How My Aviation Knowledge Helped Air Force One

Honor, Duty, Country … and Flying?

Shawn Arena

Hello again! Hopefully, my prior adventures have been interesting and informational for all readers; this one, however, while not describing any daring or skillful airmanship on my part (ok, my opinion), it does provide one of the most unique experiences I have ever been part of … and flying (or rather, my aviation knowledge) came in handy as I helped out Col. Mark Tillman, one of the pilots of Air Force One.

It All Started With a Wildfire

On June 18, 2002, the beginning of one of the worst wildfires in the history of Arizona was started by an arsonist in east-central Arizona. To those who may not be familiar with the geography of Arizona, outside of the larger cities and towns within the state (i.e. Phoenix metropolitan area, Flagstaff, Tucson, and Prescott), many parts of Arizona (believe it or not) are covered by dense, forested areas. East-central Arizona is no different. And as we learned from Science Class 101, once you combine heat, oxygen, and fuel, you have conditions ripe for fire. While wildfires are (unfortunately) common that time of the year, this particular one was very devastating (when it was extinguished on July 7 it had consumed 436,000 acres).

At the time of this event, I was working at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) as the Airside Operations Superintendent. Collectively, all airport operations staff were closely monitoring what was happening in the fire affected areas and were prepared to offer any assistance to not only first responder fire crews providing air support, but any airports in the region. Needless to say, it was a very fluid and unsettling time. To put things in perspective, when an event of that magnitude are headline news on the national scene, you KNOW it is big.

Air Force One Gets Involved and My Aviation Knowledge Comes Into Play

Air Force One official visit photoAs Airside Operations Superintendent, it became very common (and I don’t mean to be flippant, nor arrogant in this statement) to have frequent interactions with Air Force One’s comings and goings within the metropolitan Phoenix area. For the first few times, it is exciting, exhilarating, and hectic. Prior to any presidential visit, the Air Force One Lead team (AF-1) and Secret Service agents, swoop in and (almost) take over the place! These lead visits are typically 1-2 weeks ahead of the event itself, so you have some time to digest what is happening…..(Ah yes, our taxpayer’s money at work!). However after a few times, it becomes almost typical and (depending on your airport) frustrating because they literally can close down your airport for their entire operation.

As I stated, MOST of the time you get a 1-2 week notice. Because of the enormity of the situation and national headlines it created, we were given a 1 DAY notice. The AF-1 Team and Secret Service prepped where everything is to be in place for the next day. As the Lead AF-1 agent was leaving for the day, he asked me if I could promptly show up the next day at 0700.

I arrive for my ‘ShowTime’ at 0700, and while the entire AF-1 Team was buttoning up loose ends (i.e. the B747 would be followed by a Gulfstream to whisk the president to east central Arizona), the Lead agent turned to me with a piece of paper and simply asked: “Can you take care of this for me?” THAT was when my aviation knowledge / flying / skill kicked in (after my initial OMG moment), it was the Flight Plan for Air Force One and he wanted me to file it with the Prescott Flight Service Station!

Air Force One flight planNot having gone through this before, I was curious why the agent calmly waited by my side until I was finished (he knew what was coming). I took out my cell phone and called Prescott FSS and upon initial contact with the Briefer, I stated: “This is PHX Operations and I want to file the Flight Plan for Air Force One.” And then I realized why the agent was nearby, because after the briefer’s (almost comedic answer) “Yeah, right” the agent took the phone and said, ”That is correct sir, listen to the man and let him file the plan.” I dutifully went through the entire filing process with the briefer. When completed, and to my utter astonishment, the agent started walking away and said to me “Oh, just keep the paper, we don’t need it anymore.

Proud to be an American (Aviator)

I held that sheet of paper as if I was handed the original Declaration of Independence. I could not believe it…I immediately thought to myself…”do you realize you have American/presidential/aviation history in your hands, and I bet not too many civilians get this opportunity” I cherished that flight plan not only for the aviation significance BUT for the magnitude of the events themselves.

Fast forward 13 years to July 2015. I finally got up enough courage to personally write a letter to (now) former President George W. Bush at his Library outside of Dallas and explained the situation (not that I’d expect him to remember), and asked if he would kindly sign it for me. As aviators, we are taught to always have a contingency plan, so I made a copy just in case the original never returned. To my excitement it DID return and he DID sign it. I plan to proudly display it along with pictures taken that day and the business card of the Air Force One agent who let me file the plan.

Signed Air Force One photo

In closing, (as I stated in the beginning) this wasn’t an airmanship focused story, but one of national pride tied into the thought…” if I was NOT a pilot and knew what to do with it, it would have been just following orders and I would have ignored the significance.” Take your learning and flight training seriously, because you never know when your aviation knowledge could serve you, and your country.

