Today’s Flight Plan
Today we are joined by Eric Auxier, or better known as Cap’n Aux. This guy is just awesome- an awesome aviator, an awesome author, and an awesome person.
He shares with us what it’s like to be an airline pilot for a major US carrier, some of the hold ups of getting there, and also some of his stories and adventures of how he got to the left seat of an Airbus.
Eric runs an awesome blog at www.capnaux.com, but he’s also an accomplished author, having done really well on Amazon last year (he won an award).
This is a can’t miss chat with Cap’n Aux.
Adventures of Cap’n Aux (many articles mentioned, spend some time there)
– The Airline Cockpit in 7 “Simple” Steps
– True Confessions of a Regional Pilot
– Top 10 Downers of an Airline Career
Eric’s Vimeo Videos
Eric Auxier aka Cap’n Aux
Thanks so much for joining us on the show, Eric! Your passion for flight is abundant, contagious, and invigorating. You do much to inspire today’s pilots, and I (and we) thank you for that. Keep it up, buddy!
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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And there I was. This is AviatorCast episode 36!
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff! Here’s your host, Chris Palmer.
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators, you’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. I’m lucky enough to be one of the blessed few that has broken the bonds of Earth to dance among clouds, feel the roar of a propped Coyne along and chase a dying sunset. I wish that passion for flight could be experienced by all humanity. Maybe you already have experienced it, maybe you are soon becoming a pilot. If not, I hope you find inspiration here to get you there.
I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight simulation training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility, and a commitment to excellence. Show notes, transcript, community discussion, and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So welcome to this, the 36th episode of AviatorCast. It is my pleasure to welcome you and have you here. We have a fantastic interview lined up with someone great today, so I can’t wait to get to that. First, we have a review coming from one of you listeners. This listener is Jordan and he is from Australia. Really great to get this review here.
He says “Wise and wonderful, 5 stars. I’ve been listening to AviatorCast since episode 1…” that’s a lot of episodes. “I love the content, the guests and everything about this show. I’m a 16-year-old lightsport pilot and an avid simmer/scenery developer from Melbourne Australia, and listening to this podcast makes me enjoy aviation even more. Listening to the latest episode about CubCrafters fascinated me about tailwheel aircraft and makes me want to strive to own one and fly it above the beautiful, surreal and unique landscapes Australia has to offer. Keep it up.”
So thanks a million Jordan. I really appreciate that. I can’t imagine what it would be like to fly a cub down in Australia, down in the outback. That just sounds amazing, so that’s definitely an awesome dream to reach for. Thank you for the review. If you would like to review this show, you can do that through iTunes. This is where I got this review. We get them from all over the world, and maybe yours will be read on the show. So if you like the show, that’s all I ask, just review us.
Alright, so we have a great interview lined up today. We have Cap’n Aux on the show today. Cap’n Aux is a popular figure. You’ve probably seen him online before. He is an airline captain for a major carrier here in the US, and he has been kind enough to come on our show. So Eric is an author, he’s an airline pilot I already mentioned that. He spent time flying in Alaska, in the Carribean. He’s just kind of a really great and creative guy and he shares his passion for aviation so well, and I think that really fits AviatorCast so that’s why we’ve brought him on the show. So here we go, let’s get into this Hangar Talk segment with Eric Auxier.
Now, a special hangar talk segment…
Chris: Alright everybody, we are honored to have Eric Auxier, better known as Cap’n Aux with us today. How are you Eric?
Eric: Hey, very good.
Chris: Awesome, it’s great to have you. I know you’re a busy guy and really on social media, I see you everywhere, you’re pretty popular, so it’s good to have you on the show because you have quite an amazing career and you seem really passionate about aviation too and that’s what we like to see, so it’s good to have you on the show.
Eric: Oh yeah, thanks Chris. Yeah, I just like to spread the, what shall we call it, spread the disease of the passion?
Chris: Yeah, everyone catches it. Just pretty easy.
Eric: Exactly, it’s pretty easy to catch.
Chris: So that’s my first question for everybody actually, is how did you fall in love with aviation, so why don’t you start off with that.
Eric: Oh, that’s a good one. I have a line that I often say in my blog and that is “Ask any pilot how they started flying and you’ll hear a love story.” Mine dates all the way back as early as I can remember, I mean as early as age 5 or 6, just dreaming of flying, literally having floating dreams, that kind of thing. Some of the greatest highlights of my year would always be the annual flight from Phoenix over to LA to see my cousins. So just the flight on that 737 and the Hughes Airwest airplane and being able to visit the cockpit and so forth, that was just the thrill of my life at that time.
Chris: Awesome. So did you have anyone in your family that were aviators? Did you get into it that way or you just kind of loved it?
Eric: No, absolutely not. I had a distant cousin in World War II who went missing action over the Pacific. I believe he’s a P51 pilot and that was about the closest connection I have in my family. I got two brothers and one sister and none of them interested in it. Even my kids aren’t interested so somehow I’m the sole one that got the bug.
Chris: Right on. Kind of similar for me, I’m the only one in my family. So how did your initial training go? How did you actually start getting in to learning how to fly and what was your training process like?
Eric: Well you know, all my life, I was pretty laser-focused on becoming a pilot and maybe I didn’t know, I wasn’t armed with as much knowledge as folks can have today with the internet and everything, so in some ways I kind of flounder but in other ways I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to take the military route because I didn’t want to roll the dice and get in the military and they say “Well, we were going to have you fly F16s but instead you’re going to swap the deck for the next 6 years.” I knew I wanted to do it on my own.
So I did find a junior college upon graduation from high school that specialized in flight training and by then I got my private pilot license here at Sky Harbor Airport as I was going to school my senior year. I call it the poor man’s Embry-Riddle. It was kind of the same thing but you get a two-year-degree and you get all your flight ratings and from there, I started flight instructing, changed that into a four-year degree at ASU, and started building my time that way. It is a kind a typical way for most civilian pilots to go these days.
