Tag Archives: Charles A. Lindbergh

Leadership perspectives from a TOPGUN pilot

A few days ago, I attended a conference by an executive from Airbus recently founded subsidiary . The talk was on Leadership Perspectives, from his experience in government (as a White House military aide for two US presidents), as an aviator in the US Marines, within the aerospace industry, etc. The resume of David Kalinske is impressive, take a look at his profile here.

The conference in itself was rather classic and straightforward; going from a discussion on the definition of leadership to its main traits (no charisma, extrovert or outspoken type of person among them, by the way), principles of a good leader, a few key lessons learnt, some best experiences and recommendations, with a questions and answers session at the end of it. Plenty of common sense.

nfws_tgThere were, however, two sections from this speech that I found especially interesting and unique, which were the ones based on his takeaways from having served as a military tactical pilot (graduated in the TOPGUN school) and as an aide to presidents G. W. Bush and B. Obama. I will share below some of those takeaways with a few comments from my side.

Lessons learned from tactical aviation:

  • “You are only as good as your last flight”. Which in the business world may be translated as “as good as your last closed sale”, “your last analysis”, “test performed”, “meeting effectively managed”, etc. You need to be constantly aiming for the best performance.
  • “It takes a good wingman to be a good flight lead”. This one highlights the importance of team work, of developing the skills of the team members, empowering the team so they can take good decisions, delegate.
  • “Debrief, debrief, debrief” (1). Continuous effective communication and the importance of feedback loops cannot be overstated. Here I want to comment on the resource of the public speaking organization Toastmasters, which is heavily built around giving and receiving continuous feedback. It really helps oneself to get into that attitude.
  • “Be your own worst critic”. Don’t wait till someone has to point to you your own flaws and errors, be self-critical to improve yourself. In relation to this point, Chuck Yeager mentioned in his autobiography“Arrogance got more pilots in trouble than faulty equipment”. Moreover, Charles A. Lindbergh recalled in his autobiography the following piece of advice from his instructor in the Army (Master Sergeant Winston) “I just want you to remember this: in aviation, it may be all right to fool the other fellow about how good you are – if you can. But don’t try to fool yourself”.
  • “Plan from the target, outward”. Take this one as linked to setting smart objectives, realistic plans.
  • “Always be flexible. Your plan will never withstands first contact”. This relates to risk mitigation, the having a plan B, working on “what if” scenarios, etc. There is a similar line from former boxer Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth”.
  • “Make complicated missions understood by all”. The one person that has not understood the mission may become the weakest link on the chain. David mentioned that one striking difference between working in private companies or the military is the widespread knowledge of the organization’s mission, main objectives and how an individual may contribute to them in the latter.
  • “There are no points for 2nd place”. Sometimes there is no place for mistakes. The drive for excellence. Contracts are awarded only to the best offer.
  • “Bearing & discipline. Never appear rattled in the toughest circumstances”. Once there is a plan, the execution of that plan is key. The team, the leader cannot be constantly questioning the plan. My flight instructor used to say: “dans l’air, le cap c’est la vie”, once you have worked out your navigation plan, you need to rigorously stick to it. Charles A. Lindbergh described in his biography how the uncertainty of his flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 made him wonder that, depending on the prevailing winds combined with his precision while flying, the land he would spot first could range from Norway to the gulf of Biscay in Spain. He spotted the Irish coast, right on the middle of his intended track.
  • “Face your fears”. David gave as an example public speaking; for that one I would recommend again Toastmasters. In a  more general context he referred to acquiring new skills, being adaptive to change, to getting out of your comfort zone. Chuck Yeager said “I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment”.
  • “Nothing is accomplished without a team effort”.

Lessons learned from the White House:

  • You cannot please everybody. In the case of the president, there will always be 150 million people loving you and 150 million people hating you. You cannot take decisions trying to please everybody.
  • Do what you think it’s right based on your principles.
  • Hire the best, learn from them. Surround yourself with the best. As a motivational speaker put it “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”.
  • Be optimistic. 
  • Be an expert at dealing with bad news. And don’t let yourself be driven by them.

Conclusion.

The main takeaways, that I personally got from this conference, based on his general presentation and particularly on his experience as a pilot and in the White House, are: effective team work (including trust, empowerment, delegation), continuous candid and constructive feedback and keeping an optimistic attitude (including the reaching out of new experiences, getting yourself out of your comfort zone).

