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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cockpit Talk

     There's an old saying: What's said in the cockpit, stays in the cockpit. During your flight you could say anything, do anything and you wouldn't have to worry about anyone else hearing about it. It's an airborne confessional in a way. A good crew that gets along well has this bond, this code of ethics. Of course if you do something REALLY stupid, like taxi into the mud and get stuck, well that's not going to keep secret. Or if you have a problem with passing gas, everyone will hear about that, too. Flight attendants know about the Code and most of them respect it.
     When you fly to Las Vegas, the rule "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" applies too. Applies to anyplace you lay over. There are things that happened there that I will take to the grave, for my word is my bond. I take the Code of Ethics very seriously. Which is why I get upset when people violate that code. Where I work now, they've never heard of the Code. What you do or say in the cockpit is company-wide news the next day. Some guys even keep little notes, then send these to the Director of Operations via email in the hopes of, well, I don't know what they're hoping for. "David Reed doesn't use the radar," was one complaint. Because on clear days I don't need it. The same atmosphere of animosity applies even when you're away from the airport. At my current job it is a difficult environment to work in, because you basically can't talk about anything with anybody, and I'm sure not going to let that weasel fly the airplane ever again. I'll probably hear about that in the near future too. 
      At my last job at Ameriflight, the rule was true. The Code of Ethics didn't have to be taught, everyone already had it. They were born and raised with it. Even my first flying job, long time ago, we lived by the Code because if you squealed on others you were labelled a weasel. To us, the Code of Silence is like the mafia Code of Silence. It's religious in nature, to break it was sacrilegious and once you did, no one ever trusted you again. Ever. 
     That's why I like a small corporate job, with one airplane and two pilots. We could be up there in the clouds doing loops or smoking cigars and no one would ever know it. The biggest squealer I know is a former government employee. He honestly believes he is doing a good thing by being a squealer. He has no Code of Ethics, no Code of Silence, no Corps, Country, Family. He is not, nor will he ever be, one of us, for he has no respect for the Code or for himself.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hotel Motel

Hotel Motel

As every pilot knows, hotels are a part of any aviation career. How good a hotel is depends on who is paying. Business pilots usually stay in nice places. Airline pilots run the whole gambit, from the Sheraton to Motel 4.
     As an aspiring pilot I used to think any hotel was an adventure. It started with the cheapest motels, when I worked my first flying jobs and staying overnight anywhere was rare. My first real experience with extensive motel living though was at Northwest Airlink. Almost every trip ended at some small town motel. Often these overnights were continuous duty by nature, because we didn't have enough time to get legal rest. We called them stand up overnights because you usually got about five hours of sleep. In Hibbing Minnesota we stayed at the Americas Best Value Inn. A cab usually drove us there and I remember the driver always had a bottle of scotch in hand to help keep warm with. This motel was bare bones basic. We broke down once and spent three nights there waiting for the plane to get fixed. There were two high school hockey teams and a cheerleading squad there as well. Our flight attendant was Sahrie, and all night long these kids would be in the hallways partying with Sahrie screaming obscenities at them. Later the company gave me the Employee of the Month award for helping out at the airport while we were waiting, but the Chief Pilot told me it was really for surviving that nightmare with Sahrie. They couldn't believe I didn't strangle her. 
     In Eau Claire we stayed at a slightly better motel. The American Motel or something like that. It was a safety rule that flight crews always stayed on the second floor or higher, but one night he put the flight attendant in a room on the first floor. Around 0430 she woke up to find a man crawling through her window! She screams, he runs, she calls me and we all meet in the lobby. She's ok and it's about time to leave anyway so we just grabbed a cab to the airport. I made sure she reported it to her supervisor, Sue Berg. Back in Minneapolis Sue asks her if she'd recognize the guy and our flight attendant says “Yes! It was the albino creep behind the front desk.” She gasped “Why didn't you say something??” “Well, I didn't want to delay the flight.” Sue marched her out to the ticket counter and they both got on the next flight to Eau Claire, called the police and went with them to arrest the guy. This created panic among our young flight attendant group, but Sue knew her job well. “If you are concerned, you may bring a relative or boyfriend along if you'll feel safer.” Boyfriends went along on every overnight for six months.