Chris: Right, definitely. So give us a synopsis of where you are today because you have quite a media background, that’s what I would call it. So tell us about your career today and kind of the axillary things you do as well.
Eric: Oh sure, okay. Yeah, I’m a pilot for a major US airline. I’ve kind of avoid saying it by name not because I’m trying to hide it but because I do not represent it on my blogs, so I want to avoid that confusion. But I am an Airbus pilot, fly A320s for a living and in fact I call myself an airline pilot by day, a writer by night and a kid by choice.
Chris: Yeah, I love that tagline.
Eric: Growing up, I had a pretty fertile imagination, real strong right brain thinker but this business, this aviation business is pretty much left brain only. As I pursued my career, the right brain started shriveling up and dying so I needed something else to pursue my passion and that passion has always been with me to almost equally as long as the passion for flying, and that’s for writing. I do a little bit of drawing on the side too but writing has been the real passion for me and in fact, I even wrote my first novel at age 6.
Chris: Wow, that’s impressive.
Eric: It’s called Little Froggy and the Golden Transmitter. It’s six pages long and available in my mom’s babybook. Fully illustrated by the way. So that just gives you an idea of the passion and how long I’ve had it too. I actually started writing my first novel, I got the idea for my first novel when I was about 14, and surprise, surprise, it’s about a 14-year-old orphan actually and it’s a spies story and it’s actually an orphan searching for his father’s killer who’s a spy and he kind of matches wits, he’s kind of a streetwise orphan, so he kind of matches wits with this spy who is actually after him too so it’s a real cat and mouse tale. And actually, that’s always intended to be series. I’m finally now putting the final touches on the first draft of the sequel to that which I’m hoping to have out in November. The first book is called Codename Dodger, and this is the sequel called Cartel Kidnapping, so right now I’m really passionate about that and it’s a first person story, it’s written from his perspective as if he’s telling you the story. And that’s my favorite kind of story to write, not only fiction but the first person because it really puts you in the protagonist’s shoes.
And then going on from there, continuing the passion of flying, the passion of writing really lends itself well to flying. Flying is such an adventure. I like to say life is an adventure and life in the sky exponentially so. It’s very easy to go fly, have an adventure and then go write about it at least for me it has been so. That’s really I started the blog Adventures of Cap’n Aux and you can find that at Capnaux.com. I basically have 30 years of flying under my belt now. I’ve had all kinds of crazy adventures and just all these stories pent up inside me and that turned out that the blog medium is just the perfect medium for that so I started writing a lot of the adventures there.
Of course, it branches out. We talk about all aspects of aviation, not just me, but there are a lot of stories, I like to call them “there I was stories” about different adventures that I’ve had in the sky and in fact that’s the most recent book that I published this summer, it was called “There I Was: Adventures From Three Decades in the Sky.” That’s volume one. I expect it to be three or four volumes long before I get done.
Chris: Right on. And you’ve had several books do really well in Amazon right?
Eric: Yeah. The most successful, the most popular one is called The Last Bush Pilots, and that’s a fiction novel but it’s very closely inspired by my very real experiences up there where you’re from Chris, up in Alaska. I spent a summer up there in the beginning of my career, early 20s as a young bush pilot and it kind of was baptismal was fire. I had to fly in the sunny skies of Arizona and I go up there and it might as well be a different planet, it’s so different. That itself lent itself to very adventurous tale. So I created a fiction novel out of it, just inspired not only by my own experiences but by other characters that I met and just situation, the life in Alaska. It’s so unique and different. I just felt like I was living life on the edge every day not only in the sky but on the ground. From that came a really I believe a rich tale if you will called The Last Bush Pilots and that’s been a very popular book.
Chris: Great. I’ve actually downloaded that. I haven’t got around to reading it yet but that’s what I intend to get to as well.
Eric: Oh very good. I’ve got too thorn a little bit on that. That made the Amazon Top 100 New Novels last year, so very proud of that.
Chris: Congratulations, that’s pretty cool.
Eric: Yeah, thank you. It’s not in sales or anything. That’s in quality of writing so that kind of sets you aside from the run-of-the-mill person. Anybody can publish on Amazon anymore on this day of indie publishing so that really I think legitimizes you so I’m very proud of that award there.
Chris: Great. Anything else in your kind of media repertoire that you haven’t told us about yet?
Eric: Yeah, well on the blog, we also talk about other media such as the videos. I like to do videos. I guess I have to go back to high school. Actually, I entered high school as a freshman as a really shy wallflower. You probably wouldn’t believe that today but I actually grew up with a neighbor girl who’s a real outgoing gal. She dreamed of being an actress and so forth and she just bugged me and bugged me our freshman year until she finally talked me into taking a high school drama class. My gosh, that was the most fun I ever had in my life. I just had the time in my life. I really blossomed. I suddenly found my element and just like the clown around on stage in front of people and really gained the confidence speaking and being in front of an audience and so forth.
During high school, in my senior year, I did a 50-minute documentary on skateboarding because that was my passion during high school. Back in those days, it wasn’t like you can shoot it with your iPhone. We shot it with Super8 mm silent film, had to dub a soundtrack onto it and we literally cut and spliced film together with scotch tape, so that was really hard work. Yeah, so my passion for filmmaking goes all the way back to then. So now with today’s media availability and the ease of editing and so forth, I really have a lot of, I’m putting together videos from time to time on my blog. It takes a lot of work but it’s well worth it. You probably have seen my video Living the Dream: A Day in the Life of an Airline Pilot. That’s probably the most popular video…
Chris: Yeah, that’s pretty popular. I have seen that.
