Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas (Sorry for the Delay)!

Being a junior Captain, I don't get to pick my own schedule.  As such, I found myself working this fine Christmas.  The trip to the airport started out quite well, as I was pleasantly surprised to find a very striking flight attendant on the hotel shuttle this morning.  We started talking and wouldn't stop!  We ended up walking through security together until we had to split paths.

A very fine day indeed.  :)  Merry Christmas!

I was supposed to grab a flight as a passenger this morning at 8:30, then fly the flight back.  About that.  When I woke up this morning, I found the entire D.C. area covered in thick fog.  I mean THICK fog...even worse than last week which was hard to believe!  The thickness would get down to visibilities of just 800 feet.  That's not much!

Fog thick as pea soup on Christmas!

Needless to say, Christmas flights in D.C. started out with a bunch of delays, my flight being one of them.  So those of us stranded or sitting on-call just chatted it up!  We wished each other Merry Christmases, played football with a paper towel roll, and just sat around and laughed.  A fun crowd this morning.  I grabbed a second cup of coffee and a lil' breakfast bagel and waited for our inbound flight to come pick us up.

And certainly noticed the crying female in the Customer Service line.  I did a double-take.  Yes, I most certainly did.  Not because I wanted to gawk or anything...but just because I am FASCINATED with peoples' stories.  I mean, fascinated.  I made sure to get a third glance on the way back from picing up my coffee.  Yup, she was most certainly crying.  Probably missing a Christmas celebration.  Maybe a Christmas lunch.  Maybe her kids.  Maybe her dying grandma.  Who knows.  But it's certainly a reality to realize that every delayed flight is a life altered.  I never forget that.

I texted my parents Merry Christmas and made sure to call my nieces!  The oldest was sooooooo excited!!!  Just a chatter box!  I certainly don't think about it much, or else that can really wear on you as I noticed in others, but I did miss being there today!  Such is the life I've chosen, though.  I knew I wouldn't be celebrating Christmas until the 29th...and I just kind of roll with it.  But hearing the excitement in her voice!!!  I wanted to be there so bad!  She was just thrilled to be alive!  Love it!

The fog burned off almost immediately around 10:00 A.M.  One minute, thick as pea soup, the next minute, the pea soup was eaten.  Our 8:30 A.M. flight finally departed at 12:35 P.M.  Not a bad way to start out Christmas for these folks.  Sorry, family, I'm going to be late!!!  The good news for me was that my 4 hour and 44 minute sit in Charleston, West Virginia, was now going to be a quick turn!  That was fine by me.

And sure enough, it was.  After we landed, I grabbed the paperwork, told my flight attendant I loooooooooove to be early, and loaded up the passengers.  We departed 10 minutes early after verifying that we had all the passengers (only one open seat!)...I always make sure I don't leave anyone behind if I'm leaving early...and then took off through the low overcast!

I flew this leg, and the flight was just delightful.  Smooth skies, a 45-knot tailwind, and early vectors to final.  I told the passengers I was trying to get them there 15-20 minutes early "if that was ok with them."  I find myself using that phrase a lot...I guess I like it.  But it's kind of funny...I'm sure there's always one that can't stand to sit in the next airport for those extra minutes.  Well, too bad!  :)  I love being early!

But I surprised even myself today.  With the blazing groundspeed, the easy-in vectors, and the early departure, we arrived at the gate 34 minutes early!!!  No joke!!!  Sometimes you can't control the circumstances around you in flying, but for those that I can control, I love using them to my advantage!  I was thanked by more than a couple of passengers when they got off the airplane.

"Thanks for the extra time."  "Thanks for getting us here early."  "Thanks for the extra time...we needed it."

How satisfying!  I won't know exactly how I affected these people, but if I made their brisk walk to their next tight connection just a little bit slower, if I gave them the opportunity to grab their Starbuck's or lunch without checking their watches, if I gave them the simple joy of knowing that airlines can be enjoyable, then I take deep (albeit unknown!) satisfaction in that.

Merry Christmas, passengers!

And I was pleasantly surprised to find that my company  had ordered us catered meals when we landed.  The company met us at the gate and gave us turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin pie!!!  I had two slices after repeatedly begging a flight attendant for hers.  :)

I flew on Christmas.  Some people were quite agitated this morning, but here's to hoping that my quick 46-minute flight found 36 happy people able to focus on what Christmas really is all about.  The less I can have them focus on a delayed flight or a missed connection just might give an open door for some other mental time for the true reason of the season.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


One of the hardest things about being a pilot is the simple fact that most of the passengers you fly around have no idea about everything aviation.  Most of the time it's easy to just brush off and ignore, but other times I try to help people understand what's going on.  The comments are endless...

"I just hope we don't lose an engine.  Then we're toast."

"I didn't even know they still made these prop airplanes."

"United really needs to put a jet on this route."  [Yes, and put all 16 of you on it.]  ?!

As winter nears, the confusion simply multiplies.  We have some pretty wicked weather, de-icing, long delays in the sky and on the ground, cancellations, diversions, oversold situations, and on and on.  But at the heart of it all is

We've been quite fortunate so far this winter.  Here we are in the middle of December, and I have yet to see any appreciable amount of snow!  I first saw snow in Syracuse, but it's been so mild so far.  And today was no different with the snow anyway.  But for the past couple of days, we've been dealing with another sometimes more problematic issue:  FOG!

The fog in D.C. was so thick yesterday that the flight I was piloting was eight hours delayed!  We simply had to wait for the fog to rise, and although the forecasters swore that would come during the middle of the morning, it never burnt off until after noon.  The 6:00 A.M. flight finally departed five minutes before 2:00 P.M.  Talk about a long day.

Well, today was no different outside of the fact that the fog finally did burn off...eventually.  To keep it simple, fog is simply a low cloud.  This cloud hovers right on top of the earth.  It needs calm winds and temperature and dewpoint to be equal, and today those factors lined up perfectly.  The problem is that fog can be very, very much so that we pilots can't see.  That's all fine and dandy when you are flying at 15,000 feet through the problem.  But when you are trying to find a runway at 130 MPH and don't have it in sight at 200 feet above the ground...all while descending at 700 feet/minute, well, you are a few seconds away from hitting asphalt...that you cannot see!!!

So we have parameters in place to prevent that.  One being visibility requirements.  The best approach we can do requires visibility of at least 1/2 mile and a cloud deck of 200 feet.  That's still very low.  But we are trained to land in these conditions.  The problem becomes when that visibility is 1/4 mile...or an 1/8 mile.  Plain and simple, we cannot take off to go to that airport with that type of fog.  That's what happened to me yesterday.  The visibility was so poor that I could not fly to D.C. and rightly so...we would get there, shoot the approach, only to find that we can't find the runway, then head back for the skies and head to another airport.  Oddly enough, my alternate airport (where we go if we have a problem like weather at the destination) yesterday was where I was taking off from.  So had we taken off, we would have done a big 140-mile circle only to end up where we just were.  Passengers don't really like that.