     In Sioux City, Iowa, before we were based there, we stayed at the downtown Hilton. Not as fancy as it sounds, but it was nice. We always got the same rooms, every time. Flight Attendants used to leave notes for each other in their room. One night the flight got downgraded and they used a plane with no flight attendant. That night the First Officer got assigned the flight attendant's room. As he walked in he was startled by a large black man who came out of the dark bathroom. The man said he was with maintenance and left. The FO called the front desk who told him no, there was no maintenance at that time of night. After that little incident we started a new routine. It was a routine the pilots came up with on our own. When the flight attendant goes in her room we would stand by the open door while she checked the bathroom, under the bed and behind the curtains. I still do that even today whenever I fly with a woman. 
     Some hotels were memorable for different reasons. In Las Vegas we stayed on the 28th floor of a luxury hotel where each room had a jacuzzi in it. It was heaven! I've stayed at numerous bed & breakfasts that were delightful, and surprisingly affordable. The Hilton Garden Inn in Mobile AL is a favorite because it was just a nice time, as was the old west hotel in a small town in the middle of nowhere, Texas.  In Orlando we stayed at a resort, that was so relaxing we left only once. Giant pool with water slide, meals poolside, bar by the pool. In Evansville IN we had reservations at the Holiday Inn. Upon arrival the desk agent was very rude. No rooms left, he said. Sorry, can't do a thing. Goodbye. My boss was so mad he took the man’s name and we left. Went to the fanciest hotel in Evansville and stayed there. The next morning he said my job was to make life a living hell for that guy. So I called up the Holiday Inn home office. Explained how I am the chief pilot for a major corporation (sorta) and we always stay at the Holiday Inn. She thanked me for our loyalty. “Except Evansville. When I talk to other corporate pilots should I say Holiday Inn is great except Evansville? I don't think he represents your company very well.” She promised to call me back and about thirty minutes later she did. “We paid for your hotel last night, it was credited back to your card. That man you spoke with no longer works for Holiday Inn.” Let me tell you, unemployment is the best revenge!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Big Scare


     So here I am, right out of flight school. I got maybe 250 flight hours total, with hardly any instrument time to speak of and even less actual bad weather flying. My father ran a business in Connecticut and one day he needed to send two guys to Watertown NY. Would I like to fly them? You bet! So I rented a Cessna 172 from the local airport and on the appointed day I met the two men at the small terminal. The weather wasn't too bad, but the forecast was for a bad snow storm coming in from the west. If everything went according to schedule, we'd leave Watertown just ahead of the storm. So off we went, enjoying a nice ride up over Connecticut and New York state to our destination. While they were in town I checked the weather constantly. No computer weather service back then, all I could was call a government employee at the Flight Service Station (FSS) who would give me a weather briefing. More like a weather bashing. The storm was moving faster than expected, and the two guys I flew up there were taking longer than expected. Finally, at the last possible moment they showed up and off we went towards Hartford. 
   As we flew along the airways (no GPS then either) it had gotten quite cloudy and quite bumpy. We cruised at about 125 kts, but our ground speed was around 60. The weather was getting worse and the guy next to me says "Christ! The cars down there are passing us!" Finally, as we crawled past Utica I gave it up and decided to land there rather than press on. I knew my limitations and I was maxed out. We landed on a very snow-covered airport where high winds threatened to overturn the little airplane. Once I got it parked they went inside, rented a car and drove the rest of the way. I went to a cheap motel to wait out the storm. The next day the weather seemed to be clearing and the FSS guy was saying the worst was passing Hartford now and should be fine by the time I get there, so I got the Cessna ready and took off for home. The closer I got to Hartford, the lower the ground speed, the weather was worsening and the turbulence was crazy bad. No autopilot so I was just fighting this thing every second. I crawled past Albany, then slower and slower towards Hartford, the weather getting worse and worse. Now all I wanted to do was just get this stupid thing on the ground. I didn't have time to get sick, because it was so rough I was getting downright scared. I focused on flying, working very hard to keep it pointed in the right general direction. Not Easy! Hartford Approach Control vectored me for the only approach there, a VOR approach from