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Friday, June 23, 2017

Eating My Lunch

Just before the bankruptcy of Braniff II, I was hearing stories about how the older, senior pilots were having trouble learning the automation of the Airbus A-320.  They wanted to resort to the old fashioned ways of flying and not do all the flight management and automation stuff.

This caused me a little consternation as I drew closer to beginning my training.  My instructor's name was Helmut.  Thankfully he had a good sense of humor and was very patient.

There were several times when flying the plane with all the computers and automation seemed overwhelming and I had learned that the 757 flew just like an old technology airplane if you turned all that voodoo stuff off.  When I suffered from brain lock, that is what I would do, but Helmut would yell and make me turn it back on.  I understood.  That is what the plane is all about and that is what he had to teach me.

There were these things called route modifications, which would be necessary when Plan A had to be altered for some reason.  Helmut taught us how to do them early in the program.  Later, when he was reviewing them, before signing us off for a check ride, he gave me some route mods to perform.  I was just leaning over the computer, with my finger poised above it, in a kind of freeze.  Helmut said, "Denny, you look like you've never seen these before".  I said, "That's how I feel".

Frankly, I don't remember much about that simulator check ride, but I passed.  I have never failed a test of any kind in my aviation career. 

After that, we were scheduled for Initial Operating Experience (IOE).  (I learned so many acronyms during this training, I could not remember what all the letters stood for.)  I kind of stumbled my way through that.  My first instructor did a good job, but did not seem to have much of a sense of humor.  

My Release To Line check ride was with a management guy named John Fanning.  Good guy.  He flew the first leg, then as I was beginning the descent on my leg, he told me that most people who get in trouble with "this plane" do it because of overload within 15 miles of the destination and sometimes it is best to turn all the automation off and just fly the airplane.  When he said that, I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders.  I knew that I could do that.  I also knew that Helmut had to insist on using it, because that was his job.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It.

The photo above is what I look like today.  It was taken on a recent bike riding outing with friends and family.  As we approached this intersection we were  a little confused by the seemingly contradicting direction signs.  As we rode closer, we realized the direction sign pointing to the right was for opposite direction riders, telling them to turn right on the trail, after crossing the tracks.  Typically, we had thought it was all about us.

My brother and I dreamed up the funny photo and I sent it out to nearly everyone on my email list.  It generated some interesting replies.  My son, Mike, advised me to, "Choose wisely".  A friend sent me the following Robert Frost poem.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Somehow, I think that might be what Yogi Berra was trying to say in the quote I used as the title to this edition.

Another friend, the one who is responsible for me beginning this blog, thought it would be a good basis for a new blog.  At first I thought it was a little too soon in the narrative, but literally slept on it and when I woke up thought it just might be the perfect time.

Remember that the subtitle of my blog is "How Not To Build An Aviation Career".  Looking back on my career, which is what the blog is about, it is obvious, that I took the path less traveled.  It is also one I would not advise.  

The major obstacle in becoming a professional pilot is that it is very expensive.  There are two kinds of expense.  One is money and the other is time.  It might be possible to avoid most of the money expense by joining the military to learn to fly, but that increases the time expense, with a commitment of several years and then there is the risk of injury or loss of life.  Nothing worthwhile is easy or free.  Considering that every airline pilot job virtually requires a college degree, it can be argued that the money and time expenses rival those of becoming a doctor.

The reason I say that this is the perfect time to discuss my road less traveled and that it has made all the difference, is that my story is about to get to the part where all of my decisions at the many and various forks in the road are about to pay off.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I'm back.

I haven't been motivated to write for almost 3 months.  I've thought about it many times, just couldn't get started.  So here we go, with not much of a plan about where I'm going with this one.

I mentioned in my last post that I had been flying the 747 as a first officer for 5 years.  I spent one year as a flight engineer on the DC-8 before that.

During this 6 year period, my kids went from being ages 6 and 4 to 12 and 10.  They were doing well in school and being involved in sports activities.  Early on, they both tried soccer.  Then Mike gravitated toward basketball and baseball.  Caitlin began swimming competitively  for a local pool, where we were members.  The nature of my schedule had pros and cons.  I missed lots of events, but I was able to make lots of events.  I predominantly worked a week on, week off schedule and when I was off, I was off 100%.   I was able to help coach Mike's teams and attend most of Caitlin's swim meets.  

The kids began taking piano lessons shortly after we moved to Louisville.  I became convinced that this opened up circuitry in their minds that might not have otherwise been touched.  I could see indications of speed of thinking in both of them that was very impressive.  They both solved computer game issues much faster than I could.

During these years, both kids began learning to ski.  That didn't take long.  Kids learn that kind of stuff very quickly.  Caitlin had gone with a school group, but I took Mike to a tiny resort in Indiana.  It was the first time I had skied in several years, but it came back quickly.  I showed Mike a few things and he became an excellent skier, until he decided to switch to snow boarding.  

The first time he tried that, I told him I couldn't help him much.  All I could say is that you have to use the edges of the board, as you do with the edges of skis.  We went to the same little resort and I rented him a board and boots.  Mike tried to teach himself, but was having trouble.  When I moved in to check things out, I could see the problem.  His feet were already so long, that the toes of his boots were extending over the edge of the narrow board we rented and dragging in the snow, making it impossible to use the edges.  I had to buy him a double wide board and boots to match.  Over time and with a couple lessons, he became a competent boarder, but I always thought he was an incredible skier.

I knew that I was getting close to being able to upgrade to captain.  I always took upgrades as soon as my seniority allowed.  Some people don't, because of quality of life and other issues.  That transition is usually from being a senior first officer, with lots of bidding advantages, to a junior captain, who is forced to take what is left over after the senior people have finished picking.  I didn't care about that.  I wasn't afraid of the responsibility and hated being the second in command.

There were many issues to consider, but one that was very new to me had to do with the new generation of airplanes.  UPS had planes that were older technology, with analog instruments and they also had Boeing 757s, with Electronic Flight Instruments Systems (EFIS) and computerized Flight Management Systems (FMS).  This required a method of flying that was foreign to geezers like me from the stone age and airplanes with steam gauges.  

I had heard stories about this transition and decided to make it easy on myself.  I had learned long ago that it is best to minimize the number of new things that you are learning in upgrades or transitions.  In other words, don't upgrade to a new airplane type.  Too many things to learn.  The 757 was the junior airplane at that time, so it would be my earliest upgrade opportunity.  I decided to transition to the 75 as a first officer and learn how to fly it on someone else's ticket.