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.

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.