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Flying is Slower than Driving

Michael with Blue Plane

In early December I had an opportunity spend the day with Chris Palmer from Homer, AK. We had met at the Redbird Migration in November and I invited him to fly with me when he was in California visiting with family. We had one of those special days flying and hanging out at the airport that will remain with me for a long time. Read what he wrote on his blog about our time together.

Flying is Slower Than Driving

Dancing among the bumpy air, aviators pierce the blue yonder not in hopes of arriving faster. Instead we air warriors embody the aviation experience as a whole. Soaking in every moment ensures the ultimate journey.

The typical flight consists of many nuts and bolts, both literally and figuratively, to ensure eventual success and safety. As my time as an aviator has unfolded over the years, the technical details are easier to manage. Many have become second nature. This opens up the door for a richer experience of simply enjoying the journey that is “aviation”.

You see, aviation is a fraternity- a brotherhood of sorts. To a deeper extent, sharing this passion for the freedom of flying aircraft is one that borders the spiritual realm. Man was obviously meant to walk the earth, yet I also contest it was our destiny as humanity to break the bonds of soil and shoe. Read the whole story here.

A winged amphibian, a dream come true and a reminder that learning is best when fun

Pro Mark

Sunday afternoon. The sun is shining and we passed our checkride.

My passion for flying began when I was eight years old and has been the catalyst for some of the most memorable events in my life.

The most recent adventure involved a trip to Burnet, Texas to add floatplane pilot to my pilot certificate. I was joined by my close friend David Casarez who I had the privilege to teach to fly. We were in Burnet because my good friend and Master Instructor Ken Wittekiend and his team teaches pilots to operate airplanes on the water at ProMark Aviation based at Burnet Municipal airport.

Trace and the ring

Trace and the ring

Little did we know that when we arrived in Austin, on Wednesday May 20th, that we would have a front row seat to watch the power and viciousness of Mother Nature. During the next four days we would find ourselves looking for breaks in the weather so that we could fly to one of the several lakes in the Texas Hill Country that ProMark uses as training venues for their floatplane training program. Before we arrived in Burnet it was clear that weather was going to be a challenge and I shared this concern with Ken. His reply was simple “we can do it”. I had lived in Texas for ten years and was very familiar with how fickle and powerful the weather can be. Needless to say,  I was hopeful but more than willing to return another day to complete the training. Nonetheless, Ken never wavered and was convinced that we would complete the training and always finished his comments with a smile and the mantra “that we will have fun doing it”. He was absolutely right on all counts. As we sat down for dinner on Sunday night we were floatplane pilots and we had a blast doing it. In addition to the tangible outcome of a Pilot Certificate that states Airplane Single Engine Sea there were other events that occurred during the training that proved, once again, that the journey is as good or better than the destination.

Scuba Diving at Lake LBJ. Trace went above and beyond and below all expectations!

Scuba Diving at Lake LBJ. Trace went above and beyond and below all expectations!

The first event occurred during my first training flight and will forever bind me to my instructor Trace Clinton. During a docking exercise, as I was exiting the cockpit, a very special ring that I had removed because it was in the way when operating the throttle fell out of my pocket and into Lake LBJ. It was disappointing but not the end of the world. Trace was having none of this and insisted on trying to find it. He began stripping down to his skivvies as a boat full of people floated by and wanted to talk about the airplane. We were laughing and joking and then into the water he goes. The depth was only up to his neck and I thought maybe there is a chance to retrieve the ring. Down he goes but realizes he needs to stay down longer. The airplane has an emergency breathing device that can be used should the airplane flip upside down in the water. He grabs it and down he goes again, this time returning with a smile and the ring. It was an “unfathomable” (pun intended) outcome and an incredible act of kindness and commitment to others that Trace shared with me that day. I called Ken from the dock and shared the story with him and told him that clearly ProMark will go to any height or depth to insure that their clients have an unforgettable and fun experience.

The second event was realizing that it had been a long time since I was learning something new in aviation and that I was a “student” again.  With this thought I immediately realized what the people who fly with me feel like and that

I need to be even more patient and kind as a coach and teacher. I shared this with Ken as we flew back to the airport after my checkride; a thought he understood and encouraged.