Eric: Yeah. That really takes you through kind of behind the scenes look in a day in the life of an airline pilot and of course I threw a lot of fun and comedy in there but I also think it’s a very real warts and all depiction of what the life is like in the sky for a commercial airline pilot.
Chris: Yeah. We’ll have to put that in the post for this actually so people can see that. We’ll put a couple links to different things that you have and that will be a good one, because that does epitomize kind of who you are and what you do, gives a very visual feel of kind of what you do, so that will be great.
Eric: That’s true, I agree. Yeah, definitely, you want to put that in there. I’ll give you some links if you don’t have any.
Chris: Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about your time flying in Alaska. It sounds like it was short time, a summer as you said. Tell us a little bit about that.
Eric: Yeah. I was up there, I think it was 1988, it was the summer season. If you hear a cat yelling, that’s my vicious attack cat Tarzan here. He’s featured on the blog from time to time. Hello vicious attack cat Tarzan, say hi. I basically was up there from April until the end of September which is basically the summer flying season.
Chris: Yeah, that’s the season.
Eric: Yeah. As you know, you’re flying your buttski off from dawn to dusk and there’s really not much of dusk up there at that time, so I remember flying from probably 5 a.m. until about 10 p.m. every night. It’s pretty crazy. But yeah again, it’s baptismal by fire. A completely different world up there. I basically got hired over the phone. A friend of mine would go up there every summer and once upon a time, his company said “Hey, we need more pilots, can you recommend anybody?” He was like “Oh, I know my buddy Eric, he’s always wanted to come up here.” So they called me up and three days later, I was on a plane heading up there.
Chris: Wow, and that’s a big change coming from Phoenix.
Eric: Yeah, yeah. It was quite a life-challenging experience. I highly recommend it to anybody starting out. It really sets your resume apart and that really started getting the ball rolling forward on my flying career.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. It seems like these days, everybody kind of wants to do that with the show Flying Wild Alaska and all the other Alaskan shows. Everyone wants to come up to Alaska and be a bush pilot, but like you said they don’t really realize that flying is almost completely different here than it is elsewhere. It’s very wild and you’re very much relying in yourself a lot of the time just because of radar coverage and some other things. I wouldn’t necessarily even in today’s world but you still have times when you are alone and that’s just the way it is. It’s just such a big open space.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. I think even today in the advances of technology with GPS and so forth, you’re still stuck out there in the middle of nowhere, in the mountains, just you and the elements. If you go up there as a pilot, it’s a real do or die situation. If you survive, you’ll come back 10 times a pilot you are now.
Chris: Definitely. Cool. So you also built some time speaking of kind of the opposite of Alaska, you built some time in the Caribbean. Tell us a little bit about that.
Eric: Yeah. That was another fun time. Actually, the sequel of The Last Bush Pilots is going to be kind of inspired by that, part 2 although caveat I haven’t started writing that book yet even though people are clamoring for it. But yeah, talk about another lifestyle change. I literally again got a job on the phone with a carrier down in the Caribbean and again it was the bush pilot stuff that opened the door. They basically hired me over the phone. I went down there and that was kind of the break I was looking for to get twin time. I was getting single engine time in Alaska but everybody needs that twin time somehow.
I started flying twin VFR, flying out there from, originally I was based in Saint Thomas flying down island they call it, so some of the Lesser Antilles. Saint Thomas is the newest Virgin Islands by the way. That turned out to be a bit of a dud job. I walked away from that after about a month or maybe two months. The only job I ever just walked away from, flat out quit and that was because I found several incidences of internal fuel leaks in the planes. I said “After this, I don’t trust this place, I’m out of here.”
So there, I was down in the middle of nowhere basically with no job and no prospect of a job. I wound up a buddy of mine who was a roommate down there with me flying and he quit too at the same time. The good news was though he had an interview with a new airline called The Virgin Island Seaplane Shuttle and they were going to hire him as a captain, but it was going to be about a month’s time, so he said “Hey, why don’t you tag along. We’ll see what happens.” I thought “Sure, why not?” So we took a month vacation and just hung out and partied in Saint Thomas, rolled the dice and I went over with him to Saint Croix and interviewed and it turned out they were hiring for Twin Otter crews.
All of the first officers showed up for the class but only half the captains. Suddenly they’re scrambling around looking for anybody qualified for captains. I handed them my logbook and I had X number hours at that time. I probably had about three or four thousand hours at that time, just pretty good. I’m more than qualified to be a first officer and almost qualified to be a captain. So they looked at and said “You’re hired.” That was basically my lucky break. I rolled the dice and won the jackpot on that. I spent just a little bit of time in the right seat and then they stuck me pretty quickly into the left side of the Twin Otter so I was finally able to start getting some Twin Turbo prop time down in paradise, so we had a lot of fun down there.
Chris: No kidding. How long did you do that job?
Eric: I did that for a year until Hurricane Hugo obliterated us, blew us away, literally blew us off the map, it closed the doors of the Seaplane Shuttle.
Chris: What a bummer.
Eric: Yeah. By the way, the Twin Otters I was flying were land-based planes and their main bread and butter was Grumman Mallards which were amphib airplanes, so it can land on water or land, and you may have seen their beautiful, beautiful airplanes. Chalk’s Airlines was one of the biggest operators for a long time. I think they’re folded now but they operated out of Miami for a long time, so that’s where the name came from, Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle. But unfortunately, quite a few of those were damaged beyond repair in the hurricane which made a direct hit on Saint Croix at that time. We had evacuated several of the planes when we flew back and surveyed the island. It looked like it had been hit by napalm. It was just unbelievable.
Chris: Yeah, I can’t even imagine. I’ve never seen anything like that before.
Eric: Well there’s one story from Alaska and another one from the Caribbean with that Hurricane Hugo that are both in my most recent book, the “There I Was: Adventures from Three Decades in the Sky” a couple of those. And that’s actually a two-part series. I’m going to put the second part in the second volume actually. So yup, lots of adventures and I think that’s a poignant title to my blog, Adventures of Cap’n Aux because looking back, I didn’t really intend to have adventures but looking back, I’m pretty amazed with all the things that I’ve been blessed to be able to witness and do throughout this flying career.
