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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I teach you, you teach me.

After completing the ground school in which I taught myself, I moved on to simulator training.  My sim. instructor would be Tom Block.  I first became aware of Tom as a writer for Flying Magazine.  He wrote a monthly column about flying as an airline pilot.  Back in the day, we all read Flying.  There were good articles about airplane types, flying accidents and all kinds of subjects that were educational and informative to young pilots like my friends and me.

Tom Block was a BAC 1-11 captain and eventually attended recurrent training in a ground school class that I taught.  I remember him saying to another pilot just before class first began, "I wonder what they are going to teach us about the BAC 1-11 this time."  

Tom has written several novels and is now retired and running a horse ranch in Florida.

When I had experienced pilots in my class, I made it more of a directed conversation, than a lecture.  It kept everyone more involved and these folks were actually flying the plane and had real world experience to relate.  We could all learn from that.

Although I can't remember what it was, I remember a moment when Tom Block's question was answered.  We had touched on a subject that turned on a light for him.  I still remember the look on his face.  After all, he was a celebrity.

When we started in the simulator for my training, my partner was much lower on the learning curve than I was.  He was a smart guy, but had been flying light airplanes for a commuter airline, Cessna 402s.  I had been flying this very same simulator for 3 years and flying all the training and check ride profiles.  Tom was able to dedicate more attention to my partner.

Pacific Express was having us trained to pass a type rating check ride.  Normally, the training is for a first officer (co-pilot) ride, which has fewer requirements than a type rating (captain) ride.  PacEx was trying to save money, instead of sending us back for additional training when we upgraded.  The company was growing and upgrades were coming after only a year on the seniority list.  We both passed, then we moved on to the airplane training.

Since I had not been flying airplanes more than a few hours for the last 4 years, I was having a little more trouble than my partner.  The airplane flew differently.  I did well enough to pass my airplane check ride, but my confidence was a little shaken moving forward.  It was not up to the standards I placed on myself.

This was an extreme example of an axiom I had learned in my flight instructor days.  Long layoffs between flying can really make a pilot rusty and it takes time to knock that rust off.

Doreen and I found a small house to rent in Chico on Floral Avenue.  It had a "swamp cooler" and a small swimming pool.  These would help us deal with the dry heat of summer in Chico.  Our landlord, John Bay, and his wife Shirley, were our next door neighbors.  Both houses sat on a 10 acre lot.  To defray our rental costs, we asked John if we could board horses that belonged to others and he approved.

Chico was the smallest crew base for Pacific Express.  San Francisco was the biggest. 

The corporate headquarters was located in Chico, probably for the same reason I wanted to be based there.  It was much less expensive than San Francisco or Los Angeles.  The company had a hangar at the Chico Airport and flew into Chico each evening and out each morning.  There were 8 pilots based there, 4 captains, 4 first officers, to fly the planes in and out each day.  The plan was to perform maintenance, during the night, that required a hangar.

The airline had been flying for nearly a year before I arrived.  The route structure changed several times.  The picture above shows one example.  The big marketing hit among city pairs was supposed to be the one between San Francisco and Palm Springs.  Essentially, it was a hub and spoke system in San Francisco, with a smaller hub in Los Angeles.  The northernmost cities were Portland, Oregon and Boise Idaho.  The southernmost were LA and Palm Springs.

Block time means from when the plane begins moving away from the gate to when it stops moving at a gate.  Our average block time in the system was 45 minutes.  Our longest block time was one hour 30 minutes, between San Francisco and Palm Springs.  We flew as many as 6 legs a day.  

The company used an old fashioned, convoluted, complicated and busy weight and balance system, that was done by the first officer.  We had to wait until we had the final passenger count, before we could do most of the form.  We got that as the main entry door was being closed.  It was a process of making numerical entries in a column, doing some grade school math and drawing a line that followed guidelines down through a graph based on the weight and balance envelope of the plane.  Each plane had its own numbers to begin with.  This was not a very challenging process, except that there was tremendous time pressure to get it done and tremendous accuracy pressure to prevent killing ourselves or getting in trouble with the FAA.  At airports where we had jetways, the bell was ringing as it was pulled away.  In most cases, the captain had to open his window and throw the form out or place it in something the station had put together to collect it, as we were starting engines and running checklists.  I became conditioned, like Pavlov's dogs, to go into a panic when I heard that bell.  The FOs rarely got out of their seat during a 6 leg day.