Thank you Ken, Trace and Jeff for guiding us through the learning, making it fun and an adventure that will live on for years to come

“Where there is a will there is a way”

Zack Fort Erwin

Zach at Fort Irwin during his interview for the Army Aviation Warrant Officer Program

I created this blog to share stories of the people that I meet and  share my passion for learning and flying. This story is about Zachary Ramzi.

Zach arrived at one of the airports, where I provide flight instruction, about three years ago and since then I have had the opportunity to observe and guide him as he went through the process of obtaining his Private Pilot Certificate and later as his Flight Instructor for the Instrument Rating.

Throughout this time, it has been my privilege and honor to become both a coach and mentor for Zach as he has pursued his passion for flight. Not only is he a very good pilot both technically and mentally he is a terrific young man. As a full-time Aviation Educator I see many young pilots in the course of a year and to say that Zach is different would be an understatement. Zach is the middle son of a single mother raising three boys. His father passed away when he was three years old and his mom has been his biggest supporter. Since he began flying he has earned the money necessary to learn to fly by working at a golf course and networking with pilots to perform odd jobs, wash airplanes, sweep hangers, whatever it takes. This commitment made it possible for him to earn additional endorsements for flying complex, high performance and tailwheel aircraft. He also has an interest in maintaining airplanes and has worked closely with an A&P as an assistant building the required hours towards an A&P Certificate.  His motivation is impressive and watching him mature, as a pilot and a young man, through his own hard work,  the guidance of others and sheer determination has been a real treat.

Around his Senior year in high school Zach decided to pursue an opportunity in the Army Warrant Officer Flight Training Program. This program is designed to be very rigorous and stressful and has a structured and multi-layered  selection process. Throughout each phase of his preparation he was guided by his Army recruiter to meet or exceed all of the physical and leadership requirements that are required of this program. This required that he lose over fifty pounds, demonstrate a higher level of motivation in the classroom and to act as a mentor for other individuals that wanted to be considered for this program. In addition, scoring well on the various aptitude tests was important. He  met and exceeded all of these requirements and then the real work began. Meeting with the various individuals and boards tasked with identifying and selecting the men and women for this program. The thumbs up in the picture on the left, which was taken during his interview at Fort Irwin, turned out to be prophetic because on July 16 he was notified that he had been selected to enter the Program. To see his excitement and to know how hard he has worked to get to this point is why I love being a mentor, coach and teacher. His dream was to fly and he became a Private Pilot. He wanted to fly in the clouds and he earned his Instrument Rating. He wanted to be a helicopter pilot in the Army and he has achieved the first step in this process. I look forward to the day that I will travel to Fort Rucker, AL  and see him receive his wings because I know that he has the will and the desire to achieve whatever he puts his mind to.

Zuma Beach...will you go to the Prom with me?

Zuma Beach…will you go to the Prom with me?

An example as to why I have no doubt that he will earn his wings are demonstrated in the two images shown here. What girl can refuse a chance to go to Zuma Beach in an airplane? Further, what girl would refuse a Prom date proposal when asked like this? Zach and his best friend Marty cooked up a plan to write the Prom proposal in the sand, at Zuma Beach, because Zach had asked his hoped for date to go for a flight with him. It took Zach longer than expected to get to the shore and the waves kept rolling in and obscuring the message but his buddy Marty made sure that it was easily read from above when they arrived. Of course she said yes and the picture of them at the Reagan Library in front of Air Force One is the perfect acknowledgement of the saying “where there is a will there is a way.”

I will end this part of the story, because there will be more, in Zach’s  own words whenever we talked about commitment “damn straight’!

Of course I will go to the prom with you!

Of course I will go to the prom with you!

Determination, focus and commitment to excellence….well done!

When I first arrived at the Camarillo airport I met Joey Kirksee who was working as a “line guy” at the airport. I was immediately captivated by his energy, enthusiasm and joyful attitude. As I got to know him I discovered that he was on a mission to become a pilot in the Navy and so many of our visits focused on his goal and the progress he was making both on the ground and in the air as he was determined to be as prepared as possible as he worked his way down the path toward being selected for flight school by the Navy.

The dream started long before this day.

The dream started long before this day.

