The Author is David Reed, a commercial pilot for over 40 years. Over these four decades he has had many events occur, some interesting, some exciting, a few that were frightening and a lot of misadventures. Every story in this blog is true.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Cold Winter Night

Marvin Falitz was a friend of mine. We flew together at Northwest Airlink. We both had been in the Navy before, too. Marvin was on submarines, I was on a destroyer. One day I left a picture in his file of depth charges going off as a ship attacked a sub, and wrote "Another steel coffin goes to the bottom". He replied with a picture of a ship blowing up from a torpedo hit with one simple word: Target. 
Marv had spent a lot of time in the Merchant Marine making big bucks but he got tired of seeing endless open ocean every day. So he got his flying license, built some time and got hired at Airlink. He was the only First Officer to ever show up at class in a Mercedes Benz. He got posted to Minneapolis and when winter hit his car wouldn't start. It was a diesel and the fuel had gelled. So it sat there for two months in the employee parking lot until we hit a warm day, then he traded it in on a new Lexus. And I was driving a Yugo.
One day a group of us went to the horse track. It was a beautiful summer afternoon and my first time to a horse race. We were using these scientific formulas that Eddie had to pick a horse, but Marvin just picked ones because "I knew someone with a name like that". We lost every race, but Marvin won every time. Every time! He'd collect his winnings, buy us all hot dogs and beer, and pick another horse. At the end of the day, before the final race, we gave all our remaining money to Eddie with instructions to place a big bet on this particular horse that Marvin had picked, Lucky Lindy or something. We went out to the parking lot, piled into the Lexus and picked up Eddie at the gate. "Did you make the bet?" "Yes, but I picked Snagglepuss. He had much better numbers." "What?!" Later we learned that indeed, Lucky Lindy had won, and if he'd placed that bet like we told him to we all would have made like $500 each.
One late November afternoon in 1993 Marvin called me up. "I want to go fly the B-17," he said. Some girlfriend had bought him this line control, gas powered balsa wood B-17 model. He built it and it was huge, and amazingly detailed! "Are you sure? It's pretty windy today." "Yep, it's taking up too much room in my apartment." So I met him at this church parking lot. Crystal clear blue sky, windy, cold. We set it up, it was a beauty, so much detail. I held the tail while Marvin started the engines, then he ran over and grabbed the control line. "Let it go!" he yelled. I let go and off it went. After a quarter turn it lifted off, looking exactly like an old movie scene from WW2. Beautiful! I was speechless. Then a wheel fell off so we knew this wouldn't end well. As it continued around the circle it climbed higher and higher, higher and higher. After three quarters of a turn it was directly overhead, stalled and plummeted downwards. "Look out!" I yelled. It crashed right next to Marv, not ten feet away. A million pieces of balsa wood and olive drab smashed into the ground. We stood looking at it a while, then Marvin said, "Sigh. Just as well. I didn't have room for it anymore." We took a few pictures of Marv laying next to it like it had creamed him good. Then he poured the remaining model engine fuel on the wreckage and lit it.
December 1, 1993. Marvin and Chad flew up to Hibbing in a Jetstream 31, flight 5719. The weather was night time winter lousy, with fog, icing and snow. They flew the back course approach, but when they were supposed to level off they got distracted for a moment, leveled off a few hundred feet low and hit a tall tree doing 140 mph. Took the right wing off, it rolled 190 degrees to the right and hit a slag hill moments later, killing all 19 on board instantly.The NTSB was pretty hard on Marvin, calling him abusive. But I knew Marv, and I'll always remember that smoke from the burning model rising up into the annihilating sky, like God calling him home. You're gone but not forgotten Marv, fair winds and following seas my salty friend. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016


