New Faces in Flight
Vol.8 Issue 7
Clockwise from top left: Instructor Rob Richardson welcomes the new pilots to Indoctrination July 2022; the pilots learn the proper way to exit a King Air; and pilots learn about the FAA aircraft, which are used for multiple missions

Flying from one part of the country to another might be difficult if there are no pilots to fly the planes. Thankfully, the Flight Program Operations group at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center (MMAC) is training new pilots in support of: flight inspection, research, development, test and evaluation support, aviation safety training, and critical event response/transportation.

"We’re investing in our people and our systems, bringing in new viewpoints," said Flight Program Operations Director of Safety, Rob Burke. "We’re growing our own little airline, and it’s exciting to watch all of the new things we’re doing."

Watching, and teaching, from the front row was instructor and pilot, Rob Richardson. In the back row sat three pilots of the Flight Operations Team: Kevin Cheng, Wendi Gima and Joe Jaquish. The three came from different backgrounds but converged at Indoctrination (July 2022), the training also known as "Indoc," for their chance to support the national airspace system.

Jaquish, a member of the National Guard, was excited about the opportunity for a normal schedule and the chance at a good work/life balance. Jaquish had just flown a mission before he arrived at Indoc. Regarding that balance he said, "I’m really looking forward to it."

Let’s talk about it

Being a pilot requires excellent communication skills. That is the foundation of instruction at Indoctrination.

A new class of pilots learns at Flight Program Operations’ Indoctrination, July 2022

Gima knows what that is like. In her previous job, Gima flew fire jumpers in the West, for the National Forest Service. She was in and out of high-stress/high risk situations where communication is absolutely critical. She was very relieved to learn from Richardson that Flight Program Operations doesn’t take any chances with bad weather.

"We run from weather in this job," Richardson said, because the delicate work of flight inspection can’t be done in rain, snow or sleet.

The maneuvers, routes and low altitudes flown during flight inspection just aren’t possible with ice on the wing, and flying near active fire/smoke is out of the question. Gima was relieved to hear that. Instead, when weather is too hazardous to conduct the mission, pilots with Flight Program Operations stay at the hangar and work through other mission-critical tasks on the ground.

The afternoon time at Indoc was for paperwork. "Planes don’t fly without paperwork," Richardson told the class. He guided the new pilots through the documents that are required for Flight Program Operations to function as a Part 135 air operator. That paperwork includes the General Operations Manual and iPads filled with new and old apps (which, of course, are filled with more paperwork).

In that paperwork, there are "TFIGs" and "TIs" and more acronyms that Instructors have to explain. With almost everyone new to the FAA, there is a lot to learn and memorize.

The new recruit who was most familiar with FAA lingo was Tim Hayward. He had a long career before the FAA, and he served as an aviation safety inspector with Flight Standards for – years. He shared with the class that the one constant throughout his aviation career is providing support to pilot and crewmember training.

When Hayward was offered the chance to join the Flight Program Operations Aircrew Training Group, he jumped at the opportunity. "One of the best choices I’ve made is to come here," he said. "It’s been a great ride."

Safety first

Day two of training came around – another hot day in Oklahoma. As the sun rose through the hangar, Richardson inflated a big rubber raft, which normally takes up a chunk of space inside of the King Air 300. That day the new pilots learned about PASS. No, not the acronym for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists [Union], but for fire extinguisher training — Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep.

Safety First – Pilots learn about safety equipment before they fly

Safety first!

After a demonstration in that rubber raft, the pilots headed into one of the FAA’s King Air 300s, which was parked in the spacious hangar. It was time to put their safety skills to the test and learn how to evacuate through the window – onto the wing. Cheng, who started his career as a flight test engineer, was eager to get out of the stuffy cockpit, though backing out of the window provided little relief.

Pilot In Sung Cho, who would be heading to the Atlantic City Flight Operations Team after Indoc, sat in front of Joe Burkhead, who was going to be flying to Battle Creek, MI, and the rest of the people in the back row were headed to Sacramento, CA afterwards. The pilots came to Flight Program Operations in hopes of flying to make the NAS a safer place to fly - for pilots and the general public.

"We’ve got a great mission. It’s something I get very excited about," Flight Program Operations Vice President Wil Riggins said on his visit (during day four of Indoc). Like the new pilots in the room, Riggins came to Flight Program Operations with the mission in mind. "At the end of the day it’s about safe flying," he said.

Safety second, too

Wednesday brought more safety; this time, inside of the classroom. Jason Crain, Flight Program Operations’ voluntary safety programs expert, brought part of his roadshow to Indoc.

Crain normally conducts outreach across the ATO to demonstrate just why the mission of Flight Program Operations is important to everyone. His presence at another recurring Oklahoma City event, the Air Traffic Services Operations Supervisors Workshop, has helped spread the word about "Flight Check" and how controllers can work with Flight Program Operations’ pilots.

The stars aligned for this new class of pilots, and most of the management team was able to attend day four to give some tips and answer questions. Riggins, Burke, Lorry Faber (Chief Pilot), Jim Meek (Director of Operations) and Tom Webb (Aircrew Training Group Manager) all attended, and were ready to encourage the new recruits to grow and learn.

Faber, an experienced pilot and the permanent Flight Ops Team Manager at Atlantic City International Airport (ACY), encouraged each person to "speak up about who you are and what works for you." Pilots with Flight Program Operations have a wide range of opportunities at stations across the United States, so there is always another way to grow skills.

With that, a new class of pilots headed back to their duty stations or went on to simulator training. Their enthusiasm for the new role was contagious, and Meek hopes they spread that excitement to their friends. "Phone a friend, and bring them in," he said. "We like people like you, who are mission-driven."

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