficient to keep the cabin altitude at a level where you could breathe without an oxygen mask once you were cruising in the stratosphere.  The system's purpose was to maintain a cabin pressure at a level that would prevent 'the bends' in all of its varied presentations.  If you took the airplane up to 40,000' above sea level - the airplane's best cruising altitude - the cabin-altitude would rise to slightly above 20,000'.  Unless you are in Mt Everest climbing level training, you can only breath air this thin for very short periods of time.

Breathing oxygen is supplied to the pilot through an oxygen mask attached to a flying helmet.  The helmet itself was custom built for each pilot and very comfortable and protective.  There is a microphone in the mask for communicating between cockpits and on the radios.  Headsets are attached left and right on the inside of the helmet using Velcro. ™   You can adjust the position of these earcups for maximum comfort.

Another piece to this puzzle is to understand that from the back seat of the T-38, the instructor pilot cannot see into the front cockpit.  The only portion of the student pilot that is visible is about an inch and a half of the top of the student's helmet.  When you instruct in the T-38, you quickly become an expert in piecing together verbal cues and the subtle movements of this small slice of the student to figure out what the student is 'up to.'

The next piece to understand is that the two cockpits are completely separate from each other.  There is a Plexiglas ™ windscreen behind the front seat occupant's head and in front of the back seater's instrument panel.  This is a safety precaution in the event that the front canopy departs the aircraft to prevent wind blast striking the back seater. 

Finally, there are switches and controls vital to the operation of the T-38 that are only available to the front cockpit pilot.  Every T-38 instructor has given a lot of thought to how to communicate with a student pilot in the front seat when they need one of those controls/switches activated. 

This story happened almost 20 years ago - the main players are 'Capt Smith', the instructor pilot and 'Lieutenant  Dain', the student pilot.  Neither of these names are true - but 'Dain' is very close to the real name for reasons that will become obvious.  Their mission on this fateful day was a 'Day Out & Back Navigation Sortie' with Lt. Dain in the front seat.  They took off from Laughlin AFB, climbed high into the stratosphere and once they were north of the Big Bend in the Rio Grande River they turned west to cruise out to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Az.

They are smoking along at .90 mach, the best cruising speed of the T-38, when Lt. Dain begins to become aware that one of his headsets has become maladjusted and he is beginning to feel discomfort on the mastoid process behind his right ear.  In short time, the Lt decides that the pain has grown to the point that it is distracting him from the quality training being provided by Capt Smith in the back seat.

So he says to the instructor, "Sir, please take the airplane for a moment."  Capt Smith does this using the standardized terminology: "Roger, I have the aircraft." to which Lt Dain acknowledges "Roger, you have the aircraft."  Everything is all ricky-ticky so far although this is not something that student pilots often do.  As the puzzled instructor pilot asks: "What's going on?" he sees Lt Dain remove his helmet to adjust the earcup.

Lt Dain puts the helmet in his lap to do this.  He is so consumed with the concentration required to adjust the earcup that he does not notice that he has jammed the helmet up against the stick thereby 'pitching' the nose down and starting a descent from the assigned cruising altitude. Capt Smith, on the other hand, is immediately aware of this and tries forcefully to bring the stick back with only moderate success.

Just that quickly, Capt Smith has been presented with a deadly emergency situation.  He has three vital concerns: 1) Lt Dain could quickly become incapacitated due to hypoxia since he is not breathing through his mask.  2)  If Lt Dain does not move the helmet, he will continue to be unable to prevent the uncontrolled descent of the aircraft. 3)  The T-38 does not have a 'Command Sequenced Ejection System' - each cockpit must eject separately.   

So, if the situation deteriorates to the point where Capt Smith has to eject to prevent his own demise he will be leaving Lt Dain to his fate.   There is absolutely nothing Capt Smith can do for Lt Dain.   Capt Smith finds himself doing two things simultaneously.  First, he is on the radio with the air traffic controller, declaring an in-flight emergency since he cannot control his altitude and has - in fact - departed from his Air Traffic Control Clearance.  There is a Southwest Airline 737 somewhere out in front of him at a lower altitude and it would be best to take steps to avoid hitting it.  Second, he is futilely pounding on the windscreen in front of him trying to get Lt Dain's attention in the only method that remains available to him.  It is very noisy in a T-38 at .90 mach as the wind rushes over the thin Plexiglas canopy.  Removing your helmet exposes you to lots of decibels of noise.  Lt Dain - if he is still conscious - does not hear this pounding.