Chris: Yeah. I think as you get into your career a little bit and I’m just catching a glimpse of it now, I don’t have anywhere the hours you have, but as you look back, and it’s more a time thing than I think it is a flight hours thing. As you look back, you realize that at that time, that flight didn’t seem significant but it was actually pretty special and I’m glad I had that experience. I feel like I’m always telling myself little things like that about things I’ve done or things I’ve seen before.
Eric: Oh absolutely, yeah.
Chris: And it just kind of stacks on. That’s part of the love of aviation, is it is always fresh it seems. Very rarely does it get too mundane unless you’re just flying the same route all the time and doing the same thing. There is always so many variables, you just mix it up and make it…
Eric: Yeah, true. Even with just something as simple as flight instructing, and I do have a lot of people ask me, “Do you still love flying?” or “How do you keep the passion going?” and I just have to keep turning them back to where they are at that time. You savor the moment that you’re in right now because you have no idea in this volatile career if you’re going to advance another step further. You can lose your medical license tomorrow, another 9/11 happens, something happens where nobody is hiring again, and that’s the pinnacle of your career. So you better appreciate flying for what it is. Even just flight instruct and spinning around the patch teaching somebody how to fly, you’re doing something that majority of the world will never be able to do or even understand.
Chris: Right, and I think you probably get that feel from your followers quite a bit too in that so many people have this dream to be a pilot or even an airline pilot and it really is a special thing that so many people aspire to do and want to do but just maybe don’t have the opportunity to. I think we’ll talk a little bit more about that later, because I think you are the type of guy too that wants to aspire people into this and say “Hey, there’s a way. Get creative. Try to find a way to get into this sort of things if it’s really what you love.” So how did you get to the airlines? Tell us a little bit more about your path. I know we’ve talked about kind of how you started and then Alaska and the Caribbean. Are there any other things in-between? How did you eventually get into a major carrier like you are now?
Eric: Sure, yeah. I went, from there, again the hurricane pretty much blew our doors close and here I was stuck in the Caribbean with no job again. My girlfriend I was living with at that time actually got evacuated back to the States in a C141 transport I think it was or C5 Galaxy, something like that, I mean the Red Cross came in and took over that island. They didn’t take over the island. Actually mayhem and madness took over the island. It was a civilization turned upside down. By the way, that made me a true believer in gun ownership after that hurricane because all semblance of society the window. There is looting at night and that sort of thing. I carried around a machete for two weeks in my car where I finally left.
From there, I kind of went home with my tail between my legs, got back home to mom and dad and put resumes out. By that time, I had enough experience where I could actually get a bonafide job somewhere and I got a job pretty quick with Rocky Mountain Airways actually which was becoming a continental express carrier at that time in Denver and I actually wind up flying Dash 7s, those four-engine turbo props, that was a lot of fun. I flew that for a year before I got hired on with my airline, and the secret to flying that to getting on with my airline, I get hired there at age 29. I started sending them resumes years before I was even qualified. It was an airline in my hometown in Phoenix and I was determined to up there.
About a year after I started flying with Rocky Mountain Airways, they called me up, went to an interview and they said “Well, why should we hire you?” I said “Well, take a look at my folder there. It’s twice as thick as any other folder on your desk.” I’ve been sending resumes for that long, so they were very impressed with that.
Chris: Right on.
Eric: Determination. Again, laser-focused determination. You have a dream, you start laying the groundwork now years ahead of time to get to that dream.
Chris: And it was kind of detailed too, right? You had an exact thing in your mind on where you wanted to be and who you wanted to be flying for and even though that may not always work out for everybody, it’s still specific enough to where it does drive your actions where you’re sending your resumes to that specific airline and end up helping out in the end.
Eric: Yeah. In fact even my cover letters, I remember writing cover letters even when I was down in the Caribbean saying “I know I’m not qualified yet but I just want you to know how serious I am.” I’d send them a resume a month every month like clockwork. Half the reason they hired me was probably to get rid of me, so like “Okay, you got it.”
Chris: That’s awesome. So we talked a little bit
Chris: That’s awesome. So we talked a little bit about inspiring people kind of into this thing that they may want to do because I hear a lot of people just in my space that want to be an airline pilot and I can’t imagine that it’s any different in your situation especially since you are an airline pilot. So this is kind of an open subject but let’s get into what your advice would be in different parts of that journey and in actually attaining a job with an airline, what would you tell someone that is wanting to get into this in different steps of the way?
Eric: Right. It’s certainly a very good question and we can go on all kinds of detail. In fact, so many people are constantly asking me those very same questions that I wound up bragging several blog posts about it on Cap’n Aux, one of which is called The Airline Cockpit in 7 Simple Steps. So Google that, and then another one “Is the Pilot Shortage Really Looming?” Those will get you going. I have a lot to say there on both subjects. I think this is a golden opportunity coming up but I think also that again, you have to savor the moment because you don’t know how far you’re going to go. You may get stuck at the regionals. The regionals are already hurting.
So I think if you’re healthy, if you got no criminal record, anything like that, you’ve got all your licenses, you’ve got some time or you’re building some time, you will make it to the regional airlines. You’ll work like a dog. You’ll get paid crap and you’ll be living the lifestyle of an airline pilot i.e. long hours, away from home a lot, and guess what? You’ll be living your dream, so hopefully that is the dream to which aspire.
Now of course, we all want to be 777 captains but not all of us get to be there. I do think there is going to be that opportunity though eventually for those that stick it out, tough it out in god-forbid any other unforeseen circumstances in this very volatile business, I think you have very good shot at being hired by a major airline and continuing that career.