It was not an easy path and it did not happen overnight. He worked at the airport and continued with his studies towards his Bachelors degree. The goal was clear but as with most things in life there are always challenges and hurdles. Watching Joey navigate them all was just plain fun because none of it seemed to matter to him. He was on mission. I guess that I’m repeating myself but it was his focus and drive, to achieve his dream, that I want to share with anyone reading this post. Joey relocated to San Diego to finish his degree and continued working at Montgomery Field. I missed seeing him around CMA but he would check in from time to time and it was clear that he was getting closer and closer to his goal. When he got the news that he had been accepted into the Naval Aviator program I remember how excited he was and how determined he was to make the most of this opportunity. Now that he was in he became ever more focused and clear that there was much more work to do and he set about successfully completing each objective on his way to his ultimate goal; flying jets in the
June 30, 2014 first solo in the T-45C

June 30, 2014 first solo in the T-45C

Navy. We had lunch over the Christmas holiday and Joey shared  with me how much fun he was having and how nervous he was about the upcoming selection process because he wanted to fly jets. During our visit I asked him about his experience and what he did to make it to this point in his training. I was interested because I mentor young people with aviation aspirations and clearly the path that Joey took is not an easy one and I wanted to share his experience with others. He didn’t hesitate with his answer; “I networked as much as I could and spent as much time as I could learning from others so that I would be fully prepared.Yesterday I received a text message from Joey. “Hey Mike just got selected for tailhook! Time to go fly jets off the boat!” If this wasn’t cool enough he followed up with another text that read “I finished #1 in my class and got selected to be out on the Commodores
The dream continues to get better.

The dream continues to get better.

List.” I had to call him and tell him how proud of him I was and to keep up the good work.

The moral to this story is determination, focus and commitment to excellence pays off. Congratulations young man, we are lucky to have you serving our country. Semper Fi.

Postscript to Professor Emeritus to student pilot~classroom to cockpit

Michael made his first unsupervised solo yesterday and sent me the following note which I am sharing because it captures the essence of learning and realizing that the hard work is worth it.

“I had a terrific time this afternoon–felt like one of the big kids just sauntering in, being handed the book and the keys, doing my preflight, then jumping into the cockpit for a 1.3 hour flight.

I headed for the Ventura shore, skirting the Oxnard airspace and climbing to 3500, where I did some steep-bank turns, slow flight, then some power-off and power-on stalls. (A year ago stalls really freaked me out (to use the vernacular), so I’m delighted that I could do them and do them pretty well, without any apprehension.) Then I headed for Oxnard. I didn’t lose enough altitude before I entered the right downwind (confession), so I went around the first time, then did four landings and taxi-back take-offs. The wind was 180 6-7, so all the landings were crosswind but no sweat. I think I even got the nose more or less straight. Then back to SZP and a descent landing. I think most  of my radio work at Oxnard was fine; at least I didn’t hear about any omissions. You may detect a certain self-satisfaction in the above, but I’m sure you will forgive it.” Not only is it forgiven I applaud you for your success and look forward to our next flight together.

Professor Emeritus to student pilot~classroom to cockpit

Michael and Student Cessna

I created this blog to share stories about the people I meet and the opportunity that I have to share the adventure of learning to fly with them. The time that I have spent with Michael O’Connell is time that has been both challenging and rewarding. Michael is an accomplished  scholar with an interest in  Renaissance literature and medieval and Renaissance Drama and a passion for the sea. He is Professor Emeritus at UCSB. The following from the English Department website lauds that  Professor O’Connell’s work as an English scholar, instructor, and Education Abroad Program director has left a lasting impact on the department and campus. “Michael’s 30 years of service to the department and the university at large have demonstrated that his good cheer and friendly disposition extend well beyond the classroom. For his entire career, Michael has been a focused scholar, candid leader, and wonderful friend to his colleagues at UCSB – and will continue to be in his well-deserved retirement.” The “well-deserved retirement” gave Michael the opportunity to pursue an interest in flying which he developed while flying with a friend. Learning to fly in your sixties requires commitment, patience and a willingness to accept the fact that age is both a blessing and a curse. For reasons, outside of his control, Michael had a number of instructors and was introduced to me with a significant number of hours in his logbook. This is not a bad thing but having numerous voices and teaching styles rolling around in your can be confusing. Nonetheless, we started down the path to his first solo flight and what a path it was. The self-described “absent minded Professor” struggled with consistency and I would not have blamed him for saying “I have had enough”. He made it clear that if I felt that this was not for him that I say so. I am of the opinion that as long as a person never gives up, I will never give up on them and he was determined. Michael would make the one hour drive to Santa

