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.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Trim Crazy

     It's the end of June and hot as Hades. Temperatures are reaching one hundred degrees during the day. The humidity is way up there too. It's a Friday afternoon and we get ready for an easy medical flight, run Jody P down to SGF (Springfield), drop her off and bring blood samples back. They said no catering, but I figured she just forgot. I get dressed and touch base with my co-pilot Rachel, then I head over to First Wok and grab an egg roll and an order of Crab Rangoon for Jody. 
     At the airport I preflight the airplane, file the flight plan, get the sodas. Rachel comes from a long way away, and with Friday rush hour traffic she'll be running late for sure. But she did OK and when Jody got there we all walked out to the airplane. "I got you some Chinese for supper," I remarked. "Oh thank you! I completely forgot to ask for something, so I stopped and grabbed this Chick-Filet," she said, holding up a white bag. "I'll save the chicken for later. I'm going to be there all night." I start the airplane and run the After Start checklist while Rachel gets the weather and our clearance. We're a good team, both finishing our tasks at the same time and head out of the ramp with clearance to taxi to runway 26L. Taxi Checklist, then the Line Up checklist, a quick run up at the end and in short order we are cleared for takeoff. The sun is right in front of us, hot as Hades. We're roll down the runway at a very laid back pace, the heat drawing power from the engines. Finally she calls "Vee one, rotate" and we stagger into the sky. The higher we climb the cooler it gets and the better our craft performs. Later we descend into SGF (Springfield), fly a decent approach and make a halfway decent landing. Jody says as she's leaving "The blood samples should be here soon," and heads off. We know what "soon" means, so we get the crew car and head to Bubba's for some BBQ. 
     At dinner I tell Rachel I was looking at Convair accident reports (because I was bored and I'm a total geek). I told her they crashed a lot of those things back in the 1950's, and a lot of them were caused by trim issues. Trim systems that were incorrectly rigged or even rigged backwards, so when the crew tried to trim the airplane it either had no effect or made things worse. We decided we should probably be sure to do a proper trim test before takeoff. A lot of guys just say "set", but don't actually check it. 
     At the airport the blood samples show up and we head back to St Louis. It's twilight now and by the time we get home it's fully dark. I call in range to the company and he replies "John says you're heading out right away to Cape Girardeau." Rachel is following a Citation jet to the runway, and doing a bang up job of it too (She's very good), but that jet took forever to clear the runway so we ended up going around. We figured it was a good training opportunity. On the ramp we scurry around getting everything ready, three people down to Cape for a donor. Fifteen minutes later the team shows up and we're off again. 
     We blast into the cooler night sky, Rachel flying this leg too. We level at fifteen thousand and are on a direct routing to Cape Girardeau tearing through the air at a furious pace. Things are moving along smoothly, an effective team we are. We descend into Cape and call the airport in sight. Twenty eight miles out she disconnects the autopilot and flies it to the airport, runway 10. Around seven miles out we select approach flaps and she trims to correct the pitch change. I'm watching the airport and she suddenly says, "Hey, there's something wrong with the trim. It keeps running forward." I see she's got two hands on the wheel and is pulling back hard. The red TRIM light is now flashing too. "Get on the controls with me," she says and I start pulling back the wheel too. I hit the red disconnect switch which should stop the trim but it doesn't. We're barely keeping the nose up, it's trying to dive hard on us. I quickly grab the manual wheel with my right hand and start running it back. For some reason this stops the electric trim motor and the plane starts responding to the trim input. Finally it's normal again, the red TRIM light is still flashing but we land normally. We send the team on their way, then went back to the airplane and started the right engine, got out the manual and reviewed the trim system and warning system. This was weird. What happened shouldn't have happened. The red TRIM light is related to the autopilot, but that wasn't on. It also signals a motor failure, but it was working, in fact working when it shouldn't have been. The disconnect should have stopped it but didn't. We then tested the trim system and the autopilot, ran the trim to the stops in both directions. Everything checked out A-OK. So we did it again. Still a good test. I called our maintenance department but all they said was "Yeah, that's weird alright." So we checked it again before takeoff. Still good. While we were waiting for the team to return we drove to a Huddle House and had breakfast, as it was now 3:30 AM. We were in a mood. The place was filled with strange people. A group of teenagers with a case of the munchies. A big guy and his two hookers (we guessed). An old couple. We were kinda punch drunk what with the late hour and all that had happened. Happy to have a cup of coffee, happy to be alive. Those eggs tasted so good. Rachel said, "It was so strange. There we were talking about airplanes crashing with trim problems, and the next flight we have a trim problem. I mean, what the hell?" But that's flying. You never know what's going to happen next.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

