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Saturday, July 16, 2016

FOs and FAs

You may remember my First Officer philosophy.  As an FO, I never wanted to put a captain out of his comfort zone.  In my experience as a captain, not all first officers share that philosophy.  When you fly with a really good first officer, it is like a Fred and Ginger dance.  Choreography, baby.

Or a tune played by Jonathan's Machete, where they do all the fancy guitar shit.

Or maybe like this.

And we have to do that, even when our heads are in the clouds.

When things aren't going well, it just seems that the 2 pilots are always bumping each other's hands or bumping heads together.  Every airline just seems to have a few copilots who have their own agenda on every flight.  They are a real pain in the ass.  You may remember when I told you about a friend at USAir who had just upgraded.  When I told him now he got to be the asshole instead of flying with the asshole, he said the first thing he learned when moving to the left seat was that all the assholes are not in the left seat.

We had a guy who had upgraded to captain, but when the company receded a little, he was bumped back to the right seat.  He was older than most of our group.  He had been a navy noncommissioned officer and was a major pain in the ass.  The flight attendants called him Grumpy.  He had a button under his lapel that said, "I'm entitled to be Grumpy".  This proves that anyone who feels entitled is a pain in the ass.

We were flying an arrival into an airport and it involved tracking a VOR radial to intercept another one, making a turn to the left.  I was tracking outbound on the left VOR receiver and had set up the right VOR in the leg we were to intercept inbound.  This gave me a Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) read out of my distance to the intersection(with some second grade math).  A few minutes later, I checked that DME and the distance didn't make sense.  The right VOR frequency had been changed.  I told Grumpy that I wanted it set on the inbound VOR and the reason.  He said that was his VOR.  I controlled my anger, but I told him the entire fucking airplane was mine and he was here to assist me.  I told him when he was flying the airplane, he could set the radios up however he wanted, but when I was flying they would be set up the way I wanted them.  

There was another guy, I will call him The Czar, who was a sharp shooter.  He was always trying to do things before I did or to seem smarter.  That is not that hard to do with me, but the problem was that he was usually wrong.  I never gave a crap about stuff like that.  To me, it was about trying to have a perfect flight, every thing went well.  I didn't care who got credit or who was the one who came up with the good idea.  I did expect the first officer to run everything through me, though.  When a copilot started thinking he or she had a great idea, I wanted to know about it, before they tried to put it into action, especially with a guy who was aways getting it wrong.

One night, after a long day, The Czar and I were flying into Columbus Ohio.  It is my leg and the wind was blowing across the runway at a speed that was near the demonstrated maximum for our plane.  Upon the first call to the tower, they gave the wind direction and speed (as they are required to do) and cleared us to land.  We were within our max. speed.  I was flying the glide slope and things were going well, when the Czar decided to ask for a wind check.  I didn't say anything at the time, but this pissed me off.  I did not want to give the controller an opportunity to give a cross wind speed that would create a dilemma.  

You may have noticed that I said we had a maximum demonstrated crosswind speed.  I always interpreted that to mean that it was not technically a limit, but if something happened on the landing and we had exceeded that, I would have to explain why I had not gone around.  We had a speed that was less than the demonstrated speed and everything was going well.  No one in the world knew more about what the wind was doing to that plane than I did at the time I was landing it and I did not want to hear a number that created a dilemma.  

If the landing was not going well, for any reason, I was going to go around.  If I got a number I did not like, I would have to go around and hope the wind numbers were better than the first attempt or go to an alternate.  Cross wind landings were something that I was especially good at.  I had learned how to do them from some of the best instructors back at Graham Aviation.  When we were arriving at our northern destinations, we did not have lots of extra fuel to mess around, waiting for the wind to get it together.

I had this discussion with the Czar after the landing and he decided to dig his heels in on this one.  I told him he could do whatever he wanted to when he made captain, but when he was flying with me, not to  ask for a wind check unless I told him to.  I would never have done any of these last two things I have told you about.  They would have been completely against my originally stated philosophy.

It's not always the captain and first officer who are bumping heads.

Most of the time, it was not like any of that.  I flew with many terrific FOs.  I remember one of them, John, as we were flying into Birmingham Alabama one afternoon.  With our older navigation equipment, you have to learn to have an intuition about where you are relative to the airport, to avoid being too high.  I became aware that we were high on this particular approach and John did not seem to be aware.  I thought about telling him, but waited to see if he would get it himself.  I was watching him out of the corner of my eye and knew the instant he realized his situation.  He suddenly sat up straight and started doing all the things he had to do to catch up to the situation.  He raised the nose to slow down, pulled the speed brakes, started extending gear and flaps when we slowed below their maximum speeds.  It was a thing of beauty.  We probably had a little extra time before it would have become a big problem for him and I really enjoyed watching him in action when he broke the code.

There were many others, but one I am remembering now was Dan.  He was a calm and cool as he could be and flew a very good airplane.  He also liked to join me for a beer, when we had enough time and we had some great discussions, solving the worlds problems  Dan was a real pleasure to fly with and we are pals to this day.

I told you about our flight attendants before.  They were terrific.  They were mostly relatively inexperienced young ladies, who took the opportunity to fly for the new home town airline.  Some of them were older women whose families were grown and were looking for a fun way to make a few bucks.  They were all starry eyed when they started and often the rigors of the job beat them down.  It was not quite as glamorous as they had anticipated and some of them had to move on.  The ones who remained were most often very good flight attendants.  They were tough and resilient.  They took some good punches and did it with a smile.  In fairness, I should point out that we had a few male flight attendants and same was true of them.

With Florida Express, we did not use jetways in Oralando.  The passengers exited the terminal through a door and walked down steps, across the ramp and up the forward air stairs of the jet.  Orlando was usually very hot, especially in the summer.  The air-conditioning on the BAC 1-11s was not very good.  There was not enough airflow.  I knew this back in the day, when I worked for USAir.  Often the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), a small jet engine in the tail of the plane for providing electrical power and airflow for the AC, was not operating.  This combination was deadly for reals.

When the planes arrived in Orlando from the south Florida cities, the cabin was warm or even hot.  The flight was not long enough or high enough to cool things down.  The passengers we had picked up down there and were staying on the same plane had to sit in all that heat.  The number of bodies on the airplane and the ambient temperature usually had more impact on cabin temperature than the AC.

One hot summer evening, we had an older woman passenger sitting on a plane who had a heart condition.  She began to become ill and was taken out to the ramp and was lying there on the concrete as one of our female flight attendants gave her CPR.  This was a reminder that the flight attendants are there for more than serving Cokes and peanuts.  The woman died, literally as the FA was mouth to mouth with her.  Her manager made her continue on to the layover in the northern city that night.

The young man playing the green bass guitar in the above video took his own life a couple months ago.  

This is how I'd rather the world be.

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