the south. This meant crawling my way down south with a ground speed of about 35 knots. He tried to turn me inbound once but quickly turned me back, the wind was just too strong. I'm looking at the approach plate as best I can, what with everything flying about the cockpit. I'd been getting beat up hard for well over three hours now. I was physically exhausted, scared to death and I knew when I turned inbound I'd have this enormous tailwind that would make the approach last only a couple of minutes. I decided I'd descend down until I saw the ground, minimums be damned! Approach control turned me inbound, I picked up the approach course more or less, descended down at a very good rate and saw the ground in plenty of time. Flash down the runway, crank it around to final, drop full flaps and touchdown at about walking speed. It wasn't over yet. I still had to get to the tie down before this windstorm flipped me over. Holding the controls this way and that way, I taxied slowly to parking, shut the engine off and tied it down quickly. With hardly a word I dropped off the keys, drove home, went into my bedroom and sat there having a serious discussion with myself about whether I really wanted to keep doing this. The next day I finally decided I had too much invested in this, it couldn't be this bad all the time, so I'd keep at it. For now. Since then I've been in a lot of similar weather in a lot of different airplanes. I still get nervous, but I never got really scared again. I know now what to do to get through it and would focus on that. Mostly I just get mad. When the turbulence gets really bad, my Navy sailor language returns, because I can't believe I got myself into this again.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Things You Don't See Every Day

     Life is always full of surprises. I love that, keeps me on my toes, always interested in the next hour. When I was a young boy of about 12, I was out in my front yard playing one day. I heard a noise, looked up, and there I saw three World War II era TBM Avenger torpedo bombers in formation, maybe five hundred feet in the air, roaring right over my house! I ran in to my mom, talking a mile a minute and saying how we have to go to the airport. So we did! Mom was great that way. She always supported my flying interest.
     As a new private pilot and only 17 years old, I got checked out in the slightly larger Cessna 172, a four seat Cessna. Not much, but it was "big iron" to me! I was in the pattern after having been checked out, doing some touch and goes on a cloudy but quiet day. As I touched down on one landing I suddenly notice a Mooney, a fast little airplane, touching down on the same runway but coming right at me in the opposite direction! I quickly braked and veered off into the grass as he went sailing past me with his brakes locked up. Surprise!
     I remember the day I picked up a new Cessna 152 from the factory in Kansas. I was headed down to Tulsa in this brand new machine at around 1500' and decided what the heck, I'll do a roll. I'd seen pilots do it all the time in the movies so I figured how hard could it be? I cranked the control wheel all the way over to the right. As we became almost inverted the thing just quit, fell out on its back and suddenly I was pointed straight down at a field full of cows. AAHHH! I quickly pulled out, missing the cows by maybe a hundred feet. I continued to Tulsa swearing I'd never do that again. Years later, I did. Same result. 
     Droning along one Sunday morning in winter from New Bedford to Nantucket in my PBA Cessna 402C. A few passengers onboard, nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly these two F-111 Air Force fighter-bombers flew past me, I mean one right in front of me and one right over top of me. Freakin close! I watched them curve around, then roll hard over and dive down to the runway at Nantucket. I asked the control tower in a fairly aggravated tone what the heck was that all about. "Oh, they come down from Pease AFB sometimes and simulate bombing the airport. They had you in sight." Oh big relief. Jeesh!
     One day I'm at my home in Sioux City Iowa working in the yard when I hear a jet close by. I look up and see a bright red MIG-15 fly overhead, maybe 1000' high or less. I mean, it's not every day you see a Russian fighter buzzing your neighborhood! I drove out to the airport and saw him parked on the National Guard ramp. Privately owned, bright red warbird. So cool.
     Landed in Boston in my PBA Cessna 402C on 33R. We turned off at the end and held short of the longer runway, 33L, as a United DC-10 thundered down the runway. He took forever to rotate, obviously loaded for a flight to LA or SFO. As he rotated in front of us a bright flame came out of hs right engine, huge tongue of flame. The passenger in the front seat and I watched him and he turns to me and says "That isn't normal, is it?" I was impressed by the fact that with only two engines working, this heavily loaded whale of an airplane was still climbing better than my 402C ever hoped to.
