• Guy Lieser

In 1967, the Apollo space program suffered a catastrophic launchpad fire at Cape Canaveral. All three astronauts onboard were killed. Three days later, Gene Kranz, Chief Flight Director, gave a short, yet profound speech to his devastated team at mission control. It later became known as the "Kranz Dictum". I used his speech as the centerpiece for a presentation I gave at the Chicago Aviation Expo on Saturday, January 25th, 2020.

“Space flight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung-ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work.

Gene Kranz - NASA's Chief Flight Director

Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight test procedures were changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, ‘damn it, stop!’ I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when our hearts knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting the Cape would slip before we did.

From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: Tough and Competent. Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control, we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission control will be perfect.

When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

The mission control workforce was young - average age of 28 years old. Everyone was under extreme pressure. Their work had become sloppy. As a result, astronauts perished. Kranz took full responsibility for his team and vowed to transition the hurried engineering culture at NASA into a well-oiled machine. His efforts were successful. NASA's transformed safety culture proved itself up years later when the Apollo 13 astronauts came back alive.

Our community of aviators grows younger each day. More than ever before, we need to incorporate NASA's “Tough and Competent” philosophy into our aviation pursuits. Tough in our training - without compromise; Competent in our skill, knowledge, and decision making - taking nothing for granted. Write it on your blackboard and strive to fly the perfect flight!

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  • Guy Lieser

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

\ ˈflīt \ˈma-st(ə-)rē \ - A comprehensive knowledge or skill in aviation or matters related to flying.

This is my first ever attempt at blogging. I’m a “zero timer” so bear with me as I attempt to navigate this - much like a cross-country student using his first E6B. What’s my motivation you ask? Dumping 35+ years of aviation experience out of my head and onto paper so that I can make room for more! Yes it’s time to clear the cache.

For those who are younger to the world of flying - and in particular, instrument flying - you have an advantage in that you’re already accustomed to the fast pace of today's technology. For those of us who’ve been at this a while, the fluidity of things today is amazing, complex, and often times confounding. Thankfully one thing remains the same in that pilots want to improve their craft and live to fly another day.

I’ve named this blog “Flight Mastery” because as aviators we all are after the same thing. Young or old, novice or veteran, we all want to be better pilots! Mastery, as defined by Webster, is a “comprehensive knowledge in a subject or accomplishment”. And learning to fly, regardless of the rating on your FAA plastic, is a significant accomplishment. It’s a privilege shared by a rare few humans on this planet so we all need to do everything within our means to protect it. Constant learning and re-learning is a necessary component.

As for me, I started flying before I knew how to drive. I became an air traffic controller in 1981 and retired from that profession in at the end of 2013. I earned my CFI in 1984 and haven't stopped learning since. Having spent most of my professional life on both sides of the microphone has given me a unique perspective on our world of aviation - instrument flying in particular. Perhaps I can help "crack the code" on some things that matter to you.

Over the decades, I’ve witnessed amazing things as a controller at Chicago Center. I've enjoyed working with some of the most talented people on the planet. Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed my share of nonsense. But at the end of the day, the NAS (National Airspace System) is an incredible place for both pilots and controllers to practice their craft. Through this blog my hope is to enhance the reader’s understanding of how the whole system works together. A good first step toward this understanding is to recognize that pilots and controllers have different motivations for getting through their respective work days! We will explore this concept further in my next segment.

What a perfect place to end my first "official" blog. Remember - the goal is to increase your knowledge, improve your skills, and help you fly more safely. Your feedback will be critical as we explore the NAS together so don’t hold back. Until then, live your life well flown! GL

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