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Thursday, December 8, 2016

2 Dads

There was a captain, named Jack Bingham, with whom I flew a lot. We liked doing the same kind of stuff, we were both trying to make as much money as we could and everyone else did not like him. 

I had some issues with him myself.  He was one of those guys who thought the first officer was a voice activated autopilot.  He would reach over and extend the gear or flaps before you called for them.  It pissed me off at first, but once I asked him WTF he was doing (with a smile on my face), he kind of backed off a little.  

Jack was a big, white haired guy and to listen to him, he had done a little bit of everything and was an expert on all things.  I didn't mind that either.  What I liked about him was that he promoted crew esprit de corp on layovers.  For example, we would always make arrangements to meet after we got some sleep, then get together to do something.  It usually involved eating and drinking beer and sometimes an activity like watching a football game on TV.

Jack knew where every buffet in every town was located.  He was retired from the Air Force and when we went to Seoul, we took a bus to an officers club with a big seafood buffet.  Once in Honolulu, we got a couple 6 packs, a cooler and rented a sailboat to sail around Pearl Harbor.  As I write this, it is 75 years and one day after the "date which will live in infamy".  Chuck Hippler, who worked with me at Florida Express, was the flight engineer.  We had a blast, then ate dinner at an O club nearby, probably a buffet.

Real airlines bid for a new schedule every month, 12 times a year.  At UPS, after the first IPA contract, we bid every 8 weeks.  It's a little complicated, but we bid about half as much and the way it was set up, it gave UPS flexibility in planning for their Peak months  November and December.  

What this meant for us was that we had a long time to fly with whichever crew members we matched up with.  This was fantastic if you liked them and terrible if you didn't.  It was still an improvement over the way it was before, when our bid periods were 3 months long.  Geez!

Most of the pilots liked this setup, but I hated it.  They liked not having to bid every month, but I thought it was too challenging to get important events off, especially if you were junior.  Most of our schedules were week on, week off.  With that alternating pattern, you could miss a birthday or anniversary if they didn't fit the pattern.  You had to prioritize and compromise.  Juniority sucks.  I would have preferred bidding every month.  We had lots of time on long legs to do it.

Bidding is set up, so that captains are awarded first, then the first officers and flight engineers the next day.  This gives them a chance to avoid captains they don't like.  There is no way for the captain to avoid crew members he doesn't like, but he or she is the captain.  This is why I ended up flying with Jack so much.  I didn't mind flying with him and we liked doing the same kind of trips, ones that made us the most money.

At this time, UPS had a lousy retirement program for its pilots.  The mandatory retirement age was 60 and for many, they needed to work as much as they could beyond that age to keep the cash flowing in the right direction.  Jack was getting close to 60 and one bid period, we flew with George Gillette, who had been a captain, but continued working as a flight engineer in the 747 after age 60.  There is no mandatory retirement age for engineers.  The 3 of us would be flying together for 8 weeks, week on week off, laying over in Narita, Seoul and Hong Kong.  I always refer to this bid period as the time I was flying with 2 dads.

I was not yet 50 and still had some color in my hair and I was flying around the world, literally, with 2 white haired geezers who were always giving me advice, some good, some not so good.

Jack had just gotten involved in an investment scheme that had something to do with oil fields in Texas.  As I listened to him describe it in glowing terms, it sounded like a Ponzi scheme to me. Jack was trying to talk me into getting into it, but it sounded to me like I would be one of the ones getting in too late.  No matter what I started talking about, Jack was trying to push this scheme on me.  If I said, "Gee, Jack, it looks like the sky is very blue today."  Jack would say, "Gee, Denny, you really need to get into this oil field deal."

Every time Jack would get up to go back to the john or something, George would lean forward and whisper, "Denny, don't do that oil field deal.  It's a bad deal."  I would say, "Don't worry, George.  You have to have extra money to invest and that is not a problem for me."  I was starting to get caught up with my financial recovery from the 2 bankruptcies, but was not quite there yet.

Jack and I liked to go out on the town in the Asian layover cities and eat and drink where the locals did.  That was always easier and more fun in Hong Kong, because it was a British colony and it was full of folks from England, Australia, and New Zealand.  We all spoke the same language, sorta.  George was what we refer to as a slam/clicker.  He always went to his room, slammed the door closed and clicked the lock.  Then he would order room service.  Every meal, every day.

At the end of our 8 weeks together, Jack and I got on George's case about never joining us for dinner and a drink.  He finally relented and we met in the lobby to have a beer.  When we were deciding which restaurant to go to, George insisted on going to a spaghetti restaurant right across the street from our hotel in Kow Loon.  We were so glad he was finally going with us, that we did not complain.  We just sat there in one of the most exotic cities in Asia and ate our Chef Boy freakin' Ardee  spaghetti.


Friday, December 2, 2016

HKG Kai Tak

I spent about 5 years flying the 747 as a first officer (co-pilot).  During the early years, We flew over water flights to Cologne, Germany, Narita (Tokyo), Japan and Honolulu on our regular schedule and flew charters to Amsterdam and Frankfort.  These flights and flights to Anchorage, Alaska are flown under international operating regulations.

Eventually, we started flying to Hong Kong.  HKG was still a British Colony at that time.  To me, it was an even more exotic destination than Tokyo.  For Tokyo, we flew into the Narita International Airport, which was out in the country, away from the center of the city by a 30 to 45 minute train ride.  At Hong Kong, we flew into the Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon, which was the area of mainland on the other side of Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island.  This was big city.

Kai Tak Airport was a landfill built out into the harbor.  It was a single runway, with a parallel taxiway.  It had one of the most interesting and challenging approaches to its favored runway, the famous Checkerboard IDS Approach to Runway 13

The video above gives a good overview of the airport and the approach.  We had to fly this approach during training in the simulator before flying it to the actual runway.  As the video explains, the wind is usually a crosswind from the right side of the runway.  

The approach requires flying a typical ILS approach with course and glideslope guidance, toward a mountain with a big checkerboard painted on it.  We fly that to about 660 feet above the runway, then if we break out of the clouds and can see the mountain and more importantly, the runway, we begin a turn to the right of 47 degrees.  Because of that crosswind from the right, it is important to go to a 30 degree bank angle immediately.  Then you look at the runway to see if the turn is lining you up with the runway.  If you are banking too much, you will be to the right of the runway and you can reduce your bank angle a little.  If you did not get enough bank in initially, you will probably drift to the outside of the turn and be too far to the left of the runway.  The wind will be pushing you that way.  This will lead to some excitement and a need to use more bank angle.  I always liked being a little to the inside of the turn and correcting from that.

While all this is being done, you have to concentrate on allowing the plane to continue descending at the same rate at which you were descending before the turn.  This is hard, because there is a tendency to pull a little back pressure on the controls when banking steeply.  If you level your descent too much, you will be too high and have to go around.  There is a light system next to the runway to provide visual glide path information, but it is hard to use that until you are nearly lined up with the runway.  It is desirable to get the turn completed and line up with the runway ASAP, so that you have as much time as possible to concentrate on the landing flare.  If you are still messing around with the turn too late, the landing will suffer.  You will see some of that in the next video.  The narrator is speaking in German, I think.  There are captions in Chinese and in very tiny English at the bottom of the screen.  Go to full screen.