   When you fly with a copilot, you need to understand this: Anything they do wrong is your fault. Your boss, the FAA, even your wife will ask "Why did you let him do that?" Flying with a copilot is both good and bad. A good copilot (Tom W or Rachel R) makes life better, safer, happier. A bad copilot makes the flight a single pilot operation with a handicap in the right seat. You have to watch those copilots every second. It's exhausting.
   August 29, 2016. We're flying the usual route, St Louis to Atlanta, then Charlotte and down to Orlando. We always arrive in Charlotte at the busiest time of the day, so things are typically crazy, like WalMart on Black Friday. Planes are landing and taking off from 36R every couple of minutes, and in the blistering August heat the rubber and grease on the pavement is slick and sticky. My copilot is flying while I work the radio. Speedy isn't the worst, nor is he the best. He's pretty good most of the time. One CRJ takes off just ahead of us, an American Airbus is close behind us and the tower is obviously planning on squeezing out another CRJ right after we land. So the need here is to keep the speed up, then land and make the turnoff right in front of Wilson Jet Center, which is where we're going. This requires some talent to accomplish, but my copilot Speedy has a habit of landing fast. And today is no exception.
   On short final he is supposed to pull the power back and slow quickly to landing speed. Not happening. We fly over the threshold as the tower says "Brickyard 4211, line up and wait, be ready, traffic three mile final." As he screws around trying to get a smooth landing I say "Get this thing on the ground, will you?!" He lands it and we're going like a bat, and here comes our turn off. The next one is way down the runway and missing this will completely screw up the tower's plans, cause American to go around, and get us in Dutch with everybody. He starts to bring the engines into reverse and I shout "I got it!", get on the reversers hard and mash on the brakes. A Metroliner brakes are next to worthless, so pushing hard is usually an effort in futility. Today however, the right outboard brake decides to work much better than the rest, the slick runway helps the process, and lo and behold the right outboard wheel locks up. I don't know it because I'm steering onto the exit and the Metro cockpit is LOUD. But the guys on the ramp at Wilson Jet Center hear it. They all look up to the sound of a locked up tire, smoke pouring from the wheel, engines in reverse. They said it was quite an impressive sight indeed. We get slowed to a nice slow speed and taxi in while running the After Landing checklist. As we pull into the parking spot everyone is pointing at the right landing gear. I get out and see this (brand new) tire with a great big hole in it and smell the unmistakable smell of burnt rubber.  Ah, crap. So I call it in and we spend the night there while maintenance sends a new tire and wheel assembly to Charlotte overnight. Inside, the girls behind the counter were quite impressed. Took them just a minute to come up with my new nickname: Screech. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Gene Gets A Violation

I don't remember exactly when this happened, but I'd bet it was sometime in late 1992. It is typical for a controller to operate more than one frequency at once. We see this even today, especially on Center frequencies where, for example, Atlanta Center might be monitoring and working four frequencies at once. Usually this happens when business is quite slow. Not hard to do when all four combined have only two airplanes. Sometimes though it tests the limit of the controllers sanity and I sympathize with them during these frustrating times. Keep it short and sweet and no special requests when the controller is so obviously overworked. Want to go direct to destination? Ah, let's wait until the next guy, this guy seems swamped. Then some private pilot jumps in and has this long, complicated request for something silly and you (and everyone else) rolls their eyes. 
One evening it was nearing the end of rush hour in Minneapolis. Rush hour, or "push" as it's sometimes called, is when all the flights fly into a hub, switch passengers, and fly out again. Regional flights typically arrive just before the push so passengers can easily make connections to our mainline code-sharing partner (Northwest). We leave last too, after everyone has arrived on the mainline flights. At the hub, regionals are first in, last out. And while I'm at it, let me just say for the record, we HATE being called commuter airlines. We are a regional airline. We serve this region. Got it? But I digress. 
So it's near the end of the evening push. Night has fallen, so this is probably late fall or winter. The traffic is still fairly busy. I'm at the end of the runway, 11L. Gene is at the end of 11R. Our flight numbers are very similar. I'm probably flight 4021 and Gene is something like 4031. You know, similar. The tower controller is working two frequencies, one for the north runway (123.95) and one for the south runway (126.7). I'm on 123.95, Gene is on 126.7. The controller clears me into position on 11L, which we acknowledge. At the same time, Gene's copilot mistakenly acknowledges and Gene taxis onto 11R. Neither Gene nor the controller caught the mistake. The controller clears me to take off, which we do. Gene sits on 11R, awaiting his clearance. And he waits, and waits. Meanwhile a big Northwest DC-10 is getting closer and closer to landing on 11R. Then the guy sitting next in line behind Gene notices the DC-10 about to land on 11R with Gene sitting there and says on the tower frequency, "You know, there's a plane in position on 11 right." The controller immediately tells the Northwest DC-10 to go around and starts asking who the hell is on the runway. Gene of course replies "Flagship 4031 is position and hold on 11R." The DC-10 screams overhead, missing Gene by a few feet. The controller is livid. He gets Gene off the runway and quickly things get back to normal. The FAA investigated. Often when a pilot screws up, the FAA is happy to let the pilot's employer dish out the disciplinary action. Saves them the trouble, the pilot gets punished, everyone (except the pilot) is happy. Airlines do not like their pilot group having a list of violations. But not this time. Gene got a 90 day suspension of his license, the copilot got fired because he was still on probation, and the rest of us learned an important lesson. 
I've had new copilots, even today, respond to a call meant for someone else. Usually I just say something like "Not for us, pay attention!" If it's while we are at the end of the busy runways at Charlotte International, it'll get him banned from the radio for the rest of the night and a serious dressing down by yours truly. It's when my sailor language really kicks in. A friend of mine got killed during takeoff because of someone talking on the frequency when it wasn't for them. As a Captain, I learned long ago that you can't be politically correct or everyone's friend all the time. Sometimes you have to be a son of a bitch, you need to be a son of a bitch because someday he might make that mistake again and it'll cost him his life. Now I understand why Marine Corp drill instructors yell a lot. It all makes sense now.