Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Fighting Chickens

I was doing a preflight one day and exited the jet way to go down to the ground level for an exterior check of my aircraft.  We do this on every flight.  This flight happened to be leaving Los Angeles.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  As I descended the jet way stairs I noticed some commotion that was not normal.  I saw something flash by the bottom of the stairs and realized after a moment it was a chicken and there was a man chasing it.  As I continued down the stairs I saw more chickens, then I realized that they were all roosters and they were all fighting.  I stopped one of the ramp workers and asked what was going on.  Apparently many fighting cocks are shipped to Hawaii under the guise of shipping “mating roosters”.  Whoever had packed these roosters used balsa wood to make the crates, which were the size of a coffin.  During the inbound flight several of the roosters had pecked through the balsa wood and started to fight each other.  When the poor ramp worker opened the cargo door about 12 angry fighting cocks flew out onto the ground scaring the poor guy half to death.  When the container was pulled out of the airplane it broke open and all the rest of the roosters flew out.  By the time I got to the scene the call for help was being answered.  Ramp workers were showing up in tugs, trucks, and running on foot.  I saw someone trying to catch an angry rooster that ended up chasing the man.  Someone else was holding a rooster in gloved hands but had no idea what to do with it except to stand there holding a rooster.  Two roosters were fighting on top of a stack of U.S. mail.  It was easiest to catch the roosters while they were fighting and they were all fighting.  I continued my exterior inspection in dumbfounded bewilderment.  Eventually all the roosters were caught and taken away.  I ran up the stairs and entered the flight deck where I found the captain eating a chicken sandwich.  I remember laughing and saying, “Man do I have a story for you”!  Be Safe, FlyGuy.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Black Bra

Once upon a time FlyGuy was yanked back into the military to participate in Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi’s in 1990-1991.  War is a serious thing and we all took it seriously, most of the time.  I flew large cargo jets all over the world that year going to some interesting places.  We never knew where we were going until we were told to show up for an assignment, which could last for weeks.  During a period of rest in Spain I was doing my laundry in the barracks.  I went to put my clothes into a dryer and when I opened it there was a black bra inside.  I took it out and hung it up for the owner to find.  When I came back for my clothes the bra was still there.  For reasons I still cannot explain, I took the bra back to my room.  This bra was a size 34 and a B or C cup.  It had some lace bordering the cups.

Before any mission was flown there was a lot of work to do.  We had to check the flight plan for our day’s mission which could be several thousand miles.  We had to check the weather for all of it, get a security briefing, know where all the good guys were and how we could let them know we were good guys too so we wouldn’t get shot at.  We had to check our flight publications currency for the entire planet. We had to fuel plan the mission to make sure we did not run out of gas.  Sometimes the mission would require an air refueling and that was another big planning part all by itself.  All this happened in the flight planning rooms in the operations area of wherever we were.  You could walk into a flight planning room and find numerous flight crews planning all sorts of missions.  They could be pilots from any branch of the military and from other countries as well. I rarely would come across someone I knew.  

I entered the flight planning room with the other pilots on my crew, at the air base in Spain. There were another half dozen crews doing their flight planning.  I went to get the standard forms we always used and found an empty table.  The tables were set high as you stood up to do the planning.  It was at this point that I unzipped my flight suit down to my waist, pulled my arms out the sleeves and tied them around my waist.  This left my upper body from the waist up naked and exposed, with the exception of a nice and lacey black bra.  Now it should be understood that I am a very hairy man and the sight of myself this way grossed even me out.  I couldn’t wait for someone to see me and watch the expressions on their faces.  As an officer and pilot I realized that there could possibly be trouble for me doing such a thing but I just did not care.  The two pilots on my crew came walking up, looked at me and continued doing their work as if I was not even there.  The other crews saw me and turned back to doing their work.  There was silence in the room, no one said a word.  What I did was weird alright but the response was weirder.  We finished flight planning and as we exited the flight planning room I zipped my flight suit back up, covering my elastic companion and feeling a little frustrated that nobody reacted to me.