The first few times I flew this approach, it looked like the wing was going down between the tall buildings.  It is a very exciting and fun approach to fly in a big plane like a 747.

As time passed and I had been flying to Hong Kong for years, I began to fly with captains who were new on the plane and had never flown this approach for reals.  Some of them would ask me to fly it the first time and I was more than happy to do so.  One such guy was Jim Romagnolo, with whom I had flown to Cologne several times.  He had lots of experience on the 74, but this was his first and only bid period flying to Asia.  He hated it and was always talking about eating "fish heads and rice".  Jim always gave me that landing.

Jim lived on Connecticut and had a crazy story about one of his neighbors.  This guy was working on his roof and was afraid of falling.  He tied a rope around his waste and ran it over the hip of the roof, but it was tied to the bumper of his car.  His wife did not know these details, got in the car and drove off, dragging him over the hip of the roof, down to the ground and down the driveway.  He survived, but was busted up pretty badly.  I always bugged Jim to tell me he was joking about this, but he insisted it was a true story.

The following are some of my photos from Hong Kong.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Overnight Success

Previously, I discussed the financial difficulties my family and I were dealing with during the early years at UPS.  The pilots had been represented by the Teamsters originally, but a group of leaders among the pilots had broken off from them and formed their own union at great risk.  It's a long, boring and convoluted story, but the unions that represent airline employees fall under the Railway Labor Act.  It was created originally to prevent disruption of the nation's commerce by a railroad strike.  Under the RLA, there is no deadline at which the contract must be settled or the workers go on strike.  There is an amendable date, the employees continue working and eventually an agreement is reached or there is a complex process which may eventually lead to a strike.  Long story short, the government is the dealer and the company holds most of the high cards.

When the original contract between UPS and the Teamsters reached its amendable date, the new union, the Independent Pilots Association was the bargaining agent for the pilots.  I believed that historically, these negotiations only lasted a little more than a year after the amendable date.  This one seemed to drag on for nearly a year.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been going into deeper and deeper credit card debt every month just to support my family.  There was an expectation that we would get a decent raise and move into the same ballpark as the major airlines, or at least into the neighborhood in which the ballpark was located.  We also expected it would not take more than the average time for such negotiations.

Another thing I mention earlier is all the stories I was being told by other pilots about the draconian and stupid things UPS was doing to the crew members.  Occasionally, I would say that I did not disbelieve any of that, but I always tried to give anyone a free first shot.  I did not like to form solid opinions about people based on stories I had been told.  This was especially true for a company where I hoped to work for the next couple decades.

With all my issues, getting deeper and deeper into debt and knowing that relief was just a contract away,  I was really starting to get pissed at UPS for not making a deal.  I considered this to be their free shot and was now onboard with the rest of the folks who had been there before me.  

Finally, the union announced a tentative agreement.  It was not as good as the major airlines, but I would now be making more annually than I had ever made before.  The best part was that we would be paid retroactively for the increase in pay back to the amendable date, nearly 2 years before.  I used the after tax money as a down payment on a house.  We bought a nice house that needed some work.  Even with that, it was probably a little bit of a stretch, but we are still living in that house and my income, over the years, was able to grow into it and beyond.

We had accumulated about $10,000 in credit card debt.  It felt like a million to me.  The mother of a friend was looking for a place to invest money from an investment that had just matured and loaned me the 10 grand at 8% simple interest.  This was a good deal for both of us at the time.  I paid it off as quickly as I could.

I had taken my first flight lesson in the autumn of 1968, in a Cessna 150, at Zelionople Pennsylvania, with the goal of getting an airline job, earning what airline pilots earn.  Here we were, 23 years later.  Although I had been flying for airlines for 9 years, I was only now near the threshold of achieving that goal late in 1991.  I was still about 4 years from actually crossing the threshold, but I could see it from here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Airports have 3 digit identifiers for domestic use.  Some are easy to understand.  PIT is Pittsburgh.  ABQ is Albuquerque.  For international use there are 4 digits.  Some of these won't make sense to you.  When using 3 digits for Cologne, Germany we use CGN, but internationally, it is know as EDDK.  For international purposes, we add a K in front of the normal 3 digit identifiers for airports in the contiguous 48 states.  The PHL for Philadelphia becomes KPHL.

My practice wife, April, was from a Philadelphia suburb, so I was not a big fan of Philly until I started having layovers there on the 747.  There were some great restaurants there and lots of historic sites to visit.  It was also one of the cities for one of my favorite trips on that plane, PHL - OAK - PHL.  You got it, Oakland, California.  What I like about that trip, was that it was all daytime flying and as I became more senior on the plane, I was able to hold that trip on my schedule line, just about any time I wanted to.  This was a nice break from the clock twisting and mind bending schedules of the international flying.

During one flight from PHL to OAK, we were rerouted north of our normal route.  We usually flew south of Pittsburgh, but this time we were going north.  Our new route had us going directly to Elwood City VOR, EWC.  This navigational aid was about 15 miles northwest of my old stomping grounds, Butler Graham Airport.  This meant we would be flying directly over KBTP.  

I'm not sure of the date of this flight, but I had last flown there in the summer of 1978.  This flight was some time in the first half of the 1990s.  As the field passed under the nose of the Whale, I was thinking about the people, back in the mid 70s, when I flew out of there,  who would have never anticipated I would be flying in this airspace in a 747.  I have to admit that I was among them.  It is still an amazing thing for me to think about that transition.

It seemed that there were several times when I woke up in KPHL to bad news stories , in which I had some involvement, on the TV news channels.  For example, once the TV was full of the news that John Heinz, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, had been killed in Philadelphia in a collision between an airplane and a helicopter.  In 1976, the year Heinz first ran for senator, I had been flying his opponent, Bill Green, during the campaign.  Green and Heinz had both been Members of Congress.  Heinz was from Pittsburgh and Green from Philadelphia.  It's a good thing I was apolitical at that time.  Bill Green was a Democrat, but I liked him, his family and his campaign staff.  It was fun traveling with them during the campaign and going to political rallies all over the state.  I flew with them in some nasty winter weather, including a tight nighttime approach into Johnstown, PA in a blizzard.  I even got to spend a night at their home in Washington.  

During one of the bid periods on which I was flying the PHL - OAK trip, I got to fly with two of my favorite guys.  The captain was Tod Nichols and the flight engineer was my old pal Geary Chancey, who I had met when I was in training on the Whale.  Tod was a very smart guy, very articulate and a good debater.  He was a liberal and I was just coming to the full realization that I was a conservative.  We had some blistering arguments, which helped us stay awake while crossing the North Pacific.  Eventually, we realized we liked each other and avoided talking about politics.  

There was a micro brewery in Oakland that we liked to visit for dinner and an interesting, hand crafted brew.  It was called the Pacific Coast Brewing Company and it was a short walk from our layover hotel downtown.  This place had several of its own beers and had a rotating menu of micro brews from other sources.  There were descriptions of the beers that were similar to those you would see about fancy, expensive wines.  We went there once with a guy who ordered an MGD Light, which is something I consider to be 'why bother beer'.  You should have seen the look on the face of the waiter.  Priceless.

