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Sunday, June 9, 2013

American Dreaming

I wrote this story as a feature for a friends blog, but I've decided to share it here also to give you a little more insight on my background.   It was actually pretty personal and extremely difficult to write the last part, and please keep in mind the funeral pictures are real not just random images from google. 

If you've already read the first post this one is still worth a look. 

A small town country kid who believed in the American Dream is where it all began for me.  They said you could do anything and be whatever  you want to be as you worked hard and put your mind to it.  For me however that all seemed far fetched.  All I knew was the small town of Ettrick, located in the southern most part of Chesterfield County, Virginia.  The population back in the earlier days of my childhood was right around 1200, most of which was comprised of college students at Virginia State University, so contact with the outside world was limited.  Home computers and the Internet weren't apart of my home until years later.  I was raised by my Mother, the very best mother anyone could've asked for.  We may not have had a lot of money, but what I did have was love and a supporting family which would take me a very long way.

Science Museum Display


My mother noticed I took to things that move, more so than most children.  I'll admit trains were the first thing that peeked my interest since I use to walk to the train tracks about a quarter mile away from my house and watch the long CSX trains go by, and the AMTRAK Superliner from New York blaze through on the way to Florida.  So for Christmas one year I received a model train set which quickly became my favorite new toy.  At least until I took a field trip to the Science Museum on Broad Street in Richmond, VA.  There I saw what looked like a weird but fascinating model of a person in an all white suit with boots and a bubble helmet.  We were in the part of the museum dedicated to Space Flight, and here is where my curiosity for things that flew began to peek.  I'd always gazed up into the sky and watch low flying airplanes on their way into what was called Byrd Field, which is now known as Richmond International Airport, with the same fascination that I had for watching the trains.  That day I made up my mind that I would either be an Astronaut or I would fly.  And my mother, being the great mom that she is, didn't laugh or tell me I couldn't do it.  She did just the opposite and told me that I could.  I remember it as if it was yesterday.  The next day after school we went to the library and she checked out a video about spaceflight (it told the story of the shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope with Astronaut Story Musgrave) and some books about airplanes.  It was the best week ever, as I re-watched the film over and over.  The next week got better as I received a book titled "Aircraft of the World" with cutouts of different type of aircraft which can be seen in the post titled "Standing Tall and Looking Good" on my blog. (standingtalll.blogspot.com)  Eventually I received my own library card and began to dive into anything that was related to flying.  At the time I was only probably in the 3rd or 4th grade.  That's when we knew I was going to grow up and be a little different.  I studied hard and made good grades all the way up until high school.

CSX Train on the tracks in Ettrick

Ettrick Library

The Book

Fast Forward to the end of high school.  I still loved aviation, and still wanted to fly more than anything.  I had a descent GPA, and had some options for colleges.  However I chose the military.  You're probably thinking Air Force right?  Well not quite.  The Air Force had a waiting list at the time and I wanted to get out and live and experience things on my own and have my college paid for so that my Mom would not have that burden.  So at only 17 years old I enlisted in the United States Army on an initial contract that obligated me to 4 years of service doing network communications .  In hindsight it's one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.  I've been to many different parts of the world that I thought I would have never seen.  My first duty station was in Seoul, South Korea, where I would live for one year.  At the ripe age of 18 it was a magnificent experience that I will never forget.  I then went on to live in Seattle for some years, and now in Killeen, TX.  Amsterdam, Portugal, Kuwait, Qatar, Germany and some other places have been visited throughout my travels in this career as well.  One of the more interesting things I did get to see was the inside of Saddam Hussein's Al Faw Palace.  He was a sick man but I must admit he had a beautiful home.

Inside Al Faw Palace

Above the Rotunda in Saddam's Palace

Palace from the front gate, located in Baghdad, Iraq

However, like most things in life, it hasn't been all fun and games.  I've given 24 months of my life in support of the war on terrorism.  12 months in Iraq and another 12 months in Afghanistan all within a three year time period.  People come and go for various reasons in the military, but the one that hurts the most is when you know they are never coming back.  I've lost friends to combat injuries as well as suicides.  The impact on the families is immense and I've seen it first hand.  I will never forget those people that we have lost.  To me you will always be more than a number displayed briefly on CNN with the death toll.