     Finally, I'm holding short of runway 27 in Duluth MN one afternoon. In front of us, two Canadian CF-18s takeoff down the runway, afterburners blazing. Shortly after, three Minnesota ANG F-16's line up and blast down the runway in hot pursuit. As the third one is lifting off we notice a little extra flame coming from his tailpipe. He zooms up and to the right into a downwind position, a long trail of flame engulfing the F-16's belly and stretching far behind it. Then the canopy pops off and a large cloud of brownish smoke comes out, as does the pilot in his seat, small parachute pulling big parachute out. Seat falls away as does canopy while the main chute blossoms open. The pilot floats down to the ground right in front of us on the airport service road. He said later that after he landed he looked around, saw no one, so he gathered up his chute and walked to the hangar. Came around the corner and the Sergeant said "Captain! Didn't you just leave?" and he replied "Yep. The plane's up in the woods. What should I do with this chute?" 
     I wonder what strange thing I'll see next...

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Night To Remember


     I was on call for an MTS trip. These are organ transplant flights and we are required to have a crew ready 24/7 for these. In years past, I was it, and was on call every single day. A day off required a special request. Today though we get regular days off. Me, I didn't care, I love flying MTS trips, but the wife wasn't too happy about it. 
     In the winter the airplane went in the shop for an avionics upgrade, including ADS-B and satellite weather (Nexrad). When it was done I got put on call and in no time I was called out just before sunset for a trip. The weather was terrible: lots of rain in St Louis, and two, count 'em, two lines of thunderstorms running in a long line from St Louis to our destination. We got all prepped and ready, the passengers showed up and as we taxied out I remarked to the First Officer, whom I've never flown with before, "You know how to work this Nexrad?" No, he had no idea. We launched and headed northwest, then paralleled the lines of weather with a beautiful sunset dead ahead and very impressive lightning on our left. We messed around with the Nexrad as we climbed to 20,000' and managed to eventually figure out how to get it working. It worked great, giving us a terrific display of the weather. Naturally our destination was right between these two big lines of weather. As we got closer I spotted a hole in the line nearest us, which was confirmed by ATC. I knew the bases of the clouds were around 6000' so we descended down to 4000' as we steered our way through the weather. Below the weather you could clearly see where all the rain showers were and had a good view of the lightning flashing to the ground all around. We passed a single engine Bonanza going the other way and wondered what was he doing out in this. Then a tremendous flash of white light and a gigantic bolt of lightning blasted down right in front of us! Aye carumba! We were actually able to fly a visual approach into the airport, and as we pulled on to the ramp it began pouring rain with some hail too. Not wanting to get drenched, we all sat in the airplane for a few minutes until it subsided somewhat. I told the coordinator don't be in a big rush to get back, better to let this weather pass by. She was all for that. So around three hours later the weather had moved off to the southeast and the moon was high in a clear sky. Another plane landed and taxied in, having just come from St Louis. I asked the pilot how was it and he said it was clear all the way. Well isn't that always my luck! The passengers showed up, we taxied out and flew home in a clear dark sky. That's when I discovered just how inexperienced the First Officer really was. Sigh, another day and night in the life of a commercial pilot. Never a dull moment. Think I'll get some training material together for that Nexrad. And maybe the FO too.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Caribbean Fun With The FBI

     Summer 1986. I'm flying charters and trying to make a living at it in Jacksonville FL. So far I'm having a hard time paying even one of my bills. One afternoon a friend of mine called and said there was a job posting on their bulletin board. It was for a flying job in the Cayman Islands, one of those dream jobs you hear about but they never turn into anything. But with bills piling up I thought what the heck and called the number. A woman answered, Mrs Marjorie Bodden. She said it was an air charter business and their only pilot, her son, had died in a plane crash last week. Did I have any turbine experience? "Oh sure, I got time in a Cheyenne," which was kinda true. I once flew in the right seat of a Cheyenne II but wasn't allowed to actually touch anything. "I can send you an airline ticket tomorrow, can you start right away?" I said I would need till the end of the week so she made me a reservation for Friday. After celebrating for about 30 seconds I started to think. First I called the DEA and asked if this place, Executive Air Services, was legit. "We don't discuss that information, sorry." So I tried the US Customs office in Miami. "Sorry, we don't discuss ongoing investigations," the man said. I explained my situation and said I just didn't want to get involved with a bunch of drug smugglers. He said he understood and appreciated my concerns. "I can tell you this. They're not currently under investigation." Good enough for me. I began packing my bags and the newest US Customs investigation began.