Anyway, Geary and I were planning to go there and I needed some walking around cash, so I went to an ATM on the street near the hotel.  I remember hearing Geary standing behind me saying, "I got your 6, Denny".  Oakland has a reputation for being a kind of lawless place.  He was a Marine fighter pilot and having someones 6 means he had my back covered as I was accessing my money.  It was chuckle worthy, as this was in broad daylight.

We had also spent some time in the aviation section of a book store, where we met a guy who was in the early stages of his aviation career.  He was a student at Sierra Academy of Aviation, where my old pal, Dave " Captain Twirly" Orris had attended.  We ended up giving him career advice and I remember the daggers coming from the eyes of his girlfriend, as I told him not to get too tied down before he had gained enough experience to apply to the airlines.

The trip with Tod and Geary lasted about a week and Geary had mentioned several times that he would be on vacation after the trip and would not be with us during the next trip.  He and his wife were planning to take their daughter on a trip on Amtrak from their home in Jacksonville, Florida to New Orleans.  His daughter was 11 and confined to a wheelchair.  He called her their "miracle child", because they had been trying to have children and just about given up hope, when she was born.  This would be her first train ride and Geary was very excited about the trip.  

We had a week off and I deadheaded to Philly to begin the trip.  When I woke up, the news was full of the story of the Amtrak crash north of Mobile Bay.  I thought about Geary, but thought the chances he was on that particular train were slim.  When I met Tod and the new engineer, who was flying in Geary's place, Tod mentioned the crash and the possibility that Geary was on that train.  I told him what I had been thinking, we did not know what day he and his family would be passing through there and there had to be many Amtrak trains passing through there each day.  "What are the chances they were on that train?"  Tod nodded and said, "Yeah, you're probably right".

We flew the rest of our trip and I deadheaded back to Louisville from Philadelphia after it ended.  As I walked into the UPS building upon arrival, I saw a friend who said, "Did you hear one of our guys was on the Amtrak train in Mobile?"  I asked, "Was his name Geary Chancey?"  He said, "Yeah, I think it was".  It was.

I was rattled.  Geary was one of the truly good guys.  His wife had died also, but their daughter had survived.  I would be anticipating seeing his smiling face coming around the corner in that building for months.  The story we got at their funeral, was that Geary had gotten his daughter out of their car, which was submerged, placed her in a safe place, then gone back for his wife.  He never returned to the surface.  He was a Marine hero to the end.  I cried at their funeral.     

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Frequently, when I start writing one of these chapters, I don't know where I will be going with it and can't think of a title.  As things develop, it becomes apparent what the title will be.  Let's see where we go with this one.

I spent 5 years on the Whale.  It was during this time that we negotiated the first Independent Pilots Association (IPA) contract with UPS.  I was surprised to be flying with captains who did not seem to be bothered enough by the slow pace of negotiations.  In other words, they were still busting their balls to keep the planes moving on time or early and with great efficiency.  I would not advocate deliberately causing delays, but I would just do my job at 100%, back off from the usual 110% and let the chips fall where they lay.  No early departures.  Read your manuals and do things exactly the way they are written there.  If you just did that, there will be delays.  That's just the way it is.  The system depends on pilots taking initiative and going above and beyond the call of duty.

We were flying the 747-100s.  During the Christmas season "Peak" we leased a -200 from a European company and got to see what the 747 performed like when it was not under powered.  The -200 just seemed to leap off the runway, when you rotated, compared to the -100.  We were almost always flying them fully loaded and long distances, so they used lots of runway on takeoff.  We would call V1 (our stop or go decision speed), Rotate, and as the nose came up, we could see that we were close to the end of the runway as it disappeared.  We would roll along for a while, before the wheels lifted off and with 18 wheels, that was a process. I had never flown a plane where I was that close to the end before it lifted off.

The 747 wing was designed for speed.  It was a relatively fast jet, once you got it going.  It climbed at a fast speed, but the climb rate was slow when it was heavy.  Upon leaving Tokyo, there was a fix as we entered the overwater route structure, where we had to be at our initial flight planned altitude,usually FL310 and we struggled to make that.  If we could not, we had to advise the controllers.  Most often we just made it.  Our flights were planned to fly at Mach .84, 84% of the speed of sound, Mach 1.0.  The plane really wanted to fly at .85 or .86.  At .84, if you flew into a down draft, the speed bled off quickly and it took lots of time and fuel to get it back up to speed.  At .85 or greater, that didn't happen.  Guess how fast we usually flew it.

Speed and altitude were critical on the overwater flights, because we were no longer in radar contact and collisions were avoided by using an elaborate position reporting process.  Another issue was that our Very High Frequency (VHF) communication radios were out of range from land based transmitters after about 100 miles, so we had to communicate with Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radios.  These radios had lots of noise and static on them, so we would check in on them before we "coasted out" and advise the radio operators of our Selcal code.  This was a device that had a 4 letter code, specific to our plane and we could avoid listening to all the static, because the operator would ring us up with the Selcal.  We would then turn on the audio for UHF and call to see what they wanted to tell us.  It was usually a handoff to the next controlling authority.

This reminded me of a story that has provided me with the title of this chapter.  As you would expect, I was getting the hang of this international flying business and when I did it, I continued to do the extra things to assure safety and accuracy.  It was my job to help the rest of the crew to avoid mistakes that could harm anyone or get us in legal trouble.

I was on a flight to Cologne with one of my favorite captains, Mickey Finnegan.  Mick was a little older than me, but was very fit.  He was a blonde haired, Southern California surfer dude.  We liked to take long walks for exercise and entertainment on our longer layovers.  I can remember one such walk from our hotel in Narita, through some of the Japanese farm country.  On the flight in question, we were approaching the point where we coasted out at Gander, Newfoundland, when we were advised of a route change on the North Atlantic Tracks.  Unlike the North Pacific, the routes over the North Atlantic change every 12 hours.  This is because the Atlantic passenger flights all leave the US for Europe at about the same time, mid evening, and leave Europe at about the same time for the US, early afternoon.  In order to take advantage of the winds, the Tracks are located near the jet stream for greater airspeed eastbound and away from the jet stream for the westbound flights.

UPS flights were often flown at a time that was not the same as the mass exodus of passenger flights, so we were assigned a route outside the Tracks.  I think there were about 5 or 6 Tracks at any time.  Whether flying in or out of the tracks, our routes were designated by Latitude and Longitude.

On the flight with the Mickster, we had originally been assigned 49 degrees North latitude, 050 degrees West longitude as our initial point over the water.  The revision was to 50 North, 50 West.  We sometimes used a short hand and called it 50/50.

When we enter these fixes into our navigation equipment, one crew member does it and at least one other checks to see if it is correct.  We had a sharp guy as our flight engineer that day, Jim Sampson, and he was watching also.  It wasn't necessary, but I plotted the bearing from the VHF Omnidirectional Radio (VOR) at Gander to the 50/50 fix, then set that course in the window to assure that we were tracking correctly.  