We do not know this for a certainty, but your humble correspondent is convinced that at this point some vulgar language was expressed and there is a strong possibility that Capt Smith took the Lord's name in Vain.

This situation remained unresolved for many long moments and about 10,000' of altitude was lost.  Capt Smith has grown both despondent and extremely angry - two emotions one would think would be mutually exclusive.  At this point, Lt Dain dons his helmet and oxygen mask and says:  "Sir, I have the aircraft", blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding around him.

We do not know the exact phrasing Capt Smith used, but his answer to Lt Dain was efffectively: "No, Lt Dain, you do not have the aircraft.  I do.  Further, I want you to place your hands on top of your helmet and do not take them down unless I give you express orders to do so." I'm sure it was a colorful exchange of information. 

Our intrepid aviators - the emergency situation resolved - climb back to altitude.  Because by this time they are closer to Tucson, they continue to their flight planned destination.  It is mostly quiet in the cockpit during this period as Capt Smith does not trust himself to speak.

After landing, Capt Smith directs Lt Dain to go inside the Base Operations Building, sit down and stay there.  Capt Smith then uses the Autovon phone system to call Major Jones, the existing Flight Commander whom I am due to replace the next day.  I had known Major Jones for a long time - he was a well-respected friend.  His command persona was excellent and the student pilots he commanded liked and respected him too. Capt Smith explains to Major Jones what had just transpired and said:  "Sir, I want to put him on a commercial flight back to Laughlin and I'll bring the jet back solo."

Gentle Reader, what you must understand here is that if Lt Dain is returned in disgrace on a commercial flight, it has a couple of serious impacts and is a last resort option.  First, the squadron has a limited travel budget that is only spent with alacrity.  However, if this is truly a 'safety of flight' situation, budgetary constraints are only a secondary concern.  More importantly, Lt Dain will probably find himself removed from flight training and probably will not successfully complete pilot training.  At this point in Lt Dain's progress, he has been in pilot training for almost a year and the AF has invested a lot of money and resources in him.  He has already jumped most of the fences in the training designed to eliminate unsatisfactory candidates.  So, Major Jones is reluctant to approve this plan unless he is convinced that this event has precipitated Lt Dain into 'extremis'. 

So, he proposes an alternate plan to Capt Smith.  "Ok, consider this, please.  Take Lt Dain into a private debriefing room.  Debrief the sortie in a full and complete fashion and ensure that he understands the seriousness of the situation he placed himself in.  Tell him that his performance was unsatisfactory and he will be graded as such on this sortie. Analyze his reactions during this debrief and make a further assessment of his suitability for continuation in training.  If you aren't absolutely sure this is a career ending event, fly another training sortie with him and return here to base.  Do not worry about your scheduled return time. Take all the time you need to perform this assessment.  Call me back."  Capt Smith says:  "Yessir" and hangs up.

The return flight is uneventful.  Lt Dain - now acutely aware of the danger he has placed his life and career in - is a model student during this flight.  Capt Smith conducts a second professional debrief and orders Lt Dain to report to Maj Jones in a military manner while he completes the required post-flight paperwork 

I am invited to attend this meeting with Maj Jones as I assume responsibility for Lt Dain's training on the morrow.  At this point, I would like to direct your attention to the movie "Top Gun".  In that movie, Maverick and Goose find themselves in a similar situation where they are standing tall on the carpet in front of the commander.  In my opinion, the commander in that movie conducts himself in an unprofessional manner.  Officers 'chewing the ass' of another officer - and specifically pilots - do not need to raise their voice.

No, there is a much stronger consequence available to the commander.  Lt Dain's highest priority in life at that point is to graduate from pilot training.  If it were not, he would not have progressed as far as he had in training.   Normally, a student pilot meeting with his Flight Commander is invited to sit comfortably.  The Flight Commander is not normally the bad guy.  He has an Assistant Flight Commander to be the bad guy.

