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Friday, April 29, 2016


Doreen and I got a hotel room near the airport when we arrived in Orlando.  We rented a car and started looking for a house to rent.  We found a house on Brandeis Ave., between Orange Ave. and Orange Blossom Trail (OBT).  We had spent most of our savings during the low income days in California, so things were tight.

In order to help the airline get started, most of the pilots performed other duties, besides flying their schedules.  Some created the pilot schedules.  Some were setting up a recruiting department and developing a list of pilots to contact when hiring began.  I was going to develop a ground school for training our own pilots, instead of sending them to USAir.  This would save a tremendous amount of money in hotel and travel expenses, not to mention the actual cost of paying USAir.

In my three years at USAir, I had learned the entire airplane, all the systems.  However, I still needed training aids, such as panels with pictures of all the panels in the cockpit and a few videos to fill some of the time.  I had some stuff of my own and was able to get Quinzi to send me others.  I had to get a printing company to make the panels pictures and get chairs and tables for the classroom.  I rented film and overhead projectors, movie screens and all the things I thought I would need.

There were less than a handful of pilots hired, between the day I was hired and when we actually had a full class that I would teach.  Before we get to that, it is time to talk about Christine.

The fourth Florida Express airplane was N1543.  It was the first BAC 1-11 delivered to Braniff International.  It had never flown as an airliner, but was in corporate configuration, with couches and large, comfy seats.  I don't know who owned it last, but our airplane buying geniuses found it in an airplane graveyard, between Phoenix and Tucson Arizona.  We were buying it strictly "as is", which means we pay the lowest possible price and the seller is not responsible for anything that is wrong with it.

Bob Dixon, Al Frink, a crew of our top mechanics and I flew to Phoenix, then drove to the Pinal Airport Airpark (MZJ), in Marana AZ.  Bob had started getting me involved in decision making situations, when they came down to his level, because of my knowledge of the BAC.  Unfortunately, the major decision to buy this plane did not get to us before the fact.  I don't think our top management team trusted our input at this time.  Some of their decisions were making me not trust their input.

It was extremely hot at the airport, 106 degrees F.  The poor mechanics had to be out in all that heat trying to inspect that plane.  We were able to be in the shade of a huge hangar, after we had done the kinds of checks pilots would do.  But, it was a dry heat. :-D  I remember the list of discrepancies we were amassing and the shaking of the heads of the guys representing the people who sold it to us "as is".  We were going to have to fix what was wrong and there were many things wrong.

Probably the worst, was the fact that mud daubers had made their home in the pitot-static system of the plane.

There, now you can get as deeply into that as you want, or you can just let me explain that this is the system that provides information to the airspeed indicator, altimeter and vertical speed indicator.  You need those.

The main problem was that, since the plane had not been used as an airliner and the baggage compartments were essentially wasted space, aftermarket fuel tanks had been installed in them and were  blocking access to the pitot static lines that were clogged with mud dauber housing.  Imagine getting into a tight space in 100+ degree heat and trying to remove and clean small tubes, in a darkness.  I was glad I was a pilot and not a mechanic that day.

The next day was a different story.  After we were told things had been fixed, Dixon and I had to fly the jet.  Al Frink and some of the very mechanics who had worked on it were onboard and I give them credit for that.

We did all the preflight stuff, started the engines and taxied for takeoff.  There seemed to be some minor discrepancies on the takeoff roll, but we could not be certain.  Once we got airborne and leveled off at a low altitude, we could see major problems.  One of the airspeed indicators was indicating far too low for level flight at our power setting and the other one looked like a windshield wiper, swinging back and forth.  On transport category planes, there are two independent pitot static systems.  Both were screwed up.  Bob and I were discussing it, when Frink came up to stand behind our seats in the cockpit.  When we showed him what was happening, he said, "Get this (slang for a sexual act) thing on the ground".  (This is a family blog.)  OK, Captain Al.  

Easier said than done.  Flying precise speeds during landing is very important and we could not trust what we were seeing.  This was going to have to be flown by the "seat of the pants".  So here we have these two non test pilot, non college educated, natural pilots trying to devise a plan for returning safely to the surface of the planet.  No sweat.  

We both had enough experience to know the various attitudes, power settings and sounds to get this job done safely.  Plus, we added a few knots for Momma and the kids.  Seriously, Dixon did a very fine job.  I was just along to lower the gear and flaps, etc.

The plane was finally fixed well enough to fly back to Orlando.  Actually, because of the temperatures, flying distance, runway length and so forth, we had to fly to Phoenix, refuel for the long trip and then fly back to MCO.  We needed a longer runway, than the one in Marana.  No sweat any more.

This plane was taken to a hangar on the west side of Orlando's airport.  The interior and auxiliary fuel tanks were removed, it was painted in Florida Express colors and gone over from the radome to the horizontal stabilizer.

When it was entered into service, things started going wrong.  It was a weird plane, as if haunted.  The flight attendants noticed this, as well as the pilots.  The flight attendants started calling it Christine.  Check the hyper link by clicking on Christine for this one.  They even made up a song, based on the 12 Days of Christmas, which they sang at the Christmas party every year.  "And a partridge in a pear tree" was replaced by "and we still had to fly on 43".  Remember, the tail number was N1543.

N1543 was actually the first BAC 1-11 delivered to Braniff International and here it is at its roll out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Getting In Front Of The Curve

There were still a few items on the old agenda.  I had to go back to Santa Rosa, get out of our rental lease, and move our household goods and the little family all the way across the country.  Furthermore, I had the second interview with Orion in Louisville.

I'm not sure about the sequence of these events actually occurring, but we got it all done, with help.  My mom had flown out to give us a hand again.  The rental agency was very upset that we were pulling out, but they were sympathetic and helpful.  They wanted to have good renters in this house, because they knew the owners were living in China for a few years, then coming back to live in the house.  We had fantastic references as renters.  They found someone to move in rather quickly.  It was a great house.