We would be using Inertial Navigation Sytem (INS) equipment only for our over water navigation.   These older planes did not have satellite navigation back then.  INS was accurate enough and we had 3 of them to cross check accuracy with.  It was based on entering your position on the ramp with known coordinates.  Then, as you moved, the INSs sensed the accelerations and knew where you were.  If we flew for a while before coasting out, we could update the position as we flew over a known point.

I drew our new course, and we flew out to 50/50.  We did all the plotting stuff we were supposed to do and then headed for our fix on 40 West.  I don't remember the latitude.  As we called to make our position report, the radio operator told us we were nearly 50 miles north of our 50/50 fix and that a gross navigational error report would be filed against it.  We all felt pretty bad about that and Mickey, who was an excitable guy, was bouncing around the cockpit like a pinball, ping, ping, ping.  I did a comparison check on our 3 INSs and they were very tight.  This made me think there was some kind of mistake.  The fact that we tracked perfectly out my plotted VOR radial toward 50/50 assured me also.  

I tried to calm Mickey and told him all the evidence I had that we were where we thought we were and had tracked out from Gander as I had plotted.  I remember big Jim pointing at the course selector and saying, "Yes, he still has the frequency and course set in the window".  I showed them the plotting line I had draw.  

As we approached 30 West, we got a call from the radio operator, handing us off to the Shanwick Sector and advising us that we had not been off course and they would not be filing a gross navigational error report on us.  We were already pretty certain we were not in trouble, but that was reassuring.

We flew on to Cologne, landed, went to the hotel and had a good sleep.  I woke up and walked to a coffee shop in the morning for my caffein fix and a pastry.  My friend Lloyd, who was flying DC-8s walked in and joined me.  After the usual comments, I mentioned that we had a weird thing happen as we crossed the Atlantic.  He said, "I know".  He told me a crazy story.

He had been flying a DC-8 behind us on their way to Standsted Airport, near London, then on to Cologne.  Both flights had 4 digit call sign numbers, that each had a couple 6s in them.  His flight had received the same route change we did.  Their plane had similar INSs, but only 2.

When you enter the coordinates, you have to enter degrees, minutes and seconds.  50 North is entered N50.00.00  50 West is W050.00.00. Because of the shorthand of talking about this fix as 50/50, Lloyd had entered the North coordinate as N50.50.00, only 10 minutes from 60 North/50 West.  The captain and flight engineer did not catch the error.  It was their flight that had been nearly 60 miles north of the assigned fix, but because of the call sign similarity, the operator called us and nearly gave Mickey a heart attack. 

 Lloyd's crew was advised to call the authorities when they landed at Standsted, which they did.  By this time the controllers and radio operators figured out what happened and because they also screwed up, everyone was off the hook.  If they had called Lloyd's flight when they called us, they could have actually corrected them in time to avoid the problem.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

24 hour layovers

The flights into the desert and back to Rome exceeded the time for a three crew member plane and required a "heavy" crew, an additional captain and flight engineer.  At first, UPS tried to fly the trips with a normal crew.  One of the captains was arguing in the hotel restaurant with a management pilot named Tom Gummer.  Gummer was insisting that he fly with the normal compliment and the captain said, "The FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) haven't been suspended, just because there is a war".  Things got heated and Gummer "fired" the captain.  That is when Gummer and all the other pilot managers learned that they did not have the power to fire pilots.  The captain kept his job and all the flights carried the required extra crew members.  This was the weird kind of stuff that was happening because of the arrogance of UPS and their lack of knowledge of how airlines are run.

At first, the international nature of the flying was causing me to be behind the curve while flying.  Furthermore, I was not used to being a first officer, copilot.  It is almost as if you have to turn off or subdue the decision making circuit of your mind.  Frequently the decisions you would make would be overridden by the captains.  Many of the captains on the 747 were old school.  They were very impressive in their experience and knowledge of international flying, but they frequently thought the first officer was a voice activated autopilot.  They would tell you when to start down, when to extend the flaps and when to extend the landing gear.  I might have needed a little assistance in those decisions at first, but soon got the plane figured out and just had to bite my tongue and tolerate the interference.  Remember, I always had the philosophy that it is the captain's plane and we must always remain within his or her comfort zone.

When the Desert War ended, we returned to our normal flying.  We flew from Louisville to Anchorage, Alaska, spent 24 hours, then to Tokyo's international airport at Narita, Japan.  We flew to Philadelphia or Newark, then on to Cologne, Germany.  We had domestic flights to Dallas, Portland and Philadelphia.  We flew to Ontario, California, then on to Honolulu after a layover.  There were day time flights between Philadelphia and Oakland, California each day, but they were very senior trips.  

Before going to Alaska and Hawaii, I had never thought I would ever go to all the states.  I started thinking about how many states I had been to.  When I looked through my logbook and remembered driving trips, I was surprised to learn that the list of states I had never been to was very short.  They included, North and South Dakota, Montana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  There was no way the Whale would fly to some of those places, but I filed the information away.

The flights to Japan were interesting, because we crossed the International Date Line.  Check out that hyper link.  It is very informative.  We left Anchorage at about 1000 hours, 10 AM to you civilians.  We arrived in Tokyo earlier in the morning, but on the next day, after a 6 or 7 hour flight.  That can bend your mind, but the return flight was bendier.

We left Tokyo in the evening, around 9 PM or so and arrived in the morning of the same day we had just lived through in Asia.  It was crazy.  That kind of stuff and crossing all the time zones can make you very confused.  

Trying to figure out when to sleep was also an issue.  We had mostly 24 hour layovers on the 747.  We would take the plane to a city, another crew would take it on the next stop and we would wait until the next plane came through at the same time next day.

Now you may think a 24 hour layover is cool and makes it possible to get lots of sleep, but there is a problem.  When you arrive, you have been on duty for a long time, 8 or 9 hours, let's say.  Flying long legs in a jet can be tiring.  You want to eat something and go to sleep.  If you sleep 8 hours, you are probably at least 9 or 10 hours into your 24 hour layover.  That leaves 14 or 15 hours until you next flight.  This is just about the time your body thinks you should be getting ready for bed again.  Sleep 8 hours, be awake 16 hours and repeat as necessary.

I you did that, you would be going on duty when your brain cell is getting ready to shut down for the day.  So we would usually take a nap when we arrived, have a period of being awake in which we would eat, exercise and do some sight seeing, then try to sleep as much as we could before our next report time.

There were issues.  Humans sleep better in the dark.  It was not always the hour of darkness when we tried to sleep.  In fact, it never was.  There were maids banging around in the hotel rooms and hallway.  There were drivers honking their horns in the streets below.  There were hotel personnel calling your room to see if you wanted maid service.  Sometimes, UPS Crew Scheduling was calling to alert you to a change.  If you remembered, you disconnected the phone, which was risky, because a family member may need to get in touch.  This was usually done through UPS.  

For example, when my dad was on his death bed, I was in Cologne, Germany.  We had arrived and I had gone out to have some beers with a crew member.  We returned to the hotel, saw some other folks we knew in the lobby and were talking at about midnight or so, when someone from the front desk came over and asked for me by name.  I had a good idea what was going on.

It was scheduling and they told me to call my wife.  Doreen told me what was up and I called scheduling back.  They arranged for me to fly from Cologne to Frankfort, then to Pittsburgh and I joined my family at the hospital.  It was just before Christmas.