(1) David mentioned that even for dogfight flights that would not last more than 45 minutes they would have a post-flight debrief of up to 8 hours. This impressed me. I write myself a post flight report after every VFR flight, but my report may be about 1 DIN A4 length.

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My 2015 reading list

In this post I wanted to share the list of books I read along the year (1) with a small comment for each one (2), links to Wikipedia articles about the book (if available) and to the authors (in case you want to read about them). I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading:

  1. DSC_0342Profiles in Courage (by John F. Kennedy) (++): written by then senator Kennedy when he was convalescent from a back surgery in the 1950s, this book analyzes the context, figures and controvert decisions made by 8 different US senators mainly from the XIX century (from John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster… to Robert A. Taft), decisions that were not popular at the time in their constituencies but the politicians understood were needed to be taken and demanded courage to do so. For this book Kennedy obtained a Pulitzer prize in 1957. From the analysis, Kennedy extracts some lessons in the last chapter that are well encapsulated in the following dilemma: “[…] the loyalties of every Senator are distributed among his party, his state and section, his country and his conscience. On party issues his party loyalties are normally controlling. In regional disputes, his regional responsibilities will likely guide his course. It is on national issues, on matters of conscience which challenge party and regional loyalties, that the test of courage is presented.” 
  2. “El arte de ser padres” (by Fitzhugh Dodson) (++): a loan from my parents to help us in the quest of upbringing our daughter, the book, written in the late 1970s, did help in removing weight from some situations when the child was at the turn of being 2 years old. Among other things, it teaches you to get more relaxed, laid-back, not to enter into conflict trying to impose things, etc. It was also interesting to see how society and some social conventions have changed from the 1970s to today (e.g. drinking and smoking during pregnancy).
  3. TheSpiritOfStLouisThe Spirit of Saint Louis (by Charles A. Lindbergh) (++): this autobiographic book describes one of the great adventures of the XX century, the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic ocean in May 1927. For this book Lindbergh received a Pulitzer prize in 1954. The beginning of the book covers the days of Lindbergh working for the postal service of Robertson Aircraft Corporation and how he gets engaged into the race of who would be the first pilot(s) to cross the ocean. He later describes the conception, development and testing of the Ryan aircraft he flew for the feat. He finally gives a detailed account of the 33h30′ flight; hour by hour, alone, squeezed in his seat, with scarce food and water supplies, cold, flying day (within the clouds at times) and night, thrilling and semi-unconscious (asleep) at times, until he lands in Le Bourget. I wrote a post review the book, find it here.
  4. El General en su Laberinto (by Gabriel García Márquez) (+): this book is a novel trying to figure out how the last days of the Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar were. The characters, trips, locations, etc., are real. The dialogues, thoughts, feelings, are the work of Garcia Marquez. As always with Garcia Marquez, there are very vivid dialogues and reflections in the book by way of its characters, however this wasn’t the book I liked the most from him. On the hand, to get a better feeling and description of the last days of a person I very much preferred for the uneasiness it puts you as a reader The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy.
  5. Pensar con Arte (by Manuel Conthe) (++): this book shows how our minds work in their way of thinking with their biases and the situations that may arise. The concepts covered are similar to other books that I have read in the past (Thinking Fast and Slow, Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger or Poor Charlie’s Almanack), the originality here comes from the parallels and connections that the author brings and offers with the arts (literature, paint, cinema, music…), showing examples from different art craft.
  6. España 3.0: Necesitamos resetear el pais (by Javier Santiso) (+++): this book is call for action, for change, for resetting Spain into a country which bases its economy and growth on innovation, education and technology. It starts by offering a rather harsh and in my opinion good diagnostic of many of the ailments of the country. Then shows how several things do work in the country and how in previous occasions the country has raised up to similar challenges and it can and has to do so again. The sooner the better.
  7. The Diary of a young Girl (by Anne Frank) (++): the diary of a 13-year-old girl when she starts writing it and 15-year-old when it finishes, Anne Frank describes how she, her family and some others live day by day in hiding from the Nazis. Throughout the book there are many comments, appreciations, worries, misunderstandings, etc., very typical of that age. Despite of that, at some points of the book Anne provides a great example of resilience, attitude and hope: e.g. at times she reflects that all in all she cannot complain, she doesn’t lose time and imposes onto herself a rigorous studying and reading time schedules, etc. In that extent, her attitude and the diary reminded me of another book I have often seen recommended that I must read, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, a jew imprisoned at a concentration camp.
  8. LeeLee (by Douglas Southall Freeman abridged version by Richard Harwell) (++): this is the biography of Rober E. Lee the general of the Army of Northern Virginia on the Confederate side during the US civil war. The book covers from the origins of the family, the birth and early education of Lee, his days at West Point where he specialized as an US army engineer, and how as the different states start seceding and viewing that his allegiance shall remain to Virginia he resigns from the US army. The book then describes the different battles, the style of Lee during the war and the surrender at Appomattox. Then it covers his final years as president of the Washington college in Lexington. For the extended version of this biography, Douglas Southall Freeman received a Pulitzer prize in 1935.
  9. commonstocksCommon stocks and uncommon profits and Other Writings (by Philip A. Fisher) (++): a classic book about investing strongly recommended by many, among others Warren Buffett. The first edition was written in 1950s, the edition I read dates from the 1970s and includes some reflections of what he wrote in the first one. The main contribution of the book is what the author calls the scuttlebutt (rumor, gossip) technique, that is the thorough research ground work an
    investor must make before investing in any stock by way of talking to sales men of competitor companies, customers, experts on the field, academics, management of the company, etc., and which he summarizes in 15 points. A quick takeaway from the book is that, if you lack the time to thoroughly proceed with the scuttlebutt, it might be better to leave for others, who have, the task of picking your stocks. The Other Writings included in the book relate to what is and how it was developed his investment philosophy and on whether the markets are efficient.
  10. The gospel of wealth and other timely essays (by Andrew Carnegie) (++): In the main essay of the book (The Gospel of Wealth), Carnegie, discusses the moral obligation of the wealthy to redistribute their wealth in life back to the society. He positions himself against charity and offers several options that would have a great impact in lifting those among the poor willing to work in their own progress: funding of educational institutions, hospitals, libraries, parks, monuments, etc. Other essays relate to whether the United States (the Republic) should or not follow the path of Britain in having colonies and dependencies (in relation to the Philippines), a speech explaining the arrangements of the American constitution, critiques on proposals for free trade agreements between Britain and its colonies, etc. A good review of business and politics at the end of the XIX century.
  11. Vol de nuit (“Night Flight”, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) (++):  in Saint-Exupéry’s second novel he describes the operations of an air mail business based in Buenos Aires and with aircraft incoming from different locations in South America. The book describes the difficulties of night flight at the time and of developing this new type of service. One particular flight under cyclonic conditions will put into question the whole operation and the different characters, the pilot, her wife, the line operations’ chief, radio operators, etc.

