Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pardon The Interruption

I have an annoying habit, apparently.  According to my wife, I have a tendency to jump in on a conversation at the most inopportune time.  She says my interruptions cause her to loose her train of thought---and I'll add, sometimes her temper!  In my defense, I have a small brain.  When a relevant thought comes to mind, I figure I better put it out there before I forget what (I think) needs to be said.  Her usual reaction when one of these events occurs is to simply stop talking.  After the moment of silence, I'll say:  "Go ahead and finish your story."  If it has been one of those days she might reply:  "How would you feel if someone kept interrupting your conversations?"  And because my brain is small, I"ll say something like:  "It happens all the time---ATC has a frequency change; the flight attendants want to know when we're going to land; we get a ACARS message from dispatch; all sorts of things---so finish your story."  As I recall, the last time I put my foot in my mouth, she finished with:  "And you don't find that frustrating?"  After pondering the question for a bit, I said:  "Not really, the frustrating part is trying to remember what we were talking about before the interruption."

Speaking of frustrating. . .

ATC frequency congestion is something that frustrates everyone.  Airline pilots, corporate pilots, private pilots, and air traffic controllers all suffer together.  On crowded frequencies folks are always stepping on each other's transmissions.  It takes three times the effort to send or receive a message.  Calls are easily missed.  And then there's the occasional pilot that thinks he (or she) is the only guy in the sky and just flips the switch and starts talking. It's pretty easy to tell when a controller is nearing the end of his (or her) shift, or is just having a bad day.  "EVERYONE ON THE FREQUENCY STAND BY. . .  TRANS AMERICAN 2107 ONLY!  TRANS AMERICAN 2107, START YOUR DESCENT NOW, CROSS THIRTY SOUTH OF LINCOLN AT ONE ONE THOUSAND."

Occasionally you have a flight number that is particularly frustrating to operate under.  For whatever reason that sequence of numbers is hard to remember---almost always the third or forth call sign of the day.  Before you press the transmit button you have to first verify who you are; constantly checking the flight number clipped to your chart holder. Everything is out of sync.  After a few missed calls your air traffic controller will likely get sarcastic:  "LISTEN UP TRANS AMERICAN 2107, THIS IS THE THIRD CALL. . ."  A sarcastic reply in kind rarely helps the situation, and to be honest, is unprofessional, but every once and a while a gentle reminder that your chair is the one that is moving along at 450 knots helps to even the playing field.

A couple of one-liners. . .

A few months back one of our neighbors down at Jellystone Air Park was grumbling about an altercation he'd had with a sarcastic air traffic controller.  A call was missed and he was chastised severely.  When asked to elaborate, he said:  "Something about his tone just got under my skin. . .  I keyed the microphone and said:  The first time you called I dropped the mic.  The second time you called, I think we stepped on each other. . .  Now how can I be of assistance?"   I have to admit I do like a quick wit.  I've filed that one away for future use.

Back in my 737 first officer days I was flying with a fellow that was also quick witted.  I can't remember the airport (probably Chicago O'Hare) but the taxi instructions we received from the ground controller were the most confusing I had ever heard.  Sensing my frustration, my captain said:  "Just tell him we're from out of town. . ."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rick Maury's Laughter-Silvered Wings

Photo by Wayne Maury

Brethren!  Fantastic news!  Rick Maury's RV-7 project is officially an airplane!  The inspection team from the Columbia, South Carolina Division of the Administration de L'aviation Federale pronounced it airworthy on Friday June 12, 2015.  N658RM danced the skies above Jellystone Air Park the following morning---three days shy of the 41st anniversary of Rick's first powered solo flight on June 16, 1974.  The Jellystoners salute you, Captain Maury, for a job well done!

Rick Maury, June 13, 2015, Rock Hill, SC  KUZA

High Flight
By John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh!  I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.  Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. 