Mountain Patrol in Afghanistan

RIP SPC Sarina Butcher

RIP SGT Lamar Johnson 

Keep in mind I said I do network communications.  It's a job I can say that I enjoy but it isn't flying.  Throughout the years the urge to take to the skies just wouldn't go away.  Near the end of my first enlistment I was all set to get out of the Army and pursue my dream of becoming a pilot.  My paperwork was all signed and ready to go and I was going to head of to what was then known as the "Delta Connection Academy", but I let the nay-sayers in the Army convince me that the economy was too bad and I ended up staying in.  Shame on me and my mother let it be known that I didn't make the choice to stay in for the right reasons.  It was a year after that decision where I found myself on a camp along the mountain tops in Afghanistan wishing I never signed up for more time.

Which lead me to where I am today.  Today I'm back home in Texas safe and in one piece with just over 15 months remaining on my contract.  I am currently enrolled in the Aviation Science program at Central Texas College pursuing my dream which is ironically enough being paid for due to my service in the Army by way of the VA.  I will be going from my PPL to Commercial Pilots License at CTC, and then transferring to Texas A&M University to complete my bachelors degree and Multi-Engine License as well as CFI, CFI-I, and MEI certifications without spending a dime out of my own pocket.  Another reason joining was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I took the controls of an airplane for the first time on the 30th of May 2013, and haven't looked back since.  My instructor is great, the fellow students at the school are great as well, and through the Internet I've met many helpful and genuine people.  My mother and family are still very supportive as is my beautiful Fiancee.  This time there's nothing anybody can say to be to stand in my way.I'm definitely going to enjoy this ride and it's only just beginning.  My name is Justin Campbell and this has been "My Story"

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sight Picture

Proper Sight Picture aka Center Mass

This photo may not register with you at first, or it may if you're a seasoned marksman, or have ever received any instruction on how to properly engage and hit targets with an assault rifle.  In the Army we call it aiming center mass, and we strive to keep this same "sight picture" every time we fire the weapon.  Proper sight picture is one of the four fundamentals of marksmanship   What exactly is a sight picture you ask? Well it is the point you at which you should to aim if you desire to place a round on target at a given distance.  There is some variation to this depending on how close the target is because you must account for the trajectory of the round that you are firing as well as the weapon.  For us we use M4A1 rifles or the M16A2/A4 manufactured by Colt which uses a 5.56mm round.  Again there's a slight difference due to the M4 being shorter than it's big brother the M16 but I'll use the KISS (keep it simple stupid) philosophy here and exclude the details.  However both weapons are highly effective in the right hands and just in case you're wondering 40 out of 40 is the best score you can receive, and I haven't qualified with anything less than a 38 in over four years.  Sadly the "hawkeye" as we refer to it, perfect 40 out of 40, still eludes me to this day but I won't complain.

My M4A1 Rifle ACOG equipped

Ok, Ok, Ok, I know you're probably saying "this is an aviation blog so why is he talking about weapons" but bear with me the connection has arrived.

Page about sight picture from the Airplane Flying Handbook

And there it is straight from the FAA's "The Airplane Flying Handbook" which can be downloaded free online as a pdf or you can buy the app for 1.99 in the App store.  This type of "sight picture" looks more like it right?  If you're a student pilot like myself you may have seen this, but for the seasoned aviators out there this should've been  a no brainer.  Brad Tate who has an outstanding blog of his own titled "Airline Pilot Chatter" wrote about "sight picture" while explaining the differences in learning to land the 737-800 he now flies compared to the tried and true MD-80 that he had flown for years.  You can read Brad's perspective here on his blog: http://airlinepilotchatter.blogspot.com/2013/05/learning-to-land-737.html.  

AA 737-800 in it's new livery on Short Final

Today I learned first just how important it is to maintain a good sight picture during all phases of flight.  It was also my first flight with Central Texas College (CTC) and my new instructor Clinton.  Once again we bonded immediately much the same way that I did with my first instructor Matt from GFA.  Since my last post I had flown an additional lesson in the C-172 just because I couldn't resist the urge to fly and every hour counts, but from today onwards I will be flying the Piper Archer II while working towards obtaining my private pilot's license (PPL).  I'm already biased towards the Archer because standing at 6 feet and 4 inches tall space and comfort in general aviation aircraft is hard to come by.  Besides I like the look and feel of the low wing design better anyway.  The Archer provides that space and comfort and then some.  The airplane may be old but it is safe and it gets the job done.  Hopefully the new model with the G1000 glass cockpit will arrive soon.  Until it does I look forward to using the Flight Training Device in our Flight Ops Simulation Center.  CTC normally uses C-152s as its primary trainer during the PPL course, but due to my size I was approved to fly the Archer, which normally isn't available for students until the instrument course.