To make matters more challenging, we had scheduling issues.  After flying the plane for a few months, the flight department learned that it was burning a lot of fuel if they flew it as fast as it could go.  Fuel can be saved by slowing the plane down.  We flew it very slowly, compared to the other airlines, 250 knots indicated to climb, cruise and descend.  Without getting into the weeds too much with regard to indicated and true airspeed, we were kind of like a moving road block out there for the other airlines.  The scheduling challenge arose, because the company published the schedule as if we were flying at the same speeds as the other airlines.  This meant that we were behind schedule on the first leg of the day and this was compounded with each subsequent leg.

To make matters worse, the time on the ground was minimal.  If there was any kind of glitch in unloading and loading the plane, we added time to our lateness.  A maintenance issue would just completely wipe us out.  It was a real snowballing problem.  We were always trying to avoid additional delays and trying to find ways to speed things up.  Lots of pressure.  On top of all of that, the old BAC 1-11s we were flying were a maintenance nightmare.  They broke, frequently.  But, they were pretty.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Glamour Profession, Dude

I have thought of a few things I should mention before we move forward with the story.

I learned a lot from Jim Quinzi and Doc Watson.  They were both excellent instructors.  Jim was very funny and Doc was a little drier.  Jim was very good at improvisation.  I was sitting in on one of his classes and a student said, "I have a dumb question", then went on to ask the question.  Jim gave this big, 3 or 4 minute dissertation about how there were no dumb questions and explained why.  Blah, blah, blah.  Then he answered the question and finished by asking,"Now, are there any other dumb questions?"  He had great timing.

Doc used to have this saying about "wit, wisdom and humor" explaining what a great group of instructors we were on the BAC and how much the students would enjoy the experience.  He was right, but for the longest time, I thought he was saying "wet wisdom and humor" and did not have a clue what he was talking about.

Another thing I want to mention is that between the time Doreen and I got married in September and we began our drive to Chico, in December, my friend and the father of one of my best friends, died.  Dan Wylie and his father, J.B., were on different trips, but both laying over in Newark.  You may remember that these guys kicked me out of my rut at Butler Graham Airport.  They were each having a shot of Crown Royal in J.B.'s room, as they were discussing a grain elevator they were planning to buy.  They were a couple plow boys, with a farm just west of the airport.  J.B. keeled over and was dead before he hit the floor.  I talked to a friend of his later who thought it was because of a no carb diet he had been on.  The last time I saw him, he did look like he had lost a lot of weight.  Doreen was with me.

She and I attended the funeral together. Afterwards we went to Dan's house and had too much to drink.  J.B. would have been proud.

And finally, after we were married, Doreen and I shared time between the house in Coraopolis and her apartment in Shadyside.  We knew we would be moving soon, so we tried to keep all that work to a minimum and sometimes it was just easier to spend the night at one place or the other.  My parents and many of our friends seemed to think there was something goofy about that, but we never minded being thought of as goofy. We had a great costume Halloween party at the house, with all our friends.

We were driving across the country with our rig just before Christmas.  We were very lucky to get across the Rockies and Sierras without encountering a winter storm.  I was worried about that and was keeping a close watch on it the whole way.

I don't remember the exact route we drove, but most of it was on Interstate 80.  The prairie states would have been much more interesting if I had known as much about them then, as I do now.  We were closely paralleling the routes of the pioneer wagon trains and the Transcontinental Railroad.  I have done significant reading about those subjects in subsequent years.

The only previous drive of similar distance and nature was from Phoenix to Pittsburgh to drive the rental truck for Anita's move.  This was my first drive all the way across the country.  You may remember that I had flown from Butler to Southern California a couple times in light airplanes.

The drive through the Rockies on 80 is not nearly as spectacular as it is on I 70.  Going through the Sierras on 80 is another story.  There were some cool mountains east of Salt Lake City, then desert all the way to Reno.  From there, we followed the Truckee River into the Sierras and they were spectacular.  I remember that Doreen was sleeping and I kept waking her up to see them.  She does not enjoy driving as much as I do and got lots of rest on this trip.  We drove past Donner Summit, near the site of the Donner disaster.  I have been here many times since and always feel a strange vibration.  It is an eerie place to me, especially in the winter.  Much more about this area, several times, in later chapters.

There was a temptation to stop at many of these places we were passing.  This was all a great adventure for both of us.  However, we had a tight schedule and I had to report to my new job.  As we drove north in the Sacramento Valley, we saw a large, strange looking, black jet flying overhead.  I recognized it as an SR-71, the Blackbird, Habu.  It was the super secret spy plane.  Beale Air Force Base was their primary home.  This is still the fastest air breathing airplane ever built, as far as we know.  ;-)  This was a very cool experience.

