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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Captain Kathy McCullough: She’s still flying!

This Friday’s Fabulous Flyer is my friend Kathy McCullough, a retired NWA 747 captain. Retired yes, but Kathy continues to soar to new heights.

Kathy’s career choice was initially sparked by Dr. Tom Gadsden, an inspirational physics teacher who taught an aviation science elective she attended at age sixteen. Unfortunately her parents thought that flying was a terrible career choice, especially for a woman, and Kathy drifted aimlessly to Colorado, ‘clueless’ as to what she wanted to do in her life beyond learning how to ski. A career counselor placed her in an Environmental Science program and Kathy soon found herself in a microbiology class. While she loved the class, she also knew that life in a lab was not for her, and anyone who knows Kathy will attest to that. She is the ultimate people person.

By the end of college Kathy had purchased her first plane, a Cessna 140 “taildragger”, and spent her days at Fort Collins/Loveland Airport in Colorado practicing her crosswind landings. Her instructor agreed to maintain her plane if she allowed him to fly it. Kathy say’s, “Building time was fun for me. I waitressed, pumped gas, and took on odd jobs to keep the money coming in. I married my flight instructor, so at least I didn’t have to pay for lessons.” Funny, I suspect any instructor would love to marry his gorgeous young student … and fly her plane for free.

Kathy, and husband, moved to California to fly rock bands in Vickers Viscounts, he was the copilot/mechanic and she was the flight attendant… a job for Kathy that paid for her multi-engine rating. By the end of the summer, the music gigs were over, her husband was to turn wrenches instead of fly so he quit and went to work in a coal mine. Kathy followed and became a Health and safety Officer for the mine. Kathy continued to fly, this time a Cessna 206 out to the mines. Many nights she slept in the desert under a blanket of stars, with nothing but a sleeping bag to keep her protected from the scorpions that she later discovered scurried about.

Kathy and her husband then ventured to Oregon where she taught flying at Troutdale, and he took a job at the airport. As life turns out, one of her students would end up being her next husband. While Kathy loved teaching, she accepted a job with the Forest Service in Boise, Idaho. She flew ‘so much’, they couldn’t legally log all the hours. While California burned in 1980, there weren’t enough planes and pilots to map all the fires and Kathy earned enough hours to be hired by Northwest Airlines in 1981.

She started her twenty-six year career flying as a Flight Engineer on the Boeing 727. In the good old days the guys would allow the flight engineers to ‘take a leg’ and Kathy loved flying through the mountains, especially since every third leg was hers. After three years she moved to the DC-10 as a second officer and safety instructor. She took the new flight engineers, now we know as second officers, and taught them the ropes on the line. Minneapolis to Hawaii was her route, and she could be found taking her students to the Shorebird in Oahu for dinner after a long day. When the training department asked her to become an instructor, she’d just received a bid to fly as a first officer on the 727, and could not pass up the flying position.

The flying as a first officer on the 727 was a different experience with the level of acceptance from some of the captains she flew with, than when she’d been a second officer. Kathy met her fair share of ‘captains from hell.” Life sometimes throws everything at us, at once, and during this time she was also in the process of an awful divorce. Not one to quit, personally or professionally, Kathy accepted a position as a second officer on the Boeing 747, found herself flying international again, and later married her once student.
Kathy would, “hit the ground running” on all her Northwest trips. Flying to Europe and Asia, she viewed her job as a vacation. She was a senior second officer, bid the best trips… three days in Singapore, two in Hong Kong… and was able to get massages, spend time reading, and sightseeing. Her time home was dedicated to her family. When Kathy was senior enough to manage the same lifestyle, she upgraded to first officer on the 747. Life was good. Many of the other pilots never understood Kathy’s choice of being senior, and flying for so long as a first officer. Heck, she could have been a domestic captain. However, as a mother who does it all… Kathy’s choices, like many working mothers, are based on the needs of the family first. She valued time with her children and husband as more important than the prestige of calling herself captain, and the few extra dollars it would bring in.

Opportunity did knock and Kathy checked out as captain on the Boeing 747. She said, “Sure, it was hard. Yes, I was treading water at times. But I loved it.” Unfortunately Kathy couldn’t get over being tired all the time. And when the stomach flu turned out to be appendix cancer, and visual migraines impacted her ability to see, she realized it was time to give up the airplanes. Retirement was challenging at first, and she had lost a huge piece of her identity, and a way of life. But not her life.

America - Gerry and Dewey in Florence, OR last summer... 33 years later

Kathy has never given up the ability to fly, and her life continues to soar. She says, “Now, five years later, it just keeps getting better. Retirement means no more jet lag, unless I want to take a photography class in Italy, or tour New Zealand. It means no more having to prove yourself… you’ve done it.”