So, anyway, 24 hour layovers have their problems.  We had to learn how to manage sleep and frequently, things just didn't work out.  It is not possible to force yourself to sleep.  I can remember many, many times, lying in bed and just rolling around, wide awake.  I called it the rotisserie.  Knowing that you had to sleep and that there was a window of opportunity before a report time would only make it worse.  Sleep was the number one topic of conversation among UPS pilots while on a trip.  "Did you get any sleep?"  "No, I feel like shit."  "Same here."  "OK, we'll have to choreograph naps on this leg."

With our normal compliment of crew members, sleeping was verboten.  However, I am here to tell you, it had to be done.  The only problem was when you woke up and saw the other guy was sleeping too.  It happens.  Most of the time, it happened when the naps were not planned.  You had to determine who was in the worst shape and let them go first.  Wake them up after a couple hours, then let the other guy go.  Ah, sleeping sitting up in the beat up, old seats of our whales, those were the days.

The flight engineers were allowed to nap.  I mentioned my friend Geary Chancey before.  We flew together a lot.  We seemed to like doing the same kind of stuff.  On several legs from Tokyo to Anchorage Geary would put his head down on the engineer's table and zonk out.

Somewhere over the Pacific, the sun would start coming up, directly at our 12 o'clock position, right in the kisser.  It was blinding.  If you had been awake the whole flight to this point, seeing the sun in that way made us very tired.  I guess it was the realization that we had been awake all night.

When Geary was napping, the sun would wake him up and he would jump up from his seat and start singing that old James Brown song, I Feel Good, with appropriate screaming and dancing.  Very entertaining for the rest of the crew, as our eyeballs were hanging down on our cheeks. 



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Flying Whales

The UPS 747 simulator was in Dallas.  After ground school, I flew down there for training.  I met a guy named Geary Chancey, who was going to be the flight engineer for my simulator training.  We became great friends immediately.  He was a former Marine Corp pilot and had just finished training himself.

I flew all my Initial Operating Experience flying on domestic flights to Dallas or Portland.  The final flight of IOE was to Honolulu, Hawaii and I was told this was going to be my over water training leg.  The instructor/check airman was Rick Barr, who would eventually be the top management pilot at UPS.  

This was close to the end of my first, probationary year at UPS and I was due for a TLA.  During the company indoctrination classes, we had been told about TLAs.  That stands for Talk, Listen, Act.  I was going to get a chance to Talk, UPS would listen and then Act on what I said if they thought what I told them was a good idea.

They claimed that they understood that we all came from varied backgrounds that they wanted us to infuse new blood into this old company.  We were supposed to observe the company during our probationary year and then point out areas where we thought they may be able to improve.  SMH.

At the time, I took this seriously and thought long and hard about what I could bring to that conversation, that could not be brought by every other pilot.  I concluded that it was my training in the Army as an instructor and my experience in aviation as a general aviation flight instructor, flight engineer simulator and ground school instructor, airline ground school instructor and airline check airman.  Especially important were the Army classes on instructing.  I always thought they were excellent.

In observing instruction at UPS, I came to the same conclusion that I had come to at all those levels of aviation instruction.  People are put into instructor positions mostly because they know aviation, but not because they know instructing.  They make lots of mistakes as instructors.

For example, the Army classes taught me that when you are pointing to a chalk board or other exhibit, be careful to do it so that you can face the class.  If you turn toward the wall, the people in the back of the room may not be able to hear you.  I witnessed such an event in my DC-8 ground school, pointed it out to the instructor and he told me to sit in the front row.  Unacceptable. 

Management pilots would frequently use TLAs as an excuse to buy dinner or drinks for line pilots and put it on their expense accounts.  Therefore, I had a grand total of 3 TLAs during my first year.

The first was in Cologne Germany, the day after a manager had grabbed the lion's share of a bar tab and realized what he had done next day.  We all took a walk along the Rhein River and made a stop at a cafe, during which he asked us what we were expecting in the upcoming contract negotiations.  I didn't think he should be asking us that kind of stuff and I sure as hell didn't think my fellow pilots should be answering that, but they did.  One idiot even said his brother in law, who was an accountant, thought we already made too much.  That is ridiculous, because we were at the bottom of the airline industry at that time.  For some reason, we all got up and left before I had a chance to say my piece on that and that is a good thing.  I would have pissed off the other pilots and might have gotten myself fired.

Another TLA was in Denver, when a manager wanted to buy the crew dinner.  Then the final was with Rick Barr at lunch in Honolulu during a torrential rain storm.

At all 3, I explained that I thought it might be a good idea to send all of our instructors to a class similar to the ones I attended at the Non Commissioned Officer Academy at Ft. Knox, or to hire an instructor from there who was retiring from the Army.  All 3 of the managers told my they thought my idea was great, that it was one of the most original suggestions they had heard and the all took lots of notes. I retired from UPS more than 20 years later and they never created a class for their instructors.  Oh, well.  That should tell you a lot.  As I told you, Rick Barr became the highest ranking management pilot at UPS and the other guy, Doug Ward, became the chief pilot of the eastern US and Europe.  These were guys who could have gotten things done, but they didn't.

While all this was going on, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. UPS was part of CRAF and the entire 747 fleet was dedicated to flying supplies to the desert nations from which the counter attack would be made. 

My very first trip after being released to the line was to deadhead to Shannon Ireland on passenger airlines, wait for a 747 inbound from Navy Norfolk and then fly it to Naval Air Station Sigonella, then on to Rome.  I was scheduled to fly from Louisville to JFK airport in New York on USAir, then on to Shannon on Are Lingus.  At the gate in Louisville, I met the captain and flight engineer.  We were told by the agents at the gate that the flight would be departing 90 minutes late, because of a delay involving an inbound crew.

The captain was Ernie Medina (not that Ernest Medina) and the engineer was Clark Palmer.  We had never met before, Clark was a new hire and Ernie was one of the most meticulous pilots I have ever flown with, almost too meticulous.

We took some seats and do what all UPS pilots do when they get a chance to talk.  We bitched about the company.  When we thought it was getting close to time to start boarding, we went to the gate podium and were told that the flight had been announced, boarded and it departed.  We were astounded.  How had we missed all that? I guess we were so involved in our gripe session, we were oblivious to what was happening around us.

Ernie was very upset and nervous.  He was always careful to avoid opportunities to screw up like this.  The agents told us they had a flight departing soon for Laguardia airport and they could get us on it.  Our bags were on the JFK flight, but we could get them after we used ground transportation between the airports.  This could all be done, but it was going to be tight and stressful.

At Laguardia, we got a cab and got stuck in New York City traffic.  Ernie was very up tight.  We developed a plan for 2 of us to find the baggage carousel with our stuff and one of us to go to the Aer Lingus gate and try to prevail upon them to delay the flight, if necessary.  We finally got to JFK, Clark and I rounded up our stuff and did the OJ run through the terminal deal, only to learn that the Aer Lingus flight was delayed.  Our stress levels went down and we had an enjoyable flight across the Atlantic. 