Aircraft I'll be flying the PA-28-181Piper Archer II

Archer II Cockpit

Yesterday was suppose to be my first flight with CTC and the weather was clear but I was unable to fly due to scheduling conflicts with another student.  Not a problem since I was still on for today.  A typical week for me consist of my flight block on Tuesdays and Thursdays totaling around 3 hours per week, but we are encouraged to sign up and fly as many days as possible which is how I ended up flying today.  Even though I didn't fly my instructor still made good use of the time and took me out to the airplane and went over how to properly preflight the airplane and some other things from the Pilot's Operating Handbook.  So when I came arrived today I was able to get straight to business and spend as much time in the air as possible.  I arrived at our flight operations building at the airport, checked out the aircraft and immediately began to preflight the airplane.  Soon after I was joined by my instructor who re-briefed me on what  to expect during today's lesson.  I'll spare you the details of the rest of the preflight, but the theme for today would make it's first appearance very early on in the lesson.

My gear contained in the flight bag

Archer POH, get to know your aircraft
Since it would be my first time flying the Archer we did some extra taxiing on the ground, and this was the first time my instructor would show me the proper "sight picture" in the Archer.  Sight Picture and references are very helpful during taxi to ensure that we are tracking the center line of the taxiway at all times.  For the aviation readers you all know why this is important and why it's good to develop that practice as a habit early on during training so that it becomes second nature when you move up to larger and larger aircraft.  Just in case you're not what we refer to as an Avgeek (Aviation Geek)  I'll explain further.  Tracking the center line while taxiing on the ground keeps the wings of the airplane away from any potential obstacles.  Whether it's another airplane parked on the ramp, taxiway signs that tell you where to go, or the many other things you find around airports.

B767 aligned perfectly from centerline taken from a CRJ-200 (http://www.flycrj.com/2010/04/25/how-to-taxi-jet-airplane/)

Atlanta Hartsfield 

Today the wind was out of the north at 040 and 7 so we used runway 1 at KILE for takeoff.  The same sight picture I had used earlier to taxi the airplane was used once again for the takeoff roll and we shortly after we were off.  Immediately after liftoff my instructor had me climb to pattern altitude and make a turn for the practice area to the South East while climbing to 4,500 feet.  Too easy, as we say in the military, and there I was with the kid in the candy store look once again enjoying the flight.  During the climb Clinton would point out references to use on the airplane to establish the desired attitude without an over reliance on instruments.  It'd didn't take long to reach my assigned altitude and after leveling off we went on to cover some pretty standard maneuvers which included climbs, descents, and shallow, medium, and steep turns in both directions.  Those same reference points on the airplane were used to adjust the airplane as necessary again with out using the instruments during the maneuvers.  Anyone see a trend developing?

C-172 Sight Picture during a level shallow turn

Why is not solely using the instruments important?  That's because all PPL training is done under VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions, and you must learn to scan for other traffic as well as make the correct inputs as a pilot to ensure the safety of yourself and others.  I was told to use roughly a 90/10 rule.  Meaning to look outside of the airplane 90% of the time and inside at the instruments 10% of the time.   Avoiding fixating on any one single thing is a skill I would consider as a basic principle of flying, much like the marksmanship principles I mentioned earlier.   Clinton's method of instruction is perfect for me because he presents the information in a clear way that's easy to understand, and provides an environment in the airplane that allows me to fly and feel things for myself.

After performing those maneuvers it was time to turn back and head for the airport.  KILE is a little different because we use a Right Traffic Pattern when runway 1 is in use and a Left Traffic Pattern when Runway 19 is in use.  So after descending to pattern altitude we entered the traffic pattern on the 45 on the downwind leg.  Once again that all important sight picture and references was laid out clear and concise and is extremely important during the landing phase of flight.  Using my reference points, obtained during the lesson, I guided the Archer around the pattern for two touch and go landings with the third landing being a full stop.  A quick taxi back and shut and another 1.2 hours was added in the log book.  

