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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Flying Whales

The UPS 747 simulator was in Dallas.  After ground school, I flew down there for training.  I met a guy named Geary Chancey, who was going to be the flight engineer for my simulator training.  We became great friends immediately.  He was a former Marine Corp pilot and had just finished training himself.

I flew all my Initial Operating Experience flying on domestic flights to Dallas or Portland.  The final flight of IOE was to Honolulu, Hawaii and I was told this was going to be my over water training leg.  The instructor/check airman was Rick Barr, who would eventually be the top management pilot at UPS.  

This was close to the end of my first, probationary year at UPS and I was due for a TLA.  During the company indoctrination classes, we had been told about TLAs.  That stands for Talk, Listen, Act.  I was going to get a chance to Talk, UPS would listen and then Act on what I said if they thought what I told them was a good idea.

They claimed that they understood that we all came from varied backgrounds that they wanted us to infuse new blood into this old company.  We were supposed to observe the company during our probationary year and then point out areas where we thought they may be able to improve.  SMH.

At the time, I took this seriously and thought long and hard about what I could bring to that conversation, that could not be brought by every other pilot.  I concluded that it was my training in the Army as an instructor and my experience in aviation as a general aviation flight instructor, flight engineer simulator and ground school instructor, airline ground school instructor and airline check airman.  Especially important were the Army classes on instructing.  I always thought they were excellent.

In observing instruction at UPS, I came to the same conclusion that I had come to at all those levels of aviation instruction.  People are put into instructor positions mostly because they know aviation, but not because they know instructing.  They make lots of mistakes as instructors.

For example, the Army classes taught me that when you are pointing to a chalk board or other exhibit, be careful to do it so that you can face the class.  If you turn toward the wall, the people in the back of the room may not be able to hear you.  I witnessed such an event in my DC-8 ground school, pointed it out to the instructor and he told me to sit in the front row.  Unacceptable. 

Management pilots would frequently use TLAs as an excuse to buy dinner or drinks for line pilots and put it on their expense accounts.  Therefore, I had a grand total of 3 TLAs during my first year.

The first was in Cologne Germany, the day after a manager had grabbed the lion's share of a bar tab and realized what he had done next day.  We all took a walk along the Rhein River and made a stop at a cafe, during which he asked us what we were expecting in the upcoming contract negotiations.  I didn't think he should be asking us that kind of stuff and I sure as hell didn't think my fellow pilots should be answering that, but they did.  One idiot even said his brother in law, who was an accountant, thought we already made too much.  That is ridiculous, because we were at the bottom of the airline industry at that time.  For some reason, we all got up and left before I had a chance to say my piece on that and that is a good thing.  I would have pissed off the other pilots and might have gotten myself fired.

Another TLA was in Denver, when a manager wanted to buy the crew dinner.  Then the final was with Rick Barr at lunch in Honolulu during a torrential rain storm.

At all 3, I explained that I thought it might be a good idea to send all of our instructors to a class similar to the ones I attended at the Non Commissioned Officer Academy at Ft. Knox, or to hire an instructor from there who was retiring from the Army.  All 3 of the managers told my they thought my idea was great, that it was one of the most original suggestions they had heard and the all took lots of notes. I retired from UPS more than 20 years later and they never created a class for their instructors.  Oh, well.  That should tell you a lot.  As I told you, Rick Barr became the highest ranking management pilot at UPS and the other guy, Doug Ward, became the chief pilot of the eastern US and Europe.  These were guys who could have gotten things done, but they didn't.

While all this was going on, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. UPS was part of CRAF and the entire 747 fleet was dedicated to flying supplies to the desert nations from which the counter attack would be made. 

My very first trip after being released to the line was to deadhead to Shannon Ireland on passenger airlines, wait for a 747 inbound from Navy Norfolk and then fly it to Naval Air Station Sigonella, then on to Rome.  I was scheduled to fly from Louisville to JFK airport in New York on USAir, then on to Shannon on Are Lingus.  At the gate in Louisville, I met the captain and flight engineer.  We were told by the agents at the gate that the flight would be departing 90 minutes late, because of a delay involving an inbound crew.

The captain was Ernie Medina (not that Ernest Medina) and the engineer was Clark Palmer.  We had never met before, Clark was a new hire and Ernie was one of the most meticulous pilots I have ever flown with, almost too meticulous.

We took some seats and do what all UPS pilots do when they get a chance to talk.  We bitched about the company.  When we thought it was getting close to time to start boarding, we went to the gate podium and were told that the flight had been announced, boarded and it departed.  We were astounded.  How had we missed all that? I guess we were so involved in our gripe session, we were oblivious to what was happening around us.

Ernie was very upset and nervous.  He was always careful to avoid opportunities to screw up like this.  The agents told us they had a flight departing soon for Laguardia airport and they could get us on it.  Our bags were on the JFK flight, but we could get them after we used ground transportation between the airports.  This could all be done, but it was going to be tight and stressful.

At Laguardia, we got a cab and got stuck in New York City traffic.  Ernie was very up tight.  We developed a plan for 2 of us to find the baggage carousel with our stuff and one of us to go to the Aer Lingus gate and try to prevail upon them to delay the flight, if necessary.  We finally got to JFK, Clark and I rounded up our stuff and did the OJ run through the terminal deal, only to learn that the Aer Lingus flight was delayed.  Our stress levels went down and we had an enjoyable flight across the Atlantic. 

We stayed at a little hotel near the airport in Limerick and I looked up Cleary in the phone book.  There were lots of them. It was almost like Smith or Jones in the US.  I didn't sleep well.

When we went to the airport, it was raining.  We met the plane, being flown in by me future pal, Aaron Gould, who reminds me of a cross between Ving Rhames and Carl Weathers.  When we got going, I had my first experience trying to understand foreign air traffic controllers speaking in English, which is the international language of aviation.

Being a newby, I was far behind the airplane again.  There were some differences in the way arrivals and departures were built in the charts and Ernie was working over time to keep me up to speed.  This was the first, but not the last time I felt great respect for our international captains, who could take a huge airplane and two guys who did not yet know how to do their jobs, and literally go anywhere in the world.  I had years of experience being a captain in my own country, but this was a totally new game.

We stayed in Rome for several days.  Rome was a staging airport for UPS to fly its planes into the desert.  Those countries did not want the planes and crews laying over there (I was told it was because of limited ramp space), so as soon as the plane was unloaded and refueled, it was flown back to Rome, then back to the US for another load.  Since the planes were empty, we could load them up with fuel and make it from Rome to Louisville.  The international identifier for Louisville Standiford Airport is KSDF and many of the European enroute controllers had never seen that as a destination before.  One asked me where it was.  I said Louisville Kentucky, but he did not seem to understand or know where that was.  I said Kentucky Derby.  He got it.

As we began the process of going out over the ocean on the way back, it became painfully apparent that I did not know what I was supposed to do.  Ernie had to give me a quick class.  I was to learn a year later, that my trip to Honolulu did not qualify me to fly the North Atlantic or the North Pacific.  Training on the Atlantic would have qualified for the other two, because it was the most difficult, but neither of the others worked for the North Atlantic.  When the records people learned of the mistake, they had me take a test to prove I knew the Atlantic procedures.  By that point, I had been flying it many times and it was no problem.  The test was a CYA for UPS.

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