Aim Point: An Air Force Pilot's Lessons for Navigating Life

Aim Point: An Air Force Pilot's Lessons for Navigating Life

by Bruce Hurd

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“My altimeter showed me plummeting through 1,000 feet. I wasn’t flying any more—I was falling out of the sky. It would only be a matter of seconds before I hit the ground at more than 100 miles per hour and exploded in a fireball.”           

In his thrilling and thoughtful book, Colonel Bruce Hurd vividly describes the adventure, excitement, and triumph he felt during his 30-year career as an Air Force officer and pilot. He also talks movingly about confronting the disappointment, fear, and shame arising from very painful and difficult personal ordeals he faced.

With courage and honesty, Colonel Hurd unveils the fears, disappointments, and shame he overcame to be a life-changing leader both at home and abroad. His wit and ability to see the big picture give us a new perspective on possibilities.    

Colonel Hurd describes the pain of growing up with an alcoholic mother—a decades-long, heartbreaking experience that affected him throughout his life. He also discusses other distressing events in his life that caused him shame: being humiliated and verbally abused by a revered 6th grade teacher; going through a painful divorce caused by his first wife’s manipulation and dishonesty; and receiving the medical diagnosis he would not be able to realize his lifelong dream of fathering a child. Colonel Hurd also paints a vivid picture of going through Air Force pilot training, a highly demanding, yet ultimately successful, year-long training course. Most importantly, he shows what he learned from these and other experiences, and how he grew from having lived through them.

Through Colonel Hurd’s powerful descriptions, often told with a dry wit, readers gain a real appreciation for the rich and full life of a career military officer. After great success in numerous leadership positions as an Air Force officer and a program manager for a large technology company, he also speaks to the importance of being able to reinvent ourselves throughout our lives. He concludes his book by introducing the reader to his eight “Aim Point” principles that have been his touchstones when confronted with the need for personal reinvention throughout his life.

He will inspire those questioning their life journey with stories of finding direction and reinvention in the midst of adversity and change.

He will thrill those following their dream with his accounts of close calls and near misses.

He will teach those struggling in life with his lessons and life strategies for learning to fly again.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781641841351
Publisher: Aim Point LLC
Publication date: 08/16/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 284
File size: 26 MB
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Read an Excerpt


Falling Out of the Sky

I almost died on that West Texas night of October 4, 1978. Instead, I found my aim point.

As I prepared to fly, I strapped myself into my supersonic jet, the Air Force T-38 Talon, and plugged my G-Suit into the aircraft's pneumatic system. The G-Suit prevented me from losing consciousness during aggressive high-G maneuvers, because it inflated to help stop blood from draining out of my brain into the rest of my body.

By this point in my training, I fully understood the Air Force wanted aggressive pilots. I was a good student. Just days before my flight I failed a training mission for being too aggressive. In my haste to rejoin the flight leader during formation maneuvering, I accelerated so quickly I flew faster than the speed of sound.

Since regulations prohibited breaking the sound barrier except under controlled conditions, my instructor marked me down for lack of airspeed control. While he told me why he had to fail me on that flight, his tone of voice and body language said "attaboy!"

I was a 23-year-old second lieutenant student pilot, doing so well the instructors chose me as the first in my entire class to solo at night in the T-38. Confident in my abilities, I had the procedures down cold. I made sure all my maps, approach plates, and flying equipment were up-to-date and readily available.

Once I settled into the cockpit and performed all my preflight checks that night, I started the plane's two powerful jet engines. I heard on the tower radio frequency they changed the runway because of a change in wind direction. No problem, I thought. Even though I had done all my night training on a different runway, I was sure I could make the adjustments I needed.

I taxied out and lined up on the active runway. After I received clearance for takeoff, I advanced the throttles to full power. When the engines got to 100% RPM, I released the brakes. The plane lurched forward, and I pushed the throttles into full afterburner. Since the T-38 has such short wings, it relies on speed to create enough lift to fly. When I engaged the afterburners, typically only used for takeoff and emergencies, raw jet fuel pumped directly into the back end of my engines. This created a controlled explosion that provided the extra thrust necessary for me to accelerate to my takeoff speed of 165 miles per hour. As I shot into the night, I felt like I could do anything.