Kathy certainly has done it. She currently writes, travels, paints and studies photography. Kathy also shares her life by motivating teens, not necessarily about flying, but more about achieving their dreams, and sharing with them how exciting the world is. Kathy is an 'anti-fear' person who looks for the good side in everything. No wonder we hit it off instantly.

I met her while I was instructing as a second officer on the Boeing 747, she was my first officer and she introduced me to reflexology in Singapore. We’ve spent time on Mount Hood taking a watercolor class, traveled the world, and lost our car on a layover in Los Angeles at the racetrack. We have a great deal of understanding in the challenges unique to women pilots, who are mothers too and embrace the same philosophy on life. It's just pretty darn good!

Kathy is happily married to Kevin, has two children, Darcie 26, and Colt 20. Two dogs. Two cats. And they recently placed wind generators on their wheat farm in Oregon.

Kathy's outlook on life: “Change is the only thing that is certain. Love and gratitude are underrated. Enjoy life to the fullest.”

Colt and Darcie

Kathy, we all miss your smiling face, laughter, and positive attitude on the flight line…but you’re always with us. Please leave Kathy a message... I know she would love to hear from you!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Engine Failure Over the Atlantic

The best way to learn a procedure is to make it real. Create a story. Trust me, you will remember.

We were enroute over the Atlantic, Amsterdam to Denver, and halfway into our flight the number one engine flamed out. The captain pushed the thrust levers to the MCT position, max continuous thrust, and disconnected the auto-thrust by pressing the discrete red disconnect buttons. This kept the operating engine operating at max continuous thrust. He then pulled his speed button, placing the aircraft in selected speed, and dialed it back to “green dot” speed. The A330 slowed at altitude, and green dot would provide best lift over drag in a clean configuration.

He then pulled his navigation knob, and placed the system into a selected heading mode, and turned the heading bug 90 degrees to the right, directing the princess to fly off track. We had been flying on the northern most track, NATA, westbound, and a right turn off the airway would provide the best clearance from traffic on other tracks.

We had already past our ETP, Equal Time Point, and continuing on to our alternate was our only option. While the captain turned the heading bug, I selected a lateral revision off the “from” waypoint, 1L on the MCDU. This is the only place to find the option for an offset. I typed in 15R to build a route that paralleled ours, fifteen miles right of course. It wouldn’t have matter if I typed in R15 or 15R, the MCDU accepts either format.

I told the captain that managed NAV was available. He pressed the button and the plane took control of the Navigation, and intercepted the offset course. Had we not reached our ETP, and needed to return to the departure airport, managed NAV would not have been available and we would have flown the remainder of the offset in heading select.

The turn onto the offset route was quick, and the airplane was approaching the green dot. With an engine failure, the performance page automatically displayed and provided us a driftdown altitude enabling max terrain clearance, which the captain dialed into the FCU. When our speed reached green dot, he pulled the altitude knob and the airplane began her open descent to FL230. Because the auto thrust was off, and we had MCT set, the descent was gradual as we flew to our driftdown altitude. However, today we were over the ocean and terrain was not an issue, we decided that REC MAX, maximum recommended altitude, would be better.

I selected the Prog page, and located our REC MAX altitude, dialed that in, and then when we arrived at our altitude, the captain reactivated the managed speed and the auto thrust. We could have reselected auto thrust and put the control back into managed speed sooner. However, during the driftdown, with managed speed in an open decent, the thrust comes to idle and our descent would have been steeper. We opted for the gradual decent.

I performed the ECAM procedures with confirmation from the caption: ENG START SEL to IGN, THR LEVER to IDLE, ENG MASTER Off….

And thus the story goes... fly your plane.

Enjoy the Journey!

~ Karlene

Friday, April 16, 2010

Captain Danny: Friday's Fabulous Flyer

Captain Danny Burke:
Captain Danny has combined 28 years of airline flying, of which 17 years were in an instructor, check airman, flight standards officer, and culminating as the chief pilot and general manager of flying for the western region of a large Part 121 Flag Carrier, integral with 10 years of flight test work, and most recently 18 years of corporate VIP flights for royalty, and a very wealthy owner of a large conglomerate.

He states: “I believe in safety, and efficiency of operation with these large aircraft. Plan the work, then work the plan! ”

Captain Danny has flown onto all the continents except Antarctica. Ocean crossing long hauls of fifteen hours in a B747SP are not unusual. Nor are six sectors a day in a BBJ.