I called Mayflower and asked for the same driver we had on our move to Chico and he was available.  I needed to get back to work ASAP, but we had to get the cars to Florida.  I didn't want to drive all that distance with the baby.  Once again we experienced some good fortune.  One of the people I called when I lost the PacEx job was a USAir pilot friend, who happened to be coming to San Francisco with his wife for vacation.  When I talked to him about my dilemma with the cars, he said he would drive my Trans Am, towing Doreen's Toyota wagon from San Fran to Orlando.  Incredible luck.

After we got the moving van on the road, Doreen and I drove down to the hotel PacEx used near the airport.  I met my friend there, gave him the cars and we flew across the San Francisco Bay to the Oakland Airport in a helicopter.  Caitlin got her first helicopter ride at age 6 months.  From there, we flew to Denver on Frontier.  The management team at Florida Express had worked there before they started the new airline.  Then we flew on Frontier Horizon to Indianapolis, spent the night (used the drawer as a crib again) and then flew to Orlando on Florida Express in the morning.  All free flying, because I knew the right people.  This was very helpful.

Frontier Horizon was an alter ego airline.  I am not even going to open that can of worms at this time.  If you are interested, Google is your friend.

Florida Express had the same salary system that Pacific Express had in the beginning.  Captains, $32,000, first officers, $18,000.  One of the realities of moving from one airline to another, because of the seniority system, is that you always go to the bottom of the list and always start at the bottom of the pay scale.  There is no lateral movement.

Dixon knew about the Orion interview and was not happy.  I think he had stuck his neck out a little to get me a job, when the company really did not need or want another pilot.  He and several others I met, were telling me why I should stay at Florida Express.  They told me about what a great management team we had.  The top 3 guys had been together at Frontier, then went on to Midway.  From there, they rounded up financial support to start Florida Express.  We were getting in on the ground floor of an airline with great potential, according the them.  They reminded me of the pilots at FedEx and Southwest, who started with very little promise.  I was still concerned about the financial backing and decided to go to the Orion interview.  Louisville is one of the cities Flex flew to and I was able to ride the jump seat.

Florida Express was beginning to win my heart.  It was a passenger airline.  Orion flew for UPS's overnight parcel delivery service.  Overnight is the operative word there.  I had gotten to know lots of people in Orlando and it seemed like a really nice place to live.  When I went to the Orion interview, I had mostly made up my mind and I think it might have been obvious that I was not exactly desperate to fly boxes at night.  I did not get the job.  I was relieved.   The decision was made for me.

When there was no flying for me, Dixon wanted me to fly to the out stations and teach the agents there how to do the aircraft performance and weight and balance.  That was a challenge.  Trying to explain the effect wind has on the movement of a plane over the ground was nearly impossible for some.  I was never sure if they understood how their efforts could impact the safety of the flight.  It wasn't long before the company came up with a computer based method to calculate this stuff and it mostly took the agents out of the equation.  All they had to do was put in the passenger count. 

A few months later, I attended a meeting held for the pilots by our President and CEO.  I was finally going to see the top guy of the management team Dixon and all the others were telling me about.  This guy was smart.  He knew how critical pilots were to a start up airline operation.  Since we were not being paid the way airline pilots were typically paid, he had to cajole us and make us feel we were going to be on the ground floor of something with great potential.

This particular meeting did not impress me positively.  The CEO admitted that he thought he had started with the wrong airplane.  It had to do with the nature of the Florida Express route structure and the performance limits of the BAC.

With 3 airplanes, the plan was to depart all 3 at the same time going north to Norfolk/Richmond, Nashville/Louisville and Indianapolis. The problem was with the Indianapolis leg.  It was the longest leg flown by any airline with the BAC 1-11-200.  It was designed to fly many short legs in a day.  I think our block time for this leg was about 2 1/2 hours.  You may recall that our longest leg at PacEx was about 1 1/2.  

In the winter, the headwinds from the northwest caused a slow ground speed and there were occasions where the flight had to land at an airport short of the destination to refuel.  Mr. CEO explained that this was not economically feasible.  We could not afford to make many of these stops.

He explained that the guy who sells airplanes for USAir had told them the plane would fly fast and go far, but he did not tell them it would not do both on the same leg.  Any pilot would have known to ask more questions about that.  I was not impressed.  They obviously bought airplanes without consulting a pilot.  

So, now we go back to my conversation with Bob Dixon on the day I was hired, relative to the speed at which they were flying the plane.  I knew that the fuel cost for flying at the "barber pole", or maximum speed, would be prohibitive.  The range stretching aspects had not occurred to me at first, but it makes sense.  After the meeting, I was standing outside the meeting room and my old pal from Pacific Express, Jim, who ran the dispatch department and had gotten hired to do the same at Florida Express, walked up to me and said, "We could have told him that."  Exactly.

I knew that Dixon had a problem with just flying at 250 knots indicated, but that slowing the plane would probably solve the problem.  I had some old performance manuals for the BAC 1-11 at home and began looking for the solution.  I found the performance envelope for best specific fuel range on the airplane.  If you are a nerd, you can use the hyper link or you can accept my brief explanation.  For any given weight of an aircraft, there is a speed for achieving the best possible range.  The plane becomes lighter as it burns fuel and this speed changes accordingly.  The engineers and test pilots do lots of work in development and testing to determine what this speed is and then design some method to make it available and understandable to dumb pilots like me.

When flying a plane at its maximum speed, you are achieving that last little bit of increase in speed at a large increase in fuel burn.  To achieve max range, you must slow down a little.

I took some of the specifics of the MCO - IND (Orlando - Inianapolis) leg and worked some problems.  I was able to determine that by slowing down enough to take just 10 or 15 minutes longer, we could assure that the plane would have enough fuel to get to IND in a very high percentage of the flights.  I don't remember exactly what the number was, but it was almost 100%.  