After I completed an uneventful navigation leg around the city of Lubbock, Texas, I returned to Reese Air Force Base to do practice landings before calling it a night. As I approached the airfield, I requested authorization to fly an overheard pattern to a touch-and-go landing. The first aircraft to return to base that night, I passed above the takeoff end of the runway going 300 miles per hour (MPH). I pulled the throttles back to idle power and made a hard 180-degree right turn to set myself up on the downwind leg, reducing my speed, configuring my aircraft for landing, and getting enough displacement from the runway so that when I made my final 180-degree turn toward the runway I would roll out on final approach lined up to land the aircraft. Easy. I had done this hundreds of times already, even at night.

Except things were not what they seemed. No one knew about the severe wind shear between the wind at traffic pattern altitude (1,500 feet in the air) and the wind reported at ground level. On the ground, the wind went straight down the runway. At altitude, a 50-mile-anhour crosswind pushed me closer to the airfield while I flew my downwind leg. This meant my displacement from the runway became smaller and smaller as I set myself up for my final turn for landing. It also meant the 50 mile-an-hour crosswind would quickly become a tailwind as I made my turn — I would lose one-third of my airspeed in seconds.

Since I hadn't flown a night approach on this runway, I didn't have any downwind ground references. The lighted electrical shack and the road intersection I had been using as visual checkpoints were useless. Still, I had general guidelines for where I should place myself and I used those. Those guidelines, though, didn't account for strong crosswinds.

As I reached my 30-second timing point past the end of the runway, I felt confident. I put down my landing gear and banked hard to the right. I turned my head around to pick up my aim point as I descended rapidly. The aim point is the spot on the runway that pilots use to make a safe landing. It's not marked on the runway. Instead, each pilot must determine his or her aim point depending on the type of plane they're flying, the weather, the condition and length of the runway, and a host of other things. Seconds ticked by.

Finally, about halfway around the turn, I saw my aim point on the runway. I instantly knew things were terribly wrong. I was way too low. Worse than that, I realized my bank angle was far too steep. I quickly focused on my angle-of-attack indicator on top of the instrument panel. It was glowing bright red. My stalled-out wings were no longer providing the lift I needed to stay airborne. I knew I was in a desperate situation. I immediately threw my throttles into full afterburner and raised my landing gear to reduce drag.

Because I had started my turn much too close to the runway, I had unknowingly maneuvered too aggressively, attempting to make things "look right" for the landing. I crosschecked my vertical velocity indicator and I saw it pegged at 4,000 feet per minute going down. My altimeter showed me plummeting through 1,000 feet above the ground. I wasn't flying any more — I was falling out of the sky. It would only be a matter of seconds before I hit the ground at over 100 miles per hour and exploded in a fireball.

My heart was in my throat. I carefully leveled the wings to increase lift. I needed to allow the plane to continue its descent to regain speed. If I tried to pull back on the stick too soon, I would lose what little lift I still had, and I would go deeper into the stall and crash. As I sank into the unlit darkness of the field leading to the runway, I saw the runway lights get flatter and flatter. I had to remain disciplined and continue my descent at full power just to give the plane time to accelerate to minimum climb speed. At one point I noticed the lights at the far end of the airfield weren't visible anymore because the small rise midway down the runway blocked them. The airfield was on a slight plateau and I was going below runway altitude. I knew I could hit the ground any second.

Looking back on this experience, I realize I was more afraid of failure than I was of dying. I didn't want to crash because I didn't want to shame myself or my family by the failure of not making it through pilot training. My father, a highly decorated World War II pilot, would never have blamed me for not becoming a pilot, but this would have caused him and my mother so much grief. To have their son die in Air Force pilot training would have destroyed them inside. And it would have been my fault, because I screwed up.

This book is about the traumatic events in my life. They all have something in common. They're all victories of mine. This is a book about these triumphs. It's about my facing disappointment, fear, and shame, learning from these situations, and moving past them. It's about how I applied these lessons and learned to navigate change in my life a positive way.

I expect any of you reading this book can identify events in your life you have been keeping secret. We don't reveal them because we fear the shame and humiliation we believe we'll suffer if people ever found out what happened. In this book, I'm shining a light on each of my "shameful" events, so they'll no longer have power over me. I'm freeing myself from living with the fear of being found out, of being embarrassed by what happened to me many years ago, often as a child. In this book, I also talk about going through Air Force pilot training — this is where the dramatic, nearly fatal experience I've described happened. Pilot training was ultimately a very successful year for me. It was also much more stressful than any other time in my life.