On the day we arrived in Chico, the weather was dark and gloomy, overcast, steady rain, with the smell of burning wood.  We would learn that this was typical, winter weather for this area of the Sacramento Valley.  The Central Valley of California, Sacramento to the north and San Joaquin to the south is one of the world's greatest agricultural areas.  What we were smelling was the burning of pruned branches from the walnut farms nearby.  

Chico has two seasons, winter and summer.  Winter is overcast and rainy with occasional fog.  Summer is clear skies and 90+ degrees.

We found a little motel and rented a room.  After a restful night, we began our search for a place to live.  Our moving truck was on its way.  Then I had to check in with the company for the beginning of my new, glamour profession.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Go West, Young Couple, Go West.

My room mate, Bill, and I decided to rent a house on the hill in Coraopolis PA.  His old girlfriend, Anita, had moved to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles.  Talk about culture shock.  We needed more room, so the townhouse was history.

I'm not sure of the exact chronological order of all these events, but Doreen said yes.  Because we had both been married before, we decided we did not want a big wedding.  We didn't want lots of people to feel obligated to buy us gifts.  We went to a justice of the peace and Anita went with us.  The three of us went to a bar and had a few drinks.  Anita had to be carried out of the place.  This was September 9, 1982, that I can tell you. ;-D

Let's review.  I was born August 16, 1945, mere hours after the end of WW II.  I was 37 on the day we were married.  Doreen was born July 11, 1953.  (7/11, lucky number)  She is almost exactly 8 years younger.  I'm not going to look up the exact date, but I think I started flying in Sept. 1968, 14 years before we were married.  She was 15 then.  I had always been a little immature in appearance and behavior, so this was working out.

One of my points in all that, is that after 14 years of starting toward my goal, I was finally on the threshold of getting an airline pilot job, but not a very good one.  I was an overnight success.  Get it?

Since we were married, Doreen and I could ride non-rev on USAir, so we flew to San Francisco for a little vacation and honeymoon.  We walked and drove all over "The City".  That is what the locals call it, as if they are not aware that there are other cities in the world.  We loved it and even ate sushi.  We were not ready for that yet.

I think the most fun was hiking in Muir Woods.  This is one of the places you go to see a redwood forest.  We were not 'stay inside the lines' kind of people, so we followed the trails inside the park and when we came to the end, we continued to hike for miles and miles.  We explored the Coast Highway, Sausolito and other places north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  In The City, we visited Golden Gate Park, The Presidio, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf and all the other places tourists frequent.  We had a blast.  

Doreen had said she would feel homesick leaving the Burgh and I was trying to show her how much fun we could have in our new home. 

Pacific Express had crews based in three places, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chico.  San Fran was the biggest base and Chico was the smallest.  Living in California is very expensive, especially in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  I was trying to get my self based in Chico, to save money.  We both had some money saved and my income was not going to be much.  I got lucky and there was an opening in Chico.  As I said before, it is about 90 miles north of Sacramento, which is about 90 miles northeast of San Francisco (Chico to San Francisco is about a 3 hour drive, when there is no traffic.  There is always traffic.)

We sold lots of stuff, had the rest moved by Mayflower and I bought a tow hitch for my Trans Am, to tow her old Toyota Corolla Station Wagon to Chico.  Talk about culture shock.

We loaded the wagon with as much stuff as we could and made our way to Interstate 80, The 80, as they say it in CA.

Friday, March 25, 2016


One of the companies that was coming to the USAir BAC 1-11 ground school was a new, start up airline from California, Pacific Express.  The first class included their Chief Pilot, Boyd "Captain Mike" Michael and a bunch of other geezers.  This was a golden opportunity for me to practice my Dale Carnegie skills.  I became Mr. Warmth and Charm.

There were no promises, but I could tell everyone liked me.  What's not to like, especially when I turn on the ol' DC charm?  (Dale Carnegie)

PacEx was going to be based in Chico California a college town 90 miles north of Sacramento, the state capital.  They were flying 7 or 8 BAC 1-11s, leased from British Aerospace.  The planes had been traded in by British Caledonian Airlines. 

The understanding was that PacEx would eventually be buying new BAE 146s when they could afford them.

Several PacEx classes were coming through the school and eventually, the Director Of Operations, Gordy James, attended one.  This was the key guy for my plans and I was at my most charming.  I was also persistent and assertive.  Gordy agreed to give me an interview, perhaps just to get me off his case.  