This strategy is used to make the times where the Flight Commander does have to be the bad guy that much more effective.  Lt Dain reported to Maj Jones and was not offered a seat but was kept at attention.  Maj Jones calmly got up out of his seat and walked around his desk to stand behind Lt Dain, positioning himself about a foot behind Lt Dane's right ear.

Quietly he said: "Lt Dain, I don't know what to do with you.  By rights, right now you should be dead in a smoking hole somewhere in southern Arizona.  I would be dressed in a Class-A uniform and accompanied by a chaplain.  We would be walking up to your front step to tell your wife that soon she would be attending a closed casket funeral in your honor.  It would be a closed casket because we would only have found small scattered bits of your remains."  He pauses.  "I wonder if you have the native intelligence to be an aviator in the Air Force?"  Another pause.  "What am I going to do with you?"

By this time, Lt Dain was a whiter shade of pale.  He wisely said nothing.

Maj Smith let this drama draw out for a long excruciating time.  I am sitting over to the side, my hand covering my lower face, praying to God for the strength not to laugh out loud.  Lt Dain grows even more pale.

Finally:  "Lt Dain, it is with more than a little reluctance that I have decided to continue you in training.  You'd better understand that this was your last error.  You have about a month and about 20 training events before you graduate.  I don't ever want to talk to you again unless it is in much happier circumstances.  Have I made myself perfectly clear to you?"

Lt Dain acknowledged that the situation was very clear to him.  He was a model student for the remainder of his training and successfully graduated and was awarded his silver pilot wings.  To the best of my knowledge he had a successful flying career.

Now we complete this saga.  Lt Dain was known from then on as "Lt Dain Bramage".

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mimi's Last Gadabout

“To fly west, is a final check we all must take.”

Gentle Readers,

It has been some months since last I wrote. There are many reasons for this. First, nothing much of interest has happened in my travels. That’s the minor reason.

The major reason is….something different.

I started writing these travelogs to share my experiences with my family. My mother read these things religiously and I pretty much thought of her as my audience as I wrote them. My wife and kids, too, of course, but it always seemed like I wrote best when I thought of my mother as my reader.

Mother passed away in June in a sudden and totally unexpected fashion. Dad, my wife, my daughter and I were at her side in a hospital in Asheville as she ‘flew west.’ We were at her beloved cabin halfway up a mountain near Cullowhee, North Carolina when she developed a massive cerebral hemorrhage. The keystone cops-like saga of getting her down off of the mountain on the one lane dirt road in the back of the huge ambulance would make a great story….but I don’t think I will ever be able to write it.

In any case, it was my privilege to give a part of her eulogy and I…well I have to share it with you. Until I post this, I don’t think my Muse will let me write another travelog. So here goes….

Mother’s memorial was held in Haines City, FL, where my brother and I grew up and went to school and where she and Dad have lived since 1957 or so. Mother was very active in the local Hospital Auxiliary, the local Library and was well known around town. The entire four front rows of the memorial were full of her friends from the Heart of Florida Hospital and the Haines City Library. The Hospital ladies were all wearing their ‘Pink Lady’ outfits complete with nametags. It was very touching. The rest of the room was filled with friends and family.

Three of us gave the eulogy. I went first, mother’s cousin, a great public speaker I greatly admire went next and my oldest cousin, a long time reader and contributor to this blog finished with a very nice memorial. Here’s what I said:

Hello everyone, I want to thank you for coming today. Dad appreciates it and I know Mother would have too.

When Dad asked me if wanted to say something today, my first reaction was a cowardly one. But I quickly realized that if I did not take this opportunity to remember the life my mother led and the example she set, that I would regret it for the rest of my days.

But as I started to gather my thoughts on what to say, I quickly discovered that I was having a hard time organizing it all. I could stand up here and tell stories about my Mother for hours, but boiling all my thoughts and feelings down to something I can say in the time I have allotted was very hard.