I took my work to Dixon's office and made my case.  I explained that science and math proved that we would not be flying "behind the curve".  It took him some time to think about it and buy it.  He probably talked it over with some of the other pilots.  Soon he had someone create a table with cruising altitudes, and weights to provide the optimum speed for long range flying.  I earned my salary for several years with that one.

For the record, Gordy James, who had been the VP of Ops at PacEx once described the guy who sold airplanes at USAir in this way:  "He is the kind of guy, who will (rape) you in the (anus) and then try to make you feel guilty about it."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Behind The Curve

Dixon must have gone to Frink after our first phone conversation and told him what an upstanding dude I was.  When you think about it, I had much to offer.  I already had all the expensive training on their plane behind me and would save Florida Express that money.  I had taught their airplane in ground school and could do the same for them.  They had to send all their pilots to USAir for all training.  This would be a significant savings.  Bob knew me and probably vouched for me as a person.  Fooled 'em again.  

I was not overly excited, because I felt I was getting back into a situation that was very much like the one I had just left, only it looked even more shaky.  PacEx had started with 7 planes, Flex with 3.  This indicated to me that it was starting with even less financial backing.  A real shoe string operation.  In my mind, I was in a holding pattern.

After our breakfast, Bob took me down to the tiny operations office, below the gates in the airport terminal.  I was watching the operation and meeting my new friends.  I asked Dixon how fast they were flying the airplanes.  He said, "We are flying them at the barber pole, just like USAir.  We tried that 250 knot shit you were doing at Pacific Express and felt it was behind the power curve."  Barber pole means the maximum speed on the airspeed indicator.  Power curve is an engineering term.  In this case, Bob meant he thought it was inefficient to fly slower than the max speed.  He was wrong.  Being the new guy (FNG), I did not argue too much, but said, "You are really going to feel behind the power curve when you start getting your fuel bills." 

You can see that there is an optimum "sweet spot" in the curve above relative to speed.  Drag increases above and below that spot.  Dixon thought flying too slowly was increasing drag to an unacceptable level on the slow side of the spot.

My company indoctrination class was with a guy named Victor.  He was a freaking genius.  When you talked to him about Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), he could tell you the regulation number and the page on which it appeared in the J-Aids, the manual with FARs that we were required to lug around.  We went to a local Pizza Hut, with a copy of the company Flight Operations Manual (FOM) and ordered a pizza and some beers.  We soon learned that both PacEx and Flex had borrowed USAir's FOM and they were virtually identical.  After a couple beers, Vic said, "You know all this shit." and we got to know each other better.  He is a great guy, far smarter than everyone he has to deal with, but a very gracious and fun guy to hang out with.  We are still in touch and still friends to this day.

The big airports broadcast what is called Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) on a radio frequency.  You can tune in and copy all the pertinent information, including weather and active runway.  They change it every hour or when there is a significant change in the information during the hour.  It is assigned a name from the phonetic alphabet each time it is changed.  For example, the first one would be Alpha, then Bravo, Charlie, etc.  The phonetic word for the letter V is Victor and we all called our brilliant friend Information Victor, because you could always rely on him to have the pertinent information.

At the start up of the airline, the guy they had depended on to run the dispatch department showed up unprepared and Victor took over, running it all off the top of his head.  Incredible.

I had to get a company specific flight check ride from a check airman.  Because Florida Express was so new, their check airmen couldn't do it and there were a couple guys I knew from USAir, who were assigned to do that kind of stuff for Flex until everyone got up to speed.  I took great pride and pleasure in being able to make a landing that watered the eyes of my old friend, Frank, who I actually first met when I was married to April.  Remember, she had been an Allegheny Airlines (USAir prior to a name change) flight attendant.  For the record, he pranged his landing.

After I was checked out, I started getting some flying assignments, even though I was an extra guy.  I was kind of a reserve pilot.  The first guy I flew with was Larry.  When we met, he said, "So you're the guy from Pacific Express?"  I said yes.  He rather sternly said, "Well, we're going to take it easy tonight."  You may remember my conversation about believing a first officer should always operate within the captain's comfort zone.  This was a prime example of what I was talking about.  I had flown this airplane type in an airline environment for the previous year, but almost all of the Flex captains were very new.  They had only been operating for 2 or three weeks.  They were not yet completely comfortable and did not want to see any gee whiz stuff.  I nodded to Captain Larry.  I would be flying very conservatively and checking with him to see what was OK and what was not.  For example, I was flying a leg and saw the runway and told him I could take a visual approach if it was OK with him.  He said he wanted to have the controller give us heading vectors to go out and fly the full ILS approach.  No problemo, Captain.

Red Eye

There was a week until my Orion interview.  One of the people I called with my sob story was Mary Lou, the lady who worked for the manager of contract training at USAir.  She really ran the place.  She told me that there was a new start up airline in Orlando Florida, flying BAC 1-11s.  The chief pilot was Bob Dixon, who had been a student at the ground school when I worked there.  He was one of the guys who had flown a BAC for Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean.  Bob was one of the people I was bugging about a job, back when I worked there.

When I heard that, I considered going back to another start up airline flying the BAC, just like the one that had died beneath me.  It was not the best possible scenario, but I needed to start generating income ASAP.

Mary Lou gave me Bob's number and I called him.  "Denny Cleary, you old son of a bitch.  We were expecting your call."  I was glad he remembered me and was thinking of me.  His two check airmen had also come through the school when I was there, Jay and Mike.

After we got all the details of my circumstances out of the way, Bob said that they were flying 3 airplanes they had bought from USAir (that told me a lot about their mechanical condition - not good.)  They had enough crews to staff those planes and I would be the first guy they would hire when they got their next plane.  When I asked when that might be, Bob said, "Probably about 6 months."  I said I would not be available in 6 months.  "I'll either have a job, or I will be dead."  I added that to emphasize the urgency.  He said he would see what he could do and we said goodbye.

Bob called early the next day and asked me when I could come to Orlando for an interview.  I told him about the interview in L.A. on the 9th and said I would try to find a way to get there very soon after that.

