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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 ...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

2 Dads

There was a captain, named Jack Bingham, with whom I flew a lot. We liked doing the same kind of stuff, we were both trying to make as much money as we could and everyone else did not like him. 

I had some issues with him myself.  He was one of those guys who thought the first officer was a voice activated autopilot.  He would reach over and extend the gear or flaps before you called for them.  It pissed me off at first, but once I asked him WTF he was doing (with a smile on my face), he kind of backed off a little.  

Jack was a big, white haired guy and to listen to him, he had done a little bit of everything and was an expert on all things.  I didn't mind that either.  What I liked about him was that he promoted crew esprit de corp on layovers.  For example, we would always make arrangements to meet after we got some sleep, then get together to do something.  It usually involved eating and drinking beer and sometimes an activity like watching a football game on TV.

Jack knew where every buffet in every town was located.  He was retired from the Air Force and when we went to Seoul, we took a bus to an officers club with a big seafood buffet.  Once in Honolulu, we got a couple 6 packs, a cooler and rented a sailboat to sail around Pearl Harbor.  As I write this, it is 75 years and one day after the "date which will live in infamy".  Chuck Hippler, who worked with me at Florida Express, was the flight engineer.  We had a blast, then ate dinner at an O club nearby, probably a buffet.

Real airlines bid for a new schedule every month, 12 times a year.  At UPS, after the first IPA contract, we bid every 8 weeks.  It's a little complicated, but we bid about half as much and the way it was set up, it gave UPS flexibility in planning for their Peak months  November and December.  

What this meant for us was that we had a long time to fly with whichever crew members we matched up with.  This was fantastic if you liked them and terrible if you didn't.  It was still an improvement over the way it was before, when our bid periods were 3 months long.  Geez!

Most of the pilots liked this setup, but I hated it.  They liked not having to bid every month, but I thought it was too challenging to get important events off, especially if you were junior.  Most of our schedules were week on, week off.  With that alternating pattern, you could miss a birthday or anniversary if they didn't fit the pattern.  You had to prioritize and compromise.  Juniority sucks.  I would have preferred bidding every month.  We had lots of time on long legs to do it.

Bidding is set up, so that captains are awarded first, then the first officers and flight engineers the next day.  This gives them a chance to avoid captains they don't like.  There is no way for the captain to avoid crew members he doesn't like, but he or she is the captain.  This is why I ended up flying with Jack so much.  I didn't mind flying with him and we liked doing the same kind of trips, ones that made us the most money.

At this time, UPS had a lousy retirement program for its pilots.  The mandatory retirement age was 60 and for many, they needed to work as much as they could beyond that age to keep the cash flowing in the right direction.  Jack was getting close to 60 and one bid period, we flew with George Gillette, who had been a captain, but continued working as a flight engineer in the 747 after age 60.  There is no mandatory retirement age for engineers.  The 3 of us would be flying together for 8 weeks, week on week off, laying over in Narita, Seoul and Hong Kong.  I always refer to this bid period as the time I was flying with 2 dads.

I was not yet 50 and still had some color in my hair and I was flying around the world, literally, with 2 white haired geezers who were always giving me advice, some good, some not so good.



Jack had just gotten involved in an investment scheme that had something to do with oil fields in Texas.  As I listened to him describe it in glowing terms, it sounded like a Ponzi scheme to me. Jack was trying to talk me into getting into it, but it sounded to me like I would be one of the ones getting in too late.  No matter what I started talking about, Jack was trying to push this scheme on me.  If I said, "Gee, Jack, it looks like the sky is very blue today."  Jack would say, "Gee, Denny, you really need to get into this oil field deal."

Every time Jack would get up to go back to the john or something, George would lean forward and whisper, "Denny, don't do that oil field deal.  It's a bad deal."  I would say, "Don't worry, George.  You have to have extra money to invest and that is not a problem for me."  I was starting to get caught up with my financial recovery from the 2 bankruptcies, but was not quite there yet.

Jack and I liked to go out on the town in the Asian layover cities and eat and drink where the locals did.  That was always easier and more fun in Hong Kong, because it was a British colony and it was full of folks from England, Australia, and New Zealand.  We all spoke the same language, sorta.  George was what we refer to as a slam/clicker.  He always went to his room, slammed the door closed and clicked the lock.  Then he would order room service.  Every meal, every day.

