Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Goodbye My Friend

After a long battle with cancer caused by agent orange, a great man passed away on July 21st, as the sun was rising. He wanted little, gave much, and never spoke a word unless he had something good to say. Paul, you will be missed and always loved.

"To fly west, my friend, is a flight we all must take for a final check"- Author Unknown

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Grand Canyon

I took these picture's approaching the Grand Canyon from the east. The first one is about 80 miles away, the second about 20 miles away, and the third was taken directly overhead the Colorado river. We were at 32,000 ft. I zoomed in on the river shot. I never get tired of seeing it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Grandmothers from Hell

There is no doubt in my mind that the most abuse I have received from passengers has been from innocent looking elderly grandmothers. They come out of nowhere with no warning, like an Osprey, talons out, wings folded back, me the unconcerned rainbow trout basking in the eddies and currents of time. These are no ordinary human beings as they prey on innocent people, projecting on to them their worst fears and anger. If they were in a coliseum full of fighting gladiators, they would be the ones waiting with smiles on their faces to slowly stick their arm out and turn their thumb down. Death to the warrior.

Many years ago a volcano erupted in a remote part of Alaska. We have all seen the devastating effects of volcanic eruptions. One of its pyroclastic components is volcanic ash which is basically tiny bits of hot rock that number in the billions. It is the black cloud that rises above the volcano, catches the air currents and falls to the ground somewhere downwind from the volcano. When volcanic ash settles to the ground it can bury towns and villages, muddy rivers, and turn to a cement like state when wet.

Airplanes and volcanic ash are a very, very bad combination. When a jet flies through volcanic ash it scours the airplane like a sandblaster taking off paint, metal, the outer layers of the windscreen, and sanding away at the interior parts of the engines. Given enough time in this situation you would end up flying a 300,000 pound glider and not able to see where you were going. This would be very, very bad. So we avoid it at all costs. When a volcano erupts the airspace around it is closed down. The eruption and its ash cloud are monitored and studied in great detail. This information is passed on to us and we decide if it is safe to continue a flying operation once the airspace is opened back up.

I was enjoying trips to Anchorage at that time with 24 hour layovers and 24 hours of daylight. It is a great place to be any time of the year. On this particular day the airport had just opened back up after volcanic ash had fallen for the previous few days. There were huge piles of ash the size of a bus all around the airport where it had been scraped up and dumped to the side. The volcano and the ash had been big news and the airport was busy with travelers who had been waiting to leave for days. I was waiting for my jet to arrive at its gate, when I was approached by a sweet and kind looking grandmother who was using the assistance of one of those big wooden canes. “I am worried about the volcano, are we going to be alright?” she asked. I sucked in a vast quantity of air and in great length told her that everything was just fine, we would be safe and arrive on time. She asked, “How do you know the volcano is not going to blow up again? Another gulp of air and I explained. With a determined look on her face she asked, “What about that ash in the air, wont we go through it?” I said, “No we won’t” and told her why. She had concerns about the ash on the ground, turbulent air, and other aviation maladies that had no bearing on this particular flight. I reassured her over and over that I was there for her safety, and all these areas of concern had been considered. This would be the safest flight she ever had. She then stared at me not saying a word. She had very blue eyes I remember. Then it happened, she took the big curved end of her cane and hit me in my shoulder with it, continued to look me in the eyes and yelled, “Well thank you very much, now I have nothing to worry about!” She turned and walked away, my hand rubbing my shoulder and about 100 people staring at me as though I had just mugged the miserable woman.

Another incident happened while flying into Fort Meyers Florida. The air was cruel that day, bouncing us severely all the way down final. I remember the control column going from stop to stop as I maintained a straight path to the ground. The throttles had to be controlled manually as the auto throttles were incapable of keeping up with the turbulent air. And so it went for many minutes, the nose dropping out of the sky while the fuselage was buffeted left and right, correcting with back pressure, forward throttle, and lateral corrections all at the same time, then just as quickly correcting it all in reverse. The passengers must have felt like a paint can being mixed at the hardware store. The trickiest part of the approach was transitioning to the landing phase as the winds shifted drastically close to the ground. Left aileron, forward on the throttles, right aileron, forward on the pitch, throttles back, left aileron, more of that, back on the throttles again, nose up, throttles forward, right aileron………………………….. As I transitioned to land, in the last moment I chose to land on the left main gear only, using aileron and rudder to maintain runway alignment, the right main gear still in the air. I then rolled the aircraft onto the right main then put the nose gear on the ground. All of that happens in about two seconds followed by spoiler and thrust reverser deployment. It is not your smoothest landing technique but you got to do what you got to do. Once we taxied clear of the runway and got to our gate, I went back to say goodbye to our passengers. The passengers deplaning were solemn, frazzled, some thanking me as they fly often and know the difficult conditions from the easy ones. It was not a good day to be a passenger. Waiting in a front row seat was a grandmother type listening to all of this. When her wheel chair came to get her she stood up and approached me. I smiled at her and realized she was jabbing a finger into my chest. She said, “Young man, that was the crappiest landing I have ever had. Go back to pilot school before you kill somebody!” The flight attendant next to me gasped. I smiled and politely said as she walked away, “Please don’t tell my mother.” She whipped around and screamed, “I’m telling everybody, everybody!” and walked away completely forgetting about the wheelchair and its stunned driver.