I was able to get jumpseat privileges on Air Cal to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  That interview went well.  There had been some pilot management changes at USAir, but I called the new chief pilot, explained my situation and he gave me jumpseat privileges to fly from L.A. to Pittsburgh on a red eye flight and then to Orlando.  The reason this was special, is that, in order to ride on a jumpseat, you must be employed by an operating airline.  PacEx no longer qualified.  These people were doing me a huge favor and I really appreciated it.

When I showed up at the USAir gate in L.A. to fly to the Burgh, I saw that the captain was none other than Ron Sessa, the guy who had been the top pilot manager when I worked there.  He is the guy I think had the most to do with my not getting hired as a pilot there.  He had left management for some reason and was back on the line.

Now I was sweating whether he would let me ride the jumpseat.  He acted like he was not very happy about it, but said it was OK to ride in the back, as long as it was not in first class.  What a dick.  I was able to get three empty seats in one row and managed to get some sleep as we crossed the country late at night.  The only problem was that I looked like I had slept in an airplane all night when I arrived in Orlando.

I found my way to Dixon's office and we had some coffee.  He said we would be having breakfast with Captain Al Frink, the director of operations.  Al was a retired Pan Am 747 captain.  Start up airlines like to have experienced people like him in high management positions for credibility.

Things seemed to be going well and they asked me if I could start immediately.  I explained that my family was still in Santa Rosa, we had signed a one year lease on the house and I would have to go back soon to move them and our stuff.  Not a problem.  I was number 29 on the seniority list of 29 pilots.

When I talked to Bob about coming for the interview, he had talked about using me primarily as a first officer, who would occasionally fly as a captain.  I already had completed all the training and check rides and all I had to do was bring my training records and take a class in company indoctrination to fly for my new airline, Florida Express.

As I was flying down there, I thought this was not a good plan.  I was going to be the most junior guy, hired after all the others.  Seniority is a big deal to all airline pilots and if I was jumping first officers to fly as captain, I would be making enemies.  I mentioned that to Bob and he said, "Yeah, I thought of that too."

Bob told me much later, that Al had told him I looked "kind of rough" that day.  Bob explained that I had spent the night sleeping in my suit as I rode across the country.  My eyes really were red.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Starburst I

Several things started changing at PacEx about the time I upgraded to captain.

The Chico base was closed and I was reassigned to San Francisco.  Doreen and I found a really nice house to rent in Santa Rosa and I would commute to the SFO airport on a commuter van that left from a local hotel.  There were lemon, grapefruit and navel orange trees in the yard.  The owner paid to have the lawn and the trees cared for.  All we had to do was pick the fruit off the trees.

The other thing was that there was an hourly pay scale installed.  You may remember that prior to that, we had a salary system.  First officers were paid $18,000 per year, captains $32,000.  The upgrade meant an increase in pay, but the hourly system meant even more income.

When the company first started flying, the pilots and fly attendants were supposed to share hotel rooms.  The pilots unanimously said they did not want to do that and cited safety reasons.  They claimed that they could not get proper rest sharing a room, because of snoring and other problems.  Pilots often play the safety card, but these pilots backed it up with money.  They said they would pay the difference in cost and the company deducted it from their checks each month.  Eventually the company decided to pay for the second rooms.  This happened shortly after I began working there.  I think that is something those guys can be very proud of.  They kinda shamed the company into doing that.

We loved Santa Rosa.  It is the county seat of Sonoma County and is the largest city in Wine Country, located just west of Napa Valley

Nearly all of my flying prior to Pacific Express had been as the Pilot In Command (PIC).  Nearly all of the charter and pilot service trips had been single pilot.  Getting used to flying as a copilot took some adjustment.  I had always put airline captains on a pedestal.  When I began flying with captains, my philosophy was always to keep them in their comfort zone.  I didn't want to try anything that they had never seen before.  Early on, the only way I could do that was by screwing up.  Later, as I began to fly with more new captains who had freshly upgraded and I was getting better, I tried to fly a conservative airplane.

One of the more experienced captains, Ron, was pretty cool and we tried lots of different things to learn how to use the energy of the BAC 1-11 while flying visual approaches.  I tried to develop this thing where I established a bank angle as I reduced power to idle, let the plane slow, then began to extend flaps and gear as we passed through their maximum speeds and descend to the runway, finally rolling the wings level between 500 and 1,000 ft. Above Ground Level (AGL) and lined up with the runway.  When it worked out, it was a thing of beauty, but sometimes it appeared it wasn't going to work out early in the process.

Shortly before my own upgrade, I was flying with a friend, Dave, who had just upgraded.  I was flying the leg into Sacramento and we were high on the downwind leg, abeam the approach end of the runway.  The controller asked if we had the field in sight and I told Dave I had it.  He relayed that to ATC and we were cleared for a visual approach.  It looked like a perfect setup to do my constant bank angle/make it look like it isn't going to work out/visual approach.

I began the maneuver and noticed the young captain squirming a little in his seat.  An older guy probably would have starting to tell me what to do, but this dude remained cool.  He thought I was going to be too high, but he gave me a chance to correct myself.  I respected that.  It went perfectly.  As we exited the runway, Dave said, "I didn't think that was going to work out at first, but nice job."  I smiled.

As a new captain myself, the first officers were doing a great job helping me and not doing anything to scare me too much...intentionally.

The other guys in my new hire class were upgrading also and I had been on the phone one day in early February 1984, trying to work out a trip trade with one of them through crew scheduling.  He and I spoke a couple times and I was busy doing something when he called back.  He asked if I had heard what was going on.  I said I had talked to the scheduler and yadda, yadda, yadda.  He interrupted,  "No, not that.  The company has suspended operations and is having the crews fly all the planes back to Chico.  They are filing for bankruptcy."

I felt sick.  I had been single all my life, except for a few years of marriage, without children.  Now I had 2 lives besides my own that I was responsible for and I did not want anything bad to ever happen to them.  I needed a job and I needed it fast.

