By lex, on February 7th, 2010
Last month, after much experimentation with hand-crafted Excel workbooks and casting about for freeware options, I somewhat resentfully purchased an electronic log book, in an admittedly Quixotic attempt to make some sense of my past life and combine its DNA with that of my recent endeavors. There are inconsistencies between the way that the Navy tracks flight experience and that of the general aviation world that require some creative thinking: Navy doesn’t track “Dual Received” or “Dual Given,” cross-country flights receive no special column of their own flying fast jets, instrument approaches are divided into precision and non-precision categories, further subdivided in to actual or simulated, and daylight hours are inferred from an absence of night time rather than explicitly called out.
On the other hand, civilian log books are wholly innocent of NVG hours and combat time, mission types (air-to-air or air-to-ground?) catapult launches and arrested landings, day or night.
It’s been a bit of a bother, especially with around 4500 hours of flight time to document in 26 different types of aircraft, single and multi-engine, reciprocating, turbine and unpowered, conventional and tricycle landing gear. When I would sit down at night to plunk away at it, two or three months at a time, I often found myself wondering what the hell it was that I was doing. After all, it required a steady application of non-trivial effort, and no one but myself would ever know or care precisely how many hours I had flown in the F-16N (299, as it turns out) or that horrible old Champ (a mere 1.9, before the spinner stopped and I walked out of her life forever), what my best year was (1992, 330 hours filled flying .8s and .9s at six to nine g’s – sometimes more).
But I wanted to know, not least because I became aware of certain inaccuracies carried forward over a number of years, the rectification of which would have required heroic quantities of white out and more calculator math than I cared to personally perform. So now my civilian log book is quite complete, and my military logs are entered up until half-way through 1996, leaving me around five more years to account for. And it’s curious, but the closer I come to wrapping it up – even with much tedious work behind me – the more reticent I come to actually finish.
But along the way I couldn’t help but notice some maturation in my bookkeeping skills. Early on for example, I would find that I had logged instrument approaches without any instrument flight time, or night flights curiously lacking night landings. In time these inconsistencies faded away.
Then there was landing pattern work. Getting aboard the carrier on one’s first attempt, day or night, is the hallmark of a professional carrier aviator, but early in my first tour flying FA-18s in the fleet I was exquisitely aware of certain deficiencies in my landing grade performance. My flight logs dutifully reflect that nearly every shore based flight terminated in several landings at the home field. Rather than coming home from a tactical mission and landing, I had evidently saved a thousand or so pounds of gas that could have been spent doing “fun stuff” grinding it out in the landing pattern, trying to perfect my skills. Having in time become an accomplished carrier aviator, I had largely forgotten the grim and self-imposed requirements of my apprenticeship.
It was a habit that paid important dividends, and it became so ingrained that I took it to my first shore duty rotation in Key West, Florida, at least for my first few months. Until I realized that I wasn’t going to be landing aboard ship any time soon, and certainly not doing so in an A-4E. Who knows, it might have helped on one dreadful day when I had to put the Scooter down on a 4300 foot strip with no arresting gear at either end.
Coming back to Lemoore to refresh in the FA-18, I noted that “Aircraft Commander” hours once again started showing up in their associated column, something I had not much seen since my days as a training command instructor. It was a distinction mostly without a difference in a single-seat fighter and probably had something to do with a contemplated career change to the airlines. I kept it up for a few months into my department head tour, where it faded suddenly and unceremoniously from use.
These numbers standing there in their rows don’t tell you much. They don’t tell you how it feels to be wrapped up in a 1v1 BFM ride, experience a “night in the barrel” or tell you about the things that go through one’s head from the IP to the target. But they do mean something, at least to me. More so as I come towards the end.
Damned if I know what, though.