Today’s Flight Plan
It happens for many pilots. After all the passion and drive to become a pilot, there comes a time in a pilot’s career when it’s just not fun anymore. This is common problem that all professional pilots will face and one time or another.
With all of the difficulties, and the inevitability of going through some low times, flying remains one of the best careers. However, it’s a great career by choice and by balance.
Our guest today, Brad Tate, has found such balance. He loves the challenge of being an airline pilot, all the travel that comes with it, and of course flying amazing machines.
At the end of the day, Brad knows that flying is only part of his life and not his entire life. When he gets home from a trip, he hangs up his pilot uniform and hat, puts away his things, and it is then family time.
He’ll take his wife out on a date, or hang out with the kids. Whatever it is, it’s time to be husband and dad.
That is the kind of balance we talk about in today’s episode of AviatorCast. It’s a proper topic for Fathers Day.
Don’t think that’s the only thing we talk about. Of course we nerd out of airplanes, talk about Brad’s mentors, his story, and so much more.
Find Brad on Twitter @AAFO4EVER.
A huge thanks to Brad for joining us on AviatorCast.Happy Birthday, my friend!
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Who’s your daddy? This is AviatorCast episode 70!
Calling all aviators, pilots, flight sim enthusiasts and aviation lovers, you’ve landed at AviatorCast! Join us weekly in our efforts to become better masters of the air through interviews, refreshers, lessons, training topics, simulator set-up, hangar talk, news and more! Buckle up and prepare yourself for this week’s episode of AviatorCast! Preflight complete, fuel on board and flight plan filed. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires!
Here’s your humble host, Chris Palmer!
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators, you’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. Aviation is big for me. It is part of my everyay life. I may not fly for a living but I’m constantly living flight. At the end of the day, aviation isn’t the biggest thing in my life. Family comes first, then God, and then flying is somewhere else in the mix there. So welcome to this, the 70th episode of AviatorCast. This is a very special episode today because it is Father’s Day. So you’re probably wondering why would Chris open with who’s your daddy on an AviatorCast episode. Well, it’s because the interview I had today kind of turned out to be a Father’s Day episode so I chose to put this interview today on Father’s Day, so Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers out there. I know that there are many of you and all of you listening have a father.
Maybe your father introduced you to aviation and that would be a really great thing too. But first and foremost, just Happy Father’s Day. For those of you who are new to AviatorCast, AviatorCast is a weekly podcast where we talk to inspiring aviators. These people encourage us. They may give us that extra jolt, the passion that we need to get through that aviation career. They may give us that jolt of encouragement to go out and get a pilot’s license. We also talked about insight into many different aspects of aviation. We talked about a lot of training topics, and I try to bring interviews to you from many different guests from all different walks of aviation life and it works. It’s a fun time to get together and meet new people and learn about new things that are going on. So welcome.
On today’s episode, we have Brad Tate. Now, Brad is a first officer for American Airlines and the 737. I met him through twitter. He has a very cool twitter channel where he shares a whole bunch of awesome pictures. In speaking to Brad about coming on the show, he indicated that he still loves flying. He is passionate about flying, he loves his job, he loves airline life, but he loves it because he has found a balance, and we talked a lot about that balance in our interview and how he is still a family man, he believes in being a great husband and a great father, so he does that, and he just loves his flying job. So I think it’s important to learn that balance in any aviation job and so this turned out to be just a great Father’s Day episode.
Now before we get into that interview, we have a review that came to us from iTunes. This is a short and sweet review but it comes to us from Ireland, yes people fly in Ireland too. Obviously a very beautiful place to fly, I’d love to fly there someday. This comes to us from Smithen. He says “Great,” simple, five stars. He says “Great for anyone into aviation young or old. Only new but suddenly hooked on it,” and that’s all he says. So thank you Smithen, really appreciate it. As part of me reading your review on the show, you’re going to get a free exclusive-numbered AviatorCast t-shirt. I’ll be sending that to you soon. Those are currently being designed and sent out here. We’re in the process. We’re almost there. Just go ahead Smithen and write me at email@example.com. I’d be happy to take down your address and get that ready to send out.
So that’s it guys, we are ready to get into this interview with Brad Tate. It’s a great one, really turned out well. You can just tell this guy has a lot of passion so I’m excited for you guys to hear his story. So here we go, this is Hangar Talk with Brad Tate.
Now, a special Hangar Talk segment…
Chris: Alright everybody, we are honored to have a very special guest with us today, Brad Tate. How you doing Brad, thanks for joining us on AviatorCast.
Brad: I’m doing great Chris. Glad to be here.
Chris: Good. Glad to have you. I kind of spotted you on twitter, you have quite an awesome twitter channel and I’m guessing it’s just your phone that you shoot some pretty awesome pictures of the job that you do from day to day or maybe not everyday but what is it that you actually do for a living Brad?
Brad: Well I’m a 737 first officer for American Airlines.
Chris: Right on. And in the past, you’ve done blogging too right?
Brad: I did. I started a blog years ago and wrote for several years, enjoyed that a lot, and it kind of started to take up a little bit too much time. Anybody who does blogging will tell you that it takes an awful lot more time to put those things together than you might think. But I got young kids at home, my oldest is getting ready to go off to college here in about two months and my youngest is just a few years behind her. It just got to a point where I was spending too much time on the blog and not enough time with my kids and with their age and especially with them getting ready to leave the house, I just needed to devote more of my time to them and so I hit the pause button and it will probably be back once the kids are off and out of the house and I’ve got some more time but for now, I am definitely on pause with respect to blogging.