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Featured Image: US Air Force

Smart Phones in Aviation: How Aviation Apps Affect Flying

Toni Mensching

Smartphones have only been on the scene for a little over twenty years. That’s less than the average person. Yet, smartphones have changed the world. Aviation’s changing resulting from smartphone capabilities and aviation apps is undeniable. For better or for worse, smartphones are in almost every pilot’s hand. How pilots use this resource varies with technological savvy. Flight planning, training, navigation, logbooks, and regulations are forever changed with the introduction of smartphones and aviation apps into the aviation industry.

Last year, my boss was standing in a group having an engaging conversation about a new product. The four of us were just outside a large hangar enjoying the cool breeze. His phone gave a buzz and he glanced up at the sky which was mostly obscured by the large hangar next to us. Though I saw no clouds, I followed when he said, “Let’s move inside to stay dry,” as he ushered us into the building. Less than two minutes later we could hear the rain pelting the rooftop of the metal hangar. He convinced them to try the new product. Me, however, he convinced to download the app which notified him that rain was imminent at his location.

Once, radar was only viewable on the local news or weather broadcast. Weather briefers and controllers with radar could only tell pilots what they saw. Now, with the touch of your hand, radar is immediately at your fingertips on the smartphone. Developers have created aviation apps that track rain’s radar return and notify you if rain is less than a few minutes from your GPS location. In aviation, thunderstorms can be extremely dangerous. Knowing where they are and where they are going improves safety beyond measure.

aviation appsComputerized flight planning came along before smartphones. No longer were pilots bound to using E6B calculators and plotters paired with weather reports to find out how long it would take to get from here to there. Computerized flight planning brought with it speed and convenience. Smartphones took this a step further making flight planning mobile and in some cases, seamlessly transferable to cockpit navigation equipment. Simply plan your flight on your phone, hop in your aircraft and Bluetooth will allow you to load that flight plan right into your GPS. No reprogramming necessary.

Smartphones have also begun to replace costly aircraft equipment in private aircraft. In the past, aircraft owners might have invested several thousand dollars on installing multiple receivers to be able to see things like weather and traffic in the cockpit. An iPhone, for instance, coupled with one mobile receiver now can display radar as well as aircraft operating nearby simultaneously. All this awareness information is overlaid onto a moving map of your route on your smartphone so you have the greatest amount of situational awareness possible.

For fear of low return on investment, aircraft owners have long lamented installing costly avionics equipment in an aircraft they may not plan to keep more than a few years. With the advent of smartphones making luxuries portable, more owners will choose to invest in equipping themselves with these awareness tools such as traffic and weather reporting systems. Increased situational awareness on an individual level improves overall industry safety.

Smartphones have also provided a way to ease the manual burden of completing logbook entries. When paired with an electronic logbook, a smartphone acts as an immediately available recording tool in the cockpit. Carrying a large logbook on several flights is not only cumbersome but doing so increases the risk of lost logs. That’s why some pilots carry smaller, pocket sized, crew logbooks along on multiple day trips. An extra crew log introduced a data transfer step into the already manual process of logging flight experience. The convenience of the smartphone helps pilots bypass the transfer, risk of loss, and cumbersome book shuffling by allowing electronic record entry in a device which is already a part of everyday life.

Smartphones have changed aviation by making flying a more social activity. Popular among today’s flight students, sharing training flights via social media is bringing pilots and their loved ones closer together. Families, friends, and spouses are taking an active and supportive role in flight training by using these tools. Therefore, bridging the once crippling gap between the aviation and non-aviation worlds. No longer does a flight student spend the day away training without any significant method to show or tell loved ones about the wonderful training experience. Now, friends and family might follow along via social media or experience a narrated playback of the recorded flight route as the pilot shares it.

aviation appsWhile most of these changes can be viewed as positive, in some ways smartphones have caused a decline in safety. Separating from the constant communications of a smartphone is necessary to maintain awareness during flight activities. Some find putting down these devices more challenging than expected. Display induced attention tunneling is one factor cited by the Federal Aviation Administration to justify new regulations restricting the use of smartphones by pilots when flying. Some also blame technology for complacency. Pilots must maintain redundancy to overcome the looming battery or hardware failure.

Overall, the positive aspects of smartphones and aviation apps far outweigh the drawbacks. Flight planning, weather reporting, traffic awareness, logbooks, flight training communities, and many other aspects of aviation greatly improved with the introduction of smartphones. When used properly, these devices make flying easier and safer.

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You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.