The fog turning to patchy, burning off before departure

The good news about today is that the airport I was flying to was calling for 10 miles visibility...perfect!  My departure airport (Washington, D.C.) was the one under fog.  But we don't worry too much about that...taking off in poor visibility is much easier than landing in it.  Just follow the lights down the center of the runway...always hoping that the next one appears!  What we do in this situation is take off, and if we have an engine problem, we'll just fly to our takeoff-alternate (a back-up plan) knowing that we can't land back at the departure airport.  It's pretty simple.

So there we were, in Washington, with heavy fog.  The traffic was backed up, and we were number 13 in line for departure, but we knew we were going to get out.  Our destination was perfect, and the only things to watch were fuel (we burn a lot just sitting there on the taxi-ways) and the return trip back to this socked-in city.

A jet appearing out of the fog.  One of the reasons we have such high parameters...we can't see far!

The flight was uneventful.  We took off, immediately hit the fog deck, then broke out just above it, very typical with fog.  It's just a low, low deck with clear skies on top.  You could actually see the clear skies from the ground as we were waiting to take off...the dense fog turned to patchy fog as it burned off and beckoned us to the skies.

So as you sit back there and wonder why we are not moving and getting you to your city, just know that we are doing everything we can to get you off the ground.  But when you have 12 planes ahead of you or a city where you know you can't find the runway, it's best just to trust us.  :)  We do know what we're doing.

Oh what a beautiful morning for flying!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Airlines Suck

I was hurrying to my gate this morning after just barely missing my first shuttle by a minute.  Seeing as how I had to wait 15 minutes for the next one, I was late.  On my walk through the terminal, my sim partner for next week saw me and hurried up to meet me.  We talked a bit about the sim, about me being late, and then he asked...

"Have you heard"?

"Um, no?"

"Pinnacle filed for bankruptcy."

Ugh.  I hadn't heard anything.  Seeing as how I was in New York for fun over the weekend, I hadn't heard anything, hadn't watched TV in over a week, and had no idea about anything aviation.  But stinkin' Pinnacle is the latest to join the ranks.


Well, five legs later, I find myself in a hotel room, so I decide to read up on the news.  Sure enough, Pinnacle has declared bankruptcy...but what is more, they are actually going to be CUTTING FLIGHTS.  That's huge.  The Colgan side is done by the end of the year.  That means our very own will be on the streets.  Many American businesses declare bankruptcy but operate as normal.  Pinnacle will actually take away airplanes over the course of the next nine months.  It's so frustrating.

Because this is where it gets personal...

My first phone call for an airline interview was from Mr. Chuck Colgan himself.  I've talked to the guy personally on a couple of occasions.  I've sent him personal emails.  After talking the first time, he told me to build up my hours some more.  I never knew what a blessing that would be a couple years down the road.

I applied again about a year later after building more time.  This time they wanted to interview me!  But so did three more regionals (I couldn't get a job for years and then everyone wanted to interview me!).  And wouldn't you know it, the only time they could interview me wouldn't work out for me (with another interview I had scheduled).  But I tried to make it work!  I literally tried to set up two airline interviews in one day, one being with Colgan!!!  But it wouldn't work.  So I only interviewed at one of the four places and took the job.

But Colgan wanted to interview/hire? me.  This is how close it came to me hearing this news.

It gets even more personal.  They hired one of my friends.  A guy I trained with in Kansas.  A guy I lived with.  A guy I've chased thunderstorms with, played pool with, studied with, flown with, laughed with.  He flew the Saab for Colgan, then transferred over to the Dash 8.  He's been there two years now...we just talked a few weeks ago about how he is making good money...livable wages finally.

Just a few weeks ago!!!

He went to the airlines a year before me, and he will be spit out a year after I joined.  It's so frustrating.  I texted him tonight after I found out, and he's taking it pretty hard.

It's a very large possibility that he may be put on the street.  He just doesn't know yet...and probably won't for some time...but it's not lookin' good.

It gets even more personal.

Pinnacle is getting rid of their entire turbo-prop fleet...the very types of planes that I fly!  The Saab's are being parked!  The Dash's are being parked!  The most fuel-sipping airplanes are being closed up...for good.  How is this possible?  We have once again reached 2008 passenger levels (finally), and airlines finally showed a profit!  But we've also reached pre-recession gas prices again...back above $100/barrel.  It's 2008 at the airlines all over again.

Have we learned anything?!

The CEO of Pinnacle takes a huge bonus and less than a month later his company files bankruptcy.  I don't get it.

What a nasty, nasty industry.

Men and women with more experience than me are most likely going to be hitting the street in the near future.  Men and women with tens of thousands of dollars invested in flight training and making less than many high school only grads will now be with no job.  The very airplanes they fly are being put to sleep, sent back to the creditors, and who knows where they will land.

For those that stay in the industry, they are forced to move the bottom of a pilot pile somewhere.  On someone else's seniority list.  No matter that you have been working hard for two years and building up seniority.  You're done.  Go work for someone else, and start fresh.  On the bottom.  On reserve.  Making first-year wages.  Ugh.  (To put it into perspective, a Colgan/Pinnacle pilot if laid off would go from making $35,000/year and having a decent lifestyle to being on call and making $22,000/year).  It's just not pretty.

Many will walk away and never look back.  Sometimes we envy them.  They've been looking for an out from this industry for months now, and this just made it easy.  It's hard to walk away when things are decent.  It's beyond easy when a furlough is around the corner.

The airlines suck.  There's no other way around it.  It's nasty, nasty business.  An article today reported that 43 airlines have declared bankruptcy since September 11, 2001.  And what is more, with Pinnacle AND American/AMR/American Eagle in bankruptcy, too, that means that 25% of our regional airlines are in bankruptcy.  Unbelievable.  1 out of 4!

Tonight I'm happy to be where I'm at.  I'm happy to have flown five legs today.  I'm happy that I have a job.  An airline job.

I'm sad, though, because these are my people.  Because I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that that could have been me.  I am one of them.  And it sucks to hear about the bad news happening to our own people.

It just hits home.  I have one friend flying for American Eagle...wondering about his future.  Another flying for Colgan, knowing that his airplane will no longer be flying in December.  It's heart-breaking.  It's demoralizing for both of them.  And it's scary for all of us.  No one is ever safe.