Chris: Gotcha. Well I’m looking at your twitter right now. Your username is AAFO4Ever, pretty easy to remember, American Airlines FO forever, the number 4. And gosh, you take some pretty great pictures during your walkarounds and you got one here of the Rockwell Collins multiscan radar. So some pretty amazing stuff that comes through.
Brad: That picture, that was an interesting thing. We’ve just started getting that version of the Rockwell Collins Multiscan version 2 is what they call it, and it’s a really neat radar. It’s giving us a lot of information we didn’t have before with respect to ride quality reports and it gives you a heads up and that picture I took, the first one, it shows a bunch of little red dots that indicate areas of hale and lightning, and then there’s another thing that came up on that same trip that gives you, I forget actually what they call it, I named it in the tweet, but basically, it’s an overflight warning and so it looks at storms that are well below your flight path and may not even be depicted on the radar yet but they’re growing so rapidly that by the time you get over that airspace, the storm will likely impact your flight plan and so a warning of that.
Anyway, we’re getting it on all of our new airplanes. I don’t know if we’re going to retrofit into the new ones or not. I honestly don’t know if they’re doing that, but this was first time that I’d flown one of the new airplanes and actually encountered the kind of weather where these new features were really useful and it was pretty amazing. They’re a little sensitive. It’s my only complaint with that version of the radar, it’s very sensitive and it shows a picture that is far worst in automode where you have to have it on automode for all of these stuff to show up. And in automode, it’s very, very sensitive and it paints a much worse picture.
I know your listeners can’t see it but in that picture I posted on twitter, you wouldn’t look at that picture on that radar and think that that was a good place to be flying, but we were in day VFR, above the clouds and we could see out the window that we were going to be 3 or 4 thousand feet above the cloud tops when we passed over that section we were heading for. But at night, when you can’t see it or if the stuff is embedded in your IMC, you find yourself sometimes ATC questions us because we’re going around stuff that guys with the older versions of the radar aren’t going around. And it’s just because it’s dark or we’re in the clouds and we can’t see it but this stuff is depicted on the radar. As a matter of fact, I’m flying all month with the same captain and we on this trip, when we’re flying that particular airplane, we started referring to the automode as scare mode and every now and then, one of us would say, “Hey, let’s take it out of scare mode for a minute” and we’d take it out of auto, which removes a lot of those fancy features. And then you’re just tilting the radar up and down like you would with a normal radar and you can get a little bit better idea of how serious this stuff is right in front of you.
Chris: Great, cool. So your flying career wasn’t always about radar, right? Let’s talk about how you first fell in love with aviation so take us way way back to maybe when you were a child. Tell us how all this stuff started.
Brad: Well, there are a lot of pilots in my family and that had a big effect on me. Both my grandfathers flew, not commercially. My dad flew commercially. He is a retired Delta pilot, retired back in ‘04. And as a kid, I’ve watched my dad put on his uniform and put on that hat, walked out the front door with his bags and my eyes were big as quarters and he was going off to all these awesome places and he’d call me. I was just enthralled with it. And he never pushed aviation on me. I wouldn’t even say that he encouraged it. He encourages it and supports me now, don’t get me wrong, but I think as a kid that he wanted me to love it if I was going to love, not love it because he’d loved it, and he loves it, he misses it. That’s kind of where it got started, was just watching my dad and just thinking “God, this is the greatest job ever.”
And dad took me flying I think twice when I was kid. We went up in a Cessnup in a Cessna 172 once and the second time we went up, dad got checked out in a Baron and we went on it. But funny thing is I remember as a kid, young, real young, especially first time in a 172, we’re flying along and I’m just kind of looking at dad like he’s a god. And he handed me the airplane and I remember just sheer panic. I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do. I felt like when he took his hands off the controls that the airplane was just going to immediately ball up or something, you know like he had this constant control over the airplane and by taking his hands off, we were all going to die and it scared me to death.
And I remember him being real disappointed that it scared me that bad. But I still loved it and I just didn’t understand it. I didn’t start actually flying and taking lessons until I was in high school and that part of it kind of fell in my lap. I was at a public high school in a suburb of Dallas Texas and they offered what they called an aviation science course. It was basically private pilot ground school. And the gulf coach taught it, Coach George, I’ll never forget Coach George, he’s a great guy, and he invited this former brand of Braniff pilot, Braniff was out of business that time, but he invited this guy to speak to our class pretty regularly and his name was Dale. Dale had a love of aviation but even more than that, he had a passion for teaching young people to fly and supporting their love of aviation.
It was a big class, this class, there were probably 40 kids in this class. It was big. And Dale had his own airplane, old 1966 Cessna 172. And he took anybody in the class that wanted to go flying. You just get this piece of paper signed by your mom and dad, okay. And he took us up three at a time. We each got 15 minutes or so at the controls, we’re crawling over the seats and everything, and I wrote about this in the blog once. But some of the guys and girls, there were ladies in the class and some of us loved it, some of us hated it, and a couple people got sick. And he did this every year and every year he’d pick one person out of that class and taught that person to fly for free and he picked me.
Chris: Wow, no way.
Brad: And it was kind of a trade thing. It was an hour for an hour. He gave me an hour of his time and I gave him an hour of mine. So I mowed his lawn and I washed his car. Whatever menial task he had, I did it, and he taught me how to fly in return, and it was a great trade because honestly it’s what got me going. I think if I had not met Dale when I did that I wouldn’t be a pilot today. Dale is the reason I am a pilot today because I met him at the right time and he got me going down this road and once I got going, I just couldn’t stop. I loved it. I went off to college. I got my private pilot’s license with him, and then went off to college.