     As I got assimilated to the life of Riley in the Caribbean, sipping iced tea on the beach at sunset when not flying to exotic places, the FBI and US Customs approached Marjorie's husband, William (a bit of a degenerate), posing as drug dealers. Said they wanted to launder $40 million in drug money and would he fly this cash from Miami to the Cayman Island banks for them? That was very illegal because you are supposed to declare any amount over $10,000 when you leave the country. So naturally Mr William Bodden said yes when they offered him $1 million for his troubles. A few months go by, and then one day, about a year after I started, the trap was sprung. Why it took them a whole year is beyond me. On Miami Vice they could have done this in 48 minutes. But I digress. We load up and fly the Turbine Commander up to Tamiami Airport on yet another Bodden family shopping trip, or so I though. We landed, cleared customs, and then I took off again for Jacksonville to load up the rest of my belongings. Yep, I was going all in for this job. This little side trip caught them all by surprise. Later I saw surveillance photos of me loading my boxes into the airplane in Jacksonville, taken by local FBI agents. I flew back to Tamiami Airport the next day, filled out the required US Customs forms under the watchful, distrustful and glaring eyes of US Customs agents. Nothing suspicious here, US Customs agents are always distrustful and glaring. Put them in a convenience store and they'll make you feel like buying those Twinkies is a felony. Are you sure you want those, son? Later the Bodden clan pull up in a cab and everyone climbs aboard. I start one engine and suddenly we are surrounded by unmarked cars with blue flashing lights and agents pointing big guns at us. Being the simpleton that I am, my first thought was that I must have forgotten to fill out a customs form. I shut down the engine and climb out. A man walks up and says "I'm Agent Jones with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Do you work for these people?" Wide-eyed I reply "Not anymore!" to which he replied "Don't get smart with me, wise guy!" They handcuff everyone, hand behind their back, and take them to the FBI cars. They handcuff me with my hands in front and had me stand by the airplane. They had me turn on the interior lights so they could better photograph the briefcase full of cash. Later we all went downtown. I am no hardened criminal. I am sweating bullets and my only thoughts are of prison and the sex slave business within. I find myself in an interrogation room singing like a canary. I got answers for every question and then some. After a couple of hours of questioning they eventually said they knew I wasn't involved and I'm free to go. RELIEF!! We walked out of the room, laughing at something or other, and right there are the Bodden's, heading down to the lockup. Oh, that did not look good I thought. The next day I flew back to Grand Cayman to gather my things. I walked into the hangar and our mechanic, Sid Giddings, asked why I was there. "To get my things," I replied. "Doesn't the DEA pay for all that?" I explained that I did not work for the DEA or FBI and Sid says "Well, the entire Bodden family thinks you do." So when the next flight departed Grand Cayman, I was on it. 
     For the next year I got very nervous whenever someone knocked on my door, especially when the FBI came by to inform me that William Bodden had skipped bail and was on the loose. Today he'd be in his 90's so I'm not too worried about it anymore, but whenever the doorbell rings I notice that I always look first before opening it. You know, in case some cousin still holds a grudge and a shotgun.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Charter Saab

     Back in 1996 I got let go from Express Airlines I for purely Union reasons. It was my fault. I helped start the union there, then served as Sec-Treas for over five years. That put a big bullseye on my back.  Let one of our students sit in the right seat on a Part 91 positioning flight for two minutes, that was all the reason they needed. Should have laid low a lot sooner.
     Right after that I got a call from an old friend, Mark. He was flying for PLM Air, where they flew a Saab 340 out of Springfield MO. Turns out there were three of us flying there, and each of us had been let go from Airlink for union reasons. Talk about solidarity! We flew charters with the airplane. PLM (Pacific Lease Management) leased oil tankers from their California offices and had somehow ended up with this Saab 340A. When one of the VP's retired he took the Saab home to run a little charter business. We got a PLM Visacard with no upper limit and no one ever questioned our expenses.
