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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

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.

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