We stayed at a little hotel near the airport in Limerick and I looked up Cleary in the phone book.  There were lots of them. It was almost like Smith or Jones in the US.  I didn't sleep well.

When we went to the airport, it was raining.  We met the plane, being flown in by me future pal, Aaron Gould, who reminds me of a cross between Ving Rhames and Carl Weathers.  When we got going, I had my first experience trying to understand foreign air traffic controllers speaking in English, which is the international language of aviation.

Being a newby, I was far behind the airplane again.  There were some differences in the way arrivals and departures were built in the charts and Ernie was working over time to keep me up to speed.  This was the first, but not the last time I felt great respect for our international captains, who could take a huge airplane and two guys who did not yet know how to do their jobs, and literally go anywhere in the world.  I had years of experience being a captain in my own country, but this was a totally new game.

We stayed in Rome for several days.  Rome was a staging airport for UPS to fly its planes into the desert.  Those countries did not want the planes and crews laying over there (I was told it was because of limited ramp space), so as soon as the plane was unloaded and refueled, it was flown back to Rome, then back to the US for another load.  Since the planes were empty, we could load them up with fuel and make it from Rome to Louisville.  The international identifier for Louisville Standiford Airport is KSDF and many of the European enroute controllers had never seen that as a destination before.  One asked me where it was.  I said Louisville Kentucky, but he did not seem to understand or know where that was.  I said Kentucky Derby.  He got it.

As we began the process of going out over the ocean on the way back, it became painfully apparent that I did not know what I was supposed to do.  Ernie had to give me a quick class.  I was to learn a year later, that my trip to Honolulu did not qualify me to fly the North Atlantic or the North Pacific.  Training on the Atlantic would have qualified for the other two, because it was the most difficult, but neither of the others worked for the North Atlantic.  When the records people learned of the mistake, they had me take a test to prove I knew the Atlantic procedures.  By that point, I had been flying it many times and it was no problem.  The test was a CYA for UPS.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Back In The Ville

So, I've come full circle with this story, geographically.  It began on a flight to Louisville in 1966 and I was back 24 years later.  It  was purely a coincidence, but an interesting one. 

Louisville is a beautiful place in the spring and spring occurs a month or more before it does in Pittsburgh.  The Kentucky Derby is held on the first Saturday of May.  There is a weeks long celebration leading up to it with parades, airshows and fireworks.

We were spending time getting our kids set up in the schools they would be attending.  Both Caitlin and Mike tested well enough to be in the advanced programs.

At work, I was getting better at my job and it was fun to experience flying as an engineer, after the time I had spent training engineers several years ago.  Flight engineers are most busy from the time they report for duty, until the airplane levels off at the top of climb. If there is any kind of hiccup in the engineer's duties, the flight will depart late.  The part I hated most was calculating the speeds and power settings for takeoff, climb and cruise.  The method involved interpolating from tables and charts and had many opportunities for error.

They look something like this.

Approaching the end of my probationary first year, I received a letter to interview with United Airlines.  Doreen was very happy.  She had been seeing me get up in the middle of the night to go to work and come back home in the middle of the night and wanted me to work for a passenger airline, with a more normal schedule.  To make a long story short, we were trying to figure a way to make that possible.

We were going to have to rent an apartment, less expensive than the house.  We were already in more debt than we had ever been, except for the mortgage and this was just to try to keep up with necessary expenses.  I was finishing the first year with low pay at UPS and would be facing another first year of low pay at United.  We weren't sure exactly how we were going to do it, but we were going to do it.  It felt like running toward a wall with an opening that we could not fit through, but we were going to try to hit it hard and crash our way through.  It was a troubling time.

I had to make it through the United interview process with all the troubles that were facing us on my mind.  I don't know if I have an objective view of that, but I felt as if I did well.  When it was done, we just had to wait for the result.

Finally a letter arrived.  I opened it and read that they had decided not to hire me.  I have to admit, that the first thing I felt was relief.  All options were now gone and I had to stay at UPS and make the best of it.  The second year at United would have had a big pay raise and with what we knew about both pay scales and all other circumstances at that time, United would have been a far better career, but I just didn't know how we could get through that first year.  The second consecutive year of low pay, with commuting would have been very traumatic for our little family.

Soon after this, I had an opportunity to upgrade to first officer, copilot, a window seat again.  Conventional wisdom says to not go into training again during your probationary year.  It is not considered wise to expose yourself to another opportunity to fail a check ride, when you can be fired without cause and do not fall under the protection of the union.  I was not worried about that.

I could have bid the DC-8 or the 747-100.  I chose the 747.  I knew more about the way the different planes were scheduled now and thought I would be on reserve as a junior first office on either.  UPS owned many 8s, but many fewer 74s.  The 74s flew long distance, trunk routes.  The 8s flew just about everything.  They were a versatile plane and could fly internationally or domestically.  

Because of all that, I thought reserve on the 747 would be easier.  Besides that, I liked the idea of flying the Whale.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Far East

I was moving up the UPS seniority list rapidly.  Pilots senior to me were leaving for other jobs at a rapid pace.   They were not used to being treated the way they were at UPS.  The manager to pilot ratio was much higher than traditional airlines.  The fact is, pilots don't require much management.  You train them how to do their job and give them their schedule and send them off around the world.  No one needs to sit over them, making sure they do their job.  You know they have been successful when the plane arrives at the correct destination.  Nothing to it, from a management stand point.  We had so many of them hanging around, that they felt they had to do some managin'.  They were mostly a pain in the ass.

It did not take long before I was able to hold a "line of time", which means I would know in advance what my schedule was, instead of being on call around the clock.  We had a 3 month big period.  Most airlines bid for schedule every month.  There are pros and cons both ways.  If you do it monthly, you are bidding 12 times a year.  If you have a 3 month big period, you only have to bid 4 times a year, but the problem is, you are compromising the days off you want.  Let's say you have a child with a birthday in January and a wife with a birthday in February and you can't find a line you can hold with your seniority that gives you both dates off.  You have issues.  I didn't like it.  I would rather bid more frequently.  We usually had lots of time while flying or hanging around a hotel to do it and it gave you much more flexibility.  Three month bids helped the company with long term planning, but screwed up the pilots' long term planning.

The first crew I flew with was kind of memorable.  The first officer was a great guy, Curt.  The captain was an asshole.  I was a new guy, still trying to hang on with both hands.  The old saying about that is that I was 10 miles behind the airplane, which is a good thing, I guess, if the asshole wrecked it.  But he didn't give me any slack and was always pointing out my short comings.  He was also very non-standard.  He would call for a checklist that I was supposed to read and then the appropriate crew member would call the response as they assured the item was complete.  Captain A. Hole would immediately start calling all the checklist items from memory and then giving the response.  I guess he wanted to speed things up.  This made me feel like I was another 5 or 6 miles behind the plane.  Frequently, there were issues with some of the systems on the plane and when I brought them to his attention, he would tell me to do some non standard crapola procedure that wasn't in the book.  It usually solved the problem, but I was even farther behind.  It was going to be a long 3 months.