I didn’t go to any fancy school. I found an ad at the local flight school and called this guy up. He was actually a professor at the school I was going to and also a flight instructor. The guy had an old Pitts. He flew aerobatics. I got my instrument and my commercial with him and then graduated from school and got my multi. I may be getting this out of order but basically, I got out of college and I had about 750 or so hours when I got out of college. I had most of my ratings minus my flight instructor ratings. I was kind of ignorant about what it took to get hired somewhere. I had a commercial. I had my instrument, I had my multi. I thought I was going to be able to walk in somewhere and get some menial freight job or something. There were a lot of little companies flying small airplanes around. Back then, they were all flying around cancelled checks, that’s what everybody did. If you get a job flying a Baron, you’d fly all night four or five nights a week and build time real fast. And it was hard work. The airplanes were generally not well taken care of and you were kind of forced to go even when the weather is bad. The company I eventually worked for famously had a sign over the backdoor that said “Don’t be late, penetrate.”
Brad: Yeah. They were famous for telling guys that there was a line of pilots waiting at the backdoor. If you didn’t want to go, they’d find somebody who did.
Chris: That’s pretty crazy. I don’t know if I like that at all.
Brad: No, I didn’t like it at all but as I said, I got out of college and didn’t have the time to get hired. Back then, it took 1200 and 2, I think it wasn’t regulatory, it was mainly insurance, that you basically have 1200 and 2 before anybody had touched you to do pretty much anything, to get paid to fly.
Chris: And 1200 and 2 is what exactly?
Brad: 1200 hours total time and 200 hours of multiengine time.
Chris: Okay, gotcha.
Brad: Is what everybody wanted at that time. And I didn’t have it. I had a handful of multiengine hours that I’ve just gotten through training and I had my 750 and a fistful of ignorance. So I went out and I got my CFI, my II and my MEI and I gave a little under 800 hours of flight instruction in 9 months.
Chris: Oh my gosh.
Brad: Yes. I was working a lot. And my wife was a school teacher and she supported me and I just never said no. For instance, I had two students who worked, they worked the night shift that started at like 3 in the morning and they would call me at 10, 11 o’clock at night and want to go fly. You know, I’m sound asleep, 11 o’clock at night and these guys were calling my house or worse, beating you on the front door, want to go fly, and I’d get out of bed, we’d go out and grab a set of keys and go fly. But I flew a lot. I never said no. So I did that.
Chris: So how did you enjoy the flight instruction experience, actually being an instructor?
Brad: I liked it. I like it a lot. There were aspects of it I liked and aspects I didn’t. I had a handful of students I didn’t enjoy working with and I think if I was instructing now that I would maybe be a little more picky about who I was willing to instruct.
Chris: So tell us a little bit more about that too. What type of students didn’t you like? For those listeners, in other words, can listeners that are thinking of getting into this, can they prevent themselves from becoming a student that is undesirable to a flight instructor or someone that is hard to teach?
Brad: For me, being hard to teach wasn’t something that made somebody undesirable to me. I worked with a lot of people that were hard, I don’t know if hard to teach is the right way to put it, but I flew with a lot of people that it did not come naturally to. And I enjoyed that, I enjoyed the challenge, and I enjoyed getting, I had a handful of people that just I don’t think they had the ability to do it honestly. I had a handful of people that just didn’t seem like they could progress past a certain spot and I would try different approaches and I even handed them to a buddy and maybe somebody’s different style of teaching would be better. But what made somebody undesirable to me was attitude.
Chris: That’s everything really.
Brad: It really is. I don’t view myself as a cheerleader, and it’s funny because I remember my instructor, my first instructor Dale one time. Dale made me get all of the written stuff done first, the ground school and passed my written, everything, before we ever went flying after that initial fun flight in his airplane. But I remember about a halfway through that or so getting bogged down and it was probably steady and stinking AFRs or something which I still hate.
Chris: You and me both. I still can’t connect the dots on those sometimes.
Brad: Oh gosh. I’m getting ready to go through international school and I’ve been reading through all the rigmarole that goes with that.
Chris: Oh gosh. It’s a whole different territory.
Brad: Oh gosh. It’s so hard to read that stuff. But anyway, I was getting bogged down and I went to Dale one day and I was like, “Dale, I’m just bogged down, I’m not having fun. I need some inspiration.” And he turned to me and he goes “Brad, I’m not your cheerleader.” He said “You either want to do this or you don’t. Get excited about it or don’t but I’m not your cheerleader. Find a way to get excited about this.”
Chris: I like that a lot.
Brad: I went down that road.
Chris: That’s important though because I think a lot of people get to, well everyone gets to a point in their training where they get bogged down, and just as with a lot of other things in life, people can’t do the work for you. You’ve got to find a way to reconnect with the passion or get back to the basics or something just for the same of moving forward. So I do like that.
Brad: I know it’s cliché but it’s true. Nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy. There are going to be hard parts about it, and you have to muscle through the tough parts. It ain’t all going to be fun. But yeah, the people I didn’t enjoy working with had bad attitude, or they wouldn’t show up prepared and they wouldn’t listen to me. But really, it was all about attitude. I had more than my fair share of difficult students. As a matter of fact, my first student was probably the hardest student I ever had, and he was a really interesting guy. He walked in the front door on my very first day, I was sitting there answering telephones, that was one of our jobs, we’d sit there and answer telephones.
Chris: A telemarketer part time.
Brad: That’s right. This guy walked in the door and he had gone in for an instrument checkride 10 years earlier and busted his checkride in about the first 20 minutes of the flight.
Chris: Here we go.
