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.