     We flew a lot of college women basketball teams. They were great! They brought their bags to the back and handed them up to me in the baggage door. We would have pizza, Diet Dew and other junk food ready to go. In fact the pizza aroma would prove to be too much and they'd be eating it before we even took off. One night after the game the coach comes up the stairs and says, "They don't get nothing." Guess they must have lost.  One night we took a men's basketball team home to Chicago. When we got there one of them stole the lighted wands for some stupid reason. The ramper told me and said he'd have to pay for them if he can't get them back. So I went up on the bus and told everyone I wanted the wands back and the bus wasn't leaving until I got them. A few seconds later the wands appeared. 
     We took some people to Detroit and landed at the downtown airport. We were waiting for the hotel van and the manager asked if I was going to leave the Saab there, where it was parked by the fence by the street. He said that around 2am when the drunks come out, that big white tail is going to be a big target and it'll be full of holes in the morning. So we started it up and I followed the manager around behind the hangars. There I found a whole gaggle of corporate jets, safely out of small arms range. We spent five days in Detroit at Christmas in this awesome hotel. The big one downtown, with rooms on the floor just below the Presidential Suite. Absolutely amazing. Everything, including a few Christmas presents was paid for.
     Another trip was to El Paso where we picked up 20 rich Mexicans and flew them to Leon Mexico for a horse track opening. While waiting for the passengers we were in the hangar when this gorgeous hot woman in a tight, short black dress walked by. We were... Speechless. The mechanic we had been talking to said "You know who that is? That's the wife of the guy you're flying. She's 13." What?! No way! "True! He marries them, gives them a boob job, and when they turn 18 they're butts get huge and he divorces them. It's actually pretty common in Mexico." Yikes. We stayed in this amazing hotel down there, where armed police kept the dirt poor people out of the hotel. Beautiful women would escort you to your room and they had a statue of a man on a rearing horse in the lobby that was easily two stories high. We'd brought along a pilot who routinely flew freight into Mexico. We cleared Mexican customs while leaving the right engine running as this pilot laughed and gabbed with the customs agents that he apparently knew quite well. Normally clearing customs took almost an hour, so this was a big lesson learned. We paid the guy well and tipped the agents well too.
     Mark though was a bit of an idiot. He often took his wife along as the flight attendant. That was ok but when he couldn't get a sitter he'd bring his two young children along. We were in Indianapolis with his wife and kids one day when we get a call to fly to Kentucky for a charter. We would need every seat, so what to do with his kids? Mark flew west all the way to Springfield, about two and a half hours, dropped them off with a neighbor, then flew all the way back to Kentucky. Amazing he didn't get fired. We burned about $3000 in fuel that we shouldn't have.
     Finally, we took a group to Aspen. In the Saab in winter it was a bit nerve wracking with all those Rocky Mountains around. We dropped them off and inside the FBO a guy came up and asked if we were going to Denver (we were). Seems they had chartered a plane for 16 people but the charter company decided not to show at the last minute, and they had flights to catch out of Denver. So I told them to grab their bags and let's go! I told the flight attendant to give out the free drinks and business cards and away we went. Just after take off we went into the clouds and started flying this complicated departure procedure that is designed to keep you from slamming into granite. Just then the Electronic Flight Instrumentation System decided to fail. Totally blank screens. Oh crap! Granite lurking in the clouds nearby was big in my mind. Well we flipped switches and got the number two system online in record time without having deviated too much from the safe course. That was enough excitement to last me for the next fifty years, but she wasn't done yet. Then the engine anti-ice failed. WTF?! We monitored the engines closely and pressed on because coming back to Aspen really wasn't an option. The weather there was going downhill fast. We got to Denver and dropped off our very happy passengers. A few days later PLM sold the airplane, another chapter came to a close and once again I was out of a job. The airplane still flies, carrying passengers on scheduled flights in Alaska. Those Saabs, they just keep on running. You know that in the US there has never been a single passenger killed in a Saab 340? There is a corporate Saab 340 in North Carolina for sale and I keep in touch with the salesman. Now that would be a fun gig, so long as we keep away from Aspen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Not A Pilot

     I know a lot of people who would like to be a pilot. It has the glamour, the excitement, the best office in the world. Back in the day though, there was a weeding out process, the Darwin Effect we called it.  Early in a pilots' career there are jobs that are inherently dangerous. True, the blame lies all around. The job at hand may have only a small amount of risk, but throw in an inexperienced pilot with a strong desire to prove himself, and the flights can become high risk. Now, if the pilot has poor judgement or lacks the proper skills, the result is usually a dead pilot in a mass of twisted aluminum on a remote hillside. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 
     The sad part of course is when the pilot was otherwise a good person. They would have made a great bank teller or car salesman, but they made their career choice and suffered for it. The rest of us, we weren't trying to be super-pilots. We weren't Chuck Yeager wannabes. We worked harder at our job for one simple reason- we didn't want to end up on that hillside. Scared straight.