Brad: Yeah, and he got all frustrated, and he probably could have recovered from it if he had handled it better but he got all flustered and they just ended up cutting the checkride short. They parked the airplane and walked out the door and never came back for 10 years. He walked in on my first day and he walked up and he told me that story and he said “I want to learn how to fly again.” And so I did his VFR, got him all comfortable again and send him out on just some solo flying and then he came back and we successfully got his instrument and his commercial and his multiengine and then I left.
But what was hard about him was the multiengine stuff. I have never worked with a student that I had to try so hard to get the multiengine concept, the whole VMC blue line, the idea of what happens in a single engine airplane when you get too slow on one engine. I just couldn’t get that through. I set him up time and time again. I had to explain it and he’d say he got it. He’d shake his head and “Yes, I got it, I got it, I got it.” And then we’d go out there and I’d set him up and he’d fall for it everytime and we’d end up in our back or close to it. He was hard but he finally got it and moved on and he was a neat guy.
Chris: So it sounds like, and that’s exactly what I kind of wanted to draw from the conversation, it sounds like there are things that students can do to, just from an attitude standpoint to make their training easier right? So really it goes down to a word that we use a lot of on the show and that is humility. Know that yourself as a pilot, you aren’t that special actually and you can make mistakes and you need to improve. And so that’s one thing I’ve heard from a lot of instructors, is that if they come prepared, having already done their written and they’re ready, it’s just so much easier.
So I think for all the listeners out there, there’s definitely something to keep in mind as far as your own personal discipline and your own personal humility in making sure that you are prepared for that time when you are burning money fling an airplane.
Brad: I got some news for you Chris. That same concept applies at all levels of aviation. It does not end when you get your private or your commercial and multi or whatever it is you’re working on. I go back for recurrent training. As a matter of fact, I’m sad to say I got my recurrent training notice this morning.
Chris: Oh, my condolences.
Brad: Time to start studying. But I go in every nine months. It’s the way American does it. We go in every nine months and one time, you do this kind of training, and then the next time, you’d do a different and it flip-flops back and forth but at any rate, I sit down often in the brief. We get a two-hour prebrief and then four hours in the simulator, two hours on each of the two pilots and an instructor of course. I sit down and within about five minutes, and any instructor will tell you this about students too and an examiner will tell us about somebody he is giving a checkride to. You know so much about that person in the first five minutes. And then I sit down with a guy who is all full of himself and thinks that he can do no wrong, that’s the guy that scares me because we’re going to get in there and we’re going to learn.
I’ve only been flying the 737 for two years but I flew the MD-80 for 13. I had 9000 hours on that airplane, and when I went in for a checkride, I knew the airplane and I knew what to expect but I almost never in all those years came out having not learned something. And if you go in thinking you’re all that and that you know it all, you’re setting yourself up for a fall, and it’s going to make the training unpleasant for you and you’re not going to walk away with having learned what you could’ve walked away with.
Chris: Yeah exactly. I’ve seen that in the limited circle I’ve been in in the airlines too. You’re right. It’s the same story once you get up there and you can definitely yourself in preparing ahead of time. A lot of people thing that airline pilots, they’re at the top of their game all the time and they’ve been doing this for so long that they don’t necessarily need to redo this stuff, but airline pilots get in there and even the most senior guys get their butts kicked in recurrent training. That’s the point about it is you go back and rehash those things again that you haven’t done in a long time because you guys don’t get to practice B1 cuffs or engine fires or that sort of stuff everyday. They’re procedure that you need to be kept up on so yeah.
Brad: Not only that but we’re aging, I’m 47 years old and we use autopilots a lot. And the airlines are increasingly encouraging the use of autopilots. When I go in for a checkride, the autopilot flies the approach primarily and that’s the way they want it. I know for instance on our Airbuses like on an RNAV departure, they are required to turn the autopilot on. I could be mistaken on the altitude. I think by like 500 feet, they are required to have the autopilot on.
Chris: Yeah, 4 or 500 feet after VNAV.
Brad: Yes. I hate that. We went through that for a while in the MD-80. When RNAV departures first started, they were requiring us to turn the autopilot on by like 400 feet, and I felt like it was the wrong thing. I think hand-flying the airplane is so important and we don’t do it enough. I personally handfly the airplane a lot, I fly the airplane by hand a lot more than my peers. A typical takeoff, most guys will tell you I’m no different. I like really enjoy the first 30 minutes and about the last 30 minutes of any flight. It’s the fun part. I leave the autopilot off up into the mid-20s or so, sometimes higher, sometimes I’ll fly it to cruise with the autopilot off and I almost always handfly my approaches. I’ll leave it on down until we’re usually fairly close to the approach but somewhere below 10,000. I’ll turn it off and handfly it.
But that’s really not what they’re teaching and I have to admit, at my age and with the amount of autopilot use that I use, I don’t think I’m as good a stick and rudder pilot as I was when I was a Brazeau captain. I remember when I was a Brazeau captain, I was 25 years old and we took pride in getting closer and closer and closer to minimums with being comfortable leaving the autopilot and the flight director off and so I would regularly fly the airplane down to minimums 200 and a half with no autopilot, no flight director.
Chris: Goodness. That’s pretty cool.
Brad: I was good at it. I could do that with no problem whatsoever. I have to admit, I would struggle with that now. Even when I handfly the airplane, the flight director is typically on. We are required to use the flight director when the weather is poor for real. When the weather is good, often I’ll turn the autopilot flight director and the autothrottles off and just do everything manually. With the exception of an occasional raw data approach which believe it or not is in our manual as almost an emergency, like “Oh my gosh, you mean I have to actually fly the airplane?”
All that to say, the 60-year-old guy that’s been doing this for 35 years is not as good, he’s got the experience to make up for it and that’s the key. I have a lot of experience under my belt and my experience I think makes up for the fact that I’m kind of beginning the downslide a little bit with my skills. I don’t see as well as I used to. I don’t hear as well as I used to, and I don’t think as fast as I used to, and those are just facts of life.