I called some of the other pilots to confirm what was happening, but realized we were all now competitors for whatever jobs were out there.  On Ground Hog Day, February 2, 1984, I was 38 years, 6.5 months old.  A little long in the tooth to get an airline job and remember, I had no college degree.  These facts greatly limited my opportunities.

Despite all that, I had to do what we frequently do when flying - compartmentalize issues and focus on doing what has to be done.  I called everyone I knew, literally, everyone.  I told them my company had gone broke and I needed a job.  Somehow, I got some information that a company named Orion was hiring pilots.  They employed pilots to fly planes owned by United Parcel Service  under contract.  I called and was offered an initial interview in Los Angeles on February 9.  This was good progress and I was encouraged, but I didn't know how long that process would take and knew I needed to exhaust all possibilities.  Nonetheless, my head was in a better place.

The pilots were heading out, in all directions, like a starburst and I would never see most of them again.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

California Tumbles Into The Sea

I must admit that the Mt. Shasta dude in the previous chapter did not look as weird as any of the dudes in this video.  I just like Steely Dan's music, although their lyrics, those I can understand, are not something I subscribe to.  Maybe this will explain some of that.

Before Caitlin was born, Doreen flew back to Pittsburgh for a visit.  I was left to my own devices.  One of my devices was a 10 speed bike, which I rode up one of the highways into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  When I had climbed as far as I wanted, I stopped and looked around and felt this strange feeling, like a high frequency, but low grade vibration, hardly noticeable.  I don't know if there was a connection, but I learned of the Coalinga Earthquake, when I got home.

One day I decided to hike in Bidwell Park.  This park begins in the middle of Chico and extends far into the foothills.  We had spent lots of time exploring this park near the city and in the hills.

I decided to drive to Upper Bidwell Park, then hike farther into the hills.  This map is not an exact representation of what I did, but it gives you an idea of what the terrain is like.  This was one of those deals where you learn from your mistakes, if you survive.

I had no food, no water, no sunscreen, no wide hat, not much of anything I typically take on a day hike at this present age.  I just started walking up, higher and higher.  Eventually, any indication of a trail disappeared and I was entering into an area where I was high on a narrow ridge, with deep canyons on both sides.  I knew that Chico Creek was to my right.

It soon dawned on me that I was getting thirsty and hungry.  Instead of doing the smart thing and just retracing my steps, I decided to descend the steep wall of the canyon to the creek, for water.  After scaring myself pretty good several times on the way down, I got to the creek, but could not find an appropriate place to get to the water for a while.  The brush was very thick.  I finally got some water and met a fisherman and we chatted briefly.  Then I worked my way down stream, back toward my car.  There was no trail, that I could find and I was doing lots of bushwhacking and being whacked by bushes.   I finally got to the road above where I had parked and started walking back, when my blood sugar dropped so low that I just had to sit and rest.  The way I was feeling, I didn't know if I could make it back to the car.  That was when my fisherman friend came down the road with his car and offered me a ride.  What a guy!

PacEx was growing a little.  They leased another BAC 1-11 from USAir.  It was painted all white and everyone called it Casper.  I could see that I was getting close to upgrading to captain.  One of my friends in the class just prior to mine had a problem on his check ride.  He was flying the arrival to San Francisco when he was told to hold and given an Excpect Further Clearance (EFC) time.  He did not have enough fuel to hold that long and needed to be checking weather at other airports, where he might land to refuel.  This served to burn that thought process into my mind for future reference.

I finally upgraded to captain in late 1983.  I felt I still had a lot to learn.  My first trip proved that.  It was a reserve trip from San Francisco to San Jose, then to Modesto and on to Reno.  It was a chartered junket trip to pick up gamblers and take the to Reno's casinos to gamble for the night, the return by the same route.  The crew was to go to a hotel, but it was what is called a single duty period trip.  The time at the hotel did not count as a rest period.  It's complicated and probably boring.

When we returned to the plane, we learned that the navigation light switch had been left on and they were hot wired to the battery, unlike the USAir planes I was familiar with.  Our battery was dead and we needed a ground battery cart to start our APU.  No problem and lesson learned.

Because I was a new captain, I was required to fly all the legs.  As we were descending into Modesto, the weather radar appeared to be saying that there was heavy rain everywhere.  As I briefed the ILS approach, I noticed that there was a cloud ceiling, but it was high enough to allow us to circle to land.  We would fly the ILS approach in one direction, then turn to land in the opposite direction.  The reason was the direction and velocity of the wind.  It was a very strong wind from the left rear quarter.  I debated trying to explain all the things I had to consider, but decided it might put you to sleep and bog the story down.  

Long story short, there were obstacles to one side and I would have a tailwind on the base leg on the other.  I was still trying to decide whether to circle to the left or right as we approached the glideslope intercept point and we hit the worst air turbulence I would ever encounter in my 42 year career.  The airspeed indicators looked like windshield wipers as we flirted with maximum flap speeds and stall speeds at both ends.  We got 3 stick pushes and stall warning klaxons and finally, as things settled down, I looked at the FO and he said, "Maybe we should go around."  I thought, "Good, a plan."  Power up, gear up, flaps up.  Lets go back and try this again and try to sort things out.  

As we were being vectored for our second approach, I asked the controller if he had seen a cell of heavy rain, indicating a thunderstorm near the point where we hit that turbulence and he said he had, but thought we saw it with our radar.  Remember that our screen was all red, indicating heavy rain everywhere.  The lesson I learned on this one is that when the entire radar screen is indicating all red, but the ride is not unusually bumpy, you should turn the radar gain down, so that you can see the really big cells of rain, such as the one we had encountered.  They have a standard detent and until this incident, I had thought it was best to just leave it there.

