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Thursday, April 14, 2016


So, I'm feeling kind of like a fish out of water.  While at USAir, I knew I was getting rusty.  I also knew that people were meeting me as a ground school instructor, who also flew airplanes.  In my mind, I was a pilot, who was working temporarily as a ground school instructor.  I had to get out of there.

I would like to think my transition to jets and airline flying would have been seamless, if I had been flying more regularly, but we will never know.

When flying the smaller planes, you can see wings and even engines on the wings from the cockpit.  Because of the swept back wings, you can not see any of that from the cockpit of a jet.  I had to learn to use the window frame relative to the horizon for airplane attitude information when looking outside.  There are always instruments to reference for attitude information, but you have to be looking out for other planes when the weather is good.  The small airplane traffic is a major factor in California.  

The pilots are sitting far forward of the center of gravity and the center of movement of the jet and the controls are hydraulically boosted with artificial feel.  Our very old jets, with lots of hours and cycles had significant play in the controls.  Things looked and felt different. But, there was lots of flying to do, lots of hours and eventually, it started coming back.

I had opportunities to fly with some of the other captains, besides Captain Ahole and it was a pleasure most of the time.  I knew all of them from the ground school in which I had taught them the plane, back in the Burgh.

One of the not so good experiences was early in my time there.  I flew with a guy who was much older and had probably had more time to develop rust than I had.  He was a friend of the chief pilot, who had contacted him when PacEx started up.

We were going to fly a jet down to Burbank CA, which was not one of our regular stations.  Just for the record, off line charters suck.  You are really on your own.

To compound the issues, we were dispatched with a plane that had some items deferred on the Minimum Equipment List (MEL).  None of the planes had the stairs built in for the forward entry doors and the aft air stair on this plane was deferred.  We were dependent on ground based stairs.  The Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), a small engine in the tail to provide electricity and compressed air on the ground, was deferred.  We were dependent on ground based electricity and compressed air.  We needed air for air conditioning, but more importantly for starting the engines.  All airline jets use air to drive a starter motor to spin up the engines.

The weather in Burbank was not the best, not the typical sunny Southern California weather.  The ILS was out of service and we were going to have to fly an NDB approach.  You may recall my discussions about these various instrument approaches during my discussion of my time at Butler PA.  Airline pilots don't fly many NDB approaches, so they get a little nervous about them. 

The guy I was flying with was very nervous about this one and I was too dumb to know better.  Burbank is surrounded by lots of mountains and has a short runway.

As we were descending on the arrival into Burbank, the captain began slowing the plane a long way out.  I could here the controller telling a couple planes behind us to slow down.  One was an Air Cal plane and the other was PSA.  These guys probably came into this place several times a week and were very familiar.  

We kept getting slower and slower, the guys behind kept getting instructions to get slower and slower.  Finally one of the guys behind us said, "What are we following, a blimp?"  It was embarrassing.

He pranged that thing on the runway and as we rolled out, I was startled at how close the airplanes parked at the terminal gates were to the runway.

We found our way to the ramp where we were to pick up our passengers, then learned that there was not stairway readily available.  The people on the ground had to scrounge one up and that took some time.  We were not looking very competent this day.

Then when we were about to start the engines, we learned that the air cart for starting the engines did not have the right adaptor for the BAC.  This cost us more time until one that fit could be found.  We were really looking like a bunch of amateurs.  Any one who would dispatch a plane with no APU and no stairs on an off line charter is not a professional.  We completed the mission, but it was a goat rope.

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