I Learned About Flying From That

A popular flying magazine has a column in it called I Learned about Flying From That. Recently they revamped it and now it’s called ILAFFT. Brilliant idea, huh? I’ve had my own share of lessons learned. Maybe a better title would be Dumb Things I’ve Done In An Airplane (DTIDIAA). 

One of my first dumb things was when I first got my private pilot license. I took my mom and my brother up for a ride over Niagara Falls. Great view until we headed back. It was now getting dark outside fast, and I had about five minutes total of night flying experience. We were flying back to Akron airport, a little place way out in the country. I could have called approach control and pleaded for help, except I had no idea what the frequency for approach control was. So I’m looking and looking, trying to find this little runway. Suddenly it appears directly below me. Pure dumb luck. I landed nervously and now I had almost twenty minutes of total night time flying experience. 
Later, I get a job flying a small two seat Cessna from Wichita to Hartford CT. It was brand new off the assembly line. As I cruised over the wheat fields of Kansas at only 1500’ I thought I’d try a loop. How hard could it be? I’d seen pilots do loops hundreds of times in the movies. So I pulled back on the control wheel and up & over I went. Farther and farther. Apparently you’re supposed to ease off as you go over the top inverted, a little detail I knew nothing about. As I got inverted that airplane just quit flying. Upside down stall, it starts falling towards the ground a scant 1500’ below me. I see a herd of cows in my windshield. Oh crap! I carefully pulled back on the wheel and manage to pull out of the dive, less than a hundred feet above those cows. I climbed back up, thinking “Never again! Never again!” Did it again six months later. Same result. 

Finally, one day a pilot better than me showed me how to do wing-overs. Those are fun and rewarding when you know how to do them right. Years later we were flying to home base in a KingAir 200 and I said to my copilot, “Hey, want to do a wing-over?” Well we did one and let me tell you, the KingAir 200 HATES doing wing-overs. Never had I felt an airplane so angry in my life. 
I have landed on short, snow-covered runways with a strong tailwind, flown into weather I had no business being in, flown so tired I was actually halucinating. After each of these dumb things I learned a simple yet valuable lesson: Don’t do that again, dumbass. Don’t taxi too close to a chain link fence (that was a bad thing). Don’t taxi out without verifying your fuel load (at least I caught it before I took off). Don’t ever let the bad copilot fly when the airline CEO or FAA is onboard. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There are a lot of lessons in flying. Some get people killed, some just serve to educate. I haven’t killed myself yet so I guess I’m still in the educational part. I’m older and wiser now and hope to have seen my last dumb mistake. Ha! Yeah, right.... some day a dumb mistake will say to me “Time to retire, dumbass.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

