Insanity: Doing the Same Thing Over and Over

I’m taking a break. I’ve been at this over a year now, and have had over 15,000 visitors. I get lots of great feedback, and I really appreciate it. What’s missing though is that I’m mostly providing a one-way stream of information, and that was never the point of the helicopter private pilot lesson plans area. I’m no expert at instructing (in fact, I haven’t provided even a single hour of dual), and even though I’ve put 100s of hours of thought into figuring out the best way to teach somebody how to fly a helicopter, the really valuable information is out there with the guys who are providing instruction now, and the students who are getting into a helicopter for the first time. I know the WP-wiki interface isn’t the easiest to work with (it’s better than Media-wiki tho), but if anybody has any ideas for how I can facilitate interaction here, I’m open to suggestions.

For the helicopter flight lessons section, I won’t be expanding those sections unless I’m particularly inspired by something. They’ll all remain open for contributions and editing, and I’ll still support anybody interested in doing that. Along those lines, a former Schweizer 300 instructor has generously offered up his lesson plans (thanks Damien O’ Halloran). I won’t be giving them away or distributing them, but all you Schweizer pilots: here’s your chance. If one of you out there wants to lead the charge, let’s come up with a plan and I’ll set it up. Or if you just have a topic you want to focus on, I’ll figure out a way to make that happen. Anybody who makes a significant contribution, I’ll add to the About page so you get credit for your efforts (how might that help you? I’m planning on writing up a post about the qualifications I was seeing in 1000-plus hour CFIs from the resume reviews at Heli-Success. Hint: you’re going to have some serious competition for that first turbine job).

I’ll still be keeping up with the blog. I have about 30 hours of video footage from the time building I did with Boatpix this summer, and will try and post videos of the interesting stuff. I’m also interested in expanding the career advice and new student guides (under the Ground Lessons section). But over the next few months I really want to focus on another project inspired by a FAAST seminar given by my good friend and mentor, Mike Franz. Hopefully mid-next year I’ll be able to let you all know about it. Most of all though, I need to focus on staying current and getting a job as a CFI next spring. Any leads would be greatly appreciated, or if you’re a student interested in training with me, I can put you in touch with like minded instructors, or schools that I think offer the best training value/experience. Along those lines, you can read my bio and view my resume here.

Networking vs The Resume

Dave Smith, the Chief Pilot for Helicopter Academy, recently posted this comment in the Careers section of wikiRFM:

It is my firm belief that we should avoid the widespread fixation on resumes and concentrate instead on effective broad-spectrum career-development methods. My model for this is the book What Color is Your Parachute; the key notion is that resumes are a waste of time, networking and job research are far more important and effective.

I mostly agree with this. I’m biased toward the resume (which should always be accompanied by a cover letter) because it’s been productive for me, and because a good resume can easily be created with enough time and attention. Dave is definitely right that the resume has it’s limitations, and in reality, a resume is the lowest common denominator when it comes to job searches.

For a resume to work, at least 3 conditions have to be met:

  1. Your resume has to reach the right person;
  2. Your resume has to fit you into a need or job they have;
  3. Your resume has to say the right things to get their attention.

Now, even if your resume meets those 3 criteria, resumes often go to complete strangers. Before they’re going to offer you a job, they’ll want to know a lot more about you and your skills. Sending just a resume isn’t much different than cold-calling prospective employers, whether it’s for an advertised position or not.

There are also some specific limitations for each of those conditions. Getting your resume to the right person isn’t easy. A large employer will have a human resources (HR) department screening all the resumes, while a small employer may have only a single individual (who’s inundated with resumes). For these reasons, your resume has to get in front of the right person at the right time, or it’s likely to go ignored. This is especially true for entry-level jobs.

What are the right things for your resume to say? This isn’t a very deep field and most of us are going to have very similar qualifications. So a resume that says the right things (1700 hrs PIC, 500 hrs turbine, etc…) is going to look just about the same as many other resumes. You may be lucky to have some extraordinary experience, but the vast majority of us aren’t so fortunate.

While there might be some exceptions, most resumes you send are going to lead to nothing. You cast a wide net of resumes and hope for the best. (This isn’t an excuse to send out the same resume/cover letter to 100 companies, as this strategy is very often unproductive.) Or you can invest a lot of effort in a few resumes and hope for the best.

Networking and research to get into the right job/company are more effective approaches, but they take time to work. Your network is everybody you know—former colleagues, other students, your instructors, friends, head hunters, people you meet hanging around the airport. You keep in touch with them, see what they’re up to, and tell them what you’re up to. Expand your network to include people in their network whenever you have the opportunity. Here’s how it works…

In my pharmaceutical industry job, I had to turn down a project somebody offered me. Just didn’t have the time for it. Right away though, I recommended 2 former colleagues, briefly summarized why they would fit the employer’s needs, and provided them with my friends’ contact information. One of my friends—who had been sending resumes all over for over 18 months—was able to accept the project that I turned down. Why’d I do it? Next time he has work that he can’t take on, I expect he’ll reciprocate.

