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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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is This a Vacation?

Today I am headed to Las Vegas for the week...playing the ponies at the Handicappers Tournament and Editing Flight For Safety. Saturday I'll be watching the Kentucky Derby on my 51st Birthday.

When I return... I will spend the week studying the A330 in preparation for recurrent training. And I'll be posting little tidbits of Airbus wisdom. 

My youngest daughter will be in Las Vegas on Saturday for a bachelorette party for her girlfriend. She is planning a very fun event for the bride to be and their friends, and said that I can join the fun. 

Can you guess what we will be doing? 

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene  

Monday, April 29, 2013

SeaTac Washington

"SeaTac: Some might call it an Airport. I call it home."

I have heard it said, "People in Seattle don't tan, they rust." But when we have a beautiful day... it makes all those rainy days a distant memory. The following photos were taken on a walk around my neighborhood last week.

My home is a little hideaway in the middle of the city of SeaTac. I can walk to work in 25 minutes. From my office, I look out to my backyard on one side, which was snowing pink with the wind, and can watch the squirrels play in the trees out the other side.

Enjoy every moment wherever you are. For me... there is no place like home.

XO Karlene

Friday, April 26, 2013

TEAM WILD MAMA: Terry Carbonell

Friday's Fabulous Flyer

 Terry L. Carbonell

“Never let fear alone stop you.”

Events happen in our lives, and situations arise that may not have been of our own making. But it's the choices we make regarding those events that will determine how our life turns out. Terry's story is one of compassion and love. Her love of giving to another human was gifted back with the love of flight. And that she continues to share. 

Please welcome another Air Race Classic Racer from Team Wild Mama, Terry Carbonell~

"I couldn’t say no: that about sums it up. In March 2005 a friend, Rob Weber, called me that he just got his private certificate and bought a Cessna 172. He knew my now deceased husband, Mario, had been a pilot since the age of 16. He knew that Mario loved airplanes. He also knew that Mario would never fly again because he had Alzheimer’s.  Rob wanted to take Mario for a flight. I thought the idea sounded wonderful and readily agreed.

The flight was a surprise for Mario and I “taunted” him that I had a surprise for him Friday night. He was convinced that I was taking him out for a steak dinner. When we arrived at Page Field in Fort Myers, Mario figured that we were getting a visitor. He never imagined that he was going on a flight that would change MY life forever.
Wild Mama over Exuma
Love of Flight

Rob arrived and ushered Mario into the right front seat of the 172 and, much to my chagrin, I was seated in the back. I was not upset about being in the back seat—I was not happy about being in this small airplane. But I agreed because I wanted to see Mario happy.

We took off and the smile on Mario’s’ face was one like I had never seen before. He started recounting stories of his youthful days flying his Ercoupe around the farm fields of Cuba before the Castro regime seized the family wealth. He recalled landing on I-75 in Fort Myers, FL “back in the day” to assist a pilot who had to make a forced landing. As we came in on final, Mario turned to me and said “Can you please get your pilot license so I can spend my last days on this Earth in a plane?”  I took a long, hard gulp. Me??? Flying this thing? No way! Well …. Wait a minute …. I couldn’t say no. This is my husband of 16 years asking me to make him happy in his final days. I couldn’t say no.

Mario going for a $100 Hamburger

Rob offered me his airplane and instructor to get started. A week later, I was on my “introductory flight” with instructor Ed Wilson, a flight instructing icon in Fort Myers, and Mario in the back. I was terrified as I climbed in the left seat but figured that Ed – with more than 40,000 hours in a 172 – could fix anything that I did wrong…and so I started my flight training.

Immediately, with a whopping 1 hour under my belt, I bought my own Cessna 172 for the training. I flew every morning and studied my Gleim books every night. Twenty hours later, I soloed. I was in no hurry to throw Ed and his big black bag of experience out of the cockpit. He had attempted to solo me on several occasions only to have me bumble every landing of that day. He finally tricked me by jumping out of the cockpit as I was rolling to a stop and shouting: “Go, go, go!” 


I thought something was wrong. By the time I realized what had happened I was already in the air, all alone. How stupid could I be?! I did 3 touch-and-goes before making the full stop landing. Shaking but I did it.

Over the next couple weeks I prepared for my long cross country. When the day finally arrived it was a beautiful Spring morning in Fort Myers. The weather forecast for my flight to Sebring, Okechobee and Pahokee was perfect: calm winds and clear blue skies. I launched out just after 0700 en route to Sebring. As I was a little way from Sebring I noticed an overcast layer overhead and I started descending from 3,500’. I kept coming down until I was 1,000’AGL. I was heading in toward clouds. Training told me to do a 180 degree turn but it was already too late and the clouds kept pushing me lower. I was close to Sebring by now and had to get to the airport. I landed, parked the plane and kissed the ground. I was shaking so badly that I could barely walk. My cell phone had many messages from Ed and pilot friends warning me not to come back to Fort Myers because it went IFR. I was going nowhere as the ceiling settled into a low dense fog over Sebring. 

