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


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.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Flight Levels, Car Rentals and Foreigners.

Today was an adventure. Thanks to a car accident and twice being stuck behind school buses, my 35 minute drive to work turned into an hour and 10.

This was the big day, marked by the beginning of my first flight assignment. We saw more delays this morning, because a big metal plate installed in the modification needed to be recut slightly. I got to help with that, then run off and eat a quick lunch, then run back, jump in the plane, and start up.

We headed up to Markham, Ontario, where the full equipment is to be installed, before we fly down to south Florida. With strong winds slowing us down, it became a solid two hour trip, arriving near 4pm. That flight marked my first ever, into class A airspace. The flight levels. We settled into cruise flight at 20,000 feet and I played with the autopilot, handled radio calls, and called flight service to get an update on the weather at our destination. Skies were beginning to clear up a bit. At departure, our destination had a solid 800 foot ceiling, so I was expecting a decent possibility of having to shoot the GPS approach in. And from Pennsylvania on up, we cruised high over a solid layer of clouds. Over Lake Ontario, the skies cleared a little. As we descended down through a few clouds, we found ourselves looking at the water, downtown Toronto off to thte left, and a nice clear path to thte airport.

After landing, we secured a rental car and hotel. We rode back to the rental car office with a guy from Romania. Unusual guy, our driver. He kept talking about how good a life he had back home, all the nice cars he drives, etc. Mike- the captain- and I share a couple common traits: neither of us has a television at home, and neither of us cares in the least about cars. Truthfully, we humored the guy, but that was about it. I kept having to stifle a laugh, because every time the guy opened his mouth, he sounded exactly like Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd, doing the "wild and crazy guys" skits from Saturday Night Live.

Everything we tried to do today seemed to get delayed. After what seemed like forever gettting the rental car contract, we headed out to a local restaurant that Mike knows (he's been up here a couple times before). Frankie Tomato's. Italian buffet restaurant. Nice decor, two whole rooms full of all kinds of very nice, quality food. It was really hard picking only what would actually fit into my stomach. So much more there I would have loved to try.

Finally, at 8:30 in the evening, we managed to check into the hotel. Tomorrow, the equipment installation may move quickly, in which case we get a quick tetst flight, then fly to Florida. If not, we will be back in the same hotel tomorrow night.

It was a long day, but we managed to accomplish something.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Skies Are A Little Less Safe Now

Of the many people who have recently become private pilots, there is at least one more now, who perhaps shouldn't have. I refer to Mrs. Confusion. A couple weeks ago she got it.

After my talk with her about what it would take, (hoping but doubting she would be smart about it), she determined to study hard. Not long ago, she had her checkride and passsed. One might say she earned it, but I have very little doubt that she was just a little lucky, and performed well that day, and managed to prep for the oral exam itself, without really learning all a pilot needs to know. The main thing I care about at this point- to be perfectly pragmatic- is that my signature is not on the endorsement.

Many people get a private license, who should not really be pilots, and she has joined their ranks. Some manage to eventually become safe, some eventually stop using the license, and some become charred airplane-shaped craters in the ground. The disturbing part is that plenty of the latter group take innocent people with them.

I congratulated her on passing the test when I saw her later that day. I know the examiner very well, and I know it isn't a softball of a test. But I also know that he abides by the practical test standards, and that he is sometimes forced to pass someone who he knows is not going to be safe. It happens all too often.

After flying with her for about half of the 150 hours it took her to get the license (that is about double the national average), I am confident that her anxiety about new situations is likely what will keep her safest. She isn't going to go into unfamiliar places alone.

However, I give it about an 80% chance that she will have some sort of incident or accident in the next year or so. Most likely either damaging the landing gear, or something relatively minor. Her husband is far more likely there, since he lacks her level of anxiety, but has no more clue than she does. One of them will either get lost and wander into the wrong airspace, or have a mid-air collision (neither knows how to communicate).

I wish them well, and hope I'm wrong. Either way, it is a reminder that there are unpredictable people up there.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Things Goin' On

The last month has been truly crazy. I spent a decent bit of time looking for a job. The back story is a bit complex, but here is the abbreviated version: The flight schools were merging, and we had discussed my becoming the chief flight instructor. I was somewhat interested, but not convinced. For my part, I was not ready to commit, unless they wewre prepared to show me a commensurate pay. I never got an offer, which was fine with me, because they were low-balling it anyway, and I was becoming convinced that I needed to move on to something else.

All that led me to start looking for a new job, preferably one that would give me multi-engine turbine experience, and ideally one that would put me where I really want to be in the longer term. After an unusually short time sending out resumes, the good-old-boy network did its job.

I had previously met one of the managers at a company near here, and started the interview process, to become a pilot/ mechanic assistant in their fleet of King Air's. Oddly, at the same time, that manager became one of my flight students. He had plenty of experience in King Air's and C-130's, but had no single-engine license. So while I trained him, we were through the interview process.

My in-person interview came up, and if he had not already been convinced of hiring me, the simulator ride did the job. I aced that, and instead of having to wait a week to find out, they gave me a verbal job offer before the interview was over. A week later, just 4 days ago, I started work.

The job is officially part-time, because thtey only give full-time positions to people with mechanic licenses. However, part-time can easily become full-time hours, and pays well enough that it isn't even an issue. Case in point, in my first three days there, I got 36 hours of work done. Being part-time also gives me extreme flexibility. Thursday, two hours into the day, I had completed most of what I needed to do for the week, and merely had to wait until my first flight asssignment. So I simply told them I would take off, and be back in Friday afternoon to check on the flight status.

The job is ultimately about flexibility. I have to be extremely flexible with my availability, but I have flexibility for my time while not on specific assignment. The vast majority of asignments will take me away from the area, which means I will spend 75% of my time living in hotel rooms, and traveling around the country, and sometimes in other countries.

My first flight was truly a trial by fire. It was somewhat unexpected. Wednesday I showed up and performed whatever maintenance work I could get my hands on. I was still very much the deer-in-the-headlights, with all the new information my brain was trying to process. All of a sudden, I was told they would like me to fly as first officer, down to Alabama and back, and I would be leaving that afternoon, getting back later in the evening. I hand-flew, shunning the autopilot, in order to get a feeling for the plane. Along the way I had to skirt barely around level 5 thunderstorms, getting to the destination shortly after their hailstorms, and landing while enjoying the impressive show of lightning. We were largely convinced we would experience a lightning strike, but thankfully that didnt happen. The return trip, we still dealt with some storms on departure, but the rest was largely uneventful. Flying that plane is rather easy. The systems will be the hardest part, but I'm studying. Landings are interesting, partly because I'm finding them rather easy, but largely because the final approach speeds are suddenly almost double what I've been accustomed to. Instead of 60 knots, suddenly it is 120 knots.

Flexibility will be the key. The other pilots told me that the best thing would be simply to keep a packed travel bag in the car at all times, because you just never know. And I'm already learning that. Either today, tomorrow or Monday, I fly out on my first asssignment. But I won't know until shortly beforehand. We fly to Toronto, spend two days there, then off to Florida for a week, then up to the Chicago area for two weeks, then back home.

It sounds like a crazy job, but this is very much the type of job I want. I don't know what will happen in the long term, but I could see myself staying at least 5 years, if not a lot longer. So, my life is taking a significant turn. All of a sudden I am getting to fly nice, fast equipment, being paid to train toward the mechanic certificates, getting a world of flexibility built into my schedule, building important experience, and still have the opportunity to instruct on the side.

Life is good.