This was not exactly the airline job of my dreams.  The pay for pilots was minimal, $32,000 salary for captains, $18,000 for first officers.  No opportunity to earn more.  Captains at USAir were probably making more than $100,000 at that time.  However, I was realistic and knew that I needed this job to advance my career and to escape USAir.  

I have no memory of the interview, but I got the job.  It would be several months before my class started, so I continued at USAir during that time.  In fact, while I was attending my PacEx ground school, I was still an instructor for USAir and actually taught myself in class.  I was on sign in sheets as both instructor and student.  I talked to the top guy at the FAA inspectors office about that and he said he had no problem with it.  He understood what was going on.

During the time all this was going on, we were moving into the new school.  Doc Watson's mother in law had died during open heart surgery and had built up a big blood bank debt.  He asked some of the guys if they would volunteer to go to the blood bank in Pittsburgh to help paying some of it back.  You know my attitude toward volunteering.

Several of us piled in Quinzi's car and drove dahntahn.  While we were sitting in the waiting room, a very attractive young woman walked through and Wally Bixler asked her a question.  She stopped and gave him a very thoughtful answer.  I was impressed with the way she seemed at ease among a group of 5 or 6 guys who all knew each other.

Momentarily, I was called for an interview and as fate would have it, the attractive young woman was my interviewer.  I still had my scraggly beard, so when I had an opportunity, I asked her if she would go out with a guy who had a beard.  She said she would, as long as the beard got long and soft before things started getting serious.  ( I knew I would be shaving it soon, but it was a good conversation starter.)  She asked me why a guy my age did not have a wife.  I asked her if she had ever heard of divorce.  It was becoming a fun interview.  I asked for her number and she wrote it on a band aid wrapper.  (I learned later that she contemplated writing a bogus number, but decided to give me the real deal.)  This was June 23, 1982.

I called her, but she was doing something with her two sisters for a few days.  One was visiting from out of town.  Finally, she agreed to meet me at a bagel shop near her apartment.  Things went well and she told me she was going to join some friends for the holiday celebration in the city and invited me to join them.  It was July 4th.

We had a great time and next day, I took her and a couple of her friends for a ride in a Mooney that belonged to a friend who had been a student.  The attractive young woman's name is Doreen and she got sick and threw up in a sick sack in the plane over Pittsburgh.  It was a hot and hazy day, with no horizon and she sometimes suffers from motion sickness.  Not a good combination.

Things moved along quickly.  Doreen and I were spending lots of time together.  One day, I rented a Cherokee Six from the FBO, that Jim Weber was managing in Grove City, PA.  I flew it with Doreen and a load of friends to Niagara Falls.


We had done some hiking on the Laurel Mountain Trail near Seven Springs and found we had lots in common.  I had been playing racket ball with Holtzer and my room mate, Bill.  I bought Doreen a racket for her birthday and started teaching her how to play.

I don't remember the exact timing, but soon I learned about the results of my PacEx interview and I talked to Doreen about getting married and moving to California with me.  I knew we hadn't known each other very long and told her to take her time thinking about it. It was a gigantic step and I wanted to give her space to make a decision.  It had been 8 years since my divorce and she was the first girl friend I had in that time who made me want to jump back into all that again. 

It seemed ironic that I had been actively avoiding getting into a serious relationship all this time to allow myself to be flexible and air mobile (as we Viet Nam era vets called it), so that I could move any where I needed to for a job and then when I got one, I met someone who I did not want to leave behind.


Thursday, March 24, 2016


I had gotten an apartment in Wexford PA, right across the street from the office of Camelot Coal, the company owned by the father of my friend, Tom Jones.  When I was  there, I decided to learn how to play the saxophone.  I bought one from one of my friends at the ground school, Charlie Briggs.  The woman who lived above me complained about the noise, despite the fact that she and her son woke me up early every morning, clomping around on their floor.   That is apartment living.

I wanted to become good enough to just sit in with a group of guys and jam.  I had no idea how hard that was, especially for someone my age.  The mind is not elastic enough to get all that stuff at that age.  It was like skiing in that regard.  There were just places I could not go, because of learning at such an advanced age.  I have seen kids learn music and skiing so easily and quickly, I always advise friends with small children to expose them to stuff like that as early as possible.  They absorb it like sponges.

One day, I was getting a sandwich at a fast food place on the Wexford Flats, when I heard the Steely Dan song, Deacon Blues.  I had heard this song before, I had been a fan since I moved to Atlanta in late 1979.  But this time, the lyrics hit me like a ton of bricks.  Maybe I never really listened before.