Yeah, in the most humble of ways possible, these five legs today were beautiful.  It's an honor to fly, and I must not take it lightly.  Tonight I'm even more thankful to fly, even if I realize that everyone else around me makes more money than I do.  I'm still an airline pilot, and I'm still employed.

And tonight that is seen in an even different light.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Yooooork New Yooooork...

I've said it before, but sometimes the best part about the not flying!  I've had travel perks for more than a year now, and outside of commuting back home, I've never used them!  Well, until now...

I had three days off, so I headed out to New York City to visit a friend who is in the States from Brazil!

And it's soooooooo easy.  I took a free flight to LaGuardia, quickly learned the bus system and spent $2.25 to hop on a bus to Harlem.  Just like that, I was hugging my friend from Brazil!!!

We spent the next two days hanging out in the city, and I was actually surprised at how much I didn't hate it.  I was fully expecting to hate the city, but it was easy to get around, and I enjoyed most of the time together.  Now with that said, the weekend as a whole was a bit...hard at times.

The Good...seeing my friend!  Being surrounded by unbelievable amounts of languages.  Dusting off my Spanish!  Teaching English to eager learners.  Experiencing the city!  Just getting out of day-to-day-everyone-is-white-and-middle-class society!  Having a picture of five people (including me) representing five different countries.

The Bad...the filth of the city.  Walking over dog poop in the lobby of the apartment building one night...then puke another.  The complete revolving of activities around alcohol.  Always, always alcohol.  Snobs...I literally had someone tell me they didn't like me because I wouldn't do what she wanted.  And arrogant men.  I had to be pulled from an apartment after a man punched his girlfriend.  I was so hot, and I was more than happy to jump in.  It still gets my blood boiling.

All in all, I am glad I went, but as I was flying away, I just wished things were different.  I wished we had enjoyed different activities, I wished we had talked more, and I wished she wasn't so attached to her stinkin' iPhone.  Ugh, that just drives me nuts.  Having to say something again during a conversation because her head tilts down to answer a text.  My biggest pet peeve.

Basically, the city is too city for me!  And I am quite alright with that.  They can have it.

But it was fun to get out and explore.  And it was fun to FINALLY use my travel perks!  It makes me wonder why I ever stopped traveling in the first place.  I used to want to become an airline pilot simply in order to do just  Now that I have become one, I just wanted to stay at home and hang with friends!  Well, since the latter never really happened, it's understandably changing my priorities back again.  This trip showed me how easy it can be.

A weekend in New York City.  The total cost?  Maybe $40.  I would have spent more on gas, food,  and heat back home!

Where to next?!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sometimes Being Late Pays Off

Quite a busy flight day.  After all was said and done, I racked up five flights and 5.93 hours of flight time.

The day was pretty typical at the beginning.  It was the first day of a four-day trip.  I woke up at 6:40, showed up at the airport around 7:45, and was at the (not yet there) airplane around 8:05 for an 8:35 departure.

We flew down to Columbus and back to Cleveland, then headed to Rochester where we sat for four and a half hours.  I caught up with a good friend on the phone, talked with a couple of Captains about sailing and adventure, and wasted time on the internet to pass the time.

We finally boarded up our 5:20 flight at 5:55 for an always-late flight to Newark.  Because we were late, all of our passengers had been put on other flights.  We literally flew with zero passengers.  We took off with me flying towards the city of never-on-time flights.  I have really come to hate that place.  With about 35 minutes remaining to go, we received word that Newark International Airport had been shut down.  An airplane had a landing gear emergency and was still on the runway.

Sam Costanza/New York Daily News
So we pulled back the throttles and cruised at 160 knots.  But the emergency was fairly long-lived.  The airport ended up being shut down for nearly an hour.  We were more than fine on fuel, but most of the other flights in the sky tonight simply were not.

So while we crept along through the air, our fellow pilots were hitting their "bingo fuel," the mark at which they must divert to another airport.  We hold Colgan head back to Buffalo.  We heard other people (including our own) end up heading to cities in New York and Pennsylvania.  They simply were running out of fuel just hanging out in the sky.

We ended up getting a hold over the WEARD intersection.  So we flew in circles for about 20 minutes as we waited for the airport to open back up.  We ended up doing two turns in the hold.  We were still looking good on fuel, and the fuel-sippin' airplane was more than happy to fly.  I commented to myself just how disorienting the night sky was, though.  As we made the turns in the hold with the heavy 60-knot winds, you couldn't make out anything but black.  I knew there were clouds below us (and bumpy ones at that), but the sky just wasn't visible.  It was BLACK.

We were finally allowed to head to Newark and ended up landing only 47 minutes late.  We had a very fun approach, though...ILS 22L circle-to-land 29.  It's fun to hand-fly.  We landed without incident and headed in where we learned our next airplane was one of the ones that didn't make it in.

I grabbed a much-needed dinner as we learned we were being given another plane so that we didn't "time out."  Basically, with the delay of waiting for our next airplane, we were creeping up towards our 16 hours of work.  Yup, you read that right.  16 hours.  I won't even get in to that here, but suffice it to say, we had had a long day.

We finally boarded up our passengers for our 8:00 flight at 8:58 and flew our fifth and last leg to Syracuse.  We were pretty light on passengers, though, with half of them probably not making it in to Newark in time.  But we were told to shut the doors and get on out of there.  Those decisions are simply out of our hands.

As we took off, we could still see the emergency aircraft disabled on 22L with tons and tons of emergency vehicles around it.  It was pretty neat to see.  The nosewheel didn't come down, so it landed on its main wheels only.  Everything looked perfect, though.  An airplane down the center of the runway with all emergency chutes deployed.  There should be no injuries with that one.  Well, done, sir, well done.

We finally ended up in Syracuse at 10:22, 55 minutes later than scheduled.  All in all, we worked 14 hours and 27 minutes.  Of course, we'll only be paid for 5.93 of those hours.  But I won't get into that here, either.

Remember, this is just another day in the life.  :)

A long day to start a four-day trip.  A realization that sometimes it's in our favor to be running late.  A couple of holds.  And an appreciation for the professionalism and safety of the airplanes flying around me.  An emergency with a crisis avoided.

Kudos to my fellow pilot at Shuttle America.  Well done, sir.  Well done.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ice Pilots: Flying in the Winter

Before flying for the airlines, I was a pansy when it came to ice.  My first experience with ice was over Ohio in a Cessna 172.  It wasn't anything major, but while traversing across the country, I went through some clouds that instantly froze on my airplane.  I'll never forget looking down on my left wheel and seeing the whole front of the tire changed to white.  I vowed to not do that again!

I admittedly hated ice and airplanes.