I wore that bra for the next 34 days in honor of its size (34).  I learned a lot about myself and the opposite sex as well.  I hope that not too many women suffer from thick chest hairs being pulled out like I did.  That would happen randomly and for no bleepin reason.
I learned that a bra can chaff you badly if not worn properly.  The metal part of the strap can dig into your back.  I lived in fear of leaving it somewhere, then what would I do!
For 34 days in a row I wore that black bra on my exposed chest in flight planning rooms around the world.  My bra covered breasts were seen by men from many nations, by pilots of many branches of different militaries, by officers senior to me, and by other pilots I knew.  I wore my bra above and below the equator, on 5 continents, during daylight and in darkness, once during a scud missile attack.  For all of that work and all of that time I put into wearing that bra, not one time did anybody ever say anything to me.  There was no way I was going to yell out, “Hey what the $*&K are you flyboys thinking, I’m wearing a #%CK@NG BRA”!  Cool was the rule and I acted as though I had been doing this ever since my mother bought me my first one at 13.  How many people were witnesses to my breast covering adventure I can’t be sure of, but it was at least 150 pilots.  About a month after I stopped wearing the bra I ran into my squadron commander.  He was the type who would pat himself on the back for fighting a war from as far away from the front line as possible.  None of us had any respect for him as we found him to be a spineless administrator who let others lead for him.  There was an officer in the HBO series Band of Brothers who would only show up after the fighting had stopped and tell his men he had to go do some checking in at headquarters.  They hardly saw him and he was worthless to them.  So the colonel pulls me aside and tells me that he knows what I am up to and that it won’t work.  I asked him what he was talking about.  He said, “Klinger didn’t get away with it and neither will you.”  Then he walked away.  In the 1970’s there was a sitcom called MASH, based on a medical unit on the front lines in the Korean War.  One of the characters named Klinger was always trying to get classified as a “section 8”, when you are found to be mentally unfit for combat duty and sent home.  Klinger steadfastly insisted he was a woman and dressed appropriately in skirts, dresses, wedding gowns, etc.  I was mad, very mad.  I remember being madder over the fact that I was not wearing the bra that day than what the colonel had said to me.  The war ended and we all went home.  I had a girlfriend at the time and she found the bra in my luggage when I got back.  I tried to explain but she wasn’t buying it.  There were other issues between us and she broke up with me shortly thereafter.  I am not sure if the bra was the icing on the cake for her but I did find it interesting that out of all that effort I took to get a response from people, she was the only one that said anything directly about my bra and I wasn’t even wearing the damn thing.  I have told this story to my daughters many times and to their boyfriends and their friends.  There is a photo in one of the family photo albums showing me proudly puffing out my hairy chest with my 34s sticking straight out, a barren and dry desert in the background.  These days I am satisfied flying people like you to places you need to be.  I have tamed things down quite a bit.  Although there is that orange clown wig I wear from time to time, but that is a story for another day.  Be Safe, FlyGuy

Wednesday, August 02, 2006



Imagine living in a world where everyone communicated with as few words as possible.  In this world it is expected of you to be precise and concise in everything you say.  William Blake, W.B Yeats, Rumi, Voltaire, and Samuel Clemens could not exist here.   In this world only one person can talk at any given time.  If two people tried to talk at the same time everyone’s words would break down into static and garbled unintelligible words. On the flight decks of modern airliners it is no different when it comes to radio communication.

It all started in 1847 when a child named Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was born. He would eventually produce what has become one of the most important works of science ever written.  Hertz was the first person to send and receive radio waves.  He did this in 1888.   After 118 years and all the amazing milestones in aviation and space, we still talk one person at a time, no matter if it is the International Space Station, a commercial airliner over the Pacific Ocean, or the tower controller at Cruzeiro de Sul on the Jurua River in remote eastern Brazil.  Yeah, we might be restricted by the laws of sine wave propagation, but hey, we weren’t supposed to fly to begin with.  This situation can lead to some frustrating, stressful, and humorous situations.  


Sometimes it gets busy in a bad way.  Great example was the time I was on the ground at JFK taxiing out for takeoff.  As soon as we switched over to ground control to leave our parking area, I realized it was going to be one of those days.  I estimated we were about number 30 or so for takeoff.  The taxiways were jammed, every intersection was being used or being blocked and the ground controller could only talk to one of us at a time.  Due to this restriction the ground controller often talks to us simultaneously, the following example is based on the airfield runways and taxiways at JFK.  If you want to follow it, go to Google and search for JFK airfield diagram.  “United 316 turn left onto alpha hold short of hotel, American 1222 follow the regional jet to your right, Comair 467 straight ahead to hotel right alpha, hold short of whiskey alpha.  Virgin 925 transition to Juliet, cross 4 left and contact tower on 123.9.  All you would hear in response is “United 316, American 1222, Comair 467, Virgin 925.  The controller would continue in this way for a while.  All it takes to screw things up is for two people to transmit at the same time, and then all you get is “BLZZIGHOOLMASFIT”.  To inform the controller that his transmission was disrupted someone normally says the word, “blocked”.  The controller can rattle off a clearance and be told “blocked”, he will try again and hear “blocked”, and try again and hear “blocked”.  This situation is very frustrating to a controller.  Once I had a ground controller say to all of us, “Alright everybody shut the hell up, don’t speak until you’re spoken to.”  I have also heard, “The next aircraft that does that gets pulled out of sequence.” While trying to get into Frankfurt Germany on a day that blessed us with a blizzard, we pilots were stepping on each others transmissions constantly.  The controller was trying his best to get us all in the right positions to maximize the number of landings.  We were not helping him.  He wanted us all to maintain a speed of 210 knots.  A British Airways (call sign speed bird) pilot made the mistake of saying, “Speed bird XXX would like to maintain 230 knots for a bit more”.  The German controller came back instantly with, “Hey Speed bird what do you think this is, a game of checkers, I make a move, then you make a move, 210 nooooooowwwww”!  A female ground controller who was in a vengeful state was dishing out abuse after abuse for many minutes.  There was a break in her transmissions when somebody said in a soft monotone, “Was I married to you?”  It may have been me who said that, but I don’t remember.