Nearly every line of that song had something that I could relate to my life after the army.  Although I didn't know it, there was a line that predicted a future part of my life, "I rise when the sun goes down".

It was all sad.  It's a song about losing and I could see that I was on a serious losing streak.  My eyes started some serious leaking.  Once that first overwhelming feeling passed, I realized I was just feeling sorry for myself and vowed to work on stopping that.  

I thought a change of scenery might help, so I moved into a townhouse with another ground school instructor and a USAir flight attendant.  It was all platonic, but it was good to have people around.  I did decide to stop dating the reservations lady.  I could tell it was not going anywhere and I was still probably pretty glum to be hanging out with at the time.

USAir had bought an old elementary school and was moving the ground school there from the Moon Township branch of Robert Morris College, where we rented several rooms.  We would be shut down for a while as we made the move.  We were able to show up wearing jeans and I decided to grow a beard.  I could tell that this got on the nerves of certain members of the pilot management.  I did not give a rat's ass. 

Aviation Progression

My boss, Jim Quinzi, wanted me to attend a Dale Carnegie course. I don't know for sure if he thought I was not good at winning friends and influencing people or not, but I did convince him to hire me, eh?

This was kind of following my experience in the army.  Every time someone said there was a class offered, I volunteered to go.  For someone who hated school when he was in his teens, I was enjoying it as a young adult.  It always meant getting out of work.

I did learn some good stuff there and I met an attractive young woman, who also worked for USAir.  She was a manager in the reservations department and we stayed in touch and dated.  She had season tickets to the Steelers and we went to a game one frigid Sunday, including tailgating with some of her friends.

This was around the time that Braniff International became the first victim of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.  Braniff had kind of gone crazy when the CAB disappeared and started flying everywhere, buying airplanes and hiring employees.  It is a long, complicated story, involving American Airlines, but Braniff went out of business.  It came back in a significantly different form and will appear later in my story.

One of the provisions of Deregulation was that employees of airlines that failed because of Deregulation would have "first right of hire" at existing airlines.  It was a provision that was added by the Democrats who promoted the Act, to appease the airline labor unions.  Of course, the argument would be about whether the airline had gone bankrupt as a result of deregulation.  The unions were very much opposed to Deregulation.  It seemed to me that any airline that went broke, did so as a result of Deregulation, because they could not go broke under regulation, but what do I know?

I heard a rumor that USAir would be changing its policy of not hiring pilots older than 30, because they thought they might have to hire Braniff pilots who would be over 30.  This was all being hashed out with the lawyers.  I started asking some of the management pilots I knew and sensed that there was a resistance to allowing me to apply for the job.  As I said before, they did not want the ground school instructor job to become a stepping stone to a pilot job.  I persisted and talked to several of the top pilot managers and eventually, they relented and gave me an interview.

I went through the entire interview process, including tests, a simulator ride and an interview.  The guy who gave me the sim. ride was a good friend of mine and we flew the F27 simulator.  I had been flying that thing for several years and felt very comfortable in it.  I talked to a young, Navy pilot who was in my group.  He had just gotten out of the Navy and was a confident guy when he went in the sim.  When he came out he appeared shaken and told me he did not think he had done well on the ride.  He had been flying A-4s and the F27 flew like a truck, compared to this sporty plane.  

The friend who gave me the ride gave me the interview also.  He said, "Well Denny, what do you want to talk about."  I asked him how I had been doing and he said I was doing great and he wished all the guys they were hiring could do as well.

I was feeling good about things and my friend, J.B. Wylie, did some checking and told me I was in.  I was kind of floating through my days.  It was a very surreal feeling, one I had never felt before.  All my dreams were coming true.

The rest of this is not easy for me to write.  I'm not exactly sure what happened or why.

After what I thought was a reasonable amount of time without hearing that I had received a class date, I began to ask around.  No one was giving me a direct answer, which made me think something was wrong.  Eventually, I was nearly certain I would not be hired as a pilot by USAir.  Because Quinzi would need to hire and train someone to replace me if I was hired, I asked the pilot who managed the BAC 1-11 training program if he could ask the powers that be what was up.  He agreed and came back with bad news.  

I bumped into Ron Sessa, the Vice President of Flying, the highest pilot position in the company.  From the beginning, I had felt he was opposed to even giving me an interview.  I asked him directly why I was not hired and he mumbled something about me not having any jet time, which was unusual for someone my age.  I said that was something they all knew before my interview and that I believed I had done well on all phases.  He looked at his watch and said he had to run.  I decided that I was looking for another job.

