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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Down South

The drive to Atlanta, in August 1978, must have been very similar to the flight to Louisville, in January 1966, in many ways.  It was the beginning of a major life shakeup, but I don't have any memory of what I was thinking.  I can only imagine that I was aware of many unanswered questions.  The big difference on this move, was that I had a plan that I was facilitating.  Nearly everything was in my control this time.

I'm certain I was second guessing my decision. That is the way I did everything, especially flying.  -Think your way through every thing you are about to do, act decisively, review every decision, correct mistakes.-  One of the things I learned not long after retiring, many years later, is that pilots train themselves to accept a level of stress that they may not be completely aware of.  We operate in an environment in which we must be nearly perfect.  After retirement, when that level of performance stress is no longer required, we can sense its absence.  It is like an annoying noise we have become accustomed to that suddenly stops.  This is all part of what some call the "no sweat" attitude of pilots, that no problem is insurmountable.  

I called a friend to ask him a question about this next phase of my career, in which he was involved. We both laughed as he told me how much he has forgotten since he retired.  I acknowledged that the same was true of me.  

My brother, Jim, and I had fought while we were younger and our mom thought we would not get along.  I decided to give it my best attempt and it worked out well.  He had an apartment in Smyrna GA, just outside the beltway and near Dobbins Air Force Base.  

After living in the country near Butler for 5 years, I found the traffic in Atlanta to be crazy.  People were driving 70 to 90 mph on the freeways, then traffic would suddenly come to a stop.  After slowly creeping forward, it would suddenly go back up to high speed and there would be no apparent reason for the slow down.  I was not expecting such a fast driving pace in the South, but I guess they are all NASCAR fans.

Flight International was in a building at Peachtree DeKalb Airport (PDK).  I don't remember how long the ground school and simulator training were, but I did learn why the course was less expensive than other schools.  They had a simulator that was really like a fixed base trainer at an airline, not a full motion simulator, which is used for pilot training also.  It just sat flat on the floor.  It was fine for engineer training as it was fully capable of simulating all the system operations necessary.  It simulated a Boeing 727-232, which was Delta's version of the venerable tri-jet.

The owner was a Naval Academy graduate and a former naval aviator.  He was also a Delta pilot.  His name was Doug and his sister worked there also.  For some reason, everyone called her Big Bird.  I tried to avoid her as much as possible.

The airplane systems were much more complicated than any of the light planes I had flown, with the possible exception of the King Air.  We were required to learn them to a depth I had not seen before.  There were some guys in the class who were struggling to keep up, while there was this one guy, who was always trying to go deeper into system knowledge.  He would start asking the instructor if he could use a wire, with alligator clips on each end to bypass something for some whacked out purpose.  The instructor was not amused, but one of the guys who was having a tough time wanted to kill him.  The curious guy's name was Juan and it turns out he had been hijacked by a guy while he was an instructor in a Piper Cherokee 140.  The hijacker wanted to go to Havana.  When they ran out of gas, Juan landed on the Interstate.  All that really fit his profile.

After the ground school, we began working on procedures, normal, abnormal and emergency.  We had to pass an oral exam, in which an FAA inspector asked lots of questions about all the systems and limitations of the plane.  Then we had to pass a simulator check ride with an inspector, then a check ride in a real flying airplane.  The school would pay for time on a plane at various airlines for the check rides.  I went to Memphis to do it on a FedEx plane.

As I was nearing the end of my time at the school, I began to think about going back to Graham Aviation.  I thought there was a real possibility that Redman would tell me I was not welcome back.  I also thought I might need to bust out of there and stay involved with employment that would be more closely associated with airlines and transport category airplanes.  I had become friendly with the chief instructor, Rod, and asked him if I could work as an instructor when I graduated.  He told me to graduate and come talk to him.  I did both and he hired me.

I had to go back to Butler to get my stuff.  One of my classmates lived in North Carolina and needed a ride home, so I took the scenic route and dropped him off.

The Trans Am was new at that time and I am very fortunate to have talked to the service manager where I bought it about what might possibly happen on this car any time soon.  He had advised my that at a certain mileage, the differential would start clanking and sound like it was going to fall out of the car.  He said it was nothing to worry about, just bring it in and have the fluid changed and it would be OK.  

I took advantage of the drive to try the Blue Grass Parkway and Skyline Drive up through the Appalachian Mountains.  On a Sunday, in the middle of nowhere, the noise began.  For a few seconds, I was startled, until I remember my conversation with the service manager.  Even with that, I was very concerned, because I had a long drive from where it began and it really sounded horrible.  When I got back, no problemo.  I had the oil changed and it never happened again.  If I hadn't asked about that, I probably would have had the car towed somewhere and spent the night until I could get to a Pontiac dealership to work on it.  I had a tow hitch put on the TA, rented a UHaul trailer, loaded my stuff and said goodbye to my folks and friends. 

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