My second experience involved a Cessna 172 yet again.  This time I was flying low over Louisiana.  The clouds were very low, and the mist from them occasionally hung down.  But I was flying around 1000 feet above the ground and watched as the fronts of my wings turned a little bit different color than the paint.  What was most interesting about this one was that I actually thought I was staying out of the clouds!  I vowed not to do that again!

I admittedly hated ice and airplanes.

I continually try to learn more and more as a pilot.  One of my hobbies is reading NTSB reports about pilots who have crashed or almost crashed.  I ask myself how they arrived in the situation they did.  I also take online classses fairly regularly to stay fresh in various aspects of flying.  One of the classes I took was about icing.  Basically, it highlighted the various dangers of what ice can do to an airplane...and also how to fly through icing conditions.  Certain aircraft (all airlines) are certified to fly through icing conditions, and it's a combination of training, experience, knowledge, mechanics, and intuition to fly safely.

As I have progressed through airplanes, I have had to learn to fly in icing conditions.  It's illegal to fly in known ice with a Cessna 172, so it was right of me to hate ice when it came to airplanes.  But now that I fly an airplane that is capable and certified of flying through icing conditions, I don't hate the thought at all.  It's not something we take lightly, but the aircraft (and pilots) are quite capable of flying through icing conditions.  And rightfully so.  We operate to some of the worst parts of the country here in the United States.  Cities that compete with each other for the most snowfall in the contiguous 48.  Frankly, we need an airplane that is capable of handling winter weather.  So whereas before I should have hated flying through icing conditions, now it's just another day in the life.

Case and point:  It's now late February.  Truth be told, this winter has been one of the weakest on record.  I have seen snow a number of times, but each and every time, the snow disappears within a few days.  Either by sun or rain in the days immediately following.  But what I have also seen is ice.  I've seen freezing rain, drizzle, freezing fog, light snow, blowing snow, heavy snow, you name it.  It's quite the learning curve really.  I would NEVER fly through what I fly through now in my previous airplanes.  Frankly, I couldn't!  I really had no adequate ice protection (outside of pitot heat and carb heat).

But in just a few short months, in one of the mildest winters on record, I've had some experiences that other pilots will never see!  Ice.  Lots and lots of ice.  Frankly, sometimes you just can't get out of it.  We fly low and slow in the northeast.  In the winter.  In the soup.  On our routes, sometimes we just don't have the ability or time to jump to different altitudes.  We just fly and let the airplane shed the ice.

I was jump-seating on an ExpressJet flight (now AC) last month, and the female Captain asked me what we did if we ever encounter a freezing layer.  Here she was, flying a very powerful and very fast regional jet, and she was curious what a prop pilot did if found to be in icing conditions.

I sat there and rather nonchalantly said, "We fly."

But that's just it.  We fly.  It's kind of hard to explain.  I don't revel in the fact that I fly through icing conditions again and again.  But I don't shy away from it, either.  I have an FAA-certified airplane capable and allowed to fly through ice.  We pilots don't take our job lightly, and we monitor the ice situation rather keenly.  But we fly.  Contrary to jets, we don't climb out of it.  And we can't always descend out of it.  We fly.  It's all we can do.  We just simply fly.

I showed a picture of some of the ice I've encountered to a mainline 737 Captain, and he responded by saying, "Boots are for cowboys, props are for boats."  ha!  But I'm learning that is more and more the case.  Jet guys often just don't feel comfortable in icing conditions.  It's not that they couldn't's just that they don't have to.  So because of that, they assume that it's "bad."

Well, it's not bad, and it's not good.  It's just winter.

Mild or harsh, we fly.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Passing On the Joy

Towards the end of summer, I had a TSA agent pull me aside and ask me some questions about flying.  What was probably a simple question by him turned out to provide a bit of friendship between the two of us.  I learned that he had his commercial pilot's license but only had a little over 300 hours, a time sadly limiting for him.  I, too, have been through those terribly frustrating days of not having enough flight time to get a job and not being able to get enough flight time to get a job.  I didn't envy his position at all.

(In all seriousness, I really DO feel for him.  I came out of flight training with 327 hours and landed my first-ever aviation job as a flight instructor.  This was in the ever-so-painful flight year of 2008, and I was quickly laid off 28 days later because the company didn't have enough students.  I was dejected, to say the least.  I went a month with no job before landing a position mapping the country in a Cessna 172.  I wanted to fly for the airlines, and I was confident that my 900 hours at the end of my first season would do just that.  I was way wrong.  The minimums for even a regional airline shot up to 2500 hours, a barrier that was demoralizing.  I just plugged away, one hour at a time.  Sometimes painful, sometimes enjoyable.  I would not see my first airline job until I had over 1800 hours.  So, yeah, man, I get it.  I know the frustrations.).

But what excited me was that I learned he had a Piper Cherokee that he rarely flew!  I think he thought I was a bit out of the ordinary when I asked if I could fly with him!  He didn't understand why I would want to fly in something so small when I flew nearly every day in something way bigger!  That's just it!!!  Every day, I am told where to fly, when to fly, what altitude to fly at, how much fuel to take, what the weather is going to be at my departure/enroute/destination, and on and on and on.  The 121 airline is so regulated it's beyond safe.  And it's fairly simple!  But what we often miss out on is the joy of the freedom of flying!  The ability to fly low, check out houses from the sky, fly over lakes, circle back around for another look, drop in for the classic $100 hamburger.  The ability to have fun.

I was more than excited to fly with him.  And he was more than happy to oblige. So back in October 2011, we took his 1978 Piper Cherokee out for a little fun flying over the beautiful "hills" of central Ohio.  I treated him to a little lunch and pie, and he treated me to some enjoyable flying below 2000 feet.  We continued to stay in touch, and he continued to ask questions about how to move to the next step.

Well, insert January and February 2012.  He called me up to say that he had left his job as a TSA agent (gladly) and picked up a full-time job elsewhere.  He also let me know that he had sold his Piper Cherokee (financial reasons...I understood but was sad to see it go).  But he asked if I would still be interested in flying with him!  OF COURSE!!!  So one day in January, we set out and did some approaches in a Cessna 182RG.  He was admittedly rusty, but I was thrilled to be able to teach him how to better shoot the approaches.  We had a fun day flying just under two hours, and I was thrilled to pass on some real-world flying knowledge.  Sometimes I forget just how much I do know.  Not in an arrogant way.  But I literally shoot ILS approaches nearly every day.  He doesn't do them but a few times every six months!  "Rust happens" in flying.

Well, I received yet another phone call from him.  "I'm going after my multi-engine rating."  !!!  I was thrilled for him.  He really can't get picked up by any airline without it, so it's a step in the right direction.  He still won't get paid without his CFI rating, but this is one he really wanted.  So I met with him a couple of times and tried to make the blur of Vmc make sense to him.  I was quite dismayed to see just how much I had forgotten myself!