Yes, I was outta there, but I was going to get a good job, flying someone's jet.  I really began bugging every corporate pilot who came through our school.  Nothing was happening.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


If you are coming into this blog at this late point, it might be helpful to explain where the story begins.  In the right hand margin over there, you will see under Flexible Flyer, the expression, View my complete profile.  Click on that and then click on Pivotal Night. That is the beginning point of the story of my aviation career.  Or you can try clicking the link below.


Hanging In There.

Flying had become a form of therapy for me.  Without boring you with all the things that had been troubling me since I began this career path, I can tell you that getting in a plane and flying away somewhere made me feel better.  During the 16 months I had spent in Atlanta and the 3 years I would spend back in Pittsburgh, I had to find ways to get my therapy.

I had a couple friends who owned planes I could use, just for putting gas in them and I could rent a Cherokee 6 for a good rate from another friend.  All I had to do was call and schedule with them.

Another opportunity was to fly some of the USAir flight simulators, mostly the BAC 1-11, but the DC-9 and F-27, also.  Occasionally, there would be a student in our class who did not have a partner to fly with during simulator training and Jim Quinzi would let me have the time to join them in the Sim.  I got to know all the BAC instructors and check airmen and they seemed to appreciate my offering to help.  They would let me fly some approaches at the end of the training sessions.  I was also learning all the procedures and simulator training and check ride profiles.

I think Quinzi appreciated my getting an insight into that side of the process and that I was a pilot.  I was able to bring that perspective to the classroom.  Frankly, I thought there were some things that were being taught that did not really pertain to pilots.  For mechanics, it was good to know.  For pilots, it was boring.

As I began learning more and more of the systems, I found that I had to learn language to explain things, that made sense to me.  Sometimes, Doc or Jim would say something and I felt that if I said it that way, I could not defend what I had said, if it was challenged by a student.  This forced me into the books, to try to get a better understanding and to learn the language that made sense to me.  I would go to Jim and Doc with my new language, to ask them if it was correct or not.  They kind of had their own systems that they taught all the time and I was learning all of them.

With Jim, it was easy.  He would say yes, or he would tell me what was not right and help correct it.  With Doc, I felt like I was talking to a tape recorder.  When I tried my new language, he would repeat what he would say in class, almost verbatim.  When I tried to get him to tell me if my way of saying it was right or wrong, it was as if he would press Stop, Rewind, Play. Same words, almost verbatim.  He was not being a wise guy, he just had his way of explaining it and that was it.  I frequently went to Quinzi to ask him what he thought about my way of explaining the systems that Doc usually taught.

It was not a big deal, just a little challenging.  They were both terrific guys and I really liked both of them.  I often knew that my way of explaining it was better for pilots and my experience at the flight engineer school told me I was getting it right.  The systems from one of these big planes to the other are very similar.

When I first came to USAir, there was a widely known, but unspoken understanding, that USAir did not hire pilots who were older than age 30.  I was 35 when I started.  It was a subject that came up only once at the ground school and I can't remember the exact words, but I was told to forget about it.  I also sensed that management in the flight department did not want the ground school to become a stepping stone to a pilot job, because of the turn over.  If I was going to get out of there to a good flying job, it was going to have to be with another company.  At that point, my USAir opportunity did not exist.

I started trying to make connections with some of the customers who sent their pilots to USAir for training.  The BAC was a rather small plane for an airline, about 79 passengers.  It was a very nice size as a corporate airplane, about 25 to 30 passengers with a corporate interior.  These were usually made up of club seating, couches and could even have a bedroom.  A center wing fuel tank and auxiliary tanks in the baggage compartments gave it a very nice extended range.

Some of the companies and people who owned BACs and sent their pilots to USAir for training, were Dresser Industries (now part of Haliburton), Kenny Rogers (the singer), Amway and the Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley.

Kenny's pilots looked just like him.

Leona's pilots looked nothing like her.

The problem with this was that these people did not want to anger USAir by hiring one of their instructors away.  Furthermore, because everyone was meeting me as a ground school instructor, the way first impressions work, they saw me as a ground school instructor who flew airplanes, rather than a pilot who was working temporarily as an instructor to put food on the table.

The flame of hope of getting a job as an airline pilot was getting dim and sometimes flickering.  I felt as if I had gotten myself into a maze without a way out and I was running into dead ends with every path I tried to follow.  Furthermore, I was getting older every day and that was working against me with the airlines.