Chris: Yeah definitely. This is an interesting conversation because if you think about it, we’re in a stage in aviation today where this entire conversation we’re having, we could totally be talking about a 172 and not a 737. So for those of you out there listening that are just flying, let’s just call it a basic airplane, let’s call it a basic 172, it is not necessarily basic because it may have the G100 in it. We’re in a stage now where this automation dependency is really a thing that everyone needs to be concerned about and I know that obviously I’m not an airline pilot, I never claim to be, I don’t have a 737-type rating or anything like that. I don’t even have my multiengine yet although I do understand the VMC concept.
But anyway, so I’ve had a lot of time in a Bonanza and had a very good G-1000 system, GFC, 700 autopilot which is pretty standard for the G-1000 and it is so easy just to hit flitch or to go into approach mode and to follow the flight director. It just kind of does everything for you. So we’re definitely, even from the beginning stages of aviation now, we’re very dependent on automation and I’m a huge believer that we need to get back to that aviator spirit. Recently, I read that Wright Brothers book and just loved it and just loved the fact that these guys knew nothing but they went out into the frontier and figured it out. I still think we can all be that way too and we definitely need to have that pioneering spirit, and why I chose to call this AviatorCast rather than PilotCast, I think there’s a difference between aviators and pilots.
There’s the opposite side of this too where there’s definitely a large part of the community. You’re talking about the awareness here. There’s a large part of the community that is aware that this automation dependency thing is a problem. Well it is a problem. If you have too much automation dependency, it is a problem. There is the famous video “Children of the Magenta.” I think there’s even some automation dependency correlation to make with the Colgan flight that started all these ATP stuff and whether or not you agree with the ATP hours of whatever doesn’t really matter, it is what it is. But there’s a lot of different stuff going around. There is also the camp in airlines that kind of take the opposite point of view like you that say turn everything off every once in a while and just fly the airplane and I think that’s a healthy mentality and I love it. I’m not necessarily one to dictate what other should do but to me it makes common sense. It seems like a good idea. It seems like it’s within the safety parameters and you’re not taking any unnecessary risks there whereas I think if you just let those skills degrade, then when you do need those skills, they aren’t there, you know.
Brad: Another thing to keep in mind is that you need to be proficient in all levels of automation, not just one. My dad who I’ve already mentioned is a retired airline pilot, he used to, when he was a 737 captain, he was flying around in 737 200s and he used to tell that he would on one leg, he wouldn’t turn on any automation at all. Granted the 73-200 they were flying short legs, he was from Dallas to Austin and San Antonio, these one-hour flights, but he would take off, fly the whole thing, and land with no autopilot, no flight director, no autothrottles.
And then on the next leg, he would do just the opposite, and he’d turn the autopilot on at the minimum allowable altitude, and turn it off at minimums, and then he said on the third leg, he’d do some combination, whatever he felt like doing. I have to admit, especially now, I fly primarily three and four-hour plus legs and I’m not going to handfly the airplane for five hours. But I do think the lesson he was trying to get across is be proficient in all levels of automation because it’s important.
Chris: So I think I know what they call that mode that he used without any automation or anything. I think they called that beast mode. At least that’s what they call it these days. That’s pretty intense.
Brad: I like that.
Chris: Yeah. Beast mode, turn it on.
Brad: The autopilots are deferrable you know. Now the pilot can for whatever reason tell a company that he’s not willing to fly at the airplane without an autopilot. I can think of a lot of reasons I wouldn’t do it, weather, length of flight, time of day, that sort of thing. But I have flown many NMD-80 with no autopilot, no flight directors just because they were deferred.
Chris: There are some interesting flights, aren’t they?
Chris: So let’s talk a little bit about airline life. One thing you mentioned in just kind of our back and forth communication is you’re a big family guy. You’ve kind of transitioned from being an active blogger to where now you’re not blogging as much for the very good reason, that is spending more time with family. So tell our listeners a little bit more about that. A couple demographics there. Those that are looking to get into becoming an airline pilot and what it’s like to juggle that sort of thing and maybe those that are already in it that are finding it hard to juggle it too and maybe you can give some practical things that you do, some boundaries that you have, that sort of thing. So let’s just go that direction a little bit.
Brad: Well, there are a few things there. One is, what you do with your free time. Like you said and I mentioned earlier, I quit blogging for that very reason. I am a family guy. I love my family and my wife, I’m very lucky, I’m married to a keeper. We will be married forever. That’s not to say that our marriage is always perfect, it’s not. We, and anybody who is married will tell you that marriage is a roller coaster and there are ups and downs and you can’t bail when times are bad. I think that is something that a lot of people do. It gets bad and they give up and they walk away and get divorced.
Chris: Yeah, it’s becoming more common too. It just seems like these days people don’t stick around as long.
Brad: It is. But it’s worth fighting for and like I said, I’m very lucky. I love my wife very much and we’re bestfriends which is part of what makes our marriage work. We were very good friends before we ever went out on a first date, and we’ve just maintained that. And when times get bad and when we’re not getting along, we both make a concerted effort to get back into a good place and it is an effort and sometimes you have to work really hard at it, it’s not always easy, and there are going to be times when you don’t like your spouse and they don’t like you. But it’s worth fixing.