I have heard and read over the years that psychologists and interviewers – when they are trying to assess the “content of someone’s character” often say that they pay attention to the things that are not said. Often the values that someone holds as so basic that “it goes without saying” are a wonderful insight into their makeup.

This all came together for me when I was talking with my wife. I was going through some my photos to see if I had anything to include in this memorial. I said in passing to Ann that there weren’t very many pictures of Mother by herself – that she was always in a group of people. Ann gave me that look she always gives me when I’ve said something dumb or obvious and said: “Well of course, family was very important to your Mother.”

And that crystallized the whole thing for me and I knew exactly what I wanted to say today. For if family wasn’t the most important thing in my Mother’s life; it was in the top two. I don’t mean just my brother and I, or our children, her grandchildren. She was also immersed in her sisters, her mother and father and her ancestors. I was never more proud of my mother than during that long dark time when she sacrificed so much to take care of my grandmother after grandma’s strokes.

Before this gets too maudlin, I’d like to tell you a story of my first memory of my Mother teaching me a lesson. As you all know, Mother grew up on a farm in northeast Oklahoma during the Great Depression. She and her sisters had many chores around the farm. Many of those chores included taking care of the cattle – feeding, watering, milking and cleaning up after the cows. Mother hated those cows and told me once that she was so happy when she grew up, got married and moved away from those darn cows.

Some of my earliest memories are of those same cows as I spent a lot of my earliest days on that same farm.

Fast forward a couple of years. Grandma and Popper have sold the farm and we’ve moved here to Haines City. I’m about 4 or 5 years old and we are all having dinner over in the house on Leroy Drive. I evidently have developed a bad habit of chewing with my mouth open and Mother – like gazillions of mothers over the history of Mankind – is going to show me how to do it right. So, she says: “Geoff, you have to stop eating like that. It’s disgusting. No one wants to look at that. Here watch me.”

She takes a bite and begins chewing. Now, I am a young man with a vivid imagination. Totally unbidden, my imagination pops up an image of one of those cows chewing her cud and puts the picture right next to my mother’s face. Which would be OK, if I had kept my mouth shut; but I was an honest and straight forward tyke. I hear my voice saying: “You eat like a cow.”

Quickly, what was a simple lesson in dining etiquette became something much more serious. She explained to me – in terms I could easily understand – that no, she doesn’t eat like a cow, she eats like a person. Further, it is very disrespectful to adults in general and her in specific to say something like that. I got the message.

I also never compared my mother to a cow again.

I have one final story to tell you. My youngest daughter, Katie, graduated from High School several weeks ago. Of course, Mother and Dad came up to Minnesota to be part of the celebration. Several days before she graduated, we decided that we needed to make a road trip to Ames, Iowa, to see Iowa State University where both will go to school this fall. Jaime and Dad went off the Engineering Department’s shop where they were going to spend a couple of hours on one of Jaime’s projects. That would leave Mother and I with a couple of hours to drive around campus and the town.

We had a great time. One of the things I showed Mother was Howe Hall which houses a Virtual Reality theater and the Aerodynamics Lab. There are a lot of interesting things to look at to include various sculptures. Most of these are of the Modern Art School and Mother and I both agreed that – even after reading the descriptions – we didn’t quite understand what the artist was trying to do.

But there was one piece that Mother and I both enjoyed. It’s down on the main floor amongst the jet engines and other aerospace displays and is a large slab of marble shaped to look like the wing of jet airliner. Engraved near the root of the wing is the famous quote most often attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, although there are quotes like it going back to the Ancient Greeks: “If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

I’ve seen this quote often throughout my life – and I always viewed it in the context of science and how science advances generation by generation. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mother give a little head nod as she read it. I really regret that I didn’t say something to her then.

I’ve thought about this a lot since she died. Mother was not scientifically minded. When she read that, she was thinking of family and how each generation builds on the last. I wish I had said: “Mother, you know I’ve always felt like I was standing on yours and Dad’s shoulders.”

I know she would have said something like she always did - something along the lines of: “Well of course you do….and I always felt like I was standing on my folks….and I’m sure your kids feel like they are standing on yours.”

I can think of no better thought to leave you with today than that as a testimony to my Mother and the life she lived.

I remain,