But he took me out for dinner and drinks a couple of times and listened to me as I explained accelerated slipstream, spiraling slipstream, P-factor, torque, and on and on.  He thanked me profusely for instilling some knowledge in him.  And I could barely understand that as I was thrilled to impart some knowledge to him!

Well, I was flying on February 16 when I received a simple picture text.  It showed a Piper Apache with a feathered propeller in flight.  I had told him that the craziest moment is looking out your window and realizing that the engine really is not running!  The propeller isn't spinning...nothing!  It is fully stopped.  Before his training, he just seemed fascinated with that image.  Well, now he had it.  A fully-stopped propeller just a few feet from his seat.  He just had to share.  I loved it.

Two days later, I received another text that every pilot loves to hear.  It was simple...

"Passed the checkride!"

That was it.  I received it between two of our flights that day...between loading and unloading passengers.  But it was the best part of my day.  Another one is in the ranks.  Another pilot is flying with two engines.  It's hard to explain, I guess.  Thousands of pilots get their multi-engine rating each year.

I guess it just means a little bit more when you have a tiny say in the outcome.  I certainly won't take the credit for his hard studying, but what a joy to share in a friend getting his multi-engine rating.

Flying really is fun.

Congrats, Vince!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"This Will Never Happen Again" Happened Again

"Captain, this woman would like to speak with you two."

I've only been an airline pilot for a year now.  Actually just under a year, to be honest.  I will celebrate my first year on Singles Awareness Day the 14th of this month.  So when I say that something may never happen again, well, that is simply based on my viewpoint of life: that some things are indeed so rare that the likelihood of that scenario happening again is slim to none.  Like rescuing someone from a lake...I'm quite confident in saying that that is a once-in-a-lifetime scenario/opportunity.

"Captain, this woman would like to speak with you two."

The Captain I've been flying with is fun, to say the least.  He's one of the very few that I just love to fly with.  I am quite content flying with most of the other Captains, but when I see his name on my schedule, I am actually eager for the trip to arrive.  He's admittedly goofy, hilarious, and in no uncertain terms, absolutely sick and tired of flying.  Which cracks me up since he is so young!  He's only been with the company for five or six years, and (like most) he is already ready to leave!

My last experience with him was a trip from South Bend, Indiana, to Cleveland, Ohio.  During that rather mundane trip, we tuned in our ADF to find some get-rid-of-the-monotony AM radio stations.  We ended up finding a station with "Buck" and "Duke" right over the heart of Indiana.  They talked pagonia flowers, the weather, and everything else that normal Midwesterners talk about.  It was seriously like someone took a mic to a local coffee shop and just listened in while Buck and Duke talked.  Needless to say, everytime we've seen each other since, we've greeted each other with, "Hey Buck!"  "Hiya Duke!"  We have a unique connection.

"Captain, this woman would like to speak with you two."

Early on in my airline days, I heard this exact same line from the Flight Attendant.  It turned out we had a highly-anxious passenger that needed to board first.  I guess in the airline industry there a few times when someone is so overly nervous that they get special attention from the airline.  From what I gathered, they literally take classes to become more at ease.  They get special permission to board the aircraft before any other passenger.  And they sit there and prepare themselves for the upcoming flight.  I don't admire these people at all.  I understand the fear of flying, but the fear in these select few is so great that they actually almost become paralyzed with the fear.  They are seriously terrified of flying.  I've only had one passenger in a year that was like this, but he wanted to see the Captain and set himself at ease.  That's fine.  Whatever works.

"Captain, this woman would like to speak with you two."

I knew exactly what it was going to be.  Another very terrified passenger or a young little boy that wanted to see the flightdeck.  I was hoping for the latter!  I love when little guys come up and see the best room in the house!  Little did I know what I was in for...

A late middle-aged woman stuck her head around the Flight Attendant who continued to basically block the walkway to the flightdeck while the other passengers boarded.  She didn't hesitate...

"Hi, guys, I just wanted you to know that I'm a member of the Families of Flight 3407."

Whoa.  I had turned halfway around to see who wanted to see us, as did the Captain, but we both were not ready for this one.  My eyes went from her directly to the Captain, who was looking directly at me.  Silence.  What in the world do you say to something like that?!  My mind went immediately back to the experience I had several months ago, with a woman who came up to speak with another Captain and myself.  She still had her ticket from Flight 3407...she had simply shown up too late to catch the flight.  I knew right then and there that something like this would never happen again.  I just couldn't believe what I was hearing again today!  We were speechless.  It's the Captain's ship, and I have a place in the right seat (to an extent), and I just waited for him to say something!  For him to come up with some sort of cordial welcome despite the obvious pain and fear that she had to be experiencing.  Silence.

To be honest, I'm really not sure what the Captain ended up saying.  I remember it being very short, and I remember saying something myself to try to pick up the slack.  But what I remember the most is that nothing good was said!  I don't remember if he said "Welcome" or "Sorry" or "Let us know if we can do anything for you," but I remember sitting there thinking that it was not good enough!  After the moments of awkwardness, she turned and walked back to her seat.

The Captain and I just stared at each other.  Silence.

I should probably also mention some other aspects of this particular flight.  We were departing Newark.  The same departure airport as Flight 3407.  We were flying a Dash 8.  The same airplane as Flight 3407.  We were flying in February.  The same month as Flight 3407.  We had a little bit of winter weather.  The same conditions as Flight 3407.  We were flying to Buffalo.  The same destination airport as Flight 3407.

To say that this woman might have been nervous would be an understatement.

But I have to say this.  I was not nervous.  And I wholeheartedly mean that.  We fly the Newark-Buffalo flight numerous times a day, and I've flown that flight a number of times.  We constantly fly in the Northeast weather, ice and snow included.  I don't mean to say this statement lightly, but this was just another typical flight for us.  Of course, my heart went out to her, and I certainly felt compassion for the woman, but in terms of flying this flight, I honestly had no qualms or worries about it.  It's just another flight.

The Captain and I made a little small talk about the surprise and awkwardness of the situation, but it was short-lived.  The door was still open, the woman was still back there, and we had checklists to run.  I made a somewhat joking but serious comment before we left the ground.  "Captain, you better make this landing your best.  This is the last I'll say about it."  I didn't think he needed to have that pressure a minute or two before landing.  I wasn't challenging him.  I was merely vocalizing the desire of each of us to give this woman the best flight of her life.