Long Day Into Night

     Business at my company has been very good, and that means everyone is busy. Myself, I'm on call for the medical aircraft most days, a 24 hour watch. When someone does fly a long trip, we have a backup pilot who can take a second trip if one should arise. However, with everyone so busy there was no backup last Saturday. I was it all weekend. 
     I got a call on Friday evening alerting me to a trip to Chicago/Midway for a lung retrieval, scheduled departure at 3:30 am. So I went to bed early and set the alarm for 2 am. When the alarm sounded (much too soon!) I shaved, dressed and dashed out the door. A quick stop at QT for assorted fruit and danishes, arriving at the airport by 2:30. Once there I get notified the departure has been pushed back to 4 am. My copilot is Don, a very competent pilot who has been with us for some time now. We get the KingAir 350i all set to go, line service  puts in 303 gallons of Jet-A to top it off, flight plan filed, all the many details taken care of. Just past 4am the two surgeons and Lisa the coordinator arrive. We load up their gear, start up and taxi out. We blast off into a cloudy night and head north on the departure route, hardly another airplane to be heard. All is quite calm at FL200. Chicago approach amends our routing, Don makes the change, then they say forget that, now do this. Changes made again. We enter the ILS to 31C in the FMS and brief the approach. Approach control says speed at our discretion, and Don wonders what he means by that. "I think he means we are number one for the airport," I speculate. We blaze around onto final and fly down through the rain to the runway. A decent touchdown at 5:21 am, turning off right where we thought we would. We taxi into Atlantic Aviation and, surprise! It's 40 degrees and the wind makes it feel like 20! Nobody has a coat either. The team jumps into their ride and head off to the hospital. We expect them back around 9am so we head to the deserted crew lounge and grab a couple of hours of sleep. At 7 am we borrow the crew car and head to a local diner for a pretty decent breakfast. The team calls, they're delayed. Maybe by 10 am. We head back to the airport and Don goes back to sleep. I'm too wired so I watch COPS on TV for a couple of hours, then head to Panera to pick up some food for the trip home. Hot egg sandwiches and yogurt, doctor's love to eat healthy. Lisa texts me again. 10:30 she says. I wake up Don and tell him that at 10:15 I'll head out and get the clearance and program the FMS, and at 1030 he can put the sandwiches in the microwave for a bit. At 1015 it starts pouring rain. Buckets of cold rain driven by the icy wind. So we wait. At 1030 the team arrives, which is a bit of a surprise. Normally they are late. I head out to the airplane with them while Don quickly heats the food. We get everything loaded just as Don shows up with the hot food and in minutes we are taxiing. Don gets the ATIS and clearance while I run the after start and taxi checklists. We follow a Southwest 737 to the end and in no time we are airborne. Turn right, level at 4000', then 5000', more vectors. Slowly they climb us as we scoot underneath the arrivals at best forward speed. Finally it's up to 19,000' and direct St Louis. It's a nice ride but ATC says there are cells all around the airport, and the view out the window looks like it. We get vectored over top of Lambert Airport and Don, well he must have it good with the Lord because the weather opens up just enough that we get a clear visual approach into Spirit Airport's 26L. A corporate jet is right behind us and the tower want to get another jet out between us, so I ask for 26R instead. We shift over to the right, the guy behind us now has plenty of space and the jet on the ground departs without rush. Don makes a great landing and we quickly taxi to the ramp.  We get all the post flight duties accomplished, head home and an hour later get called for another trip. 