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list, 2013 (embedded in my summary of 2013) and 2014 ones.

(2) In this 2015 I have not written many dedicated posts about the books I have read (just one about the The Spirit of St. Louis), but I do not discard making a review of some of them in the future.

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The Spirit of St. Louis (book review)

TheSpiritOfStLouisCharles A. Lindbergh is without a doubt one of the aviation (1) figures and legends of the XX century, being the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic ocean in May 1927, managing to win the Orteig Prize. Lindbergh wrote “The Spirit of St. Louis” in 1953, as an autobiography because he was not comfortable with the previous books written about the flight, especially “WE”, as it did not cover with enough exactitude the experience. For this book Lindbergh was awarded the Pulitzer prize on 1954 in the category biography.

I bought this book at the US Air Force museum in Dayton a place that without a doubt stimulates the passion for aviation and I read it in the months while I was completing the last stages of my training as a private pilot, which also contributed to the setting of the stage for the reading.

The beginning of the book covers the days of Lindbergh working for the postal service of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, the flights along the USA from Saint Louis to Chicago, the incidents due to the weather or the fall of the night, the landings on fields at night with the help of cars’ lights, etc.

As an aviation enthusiast, Lindbergh gets interested in and then engaged into the race of who would be the first pilot(s) to cross the ocean. A crowded race at the time in which many of the great aviation aces were involved, including names like René Fonck or Charles Nungesser (two of the three top French WWI aces (2)).