There are times that getting a clearance from a controller is time critical.  You have to have a verbal clearance to land and sometimes that clearance is late in coming.  I have seen aircraft go around because they could not get a word in to verify a landing clearance.  I have been in situations where I knew or could see other jets converging on me and trying to get the controller to turn me but was blocked by other transmissions. You don’t want to know what it sounds like when an airport shuts down or even worse, a control center loses power and hundreds of us are hung out to fend for ourselves.


I have heard radio chatter that could be turned into an award winning comedy show.  When it comes to blocked transmissions there is one consistent thing that happens amongst us pilots and that is the poor pilot who thinks he is talking to the passengers or even better, a flight attendant on the intercom but in reality is transmitting on an air traffic frequency.  It could be ground, tower, approach, departure, or center frequencies.  I have heard it all.  On Denver centers frequency I heard a United pilot transmit to the world (he thought he was talking to the passengers), “Ladies and gentleman welcome aboard United XXXX from the flight deck.  First let me say thank you for your business today and we will do our best to make this the most enjoyable flight you have ever had.   Our arrival time into Los Angeles will be 6:25 pm, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  The weather in Los Angeles is 75 degrees with partly cloudy skies and winds out of the west at 12 miles per hour.  By now the air traffic controller is pulling their hair out and several pilots are laughing hysterically, knowing it could easily be them doing this foot in mouth talking.  While jets are moving along at 500 mph and a desperate controller is waiting for this guy to stop, there is nothing that anyone can do.  United XXXX was not through.  “Today in the main cabin our fantastic flight attendants will be serving our Mexicana fare so please enjoy your service.  If there is anything we can do for you from the flight deck, blah, blah, blah.  When the pilot finally releases his mic button what follows next is the best part.  That pilot is guaranteed at least a half dozen jabs by his fellow pilots who had to listen to him.  It would sound something like this, “That sounded very professional”, If you have any leftovers can I have some?”, “Are your flight attendants fantastic AND cute”? “You can so something for me, stop talking”, What was the weather in Los Angeles again”?  Sometimes the controller tells us to stop, sometimes they yell at us to be professional.  The unwritten law of giving the offending pilot verbal hell will never change.  One thousand years from now when we are rocketing to the distant ends of our universe, some poor pilot will mistakenly transmit on an intergalactic common frequency, thinking he is talking to the 50,000 passengers on his space ship.  It might sound something like this, “Citizens of Earth, the Republic of Mars, and all Extraterrestrials, welcome aboard the star ship Wilbur Wright serving you with nonstop service to the planets of Gamma Sector 6.  Star ship staff will pamper you with other worldly foods, zero gravity recreation, and entertainment that any humanoid could enjoy. My name is captain Kirk and I believe this will be the most enjoyable experience you have ever had.  I would like to extend a special welcome aboard to the thousands of Venebrium Slime Devils who are with us relocating to planet Zanadu.  We are sorry for the loss of your home planet and wish you the best as your future is secure and bright in the hands of the Intergalactic Space Federation.  I ask all of you to get to know each other and visit me in the command center, Kirk out”.  As his lips slam shut Kirk’s first officer says to him, “Captain, I think you transmitted on common”.  Kirk turns pale as he sees “GALACTIC COMMON” on the holographic communications panel. Within seconds from all over the galaxy, like perfectly thrown daggers, other pilots respond to the call. “Jim, go back to Star Fleet”, “My most enjoyable experience is not hearing you talk”, “Are Venebrium Slime Devils edible”?, “I’m a humanoid and I’d like you to entertain me”, “When I visit you can I play with the switch thingies”?, “I thought WE destroyed Zanadu”, and so it would go not for a few seconds but perhaps for hours as deep space would be a lonely place.  I am not sure what the future holds for aviation but I do know that pilots will always be pilots and we will forever act like children when it comes to hearing one of our fellow pilots screw up.  Be Safe, FlyGuy.