This book is far more than me reliving past traumas, though. Throughout my life, I've known I need to move past the pain and fear of these experiences to be the man I want to be and live the life I want to live. These shaming experiences, along with my stressful year in pilot training, also helped me recognize the goodness and support all around me. These trials led to my appreciation of all the amazing people and wonderful events in my life. The worst experiences of my life are also the inspiration for the guiding principles I used as an officer in the Air Force during my 30-year career. I discovered the importance of courage, compassion, integrity, and trust.

Just like all of you, I've succeeded and failed, and I've done amazing things. Along the way, I experienced situations and events in my life that have knocked me for a loop. Throughout it all, though, I haven't seen myself as a victim. It's just the opposite. All the events described in this book have been a co-creation. Whether consciously or not, I somehow brought these painful experiences into my life. The real challenge is to discover the benefits from them. What have I learned from going through each of them? What can I take forward to make the rest of my life better?

This is the reason for this book. I want to show how I turned around and even appreciated these traumatic events, common to many people, for what they inspired in me. I offer what I've learned from facing some very painful experiences. Much of how I applied these lessons relates to my experience as a career officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force; however, I believe my insights may be helpful to many people from a wide variety of backgrounds.


An Uncomfortable Silence

My father was a brigadier general in the United States Air Force. Born in 1919, he grew up during the Depression. He sent himself through school at Morningside College in Iowa and joined the Army Air Corps in 1941. He married my mother the day he graduated from pilot training, just months before the outbreak of World War II for the United States. During the war, he fought the Japanese in Australia and New Guinea before returning to the U.S. in 1943 to create and train the brand new 314th Troop Carrier Squadron, a transport squadron flying C-47 and C-46 aircraft.

After training his unit, he led them to England and France to fight the Germans. He finished World War II as a 26-year-old lieutenant colonel — an astronomic promotion rate for such a young officer. After the war, he and my mother moved to the Philippines, where Dad and some wartime colleagues helped found Philippine Airlines (PAL). He started as PAL's chief pilot and rose to vice president of operations. In 1954, Mom, Dad, and my three older siblings moved to California a few months before I was born in December. Dad began his corporate career, eventually becoming Corporate Director for Safety and Product Assurance for Lockheed Corporation. He remained in the reserves until his retirement from the Air Force in the late 1960s.

During the war, my mother, Ann, completed her college degree in home economics at Iowa State and worked at an ammunition plant supporting the war effort. While she did some teaching when they lived in the Philippines after the war, once my oldest brother arrived in 1949, my mother focused on raising her family. In the early 1970s, she earned her master's degree in Special Education from San Jose State University. By the time I graduated from high school in 1973, Mom was an established full-time special education teacher at Quimby Oaks Junior High School in San Jose. Her students loved her. My parents remained married until my father passed on from prostate cancer in 1995. My mother was devastated, and she never recovered emotionally after my father's death. She died in her sleep in 2002. Devoted to each other throughout their lives, my parents are shining examples of the love and dedication a married couple can show toward each other.

They also had a serious problem they never came to grips with: my mother's alcoholism. Even after my mother finally stopped drinking in 1987, she refused to acknowledge the damaging effects on our family of her drinking and the pain it caused. Her denial was a perfect example of how our family dealt with the problem. We ignored her harmful behavior. My father discouraged us from talking about Mom's drinking and considered it disrespectful to even raise the issue within our family. Meanwhile, we were clear we should never talk about my mother's drinking to anyone outside our family.

We had another rule growing up: my parents wouldn't allow us to criticize each other. The intent behind this was noble — they wanted us to be a source of support for one another. Unfortunately, this also meant it was very difficult for us to provide well-meaning, constructive feedback to each other. This self-imposed prohibition on criticism had unintended negative effects on how my siblings and I dealt with my mother's alcoholism. Each of us in the family had to deal with this terrible problem alone. The situation was unbearable.

At the time I was growing up, American society didn't understand or accept the causes and problems associated with alcohol as it does now. People often viewed alcoholism as a moral failure to hide away from others, for fear of being treated as an outcast. As a child, though, I couldn't understand. Why can't Mom be the loving, wonderful mother I know she is? Why does she become this angry, hurtful, self-pitying person who I can't even stand to be around? I hated it when she was like that. I couldn't talk with her and I certainly couldn't count on her for anything. There was no telling when she would be this way. Was she going to hurt me? Was she going to hurt herself? Who could I count on? I could rely on Dad, but he works a lot and he's not always around. What if I'm home alone with her and she does something stupid or dangerous? These fears and questions haunted me my entire life.