That’s why networking is so effective. In this case, I helped my contacts get to the right person, at the right time, with an intro got the employer’s attention. I also provided a personal recommendation that let the employer know more than they would have gleaned from any resume, and since I’m a pretty good guy, they’re trusting that I wouldn’t recommend somebody who I didn’t respect. Here’s another example:

While I was flying with a CFI (Mike, from BoatPix) during a photo flight, we were on the CTAF and he recognized the call sign for a company that he’d been interested in getting a job with. They switched over to the air-to-air frequency, and he introduced himself. Turned out, the other pilot was the chief pilot, who Mike had met through his neighbor. The CP remembered Mike, told him they were looking to replace another pilot, and that he’d be in touch. Several days later, the CP emailed this CFI with his company’s requirements.

I like this second case because it illustrates the indirect way that networking can sometimes go, and that the personal connection can mean more than experience. Not only was this the product of a couple of chance encounters, but turns out that Mike didn’t meet all the hiring minimums—which the CP directly told him they “can waive for the right candidate.” No, Mike didn’t get a job offer, and one might not materialize out of this contact right now; the point is that Mike now has a lead to follow. If it works out, he’s going to fill a job that was never advertised.

Networking is the slow and steady approach. Although it might take longer, it’s usually less painful. Like a resume, the point of networking isn’t to get you a job today; it’s to make an impression so the right person thinks of you when they need to fill a job. Ideally, the jobs come to you rather than the other way around. Because of the personal relationship, your qualifications aren’t always what the employer remembers. It might simply be that your shared connection has been a good employee, or just having a face to put to your name. Either way, sometimes you can network your way past better-qualified candidates, to the top of a stack of resumes, or into a job custom-made for you. Unless you keep a long view though, all that small talk and hand shaking can seem like a waste of time.

Why bother with resumes then when networking is so great? Networking, resumes, and research (something I didn’t even touch) are all part of your tool kit when it comes to looking for a job. For those of us just getting a start, your network is probably pretty small and consists of a lot of folks in the same situation as you. This isn’t always the case, but if it is, your network isn’t terribly valuable right now. In addition, the odds are so stacked against a 200-hr pilot that discounting any job-hunting strategy will probably hurt you. I got my first job in the pharmaceutical industry by answering an ad in a newspaper. But early in your career is the time to be hanging out at the FBO, meeting all the pilots you can, and keeping in touch with other low-time pilots. At the same time, you should be contacting every prospective employer you can (either in person or using a cover letter). This sets the foundation for building an extensive network.

The other reason I wouldn’t blow off your resume is that it’s often the first thing a contact asks for when they’re considering you for a job. This is especially true when your contact is recommending you to her hiring manager. As you progress through your career, you should keep a ready a draft copy of your resume that you can spiff up and send of whenever somebody asks for one.

All that said, in a few weeks I’ll be adding a link to my Linked-In profile. You can learn about Linked-in here, and join my network by clicking the link to the right. You might have to register with them first, and it helps to fill in your profile. Also, consider going to the Heli-Success Networking Event in Las Vegas.

HOT Spots

This week I’m headed down to San Francisco to do a few hours of time building with BoatPix. In preparation, I’ve been reviewing the airspace (much busier than I’m used to) and the airport layout. The airport looks like it has a fair bit of helicopter traffic, and you can see several “helicopter alighting areas” (lower left corner). One thing I wasn’t familiar with were the 4 areas marked “HOT.” No airport I’d ever flown out of had anything like this, and I had no idea what they were. The legend for the airport diagrams wasn’t much help either–it just identifies them as Hot spots.

Right after the legend though, there’s an index of all the HOT Spots, similar to how you’d see alternate minimums or departure procedures listed in the TERPs. The preface describes the HOT spots as movement areas with a history or risk of collision or runway incursion. Makes sense–all these HOT spots are at complex intersections or intersections with high intersection angles. The number then refers to an index of explanations for each spot. In this case, 2 of the spots identify areas where pilots often make wrong turns, another is for the complex intersection of Rwy 01R-19L, Twy J, Twy A, Twy C, and Twy K, and the last is a hold-short area for 32L. The FAA lists about 90 airports that have identified HOT spots.

Unfamiliar airport, airspace, and aircraft, not to mention that I have only 6 hours in the R22 in the last 30 days. Should be a daunting flight. Wish me luck and good weather.