One of the things I do because of what I do is I don’t have a lot of hobbies outside of work. There is nothing wrong with going out and hitting golf balls if that’s what you’re into, but I’m gone so much. When I’m at work, I am truly gone. I go to work three or four days typically, I’m flying four-day trips this month, and when I’m gone, I am just gone, and there are long periods of everyday while I’m at work that my wife cannot contact me and she gets lonely and she misses me. And so when I come home, I devote myself to my family. I don’t play golf, I don’t play tennis. Not that there is anything wrong with those things, but when I’m home, I spend my time being a father and a husband.
And it pays great dividends. My kids are not perfect. I would love to tell you that they are. They are a lot better than they would be if I was gone four days a week and then came home for three or four days and spent all of my time goofing around with my buddies. So if you’re going to choose a career that has you gone that much, then you need to find a way to spend a lot of time with your family when you’re home. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t great benefits to the kind of the schedule that an airline pilot has.
One is I feel like I spend more time with my family than a guy that works 9 to 5. And the reason is he gets up, I’ve got friends who get up in the morning and leave about the time their kids get out of bed, and get home from work after the sun goes down and they’re hardly seeing their kids or their wife during a workday, and then maybe they’ve got Saturday and Sunday off but they bring home work with them. Their phone is ringing on the days off, they’ve got clients to deal with, what-not. An airline pilot doesn’t have that. I come home from work for two, three, four days whatever, sometimes more, and I don’t bring anything home with the exception of recurrent training that happens once every nine months. I don’t bring anything home. I walk in the door, I walk straight to my closet, I take off my uniform and all of my stuff and I put it in the corner and I just leave airline pilot there. And I’m done for two or three four days. And so my kids get me, I get to go eat lunch with them at school. I get to do the field trips.
And not only that, but say on a three-day trip, I typically bid three days where I go to work mid-day and get home mid-day. So I’m there in the morning, I get my kids out of bed, I take them to school, and I’m gone when they get home, but there’s only one day where I don’t see them and then the next day they get home from school and I’m home. And so if I’ve got three days on, three days off, and out of those six days, there’s only one day where I didn’t see my kids. And that to me is a huge benefit. I get a lot more time with my kids that the average guy working a 9 to 5 job.
I think the other aspect of it protecting yourself from the opportunities that come up on layovers. You have to come up with your own rules and decided how you’re going to protect yourself from that sort of thing personally. If I go down to the pool and the flight attendants come down and sit down next to me, I’ll sit there for a few minutes and then politely I’ve had too much sun than I lay here for. The same thing at the bar. I don’t allow myself to be alone with a flight attendant on a layover. The whole group gets together, that’s great. If we can all go down to dinner or out for dinner, whatever, and the pilots and the flight attendants show up, that’s great. But spending time alone with the flight attendants I think is a mistake and it opens up opportunities that I don’t want to be tempted by.
Chris: Right, yeah. I like that. What I hear saying in both of those examples is two things. First, I hear discipline and then second, I hear that at some point, you made a choice, you made a choice that you were going to be a present father and husband of fidelity. At what point did you decide that, because that is a conscious choice to say I will get home and I will disconnect and I will do the family thing.
Brad: I don’t know that I could tell you when I made, if I made a conscious decision to do that. I can tell you that my dad demonstrated that to me as a kid.
Chris: Gotcha. That’s where it came from then.
Brad: He did the same thing and my parents are still married. My wife’s parents are still married, and her parents demonstrated the same kind. Now, my wife’s dad was a 9 to 5 guy but he’s a family guy too. Both of our dads, our moms, my mom was a stay at home mom, my wife’s mom was a schoolteacher. We both saw in our own parents kind of the way we run our home now where my relationship with my wife comes first. The kids know that, they don’t always like it, but there’s a time of day, usually around 9 o’clock at night, where we close our door and my wife kind of jokingly says “I’m finished parenting.”
Chris: The kids will love that.
Brad: We’ve got this like hour from 9 to 10 where we are in our room and we watch TV or we read or we talk or whatever and the kids just know to leave us alone. I take my wife out on dates and I take my kids out on dates, and all of that has been demonstrated to me. So it’s not so much something I came up with. It’s just something I’ve seen that worked.
Chris: You know what’s really ironic, we’re recording this show right before Father’s Day and this is turning into the Father’s Day episode right now.
Brad: Happy Father’s Day, yes. Yes coming up. Thank you for reminding me that Father’s Day was coming up by the way.
Chris: Oh I know. Gosh. The women get doted on when it’s Mother’s Day and it’s just the biggest deal in the world, and then Father’s Day, it’s like, another Sunday.
Brad: Yeah, let’s smell the yard.
Chris: So is the duty of a man. Well I like all that and I really appreciate that and I think it’s good perspective for people that are maybe a little bit, maybe going through some emotional trials that they’re already in that space or they have a young family and they’re struggling through that regional period where there’s no time and no money. It’s a struggle for a lot of people, a lot of people. But at the end of the day, it becomes a conscious effort that if this is going to be the job that you’re going to keep, then there needs to be that disconnect. And I know that this is actually something that isn’t just airlines-specific. This is something that is actually for every man and every woman that if they are a family person and that’s their goal, that when they get home from work or that 9 to 5 or whether that’s after a four-day trip, then you find a way to disconnect.
I know that this is something that I actually struggle with right now, I don’t have children yet but I’m just in this work, get after it, make a name for myself mode right now and I know that that is not going to work long-term, that when I have children, everything is going to change.
Brad: There’s something I’d like to add to this. I am at this stage where I’ve been with American 16 years and I’ve got enough seniority that I can do a lot of the things I am talking about. But there was a stage in my career when I didn’t. Those are sacrifices you make when you’re trying to make this career happen. There was a time when we had young kids, or with one small child anyway, and I was commuting to Atlanta, we were living in Dallas, I was commuting Atlanta to fly for a regional airline because my wife had a job here and we had family here and we didn’t want to move and we thought I was going to get back fast. That went on for two years. That was a sacrifice that I made for my family and my family understood that and they put up with the schedule at that time.