UAL 787 on takeoff

I only have at least 1,497.1 more hours to go until I can even begin to think about the references I would use to find right sight picture with one of those.   The FAA requires 1500 flight hours to qualify for an Airline Transport license beginning in august of this year.  Undoubtedly the road will be long but so far enjoyable it has been enjoyable.  My dream is becoming a reality day by day step by step, and I realize how lucky I am to have even flown and airplane at all.  Flying is not something I will ever take for granted.  Not many people in this world get to wake up each day and do something that they love to do.  No matter the circumstances a positive attitude is key to the proper "sight picture" in this thing we call life. 

Three flights scheduled next week starting 2pm Monday as show in flight schedule pro

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Thursday May 30, 2013 is a day that I will never forget.  I spent that morning as the tower NCO at an M9 range we were responsible for conducting and the weather wasn't looking good at all.  Low ceiling overcast, light rain, and gusting winds.  Not an ideal forecast especially since its late spring in Central Texas.  However with that said, my weather channel app assured me it would clear up around 3pm so I kept my fingers crossed.

Morning Costume headed to the range

What was so important about that Thursday you ask?  That was the day I would pilot an airplane for the very first time.  My first flight lesson was scheduled for 4:30pm which is why the forecast was truthfully so important.  We finished up at the range around 2:45pm and the race to beat the traffic home began.  If you've ever been to the worlds largest military installation during peak traffic, going to PT, after PT, heading to work, lunch break and going home for the day, you can understand my pain.  Imagine the worst traffic you've ever been in, and that pretty much sums it up.  I'm talking Los Angeles, and Atlanta type rush hour traffic!  On a good day it usually takes me 45 minutes to travel the 6.4 miles to my home.  On this day however the commute was less drastic and I arrived home around 3:10pm.  In my rush to get home I hadn't even noticed the forecast from the weather channel app became true.  I didn't notice the blue sky and a few clouds until I was pumping gas on my way to the airport.

taken at the gas station
I arrived at the airport a little early and went to meet my instructor Matt.  We exchanged greetings and began a quick overview of what to expect for the day's lesson.  Once complete Matt handed me a checklist and we headed out to the ramp.

Cessna 172 Checklist

The aircraft was a Cessna 172, registered as N18LW, and the location was Skylark Field, just on the other side of town from KGRK.  I will be obtaining my ratings through a local college while simultaneously obtaining my BA in Aviation Science, but today I would be flying with Genesis Flight Academy.

Anyway after our discussion the process of going through the checklist began.  My instructor was great, he let me experience the process for myself while showing me exactly what to look for and what to check.  We clicked immediately, so I knew flying with him would be enjoyable and it certainly was.  After about 30 minutes or so, remember it was my first time, we were in our seats and ready to start up the engine.  Once the engine was started we did a quick brake check and began to taxi to runway 19, and this would be the most difficult part of the flight.  Learning to use my feet for steering purposes was harder than I thought it would be.  It didn't help that I was dressed casual and wore boots which made rudder feel a little more difficult, so I will definitely be wearing sneakers next time.  It may not have been pretty but we made it to the run-up area with no incidents and completed the run-up portion of the checklist.  Once we complete we tuned the UNICOM frequency and turned the aircraft around in a circle to visually check for traffic.  Matt announced our intentions for takeoff and we moved to the hold short line to wait for an incoming Mooney to land.  After what seemed like forever to me, the Mooney was clear and I taxied the aircraft into position and prepared for take off.

Cessna N18LW my first plane
Skylark Field

Matt instructed me to release the brakes and apply full power and we were off.  At 55knots I started gently pulling back on the yoke and the aircraft began to lift off towards the sky.  I was the happiest person in the world at that moment.  Feeling the wheels rise off the ground and the climb towards the sky was the best feeling of freedom I'd ever experienced in my life.  A quick gust of wind and a little turbulence quickly captured my attention and it was then that I realized two things.  One this isn't the coach section of a 757-200, my favorite commercial airliner, and two I was actually flying the airplane!  Once again Matt made another announcement of our departure intentions and then instructed me to make a turn towards the lake and to continue to climb while trying to maintain an airspeed of 85knots.  Not too long after we leveled off somewhere around 5,000 ft and I asked Matt if he could take the airplane to allow me to snap from photographs.  Honestly I'll admit that I was seriously the proverbial kid in a candy store on this day and nothing could take my joy.  Being at the controls and flying in the small airplane didn't make me sick, nor was I uncomfortable.  Nervous and a little anxious at first of course I am a human being, but I felt like I was right where I belonged.  We spent the remainder of the flight just getting me familiar with the airplane and how it handles.  I performed basic turns and pretty much just got a feel for it.