     The next trip is all up in the air. They have two patients (donors) in Springfield. Plan A is to drop off five coordinators, bring blood from patient #2 and the donor patient #1 back to Spirit, then go back down for patient #2 and the rest of the team. Maybe. We repeat the process from the morning flight- preflight, catering, forms filed, etc. We launch into wet skies again, heading west to SGF at 16,000. Normally we go at 20,000' but the pressurization is acting up so we stay a bit lower this time. The satellite weather is also not working so we are using basic radar, and we end up with a line of big red splotches between us and the airport. We find a nice hole and duck through. Luckily the air stays nice and calm. We get a visual into runway 20, land at 5:49 pm and taxi down a wet taxiway to the ramp. With the team loaded in the vans and on their way (the temperature is in the seventies- woo hoo!), we start looking at the schedule again. I'm talking with dispatch on the phone because apparently the second patient/donor isn't stable enough to transport, so this will mean coming back for surgeons to go retrieve the organs in Springfield. We have some time so Don and I head to Bubba's for some of their terrific, meaty ribs. While there the schedule changes again and I talk to the team lead. We decide we'll bring five BBQ meals to them at the hospital because they may be spending the night, then we'll grab the blood samples from them and head back. With food in our bellies and five meals ready to go, we head first to Cox South Hospital where team 2 is. At the ER entrance we meet up with them and drop off their food, then on to Mercy Hospital where team 1 is. Team 1 says their patient isn't looking too good, so we may just bring one donor back and all the team members on one flight. Yet another change! But we are used to it and tell them no problem, we'll be ready whenever they are. Back at the airport the weather in St Louis is looking horrible. Big thunderstorms are fast approaching, threatening to delay us more. We snuggle down in a couple of lazy boy chairs, turn on South Park and wait. And wait. And wait some more. We get notified that they expect to be here at 11 pm with one donor and both teams. We get things all ready, refile the flight plan, study the weather. Looks like the worst will have moved to the east by the time we get there, and the usual route looks like the best way to go. We wait outside for the ambulance. Next to us sits a hugfe business jet, a Global it's called. Nearby the mechanics in the maintenance hangar are working on a 737, making the only sound on this otherwise quiet ramp. We get things set and... wait. And wait. At 11:30 they show up with lights and siren wailing. The donor is a very big guy, the ambulance drivers are two small girls, so most of the team stays outside to help load the patient while Allison and I man the top of the ramp in the cabin. Seems it's Allison's first time, so I give her a quick lesson on what to do. Down below everyone struggles and gets the big guy and all the equipment onto the ramp, no easy task.  Allison & I haul him up into the airplane and onto the platform. She does a fine job of getting her end locked in and the oxygen hooked up while I get my end locked in and the ramp disconnected. While everyone climbs aboard and works on the patient, I get up front and get things started. Power on the bed, engines running, I set the FMS while Don gets the clearance. We taxi out to runway 20, running the necessary checklists as we go. Ready at the end we use a method C takeoff and head off into the wet night at 11:50 pm. Enroute to St Louis and Spirit Airport the radar doesn't look too bad, but as we get closer things start to get better defined. It looks like just some rain but my gut tells me its more than that. A red area starts to develop at 12 o'clock and approach control is letting us deviate as we
see necessary, so I turn a big fifty degrees right. The clouds we are in are thick, wet and glow a gold color, lighted from the ground below. Lightning begins flashing quite often and quite close. Most of it is just east of us, barely. Some more on our right and some on our left too, but we're moving past that. It's kinda surreal, but we are completely on top of this, carefully picking our way around with checklists and adjustments all made in a timely fashion. God help me, I live for this sort of thing. We turn back east, then start getting vectors to the ILS. I got the speed way back to 200 kts but the ride is surprisingly smooth, all things considered. Down to 4000', then 3000', then 2500'. Through the mess we get an occasional glimpse of the city and suburbs below us. Approach Control turns us on the approach and at about two miles out we get the runway in sight. We land at a corrected 112 kts and roll down the wet runway through the rain to the turn off, then into the ramp, our flashing lights and bright white landing lights illuminating a million raindrops. We park and the ambulance pulls up close. The ground crew bring out lots of umbrellas, we get the patient unloaded fairly quickly. Two people go with him in the ambulance, everyone else heads home. We help the ground crew put the plane in the hangar, get all the paperwork done and by 2 am, twenty four hours after I got up, I climb back into bed with a wagging dog by my side and the wife giving me a sleepy welcome home. As I fall asleep, I remember this: I'm still on call for the next flight.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