And I did the same thing. I spent four years, after 9/11 I got bumped out of my home base at DFW and commuted for four years and it was a really difficult time for me and my family, my kids were really affected by that. And they would see me getting ready for work and they’d get upset and cry and ask me not to leave and it was really hard. And I guess the point I’m trying to make is all the stuff I’ve been talking about is important but there are stages in your career when you have to put your career first if you’re going to make it happen.
And during those times, you just have to make the best of whatever time that you have. I just didn’t want to leave it with you have to do this or you’re doing a bad job, you’re not a good family person, you’re not a good employee or whatever, because sometimes the situation you are in requires something of you that you’re not really comfortable giving. But it’s sacrifice you’re willing to give.
Chris: Right. And there’s an end goal there in mind and I’m sure with you, and you can confirm this or deny it, I’m sure with you, it was kind of a situation of reciprocity where yes, you were requiring a lot of the family as far as support but when you were home, you were maybe even overly trying to make up for that and trying to give back that love that they’re giving you for supporting you. Am I correct in those statements?
Brad: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a give and take. Like I said, I just want to make the point that it didn’t always going to be this rosy picture that I’m painting and saying it’s important. You can always do it that way.
Chris: So let’s piggyback off of that because before you and I got on the call here or at least before we hit the record button, you were talking about the fact that you just really love your job. You just absolutely love being an airline pilot, and there are many airline pilots out there and love their jobs and some that don’t. So we talked a little bit about that dark side of that. Let’s talk about maybe the lighter side of it and why it is that you love being an airline pilot.
Brad: Oh I do love it. There are so many reasons to love it. I love flying the airplane, I love to travel, the layovers are great. I treat my layovers like little vacations. Sometimes what I need, don’t laugh, sometimes what I need is to walk into a room and shut the door and go get in a hot bath. But more often than not, it’s a little vacation and I go out and I go out and I enjoy the city and I hang out with the captain and we go have a good time. But it is a great job. It’s easy once you get to this level of aviation to forget how badly you wanted it and how excited you were to get the job when you got it.
I felt when American Airlines called and offered me a job, I felt like I had won the lottery. I was just ecstatic. I had been working for so long to get this job and I wanted it so bad and I was so excited to have it. I still feel that way. Sometimes, I have to remind myself and there are certainly aspects of the job that are not fun. I do think it’s really important to understand that there are parts of the job that aren’t fun.
Chris: Not a fairy tale.
Brad: It’s not a fairy tale and in my kind of, I don’t know, on twitter and on the blog posts, I’ve always been kind of the bright side of the story, and that’s intentional. I don’t want to be the guy that’s putting it down all the time but I think it’s really important to understand before you get into it that there are aspects of it that aren’t fun and that are going to be a challenge. But when it comes right down to it, it’s a great job, and they pay me a lot of money to fly these really cool airplanes around and go to these great places. Even when I’m home, I daydream about it. Home for two days, I start daydreaming about flying an approach. How silly is that? But I do. I love it.
It’s a great job and I think it’s important for guys that have been with an airline for a while to try and reconnect with that somehow. For me, part of it is this is kind of who I am anyway. I’m kind of a happy person anyway. But part of it is giving back. I enjoy mentoring young people who are trying to get the job I have and…
Chris: Passing it on from Dale.
Brad: Yeah, absolutely. Dale would be so happy I think. Dale still does this.
Chris: Really, he’s still around?
Brad: He’s still around, still has his airplane. I follow him on Facebook and I see pictures of him all the time doing the same thing with young people today.
Chris: Maybe we got to have him on the show. Sounds like a cool guy.
Brad: He’s a great guy. You just can’t lose sight of, you can’t get bogged down in what could’ve been better or you’re going to lose sight of all the great stuff you’ve got.
Chris: Yeah. I think even simple stuff that I see you do, just looking at your twitter feed, is just the cool pictures you take and just posting those. When I do stuff like that, when I shoot videos of the floatplane training that I do or airshows that I go to that are connected to work but it’s still a cool experience, when I go back and I view those things and see those things, all of the hard stuff about it kind of melts away, and it’s like “Gosh, that was cool.” I think even stuff like that helps.
Brad: Are you doing floatplane training?
Chris: I am, yeah.
Brad: That’s on my bucket list.
Chris: Oh c’mon up.
Brad: I totally want to do that. A buddy of mine, fellow first officer, just did it somewhere in Florida. He went down and flew a Super Cub on floats and got his commercial. I’m dying to do that.
Chris: Yeah, I have a guy here locally who flies a 172 on floats. It’s pretty rare to have 172 on floats but when we go out, we and fly to remote lakes, and it’s unbelievable, to have a glacier in the background as we land, I have to pinch myself.
Brad: Outstanding. I still really enjoy flying small airplanes.
Chris: Oh so you are actively flying GA then.
Brad: I do. I don’t do it as much as I wish I could. I would do it more if I could, and I don’t own an airplane, I just rent. But there’s a place here just north of Dallas that has a Legend Cub and a Super Decathlon that I fly.
Chris: Great. So do you find that helps you connect with the passion again?
Brad: It helps me connect with the passion and I think it makes me a better pilot honestly. Especially the tailwheel stuff. I mean, you got to be on top of that, flying those airplanes. And I would imagine the floatplane is especially like that. I mean, you’re not done when you get off the runway.