Bahama Pilot Challenge

 Finally by 1300 hours, the fog lifted. I did not want to get back in the plane. I had been debating for the last several hours how to get the plane back home without me in it. I was ready to call the mechanic, Vern, to come get me but kept hesitating. Ed called with an alternate plan to complete my cross country. My only response was that I want to go home and I flew straight back to Fort Myers as fast as I could. I was still badly shaken when I parked the plane and walked away. I was done. I have never been so scared and DID NOT want to do that again.

Mario was waiting for me when I got home. There was so much excitement in his eyes. He was so proud of his wife that she has made this trip. I did not have the heart to tell him what happened. I had to try again the next day. 

Wild Mama

Arriving at the airport, I was greeted by the same sunny weather that lured me into flight the day before. Ed assured me that it was going to be different today. I was sick to my stomach all morning, not being able to hold down breakfast, but I finally launched out to Okechobee, Pahokee then Venice. In spite of my fear and apprehensions, all went well and I completed an uneventful solo cross country.  Forty-six days after I began my flight training, I had my own private certificate and I could take Mario flying.

Our first flight was a tandem flight with Rob and his 172 to Sebring for Saturday night steak dinner. I was flying slowly and cautiously and Rob was literally flying circles around me chiding me what a dog of a plane I had. Mario agreed and told me he would not ride with me until I got a faster airplane. I could have killed Rob. That steak dinner cost me a 182RG. Now, with 90 hours, I have a 235 hp, high performance, complex rocket ship. I was clueless but somehow had a Guardian Angel watching over me to get me through the learning curve of this new machine, my instrument training and basic pilot proficiency.  (Whose plane is the dog now, Rob?)

Glaciers in Alaska

With Mario wanting to fly, I knew that I had to become as proficient as possible. I was fortunate that mechanic Vern was also a pilot – and a darn good one at that. He taught me a lot about the airplane and flying in general and he often accompanied Mario and me on our long journeys. I would often say to Vern that the conditions (wind, altitude, weather, etc.) were beyond my capabilities but if he was comfortable, I was willing to learn. With that, we launched out over the Gulf direct from LaBelle, FL to Cancun, Mexico passing through the outer Cuban airspace where Mario could hear his countrymen direct from his homeland for the first time in over 45 years. We made several trips across the United States seeing all of the National Parks that Mario wanted to see. We flew to Niagara Falls in some nasty IMC to fulfill a 40-year dream of Mario’s to see the Falls. We flew everywhere, and I was averaging over 300 flight hours per year.

In 2007 I entered the Air Race Classic for the first time. I had flown across the country before so this should not be so difficult. Well, like anything else, there is always more to it than it seems. The cross country part was easy for me; but doing well was another deal all together. We finished in the top half of the field of 45 race teams and won a couple of leg prizes. I learned, finally and for the first time, that I was now the proud holder of my own black bag of experience along with my commercial and instrument ratings. Mario was proud.

Time to Fly!

Up until May 2008 Mario had been able to travel. He was impaired; he had issues and needed much assistance, but he loved the sounds and vibration of the airplane and enjoyed listening to his Cuban music as we flew off to our faraway places.  While at our cabin in Tennessee in May, Mario had a “major brain malfunction”. We never did figure out what happened but it was all we could do to get him in the plane and get him home. He was nearly uncontrollable and terrified of everything, even when sitting peacefully in the house. His flying days were over but I now found solace in flight. Mario screamed constantly and required 24-hour care. We hired full time, live-in care givers to help me take care of him and to give me a break. I turned to flying.

As sad as his illness had been, the death of Mario in November 2008 started the grieving process all over again. The loved ones of Alzheimer’s patients grieve every day because each day you lose another little piece of your loved one. Their personality changes; the “special things” are no longer special and you find yourself living with someone who looks like your loved one but resembles them in no other form or fashion.  This time I turned to the Ninety-Nines. 

2010 Winning Team!

My “sisters” in the 99s, my Air Race Classic friends and my pilot friends kept me flying. They called and emailed and made sure that I was OK. The aviation community became my new family. I kept flying and decided that it was time for more adventures. I made several more flights across the U.S. with Vern, with friends and by myself. I kept racing proficiency races (the Okie Derby and Sunshine Derby) and the Air Race Classic. In 2010 with my dear friends Ellen Herr and “Laura” Ying Gao, we piloted my 182RG, affectionately known as “Wild Mama” to a first place finish in the Air Race Classic. Wow: what a high! It was one of the best days of my life.