Chris: Definitely. So I’m looking at your blogpost here now, The Simple 7 Steps… Pretty practical, I mean, it’s maybe things people haven’t heard before but it’s great advice. Step 1: Get good grades. Step 2: Keep your nose clean. 2.5: Use civilization or military. So yeah, it does kind of go through the steps here. I like it.
Eric: Right, good, and like you say, it is pretty straightforward but a lot of people don’t know some of these simple things. I kind of wrote that as sort of an overall view of where you should be looking, where your attention should be focused. Look at what your strengths and weaknesses are. Do you have the money to train yourself? If you don’t, maybe the military is an option. In fact, in that 2.5 bit, I think I say one of the options many people do is if they can’t afford flight training, they get in the military, and then they get out of the military and they have the GI bill or whatever it’s called and that pays for their flight training, so that’s an option as well.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. In fact I know a guy that’s doing exactly that. He’s already kind of done his military service. He was absolutely flying and everytime to church, he comes over and like he kind of corners me and ask to talk about how he wants to start a flight school here in town and all sort of stuff. And he’s doing the GI bill thing so that’s definitely a way to do it.
Eric: Good, good, yeah. I think that is a very common way. A lot of people just think “Oh military, well what if I don’t get to be an F16 pilot?” Well, there are still options in the military.
Chris: Oh, and even then I was talking to kind of a higher-up at an airline in a training department. He was saying “Hey, we have an F16 pilot that’s going through training right now in the 737 and we’re having a really hard time with him because he doesn’t really understand civil aviation at all, so there’s a different side to every coin I suppose. Where do you think people get held up the most in these steps?
Eric: And then that’s one of the advice I have on that simple steps bit, is if you’re going to do it, if you’re going to fund it yourself, you make sure you have the funds first before you start. You don’t go out, earn a paycheck and then spend the paycheck on one hour and then go another moment and scrape up enough money to get another hour. You’re going to spend three times as much that way. You need to set aside a war chest, build that up, and go for one rating in a time. In fact, that reminds of a recent two part interview I did with the regional pilot this summer. That’s another one you might want to look up, True Confessions of a Regional Pilot.
Chris: I actually did see that blogpost before.
Eric: I thought he had some great advice in there and he was saying basically the same thing. Get your money saved up for one license at a time and then go for it all at once.
Chris: Yeah, that’s really great advice. That’s exactly what I would say too. I would say it’s either money or medical, of those two. At least initially, I think you have trip-ups as you’re building hours too and maybe even getting stuck at a regional if you’re not happy with that.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah, certainly. Money I’d say is the number one thing that hangs people up. I remember in college, I’m going to say probably one of three or four people actually made it all the way through to get all their ratings and moved on to flying commercially. The rest of them dropped out for money. The second would be the medical. So that’s why I always advice go get your first class medical right up front. When you get that solo license, that’s a combination of medical license and your solo license when your instructor signs you off and make sure you get a first class medical license when you get that solo license to make sure that you’re going to pass everything.
Chris: Definitely. Yeah, little steps like that. I got that same advice when I was going through my initial training and even just getting that medical done. I was diagnosed with MS when I was 17 but I still wanted to fly and I would not take no for an answer, and so I had to know if I could be a captain. I had to know. Even when I didn’t need the first class, I went for the first class and eventually with a bunch of headache, and those who have dealt with the FAA on medical issues know what a headache it can be. With a lot of headache, I eventually got it approved and it’s been mostly a non-headache sense but yeah.
Eric: Wow. Yeah, I’m going to have to interview you for my blogs some time because I do have a lot of people that asks questions about the medical factor. Our blogging information team, we haven’t mentioned them but there’s a group of 8 pilots/writers/bloggers who we get together every month and blog about a specific topic and last month’s topic was about medical. One of our pilots lost his medical for a bit and he has been getting it back and just like you personally know, it’s a major headache. So what are the ins and outs and nuances of working with that government bureaucracy called the FAA and how do you get it back. I think their knee jerk reaction is to deny and then you’ve got to dig and dig and dig until they go “Okay, here you go.”
Chris: Yeah, and even now, now I’m dealing with a kidney stone issue which I’ve only had one stone once, it was easy to pass but they’re denying me on that now so it’s another big headache, so yeah I’m very familiar with this situation unfortunately. So yeah, the medical and the money hold-ups and other things in between. But at the end of the day, I think you would agree that at some point, that passion has to push you though, and it takes other intangibles too like determination and persistence and patience. There’s a lot of different virtues that you need to have.
Eric: Absolutely yeah. Going back to the laser focus. This was a year’s long plan in the making. And I want to go back to the medical right quick here. I want to emphasize that one of the main questions that I get all the time is “Hey, can you be something other than 20/20?” Yes, you can, as long as you’re correctable to 20/20 vision. A lot of people are shocked that “Hey, you can wear glasses and fly airplanes?” “Well heck yeah. There would be 1/1000th of the people out there flying if you couldn’t have glasses.”
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Totally.
Eric: The military might be able to turn you down because they can get the perfect person, but once you get going and flying and have all your ratings, as long as you can still… I wound up getting glasses when I was I think age 37 and it is still correctable at 20/20, so that’s a big thing. The color blindness is a different issue. You can get a waver if you can pass basically the red-green test and they actually have to flash a light gun at you. I think it’s called a demonstration of something. Maybe you remember that term. It’s a medical waver basically where you demonstrate that you are able to pass that.
Chris: I didn’t know that about color blindness. It makes sense. I know there’s this SODA. I can’t remember what the acronym is for that, but just demonstrated ability basically that you can do those things.
Eric: Right, SODA. That was the term I was looking for, the acronym. And you may not be able to get that for a commercial license but you at least could get it I believe for a private license as far as the color blindness goes.