At the end of our 8 weeks together, Jack and I got on George's case about never joining us for dinner and a drink.  He finally relented and we met in the lobby to have a beer.  When we were deciding which restaurant to go to, George insisted on going to a spaghetti restaurant right across the street from our hotel in Kow Loon.  We were so glad he was finally going with us, that we did not complain.  We just sat there in one of the most exotic cities in Asia and ate our Chef Boy freakin' Ardee  spaghetti.


    

Friday, December 2, 2016

HKG Kai Tak

I spent about 5 years flying the 747 as a first officer (co-pilot).  During the early years, We flew over water flights to Cologne, Germany, Narita (Tokyo), Japan and Honolulu on our regular schedule and flew charters to Amsterdam and Frankfort.  These flights and flights to Anchorage, Alaska are flown under international operating regulations.

Eventually, we started flying to Hong Kong.  HKG was still a British Colony at that time.  To me, it was an even more exotic destination than Tokyo.  For Tokyo, we flew into the Narita International Airport, which was out in the country, away from the center of the city by a 30 to 45 minute train ride.  At Hong Kong, we flew into the Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon, which was the area of mainland on the other side of Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island.  This was big city.

Kai Tak Airport was a landfill built out into the harbor.  It was a single runway, with a parallel taxiway.  It had one of the most interesting and challenging approaches to its favored runway, the famous Checkerboard IDS Approach to Runway 13



The video above gives a good overview of the airport and the approach.  We had to fly this approach during training in the simulator before flying it to the actual runway.  As the video explains, the wind is usually a crosswind from the right side of the runway.  

The approach requires flying a typical ILS approach with course and glideslope guidance, toward a mountain with a big checkerboard painted on it.  We fly that to about 660 feet above the runway, then if we break out of the clouds and can see the mountain and more importantly, the runway, we begin a turn to the right of 47 degrees.  Because of that crosswind from the right, it is important to go to a 30 degree bank angle immediately.  Then you look at the runway to see if the turn is lining you up with the runway.  If you are banking too much, you will be to the right of the runway and you can reduce your bank angle a little.  If you did not get enough bank in initially, you will probably drift to the outside of the turn and be too far to the left of the runway.  The wind will be pushing you that way.  This will lead to some excitement and a need to use more bank angle.  I always liked being a little to the inside of the turn and correcting from that.

While all this is being done, you have to concentrate on allowing the plane to continue descending at the same rate at which you were descending before the turn.  This is hard, because there is a tendency to pull a little back pressure on the controls when banking steeply.  If you level your descent too much, you will be too high and have to go around.  There is a light system next to the runway to provide visual glide path information, but it is hard to use that until you are nearly lined up with the runway.  It is desirable to get the turn completed and line up with the runway ASAP, so that you have as much time as possible to concentrate on the landing flare.  If you are still messing around with the turn too late, the landing will suffer.  You will see some of that in the next video.  The narrator is speaking in German, I think.  There are captions in Chinese and in very tiny English at the bottom of the screen.  Go to full screen.


The first few times I flew this approach, it looked like the wing was going down between the tall buildings.  It is a very exciting and fun approach to fly in a big plane like a 747.

As time passed and I had been flying to Hong Kong for years, I began to fly with captains who were new on the plane and had never flown this approach for reals.  Some of them would ask me to fly it the first time and I was more than happy to do so.  One such guy was Jim Romagnolo, with whom I had flown to Cologne several times.  He had lots of experience on the 74, but this was his first and only bid period flying to Asia.  He hated it and was always talking about eating "fish heads and rice".  Jim always gave me that landing.

Jim lived on Connecticut and had a crazy story about one of his neighbors.  This guy was working on his roof and was afraid of falling.  He tied a rope around his waste and ran it over the hip of the roof, but it was tied to the bumper of his car.  His wife did not know these details, got in the car and drove off, dragging him over the hip of the roof, down to the ground and down the driveway.  He survived, but was busted up pretty badly.  I always bugged Jim to tell me he was joking about this, but he insisted it was a true story.

The following are some of my photos from Hong Kong.