Captain O'Connell sailing in EurpoePaula week after week and finally on January 23, 2012 he made his first solo at Santa Paula, followed by a solo at Oxnard. Momentous occasions, to be sure, but it was his flight on February 13 that proved to me that all his hard work had paid off and he truly earned the title of Pilot In Command. After three supervised solo flights we will endorse our pilot for unsupervised solo flight. After two solo flights Michael had lost some of his consistency and so we worked through the challenges. The day started with a weather system moving through early and we had a very clear but windy day for the scheduled flight. We had spoken on the phone before the flight and Michael had expressed concern about the winds and we decided to give it a go with the worst case being not soloing but having an opportunity to practice landings with strong winds. Strong winds was an understatement, at Oxnard and Camarillo where we planned to land, winds were 25 gusting to 36 pretty much down the runway but gusty and challenging for any pilot regardless of there skill level. He handled the challenge at a level that I never expected and I had decided that if the winds at Santa Paula were acceptable I would solo him. The winds were not as strong as at the other airports but nonetheless a challenge. After almost two hours of flying I asked Michael if he was up for his third solo and he said yes. Really? I said and he said yes with conviction. He had earned it and off he went for three solo landings. Each presented its’ own challenge but he handled each with a skill level that had come from his persistence and commitment to become a Pilot In Command.

Michael is one of the many reasons that I say “being a flight instructor is the best job in aviation”. I have left a lot out of this post but I would like to share the note that Michael gave to me along with a really good bottle of Scotch which we will share when he reaches the status of Private Pilot. The card had two tanks on it and he penned USMC on one and UC on the other.

“Tanks for blasting away at me from that right seat. Professors aren’t used to Marine platoon leaders-and I recognize that there really aren’t any ex-Marines-but you were exactly what was needed by this professor more used to libraries and
committee meetings. You were-and are-exactly what I needed in this complicated
process of learning to fly. More you’ve become a good friend”.

Solo Flight>>Step One

Solo Cessna

First Solo~The perfect way to celebrate the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk

Saturday December 17, 2011 started out as the second day of what we call “wind event” days as our tip of the hat to Santa Ana winds that blow here in Southern California. The plan was to have Evan Zalesak solo on this day but I had told him not to count on it as the wind may be a factor. He concurred but nonetheless his family had decided that they would come to the airport just in case something changed. As we began the winds were still too strong for a solo but good for a solo tune-up. We had performed a number of landings and as to be expected Evan was a bit nervous and I was nit-picking his performance to squeeze the best out of him. It was clear that Mother Nature had decided that today would be the day and the winds had calmed considerably.  As we were taxiing back to Runway 4  I asked him if he had any comments about his performance. He looked at me and said it was hard to concentrate because I was talking. I smiled to myself because this was the sign that he was ready to solo.  Needless to say, he performed well and after completing seven landings celebrated his accomplishment with his family.

The rest of this story has to do with Evan’s motivation to learn to fly. About a year ago he signed a contract with the Air National Guard unit based at Point Mugu with the goal of becoming a pilot in this unit. Having aviation experience is an important part of achieving his goal as is going through airman basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. It was important to complete his training through solo as he leaves for his training in January.

A hug for a job well done

Also, budgeting his resources for the training was very important as would be expected of a recent college graduate and new father. To accomplish this goal we started his training in a Redbird simulator in which he spent his first five hours before getting into the Cessna 152 for the balance of the training to solo. As his instructor it was very encouraging to see how well he performed during his first flight in the airplane and I’m sure that the simulator contributed to achieving his goal of soloing after only 15 hours in the airplane and saving money in the process. Congratulations Evan and thank you for sharing this part of your journey with me.

Simulator Training is Coming to Ventura and Santa BarbaraCounty

It has been my goal to open a simulator training center in the area of Ventura and Santa Barbara county and finally the goal is coming to fruition. Aviation Instruction will be offering simulator training for general aviation pilots from our center at the Camarillo Airport (CMA). We have ordered a Redbird SD simulator and will be offering training on standard gauges and the G1000 Avionics Suite beginning in early August.

