Monday, February 10, 2014
Jay Leno ended his 22 year run as the host of “The Tonight Show” last week. I was moved by the heartfelt goodbye his cracking voice delivered to the audience.
“Boy, this is the hard part. I want to thank you, the audience. You folks have been just incredibly loyal. This is tricky. Ah, we wouldn’t be on the air without you people. Secondly, this has been the greatest 22 years of my life.
I am the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars, it’s just been incredible. I got to work with lighting people who made me look better than I really am. I got to work with audio people who made me sound better than I really do. And I got to work with producers and writers and just all kinds of talented people who make me look a lot smarter than I really am.“
Jay Leno and I are, within a couple of weeks, exactly the same age. He grew up in the 50’s and 60’s on the east coast and I on the west. We graduated from college about the same time and perused careers that were only slightly related to our degrees. He majored in speech therapy and I in physical science.
Jay started doing stand up comedy and got his break when he moved to Los Angeles and started writing for television. I got my break when I joined the Air National Guard and went to Air Force pilot training. From there we honed our respective crafts and eventually moved into a leadership position. There were good times and not so good times both financially and in the relationship with our respective employers. All of that seems to be of very little importance now.
Billy Crystal, a long time friend and colleague of Jay’s, was his first guest when he took over “The Tonight Show” from Johnny Carson. It was only fitting that he asked Crystal to be his final guest. Billy brought with him his date planner from 40 years earlier. It had Jay’s address and phone number of the apartment where he, Jay and the other young comics they knew would hang out together. Their expressions gave away a flood of emotions. That was the same reaction when I recently ran across paperwork from when I was a Boeing 727 Captain in the late 80’s. In an instant all the memories came rushing back.
Next year when it’s my turn to hand over the controls, I will shamelessly plagiarize his words. I expect I will speak with a cracking voice.
Reflecting on the all the good things of a memorable career is the hard part. I want to thank the people who put their trust in me and in my crew to get them to their destination safety. You are the only reason I have had this wonderful job all these years. With the exception of the time I have spent with my family, my time at the airline has been the most rewarding of my life.
I also feel like the luckiest man in the world. I was able to travel to every corner of the globe and fly some of the most sophisticated and iconic airplanes every built. Besides the consummate professionals I flew with, I got to work with technicians that made the airplanes incredibly reliable. I got to work with Flight Attendants that made my job much easier than I deserved. Most of all, I was the recipient of all the thankless efforts of the many people working behind the scenes to make me look smarter and more capable than I would ever be on my own.
Jay, I get it.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
I was a senior in college when I first thought seriously of making aviation a career. Like many before me, the first thing I did was to buy a copy of FLYING magazine. There were lots of advertisements for flying schools and stories about all different types of airplanes and their avionics. However, the article I enjoyed the most was, and still is, “I Learned About Flying From That”. I am not sure why I found it so interesting, but I couldn’t get enough of them. Before I had even taken my first flying lesson, I had read many of the articles that shared the stories of pilots who told the reader what they had learned from their “experience”.
I guess it is no surprise that after earning a private pilot’s license, flying in the military and over 35 years as an airline pilot, I am still fascinated by pilots telling their stories. I especially like hearing pilots’ self-critique of what they thought worked out well and what did not. I have used the information from those stories countless times in my career to keep me out of trouble or elevate my flying skill. I think many other pilots, private and professional alike; find the narratives have tremendous value.
I recently wondered when the first installment of “I Learned About Flying From That” appeared in FLYING. The magazine was originally entitled POPULAR AVIATION, and was first published in November 1927. However, “I Learned About Flying From That – No. 1” first appeared in the May 1939 issue. The publishers included a preface under the title of this first article. “This is the story of a pilot who had a harrowing experience that taught him a lesson. It is our hope that other airmen will profit by his mistake.” The first “I Leaned About Flying From That” was a story written about a rescue mission to Alaska in a Ford Tri Motor. The author, Garland Lincoln, relates the circumstances, including the weather and his decision making process, that allowed their flight to end with the Tri Motor upside down in the mucky tundra. Garland writes, “The lesson I learned? That, whether or not lives are at stake, taking chances is silly.”
The Aviation SafetyAction Program (ASAP) was initiated and authorized by the FAA for the same purpose. It was intended to be a venue “to enhance aviation safety through the prevention of accidents and incidents. Its focus is to encourage the voluntary reporting of safety issues that come to the attention of employees and certain certificate holders.”
It is unfortunate that ASAP has not been more successful sharing the actual experiences of airline pilots’ lessons learned in real life situations. Each one is another “I Learned About Flying From That”. Each one includes a narrative of the situation that initiated the report and then there is an opportunity for the pilot to self evaluate. How would this situation be handled differently if it were encountered again? What advice would be given to others to better prepare them for a similar situation? Professional pilots are always interested to hear advice from their peers that will keep them out of trouble.
Currently the data is collected and analyzed and then distributed through standardized recommendations or via new or amended standard operating procedure. I absolutely support the “just culture” that calls for immunity and anonymity unless there is reckless intent. However, ASAP data is not just for safety managers. Once these reports have been de-identified and any retraining has been accomplished, the raw information needs the widest distribution. It needs to be seen by line pilots as soon as possible. The narratives would be seen by line pilots as essential reading. Pilot associations as well should get behind the distribution of these reports not just protecting the anonymity of the data.