Chris: Now, kind of to another extreme, just as an example, we’ll kind of wrap up this medical subject so we can get on to some other things, but this is another example of kind of maybe an extreme example is you actually interviewed someone really interesting and I think her name was Jessica. She is this female one-armed pilot?
Eric: Yeah. No-arm pilot. She has no arms and she is the world’s only licensed pilot with no arms. She literally flies with her feet. She has a sport license. She lives in Tucson and I’ve been wanting to interview her for a long time. She is one of my greatest aviation heroes and I was real excited to meet here. Real down to earth gal. Very inspiring obviously and get this, she’s a blackbelt in two different styles of taekwondo.
Chris: Watch out.
Eric: Yeah, she’s an awesome gal. She and my girlfriend Bunny really hit it off. They’re both from Filipino backgrounds and so forth. So we just had a wonderful time interviewing her and that’s on a video too by the way. You’d love to watch that. It’s about a 10-minute interview I have with her. Just a fascinating gal.
Chris: Yeah, that is one thing I have watched. Really, really cool, and I’ll make sure to link that as well in your post.
Eric: Very good. And I’m always looking for stories like that because one of the big things I want to do in the blog is inspire people, you know? Here’s this gal with no arms and what did she do? Through sheer determination, she got a pilot’s license. So don’t come to me with any wimpy excuse that you can’t do it. Talk to Jessica Cox about not being able to do something.
Chris: That puts in perspective really quick.
Eric: And again, I want to inspire people but I also want them to go in to this business eyes. One of the most popular blog posts I did last year was top 10 downers of an airline pilot career. And it goes down through all the downers and they’re very realistic downers that…
Chris: They’re only 10 huh?
Eric: Well, I had to limit it to 10.
Chris: Sends better in a title I guess.
Eric: Right. Just like The Seven Simple Steps, there’s a 2.0, a 2.5, there’s more than that in there. But yeah, I just want people to look at this business with open eyes. You have this dream and there’s a reality that comes with the dream, with any dream. If there was no resistance or no gauntlet or hoops to jump over for your dreams, well everybody be cowboys and ballerinas and astronauts.
Chris: I’ve never heard it put that way. Alright, so let’s shift gears a little bit. I want to get your thoughts on aviation safety. I know that’s a large question, so let me rephrase it a little bit. How did you survive all those years, surviving Alaska, surviving the Caribbean, survive as an airline pilot, what’s your philosophy and how do you think or what traits do you think got you through all that?
Eric: Right. Well, there’s certainly multilayered aspects in answer to your question. I’ll start by saying as a writer, especially fiction writer, I’m threading a fine line. I’ve got to create a drama and yet I don’t want to create an unrealistic depiction of the safety aspects. In fact, going back to my book The Last Bush Pilots, in the foreword I talked about what was real versus what’s fiction in the book. One of the things that I mentioned is obviously, I need to up the drama in this fiction story to keep it readable and interesting.
But that being said, flying airplanes is 10 times safer than driving a car. Statistically, even though there is a lot of drama associated with the three dimensional experience of flying an airplane in the sky and dealing with elements and so forth, still the most hazardous part of your journey is the drive to the airport to get to the airplane. It is an extremely safe sport or career despite the headlines that the news media loves to throw out there. They tell you about the one plane crash in the entire country but they don’t tell you about the 800 car crashes that happened that day too.
Chris: Yeah, the 800 fatal car crashes too, and all you hear about is the one guy that ran out of fuel or whatever it is, drifted safely to a highway and landed.
Eric: Yeah, exactly, and then I’ll go along a different thread in this subject, that of the evolution safety in the cockpit has been exponential in the last 20 years. TCAS, terminal collision avoidance system, weather radar, that kind of thing has made this career in business just incredibly safe. And then the automation obviously, the level of sophistication of the automation to the point where there’s talk about “Oh gee, pilots are losing their skills and so forth.” I don’t really lose sleep over that. You’ve got to learn to fly to be able to get to that point where you can push a button and let the plane fly for you and we’re still in full control. We still can disengage the autopilot. We’re still by and large landing manually and taking off manually. We let the mundane work to tat autopilot, and the autopilot is nothing more than a 3D cruise control. I mean, does your cruise control drive your car for you? Does it make the decisions to stop at a light? No. It’s just a machine and it processes but it doesn’t think. I think that’s by and large a bit of bunk about the automation reducing the safety in the cockpit as pilots lose their skills. I don’t think that’s really necessarily true. I think it’s vastly safer with the level of sophistication now with the evolution of the automation in the cockpit.
Chris: And more comfortable for passengers too. I know I can’t fly like the autopilot flies, at least not all the time. I guess I could if I was really focusing but then I’d be draining down my own batteries.
Eric: Yeah, and also taking it to the airline cockpit level here, for example in my Airbus, I’m a firm believer in using the automation because it frees you up for the important stuff. You put on the autopilot, it does the mundane stuff and it frees you up to keep track of the big picture, what’s going on, who’s talking on the radio, where are they, you’re looking for other traffic, situational awareness. If you’re concentrating on keeping this heading in that altitude then you’re missing the big picture.
Chris: Yeah. Largely automation is making us managers rather than just flyers which honestly kind of like you, maybe you didn’t really mention this but I actually enjoy a lot of the aspects that are coming with that, and we’ve even had recent interviews with people like ForeFlight and Aero Glass where a lot of these technologies are coming into the general aviation cockpit. Really, any guy can pick it up and get incredible data that in some cases is actually better than what the airlines have right now.
Eric: Yeah, in a lot of cases because the airlines are always cost-conscious and they also lag behind a little bit in adapting new technology so yes. For example, you’re talking about ForeFlight and their moving map displays and real-time displays of weather radar and so forth. We have weather radar in the cockpit but we can’t see what’s in the other side of the country.
Chris: Right, exactly.