War Stories



Many things happen on my trips that are interesting aside from flying. One thing I notice is that when two or more pilots are together in a bar, they always talk about flying. Nothing but flying. I try to avoid that. Sure, I'll talk about flying, but I try to steer the conversation in other directions too.
I was on a trip to Florida recently. We flew the boss down to Daytona Beach, and my copilot Rachel and I checked into a hotel by the shore. These trips are fun because we get to spend some time away from the ravages of winter in St Louis, down in the warmth of the sunshine state. The hotel is actually part of a marina, so the bar is outside in a park-like setting with expensive yachts parked in their docks nearby. We both love boats, so this is a perfect location for an after dinner drink. After a couple of Bourbon & Ginger Ale's (my personal favorite), I excused myself and head to the rest room. Afterward I came back and here was some guy sitting next to Rachel at the bar, obviously hitting on her. Now Rachel is happily married and has absolutely no interest in this guy, but she’s too polite to tell him to get lost.
I sit down next to her and she says “Oh, this is my friend, David. Dave, this is Mike. He was just telling me about his experiences in the Gulf War.”
Hmm. Trying to impress her with his lame war stories. What a jerk. Normally I’d just say “Yea, great. Good bye Mike,” but I played along. I just nodded and smiled.
Rachel asks “Dave, you were in the Gulf War , weren’t you?” 
“Yes, yes I was.”
Mike says, “Oh yea? What branch?”
“Navy,” I replied. So far I’m half right. Yes, I was in the Navy. Yes, I was in the Gulf once. Just not during the Gulf War. But hey, as long as we’re telling stories.
“Navy!” Mike snorts. “I was in the Army. We were in battle, not sleeping on a cruise ship in the water.”
Oh, he’s so asking for it.
Rachel looks at me. I look at her, then back at him and say “Well, I did see some action once.”
Rachel says “Really? Tell us about it.”
“It was the night before Stormin' Norman crossed the Iraqi border. I was on an amphibious ship, an LSD, the USS Portland. We were always tasked with carrying the SEAL team, along with some Marines. Our job tonight was to put the SEAL team ashore so they could raise a ruckus and make the Iraqis think we were actually invading from the sea.” This was true. I had been on the USS Portland, LSD-37. We did carry the SEAL team. And the SEAL team did go ashore the night before we invaded to make a ruckus.
“So that night, just after sunset, we put the SEAL team in a Mike boat (a type of landing craft), and headed for shore. Two Bos’n mates ran the boat, Bill and Stanley. James the Gunners Mate manned the .50 caliber machine gun, and I manned the radio. We motor up to this deserted beach and drop the ramp. Just then all hell broke loose. A tremendous amount of automatic weapons fire started coming at us from the tree line up by the road. Yikes! We must have stumbled upon an entire Iraqi battalion or something! The SEAL team ran off the boat and spread out in the sand, returning fire. The .50 caliber starts blasting away not two feet from me. BAM!BAM!BAM!BAM!BAM!
Then the Bos’n mate who was running the boat, Bill, he falls into the water, having been nicked by a bullet. I thought “oh crap! We need him to get back to the ship!” So I jumped into the waist-deep water and started helping the guy climb back aboard. I'm pushing and shoving and hit my side on something on the boat and thought “Ow! Damn it! Oh, that’s gonna hurt!” I clamber back aboard myself and notice the 50 caliber is no longer firing. I look around and there’s the Gunners Mate James helping Stanley raise the ramp back up.
Bullets are still pinging off the steel all around us. I jumped up and grabbed the machine gun, even though I’d never actually fired one before. I grabbed the handles with both hands, point it towards the trees and squeezed the trigger.”
Both Rachel and Mike are hanging on my every word. “The gun starts firing. Every round is a tracer round, and each round fired makes your whole body jerk from the recoil and it's firing nonstop. Let me tell you, that thing is hard to control! Tracer rounds are flying everywhere, and I’m trying to point them towards the trees, but it’s jumping around so much the tracers are arching all over the place. I'm hanging on to the gun handles for dear life, so the trigger is staying firmly depressed. Bill throws the boat into reverse and we back quickly off the beach, turn and start motoring back to the ship, me shooting back at the trees as best I can, trying to help the SEALs get to cover.
A minute later James runs back to me and the gun. “Jesus Christ! What the hell happened to you?” he yells, looking down at my shirt.
I looked down and here is my shirt, soaked in blood! It’s all over my pants, too. Turns out, I didn’t hit something on the side of the boat climbing in, I’d actually been shot with an AK47 round. We called the ship on the radio, saying we'd been hit and they were saying back, "Put pressure on it! Put pressure on it!" Back on board they threw a bandage on us, then flew Bill and I to the carrier where he got a band aid and I got surgery. Luckily it didn’t hit anything important and the next day I was flying home, after my one night in the War.”
Now recently I’d had an operation and it had left a scar on my side that looked just like a bullet wound. I hiked up my shirt and pointed to the scar. “Wow!” Rachel said. “Jeesh,” Mike replied.
Well, Mike couldn’t beat that story so he said he had to get going or something and left. We watched him walking away and Rachel turned to me and asked “So, did that really happen?”
“Nah,” I laughed. “I made the whole thing up. Not bad, huh?”
She laughed. “Well, you sure shut him up! Great story!" Cheers!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Perfect Day

Every once in a long while you have a day where everything goes exactly as planned. As rare as they are, I enjoy them the most. Recently I had a day like that.

I was scheduled for a corporate trip on Friday. Leave at 0600 and fly two people to Kansas City International for an all day meeting at the Hilton. I got to bed early the night before and as a result I awoke feeling good. Took a shower, put on my best corporate outfit. For corporate trips we dress in business attire with shirt and tie. Stopped at QT for some croissants and fruit, then headed to the airport, arriving about 15 minutes early. I'd already filed the flight plans the night before and printed out the trip sheet as well, so all I needed to do was check the aircraft log and file a Baldwin Safety Report. That's an online risk assessment that identifies hazardous flights. This flight though was a solid low risk, so no special actions were needed. 