It's often easy to forget that we fly passengers.  We fly real people.  I keep track of how many people I fly each day (around 15,000/year) along with my hours, but outside of the generic knowledge of that, we can easily forget that we fly husbands and wives, sons and daughters...until we declare an emergency.  Air Traffic Control quickly reminds us with that powerful question, "How many souls on board"?

Souls.  That's really what it's all about.  I'm flying moms to see their sons and daughters in college.  I'm flying men to their jobs to make money for their families back home.  I'm flying grandmas and grandpas to their retirement friends down south.  I'm flying people of all types to birthdays, graduations, celebrations, funerals, job interviews, promotions, sales pitches, new homes, deal closings, and vacations.

And today, I flew a daughter, a mom, a wife to her home in Buffalo.  I don't know her exact details, but I'm afraid that one of those three family connections was shattered one February a couple of years ago.

But today, we flew one beautiful daughter, mom, and wife home.  On a Dash 8 from Newark to Buffalo in the dead of winter.

Oh, and the Captain greased the landing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Sim

Sometimes I sweat when I fly.  That's usually when it's over 100 degrees outside, and we don't have our APU working to blow air, and the station's air cart is out of service.  The hottest I've seen in the actual airplane is 39 degrees Celsius...or roughly 102 degrees.

It gets hot.

But today I sweated in the sim.  THE SIM!!!  It's an air-conditioned environment for crying out loud!

Yup, today I went in for my Loft ride.  It's basically a ride in a fancy-schmancy simulator (costs more than the actual airplane itself...true story).  Every six months our company puts us through a Loft ride...a normal flight just like out on the line, and one flight involving an emergency.

Frankly, it's a great idea seeing as how we [hopefully] don't get engine failures out on the line.  Of course, it could happen at any given moment, but it's not uncommon for an airline pilot to fly for 30 years and never see an engine failure.  But it can happen.  So rather than have him brush off 25-year-old training when it does happen, it's nice to stay proficient and have the flows in your memory from just a few months ago.

Enter Loft rides.

Well, the first ride was simple.  We flew an easy leg down to one of our airports.  Nothin' doin'.

The ride back we had an engine failure.  Our remaining engine showed low oil pressure.  Our airport went below minimums as we were landing, but we chose to take it on down rather than risk a single-engine go-around on a possibly bad engine.  Nothin' doin'.

Fairly simple stuff.

Then we did some other maneuvers which I was slow to act on.  I was ridden hard.  For good measure.  That's why we practice in the sim, because out on the line, we only get one shot.  But I was pretty slow on some maneuvers, and my instructor let me know.

Well, after we wrapped up our necessary training, the instructor asked if we wanted to see anything else.  Sure, I said.  I want to have an engine failure on my leg.

So we did just that.

Little did I know (you never really do, I guess) that my engine was going to quit on departure.  So I was given a V1 cut with an engine fire.  I elected to take care of the fire immediately.

That was fine.  We took care of the situation at hand.  No problem.

But all was not well.  As we circled back to the heading given to us by the instructor, my auto-pilot overshot the heading.  Crap.  I immediately took the airplane off of auto-pilot and flew by hand.  My Captain was immersed in the single-engine checklist, so I did that on my own.  The instructor didn't like that.

Anyway, I let my Captain know that I was flying the airplane on my own, but I realize that I could only turn...but couldn't change altitude.  We quickly realized that I had control of the ailerons and rudder, but I had no control over the elevator.  Unbelievable.

So here I was, flying a single-engine airplane with a former fire, and now I had no control on the pitch.  So the Captain was in control of the altitude and power, and I was in control of the roll and yaw.  We both had our hands on the flight controls then.  But every time he made a power change, I had to compensate with the rudder.  It took some getting used to, but we managed to keep the airplane [somewhat stable].

But it was NOT easy.  I was so frustrated at the situation, too.  It was tough!

Basically, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.  High workload (we had by now by-passed the checklists and were focused on just keeping the airplane flying) and stressful situation.

I starting sweating.

As we stablized the aircraft, I just sat there and fumed at the situation!  I was mad!  Not only did we get an engine failure, but all this?!  Sigh.

And I continued sweating!  EVERY maneuver the Captain did required a change on my part, too.

What's more is we had to shoot an ILS approach.  Yup, not only did we get all of these emergencies thrown at us, but we couldn't see, too.  Unbelievable.

We were able to work together, though, and after realizing the gravity of the situation, we started verbalizing all changes.  "Ok, now I'm going to reduce the power levers, be prepared on the rudder."  It helped out immensely knowing when the Captain was going to make his changes.  Of course, as we intercepted the localizer (me hand-flying) and then the glide-slope (the Captain hand-flying), it provided a whole new set of challenges, but we stuck with it.

It was so easy to get behind that airplane, but we stuck with it.  And we worked together.

But my back was soaked, and I recognized it!

We shot the ILS approach and saw the runway.  We were a bit offset but not bad.  I gradually brought it to centerline as he pitched for the runway.  We touched down with a bit of a hit, but we were down.  And we were down safe.

"Ok, that's it."

And just like that, the Loft ride was over.  No congratulations, no praise, just a "Ok, we're done."

Sigh.  What a flight.

We headed upstairs and talked about everything we did wrong over the past few hours.  It was honestly good to have criticism, but in the same breath, I'm thinking we just salvaged a flight that couldn't have been any worse.

At one point on an unrelated note (windshear go-around), he said I was frighteningly dangerous, a comment that stung and stuck with me!  Again, though, the criticism is decent.  I can recognize my weaknesses and slowness in reaction.  The comments were there, just NOT swiftly.  I'll concede on that one.

All in all, the process was good.  It's certainly a strength to have to fly through these emergencies in the sim, so that they are not really emergencies out on the line.  They would be "just another day in the life."  We are fully-prepared so that we're not confused or stunned out on the line.

Here's to hoping I never see a legitimate emergency, but here's to knowing that I will be well-prepared for when/if one does happen.

But oh, how I hate the sim.  If it can go wrong, it certainly will.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Down to Minimums

I love flying.  I'm one of the few pilots it seems at our company that still gets a joy out of taking to the skies.  I'm just hopelessly in love.

Most days are enjoyable, but some days just kind of satisfy even the hardest-to-reach places.  Like today.  For me, the best part of a pilot's job is when all elements line up to make the pilot rely on every aspect of his or her training.  The best situation?  Not getting to see the runway until you are basically on top of it.  For me, NOTHING ELSE compares.

It was my leg again, this time to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  The Captain shared our destination weather with me:  1 ½ miles visibility forecast all day.  Rain.  Mist.  Ceiling 400 overcast.  Not exactly a pretty day!  But more than enough to land.  Shoot, that’s like VFR in the wintertime!  400 overcast?!  Cakewalk.