The remainder of 2010 was eventful as well: earning my CFI a flight in Wild Mama to Alaska and fulfilling my aviation dream of flying a float plane over the glaciers in Alaska. But there is no stopping from there. I have since made several more trips across the United States; we finished 3rd in the 2012 Air Race Classic, I regularly fly to the Bahamas as a Flying Ambassador; I have earned my CFI-I and I will be starting my multi-engine training soon thanks to a Paradise Coast 99s “Wings Over Paradise” Scholarship. I plan on using my multi-engine rating to start flying mosquito control missions and, well, who knows what else.

"No Limits" Girls Aviation Program

My real mission right now is girls’ aviation education. I have been volunteering with the Air Race Classic and Boys & Girls Clubs developing a youth aviation education program. The ARC/ Boys & Girls Club program in Mobile, AL won the Boys & Girls Club Award of Excellence for education and career development and was the jump start for the Aviation Adventures, Inc. “Youth & Aviation Adventure Guide” – a full color 120 page workbook to teach youth things they needs to know to be an aviator (weather, maps and charts, airports and runways, airplanes, history, communications, aerodynamics, etc.).

ARC Trophy with copilot Ellen Herr

What can I teach you? Never give up. There is always another pilot out there who will fly with you to help you earn your back bag of experience. Have confidence in your abilities and follow my mantra: “Never let fear alone stop you.” My flying career started at the ripe ole age of 44. I never saw it coming. I had never, not for one split second, ever thought about piloting a plane but on that fateful flight back in 2005 I couldn’t say no."

Please leave Terry a message, and follow she and Ellen on their race to the finish line on Team Wild Mama's Website. You will be amazed at all she's accomplished.

Terry, Thank you for an incredible story. One that brought tears to my eyes. I wish you ultimate success in everything you do. Keep touching the sky... you are an angle flying strong. 

Enjoy the journey!
XO Karlene

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Somtimes I Don't Know Everything"

T.H.ursday's with Tom Hill

Interesting title, huh? I'm sure some of the young aviators I fly with can't believe I'm making such a statement. Well, it's true. It is absolutely true.

I have mentioned flying our little Beech 1900 all the way from the Continental United States to the Hawaiian Islands a few times. I found out that I don't know everything on one of our returns from Hawaii. Here is the challenge in this particular situation for this particular aircraft: there is simply not enough fuel capacity on the Beech 1900 to fly from the closest point in the Continental United States to the Big Island of Hawaii and still meet all the reserve fuel rules. For those who don't know, reserve fuel rules pertain to the fuel you're supposed to have onboard the aircraft after you get to your destination. You do not fly 2,000+ miles to plan to arrive overhead with no fuel. You have to carry extra fuel. Since it's more than 2,000 miles from the California Coast to the Big Island, our little airplane can't carry enough fuel. 

Some of you are probably wondering, "How do you get there, then?" That's easy - through Alaska. Yup, the shortest legs take you up the West Coast into Alaska, then out on to the Aleutians to Adak, AK. Next, you fly the 1,400 miles from there to Midway Atoll straight south. Finally, you turn back east for the last thousand mile leg to Hawaii. Simple! Starting in New Mexico where we live, it's a six or seven day adventure if the weather cooperates. As we all know, weather in Alaska does not cooperate. That's a blessing and a curse in this story.

A couple of years ago, when returning from Hawaii via Midway, we decided to save a day on our return leg. Normally, with just a little head wind and a little adverse weather at the destination, we would have to return using the reverse of the route we took to get to Hawaii--i.e., through Adak, AK. Anyone that's been to Adak for longer than pit stop knows it’s not an easy place to live. The wind is constantly howling, there are very few civilized resources left on the island after the US Navy left in the 90's, and the weather is completely unpredictable. You know those epic storms in the reality series “Deadliest Catch”? That’s Adak. To make things even more interesting for aviators, the runway orientation and the surrounding mountainous terrain make the best departure path the opposite of your arrival path. If the winds are blowing, like they always seem to be, that awesome headwind you had on landing will turn into a nightmare Take Off and Landing Data (TOLD) tailwind on the way out. This means you’re stuck if there are the usual heavy winds.

By the way - god bless the folks who suffer the elements in places like Adak. Most of us have no idea what real challenge is unless you hear a few of their stories. 

But back to this story:

To say we were motivated to bypass Adak, or Cold Bay, or any of the other remote airports out on the Aleutians is an understatement. If the weather cooperated, we wanted to try for Anchorage, 2200 miles away from Midway. Most of you are now thinking, "Wait a second. Why can you make Midway to Anchorage in one hop if you couldn't fly from the West Coast to Hawaii?" There are a couple of reasons. First is the possibility of a tail-wind most of the way from the West Coast--that would be zero chance. And, because of the Great Circle route of flying the curve of the globe, we had good diverts along the way. The Great Circle route took us right past all those remote airports on the Aleutians if our fuel burn didn’t work out right. Finally, Anchorage is a populated location with many potential diverts allowing us to plan a much smaller fuel reserve.

