Dear Pilots (a letter from Jeff)

Apr 14, 2023

Spring is Here - Are you Ready?

Fellow KTRK Pilots, (please read in HTML, some hyperlinks embedded)

What a winter this has been! After months of seeing hardly any airplanes in the sky, it feels like an airport again. As the new Director of Aviation, I’m sending this note about getting back into the flying-saddle after a long winter. As a career military pilot, I’ve transitioned many times between “flying" and “desk-jobs,” and this end of winter reminds me of going from a “desk-job” (lame) back to a “flying” assignment (awesomeness)! I’d like to share my philosophy of flying which might be helpful if you haven’t been in the sky much, it’s bounded on 4 principles: Planning, Judgement, Skill, & Luck.

1) Planning This is done at groundspeed zero, and you have complete control of this variable. This variable differentiates good pilots from great pilots and how quickly one elevates to the next level. It starts with Knowledge acquisition (dedicated study), accessing the known hazards of an upcoming flight, evaluating the risks, and making what-if plans to mitigate each of them. Planning empowers you to make great decisions and reduce your cumulative risks by setting your personal limits before you touch the sky. After an extended no-fly period, you should laser-beam focus on Planning.

2) Judgement This is done real-time in the air, and you have less control of this variable. Judgement is acquired over time and is a combination of Knowledge (dedicated study) + Experience (gained min by min in the air). Judgement allows you to anticipate things happening well before they manifest, it affords you time to think, and then take actions to avoid or mitigate the hazards. While Judgement takes time to acquire, it can be DRASTICALLY accelerated with Planning and Knowledge acquisition (see #1 above).

3) Skill Like Judgement, this too is an airborne event, and is the physical manifestation of piloting. While it sounds cool, Skill is a horrible place to be. Skill is using every ounce of talent you have to physically pilot the aircraft in the moment you are in. When utilizing Skill, you have limited brain bytes to think about what’s next = bad. Ideally your Planning and Judgement prevent you from ever digging into your Skill bucket. Every pilot will find themselves in the Skill bucket at some point, but hopefully as the years go by, it becomes farther and father between Skill moments.

4) Luck Unlike the others, you have no control over Luck, this is left to the powers of the universe, Karma, and chicken bones. A pilot may be aware of their dire straits and praying with promises to never cuss again…or…be fat dumb and happy with no knowledge they’re a nano-second away from becoming an NTSB report. You always want to have Luck, but it’s throwing the iron-dice at the craps table of flying, where losses can be permanent. Never rely on Luck.

So, as we all leave our igloo’d homes and hangars and return to flying, start with exquisite levels of Planning. Chair-fly your procedures, script out your radio calls, review your emergency procedures, examine your aircraft performance data, and reacquaint yourself with noise abatement and pattern procedures. Look closely at the Density Altitudes you fly at, give yourself a much wider buffer between your last best day, and your first day back. Re-calibrate your Judgement with dedicated self-study to afford yourself time to think in the air. Practice your flying skills, but don’t rely on Skill, stay in the Judgement regime. Lastly, follow the Golden Rule, it’s good for Karma, but don’t count on Luck!

As you go down this path, TTAD will pay for an hour with a CFI to help you regain some proficiency and refamiliarize yourself with the local area, all aspects from density altitude awareness to noise abatement procedures. I look forward to seeing you SAFELY in the skies and very comfortably within your personal limits of Planning, Judgement, Skill, and NEVER using your Luck! Always feel free to reach out to me.

Blue skies and tailwinds,

Jeff Menasco
Director of Aviation Truckee Tahoe Airport District
(530) 587-4119 Ext. 106 | mobile: 703-870-5901