Friday, August 18, 2006

El Capitan

So, I had figured I might get a week off work after getting home. That turned into a three day weekend. Then, I had to be ready to do my upgrade training, to become a captain.

The first day of training, I found it difficult to get my mind on where each control is, beecause I had been flying a different model for a while. But the flight training was completed in 3 days. Then I spent almost a week trying to get my company checkride completed. Our first attempt, we departed the runway, and I got the pleasure of a simulated enegine failure 200 feet up. Then just after dealing with that, we experienced a real instrument failure, and had to return to the airport.

Finally on Thursday, I got to complete the ride. And just in time. From the moment we exited the plane, I was on standby for departing on my first captain assignment. A small delay kept us in town for one more day.

Today, we departed the area and headed to Chesapeake, VA, just an hour away from home. Today was a long day though. Up at 6:30am, and didn't get to the hotel tonight until 9:30pm. Included in there was almost 6 hours of flying. So it couldn't be too bad.

On my first flight as a captain, I got to deal with building cumulus clouds, some turbulence, a reasonable amount of actual instrument conditions, and an instrument approach. Not a bad start to it all.

Now, at midnight, I've finally gotten some dinner, made the plans for tomorrow, and finished the daily reports. Fortunately, we aren't launching too early tomorrow, so I should get at least 7 hours of sleep in the end.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Long Flight Home

Evening of my last day in Afghanistan. I'm sitting in my dark bedroom, illuminated only by the somewhat harsh glow of the laptop screen. My light fixture hasn't been working for the last few days. After tinkering with it, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle, so I resigned to dealing primarily with solar illumination for the last couple days of my time here.

The flight out tomorrow leaves me with the whole morning to finish packing, but it won't take that long. I never fully unpacked, and literally lived out of the suitcase.

The last two days have been purely relaxation. The new pilot has taken over, and my job was to rest. Both of the last two days I've walked to the military base nearby, for lunch. It is about 3/4 mile each way. It is a minor thing in some ways, but those have been the first times I've been out in the streets alone since being here. There is a little risk to it, but I've grown comfortable with the surroundings.

Today's walk home was interesting. Usually, the street children come up to you trying to sell anything they can, but mostly give up after a minute or so. Less, if you keep walking. Today, two of them walked the entire route home with me, continuing the sales pitch. I did end up giving them a little bit of money, largely just for the effort involved. I'd love to help all of them, but it is difficult to draw a reasonable line, knowing how poor many of them are.

Tomorrow, the long ordeal begins. I'd rather take 5 times longer and fly the plane home myself, than step onto an airline flight. I leave the house at noon, and sit in the Kabul airport for a couple hours for my supposed 2:10pm departure. I say supposed, because in my time here, I've never seen or heard of the flight actually leaving close to schedule. Usually it is about 2-3 hours behind. Which is fine this time, because it will save some of the frustration with my 7 hour layover in Delhi, India.

On the way over, I had a 16 hour layover in Delhi, and got to stay in a hotel rather than the international lounge. Much nicer. This time, no reprieve. Then, if that wasn't fun enough, the flight from there to Newark, NJ is scheduled to take 15 hours and 20 minutes. I only hope I can sleep through most of it. Then another few hours layover, another flight to Dulles, rental car, and a 2 1/2 hour drive back to the office. Return the rental, hope my car starts after nearly 6 weeks of sitting, and finally get home about 35 hours after starting. Then, possibly a quick turn around at home, and a 4 hour drive to NC.

7,000 statute miles, in 35 hours, for an average speed of 200 mph.

I want to be home, but I'd rather be here than be on that trip.

Friday, June 30, 2006

My, How Things Change

So, a little update is in order. I had a little trouble dealing with this blog after the new job, because there is a limit to how much I can say about the specific jobs, or the equipment on board the plane. Some of our customers are competitors against each other, and much of the equipment is proprietary. So I couldn't do much about the blog.

In my first two assignments, I spent 5 weeks on the road, traveling to Canada twice, Florida, Illinois, Maryland and New York. Not a bad time at all. I was still starting to get used to the job, so there were small hurdles, but nothing major.