Since this was going to be such an epic flight, all three pilots onboard did their own flight planning and weather research independently. If you hadn't guessed, it's not the easiest thing in the world to get good wind data in the middle of the North Pacific. Working with a couple of weather professionals back home and out in Hawaii, we had a good feel for the weather by take-off time. All was a go in the end. The weather in Anchorage was cooperating with no low ceilings and minimal snow. And, we had our requisite 10 kt tailwind most of the way.
This was a nine and a half hour flight. For our little airplane, that's gigantic. Not worthy of a record - it wasn't even my longest - but still epic for this little airplane. In the end, I think we thought of every possibility except one thing: what long duration Alaska cold temps at cruising altitude would do to our little New Mexico based airplane. After almost 10 hours of flying, closely monitoring the weather, tweaking the throttles to fly optimally, and the premature elation of actually having it all work out, our left main showed unsafe when we lowered the gear on final. 
Uggggh!!! The left main hydraulic pack that pushes the gear down was a little weaker than the right. We didn’t know that. It worked fine in its home environment, but in -50 deg C temps for almost 10 hours, it was too much.

There we were on final to Anchorage International, a heavy Fedex in front, a heavy Korean Air behind, flying in and out of snow squalls, about an hour of total fuel onboard and us with a good nose gear, good right main gear, but no indication for our left main. Oh, yeah - and it was night time, as if all the other stuff wasn't enough. 

Let me describe the crew setup. I was sitting in the left seat as the Aircraft Commander for the day--i.e. the man in charge. In the right seat, flying the approach, was our youngest pilot with only about 100 hrs in the airplane. Still, he was very experienced overall with a couple thousand hours in 40 different aircraft. And, our chief pilot was sitting as a passenger with a clear view of the gear indicators reading off the checklist for the emergency procedure.

Alternate extension of the landing gear for King Air aircraft is through a floor pump at my right foot. According to the Tech Order, it could take up to 80 pump throws to build enough pressure for the main landing gear to show safe. That's if everything works perfectly.

When the gear indicated unsafe, I threw my seat back and deployed the pump handle. The chief pilot was right there reading the checklist. The co-pilot continued to fly the approach. I pumped and pumped and pumped. When you are pumping head down like I was, it's very difficult to maintain situational awareness of where we were on approach. After what seemed like an eternity without the left main indicating safe, I glanced up to check where we were. We were approaching Decision Height. I called out "Go Around" so we could solve the problem away from the ground. The co-pilot had just started to move the throttles when the chief pilot yelled out, "We got three green!" The co-pilot responded "Continue, we're landing." See, just when we started to go around, the left main indicated safe. The chief pilot updated the aircraft status with a call when he saw the indicators change. The co-pilot made a call and decided to continue and land. I finished the Before Landing checklist. The landing was uneventful.

Afterwards, we talked about what happened. As you can imagine, there were many things going on at the same time there. Decisions needed to be made in short order to tackle the situation. I’m glad we had another pilot onboard to help us through. There wasn’t anything controversial about our decisions from mission planning right up and through lowering the gear. The most interesting topic was the decision to land versus the command to go-around.

In our situation we had a very experienced crew that had flown extensively together. We knew each other and could trust the other guy’s decision process. One thing we all recognized was not everyone had full situational awareness (SA) all the time. Sometimes, the guy making the commands was not the guy with the most information or best position to make the best decisions. I think that was the situation in our case. As I called for the go-around, I made a decision based on what I knew. But, as the power was about to go up the landing gear situation improved which changed everything. The questions became: was it better to follow the go-around call and take a perfectly good aircraft into the night for another radar pattern? Or, was it better to simply adjust to the situation, use the skills we had, and land?

In assessing this situation, you also have to consider that the Aircraft Commander called the go-around. As far as the USAF was concerned, I was fully responsible for the aircraft and everything associated with it. As they say, my rear was on the line. In some situations, this is a very important nuance: there can only be one guy in charge. My direction should have been the rule. But, in this situation, it doesn't make sense NOT to respect the SA and the skills of other people I’m so used to flying with. In other words, just because I say something as the guy in charge does not mean it’s the way it has to be. I can include other inputs.

So, back to this situation: it really came down to who had the most SA. In this case, I called for the go-around based on what I knew. The circumstances changed almost immediately. Then the person flying, the guy with even more SA, made a change in plans leading us to continue the approach and land uneventfully. Even though he wasn’t the Aircraft Commander, he was the guy flying. No one on the airplane knew more about flying and landing that approach than he did.

What’s the lesson here? Even though you are in charge you may not know everything that is going on. Therefore, your commands may not be the best. It is good to be able to include others in your decision process, allowing for changes to commands as circumstances direct. Of course, the unmentioned circumstances from this situation were a uniquely qualified crew with a close rapport from many missions together. Without that, it would have been much more difficult to adjust to circumstances so quickly.

Hopefully, there are little tidbits in this story all you fliers might learn from. The experience sure taught me a lot.



Note: The photos were all taken at Midway Island just prior to his making this epic flight.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pilot Tails.