Chris: Oh yeah, that’s what’s really blown me away, is I’m learning a lot about what the wind does on the ground because when you’re on a lake and you’re at the mercy of what the wind is doing, you don’t have a lot of choices on where you can go. It takes some creativity to power and maneuver the airplane around the lake, so it’s definitely different. It’s challenging.
Brad: I’m jealous.
Chris: There’s always something to be jealous of but come on up anytime. It’d be great to have you. Alright Brad, let’s get some final words from you. Just words of encouragement, words of inspiration for those that are looking to get into aviation. Maybe those that are disenfranchised a little bit with their current jobs, those that are building those hours to get to the point where they can land a job at a legacy carrier like you did and be ecstatic. Give some words of encouragement to these types of listeners if you would to wrap the show.
Brad: You know, I don’t think that the path I took was all that common. I got my rating from just the CFI that I met at the school. I got my other ratings from people that I met while I was down at college. I just got a regular degree. I don’t have some degree that the airlines were hoping to see from me. But I knew what I wanted, I had a goal and I sent out on it, and I just never gave up. And it was often difficult and there were roadblocks up all the time but you find your way over those roadblocks and the process can be fun and I think that is maybe the one thing I would leave with you is, and this isn’t an original thought I have to admit, but enjoy the process, enjoy the journey because the process of getting from here to there is a lot of fun and if you’re just solely focused on that airline job and getting that airline job, then I think there is more of a choice that you’re going to be disappointed once you get there because you put it up on this pedestal of this perfect thing that it’s going to be and it isn’t perfect, but I think if you just set that as a goal but enjoy the road and the process and the journey, that once you get there, you’re going to be a lot happier.
Chris: Awesome. Couldn’t have said it any better. Alright Brad, well I appreciate you taking time out of your business schedule and no doubt time out of family time to meet with us. We really appreciate it. Thank you for your thoughts and Happy Father’s Day I guess because that’s coming right over here.
Brad: Thank you Chris.
Chris: Yeah no problem. Alright Brad, we’ll talk to you some other time and we’ll keep up on twitter I guess.
Brad: Alright. Keep it up buddy. I enjoyed it.
Chris: I appreciate it. Take care.
*Join us next week for another exciting topic or interview with a great guest. Spread the AviatorCast message. Please review AviatorCast on iTunes or submit an audio question for the show at AviatorCast.com. All iTunes reviews and audio questions that are aired on the show will get an official AviatorCast t-shirt. You can write AviatorCast directly on AviatorCast.com where you can interact with the AviatorCast community or write AviatorCast at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
For more information on Angle of Attack simulation training videos for FSX, X-Plane and more, go to www.flyaoamedia.com. If you are looking for a professional aviation training video services and other media, inquire at www.angleofattackpro.com. Now, for the final release clearance, back to Chris Palmer.*
Chris: Alright, a huge thanks goes out to Brad for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. I really enjoyed the conversation about finding that balance in life, finding that balance between the flying jobs that many of us love from aviation itself, and knowing that there are very important things at home to take care of and I just really love Brad’s insight there and I find that to be a jewel in all that we have here at AviatorCast, all the different subjects that we have. It’s important to have conversations like this. I almost wanted to call him Dr. Brad in this podcast just because we talked so much about the emotional aspect and the family aspect and the psychological aspect of being an airline pilot. So Brad, thank you so much for joining us on this episode. I really appreciate it. I really appreciate your passion. Keep up the awesome work. I look up to you and I just really appreciate it so thanks so much.
So a big thanks also goes out to the Angle of Attack crew for all the hard work that these guys do. Now at Angle of Attack, our main vocation is not podcasting, this is just something I do for fun to kind of give back to the community. The main thing we do at Angle of Attack is video production and we specialize in doing flight training. So that’s our niche, that’s what we choose to do. I really love video production. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great career to be in and it’s an aviation career, we are fully focused on just aviation. We have a lot of big projects going on right now or at least one big project going on right now that takes a lot of work, and some other things that are happening too, things that I can’t really share with you because we’re under tight restrictions not to talk about those things. Someday we’ll be able to share with you what’s going on but there is a lot going on at Angle of Attack right now and these guys really do a great job in making sure that we run from day to day, that things get paid and employees get paid and things move forward and customers are taken care of, all that sort of things.
That allows us to do things like this podcast together where we get to take a step away from that craziness and just enjoy aviation from week to week. So again, sometimes I gloss over this part of thanking the Angle of Attack crew but they really do a lot of great work. And last but certainly not least, thank you so much for joining us on AviatorCast. You guys are awesome. I really appreciate the reviews that you send. If you ever have question or need some guidance, feel free to write me at email@example.com. I also know that Brad, just specifically speaking to this episode, Brad would be happy to speak to you guys too, just reach out to him on twitter. Again, his twitter is AAFO4Ever. He’s a really cool guy so you can reach out to him as well. And you’ll find that aviation is that kind of community where people are out to help each other. That’s just how it is in general.
So thank you so much for being here. This really is a joy to run this podcast. I have a lot of fun. I can’t to see what it becomes, we’ve been at it for a year and a half now, and I just want to see it continue to grow. So thank you so much. Next week, we’re going to have a crazy, crazy episode. It’s a good one guys. So next week, I have Paul Dye on the show. Paul is a retired NASA flight director. He was flight director for 35 years at NASA. He oversaw all of the mirror space station missions, a lot of the initial cooperation with the Russians in space and he also oversaw the majority of the international space station building with all the different shuttle missions that went to support that and a lot of things in between. Amazing, amazing experience that this guy has and now he runs Kitplanes Magazine which is a really cool experimental aircraft magazine. This is a podcast to not miss. It’s a great one. So I really hope that you guys choose to tune in to that podcast. It’s going to be good.
So that’s in, until then, throttle on![/transcript]