Once on the ground in Modesto, we offloaded some passengers and when we tried to start the engines, we had a problem with a Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) on our left engine, that prevented air from getting to its starter.  This was a problem that we always discussed back in the USAir ground school, but the assumption there was that you would have company mechanics to open it.  A long handled socket wrench was always carried in each plane to reach this valve from the ground.  Since this was an off line charter, I was the only person who knew how to do this and I had to go outside, while the FO stayed inside to get the engine started.  I guess I used all the right cuss words and we got it going and continued the saga of my first trip as a captain. 

This was an El Nino year, with lots of weird weather.  While we were working our way back to San Francisco, trucks and vans were being blown over on the Golden Gate Bridge and it was closed for a time.  My landing in Modesto had been decent, but the two in San Jose and San Francisco were scary.  After being cussed by the passengers at both places, we discovered that many of the scheduled flights of the day had been cancelled.  I probably should have done something like that, but I was to new to be that smart.

At a pilot meeting shortly after this, I mentioned how unprepared for all this crap hitting the fan I was when I was released to the line as a captain.  The VP of Ops said I would probably never have a day that bad again and I was lucky to get it out of the way early.  I think he was right.  It was one of those "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger" things.

I loved flying on the West Coast.  The mountains were much higher than what I was used to back east and required some more dramatic flying.  There were many cities where we would come blasting over some big mountain, then boom, the airport was way down there.  This required what many called "slam-dunk" or "crowbar" approaches.  The crowbar approach meant you open a window, throw out a crowbar, then try to beat is to the ground.  Just kidding.

The speed brakes were not very effective on the BAC, so one of the best ways to make this kind of decent was to slow and extend the landing gear.  They add lots of drag and help you descend quickly.

Palm Springs was so close to Mt. San Jacinto, which was 10,800 ft. tall, that we had to cross the ridge at 12,000 ft., then drop quickly to land at about 1000 ft. above sea level.  Approaching from the north, we crossed Mt. San Gorgonio which was 11,500 ft., the tallest in Southern California and then drop down into Banning Pass, as we flew toward the field.  Banning pass is an area of high traffic for light airplanes, so we had to be very vigilant on this maneuver.  

Santa Barbara was cool. We flew over President Reagan's ranch then did a slam dunk and a circle back to land at the airport.  Medford Oregon was another similar airport.  Reno was tricky.

All of these mountains I have mentioned in the last several chapters were cause by the tectonic plate activity along the San Andreas Fault.    This fault is a big crack in the ground and is visible from the air.  It passes near Palm Springs, goes through Banning Pass, then El Cajon Pass, along the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains, then up along the California coastal mountains to San Francisco.  There were many interesting things to gawk at, when we weren't too busy.


Braxton Hicks

Caitlin was born August 3, 1983.  That morning, I was scheduled to fly the early morning departure from Chico.  When the alarm went off, I saw that Doreen was already awake.  She told me that she was feeling something going on.  She said she thought it was Braxton Hicks.  I told her I did not know she was into country music.  Actually, Braxton Hicks is kind of fake contractions the pregnant woman's body does to work out in preparation to give birth.  

I asked her if she wanted me to call the company and say I couldn't come to work and she said no.  She was afraid it would be a false alarm.

I went to work, did all the preflight stuff and was strapped into my seat, ready to close the door, when some guy who worked in PR came running into the cockpit saying Doreen was on the phone and she was having a baby.  Wow.  I was still in my probationary year and was worried what would happen if I just got up and drove home to take her to the hospital.  Baby needs a daddy with a job.  

After a brief discussion, the PR guy said he would drive her to the hospital.  I gave him the home phone number and address.  Scheduling was notified and would have a reserve guy replace me once we got to San Francisco.  I could then jump seat back to Chico on the commuter and rush to the hospital.

The PR guy had a Porsche and Doreen always talks about riding to the hospital in that car, bouncing over the RR tracks, etc.  Guess which captain I was flying with.  He was pretty cool about things.  I was very distracted and probably making lots of mistakes.  

We went to Sacramento, then San Francisco and I got off the flight and rode home on the Twin Otter.  By the time I got there, Doreen was home.  Our landlady, Shirley, had come to pick her up.  The doctors said she was not ready.  We waited around a few hours then drove to the hospital.  I was there for the birth of my first child, a beautiful baby girl.

By this time, I was starting to get the hang of things and feeling better about my career.  The flying out there was spectacular.  Flying up and down the West Coast is very rewarding.  California, Oregon and Idaho are beautiful.  Lots of mountains.  One day one of the captains pointed out Mt. Whitney.  It is the highest mountain in the United States outside Alaska, 14,500 ft.  He said he thought there was a hiking trail to the top of that mountain, which I found fascinating.

One night, I was flying with my friend, JP, who had just upgraded to captain.  We were flying a trip we called the Oregon Trail.  It started in San Franciso, then flew to several smaller cities in the interior of California and Oregon, ending in Portland.  There was usually a layover, then a return over a similar route.  The cities changed frequently, but on this particular night, we were flying from Klamath Falls to Redding.  We circumnavigated Mt. Shasta at about 12,000 ft.  Shasta is 14,180 ft. tall, so we were below the summit and above a cloud cover.  It was a beautiful sight on a moonlit night.

We were making plans to do all the great things there are to do on the West Coast.  Going to Yosemite National Park was just one example.  Doreen and I had been doing lots of outdoor things like that since we met and thought we could continue doing so with our new baby.  We thought we were going to be in California for a long time.

My mother flew out to give us a hand for a while and Doreen's two sisters came to visit.  Part of our routine for such visits was to rent a Lincoln Towncar and drive down to San Francisco to do all the tourist stuff with our visitors.  With the sisters, we drove to Lake Tahoe and then to the Reno Air Races.  Caitlin was only a month or two old and the big unlimited, former WW II fighters made so much noise as they flew over, that they would wake her up.  We bought a papoose backpack at a yard sale and took her on a hike to Feather Falls.  For some reason, Caitlin was not impressed by Feather Falls and she was crying most of the time, very loudly.  She was turning the tables and scaring all the little animals.