That’s how I remember the reporting requirements specified under NTSB 830.5:

F Flight controls
A Accident
C Crew member illness or injury
T Turbine components
I In-flight fire
C Collision
D Damage to property

It’s not perfect, since you also have to remember Overdue Aircraft, and it ignores the rules for large multi-engine aircraft (which at this stage in my career just isn’t much of a big deal). Recently, the NTSB added a few new reporting requirements that go into effect March 8, some of which are definitely relevant for rotorcraft operations:

  • Failure of any internal turbine engine component that results in the escape of debris other than out the exhaust path;
  • Any event in which an aircraft operated by an air carrier lands or departs on a taxiway, incorrect runway, or other area not designed as a runway, or experiences a runway incursion that requires the operator or the crew of another aircraft or vehicle to take immediate corrective action to avoid a collision.
  • Release of all or a portion of a propeller blade from an aircraft, excluding release caused solely by ground contact;
  • A complete loss of information, excluding flickering, from more than 50 percent of an aircraft’s cockpit displays, known as Electronic Flight Instrument System displays, Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System displays, Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor displays, or other such displays;
  • Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) resolution advisories issued either (1) when an aircraft is being operated on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan and compliance with the advisory is necessary to avert a substantial risk of collision between two or more aircraft, or (2) to an aircraft operating in class A airspace;
  • Damage to helicopter tail or main rotor blades, including ground damage, that requires major repair or replacement of the blade(s);
  • So now we have flight control failure, aircraft accident, crew member illness or injury, turbine components other than blades and vanes, in-flight fire, mid-air collision, property damage >$25,000, and overdue aircraft plus turbine debris, propeller breaks, glass cockpit failure, collision avoidance in IFR or class A, helicopter rotor blades, and air carrier runway incursions. How about this one: FACTOR DIM GRunT P

    F Flight control failure
    A Accident
    C Crew illness or injury
    T TCAS alert in IFR or Class A
    O Overdue aircraft
    R Rotor blade damaged
    D Damage to property
    I In flight fire
    M Mid-air collision
    G Glass cockpit
    Run Runway incursion by air carrier
    T Turbine components or debris
    (P) Propeller

    Anybody got a better idea? Oh, and I’m adding my PPL/CPL/IRH Mnemonics and Memory Aids under the ground school lesson. If you want it as a PDF file, become a contributor to the site, and drop me an email.

Stuck Pedals

Seems like every 8-12 months, somebody posts a question on one or another of the forums asking about stuck pedal procedures. What ensues depends on who’s reading the forums at the time. On a good day there are a couple of high-time pilots hanging around that will take the time tell us initiates how they have actually handled a stuck pedal or tail rotor failure. On a bad day, there’s somebody in there that’s confused about what exactly a stuck pedal is, and the thread becomes a mess of replies. Sorting out the good from the bad is a tedious process, and ultimately doesn’t matter since the thread disappears from the forum after a short time.

I tried taking the best of the advice from the most recent VR stuck pedal thread and developing 3 ground lessons. The first one is for a complete loss of the tail rotor. The procedure is pretty straightforward, and it’s in the R22/R44 POH. Interestingly, in a RHC newsletter a few months ago, they had the story of a pilot who didn’t follow the procedure and still made a successful landing after he lost his tail rotor; that article is attached to the lesson. Anyway, I wanted that lesson up just so there’s no confusion that the other 2 lessons are about a different problem.

A stuck pedal is a situation where the tail rotor is still producing thrust, but you cannot control it. Saying you have a stuck “right” pedal is confusing, since it’s irrelevant which pedal is stuck. What matters is which way the nose ends up yawing.

Last word on this is a photo in the book, Fatal Traps for Helicopter Pilots. The photo was through the chin bubble of an EC-120, and you can see the pilot’s mobile phone wedged nicely up against the control arm for the right pedal. There are a few interesting points about this case…the first being that the pilot and controllers had a considerable discussion about what to do in this situation. That right there may suggest a lack of training, but more importantly it indicates that the pilot kept his cool throughout the emergency. Ultimately, he chose doing a running landing (best choice?) to a concrete runway (instead of a grassy area!), and landed without injury or damage to the aircraft. I like to have a pen handy when I’m pre-flighting so I can record my Hobbs time, weather, last-minute changes to HIGE/HOGE, and clearance instructions. It’s this picture that always flashes through my mind when I’m doing my final cockpit check before jumping in the helicopter.

Here are links to the Stuck Pedal (Left) and Stuck Pedal (Right) ground lessons. I don’t want to be a test pilot, so I’m looking forward to seeing how these evolve from what I’m starting with (which is admittedly incomplete) into tips and tricks from guys who’ve practiced these in factory courses or dealt with them in real life.