Amazingly, despite my mother's alcoholism, in many other ways I had a stable childhood. My father, Walter L. Hurd Jr., was an executive at Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation in Sunnyvale, California. The seven of us didn't live extravagantly, but I don't recall ever going without something important.

I grew up in Los Altos, California — a suburb of San Francisco. I was the fourth of five children, with just seven years separating my oldest brother Dave from my younger brother Kevin. Growing up in the Hurd family was sometimes a mob scene, especially with four boys involved. However, it was great to have ready-made teammates and friends, even with a heavy dose of sibling rivalry present. We were big into baseball and were huge San Francisco Giants fans (still are). Our lives revolved around schoolwork and sports.

I got my growth spurt very early and started shaving before I turned thirteen. By the time I turned 15, I was a freshman at Homestead High School in Cupertino and I had grown to my current height (5'9"). I played football and baseball at Homestead, but only my first couple of years. By my junior year, my "adequate but not extraordinary" athletic skills weren't making the grade and the head coaches cut me from both the junior varsity baseball and football teams within six months of each other. While these were huge blows at the time, they turned out to be the best things that could have happened, as this allowed me the time to devote my energies toward other, much more productive areas.

I graduated from Homestead in 1973. Some of you might know this was one year behind Apple founder Steve Jobs, who graduated from Homestead in the Class of 1972. Our school had 2,500 students and Steve and I never crossed paths, nor did we have any classes together, so I clearly missed out on the opportunity of making friends with him. (I hear he did well.) After high school, I entered the University of California, Berkeley on an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. Going to Cal as an Air Force ROTC cadet in the immediate anti-military environment of the mid-1970s was an interesting experience. More on that later.

For quite a while after college, I wondered what it would have been like to go to a university where being in officer training was a popular thing to do … or even acceptable. In the years since my 1977 graduation, I've come to appreciate the excellent education I received and the exposure I had to a wide diversity of opinions and experiences I had at Cal. I've also learned to treasure my relationships with my ROTC classmates — the eleven of us remaining even make a point of gathering together every other year.


Excerpted from "Aim Point"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Bruce Hurd.
Excerpted by permission of Bruce Hurd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents



Part 1 Courage

  Chapter 1 Falling Out of the Sky

  Chapter 2 An Uncomfortable Silence

  Chapter 3 Connections with my Father

  Chapter 4 Odd Bears

  Chapter 5 Obstacle Course

  Chapter 6 Wings

  Chapter 7 Walls Closing In

  Chapter 8 Night Air Refueling

  Chapter 9 Hate Mail

Part 2 Compassion

  Chapter 10 Broken Boundaries

  Chapter 11 Shame

  Chapter 12 Freedom of Religion

  Chapter 13 Straighten Up and Fly Right

  Chapter 14 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Part 3 Integrity

  Chapter 15 Continuing Concern

  Chapter 16 Carol

  Chapter 17 Difficult Decision

  Chapter 18 Reflections on My Divorce

  Chapter 19 General Officer Investigation

  Chapter 20 Top Secret

  Chapter 21 Standing Up

  Chapter 22 Leadership Failure

  Chapter 23 Bad Decisions

Part 4 Trust

  Chapter 24 Facing My Fears

  Chapter 25 Home for Christmas

  Chapter 26 JoAnn

  Chapter 27 Learning to Trust

  Chapter 28 Having Faith

  Chapter 29 Joyful Landings

  Chapter 30 New Chapter

  Chapter 31 Emily

Part 5 Reinvention

  Chapter 32 Our Need for Reinvention

  Chapter 33 Finding Our Aim Point

  Chapter 34 Appreciation

  Chapter 35 Integrity

  Chapter 36 Make a Decision

  Chapter 37 Play

  Chapter 38 Objectives and Goals

  Chapter 39 Inspiration

  Chapter 40 Nurture

  Chapter 41 Trust

  Chapter 42 Looking Ahead

Appendix A My Timeline and Background Information

Appendix B Air Force Ranks and Abbreviations

Appendix C Eulogy for My Father

Appendix D Eulogy for My Mother

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