Photo: Ivan, from the cabin of his Global Express.

Eddie Sez:

I get a lot of email from around the world and do appreciate them all. Some readers are kind enough to volunteer their stories and photos. I especially enjoy those that provide flight lessons of their own and quite often a slice of the aviation world that is different than mine. What follows is a story from Ivan Luciani, who spent much of his career flying Learjets and Challengers in parts of Asia that are foreign to me. The photos themselves make a fascinating travel log. The stories bring life to them.

He tells his story in a compelling biography available at Amazon.com.

More stories from the In-Box: Eddie's In-Box.

Though originally from South America, Ivan's aviation career began in Colorado . . .


Ivan Luciani from Venezuela, Colorado, Hong Kong, and all over the world

My passion for aviation started at an early age. I must have been 8 or 9 years old when my father took us to an airshow in the late 1960s at the Miranda Air Base in Caracas, Venezuela. There were a number of military aircraft on static display which we could see up close but the real treat was watching several demonstration teams performing low passes and acrobatics. One of these teams was the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds who were, at the time, flying the twin-engine McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom. There were four F-4s performing acrobatic maneuvers in incredibly close formation. The number five aircraft was called the “Solo” because it performed most maneuvers by itself. From what I remember the pilot at the controls of this aircraft was someone whose call sign was “Crazy,” and he certainly lived up to that nickname. The one maneuver he performed, and which I vividly remember, was when he flew his aircraft upside down at just a few feet above the runway. As he approached the end of the runway he pitched up, still upside down, as he lit up the afterburners, rapidly gaining altitude and eventually disappearing from sight. The sound was deafening and flames were coming out of the engines’ exhausts. Little did my father suspect that what I had seen would one day define my life. I knew right then and there that I wanted to become an aviator and fly jets.

Beginnings

Photo: Ivan and his wife to be, Cessna 172, Jefferson County Airport, 1982.

One of the challenges that every young aviator faces is logging flying hours at the beginning of their career. You are stuck in what seems like an impossible “Catch-22” situation. You don’t have sufficient flight hours to be offered a job and you can’t accumulate sufficient flight hours because you don’t have a job. By the time you complete your flight training your logbook shows a total of about 250 flight hours. Unfortunately most companies won’t consider you for a job unless you have at least 1,000 flight hours. That is why we consider reaching the first 1,000 hours to be one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. Granted – with a total of 250 flight hours you are just learning to crawl. It takes quite a bit more flying experience to learn how to walk and even more to learn how to run. Obtaining your Commercial Pilot certificate with Instrument, Single and Multi-Engine ratings is simply a license to learn. You still have a long, long way to go.

Diplomacy

Photo: Ivan en route to Larnaca

On the way from Dubai to Larnaca . . .

One hour prior to landing I used the satellite phone to call the ground handling agent with the intention of advising our estimated time of arrival (ETA) and to request potable water and lavatory services. I quickly realized that something wasn’t right when I detected some reluctance in her voice. At last she said, “Your landing permit has been revoked.” A shiver went up my spine as I asked why. She said something to the effect that the landing authorization had just been revoked because we were a “Chinese aircraft and they are concerned with SARS.” A million things were going through my head as I quickly evaluated options, none of which seemed good. So I said, “We are not a Chinese aircraft. We are a Macao-registered aircraft coming from Australia via the Maldives and Dubai, and we intend to land in Larnaca.” She seemed to hesitate and nervously said, “I don’t know if they will let you land, but I will convey your message.”

In the end they were allowed to land and refuel, but not allowed to stay. As a corporate pilot you are often halfway around the world with very little support and must rely on your wits to survive.

Vertigo

Photo: Ivan's view of the Maldives (VRMM) from a CL-605

On a moonless night . . .

Descending through 5,000 feet I turned my attention away from the flight instruments to look out the window hoping to see the lights of the town or airport. What happened next was the weirdest and scariest feeling imaginable, vertigo. I had learned about vertigo years earlier, but I had never experienced it. With no horizon visible, nor any other visual cues, I immediately felt completely disoriented. I did not really know whether I was right side up, upside down or turning in a steep bank, although I felt as if it was the latter. Vertigo, also referred to as Spatial Disorientation, is simply a mismatch between the pilot’s perception of direction and the reality. With the lack of a visual reference, such as the natural horizon, my correct sense of up or down was lost. I quickly glanced back down at the flight instruments and repeatedly reminded myself to trust them, even though my senses made me feel as if I was turning with a 60 degree bank angle. In other words, what I felt and what my flight instruments indicated contradicted each other, and I had to fight the urge to believe my senses. Instead I had to trust, and follow, my flight instruments.

More about vertigo: Abnormal Procedures & Techniques / Spatial Disorientation.

Photo: Russian fuel truck at Yuzhno.

Photo: Kamchatka Peninsula.

Top of Descent

Photo: Ivan's Global Express.

With typical grace and style, Ivan writes about his Top of Descent . . .

As of this writing I still have eleven years remaining in my professional pilot career until I retire at 65 years old. Provided that I remain medically fit and physically able to perform my job I fully intend, and expect, to continue flying until I turn 65. Not a day later but certainly not a day earlier as I still have a lot to learn, and do. In conjunction with flying I wish to continue sharing my experience with newer generations of aviators.