I have learned not to count on much of anything though. Every time they tell me what the plan will be for the upcoming asssignment, I can be sure the plan will change a couple times before we get to that point.

Case in point was after my first trip. After three weeks, I got home expecting two weeks off. Three hours after leaving the office, they called me. Three days after getting back, I was gone another two weeks.

I was told that the plan would be to upgrade to captain, then head out to another assignment in Michigan/Ohio. So I started to understand. That asssignment was probably the only thing that was definitely NOT going to happen.

And it didn't happen, but this time in a much more grandiose way. I did start the captain upgrade. We got through all of a half day of training, before that plan changed.

Now, of all places, I'm in Afghanistan, flying the 200 model King Air, pictured here. Actually, that is the exact plane I'm flying. I'm just about finished with my assignment now. I was brought over for 5 weeks, to cover an empty slot.

In retrospect, I think flying in the states will seem rather tame now. Last week, we flew a home-made, non-precision instrument approach down below our made-up minimums, in a dust-storm, in 1 mile visibility, to find a dirt runway surrounded by mile after mile of same-colored dirt. All while overflying an area with significant current Taliban activity, and a not-insignificant risk of being shot at with machine guns, or rocket-propelled grenades. And this is not terribly uncommon now.

Prior to this assignment, I had only had special VFR once, in almost 6 years of flying. In the month of July, I've flown special VFR 10 times. I know rather well, the sound of landmines, and machine gun fire. We had to re-route once last week, because of a car bomb on our drive to the airport. We've had to hold while airborne, because of a threat of rocket attack. Certain landing strips are always quick turn-arounds, in order to minimize risk. In some places, we have code words for our position on approach, just in case the wrong people are listening.

Walk around town, and there is some risk of being kidnapped and killed. Go downtown, and there is a higher risk of a car bomb. Go out of town, and you'll likely be killed by bandits. Take a hike in un-trodden areas, and you may well step on a landmine.

Funny though, despite all that, I've enjoyed my time here. I wouldn't mind staying longer. I've grown accustomed to the heat. New personal record: 117 degrees. (the other pilot claims it was 119, and we arent sure though). Maybe we will split the difference.

When I first got here, I was in a very foreign country, alone, and trying to find my contact. Now, it is sort've like home. A bit. Afghanis are now people in my mind, as opposed to just random foreigners. If you know what I mean. There are plenty of good ones, despite the bad press. Most of them just want to live their lives. Our driver is as upset with the Taliban as anyone I've met. Religiously, it seems to border on being a 3rd-world poverty-stricken version of the beginnings of a post-Christian society. Most still practice Islam, but many just seem to go through the motions.

The ones I've met seem genuinely glad we are here. They've spent far too many years being ruled. Soviet Union, Taliban, you name it. Now, as long as the US doesn't abuse the situation, we would have friends here.

I've seen some interesting things here. Some of it is classified, so I can't say too much. I've always wanted to be able to say that. Now I actually can. Cool.

So, I'm heading home in a couple days. Tomorrow is my last flight, then the next pilot replaces me. Then I get a couple days to relax before the long, long, long, long flight home.

Since I never did get to do that upgrade, now I get to look forward to upgrading in the 90's and the 200 models. At the same time. I better get to studying.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Summary

Summary of the last month:

Toronto, Ontario (2 days). Panama City, FL (2 days). Sarasota, FL (5 days). back to Panama City (1 day). Back to Sarasota (5 days). Back to Toronto (2 days). Home for three days. Off to Bloomington, IL (5 days). Frederick, MD (2 days). Rochester, NY (one day so far).

I always liked to travel. I'm getting that wish in spades now. Four weeks since I took my first flight assignment, I've logged 122 flight hours. That's about as fast as I could have imagined.

Flying the plane in normal conditions is really no big deal now. It doesn't feel big anymore. Or fast. It is just a plane. The runways seem bigger lately.