     Today, the process is different. Newbies get computerized training, a lot of classroom smarts and shortcuts and before you know it they're in a cockpit without a clue. I see them all the time. At Ameriflight they had a deal with this organization that allowed Korean pilots, fresh out of initial training in Florida, to fly as copilot on Ameriflight aircraft. A few were not too bad. Most were an accident looking for a place to happen, with only you between them and eternity. Typical was one guy I'll call Jason. Couldn't hardly speak English. It was bad enough that, I kid you not, Charlotte ground control wouldn't even answer him on the radio. I had to do all the communicating when he was on board. One day we were flying along and I decided to quiz him a little. You're flying along, straight and level, all trimmed up, autopilot off. You reduce the power. What happens and why? Blank stare. A couple of whispered guesses, wrong of course. It was apparent very quickly that he had no clue what was going on, aerodynamically speaking. To be fair, he wasn't the only pilot I'd met who was clueless. 

     When I worked at FlightSafety we once had a student show up in a regional airline class. This young man was different alright- he had tourettes syndrome. Another star for Human Resources.  And it was not the good kind either. On the first day his teacher came down to the Director of Training's office. I was there and listened to her explain the issue. When the subject was easy, he only cursed a little bit. When she'd get in to details, he'd curse more. When the subject got hard, it got, well, ugly.  She went back upstairs and discovered him in a confrontation with some other students. "You're disrupting the class!" "I have every right to be here!" She had to break it up as they were about to get physical. Well, we figured he might get through basic indoc, maybe even through systems class, but probably wouldn't make it through the simulator phase. Too hard to make the required calls. After a week he came in and resigned. We all felt bad for him. After all, he just had the same dream each of us had, and we each knew the pain of being left behind. The real problem was that someone told him there was nothing he couldn't do, he was as good as everyone else. Maybe, but they never told him that some things, like being an airline pilot, just aren't going to happen. Would have saved him a lot of disappointment and heartache if they'd been more honest.
     Then there are the ones who are just bad, plain and simple. So long as we try to convince ourselves that computer savvy is a substitute for experience and basic piloting skills, years of learning aviation common sense, well these pilots will be a burden for the rest of us to bear. You see, if he's hired in a small plane and works his way up, he has a chance to learn in a simpler environment over time. Throw him right into an extremely complex machine though, and he will be quickly overwhelmed. Now put him at night in bad weather... How do you teach someone in that kind of situation? He has no previous experience to draw on. It's a single pilot operation with a handicap in the right seat. Sadly, good pilots die all the time at the hands of bad pilots. Sadly, sometimes two bad pilots end up on your next airline flight. Up, up and away!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Another typical night




I sometimes read these aviation magazines, where they have some contributing writer telling about their experience where they have learned about flying from this or that, or the life of a major airline pilot. Honestly, it makes me ill sometimes. Examples: A major airline pilot describes his flight in a B777 from London to New York. First they got the windshield cleaned. Then they almost had to hold near New York. That was it. Seriously. Example 2: Two regional jet pilots are flying along and a Bonanza flies by. Not close, just flies by. That was it. Honestly, what did you learn about flying from that?? 