You will be able to learn more at our website which will be up and running in the very near future. In the meantime we will post additional information on our blog. If you have questions or comments please let us know with a post.  We look forward to sharing this incredible training tool with you.

Persistence ~ Frustration ~ Determination ~ The Dream ~ The Odyssey

Calveras County Google Earth

The dream began in Calaveras County

We begin this story when David Casarez was carving a runway out of a hillside in Calaveras County. David was a young man and in the process of building his reputation and his experience as an excavation contractor. After he completed the work he was given an opportunity to do some flying and the spark and his love of flight was ignited and he made a promise to himself that he would one day land on the runway that he had created.

Fast forward to December 24th, 2004 when David was introduced to me by a mutual friend who felt that I would be a good fit for him as a flight instructor. Neither of us ever imagined that as a result of this meeting that we would share an experience that lasted six years and created a friendship that will last forever.

At the time I was living in Monterey County and teaching at the Monterey Peninsula Airport (MRY). When we finished I was living in Ventura County and an instructor on the staff of CP Aviation. This is important because David lives in the Carmel Valley of Monterey County which is a 4 ½ hour drive from the airport that he called his home airport until December 24th, 2010. What happened during this time is a testament to David’s passion, persistence and will to become a Private Pilot.

David is dyslexic. Not just a little dyslexic but hugely challenged by this learning disability. When we met David was 41 and had gone through the education system at a time when it really did not know how to deal with students that could not succeed in a system that was structured for the “normal” student. Nonetheless, and with some help when he reached high school, David did what most people do when they are faced with this gift; he persevered and learned how to navigate and cope in a “normally sighted world” on his terms. This he did very well and was able to enter a trade that suited his love of the outdoors and his ability to see and understand how to sculpt and excavate the earth and more. He also passed his contractors license for the state of California and is very well respected by his peers.

Tailwheel Endorsement and first solo in N224RA

We started his training in a Cessna 172 and about the time we were getting ready for cross country flying David decided that he wanted to own a tailwheel airplane and so he purchased a Citabria 7GCAA N224RA and put it on leaseback at a local flight school. As we moved forward with his training there was this underlying and unspoken personal struggle of having to pass the knowledge test as part of the process of getting his Private Pilot certificate. He knew how hard he would have to study to pass the test and it brought back all the unpleasant memories of his years as a student. He attended and passed the ground school offered by the local community college and soon thereafter he took the knowledge test and did not pass it because he could not complete the test in the allotted time. Also, during this time, I relocated to Ventura and I was confident that David would continue his training with another instructor. As it turned out he was frustrated by not doing well on the written test and so he threw himself into his business and along with life’s other distractions did not focus on his flying. Also during this time his airplane was damaged in an accident, at the flight school, and was declared a total wreck and shipped away to be reincarnated in Minnesota.

His dream did not die but there were many obstacles that he needed to address if he was to achieve his goal of becoming a Private Pilot. I mentioned earlier that David is an avid outdoorsman and as such had fallen in love with the American Champion Scout. (8GCBC) when he saw one at the airport. Several years later I mentioned to him that there was a Scout for sale at Santa Paula and David jumped at the chance of owning N249SF. It was during this transaction that I told David that he could not take the airplane to Monterey and that it would stay in Santa Paula (SZP) until he was a Private Pilot and that I promised that I would guide him to the realization of his dream. This was the spring of 2009 and David had demonstrated very good flying skills but we still had some work to do to get him comfortable in his new airplane and to complete the rest of the requirements for the Private Pilot certificate. One of the requirements was a dual cross country. I suggested that we fly the airplane to AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI to complete this part of his training. He jumped at the opportunity and off we went to the Grand-daddy of fly-ins. It was a magnificent trip, loaded with learning and a fantastic way to experience the vastness and beauty of the United States. Unfortunately, life and David’s anxiety about passing the knowledge test continued to be a significant obstacle to achieving the goal. But hour-by-hour and requirement-by-requirement we got closer and closer and then there was only one obstacle left to clear; the knowledge test.