After our visitors left, our landlord and next door neighbor, John Bay (great guy),  offered us the use of his pickup and Scotty Trailer.  We decided to try camping at Mt. Lassen, which was an active volcano.  We put Caitlin in her little car seat between us and headed north.  We arrived at the campground with enough daylight remaining to eat a small meal and get into the tiny Scotty for the night.  As we were eating, we were visited by several small, black tailed deer.  I'm guessing previous campers have fed them.

It didn't take long for us to realize the error of our ways.  Caitlin was crying and it was getting very cold after the sun went down.  We decided to break camp and drive down to civilization, because we knew we would get no sleep and it might be too cold for the baby.  We drove to Redding, found a hotel and got a room.  This was the first time we learned the trick of using a dresser drawer pulled out with a blanket inside as a crib for the little Boo Dinks.

Next morning, we really didn't have a plan, so we drove north toward Mt. Shasta and up to where the old ski resort had been.  It was closed because of an avalanche that had occurred there in 1978.  We walked around in the woods with Caitlin in the papoose backpack.  Then we were getting a little hungry for lunch and drove down to the town of Mt. Shasta.

This is when it gets a little weird.  I suggested going to a super market and getting stuff to make sandwiches.  Doreen went into the store as I waited with the baby in the pickup.  I had my head down, looking at a map and trying to formulate a plan for the rest of the trip.  I began to feel as if I was being watched and was startled to see a bearded dude standing right beside the truck, peering into the window, watching me as I looked at the map.  He looked mild mannered and benevolent, but I suppose Charles Manson did at one time also.

The guy looked like a hippy and when he noticed my reaction, he said he saw me looking at the map and thought I might need help.  I explained what I was doing.  He suggested driving to the old ski resort.  I explained that we had just come down from there.

I suppose I asked him a few questions about the mountain and the ski resort and he started talking about having climbed to the summit.  He said that sometimes people appear to have an aura around them while on the mountain.  He also said that, because it was a volcano, it was kind of honeycombed and had chambers, where UFOs frequently resided.  Stand by, it gets even more weirder.

The more I encouraged this guy, the deeper he went.  Eventually, he told me that during one of his climbs, he had met William Randolph Hearst and had carried on a conversation with him.  I knew that Hearst hadn't been around for a long time.

This was the point where I began wondering what the hell was taking Doreen so long.  I didn't want to just tell this guy to buzz off with my infant daughter sitting next to me, but I was really getting a serious case of the creeps.  As I looked past this hippy dude, I saw Doreen coming with the grub.  She loaded it, got in the cab and I said adios to my new friend.  Unfreaking believable.  Welcome to California.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


So, I'm feeling kind of like a fish out of water.  While at USAir, I knew I was getting rusty.  I also knew that people were meeting me as a ground school instructor, who also flew airplanes.  In my mind, I was a pilot, who was working temporarily as a ground school instructor.  I had to get out of there.

I would like to think my transition to jets and airline flying would have been seamless, if I had been flying more regularly, but we will never know.

When flying the smaller planes, you can see wings and even engines on the wings from the cockpit.  Because of the swept back wings, you can not see any of that from the cockpit of a jet.  I had to learn to use the window frame relative to the horizon for airplane attitude information when looking outside.  There are always instruments to reference for attitude information, but you have to be looking out for other planes when the weather is good.  The small airplane traffic is a major factor in California.  

The pilots are sitting far forward of the center of gravity and the center of movement of the jet and the controls are hydraulically boosted with artificial feel.  Our very old jets, with lots of hours and cycles had significant play in the controls.  Things looked and felt different. But, there was lots of flying to do, lots of hours and eventually, it started coming back.

I had opportunities to fly with some of the other captains, besides Captain Ahole and it was a pleasure most of the time.  I knew all of them from the ground school in which I had taught them the plane, back in the Burgh.

One of the not so good experiences was early in my time there.  I flew with a guy who was much older and had probably had more time to develop rust than I had.  He was a friend of the chief pilot, who had contacted him when PacEx started up.

We were going to fly a jet down to Burbank CA, which was not one of our regular stations.  Just for the record, off line charters suck.  You are really on your own.

To compound the issues, we were dispatched with a plane that had some items deferred on the Minimum Equipment List (MEL).  None of the planes had the stairs built in for the forward entry doors and the aft air stair on this plane was deferred.  We were dependent on ground based stairs.  The Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), a small engine in the tail to provide electricity and compressed air on the ground, was deferred.  We were dependent on ground based electricity and compressed air.  We needed air for air conditioning, but more importantly for starting the engines.  All airline jets use air to drive a starter motor to spin up the engines.

The weather in Burbank was not the best, not the typical sunny Southern California weather.  The ILS was out of service and we were going to have to fly an NDB approach.  You may recall my discussions about these various instrument approaches during my discussion of my time at Butler PA.  Airline pilots don't fly many NDB approaches, so they get a little nervous about them. 

The guy I was flying with was very nervous about this one and I was too dumb to know better.  Burbank is surrounded by lots of mountains and has a short runway.

As we were descending on the arrival into Burbank, the captain began slowing the plane a long way out.  I could here the controller telling a couple planes behind us to slow down.  One was an Air Cal plane and the other was PSA.  These guys probably came into this place several times a week and were very familiar.  

We kept getting slower and slower, the guys behind kept getting instructions to get slower and slower.  Finally one of the guys behind us said, "What are we following, a blimp?"  It was embarrassing.

He pranged that thing on the runway and as we rolled out, I was startled at how close the airplanes parked at the terminal gates were to the runway.

We found our way to the ramp where we were to pick up our passengers, then learned that there was not stairway readily available.  The people on the ground had to scrounge one up and that took some time.  We were not looking very competent this day.