He later describes the conception, development and testing of the aircraft by the Ryan Aircraft Company in San Diego, the purpose-built airplane he flew for the feat and how they managed to get a Whirlwind engine from the Wright company.

The author finally describes the days in New York before the departure, where up to 3 teams were getting ready to depart and how in the morning of the 20th May, having received positive weather reports from boats in the Atlantic, he takes off. The flight lasted 33h30′ which he describes hour by hour: how he is feeling at each moment, alone, squeezed in his seat, with scarce food and water supplies, cold, flying day (within the clouds at times) and night, thrilling at times and semi-unconscious (sleep), and how his mind is drifting. Until he sees land in Ireland, finds the route to Paris and lands in Le Bourget.

What I liked the most of the book were the description of the flying experiences as a postal service pilot and the development phase of the aircraft. Those are very interesting pages, full of concepts and anecdotes.

It took me months to complete the reading of the book. Why? I was stuck and I advanced very slowly in different parts of the narrative of the 33-hour-long flight. I would say that Lindbergh did that in purpose: writing hour by hour, a few pages per hour, describing what was going on, how his mind got distracted, how he began to remember memories from years back, how he suddenly found once and again that he had lost the bearing and needed to correct it, how he cursed himself for the lack of attention or being on the verge of falling sleep… I felt caught many nights in the same sleepy, somnolent mood. Unable to read more than one or two pages before falling asleep. If that was really the purpose of Lindbergh I cannot know, but, if it was, he was very skillful in conveying the length of those hours and the risk he went through. However, it goes against the readability of the book itself!

Some quick personal reflections I took from the book:

  • Observation. While crossing the ocean, he didn’t have any support information as to the direction or speed of the wind, therefore he descended to see close enough the waves and try to estimate them himself.
  • Bearing. My flying instructor used to say “in the air, the bearing is the life“. When he is flying over the ocean he finds himself sometimes having to correct up to 10 degrees. On top, due to lack of intermediate points of reference and that he is not sure about the speed and direction of the wind, hours before seeing the land in Ireland he finds himself estimating that he may either see the land in Norway or the gulf of Biscay in Spain.
  • Changing position within seat. In order to prevent falling asleep, at some times he goes systematically changing position within the seat: stretching a leg, then the other, grabbing the commands with a hand, then the other. This is something that we can do also while piloting or driving a car (though preferably mixing it with frequent stops!)

As I always do, I marked several pages and underlined different passages that trigger different thoughts. See some of them below:

“I have divided my reserves for the flight in two categories: reserves for success and reserves for failure.”

“[…] I don’t wish my competitors hard luck. Crashed planes and flyers in hospitals impair all of aviation, and destroy the joy of flight.

Landing on one wheel and a wing tip with a highly loaded plane isn’t very dangerous when a pilot is well acquainted with his craft. […] it has been done many times. The newspapers always make it seem a good deal worse than it really is.”

“On our mail route, the pilots expect forced landings. We don’t average a hundred hours between them.”

“Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved.”

“A pilot has the right to choose his battlefield – that is the strategy of the flight. But once the battlefield is attained, conflict should be welcomed, not avoided. If a pilot fears to test his skills with the elements, he has chosen the wrong profession.”

I wish I could take an aeronautical engineering course. […] I could work hard to understand the magic in the contours of a wing.”

Now pretty soon you fellows are going to think you’re pretty good. It happens to every pilot. Usually starts when he’s had about 25 or 30 hours solo. I just want you to remember this: in aviation, it may be all right to fool the other fellow about how good you are – if you can. But don’t try to fool yourself.” (advice from his instructor in the Army, Master Sergeant Winston)

“No matter how much training you’ve had, your first solo is far different from all other flights. You are completely independent, hopelessly beyond help, entirely responsible, and terribly alone in space.”

“One old Negro woman came up to me with serious face and asked, ‘Boss, how much you all charge fo’ to take me up to Heaven an’ leave me dah?‘ “

The book includes several very interesting appendices about the flights of the aircraft, technical data and maps, prizes collected…

After completing the flight, Lindbergh made some tours around the world until the airplane was finally retired after 174 flights and 489 hours of flying. Today it can be visited at the National Air and Space Museum in DC.

If you like aviation, I do recommend you the reading of the book.

(1) I would say that the size of his fame, legend and iconic figure is not restricted to the aviation world.

(2) The third of the trio, Guynemer, died in the war.

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