FAA ATP 1543453


I first met Captain Danny when I was a BBJ instructor for Premair. This was definitely a case of the student teaching the instructor. He is an exceptional person and a superior aviator. We all have something to learn, and we’re always a student in an airplane. I am sharing Danny’s letter, and hope that we can all learn from his wisdom and vast experience.

10th April 2010

Dear Karlene,

You asked that I put together some thoughts about airline pilot training, when changing aircraft, or in your case from a long absence from flying. There follows then, my thoughts of what I consider to be important over and above the normal airline flight school training programs.

Learning Considerations

Airline pilots in training, tend to be complacent and apathetic towards transitioning to a similar marque of airplane. For example, when changing from a Boeing 767 to the Boeing 777, the systems are so similar (and designed that way); the FMC’s are so similar, with only the easily read displays to learn and comprehend. Does this complacency and apathy present a problem? Probably not, given the redundancy and reliability of the modern day aircraft.

But, faced with training on a different marque, such as changing from a Boeing to an Airbus, the airline pilot can no longer afford to be complacent in his learning. New nomenclature, new checklists, new presentations, new thought processes must be learned, must be committed to memory, and must be seriously studied.

The airline flight training department has expertise in guiding you, promoting your skills, assisting you through repetitive drills to attain your well earned type rating. But, this type rating is only a “learning permit” until you gain at least one thousand hours of line flying on the new type of airplane. Can you afford to be complacent and apathetic to incidents that occur as regularly as an encounter with an inebriated passenger? How can you at the early stages, during that first one thousand hours, gain important knowledge that may guide you through desperate situations that do occur?

Even during your initial training on any large aircraft, learn the line aircraft. And by that, I mean to learn:

1. The basic operating weights, and with a typical trip fuel requirement, what altitude can you initially climb to. Especially if you anticipate a maximum gross weight takeoff. Have this number in your head even before you search the computer flight plan for this information. This altitude is important to know when you search the weather patterns along your route of flight. You should know what time (elapsed time) that you can step climb, and will it be during your duty time, or during your break. If this step climb will happen while you are in the back of the airplane resting, make sure the relief pilot is briefed on how you want this done. This briefing should include reference to “coffin corner” area of the flight envelope, and turbulence penetration speed.

2. The weights, attitudes and N1’s of the airplane at (at least) three different regimes. The first should be easy weights to remember for you, like say 400,000 lbs. At that weight and at that cruising altitude memorize the attitude and the N1 setting to keep the airplane stable in flight. [400k / 2 ½ degrees / 91%] If you get to a point where this is important, the initial altitude is not as important as keeping the airplane stable along the pitch and roll axes. At this point you may or may not have an airspeed indicator, or EPR’s. But with these N1 and Attitude numbers you may be able to concentrate and save a situation like Air France got into over the mid-Atlantic Ocean. The other areas of flight that are important are the mid-descent area of FL250, where you encounter the some lower-level thunderstorms that still have potent lightning. If you get struck in that area, and all the displays go black, you must know that at 300,000 lbs you should have an attitude and N1 setting to keep the airplane stable in flight, until you are clear of the weather, or the instruments have reset themselves. And finally the landing approach weights and numbers associated with this very important phase of flight [300k / 4 degrees / 65%}. Takeoff plus five minutes, and Landing minus eight minutes are the most critical areas of flight that you will encounter. You should use your best judgment as to the regime of flight that you choose to memorize numbers for. And you should definitely use your best judgment and memorize these scenarios. If you are the First Officer on the flights, call these numbers out to the Captain, whilst you dig for the airplane’s Quick Reference Handbook. You may be the only person that has these special numbers in your head.

3. While you are in school (and after school, too) use some of your study time to read through the Minimum Equipment List (MEL) and the Configuration Deviation List (CDL) for your airplane. There is so much information included in this dry reading that can guide you when “things happen”, for your planning at departure time, and at the next stop. Also, there is a Dispatch Deviation Guide (DDG) that is associated with these two important lists. Do not let the first time you see these lists be the time that you need to make important decisions. This study will surely enhance all of your learning experience on the new airplane, and my help in the airplane “Oral” testing.

My best regards for your continued success as an airline pilot.
Capt. Danny Burke

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ryan Lock: Friday’s Fabulous Flyer!

Close your eyes and remember that first time you climbed into a plane, took hold of the throttle, and applied takeoff power. Remember the excitement of your first solo, and the ensuing dreams of flying the big jets. There was a time when we too hung out at the airport every spare moment, and paid money to fly airplanes.