I was rereading my Psycho Cybernetics book during this time and trying to keep a positive attitude.  I did enjoy the job and some of the class groups were fun to work with.  I had jump seat privileges and was able to travel with very little expense.  I was contemplating what it would be like to spend the rest of my life at this job and it was not intolerable, but that did not stop me from scheming.

I was meeting many of the young pilots who were getting hired by USAir and was responsible for teaching them the systems of the airplane they were going to fly.  Frankly, I did not see that they had anything more going for them upstairs, because of their college degrees, than I did.  I probably had a college degree's worth of smarts from my time in the army, the various jobs I tried, but did not succeed at and the 6 years I spent at Butler and Atlanta.

I flew such a variety of people at Butler and frequently had lots of time to talk to them while flying from A to B.  They were captive audiences.  I was good at picking their brains and learning about the attitudes of successful people.  I flew a judge, a US congressman,  a state senator (minority leader), several car dealers, a guy who sold drag lines for coal mining, and on and on.  Rocky Bleier, the Steeler running back was one of the most positive attitude dudes you could ever meet.  He had his foot partially blown off and came back to play for a team that won 4 Super Bowls, running for 1000 yards one season.  He was a great motivational speaker as a result of the effort he made to rebuild his football career.  They don't teach any of that in college, but they should.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Holtzer II

I learned that the USAir ground school was looking for several additional instructors to help introduce the Boeing 737 to the fleet.  I had remained in contact with my friend, Walt Holliday, at Flight International, in Atlanta.  This seemed like a match made in heaven.

I called Walt and asked him how things were going.  He said he had started working at a store that sold tile, because things had slowed at the school, even more than when I left.  Furthermore, a slow down of airline pilot hiring was the cause, so that escape was not available to any of us.

I told Walt about the openings at the ground school and asked if he was interested.  He was and got back to me with a question concerning our friend, Bill Shinnock, who was still there and another guy named Frank Ruba.  Frank was a medically retired TWA pilot and Walt wanted to know if these guys could apply also.  I checked with Ron Barnett, the manager of the ground school, and he seemed very pleased to have an opportunity to talk to three such highly qualified people.  They interviewed and were all hired.

This was great for me, because I had some of my old friends to hang out with and best of all, Walt was a skier.  He would join me frequently to drive to some of the resorts east of Pittsburgh.  

One day we decided to drive a little farther east to Blue Knob Ski Resort.

It was a bitter cold day.  As we were driving there, I remember seeing a crust of ice on top of several feet of snow.  I had read stories about how harmful this condition was to the deer population of the Keystone State.  They were post holing through the upper crust and breaking their legs.  This foretold of nasty conditions for skiers, also.

I think Blue Knob is the highest elevation of a ski resort in PA.  Another unusual aspect is that the lodge is at the top of the mountain.  You ski down then ride the chair back up to the top.  The weather was so bad, we were practically the only skiers there that day.  We had the mountain to ourselves, but who wanted it?

It was bitter cold and windy.  The ride on the lift chair was brutal.  The seats were covered with ice.  We talked about leaving, but wanted to justify the long drive and the cost of the lift tickets.  We gutted it out, by going into the lodge after every second or third run down the mountain and agonizing ride back up.  Coffee, hot chocolate, schnapps, were all on the menu.  There was black ice at every turn of the trails.  Lots of sliding, no carving.  While suffering on the lift, we entertained ourselves by planning to drag our friend and fellow employee, Joe Coates, out to a ski resort.

I always call Joe Couzzo, because that was his family name before someone Americanized it to Coates.  Joe was not much of an athlete and had never skied before.  We had then and still have a relationship in which we are constantly taking shots at each other.  Walt and I planned to convince him that skiing was easy and fun and that we could teach him how to get down the mountain in one day.  As we drew up our plans, we were giggling and forgetting about how we were freezing our butts off.  I think I know why they call that place Blue Knob.

When we returned to work, we moved from the planning stage to the implementation stage and started working on Couzzo.  Finally, we convinced him to join us at Hidden Valley.  We thought that this place was docile enough to avoid killing him.  We went through the ski rental phase and this was already providing us with all the entertainment we had anticipated.

Getting him on the lift was hilarious and his reaction when he first looked down the slope was priceless.  We were being rewarded for enduring the nastiness at Blue Knob.  I tried to explain the dynamics of turning, but I don't think he got it.  I went down the slope about 25 yards and told him to ski down to me.  He started down, but forgot the part about turning and headed for the tree line at the side of the slope.  The scream was the most fun we had all day.  Fortunately for Joe, the terrain began to rise a little just before the trees and he slowed enough that he was not seriously injured when he ran into one.