I still feel behind on learning the systems. Partly, that is because they have upped my schedule. A week from today, they want me to begin the process of upgrading to Captain. That feels way too quick to me. Of course, I tend to think I need to know everything there could possibly be to know, before I start that. The truth is, thats what the training will be for. Still, I was originally told they hoped I could upgrade by July. Now we are talking about the end of May, just 5 weeks after I started flying.

I've settled into a nice groove. This is the second captain I've dealt with. They both have their differences, but both have been good. Willing to answer all the questions I come up with. Or willing to admit not knowing the answer sometimes (that can tend to be an exception to the rule).

The last two days we've dealt with the more tiring side of this job. Flying around northern Maryland, in gusty, turbulent winds. Strong enough that the autopilot couldn't keep a steady altitude. That meant we had to fly by hand the entire time. But all went well.

We made it to Rochester, NY this afternoon. Now, sitting in my hotel room, listening to the wind howling past my window, I suspect tomorrow will be more of the same.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sometimes you just have to find humor wherever it shows up.

Mike and I made it back home from Toronto late last night. I drove home and got about 6 hours of sleep before having to get back up and drive in. During the course of the morning I decided I was inescapably klutzy. I managed to slice open my thumb with a razor blade.

But with only minimal injuries, we managed to get the plane ready, and fly out in the early afternoon. Three and a half hours later, we were shutting down in Panama City, Florida.

That flight was a bit boring though. There's only just so much you can do, when the autopilot is doing its job, and air traffic controllers don't do anything to complicate the flight.

So I found myself staring out the windows, and got to thinking about a lesser-known Monty Python sketch. It isn't technically Python, but actually John Cleese's "How to Irritate People" video. It begins with two pilots sitting in the cockpit of an airliner, bored to tears. One of them starts the "I spy with my little eye..." game. Of course, up there, they don't have many options. Cloud. Sky. etc.

Anyway, I got to thinking that way myself. Not an amazingly humorous story. Sorry about that. But sometimes you have to take what you get. On the plus side, often the exciting flights are exciting for all the wrong reasons.

At the least, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Florida, and waiting until morning, when I get to fly offshore for several hours. And there is a possibility that on this segment of the trip, we may end up going to the Bahamas. Never been there before.

We met up with the two client reps who are staying in the same hotel (as will usually be the case). We all went out and found a good seafood dinner. Tomorrow we fly two offshore assignments, then we spend the night, and fly to another location the next morning.

It took me several hours after arriving to realize we were now on Central time. That gives me a precious extra hour to get a little sleep.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Keeping up with the Americanses

After 34 years of life in the US, I've become accustomed to observing the effects of stupid laws. I've spent just enough time in other countries (10 others, at last count), that I know we aren't unique in that respect. And it appears that our friendly neighbors in the Great White North are working to keep up with us.

I've been to Canada somewhere between one and two dozen times. I lost count a long time ago. Usually I don't spend much time watching television. Not really a favorite pastime anyway. So far on this trip, we've spent a lot of time just waiting. This morning has been no exception. My main interest there is generally the weather, just so I know what to expect when planning to fly. But this morning while waiting, I found myself watching a news channel.

It seems that there's a new law up here, limiting the width of driveways to 5 feet wider than your garage door. The result is that people are going to be ticketed when they park in any non-compliant part of their own driveways.

Now, I wasn't paying enough attention to discover if this new law covers all of the Toronto area, or just one of the outlying towns, or what. But it is rather reassuring to know that our northern neighbors are working hard to keep up with us in stupid legislation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Standby

Hurry up and wait. That's been the plan since we got here. We hurried up to Toronto, and they didn't start working on installing the equipment. That was then planned for 9am. we got breakfast, and waited. Then it was to be 10am. Then "we'll call when we are ready." Almost noon now, and still waiting.

Sitting around the hotel room, I can't help but be amused, because I am getting paid for this. Still, I'd rather be out doing a test flight, than playing on the laptop and watching television. We expect to be here tonight at this rate. originally, we were thinking we might be halfway to Florida by now.

Unlike Mike, I actually remembered to bring a jacket. Good thing, as a cold front is coming through, and it will be freezing tonight. Then we are headed to south Florida, where the high's will be near 90. Quite a change.