Eric: Yeah. Level of sophistication and just the general aviation airline is amazing. This brings up a point that I would like to mention related to all these and that is the level of automation in the general aviation cockpit as you’re learning to fly. I’m a firm believer against that. My advice to people out there learning to fly is to go out and rent the cheapest, junkiest piece of crap that you can find that has steam gauges, we call it as opposed to the CRT screens and so forth. You can fly the pretty fancy stuff later once you get your experience under your belt but to be a real pilot, you need to go out there and learn stick and rudder and learn the basics. And you don’t learn the basics by punching buttons.
Chris: Definitely. I have actually spent a lot of time flying in general aviation glass cockpits it’s called or TAA or whatever they call it these days. I initially learned in 152 which definitely isn’t glass and 172 that was older with the Johnson flaps which definitely wasn’t glass. A lot of my time was in Bonanzas and one of them was steam gauges, the other one was a G36 and so it was all the automation. The funnest airplane I’ve ever flown was just recently and although it did have glass, the reason it was fun is because of what I saw in the outside and the control I had over it and that airplane was CubCraft Carbon Cub. The funnest airplane I’ve ever flown so far.
Eric: I’ll bet.
Chris: I’ve even have the chance at least in cruise to fly like a Beech 18, I’ve flown some pretty cool airplanes, but just to have wrap around view of those windows and to look out and look down, just that elemental feel of being an aviator and flying was so important. I think kind of going back to our conversation before and you talking about the 10 ways that airline pilots get disenchanted or whatever, I think one think we need to do as pilots is we need to connect with that core of our aviator spirit or whatever it is every now and again and we need to get back to the basics of just flying. And so I do really like your advice of learning in a crappy old airplane to begin with because that’s the core of who we are really and what we should always be as pilots, and that’s the reason this is called AviatorCast and not PilotCast because I think the true aviators that we get after are the Charles Lindberghs, and what’s the guy that broke the sound barrier…
Eric: Chuck Yeager.
Chris: Yeah. Those guys that just did crazy things. They didn’t have all this automation that we have but they were out there out there knowing it. Just wild, just wild stuff like that, and I think we can connect to that better from time to time even amidst our careers of flying in glass cockpits or in cockpits like you have.
Eric: Right. There’s a character in my book The Last Bush Pilots remind me of talking about this, Dusty Tucker. He’s the chief pilot of a small airline operation that the main character DC is hired into. He’s a retired airline captain. He was in the forefront of the golden age of transport and he walked away and trade all that for a Piper Cub up in Alaska.
Chris: What a dream.
Eric: Yeah, for the love of aviation, and his favorite thing to do at the end of the day is jump in his Piper Cub and fly out to the sandbar and go fishing. All he’s got is needle, ball, airspeed and not even a radio. Talking about going back to basics. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s easy for us as aviators, as pilots especially in the business to lose touch of our original dream, so again going back to my theme on the blog, don’t ever lose sight of that dream. You’re living your dream right now so relish it.
Chris: Definitely. So just to mix things up even more, this conversation is going the complete opposite direction. How does something like virtual reality or simulation play into this? I know that as an airline pilot, obviously you are required to do a lot of simulation type training but how do you think for today’s pilots, something like even a home-based simulator could help them learn to fly or stay connected or continue to be sharp, things like that?
Eric: Right. Good question. I have a whole new crop of kids coming up that are raised on the VATSIM, and, flight, what are some of the names of them, Microsoft FlightSim…
Chris: Yeah, VATSIM is a good one.
Eric: Yeah, and it’s crazy the questions I get from them. They say, “In the MCDU, on the Airbus, on the prog page, what’s the cost index and what number would you put in there?” Like how do you possibly know this stuff? They know the most amazing minutiae of details of the airplane but if you stuck them in a real cockpit, they couldn’t fly their way out of a paper bag. And that’s no disrespect to them. It’s a hobby and it’s fun, it’s their passion. If I was that age right now, that’s what I’d be doing. Absolutely. It’s the next best thing to being there I guess. But my point is that you can learn the systems and procedures of an airplane backwards and forwards and upside down but unless you go back to that needle, ball, airspeed bit, you’re not going to know how to fly. So it’s a great training aid but there’s no substitute for the real thing.
Now, when you get to the level of airline sims, they do a fantastic job of training. I mean, the realist is unbelievable. The main thing you’re doing in the sim is practicing procedures and decision-making skills. It’s a challenge every time you go in there. We train typically once a year and we’re 4 hours in the box, we call it the box, the simulator, full motion sim, and it’s 2 hours for the captain, 2 hours for the first officer handflying, well, use an automation too but I mean just practicing the different procedures and maneuvers and so forth. But I guarantee you, you walk out of that box, you’re 5 pounds lighter just because you’d sweat off everything. So it’s a fantastic training tool. You can’t go out in the real world and catch an engine on fire at V1 rotation in the runway. So it’s an unbelievably handy tool. But going back to the home computer, the home sim and stuff, they’re great for a hubby but again there’s no substitute for the real thing.
Chris: Definitely. Cool. You know, one thing I was thinking about as we are talking not only about the previous safety stuff and kind of the aviator stuff and the simulation stuff, one story and one actual name that came to mind was Captain Al Haynes who flew the DC10 without hydraulics, without flight controls. For some reason he came to my mind where this guy obviously knew pretty all there is to know about the airplane. We know we can fly it left and right and up and down perfectly, but then all of that was taken away, and he had those core skills and could really do something in the emergency that was special and really unique because from what I understand in that story, I’m not sure if you’re too familiar with it…
Eric: Yeah, I’m very familiar with it, yeah.
Chris: Yeah, it’s very famous. So one thing that I remember from that story is that there were actually 45 different crews in a simulator at that time trying to figure it out while they’re in the air because they’re up in the air for quite a bit of time, and no one could successfully land the airplane, no one could figure it out. Yet this crew was able to land it semi-successfully. Obviously some people did perish but just amazing stuff.