I gave the line service guys the fuel request- top the outboards and 30 gallons in each inboard fuel tank. This would give us plenty of fuel with good reserves. While they did that, I pre-flighted the airplane. Everything was looking good so I entered the flight plan in the FMS (Flight Management System), then shut everything off and went back inside. My copilot today was Rachel, my favorite copilot to fly with. Competent and fun, I was looking forward to it. She was a little late arriving so I went ahead and made the coffee and set up the croissants and fruit in a nice basket. Rachel showed up so we took the catering out to the airplane and reviewed the plan for the trip. 

Our first passenger showed up early, a guy I haven't met before. We talked a little bit and then I left him to his work. A little after 6AM our second passenger showed up and so we all headed out to the airplane. Once on board with the door closed I started up the engines and did the after-start checklist while Rachel got the ATIS and clearance. We both finished at the same time and were quickly taxiing down the taxiway to runway 26L. This would be her leg to fly, so I gave her the controls to taxi and I finished the taxi checklist. It was dark outside, cold, windy and overcast. After a quick run up at the end of the runway, we got cleared for takeoff. "80 knots", then "V1, rotate". We climbed quickly and were cleared on course by departure control in short order. As we leveled off at 20,000' we were facing some pretty strong winds- 115 mph directly on the nose. We asked for and descended down to 14,000'. As we came up on 16,000' Rachel suggested stopping there, as it was on top of the clouds still. "Nah," I replied. "Let's just go on down to 14." So we did where we ended up in the clouds in bumpy air. Kansas City had been reporting overcast at 12,000', so I asked for 12,000' hoping we'd end up just underneath. We did, not as bumpy, and the winds were only 50 mph here. "I should have listened to you and stopped at sixteen!" I said to her. "It was smooth there." 

We got vectored over downtown Kansas City. The air smoothed out and we did a visual approach to runway 1L. Rachel landed right in the touchdown zone, on the centerline, and it was so smooth you could hardly tell we'd landed. Nice! She taxied us to the parking area and while she shut it down I got up and went back to open the door. I escorted our passengers inside and away they went to their meeting. We finished up with the airplane, went inside and got a crew car. The girl behind the counter had heard me mention we were going to the Corner Cafe for breakfast, so she had a map already marked for us. Nice!

Now normally on these corporate trips we would get a call right about now and find ourselves cris-crossing the state, flying multiple legs to deliver more people to more towns. Each one a last minute change, we'd be lucky if we got time to grab a sub sandwich somewhere for lunch, subsisting on chips and M&M's from the on-board stock. So far though, that wasn't happening. We didn't dare mention it for fear of jinxing it. We went to the Corner Cafe for breakfast, which is where we went when Rachel flew her first trip with this company. Dejavu! As usual, the food was terrific. They have the best pancakes I've ever eaten. We took our time and made the whole meal last over an hour. Finally we headed back to the airport and Signature Aviation. 


Back at Signature Aviation we climbed into a couple of lounge chairs and took a nap. Rachel has a 13 month old baby who is in that stage where nobody gets a good night sleep, ever. So she gets her sleep when she can, and this was a perfect time. No other crews making noise, just quiet bliss. I'm still waiting to get that call for the inevitable short-notice trip, but it never came. At lunch time we grabbed the crew car again and headed over to Freddie's. We both like their burgers and fries, so we had a nice lunch there. We drove back to Signature and as I pulled in my phone rang. It was Tim. "Your passengers are on their way." I asked how he knew this and he said they had just called him, and he's standing inside Signature, waving at us. Well this was strange! Why did they send Tim and George in the jet? They were to pick up four other people from the same business, and we'd take our two in the KingAir. Why we didn't just bring all six back with us was a mystery to us all. The passengers arrived, everyone boarded and we headed back to St Louis, a quick forty minutes away. The air was clear, sunny and smooth. We landed right after the jet, I made a pretty smooth touchdown, everyone left and we were done. Everything about that trip had gone exactly according to plan, which is a very rare thing indeed. I was even home in time for dinner! It's rare but sometimes everything just goes your way. Which means the next trip will be a disaster....