Michael Badger sent me an email about a "kickstarter" campaign to help launch his book, Pilot Tails. This came through at a time I was babysitting my grandkids and thought, how fun this book would be to read to them. I asked him to tell me more about the inspiration behind his story, and a little about Kickstarter.

This is what Michael had to say: 

"My original inspiration for the book came from a much simpler book I wrote for my then girl friend as a way to propose. I had purchased a Vermont Teddy Bear dressed as a pilot and planned on taking him with me as I flew to different locations during my flight training. I planned on taking photos of the bear hold the engagement right she was to get. Unfortunately I didn't think of this until I was nearly finished with training so I had to come up with another idea. Being very good with computer graphics software I set about illustrating a book that told the story of a young air mail pilot who had to make a special delivery to Alabama. That story and the end result you can see HERE.

The new book has taken on a life of its own with the encouragement of my friends and family. With the help of a good friend who is also an illustrator we set out to take my original idea and really breath life into it.

The book will be printed my a small company in California called Cross Blue.

The book will be available from my web site and by other online vendors such as Sporty's etc if everything goes through.

What is Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a new and very powerful crowd source funding website. The concept is that people can launch a project that is near and dear to them in hopes that others will support it. Due to the high cost of these types of projects its a great way for those with the passion and drive turn their dreams into reality.

Because our projects rely on support form the community we offer rewards based on their contribution levels. People can donate as much or as little as they want. These rewards range from personally signed art work and the books themselves. These rewards are listed on the right side of our kickstarter campaign.

I have been in and around aviation my whole life but it wasn't until two years ago that I finally got my license. I figured if she was getting a ring, I was finally going to get my wings. I now fly as often as possible and plan on continuing on with my instrument and eventually commercial."

Thank you Michael for sharing your journey with us, and I wish you and your book the best of luck. Please leave Michael a comment and let him know what you think.

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Plane Hacking... The New Form of Highjacking?

Last week Keith Mendoza sent me a question about automation and the ability of an application to take over the plane.

He said...

"I'm actually writing a blog regarding the news that came out recently where a information security researcher claims that he's developed an android app to hack an airplane. 
He basically claims that by sending a message through ACARS that he can send a modified flight plan directly to the FMS and take the plane wherever he is. As a private pilot and someone who used to work as a software engineer in the IFE industry I don't buy it one bit.

My assumption is that dispatch is able to send modified flight plans via ACARS, and it's possible for that information to be sent directly to the FMS without the pilot having to re-enter the information from the ACARS screen to the FMS; however, that is reviewed and approved before it goes to the FMS. Is this assumption correct?"
To Read the full article click HERE
MY ANSWER: I agree with you. I don't buy it.

But as you know, I believe in the "Never say Never" concept. The concept of someone hacking a plane as we transition into the NEXT GEN is a plot of another aviation thriller. More likely someone would break into a ground facility, and attempt to take control that way. But as long as pilots remember how to fly their planes, whatever data is sent to them can be denied, or disconnected.
We are safe. Pilots have complete control of the navigation in our planes. The only way for data to go into the Flight Control Unit on my plane is for the pilot to set it. On newer aircraft, such as the 787, data can be sent directly to the Mode Control Panel, but the pilots have the ability to accept or reject it.
Does someone have the ability to send data to a plane? I hope Boeing and Airbus have built protections to prevent just that, and I will assume they did. But brilliant (and corrupt) minds are everywhere. So the question is... if someone has the ability to send data to our aircraft, can they take control? 


We the pilots can kick off the automation and fly the planes without it. We are kind of like superman that way. Seriously, the most automated plane today can be hand flown without the autopilot.

What do you think? Is this going to be a problem in the future?

For all you who would like to read more, check out Keith's Blog, Home+Power

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Greatest Respect For Pilots

“There is no such thing as a small act of kindness. 
 Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

Scott Adams

Last week I returned home from a long trip. Exhausted. Feeling a bit behind on life. And as I dug through my many neglected emails, I came across one that warmed my heart. Nobody wanted anything! They just wanted to give their gratitude. Not necessarily to me, but to all the pilots out there. So if you fly an airplane, this is for you:

"You are all my Heroes!"

"My dad was an airman flying in the China Burma Theater. He flew the 'hump' in a converted B-24-which was a dangerous trek. When I was a kid his stories were enthralling and I always wanted to be a pilot. That never came to be and I ended up as an architect-which I love. 

The flying DNA is still in my blood and I have the greatest respect for what you do, your profession and dedication. It is a joy to follow your work and I really want to just say thank-you! You and your colleagues are at the top of my list for admiration of a job well done. I never enter and exit a plane without tipping my hat to the pilots, copilots and staff. Wow, you are all fantastic. 