Joe's skis had released from the bindings and he did not want to put them back on, when I arrived to teach him how to get up from a fall with slippery boards attached to his feet.  He carried his skis down the mountain and learned how painful walking in ski boots can be.  He turned in his rented equipment and headed for the bar.  That is where we found him and it is a good thing he didn't have to drive home that day.

Now, to explain the title of this post and a previous one.

I mentioned a guy named Jim Oberholtzer in the last post.  He did go skiing with me that one time, but he was not a guy who was well liked by most of the other instructors.  He was smart, but he was obnoxious.  That is why I did not feel bad when I abandoned him while skiing with the young woman we met at Peak 'n' Peek.  

You may have noticed I have this thing about giving nicknames to people.  I think I inherited that from my grandfather, who gave such names to most of his 8 children and many of his  26 grandchildren.

Walt inherited a desk which had previously been Oberholtzers.  Walt's nickname, even before I met him, was Hollie.  It may have been his call sign in the Air Force also.  Anyway, I started calling him Holliholtzer and this was shortened to Holtzer.  So here we are in 2016, more than 34 years later, calling each other Holtzer every time we see each other or talk on the phone.

Holtzer is one of the people who knows just about everything there is to know about my long time struggle to land the airline pilot job of my dreams.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Widow Maker

I started trying to go skiing at the resorts in Western Pennsylvania the first winter I was back.  It was not easy to find someone to go with, so I went alone frequently.  Skiing conditions in the entire Northeast are not always good.  It will get cold and snow a lot, then it will get warm and the snow will melt.  When it gets cold again, the surfaces become icy.  There is a phenomenon called "black ice".  It is dark and solid.  Ski edges merely slide across it.  It is very scary for a novice skier. 

This was early 1980, I was 34 years old.  That is a little late in life to start learning how to ski, but not too late.  I started buying ski related magazines and reading instructional articles.  When I was riding up the hill on the lift, I watched other skiers and tried to understand what they were doing, then imitating it on the way down.  Progress was slow but sure.

I had not enjoyed my previous trip to Seven Springs, the biggest resort near Pittsburgh, so I started going to smaller places like Hidden Valley and Laurel Mountain, also in the mountains just east of the Burgh.  Laurel Mountain is now closed, but I just learned it is about to reopen.  here is a recent map of Hidden Valley.

I don't think that section to the left existed back then.  This place was not as crowded as 7 Springs and I felt more relaxed falling and learning.

Soon I was able to make my way down the mountain.  You can see that the trails have colored symbols on them.  Green trails are the easiest at the resort.  Blue are a little more difficult.  Black are most difficult.  Double black diamond trails are for expert skiers only.  You don't seem many of those at these little places.  These classifications apply at the particular resort.  A black at Hidden Valley could be a blue or even a green at Arapaho Basin in Colorado.  I was still trying to master the greens in PA.

That first season, I don't remember how many times I skied, but I was making progress.  My plan was working.  I was starting to enjoy my time on the slopes and I was looking forward to getting an early start on the next season.  I also started skiing at night, mostly at Laurel Mountain.  It would get cold and we would go into the bar to have a schnapps to warm up.  I found that I was a little braver after a couple such visits.  I got a little better, because I tried doing a little more that I had been afraid to do.

Occasionally, I still found myself standing at the top of a steep hill that I had planned to ski down and realizing that it might be more than I had thought it would be.  They look easier when looking up or on the lift, than they do when you are standing at the precipice.

The next season, I was able to go skiing  nearly 30 times.  I was branching out a little, driving to resorts in Western New York, Peak n' Peek and Holiday Valley.  Often I would spend the night and ski two days in a row.  

Some of the guys from work were going with me.  One guy, named Jim Oberholtzer,  drove to Peak n' Peek with me one day.  As we were boarding the chair lift, we became tangled, fell and were kind of run over by the chair, until the operator stopped the lift.  A young woman back in the line started making fun of us for falling.  I waited for her at the top of the lift and we had a good laugh together.   She was a good skier and we skied together for the rest of the day.  This was probably the best day I had to this point.  I learned a lot just by following her and doing what she did.  

We planned to do some skiing together and went to a very small resort called Cockaigne.  It is no longer open, but we met friends of hers there and one was an instructor.  She asked him to give me a lesson, which would be my first ever.  He told me to follow him down the hill and go where he went and do what he did.  Cool.  I already knew how to do that.  He explained the principle of keeping the upper body facing down the fall line and doing all the twisting to make turns from the waist down.  He also showed me how to use pole plants to initiate turns.  I needed to work on that one.