I don't remember how long it took me to get pissed off, but despite the fact that I was on probation, I finally decided to speak up.  One night, when I finally had gotten all my duties up to speed and we had time to wait, I looked at him and told him I was very impressed with his ability to memorize the checklist and recite it, but that was not the way it was supposed to be done.  I was new at this and had been feeling behind the curve and we needed to slow things down, so that I was satisfied that things were being done properly and that I was learning how to do my job, instead of just feeling like I was along for the ride.  He looked at me and said, "OK".  That was it.  But he still jumped all over my many mistakes.

Later in our bid period, Curt was not flying with us for some reason.  We had a guest first officer named Arnold.  The captain, whose name was Jeff, looked very seriously at Arnold and gave him this big speech about how he and I had been flying together for a long time and our normal FO, Curt, was not with us this time and Arnold was sitting in for him.  He said we had a certain way of doing things and we had one boss on this airplane and one boss only and it is him.  He was pointing at me.  I had to laugh at that one.

Even later in the bid period, Curt was back and we were at the end of a long night descending into Omaha Nebraska.  We were all tired, our brains were numb and our eyeballs were hanging down on our cheeks.  (Not really, I am just kidding, yo.)  We were cleared for a visual approach to one of the parallel runways 32 and Jeff was lining up with runway 36.  Curt didn't catch it either.  The only person on that plane who knew what was happening was that dumass, rookie plumber.  I said, "Hey, Jeff, that's the wrong runway".  He sat up straight, saw that I was correct and manuevered to land on the correct runway.  He thanked me.  I laughed out loud and said, "You live by the sword, you die by the sword.  If you ever give me shit about my mistakes again, I will tell everyone about the time I saved your ass from landing on the wrong runway".  That still brings a smile to my face.  (I have a friend who is still flying, who will not fly with Jeff, for all the same reasons I hated doing so.  My friend is a nice guy, not as obnoxious as I am.)

I began to get the feel for the job and later that year, I picked up a trip in open time, that was flying from Anchorage Alaska to Tokyo Japan.  I rode a DC-8 jump seat to Anchorage and wen to the hotel with the crew.  

The captain was a young guy, but he was very senior in the company.  His name was Dan and we got along very well.  We were going to be flying a load of cherries from the West Coast to Japan.  I was told that the Japanese love cherries and buy all the cherries they can from the US.  A plane load of cherries weighs 80,000 lbs.  We were fueled with 90,000 lbs. of kerosene to fly them there.  Our plane would be at its maximum allowable gross take off weight.  This would be the only time I had seen an 8 loaded that heavily.

As young as he was, Dan was an experienced DC-8 pilot.  We took off toward the Chugach Mountains and then turned to fly out along the Aleutians.  We used much of the runway and were climbing slowly.  It would be about a 7 hour flight, my first international flight with UPS and my first visit to the Far East.

We had a couple UPS employees on board, who were supposed to deal with the people in Japan, because this was a charter flight.  The cockpit was cramped, but they spent most of the flight bundled up in the seats just out side the door, sleeping.  Dan said he liked me, because I was a Florida boy and kept it warm in the cockpit.

We were flying to the Tokyo international airport near Narita.  As we descended through the clouds and I got my first view of Japan, I remember thinking, "We're not in Kansas anymore".  

As we were getting off the plane, Dan was approached by a guy who wanted us to choose our catering for the return flight.  They ignored the UPS dudes who had been sent to take care of this kind of stuff.  Over there, the people have more respect for the captain and pilots in general, than the UPS box heads do.  We went to a hotel with the tiniest rooms I had ever seen.  There wasn't much time to do any sight seeing, before we had to report for the return flight.

When the catering began to show up, Dan was laughing.  He told me he had ordered all kinds of expensive sushi and other stuff and that the company would probably be pissed when they got the bill.  I was not a big fan of sushi at that time, but there was so much to eat, that I did not go hungry.  I did try some smoked salmon and liked that a lot.  The UPS dudes slept all the way back.  They had done some sight seeing while we slept in our tiny hotel rooms.


I had a flight engineer rating and had been a simulator instructor for a year in Atlanta.  (I'm sure you remember that, eh?)  Now I was actually going to get a chance to fly the line as a "plumber".  I was kind of looking forward to that.  At this point, it was nice to have something to look forward to. 

After the indoctrination classes, we had a little break and I was able to jump seat home for a few days.  I wanted to drive my pickup to Louisville, so I had a way to get around.  Lou was another member of my class.  He lived in Orlando and had worked for Braniff also.  He had worked for Braniff Int., but had refused the recall to Braniff II, because he had started a little business in the interim and did not want to commute to Dallas.  He had applied to Florida Express, but not been hired, mostly because of a misunderstanding.  Then, when Braniff bought Florida Express, Lou was hired by them and came back on the seniority list below all the Florida Express pilots.  I invited Lou to drive to Louisville with me and then we went into a "crash pad" together with a couple other guys.  Crash pad is what we call a house or apartment where several pilots have a room to stay in when they are not flying, but can't get home.  We had a nice apartment.

Commuting to a job like this is a possibility and Doreen and I considered moving to Pittsburgh, our home.  We started looking for a small house, while visiting my parents.  The more I thought about the expense of buying a house and keeping a crash pad in Louisville, the more I felt that it was smarter to move to Louisville.  Doreen and I had some disagreement on this, but I thought it was a much better idea.

Once I started earning some money, I started paying Grandma Ann's utilities and taxes.  I felt better not being a complete mooch.

In Louisville, some of my friends had been buying houses, using a real estate agent named Dave.  I met Dave and we started looking for a house.  As he got to know me and understand our situtaion better, he told me he thought I should not be buying a house, but renting one and waiting until I could save for a decent down payment.  We had broken even on our Orlando home and had not been in it long enough to build up equity.  Dave helped me find a home to rent, which I thought was very generous.  He was not going to be making any money for his time.  He was betting that I would come to him when I could afford to buy.

Now I had to figure out an inexpensive way to move.  My old pal, Dan, from the Butler Graham days, had been building a trucking company after he was hired at USAir.  When I told him of my dilemma, he offered to have one of his trucks stop at the house in Orlando with some space saved for our stuff, then drive it to our house in Louisville.  I got some friends to help with the move in Orlando, then got some guys to help in Louisville.  This was in May 1990, and we got the stuff in the house just in time to go into the basement, because of a tornado warning.  We did not have any problems at the house, but there was damage to the building at the UPS Training Center.


So, I was going to be spending some time in this building.  First there was ground school, in which all the academics of learning the DC-8 systems took place.   Then came the simulator.  It looks just like the cockpit of the airplane and it can be "flown" by pilots, while the engineer is sitting in front of the panel that controls all the systems.  The instructor then pushes buttons and tortures the student with all the abnormalities and emergencies that can occur in the airplane.  After the curriculum is complete and if the instructor chooses to recommend the student, a simulator check ride is scheduled.  After that, the student begins Initial Operating Experience (IOE).  This is training on an actual revenue flight, with an IOE instructor.  In my opinion, the worst part of being a flight engineer is calculating all the performance data for each phase of flight.  We had to use charts in our manual and on the table top of a little desk at the panel.  This table was under a piece of plexi glass and the lighting was terrible.  This is the first time I felt that I needed to start wearing glasses.  I was starting to become a little far sighted and went to a drug store to buy a pair of magnifying eye glasses.