Maybe its' odd to say, but the thing I learned from my dad is that flying is more an art than it is a job. While I hold pilots in the highest possible status regarding your profession, I will forever value the craft and artistry of flying. It is so much more than just pushing buttons, steering and following procedures. We, the public, too often take for granted your marvelous gifts and talents as you gracefully guide these machines across the sky. You make it look easy...and its' not!

Thanks again for what you do- you all are my heroes."

David Fox 

Thank you David! 
XO Karlene 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Baldwin Family Flyers

Friday's Fabulous Flyer(s)

Lydia, Caroline and Cara 

Flying is a Family Affair!

Three generations of women take to the sky to race in the Air Race Classic, the longest running all women pilots transcontinental air race. Among the many teams, there is none other as special as a family that flies together.

Mother, Grandmother, and supporter of the Air Race Classic, Caroline Baldwin is the super star who not only flies in the race, but dedicates her life to sharing, supporting, and finding donations to keep the Air Race Classic alive.

Please meet Caroline~

Caroline Baldwin


Caroline grew up in Hingham, MA, married her high school sweetheart, and moved about the country and world with his careers in the US Navy and international banking. When their children were all off to college she and her husband returned to school in Boston to earn a masters in library and information science. Caroline then went to work for a consulting company. Almost twenty years ago, she and Bill moved to Silver City, NM, where Caroline sings in a woman’s chorus, plays French horn in a community band, and volunteers for the local literacy organization that she founded twelve years ago. 

But more than that... she flies!


"I have always been interested in flying, but never had time, money, opportunity until after moving to Silver City, NM in 1993, where I became friends with a woman pilot who took me up in her C210. I started looking for other opportunities to fly. Other members of the Grant County Pilots Association took me flying. I'm now Secretary/Treasurer of that organization.

In April, 2002, my husband Bill and I helped at an auction fund-raiser for the Air Race Classic (ARC) 2002 start in Silver City. Bill purchased 2 hours of flight instruction for me.  Unfortunately, I was not in SC for the excitement of the ARC start. However, at the end of June, 2002, Bill and I drove from Cape Cod to Portsmouth, VA so I could fly with a racer friend back to Silver City - just for the experience! And, it was a great adventure for me, especially when the electric went out on the plane.

2012 Before the Race

I've been a very thrifty New Englander all my life. But I convinced myself (with help from friends), after my mother and aunt died and left me some $, that it would be OK to spend it on flight lessons. I started  in Oct., 2002. I passed the practical exam for Private Pilot on May 17, 2003 (on my husband's birthday). After summer in the East, I learned on our return to Silver City that there were no rental airplanes within a 2 hour drive, so I purchased a Piper Cherokee in December, 2003. Since then, I have participated in eight Air Race Classics and will race again this year with the same team as last year: my daughter as co-pilot and granddaughter, a student pilot, as a teammate.

My training for certification was in a C172. I did get checked out for Complex and High Performance airplanes in November 2003 after instruction in a C210. Also, before finding my plane, I enjoyed taildragger instruction in an Aeronca Champ.

Now I am preparing for Air Race Classic 2013. Recently, a friend and I worked for two days to clean and wax the plane, making it race-ready. Last week, I completed the required, specified handicap flight. Race crews fly against their own handicap speeds, trying to best their own top speed as they fly from stop to stop. My handicap flight needed the cool early morning, a time when we could find the required 6000 feet density altitude airspace here in this high desert country. My home airport is at 5446 feet.

2012 the End of the Race

In the second week of June, I'll fly to Ft. Collins to pick up Lydia and Cara. Then we'll fly on to Pasco, WA where Air Race Classic 2013 will start on June 18. There will be check-in, aircraft inspections, and racer briefings. To date, forty-seven teams have registered. Racers have four days to complete the route. Within the constraints of daytime VFR rules, race crews will face challenging decisions and conditions to complete the “perfect cross-country”. From the start in Pasco, Washington, racers will fly timing lines at en route stops in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, and Oklahoma, with teams celebrating their accomplishments in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Youth aviation events are planned for both the start and ending weekends."

Lydia Baldwin 


Lydia, Caroline's daughter, is a nurse manager in charge of 40 nurses  at Poudre Valley Hospital in Ft. Collins, CO. While Hingham, MA was primarily her hometown during her youth, she lived and attended school for a year in Luxembourg, six months in Kuwait, and four years in Zimbabwe. Following college, Lydia worked a couple of years on “the big dig” in Boston managing the engineering documents for those new highways and tunnels, and saving funds for more travel. After extended travel in the Mid-East, China, Australia, and Europe, Lydia began preparing for a career in nursing. She is now working on a masters in nurse management. 

And she flies too!


"In 1984 I flew as a passenger in a twin engine plane across the savannah in southern Africa. I was with my family en route to stay at a lodge in a national park. Viewing the magnificent land and natural resources from a small plane was magical.

Twenty years later my mother, Caroline, was a pilot in the Air Race Classic and owner of a lovely little single engine Piper Cherokee. Caroline has always been an inspiration to me. She embodies being genuine, living with integrity, courage, love and a sense of adventure.