When I have the opportunity to meet a new aviator who is unable to contain their passion for flying, and soars through life at full speed in pursuit of their dreams, I cannot help but to smile. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and makes me appreciate where I am in my career, and the path I took to get here. A friend told me that I won the lottery when I was hired by Northwest, and my prize doubled when I joined the Delta team. And now I want to share that prize with our new pilots, and help them achieve their dreams.

I am excited to welcome the new aviators, such as Ryan Lock, into an incredible profession. His enthusiasm, professionalism, and love of aviation inspired me. I know he will inspire you too.

Ryan reminded me that he, and others like him, will be our future aviators, flying the big jets. We owe it to these pilots, to provide them the tools and assistance for their dreams to come true.

I had asked Ryan a few questions, with the intent to write about him. When he sent me this response, I realized he has an incredible voice and I would publish his writing as is.

Thank you Ryan!

I would like to introduce you to Ryan Lock:

How long have you been at Delta Connection Academy?

I have been enrolled at the Academy since 19 February 2009, during which time I have completed my Private and Instrument rating in the Cirrus SR-20 glass cockpit aircraft, while also taking three months out to obtain a new student visa from my home country of England – UK. Presently I am in the aircraft working towards my Commercial Pilots License, with a goal of graduating as a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI/CFII).

Why did you choose Delta Connection Academy?

I had been interested in the Delta Connection Academy since 2003. While going through University, working on my Bachelor of Science honors degree in Aviation Technology and Management, I researched a variety of flight schools, but Delta Connection Academy stood out by far. There were three factors that solidified the choice to pursue my training with this flight school:

1) The reputation of the school and the strength of being the only flight school owned by an Airline.

2) The cost was significantly cheaper to train in the US as opposed to the UK, and finally;

3) The great weather in the sunshine state meant I would complete my training in a shorter duration than your typical out of state/country flight school.

Was there an event or a person that drew you to aviation?

Not in particular. Ever since I can remember, growing up I have ALWAYS been fascinated with aircraft, more so civil aircraft. Had I not pursued a career as a pilot, I wanted to be a Police Officer or Firefighter. That changed slightly as I aged, to which I became increasingly interested in the management and business side of aviation. So, should any of those "instruments" tumble in the future, so to speak –then this is my backup plan.

Why the desire to become a pilot?

A pilot is BORN a pilot! I believe that it's one of those professions that doesn't just "come" to you at a later stage in life. As Cliché as it may sound, I truly believe that all pilots were "born to fly!" That how I have always been, and will continue to do so.

When do you plan to finish?

I hope to graduate as a qualified Certified Flight Instructor (CFI/CFII) in December of this year. Unfortunately, due to the new US Government regulations, I am forced to be in "Academic Studies" for the first nine months of the new visa, otherwise I would be graduating from the Academy as a CFI/CFII around August.

If you could do anything upon completion, what would that be?

Hypothetically: Go right to the airlines and become a First Officer. Realistically: I would like to be able to remain at the Delta Connection Academy or any other flight school after my three year visa expires as a CFI/CFII to be able to build a significant amount of flight hours that will stand me in good ground for employment in the future. It’s all a competition these days –I want to be ahead of that competition. We are all great aviators and it’s unfortunate that we have to compete to do something we are so passionate about; however, desperate times call for desperate measures and the airlines have been one of the harder hit industries during this global economic downturn. I am (as I’m sure you are) extremely optimistic that our industry will bounce back stronger than ever.

What challenges do you face?

I believe I face more challenges than your average pilot in training. As my aforementioned details have outlined, I am restricted as to what I can do here in the US on my student Visa. That means I can only train and work for the flight school at which I graduate… with a time limit of three years. Alongside leaving all my family and friends back in the UK, it makes it tough at times, but hey –I soldier through and constantly believe in what I am doing is the right thing. I have no doubts that I will come around in a full circle in years to come, even though at lonely times its hard to believe that.

Do you have any specific concerns with flying, or the career?

As a pilot in training, there are a vast amount of concerns I have… what will happen when I graduate, will I be hired as an instructor, where do I move on after I leave the US, will the airlines start hiring large amounts of pilots in the near future, how much more funds will my career require, where will I get these funds etc. However, despite all the “specific concerns” as you ask, I know for sure that this is my destiny, it’s what I was born to do and nothing will stand in my way. Optimism is the best fix anyone can get in life; something I ooze.

What is the most fun about flying?

Defying the laws of gravity.

If you could say one thing to new students coming up behind you... what would that be?

It’s hard to just say “one thing”. What I would quote, is my “one” favorite poem in hope that they will interpret the same message and power that I did when I first saw it. This poem represents me, all that I am, and everything that I do. With it, I'd like people to always think of me and remember that dreams really can come true.