Best office view in the world

Myself at the controls

Turning Over the lake

Before I knew it it was time to land.  Pattern altitude at Skylark is 1600 feet which is 800 feet AGL so I made a left hand turn and began to descend the airplane according to Matt's instruction.  This part of the flight seemed to move quickly and it all really felt as if it was over way too soon.  After another announcement we made the right turn to join the downwind leg for runway 19, and to my surprise Matt offered the opportunity to try and land the plane to me.  I'd flown most of the flight and I wasn't going to say no.  When parallel to the numbers I brought the power back as instructed and applied flaps 10 for an airspeed of 75 knots.  Shortly before turning base I lowered the flaps further and slowed a tad bit more.   The base moved by fast, or it seemed that way at least, and I turned the airplane onto final.  Flaps full and an approach speed of around 60 knots.  I had a brief moment as we approached the runway where it seemed like I had been there before.  However this wasn't FSX this time, it was real life.   Two white lights and two red lights were shown on the VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator) and that is what I used to keep the airplane on the glide slope.  (Reading this you may get the impression that it sounds easy, but in reality it's much tougher but I enjoyed every minute of it.)  As we crossed the numbers throttle went to idle, vision shifted to the far end of the runway, I began to flare, there was a slight beep of stall horn, and then the tires contacting the runway.  After a successful taxi in and shutdown my first flight was over.  The smile on my face would last for a few hours, phone calls, and emails later.

I'd be re missed if I did not give a special thanks to both Brad and Eric, both of whom have excellent blogs featured here on this site, and are accomplished aviators in their own right, for all of the encouragement, advice and motivation over the past several weeks.  There are a lot of negative people out there in this business but they are definitely not one of them.  Both of you have been nothing but helpful in this process and I thank you both for taking the time out to speak to a young aspiring aviator like myself.

Standing Tall and Looking Good: A First Post

"Standing tall and looking good
  Oughta be in Hollywood
  And it won't be long
  Til' I get on back home
  Back home, back home
  Back home, where I belong"

-Cadence, United States Army

Waiting on a helo in Afghanistan

My name is Justin, and I am currently a Staff Sergeant, on my way out of the United States Army after almost ten years of service.  I'm a veteran of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom with 12 months in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  During my time in the military I have experienced many ups and downs, and I have seen people come and go for various reasons.  There was a time where I thought that I would serve the full 20 years and retire, but that feeling no longer remains the same, nor can I say it was truly genuine from the beginning.  I can say I've thoroughly enjoyed my time in the military and it has been an experience that took me from a 17 year old boy, to a grown man.  I will never forget the fine Americans I've served with and the times we shared, which is why I chose "Standing Tall Being All I Can Be" as the title for my blog as a tribute to my service.  Even though my time is coming to a close the military has been an instrumental part of my life and will always have a place in my heart.

Al Faw Palace Saddam's Residence Baghdad, Iraq

Inside the Palace
The guy had taste beautiful chandelier

The military may not be what it once was but one thing that has not changed over the course of more than a quarter century is my love for aviation and my desire to fly the friendly skies.  From the time I was a very little boy I was fascinated by anything that moved, but especially planes.  My mother took notice of that interest and she purchased me a series of books called "Aircraft of the World" that featured a handout of all different types of planes, followed by a brand new computer and Microsoft Flight Simulator 98.  My mind was made up, I wanted to fly.  So why not the Air Force?  Honestly it was impatience on my part.  The Air Force had a waiting list at the time I was trying to enlist and I just wanted to get away from home.

Years later I still have the book thanks Mom!

737-200 Handout

I'll admit back then this section was as popular as the fighter jets!

Near the end of my first enlistment I was all set to get out of the Army and head to Sanford, Florida for what was then the "Delta Connection Academy", but I let the naysayers get to me and I extended my contract and the questions of what if began and are still present at times to this day.  But now the time has arrived, and I am about to embark on the journey of becoming a Professional Airline Pilot without looking back.  It's only fitting that my time served in the Army allows my flight training to be possible through the use of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill.

Cockpit of NWA 747-200 on the way to Kuwait in 2009

I will chronicle my journey to the world of Professional Aviation and hopefully pick up some readers in the process.  I was encouraged by a good friend who just so happens to be an Airline Captain to give this blog thing a try, so I headed his advice.  At this time I'd like to ask all readers to be seated, secure your seat belts, and enjoy the ride.