Eric: Yeah. I always hold up the Sioux City Al Haynes deal as the epitome of CRM, that’s crew resource management. He probably knew his plane inside and out but once that incident happened, all that went out the window and it was a one giant experimental aircraft. But he did a phenomenal job of managing the crew in that situation to the point of even recruiting a check airman from the back who was deadheading. He came up and sat in the jumpseat and the three of them all figured it out. I think there was, was there a flight engineer on-board at that time, it was a DC10, yeah. So they’re all up there, two heads better than one, now they got four heads. So they’re all putting their heads together.
The old adage of the captain is god and the first officer and the crew will follow them blindly, well that’s a shining example of the fallacy of that. And I’ve been in a business in interesting time where there’s been an evolution of that concept of going from the captain is god to there is a fully qualified crew and you need to respect each other and recruit information. Everybody is in this together and you’ve got to respect each other. He did an amazing job of gleaning all the experience from all the pilots and coordinating that into managing that disaster.
And going off in a little bit of a tangent here, I like to hold up the example of Star Trek, Captain Kirk. He to me is the ultimate captain, the baddest ass captain ever in existence but he’s of the old school. The captain is god and everybody will follow him. And then what happened with Star Trek: The Next Generation, now you have Captain Jean-Luc Picard and he’s more of an egalitarian. He’s the leader but he respects all of his crew and listens very intently to the advice from each of his crew and then he makes his decision. That is a better captain. And that’s the evolution of CRM. I was really impressed with Gene Roddenberry, the producer of Star Trek to catch on to that in the evolution when they came up with the new Star Trek. It’s like “Hey, this is a new world out here. We know a lot more about safety and what goes into creating a safe flight. So going back to the Al Haynes thing, even early on in the early days of the CRM, he was an exemplary example.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. And that’s one of the most fascinating things about being an airline pilot in my eyes. I’m not an airline pilot but that’s one of the most fascinating things, is that crew resource management and communicating as a crew. And not only you and the guy next to you but also the crew in back, the people that are helping in the cabin. All of that environment is just really fascinating to me and just brings a whole different level to the job I suppose that you really need. Because it kind of brings in I guess some business aspects that I love, keeping customers happy, good customer service, those sort of things.
Eric: Yeah, let’s face it. Pilots are not by and large people persons, so learning the CRM is often a challenge for most of us. We’d rather be pushing buttons and dials and be at the controls and so forth than dealing with the fuzzy aspect of human nature. Do you know Jean Denis Marcelin?
Chris: I have not heard of that, no.
Eric: Okay, yeah. He’s become a good buddy. He’s the author of the book The Pilot Factor. It’s a good read for you for sure. It’s what I believe the cutting edge of CRM today and it talks about human nature and so forth from a pilot’s aspect, and he is also a pilot himself. He’s a Canadian pilot, a commercial pilot. In the book, he uses a lot of his own examples along with other examples such as Al Haynes and also the Miracle on the Hudson and so forth to make some different points about CRM. It’s a great read. He also runs the Facebook page People of the Sky. He’s very much a people person. He’s a blast to be around and I think you’d do well to pick that up.
Chris: Yeah, I’ll have to check him out. That sounds great. Well, I think we’re kind of budding up against our regular time here of an hour, I think you and I could go on and on.
Eric: Oh yeah.
Chris: But let’s try to wrap it up a little bit. Do you have any last words of encouragement or advice or wisdom for the listeners?
Eric: You know, I’ve think we’ve covered everything but I’ll keep going back to my fundamental message and that is love the moment, pursue your dream however far it goes. Everybody is in a different situation. You might not be able to make it to that 777 captain position because of your health, because of your financial situation, because of what country you live in. It doesn’t matter. If you’re in a plane flying, you are as Louise C.K. says “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky.” And that is just a miracle in itself so savor the moment, savor the journey. This business is one grand adventure so don’t forget to enjoy it along the way.
Chris: Love it. Great way to wrap up the show. Well I appreciate you being on the show. I know it’s a little bit hard for us to hook up but I know our listeners would really appreciate it, and we’ll stay in touch. Thanks a lot Eric.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris: Well, that was a fantastic interview. It was absolutely great to have Eric on the show. You can just tell that passion for flight oozes from this guy and it’s so contagious. So I really enjoy following his stuff. I’ve been a fan of his for a while now. I’m really looking forward to reading some of his books. His Last Bush Pilot book sounds really fascinating. Obviously from Alaska that appeals to me, so I can’t wait to read that. But this guy, this is just an example of the great passion there is for flight and how important it is to not only share that but to take part in it and to be a part of that community.
And also, our discussions on attaining that dream of becoming an airline pilot and I know there are so many people that want to become an airline pilot and just don’t have the opportunity either for medical reasons or for financial reasons, but there is often a way and it does take absolute persistence and it takes a lot of hard work and creativity and a whole long list of things. You really got to be in your game. Even in the few seconds I looked at some of the articles that Eric had up on this subject on his website, the seven things he talked about and the 10 negative things about being an airline pilot. Those were articles and I will link to those so that you guys can check them out. Just go to this episode on AviatorCast and I will have those links there.
But you can also check them out on his blog at Capnaux.com. It’s actually a really enjoyable website to just kind of browse around. He does a great job sharing regular content. Like he said, he does videos sometimes. He does a great job taking pictures. This guy is fun. He is great to follow and he just gets you excited about aviation stuff. I follow him on Facebook. That’s kind of how I connect with him here and there, is his stuff comes up in my newsfeed. So really great guy, really inspirational and if you are thinking of becoming an airline pilot, this is someone to follow and to model your passion after. So thanks again Eric. I really appreciate you being on this show. I know it’s going to mean a lot to our listeners and just we really appreciate your time.
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