Thank you for your time, please feel free to contact me through my website: should anyone ever want to seek more advice or have more questions for me. I would also like to thank my friend Karlene Petitt for getting me the opportunity to share my story with you all. Karlene and I continue to share ideas of what we believe will help future aviators, who knows what we may mastermind… watch this space.

Best wishes to all.


Flight is freedom in its purest form,
To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within.

To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;
Then back to earth at the end of the day,
Released from the tensions which melted away.

Should my end come while I am in flight,
Whether brightest day or darkest night;
Spare me no pity and shrug off the pain,
Secure in the knowledge that I'd do it again.

For each of us is created to die,
And within me I know,
I was born to fly.

"Impressions Of A Pilot"
-Gary Claude Stoker

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hidden Hero in the Sky!

Baskets found, brunch complete, bags packed and I managed to secure an aisle seat on my flight to school. I had about twenty pages remaining to read, and was concentrating on the flight instruments chapter when a flight attendant asked me, “Are you a pilot? Can you help me fix the entertainment system?” The screens were dead, and she didn’t know what to do. And I did?

I was not sure if being a pilot correlated to the ability to fix the entertainment system on a B757… but why not try? I did warn her that I had no idea what I was doing, but agreed to take a look regardless.

A quick call to the flight deck, and the pilots re-cycled the power, and I did the same in the cabin. We rebooted the computers, but the problem resided in the flight attendant’s ability, or lack of, to program the system. Apparently there are ten of these "different" system airplanes flying around. I asked her if she had a manual, but there were none to be found. Long story short, I began to push buttons, and I started an electrical fire and we diverted to Spokane.

Ha Ha. Just kidding! About the re-route anyway. I actually fixed it! So the passengers are being entertained, and I am about finish the electrical system chapter. My last chapter! Coincidence?

Tomorrow is my first day of A330 training, so stay tuned for the daily updates.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Nicole Saulnier: Supermom on Floats!

Supermom doesn’t need a cape when she flies float planes. Nicole Saulnier, alias NicoleAtGBA on twitter, is a pilot, wife, mother of  three, and co-owner of Georgian Bay Airways.
Nicole’s is not your traditional pilot story, but one of destiny. In 1995 she worked next door to an airport and listened to the planes, all day long, call to her as they flew overhead. One day she decided to go see what it would take to learn to fly, and they told her, “give us all your money and we’ll make you a pilot!” And she did just that.

With a degree in advertising from Georgian College, in Barrie, Ontario, Nicole began working at an ad agency next door to an airport. However, already bitten by the flying bug, her heart was in the sky, and she gave up her fancy office to pursue her dreams. She eventually found her way to the Confederation College in Thunder Bay Ontario, in a class of 23 pilots.

This time Nicole was bitten by a different kind of flying bug, and she ended up marrying him. Keith and Nicole were classmates, friends, and coworkers, and began to date after graduation and their first season of flying together. One thing led to another, which blessed them with two beautiful children.

Nicole’s first job was flying charters, and instructing in a Cessna 180 and a Beaver. After their marriage, Nicole and Keith spent the summer flying for Ignace Airways. She flew the Beaver and he the Cessna 206. Did I mention the Beaver was on floats?

Yes! Nicole only has one hour on wheels since she obtained her commercial license.

Nicole and Keith spent time flying in the Vancouver area, but realized Ontario was their home. They returned to Ontario, and Nicole became the Chief Pilot for 30,000 Island Air. At the end of the season, and with dreams of owning their own business, she and Keith were faced with a decision: to purchase 30,000 Island Air, or purchase their property.

They chose the property, and to venture out on their own. They re-birthed Georgian Bay Airways, which had operated from 1940 -1980. They revived the name, and carried on the legend.

Today, eight years later, they have a thriving charter business, a gift shop and ice cream/coffee parlor. Grannie and day care help, but their children, ages one, three, and five can often be found in the store playing on the computer, and stocking shelves. Hopefully not coloring on the walls.

Nicole is truly an amazing aviator with a story filled with destiny, hard work, and dedication, all because she wasn’t afraid to give up all her money to become a pilot. Her challenges are unique while she juggles a career, business and family. I know she will succeed in all areas!

  *  Don’t take NO for an answer
  *  Never give up – set a goal and do what it takes to get there
  *  Don’t doubt your abilities
  *  You CAN have a career and family – it just requires less sleep and more determination
  *  Follow your head, not your heart

Nicole, your heart has been guiding you. "Use" your head, but keep following your heart, and there is no limit!

~ Karlene