AirVenture 2009~Photo courtesy of Dave Miller

We sat down, developed a plan and began the arduous process of getting him ready for the written test. I became a nag to the highest power and David tried to find time to study and run his business during these very challenging economic times. He was lucky, he was busy and had lots of work. I was on a mission and pushed and pushed and pushed to keep him studying. In January 2009 the FAA issued Order 8080.6E which allows for a time waiver for an individual that can document a need for extra time to take a knowledge test. We applied for the waiver and received more time to take the test. Finally, the day arrived and he was ready. We would have been happy with 70% but as we would joke he scored 112% because he passed with an 82%. Now only one more obstacle remained the practical test.

The oral portion of the practical was still problematic because of the way that David hears and processes information. I had learned this from our hours together and so we worked and worked at ways to overcome these challenges. I’m sure there were times when he wished I would go far, far away and just leave him alone. No way, I had promised him that he was going to get the best Christmas present ever and there was nothing going to stand in the way. A few days before Thanksgiving David flew his airplane from SZP to MRY so he could prepare for the in-flight portion of the practical test. We had targeted five days before Christmas and scheduled his checkride for the 23rd.

He made the decision to close his business for the last two weeks of the year and focus on nothing but flying. Another obstacle was literally on the horizon, there were a string of very wet weather systems slated to move through the West Coast the week we had planned to focus on flying and David still had the plane in MRY. I called him and suggested that he get the airplane to SZP on the 12th otherwise he would not be able to return the airplane for the checkride. David agreed and flew the airplane south in order to beat the storms.

We started our review as scheduled and two days before the test date we sat down and conducted a mock oral moderated by Dennis Magdaleno the local Designated Pilot Examiner. David did very well, there were a few rough spots but he was very close. The week of the oral was as forecast, windy and wet, and yet it seemed that even Mother Nature was rooting for David and each day allowed us some time to fly and get ready for the big day.

The smiles say it all. Mission accomplished!!

December 23rd arrived the weather wasn’t perfect but by the time the oral was completed the sky was welcoming. His oral was almost flawless and his flying was near perfect. Here is a short video of his first takeoff as Pilot in Command.  Our excitement and joy was without bounds as David had achieved his dream of becoming a Private Pilot and on December 24th he left his truck in my driveway and flew his airplane home to its’ hanger in Monterey.

Last Friday David flew into SZP in a helicopter that was piloted by the friend that had introduced us six years ago. I had driven his truck to the airport and after lunch he was on his way back to Monterey and a life that will be filled with many adventures in his winged chariot. I’m sure one of these adventures will be to the airstrip in Calaveras County where this odyssey began.

It’s About Time!

Clay Phelps

Clay flying a Stearman when he was twenty-something

Clay Phelps grew up with flying and aviation as part of his DNA and so it is no surprise that he has spent most of his life around airplanes, airports and people who fly. Clay (along with his wife Judy) is the owner of CP Aviation which is based at one of the jewels of aviation Santa Paula (SZP) airport.

When I joined the  staff, as an instructor at CP in 2008, Clay had been working on his Instructor rating for over 20 years and this love affair with procrastination was a long-standing joke amongst his many friends. Actually, the numbers that accompany this saga are 24 years and six sittings for the Fundamentals of Instruction and the CFI Knowledge Test (passed them every time) not to mention the countless hours spent studying and putting off completing the process.

It is not that Clay didn’t have plenty going on in his life. He did, but just taking the written six times would have put me “over the top”. Thank God that things change slowly within the FAA. After six times he almost had the tests completely memorized, not to mention that he was quickly running out of time on his last testing session (each test is good for 24 months).

Clay came to me last January and asked that I kick him in the butt and help him complete the certification process that started when he was “still a baby”.  We laid out a plan that allowed him to organize the process in manageable pieces and between myself, Jim Ford and many weekends and evenings spent in his office Clay became a Certificated Flight instructor on December 1, 2010.

Clay and Michael “share the moment”

I told Clay, during the days preceding his checkride, that he had more experience and knowledge than just about any person that is pursuing this certification. He soloed at sixteen, sold airplanes for Screaming Eagle and eventually started CP Aviation. He is an A&P, IA and now a CFI; but more than anything else he is really good guy.

I sincerely enjoyed getting to know Clay as a part of this process and am honored that he asked me to guide, cajol and otherwise be a thorn in his side. The great thing for me was that as he wrestled with what he needed to know I learned and learned and relearned. Another example of the student teaching the teacher. Thank you Clay.