Mom and Dad moved to the Southwest USA to enjoy the open sky and comfortable community. There as well as in my community of northern Colorado, the sky is welcoming to general aviation pilots. Though certainly becoming warmer and more dry over time and compared to the eastern seaboard, the weather follows a typical pattern of abundant sunshine and relatively predictable winds. These are favorable conditions for flying. Also, here in the West, we enjoy less population density. To be aloft with the grasslands of the eastern plains, the beautiful rocky mountains to the west and the occasional challenge of a wind shift to stir the cognitive waves is truly wonderful. Flying is exciting, thrilling and personally empowering. 

For years I did not realize what the forces were that contribute to making the large mechanical structure lift into the air and maneuver about at the direction of aviators. Gaining the know-how and zest for aerodynamic magic is powerful. Now I know and now I can fly!

In 2008, en route to a vacation in Glacier National Park I visited the start of the Air Race Classic. Wow! I admired and regaled in the intensity and energy. Upon arriving home I became determined that I too would become a pilot. On July 11, 2008 I took my first flying lesson. In the winter of 2008-2009 I was invited to be a part of Team Wild Mama for the 2009 Air Race Classic. I was honored and grateful for the experience. We flew more than 2000 miles from Denver, Colorado around the heat of southern states and finished in Atlantic Iowa, four days later. 38 days later I received my private pilot certificate at KFNL in Loveland, Colorado.

Now, we are looking at the mounting excitement to fly in the 2013 Air Race Classic. For the second year in a row I have the privilege to fly with my pilot and mother Caroline and our teammate Cara. Cara is a beautiful and lovely woman who is finding the joy of flying and embracing the companionship of her aunt and grandmother. We had a fantastic time last year and look forward to more fun as a team. 

Maybe this year the trophies will be theirs?

I also enjoy flying during the rest of the year (outside of the blitz of wild fun in the latter half of June for the Air Race Classic) with my husband. He is also a pilot. We support each other to learn, enjoy and be safe in the air.

Cara Baldwin

Cara is Caroline's granddaughter. At 17-year-old is in her junior year at Morgantown, WV high school. She has had flying lessons in a C152 and C172, but the weather has cancelled many more. She is president of her high school German club, swims on the high school swim team, plays on a traveling soccer team, and volunteers at the hospital. Cara has been fortunate to travel abroad – six months in Klagenfort, Austria when her father had a Fulbright post at the university and a few weeks in Portugal last July when her father was teaching a course at the university in Oporto. She plans to study history in college. 

Cara is not only flying through life as a leader, but she's flying planes too!


"I decided I wanted to learn to fly because both my grandmother and aunt were pilots. They would talk about it with such enthusiasm at family events that I became interested. About a year and a half ago was my first lesson, it was fun! Landing is the most challenging part of it so far. Unfortunately I haven't had many lessons because of the weather. It seems like every time I schedule a lesson, it rains! I hope to get my license before graduating high school next year, if not sooner"

So there we have it...
This is what happens when we expose our daughters to the gift of travel and flight. The skies of opportunity open.

Please give these women the encouragement they deserve for their race.

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene 

Thursday, April 18, 2013


T.H.ursday with Tom Hill

Most non-aviators think of discipline when it comes to aviation as something that's rarely needed but saves the day in very dramatic fashion. The movie version of this type of discipline is like those guys in the Star Wars scene when they're trying to bomb the exhaust vent. Tie fighters are everywhere. Flak is exploding around the heroes. A wingman is shot out of the sky. The stars are nervous and want to flinch out, yet this old guy is telling them, "Stay on target." Most people think of discipline in aviation as being that old guy who is unflappable in the midst of incredible danger. That's probably all true and all. But, when you're doing something completely benign, like flying for hours from point A to point B, an example of discipline more applicable to everyday use is: keep those long and boring trips long and boring.

I come from a community that's all about high dynamics and controlling massive chaos to achieve controlled results. Fighting air-to-air combat is physically and mentally demanding. It requires intense commitment and perseverance. Certain types of personalities make great fighter pilots. Usually terms like aggressive, attentive, detailed oriented, and highly intelligent are thrown around when talking about people in this community. One term not usually used is patient, or even accepting. Problems can occur when you expect the aviator accustomed to the high intensity tempo of shooting the other guy out of the sky to do something much more mundane, like flying his aircraft from Florida to Hawaii. You encounter a different set of challenges. And, none of them are as exciting as "stay on target."

Discipline is needed to keep aviators doing the "right" things when boredom is the most dangerous adversary, just as it's needed when bombs are bursting around you. It takes mental commitment and perseverance. It can be intense. And, it can take incredible mental strength to stay on task.