Then when we were about to start the engines, we learned that the air cart for starting the engines did not have the right adaptor for the BAC.  This cost us more time until one that fit could be found.  We were really looking like a bunch of amateurs.  Any one who would dispatch a plane with no APU and no stairs on an off line charter is not a professional.  We completed the mission, but it was a goat rope.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Ek = ½ mv2

Much of flying is about that formula.  You don't have to sit there and do the math, as much as you have to feel it.  What it is saying is that Kinetic Energy equals one half the product of Mass, times the Velocity (speed) squared, of a moving object .  For example, if the speed is 5 miles per hour, the mass would be multiplied by 25, then divided by 2 to equal the kinetic energy.  If the speed was 10 mph, the speed multiplier would be 100.  Small increase in speed, big increase in kinetic energy.  

If that is making your head hurt, let it suffice to say that the force at which you run into something is reduced considerably with each small reduction of speed.  If you are going to hit something, reduce your speed as much as possible.

Good pilots know this kind of stuff instinctively and they know it better, because they just feel it.  They don't have to crunch the numbers.  They fly the plane.

A plane that is sitting on the ramp, has no kinetic energy.  Once it starts moving, the kinetic energy starts increasing at one half mass times speed squared.  When it takes off and climbs, it is building more energy.  When you reach 30,000 feet, at 500 miles per hour, you have stored lots of energy in your plane.  You have about a 100 mile radius to glide your plane back to the ground.  If all of your engines flamed out, you still have lots of options for a landing spot.  You just have to get it right the first time.  You can't go around.

Talk to a fighter pilot enough and you will eventually hear the word energy.  They feel it in the seat of the pants.  They see it in the airspeed indicator and the angle of attack indicator.  They know instinctively when they have an energy advantage and when the enemy has one.  To them, it can be a matter of life and death.

With all that introduction, let me tell you about all the trouble I had with my early experience flying jet airplanes.

By the time I got to Pacific Express, I had not been flying regularly for 4 years, just a little time in the simulators and flying some friends' small planes.  Lots of rust.  Combining this with the transition from small, piston engine, propeller driven planes to jets and I was behind the curve for a while.

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so. Mark Twain
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mark_twain.html

I had to learn some new stuff.  In a plane with propellers, the props act like a brake, when you reduce power.  They are like a big disc.  Jets are much cleaner, aerodynamically.  They don't slow down very well.  When you are trying to descend and slow at the same time, you have a problem.

For normal planning purposes, we would use a 3 to 1 ratio - 3 miles per 1,000 feet of descent.  It takes about 1 mile to reduce speed 10 knots.  The plane must be slowed to an indicated speed of 250 knots below 10,000 ft., because that is where the smaller, slower airplanes tend to congregate.  For example, if you were landing at an airport at sea level and descending from 30,000 ft. at 300 knots indicated, you would start descending 100 miles from the airport and throw in 5 miles for slowing at 10,000 ft., then a few miles to slow down to the maximum speed for extending your flaps and landing gear.  A mile for each 10 knots that speed is below 250.  Piece o' cake.  Second grade math, eh?

If you start down too late, you have to do things like use the speed brakes or make a bunch of inefficient turns or a combination.  You are thereby admitting that you screwed up.  If you start down too early, you have to add power during the descent.  Yep, you screwed up and everyone knows it.  

Then, when you are going to the bigger airports, you have crossing restrictions at certain altitudes and speeds.  If you mess that up, you get in trouble with the FAA.  After you have done this for a while, it is second nature.  For a new guy, who is rusty, it is a headache.

Those are just some examples of the issues I was dealing with.  Then there is the human element.  Chico was a small base, only 4 crews.  We bid for our schedules, based on seniority.  I was the junior first officer.  Of the 4 captains, one was an asshole.  Guess who got to fly with him all the time.  So, while I'm struggling with getting myself up to speed, I'm flying with a guy who has less than zero interest in being helpful.  He believed it was not his job to teach some newbie.  

When I left Butler, my flying confidence was as high as it could be without getting myself in trouble.  Now, it was as low as it had been since I started flying.  I was beginning to wonder if I had made a wise career choice and I mean the decision to be an airline pilot.  

Then, Captain Ahole starts asking me if I still thought I had made the right move coming to work for Pacific Express, because things were not going well.  The company wasn't turning a profit.

The way I heard it, they had come into the Los Angeles Basin/San Francisco Bay market (The second biggest airline market in the world.  The biggest is the East Coast Shuttle.)  with a big splash.  Good looking flight attendants with short skirts, with slits up the side, free booze and fares lower than anyone could make money with.  Then they tried to bring the fares up to where they could make money with their lower cost structure, but the competition could not.  The competition kept the fares down where PacEx had started them.  They could subsidize them with other routes in their system.  That is the classic way legacy airlines battled cheap fare, new entry airlines. 

I had lots of things on my mind.  That is about the time Doreen told me she was pregnant.  We had lots of fun experiences in Chico because of the expected arrival of our first child.  

Some of my favorite actually happened when I was on a trip.  Remember that we were boarding horses for a couple owners.  We had 6 horses at the peak.  Our landlords fences were not the best and sometimes the horses got out.  The neighbor would call and say the horses were in their field, eating grass.  I have this image of Doreen walking down the road in her pregnant lady dress, carrying a bucket of oats, as the 6 horses followed her back to the ranchero.

Another one is when the wife of one of my fellow Chico first officers found out Doreen was having a baby and did not know anyone out there.  She is Linda and was married to my pal, John Patrick (JP).  He had met her in Pittsburgh, when he was attending the USAir BAC 1-11 school there.  Linda put together a baby shower with the wives of several of the wives of other pilots.  All women who Doreen did not know and never saw again.  Burgh Girls stick together.

I was there for the third event.  We took a couple of the horses for a ride one day and were riding around a fence on a slope when the horse Doreen was riding started bucking for some reason known only to the horse.  She was far more experienced at riding than I and managed to hold on some how.  I didn't even see it, because I was riding in front of her.  When she told me about it, I said that would be the end of the horse riding until the baby was born.