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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tom Cat

Another bone I had to pick, regarding pilot hiring, was the military/civilian conundrum.  Those who had come from a military background believed theirs was the better system of training and experience in preparation for an airline career.  The principle feature of military training that led to their conviction was the wash out factor.  If someone is not hacking it in military training, they are dropped out of the program.  The belief was that in civilian training, the student was "trained to proficiency", which meant they were moved along and eventually passed.

Information Victor came up with a point system for hiring and promoting pilots at Florida Express, in which military experience was given a much higher score than civilian pilots.  The only problem with these assumptions was that, we had several pilots with military backgrounds, who were among the weakest.  

Take the guy who thought he was gay when he was drunk, for example.  He flew military freighter jets in the Air Force, the perfect preparation for airline flying.  There is little parallel between flying fighters, yanking and banking all day and the type of flying we did at Florida Express.  However, the C-141s, KC-135s and C-5s were very similar to civil transport category jets.  The KC-135 is a military version of the Boeing 707.  



Boeing 707


This guy was the first pilot hired by the company and was earmarked to be the chief pilot, but he could not pass his captain check ride.  That is how Dixon became chief pilot.  He was number 2 on the list and had been chief pilot for a small operation in Miami.

This guy, let's call him Harry Larry, was also deathly afraid of thunderstorms.  Now it is not a bad thing to be afraid of thunderstorms, but when you have to fly 50 miles away from them, it is a real challenge to fly in Florida in the summer.

There were several other examples of former military pilots who were weak.  I developed a list, so that every time one of my former military pals named a weak dick, civilian background pilot, I named a weak dick, military pilot.  It was fun.

Don't get me wrong, we had lots of really good pilots from both backgrounds and I truly loved and respected my Steve Canyon pals, but I believed we should look at and deal with each pilot as an individual.  Could they fly the freaking plane or not?  Take all the other crap and shove it.  I was simply not going to take any guff from the military dudes.  They had their limitations.

Back in my general aviation days, my friends and I had developed the opinion that the military pilots were not that good.  It seemed the only time we heard an emergency on the frequency, it was a military plane.  Perhaps they were flying worse junk than we were. When I actually got to fly with them, I learned that they broke down the same way all the civilian pilots I knew broke down, some were good and some were not.

Back in the Pacific Express days, the President of the company, at one point, was a former Navy F-4 pilot.  He was riding on my plane one day when I made a perfect crosswind landing and did it very smoothly.  I rolled the upwind main wheel on the runway with the wing down, then the downwind wheel, then the nose wheel.  As he was getting off the plane, the pres was teasing me for making 3 landings.  I guess when you land an F-4 on an aircraft carrier, you never have to worry about crosswinds and you sure as hell don't worry about making a smooth landing for the peoples.  You just have to catch that hook.

The thing that always cracked me up was when they thought they knew so much more than I did, but did not.

One of my favorite former military pilots was Tom O.  He had graduated from the United States Naval Academy and flew F-14s, before he went to work at Texas International, Continental and then Florida Express.

When we first met, he was respectful, but I could tell he believed he was a far superior pilot.  Not cockiness, confidence.    I was OK with that.  I wouldn't want to fly with a pilot who did not have that feeling and really was good.  Cockiness is when a pilot feels that way, but is not that good.

We flew together a few times when I was a first officer.  I could tell that Tom was keeping an eye on me, until I showed him what I could do.  One such situation occurred while we were sitting on the ground in Louisville and there was some kind of emergency at the building where Indianapolis Center is located.  It was a fire, a bomb scare or something like that.  I can't remember, but the problem for us was that we could not get a clearance to depart for Orlando.  

The country is divided into several Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC).  The controllers for enroute flying within the country work at the centers.  Louisville is in Indianapolis Center.  As you fly across the country, you talk to different sectors within a center, then pass on to the next center.  They monitor your flight and maintain separation from other aircraft.

Saving a thousand words.

Tom wanted to get going and was getting a little frustrated, because we did not know when the situation would be corrected.  Suddenly, I remembered something I had learned as a general aviation pilot, while flying shortly after the air traffic controllers strike.  I was working at USAir at the time, but still doing some small plane flying and knew what was going on.

To facilitate the recovery of the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system, the FAA had established what was called a tower to tower system.  They were short staffed, so they allowed small planes to fly enroute, by talking to radar controllers for local airports, instead of center controllers.  It was kind of like crossing a stream by stepping from stone to stone.  I mentioned this to Tom and asked if I could check with the controllers at Louisville to see if we could get a tower to tower clearance to Lexington, which was in Atlanta Center.  From there, we could get a clearance from Atlanta Center for the rest of our flight to Orlando.  We would have to fly at low altitude until we talked to Lexington, then as soon as they handed us off to ATL, we would be able to climb.

Tom looked a little skeptical at first, but said, "Sure, give it a try."  I did, it worked and badda bing, badda boom, we were on our way to FLA.  General Aviation triumphs again.  Ha!  I really enjoyed that.

Another time, we were flying to Orlando from either Tampa or St. Petersburg.  The weather was beautiful and we were going to get a visual approach, but for some reason the controllers wanted us to fly over the field at about 5,000 feet, then land to the south, instead of just flying a downwind leg on the west side of the field.  As we were directly over the airport, I told Tom he could tell the controller we had the airport in sight, to see if we could get a clearance for the visual.

We did and I did one of my patented constant bank turn, visual approaches.  For those who haven't seen it before, they think I start the turn too soon and will be high, but it works out and is a thing of beauty, to be admired by all those who know wtf I am doing.

Another time, I was flying into Orlando in  a pretty good rain shower.  The windscreen wipers on the BAC were notoriously weak.  Tom's side was ineffective and mine was clearing the water only on the backswing.  By this time, we had been flying together enough, that he had developed confidence in my abilities, but not being able to see was giving him the willies reason to be concerned.  I was flying the ILS, but eventually, I had to see something to land.  

Tom kept telling me he wasn't seeing anything and asking me if I did.  I kept saying yes, but after about the fourth time, I said, "The runway keeps staying in the same place and is getting bigger each time I see it.  I'll go around if it isn't right."  That seemed to calm him down, or at least he didn't want to bug me any more.

Eventually, we became so comfortable flying together, that we both said it would be a good thing to split up and fly with others. 

Tom and I still stay in touch.  He really likes to talk.  I just listened to him a couple weeks ago. 

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