What's interesting is I hardly ever hear people talk about this type of low-key discipline. Most discussions on discipline cluster around more dynamic applications. We praise those who have traveled through crazy gauntlets, as if they won an Olympic medal. Yet, we don't normally praise those for doing what they're supposed to do each and every day. If you really acknowledge how difficult it is to do these mundane things incredibly well, you realize such low-key discipline is deserving of equal praise.


It's hard to tell stories that give praise to people who do the right thing day-in and day-out. But, it might be worthwhile for me to tell such a story about doing the right thing in the middle of a long flight.

I once was lucky enough to deploy with a group of F-15's from Kadena AB in Japan to the Continental United States. It's a long way from home with a lot of ocean to fly over. Unlike when you're flying a passenger airliner, you don't fly as high or as fast because you have to air-refuel along the way. The result: instead of a six or seven hour airline flight from Florida to Hawaii, it's well over 10 hours in the spaces of a fighter cockpit.

Let me give you a little background about what you wear when flying the F-15. You wear everything you might need in case you unexpectedly get dunked into the water. As a result, you carry a lot of stuff even though you may never use any of it.

In a survival vest you have mirrors, flares, markers, gyro-jets, two-way radios, radio beacons, etc. You might even have food in your flight suit just in case. Add all that to your normal flight gear, which includes a helmet, mask, parachute harness and g-suit, and you start looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Now, imagine wearing all that in the cramped confines of a single-seat fighter. It's probably not much roomier than sitting in coach on a regular airline, except there's no need to worry about reclining into the passenger behind you - you can't recline. You're sitting ramrod straight, completely strapped in, as if you might eject on a moment's notice. There's no tray to put your food on because your food is prepped into bite-sized pieces. No need for a tray. You're able to adjust the rudder pedals and perhaps raise or lower the seat, but, that's about it for crew comfort. It gets better: the seat your posterior is on was nicely padded when the jet was brand new. But after 5,000 high g flight hours, the pad is about as soft as a piece of plywood. That's okay because after about five hours of sitting on this you've lost feeling in your lower extremities. It's a blessing, really.

Imagine highly competitive aviators, strapped into a very uncomfortable rack, doing a very mundane thing. What would they do to entertain themselves and keep some semblance of awareness? It's not like you can take a catnap when flying by yourself. This is where that low-key discipline I mentioned before comes into play. "I will not do something stupid, I will not do something stupid." It's a pretty common mantra when you're bored.

For long trips, I know some guys have played games. You're lucky if someone brings a Trivial Pursuit deck. It's a special treat until you've been through the deck three times. There's Battleship. That's a crowd favorite, even though hearing, "You sank my submarine," on the radio is a little unusual when flying a fighter jet. Nowadays, you might have books on tape, or even your ipod. Technology is a wonderful thing. Back 20 years ago we had none of that. We only had the things we thought of to entertain ourselves. This can get interesting when a young Lieutenant cooks something up.

I was No. 5 in a six-ship of F-15's flying from Panama City, Florida, to Oahu, Hawaii. I was at the rear, with my Lieutenant wingman with the rest of the gaggle of F-15's, and our tanker spread out in front. We were all about a half mile from each other, which makes long distance flying much easier. You don't have to stay too attentive to your lead or the other flight members.


My wingman is out to the left of me. We were about five hours in, feet wet, about half way to Hawaii, when I hear on our inter-flight frequency, "Hey, Sulu. Look at me!" This is not what you want to hear. Thinking boredom has gotten the best of him, I shoot a glance over expecting him to be upside down or worse. I see his jet, perfect, not doing anything. It's just there.

"Hey, did you see it? Did you see it?"

I'm thinking, huh? I see nothing. I respond, "See what?"

"Just a sec." Large pregnant pause. "Did you see that?"

I see nothing. His plane is perfect. It's out there in formation as he should be. "Nope, I don't see anything. What am I supposed to see?"

"I've got my survival mirror out. I'm trying to flash you!"

In our survival vests, we carried a highly polished mirror to be used as a signal device after you ejected and were standing on the ground. When used correctly, these mirrors could be observed more than a hundred miles away. I'm not sure I ever heard of anyone using their mirror in-flight like my wingman tried. In this case, he was failing miserably at Signal Mirror 101, which was probably just fine since he was occupying his brain with such benign nonsense. I developed this image in my head of him contorting is body in his cockpit trying to aim the mirror and reflect the sun on my jet, all the while keeping things straight and level. That mental image kept me occupied for quite some time. 

Of course, the rest of the 10 hour flight wasn't nearly as dramatic as those 30 seconds.

As painful as those flights were, I would much rather have them be boring than exciting. Boring meant things were going as planned, and superior skill and intellect weren't required to save the day. I consider myself lucky in that most of my long boring flights were exactly that, long and boring, and that low-key discipline was well exercised during those flights.

Now, there was one ocean crossing long flight that wasn't so boring. It's a good story. I'll tell you later.


The first two images were taken by Tom near his house in New Mexico. The F-15 photos were nabbed off the internet. But I don't know who to give credit to! But they deserve it.