With successful completion of the IOE curriculum, a release to line check ride is scheduled.  If that is passed, the student is now prepared to fly the line, or at least, that is the plan.  I managed to get through all of that unscathed and was on reserve, which meant I had to hang out at the crash pad and wait to be called to work.

The toughest part of flying for UPS, is that most of the flying is done at night.  UPS is a package delivery company.  It began in Seattle in about 1907.  In 1971, Federal Express came along and revolutionized the package delivery company, by promising to deliver them overnight.  This is how airplanes became such a big part of the business.  FedEx, as it is called now, flew to nearly every city in the US, then ran a hub and spoke system out of Memphis Tennessee. UPS developed its airline to compete.

This meant there was a whole lot of night time flying going on out there and I was now a part of it.  At the time I started working at UPS, reserve was a 24 hour deal.  I could be called at any time and was responsible to be available for contact.  The UPS pilots had a very lousy contract.  When the operation began, the pilots were represented by the Teamsters, the same union that represented the truck drivers.  The pilots who negotiated the contact did not know what they were doing and I think they felt they were over a barrel.  

Things were so bad, that during the first year, 1988, several of the pilots began the steps that would lead to forming their own union, The Independent Pilots Association (IPA).  This was a very risky enterprise.  They had to pass out cards to all the pilots to get them to turn them in, saying they wanted to change representation.  This has to be done secretly, or they run the risk of being fired.  They may get their jobs back, but they have to sweat out the process, not knowing for sure how things will go.  

By the time I showed up, all the heavy lifting had been completed, and the IPA began to represent the UPS pilots in January, 1990, while I was in training.  Of course, I would not be part of that, until I completed my first year on probation.

Freight Nazis

I might have understated the difficulty of being out of work and not knowing if I would ever get another flying job.  I guess I try to forget bad times like that and I think most pilots have the "no sweat"  attitude of down playing the challenges they face.

I remember thinking about the impact all of this could have on my family.  Stress levels were as high as they could be and we had to work very hard to get on the same page.  I thought about the possible difference in my kid's future, if I didn't get back on the pilot track.  What would I do?  I was 44 years old and had never been good at anything else and never wanted to do anything else for the rest of my life.  I did not have a college degree and it felt way too late to start down that path.  

I had the responsibility of 3 other people.  If I had been single, I could have slept on someone's couch and taken a job as a flight instructor.  But, now I needed to achieve a level of income to support the four of us.  My confidence was seriously shaken.

As I said before, I was moping around with a dark cloud over my head for the 3 months of my unemployment.  When I went to the UPS interviews, I took advantage of my learned ability to compartmentalize challenging issues and focus on the problem at hand.  I knew I had to do my best and I felt good after all the interviews.  

Normally, getting a job flying airplanes for a financially solid company, like UPS, would be reason to celebrate, especially after having worked for three shaky, new entry airlines, all of which had collapsed into financial disaster.  UPS had very deep pockets.  If this employer went broke, I would know that I was the problem.

However, there were still lots of dark clouds following me around.  I would be taking a large pay cut at UPS, not just for the first year, but for many years to come.  When looking at the pay section of the contract with the pilot group, you could see that getting back to the income level I had enjoyed at Braniff, let alone Florida Express (remember, we had taken a pay cut when Braniff took over) was going to be a slow climb.  The best possibility was upgrading  but that was a giant unknown.  It depended on UPS's decisions to grow the airline.  I had certain financial responsibilities that could not be mitigated.  Selling the house had taken care of the biggest one, but we still needed a place to live.  Doreen and the kids could not fit on the couch with me.  We are forever grateful for Grandma Ann and the plan was for me to commute to Louisville, while the family stayed with her.

We supplemented my income by using credit cards and were unable to pay the total amount off each month, so we were accumulating high interest debt at very high rates.  At the end of my first year, we had more than $10,000 in credit card debt and I went to the two credit unions I had been doing business with.  One of them, the USAir Federal Credit Union, had been my checking account for almost 10 years.  I tried to borrow $10,000 from each credit union and they would not lend me the money, because my income was so low.

I rode to Louisville with Russ, a young Florida Express guy I had flown with many times, who was also in my new hire class.  He had been notified that he was hired before I was, but I was the oldest in our class, so I was the most senior member.  Russ never got over that and still whines about it, but we had fun on our drive.  

We were going to be flight engineers on the DC-8.  The 8, Douglasaurus or the Diesel, was an old plane, even at that time, but the ones we flew had been modified with newer technology engines to make them more powerful, quieter and more fuel efficient.  UPS loved them and so did all the pilots who had flown them before.  It is a relatively uncomplicated, strong and reliable jet, that can carry lots of stuff and go a long distance.

We started class with a company indoctrination.  UPS had been running its own flight operation for almost 2 years.  Prior to that, they had used several contractors to provide pilots to fly their planes, but the FAA wanted the owner to be the certificate holder.  UPS was learning about pilots and pilots were learning about UPS. Frequently, things did not go smoothly.  UPS was known as the Freight Nazis.  They had a reputation of being difficult to work for.  

I started hearing lots of stories about some of the stuff they had tried to pull.  For a new hire, on probation, this is not a good situation.  Personally, I had always tried to establish a policy of not forming an opinion about a person or company or any entity, based on the opinion of someone else.  I didn't want to show disrespect to the pilots who were telling me the stories, but I didn't want to put a chip on my shoulder toward this employer.  I needed this freaking job, bad as it was, and I also had bigger fish to fry at this time.  

Just for a few examples, UPS likes to promote from within and they were thinking about trying to make their truck drivers pilots capable of flying large jet airplanes all over the world.  They just did not have a clue.  When they broke the code on that one and had to actually hire pilots from the outside, they were not easily able to deal with the facts that these pilots, who actually had the experience to do that, were not going to be easy to push around.  These were people who had flown planes in combat, they were former colonels and generals.  They were people like me, who had other military experience and had been airline captains for years.  We knew the regulations and UPS hated when we put a wrench in their wheels with the regs.  

UPS gave a class in their indoctrination that stopped just short of calling all of us thieves.  One of the stories from those who had preceded me there was that they actually did call them thieves in the earlier classes.  I always said, "I hear what you are saying and respect that, but I have to give them at least one chance to hose me before I get pissed off at them." 

Another thing about UPS, was that they were accustomed to having long term employees.  Most people suffered through the abuse, especially in management positions, because they had a great retirement plan.  They paid less for comparable positions, but the managers were given and could purchase large blocks of company stock, to be sold at retirement for big money.  The stock at that time was private, so the company manipulated it to keep the reward at the end as high as possible.  When they started reviewing the resumes of pilots who were actually available to come to work for them, they were seeing resumes like mine, with 6 employers in 16 years.  In their way of seeing things, this was an indication of a bad employee, who could not hold a job.  If you have been reading this from the beginning, you know the situation.  Airline deregulation, company bankruptcies and many other issues had caused many of us to be "bounce arounds".  Prior to deregulation, getting hired by one of the legacy airlines was like dying and going to heaven.  Afterwards, you did not know if you had made the right choice in airlines until retirement and in some cases, not even then.