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Early Years

I'm switching the rest of the story to the Flexible Flyer banner.  I have always thought that would be a good title for my memoirs.  My ...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

California Tumbles Into The Sea


I must admit that the Mt. Shasta dude in the previous chapter did not look as weird as any of the dudes in this video.  I just like Steely Dan's music, although their lyrics, those I can understand, are not something I subscribe to.  Maybe this will explain some of that.

Before Caitlin was born, Doreen flew back to Pittsburgh for a visit.  I was left to my own devices.  One of my devices was a 10 speed bike, which I rode up one of the highways into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  When I had climbed as far as I wanted, I stopped and looked around and felt this strange feeling, like a high frequency, but low grade vibration, hardly noticeable.  I don't know if there was a connection, but I learned of the Coalinga Earthquake, when I got home.

One day I decided to hike in Bidwell Park.  This park begins in the middle of Chico and extends far into the foothills.  We had spent lots of time exploring this park near the city and in the hills.

I decided to drive to Upper Bidwell Park, then hike farther into the hills.  This map is not an exact representation of what I did, but it gives you an idea of what the terrain is like.  This was one of those deals where you learn from your mistakes, if you survive.

I had no food, no water, no sunscreen, no wide hat, not much of anything I typically take on a day hike at this present age.  I just started walking up, higher and higher.  Eventually, any indication of a trail disappeared and I was entering into an area where I was high on a narrow ridge, with deep canyons on both sides.  I knew that Chico Creek was to my right.

It soon dawned on me that I was getting thirsty and hungry.  Instead of doing the smart thing and just retracing my steps, I decided to descend the steep wall of the canyon to the creek, for water.  After scaring myself pretty good several times on the way down, I got to the creek, but could not find an appropriate place to get to the water for a while.  The brush was very thick.  I finally got some water and met a fisherman and we chatted briefly.  Then I worked my way down stream, back toward my car.  There was no trail, that I could find and I was doing lots of bushwhacking and being whacked by bushes.   I finally got to the road above where I had parked and started walking back, when my blood sugar dropped so low that I just had to sit and rest.  The way I was feeling, I didn't know if I could make it back to the car.  That was when my fisherman friend came down the road with his car and offered me a ride.  What a guy!



PacEx was growing a little.  They leased another BAC 1-11 from USAir.  It was painted all white and everyone called it Casper.  I could see that I was getting close to upgrading to captain.  One of my friends in the class just prior to mine had a problem on his check ride.  He was flying the arrival to San Francisco when he was told to hold and given an Excpect Further Clearance (EFC) time.  He did not have enough fuel to hold that long and needed to be checking weather at other airports, where he might land to refuel.  This served to burn that thought process into my mind for future reference.

I finally upgraded to captain in late 1983.  I felt I still had a lot to learn.  My first trip proved that.  It was a reserve trip from San Francisco to San Jose, then to Modesto and on to Reno.  It was a chartered junket trip to pick up gamblers and take the to Reno's casinos to gamble for the night, the return by the same route.  The crew was to go to a hotel, but it was what is called a single duty period trip.  The time at the hotel did not count as a rest period.  It's complicated and probably boring.

When we returned to the plane, we learned that the navigation light switch had been left on and they were hot wired to the battery, unlike the USAir planes I was familiar with.  Our battery was dead and we needed a ground battery cart to start our APU.  No problem and lesson learned.

Because I was a new captain, I was required to fly all the legs.  As we were descending into Modesto, the weather radar appeared to be saying that there was heavy rain everywhere.  As I briefed the ILS approach, I noticed that there was a cloud ceiling, but it was high enough to allow us to circle to land.  We would fly the ILS approach in one direction, then turn to land in the opposite direction.  The reason was the direction and velocity of the wind.  It was a very strong wind from the left rear quarter.  I debated trying to explain all the things I had to consider, but decided it might put you to sleep and bog the story down.  

Long story short, there were obstacles to one side and I would have a tailwind on the base leg on the other.  I was still trying to decide whether to circle to the left or right as we approached the glideslope intercept point and we hit the worst air turbulence I would ever encounter in my 42 year career.  The airspeed indicators looked like windshield wipers as we flirted with maximum flap speeds and stall speeds at both ends.  We got 3 stick pushes and stall warning klaxons and finally, as things settled down, I looked at the FO and he said, "Maybe we should go around."  I thought, "Good, a plan."  Power up, gear up, flaps up.  Lets go back and try this again and try to sort things out.  

As we were being vectored for our second approach, I asked the controller if he had seen a cell of heavy rain, indicating a thunderstorm near the point where we hit that turbulence and he said he had, but thought we saw it with our radar.  Remember that our screen was all red, indicating heavy rain everywhere.  The lesson I learned on this one is that when the entire radar screen is indicating all red, but the ride is not unusually bumpy, you should turn the radar gain down, so that you can see the really big cells of rain, such as the one we had encountered.  They have a standard detent and until this incident, I had thought it was best to just leave it there.

Once on the ground in Modesto, we offloaded some passengers and when we tried to start the engines, we had a problem with a Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) on our left engine, that prevented air from getting to its starter.  This was a problem that we always discussed back in the USAir ground school, but the assumption there was that you would have company mechanics to open it.  A long handled socket wrench was always carried in each plane to reach this valve from the ground.  Since this was an off line charter, I was the only person who knew how to do this and I had to go outside, while the FO stayed inside to get the engine started.  I guess I used all the right cuss words and we got it going and continued the saga of my first trip as a captain. 

This was an El Nino year, with lots of weird weather.  While we were working our way back to San Francisco, trucks and vans were being blown over on the Golden Gate Bridge and it was closed for a time.  My landing in Modesto had been decent, but the two in San Jose and San Francisco were scary.  After being cussed by the passengers at both places, we discovered that many of the scheduled flights of the day had been cancelled.  I probably should have done something like that, but I was to new to be that smart.

At a pilot meeting shortly after this, I mentioned how unprepared for all this crap hitting the fan I was when I was released to the line as a captain.  The VP of Ops said I would probably never have a day that bad again and I was lucky to get it out of the way early.  I think he was right.  It was one of those "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger" things.

I loved flying on the West Coast.  The mountains were much higher than what I was used to back east and required some more dramatic flying.  There were many cities where we would come blasting over some big mountain, then boom, the airport was way down there.  This required what many called "slam-dunk" or "crowbar" approaches.  The crowbar approach meant you open a window, throw out a crowbar, then try to beat is to the ground.  Just kidding.

The speed brakes were not very effective on the BAC, so one of the best ways to make this kind of decent was to slow and extend the landing gear.  They add lots of drag and help you descend quickly.

Palm Springs was so close to Mt. San Jacinto, which was 10,800 ft. tall, that we had to cross the ridge at 12,000 ft., then drop quickly to land at about 1000 ft. above sea level.  Approaching from the north, we crossed Mt. San Gorgonio which was 11,500 ft., the tallest in Southern California and then drop down into Banning Pass, as we flew toward the field.  Banning pass is an area of high traffic for light airplanes, so we had to be very vigilant on this maneuver.  

Santa Barbara was cool. We flew over President Reagan's ranch then did a slam dunk and a circle back to land at the airport.  Medford Oregon was another similar airport.  Reno was tricky.

All of these mountains I have mentioned in the last several chapters were cause by the tectonic plate activity along the San Andreas Fault.    This fault is a big crack in the ground and is visible from the air.  It passes near Palm Springs, goes through Banning Pass, then El Cajon Pass, along the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains, then up along the California coastal mountains to San Francisco.  There were many interesting things to gawk at, when we weren't too busy.



   




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