     Here's my boring flight report. We taxied in at Richmond and the fuel truck pulls up. I had already called in the fuel order, but my mistake was not confirming it with the ramp guys. Instead we went inside where it was warm and dry, told jokes while trying hard not to stare at the pretty receptionist's long legs. We signed the receipt, went outside and started up. I pulled away from the building and taxied to a more remote part of the ramp. I prefer to do my after start checklist here so we don't make everyone deaf with our screaming Garrett's. We also do the taxi check (the end of the runway is right here, so we get all this done first. Richmond tends to clear you for takeoff as soon as you get withing 100 yds of the runway). I notice the fuel level is lower than expected. Quick check (quantity divided by 6.71, denominator 3)- nope, not going to be enough. Dang! We taxi back in and get more fuel. Apparently our request for 170 gals a side turned into 120 a side. We didn't blame anyone but ourselves though. In true MillionAir fashion we were on our way again in minutes. Approaching runway 2 we got cleared for takeoff. Race down the dark runway, a steep left hand turn to 240 to join the Reade4 departure and we're on our way. We climb up in clear skies to 18,000 feet. The headwind isn't too bad so we stay there. If it was fierce, like last week, we'd stay down at 12,000'. Can't do that in a jet!
     We drone and drone and drone along. Mike is playing Solitaire while I do the log sheet and check the receipts. Paperwork in order, he starts a game of Monopoly on his iPad while I crack open a book, "Submarines at War". I glance up every so often, scan the gauges, look out at the sky (still clear), then back to reading. I knew a guy who flew freight in a 747 across the Pacific. Told me everyone would go to sleep and when the alarm clock went off every hour the FO would report their position via HF radio. I could see that. Black ocean below, black sky above, no radar, not a gauge in the cockpit moving. 
     Mike and I talk about the usual stuff: food, airplanes, women, airplanes and food. Approaching St Louis I am fiddling with the ATIS. With the squelch off I can just barely hear Spirit's weather: sky obscured, visibility less than 1/4. Ahhh, shoot. I check Cahokia, an airport not far away on the Illinois side. Three miles with 400 overcast. I check St Louis Lambert: Can't understand a word of that funny computer voice. So I call St Louis approach on the second radio, tell him I'm still with Kansas City Center, but what's the visibility at Lambert? He says it's 1/4, but Spirit is saying the RVR is 3000 and people have been getting in. Hot damn, homebase it is then. We discuss the plan, and if we go miss we'll hop over to Cahokia and call the wife for a ride. 
     We carefully review the approach and ask for the ILS 26L. Two inbounds and an outbound means we have to go with the ILS to 8R. Makes no sense to me. The approach to 8R is over farm land and a big river, which means lots of fog. The approach to 26L is entirely over a 1.5 mile long strip mall with heated buildings and hundreds of parking area lights. But no, we have to take 8R. 
     Vectored onto the approach behind a Canadair 600 and a Hawker jet, we start down the final approach course. The autopilot is only for level flight, has no navigation capability at all, so this is entirely hand flown. It's just been a three hour flight here and it's around 11pm so we're kinda wired, but by now we're pretty psyched up for the approach and wide awake. I am really focusing on the gauges. Luckily the wind isn't very strong at the final approach altitude, so we're not being set off much. 5 degrees right. Now 7. Back to five. "Glideslope alive," Mike calls, then "One dot below." I say "Gear down, flaps half, landing checklist," and he gets it all accomplished. "Three green". "Three green indicated." "Flaps half." "Flaps half." "Lights?" "All on, strobes off." "Complete to full flaps." Down we go, the clouds and fog around us illuminated by the lights. Mike calls "Thousand above, on course, on glideslope, speed 130." Five right, two right, easy on the pitch. hold her steady. "Five hundred, on course, on glideslope, 130." The ILS gets sensitive now, one right, on course, two right, back to course. Easy. "Hundred above." Hold it steady. "Minimums, approach lights 12 o'clock." I glance up and see the fog flashing. A second or two later we both say "Green lights! Runway in sight." I call for full flaps and ease a little power off. Over the runway now, start to flare, ease the power back some more, hold the centerline, and we're on. Lower the nose, then into reverse. "Ninety knots," Mike calls. I leave it in easy reverse and roll to taxiway A3. Tower asks us to report clear, they can't see us for all the fog. We exit, call clear and taxi back down the taxiway. Hoots and hollers, we are grinning with excitement at having successfully pulled that off. "Man that was close!" "That was cat II, that's for sure!" "And hand flown too!" We park and shut down, collect our things, send in the log sheet and head out to our cars. The night ends with our usual "See you tomorrow,"  and another day at work is in the logbook.