We loaded up the new passengers, then headed east for KMDT.  The winds hadn’t changed from this morning.  We had just a couple of bumps in the climb, but it wasn’t anything major at all.  And we still had that 87-knot tailwind to push us along.  Fine by me!  We started out late again due to the late arrival of the previous aircraft, but we would certainly make it up with these tailwinds.
We climbed to FL230.  The winds were strong but were more-so at an angle, so we didn’t get the full effect.  We had 87 knots up there, but only 27 were given as free tailwind.  The rest simply made us aim southeast to fly east.  At one point, we had a 27-degree crab, the most I have ever seen in this airplane.  I was flying a heading of 168 to track a heading of 141.  That’s crazy.

But we were cruising right along.  The Captain and I talked about Kodak declaring bankruptcy and the downfalls that led up to it as well as the whole idea of American bankruptcy.  The company employed 64,000 people in his county at one point.  It’s now down to 7,000 and obviously decreasing even more.  Their bread-and-butter was the hard film.  They made profits hand-over-fist.  Quite simply, they just didn’t make the necessary transition fast enough or fully enough.  And now they are bankrupt.
I commented how weird it would be for my niece to never know the name Kodak.  It has been around for 131 years, including all 29 of mine.  He laughed and said, “Not unless she likes history!”  I was more interested in the idea of it all, though, more than just the personal company.  I went on about how only in America can you declare bankruptcy, screw your creditors, and come out as the same stronger company.  (I would later learn at lunch that this REALLY is an Americanism!  In the USA TODAY paper today, they talked about declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  American Airlines, Kodak, and Hostess were all highlighted.  They can cancel pensions and ignore union contract agreements, all while paying their top brass bonuses.  The very people that make the company are left with nothing…or much less than expected.  In Europe, on the other hand, the entire staff is fired.  In America, you get bonuses.  If you are a corporation, you just cancel your debts.  If you are an individual, you have to make the payments or go to jail.  If you are a corporation, you come out stronger after bankruptcy.  If you are an individual, you are viewed as financially risky for at least seven years.  As the writer put it, “The people who own the gold make the rules.”  An excellent article.  (

The flight passed rather quickly due to the excellent conversation.
Well, sort of.  The Captain grabbed the current weather as we neared the airport.  “ILS critical areas in effect.”  Uh oh!  That means it’s low clouds!

“Visibility ¼ mile.”  Uh oh!  We can’t even shoot the approach!!!  “Freezing fog, freezing mist.”  Yuck!
“Indefinite ceiling.”  The clouds were basically on the field.  What a gross day!

“Winds calm.”
My oh my.  Well, I pulled out the chart for the ILS Runway 13.  I went ahead and fully-briefed the approach to the Captain.  We would continue to monitor the weather to see if we could even start the approach (we needed at least ½ mile visibility to even be legal to start the approach just like any other aircraft).

But we were nearing the airport fast with that tailwind.  I increased our rate of descent to get us to our assigned altitude with plenty of time to slow down and make the approach easily.  The Flight Attendant was given the chime to complete the cabin for landing.  Agh, I couldn’t stop being excited!!!  I could hear the excitement in my voice as I talked.  It’s a nervous excitement.  An excitement that can only be found when navigating an 18-ton vessel at 130 MPH down to 200 feet of the ground and possibly never seeing the ground!!!  Were my palms sweating?!  Agh!!!  I LOVE this type of flying!
I went over the Missed Approach procedure, something that VERY much may come into effect today.  It’s very rare to do due to weather (I’ve had three go-arounds in a year of flying for this company with zero due to weather.  One was due to Tower putting us too close behind another aircraft, one was due to me not getting the airplane slow enough for landing, and one was due to the approach controller giving us bad vectors).

But today was a very legitimate day for a go-around.  Why?  Basically, the visibility is so bad that when you get 200 feet above the ground, you might not see the runway.  I was coming in at 112 knots or nearly 130 MPH.  And when I am flying at 130 MPH, I am moving at 190.67 feet per second.  If I am descending at 500 feet/minute, then at 200 feet, I have just 20 seconds before I am on the ground.  Things happen fast.  You do NOT want to be at 200 feet above the ground without seeing the earth.
The Captain called “in range,” telling the ground crew that we were near.  He asked if anyone had been able to land, and the woman responded that she hadn’t seen anybody…and that it was terribly yucky down there.  All right, well, there we go.  Just like we figured, it’s a crummy day!

Well, we were told to intercept the localizer and descend from 4000 feet down to 3000 feet.  Approach told us that the RVR(Runway Visual Range…how far I can see down the runway) was now 1400.  NOT good.  We needed either 1800 RVR or ½ mile to continue the approach past the FAF (Final Approach Fix).  But we were still four miles from the FAF and only doing 170 knots, so I slowed it up a bit more to buy some precious time, hoping the visibility would increase.  We basically had a minute to get better visibility, or we had to go hold somewhere and hope the visibility increased.  We had 500 pounds of fuel onboard before we had to divert to another airport, so we had some time before that would take place (20 minutes).  Approach then told us the RVR was 1200 feet at Touchdown.  It was a no-go.  If it didn’t change in the next few seconds, we couldn’t do the approach.  NO airplane could do the approach.  C’mon, Approach, tell me something I want to hear!  1800!  1800!  1800!
We asked one more time before the FAF.  “RVR 1200.”  That’s it, it’s off!  We could not land.  The glide-slope had just started to capture, and the airplane began to descend down towards the runway.  I kicked the auto-pilot off and immediately leveled off at 3000.  We couldn’t shoot the approach.  Approach seemed confused asking us what we needed, and we told him at least 1800 RVR.  He spouted off a couple of new numbers as the visibility changed on the ground, but that was foolish.  We were already PAST the FAF.  To even try to pull this off now would put us behind the airplane.  Sigh.  It terrifies me that Approach doesn’t know what we need!  We refused.  I hand-flew to 3100 feet (assigned to us) and the heading given to us.  We would circle back and try again.  But we NEEDED 1800 or better.

As we made our circle, this time the RVR was reported as 2000 feet.  We came back around, intercepted the localizer, and continued the approach.  We were cleared for the approach and had 2000 feet at the FAF.  We could now continue.  Good!  Agh, how exciting!!!  I can now try to find the runway, but I have NO idea if that runway is going to appear or not!!!  I was admittedly excited.  These days are few and far between, and it takes extreme concentration.  You only get one shot, and you better do it right.  Or you best climb climb climb!
We started to descend out of 3000 feet on the glide-slope.

I slowed to 158 knots.
“Gear down.”  The Captain put the gear down at my command.

“Three green, no red.”
“Three green, no red.”  I reiterated that the gear was indeed down and locked with no malfunctions.