Up, up the long delirious burning blue,
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle, flew -
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Thirty Year Quest

Last week I received the following text message from Brother Hogan:

"Got a phone call from Las Vegas last night.  On a shot in the dark I asked a guy if he might have a set of Mall Airways wings. . .  My very first employer, and the only set missing from the ensemble. . .  A $40 PayPal transaction and I should have them by Friday.  A thirty year search is now over!"

It's time to reminisce. . .

In October 1982, just as I was finishing my CFII training at FIT Aviation in Melbourne, Florida, Brother Hogan was a new hire Piper Navajo First Officer at Mall Airways in Albany, New York. Starting pay:  $150 per week, plus one half share of a $25 per diem for each layover.  Hotel rooms were shared.  (Female pilots had to buy their own room if they wanted privacy.) Uniforms were rented; International Commuter Brown, 100% polyester. It's true what they say:  "Nothing breathes like plastic."  Mark was excited to have the job. He was building multi-engine time; about 100 hours a month, sometimes more.  (This was before the FAA capped flight time limits at 1200 hours per year for Part 135 operations.)

Three months later I was a part time flight instructor/part time charter pilot at Thurston Aviation in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thurston was the surviving FBO at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.  As a benefit, all employees were offered free use of a Cessna 172 for flight training purposes.  In January 1983 there were no flight instructors on staff.  My deal with Thurston went something like this:  Thurston would pay me $25 a week, as a retainer for insurance purposes, to be the flight instructor.  Employees would contract directly with me; I could charge whatever I wanted.  Since I did not have a multi-engine rating, Thurston would provide training in a Cessna 310.  After I passed my check ride they would hire me as a part time charter pilot at $25 per hour.  When my part time pay reached $200 per week they would put me on full time.  The charge for the multi-engine rating would be $1000, which I could payroll deduct, later, after I was making money.  Just like Brother Hogan, I was excited to have the job.  I was building multi-engine time, but at a much slower pace---maybe 40 hours per month.  We were both putting in the same amount of duty time, but whereas he was always flying, I was usually sitting in some out of the way FBO, waiting on passengers.

I suspect that first winter at Mall Airways was an eye-opener for Brother Hogan---trying to learn his craft in the wind, rain, snow, sleet, ice, and fog (sometimes all on one leg) in upstate New York---all from the right seat of a Piper Navajo, and then later in a Beech(craft) 99.  I get the cold shakes just thinking about it.  Here's what Mark had to say: "Wind rain and snow . . . too bad we didn't fly the mail.  That would've been an added saga.  Speaking of wind rain and snow.  Went into BDL in a 99 one day.  200 and 1/4, wind 050 at 60 gusting 75, RVR 1800.  Longest ILS I ever shot.  Shortest roll out though. Didn't even need reverse.  When we asked to deviate around weather, ATC said:  Do what you want, there's no one else up there."

After Mark sent the picture of the wings he never got to wear (they were not issued until six months after he jumped ship---for higher pay at Brockway Air) I asked if he had any pictures of the International Commuter Brown, 100% polyester, rental uniform.  He replied: "Looked for one; doesn't exist," and maybe it doesn't.  Either way, I understand.  My Navy Blue and Corporate Gray, 100% polyester, Thurston Aviation charter pilot uniform was ugly too.

"On the job only a few months."

After the door closed on uniform pictures I asked Mark if he had any airplane pictures from his time at Mall Airways.  With this request he was more than willing:  "This was my flight.  On the job only a few months."

The caption reads:  "Sheriff's deputy holds gun on Gene B. Katz of White Plains, at Albany County Airport, while another deputy frisks him and a third enters plane.  Police said Katz attempted to hijack a Mall Airways commuter plane Tuesday to get to Portland, Maine---in a hurry."  And maybe that is how it all went down---but at first glance, it kind of looks like Brother Hogan's captain is trying to grab his half of the per diem split.  Either way, I understand.

Mark Hogan, San Antonio, Texas, December 2009