My cousin encouraged me to tell this story so I dedicate it to him, one of the most honorable men I have ever known. Be Safe, FlyGuy

Monday, July 03, 2006

Pilots are mind readers

One day some time ago I found myself deadheading back to my base.  That is when I catch a ride home and sit in the cabin with all the passengers.  As I was waiting to board I was standing next to a mother and her son.  The young boy was about 8 years old and was going to travel by himself.  The mother was very upset and crying.  The agent took the boy down to the jet and as they stepped into the jet way the boy turned around and waved to his mother.  She started crying harder.  I was in my uniform and approached the mother asking her about her son.  This was to be their first time away from each other.  He was going to visit his father.  I asked the mother if she wanted me to sit next to her son.  She was grateful and thanked me.  I then asked her many questions about her son.  Where did he go to school, what was his teachers name, best friends name, favorite food,  best movie ever, sports stuff, what did his room look like, etc, etc.

I then proceeded onto the jet and found him sitting in a row all by himself.  I asked if I could sit in the row with him and he politely said yes.  He was reading a book but he kept stealing glances at me.  Finally I told him I was a pilot and going home, that if he had any questions about flying he could ask me as I knew EVERYTHING.  I told him that we pilots have brains that go beyond the capabilities of the human mind, so focused are we on flying that we can actually see things just before they happen.  In addition to that we can also read minds which we must do constantly while flying so we don’t fly into each other.  If I know what the other pilots out there are thinking and they know what I am thinking then it is very simple to avoid each other.  He was very, very skeptical.

To prove my point I asked him to think of something I could not possibly know about him as he agreed we had never met before.  I said, “How about if you concentrate on what your favorite soup is?”  I stared at him, right into his eyes, for about 10 seconds and said, “My guts are telling me its tomato and rice.”  He just stared at me.  Then I said, “Do you like those little goldfish crackers with your soup?”  He nodded his head.  I then asked him to think of where he goes to school and what he does in an average day, who he talks to and what subjects he likes.  I rubbed the sides of my head as if in intense concentration, my eyes closed, mumbling to myself.  I said to him, “Is your teachers name Mrs. Candish?”  “Yes” he said.  “I think you like math and that girl that sits behind you”, I said.  His face turned red.  I told him about Sandy Schick, the girl I liked but never talked to in the 4th grade and what a big mistake that was.  My mind is telling me that you like baseball.” I said.  He said, “How do you know all this?”  I pointed to my wings and told him it just goes along with the job.  I then told him he needed to clean his room more as his mother would appreciate it, that his best friend Robert was not as smart as he was, and that he should do a better job of hiding his diary that was currently under his mattress.  He stared at me and said, “OK”.  

At this point I was not remembering all the other information his mother had given me so I told him that I was exhausted after using my brain so intently.  I closed my eyes and woke up during descent.  Just before we landed I asked him if he had any questions for me.  He asked me if I knew what he was going to be when he grew up.  I said that I did not know as my abilities could only handle the present and the immediate future.  “If I knew the future, I never would have asked my ex-wife out on a date”, I said.  I looked at him and told him that based on what I was seeing in him now; he could be anything he wanted to be as long as he worked hard and never gave up on his dreams.  That seemed to satisfy him as he sat back in his chair and smiled.  After we landed I had to get going so I shook his hand, wished him the best and told him to call his mother to let her know he was OK because I could see she missed him and loved him .  I grabbed my bags and left.  He should now be in high school, I think of him often and wonder if he ever thinks of that genius pilot he met.  Be safe, FlyGuy