I then had the Captain set the props for landing.
“Flaps 15, finals.”  I called for the remaining procedures.

He set my flaps to 15 degrees as we descended.  All right, let's slow this baby up.  140 knots.  130 knots.  120 knots.  115 knots.  Ok, that is good.  I was aiming for 112, but I like a buffer.
“1000 feet.”  The Captain let me know we were just 1000 feet from our 200-foot above the runway mark.  We were in solid IMC with rain.

115 knots.  “Auto-pilot off.”  I disengaged the auto-pilot and let the Captain know.  I was going to hand-fly this one in, and I wanted to feel the winds or lack thereof up to the touchdown.  How heavy was this airplane?  How light?  Any buffets?  I needed to feel the airplane to make a good approach and landing.
“500 feet.”  The Captain let me know we were 500 feet from making our decision.  Either we get the lights in sight, or we go-around.  No other option.

Getting a little to the left.  Ever so gentle, ever so gentle, bring it back.  Fly with your feet, easy on the hands.
“400 feet.”  Solid IMC.  No inkling of anything anywhere.  Solid white.

“300 feet.”  Nothing.  My eyes are 100% inside.  Airspeed.  Localizer.  Glide-slope.
“200 feet.”  I steal a glance outside.  Solid clouds.

“100 feet.”  We might not get this runway at all!  A little to the left still, back over.  Get ready to shove those power levers forward and get out of there!!!
At this point, we are just 100 feet away from our “decision altitude.”  Three things can happen.  1.  We get the runway in sight.  The Captain calls it in sight, then I gradually bring my eyes from inside to outside and verify that I have it, as well.  We land.  2.  The Captain gets the approach lights in sight.  These are very high intensity lights that basically “take us home.”  They lead up to the runway and provide a final tracking to the runway.  If we get these, we can actually then descend down to 100 feet above the runway.  If at 100 feet, we still don’t have the runway, we go-around immediately.  3.  We don’t ever see the lights OR the runway.  We get out of Dodge as fast as we can.

Back again to his last call-out.
“100 feet.”  Still nothing.  In just another 100 feet, if we don’t…

“Approach lights in sight!!!  Continue!”  He was obviously excited, something that looking back on makes me appreciate.  The Captain is literally staring out the windshield the entire time at this point, having no concern (if he trusts the F.O.) for what is taking place inside.  He is searching for lights or runway.  If he doesn’t get them, we can’t land, and he has to let me know immediately at our decision altitude!  Of course, I am watching my altitude, too, and I’ll certainly go around without him saying it, but that’s not the proper procedure.  He’s a pretty laid-back guy, so his perkiness in voice made me think that he was actually surprised to get the lights!  He, too, wasn’t sure if we would ever see the runway with this thick fog.  We just didn’t know!!!
“Runway in sight!”  He let me know he had it.  I glanced up and saw the approach lights.  Nothing with the runway, though.  I looked down to check everything, then back up.  The green bar! Aha!  “Runway in sight.”  I could then land.  At this point, we are just 100 feet above the ground.

I moved over a bit to the centerline (a hair off) and had one of the best landings ever.  The wet runway helped, I’m sure, but it was PERFECT.  Quite simply put, there is NO greater satisfaction than that flight right there.  It never gets old for me.  The Captain said good job, probably relieved that we had made it in!  I was beaming.  A job well done.
My mind is usually on the passengers and what they think, and today was no different.  Whenever we hit turbulence.  Whenever we fly through heavy snow or rain.  What do they see?  What do they hear?  What do they feel?  And a flight like this?  The thoughts they must have had!  They hear the gear go down.  They see NOTHING but white outside their windows.  They know we are close.  They have to know.  But they see nothing…no houses, no trees, no earth, nothing!

If they are staring out their windows, they will get a nasty surprise.  They will basically see a treetop appear out of what they think is a cloud.  At 100 feet, they may not even get that!  The first sight they see may very well be the ground next to the runway as we touch down!  I LOVE THAT.  By the time they realize what just took place, we are already on the ground and taxiing off the runway.  THAT is satisfaction.
And this flight?  Perfect.  An absolute greaser.  Just perfect.  I guarantee that 90% of the people had NO clue we cut off the first approach.  Probably 100%.  No one knew what decisions were made, what was going through the minds of two pilots up front.  No one knew that we were a second or two away from flying out of there and possibly going to a different airport.  They just put their trust in two men they had never met.  And I get such a thrill out of that!

The Captain taxied in, and he (oddly) kept the door closed that separates us from the passengers.  I was so eager to hear the praise of the passengers, and I was more than sure I would get it (you know when you will).  But he sat there and left the door closed.  Oh no!!!  I knew exactly what was going to happen!!!  I was going to have to sit there and bask in my own glory!  Noooo!!!  Whether it was intentional or not, I may never know, but I really took the impression that he left the door closed on purpose.  It was probably for my own good!  Here was a guy that has probably had several of these in his 12-year career.  He knows the difficulty of them, and he also knows of our ability to do them.  He could have also been jealous, I don’t know!  That happens, too!  You never want to have too many good landings with a Captain that can’t!  But I saw the passengers get off the airplane out his side window, and not a one, NOT A ONE was able to say anything to me!!!  Talk about being humbled!!!  I wanted so badly to stand there in the walkway and greet them as they walked off, and I was certainly eager to hear their compliments, too!!!  Agh!!!  Haha.
But there I was, left sitting upfront with the Captain, as they all deplaned.  After they were all off, the Captain said, “After you.”  I opened the door to an empty airplane outside of the Flight Attendant.  All of my smiling passengers were all gone.  Sigh.  Not a one to say thanks or great job or well done.  I went from confident pilot to menial worker again and helped her put the seatbelts all straight on the seats.  I then grabbed my stuff and headed for the hotel shuttle.  Our day was over.

An approach called off due to terrible visibility.  A second shot at it.  A perfect execution from both sides, finally getting the runway in sight at 100 feet.  One of the smoothest landings.  33 people delivered safely.  The largest dose of humility.
And a smile that I just can’t get off my face!  There really is nothing more rewarding than flying down to minimums, wondering if you are ever going to see the earth.  Are we going to land or throw the power levers forward and get out of there?!  I don’t know…and I love it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sometimes It's the Little Things in Life

Just two years ago, I was tickled pink to be taking the upgrade from a Cessna 172 to a Piper Aztec.  Instead of flying 110 knots around the country, I was going to be flying 145 knots.

And I was the happiest kid alive.

Well, I can now say that I have flown the fastest I've ever experienced as a pilot.
402 KNOTS!!!  In a prop plane!  Thank you, winter jetstream, for the help today!

Sometimes it's the small things.  :)