Archive for the ‘flying’ Category

The Fearlessness of Youth

August 27, 2011

I enjoy flying.  It’s exhilarating.

I also enjoy sharing that thrill of flight with others.

I’ve been seeing S for over a year-and-a-half now.  While I continue to enjoy her company [wiggling eyebrows], she’s heavily involved with another guy…her 7-year-old son, J.

I gave S a flight in my plane not long after we started dating, wandering to another airport for dinner.  Since that time, she’s been anxious for me to take her 7-year old son up for a ride.

start 'em young

Between our schedules, supporting weather (I don’t like taking newbies up on bumpy or murky days), and a healthy airplane, I finally had an opportunity to take the two of them up for a flight.

I flew in and met S and J at an airport near where they lived south of me and we loaded up.  S and I had discussed prior as to where J should sit…in the back with S or in front with me.  We both agreed — Absolutely up front.

It was very cute seeing them have to pile up folded up coats and towels so he could boost up high enough to see over the control panel.

As with all my first time passengers, the sight of J getting big eyes and hearing the “Oh my” (or some such) escape his lips as we climbed out was satisfaction enough for me.  J was expressively asking questions and looking all over as we flew through the smooth skies.

Then, a surprise I’d saved for both S and J, I asked if J would like to take the controls and fly a bit.  Who knew a 7-year old’s eyes could grow so large?

After some vigorous head nodding on J’s part and an ‘okay’ from S, I briefly explained what he needed to do.  Then, without flourish, handed the plane over to him.  He flew like a champ.

We wandered the countryside, sometimes letting him fly, sometimes me taking over the controls.  Finally, it was time to go home.

As we headed back, I obviously took over the controls.  Landing is just a wee tad tricky for a 7-year-old with 15 minutes of total flight time to handle.

Coming into the traffic pattern, I was extra observant of what was going on outside the plane, especially making sure there were no other airplanes about which might create a sound hazard (the noise of two planes colliding, I’ve been told, is rather loud).

Realizing that the flight was about to end, J thought that he should get one last chance at the flight controls.

…and grabbed the control wheel…


If not for the shriek commanding voice of his mom from the back seat telling him to let go, plus my absolutely heroic efforts to barely wrest control from this surprisingly strong 7-year-old <flexes muscles>, we’d have been flirting with an early meeting with the ground (okay, not really remotely close to that, but it does add a certain drama to the story, right?).

And the amazing thing was that he had no idea that there was a problem with what he’d done.


A good landing (yes, mine…sheesh), a few pictures around the plane, and a quick escape from this miniature Lindbergh-wannabe.

But, yeah, I’ll take up kids again.

They’re just fun.

everyone sing along!



July 7, 2011

no, not the guy at the swimming pool.

i fly Angel Flights.  helping people get to medical appointments by volunteering my plane, gas, and time to get them there.  i have also been volunteering for a special subset of Angel Flight missions for years now- – LIFEGUARD flights.  LIFEGUARD flights are time critical missions.  these are for the transplant patients.  an organ becomes available and they have a limited time window — usually 4 to 6 hours — to get from where they live to the hospital with the organ.

Angel Flight

Last night was my very first LIFEGUARD flight.

i got the call around 5pm.  Just home from work, i had changed into my bike clothes and was trying to convince myself that it really wasn’t that hot and i should get my sorry butt out on the bike trail.  Charlie (female type) at Angel Flight mission control asked if i was available to take a LIFEGUARD, from a nearby airport to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

i’d preplanned my LIFEGUARD missions just in case.  That way, i’d know the length of the flight and whether i could make it in time.


i left my flight bag, with the preplanned flights, in the plane.

A quick mental (yeah, “wild ass guess”) calculation of the trip time and a quicker look at the weather map to make sure there were no tsunamis or typhoons or the like and i said, “Sure, i’ll take it.”

The clock is ticking.  I have until 9:30pm to get the patient to Pittsburgh.  A guess of a 2 hour flight, plus 30 minutes to get to the nearby airport, plus 15 minutes to get to my airport, plus 15 minutes to get the plane pre-flight checked and up in the air.  i should be able to get there an hour plus before the deadline.

Despite having an hour to spare, i’m already nervous about the time.  i bash around the house, quickly changing out of bike clothes, and out the door.

Zooming off to the airport, i take the road i usually do…and run into a traffic backup.  A farm tractor, leisurely putting along, is at the head of the line.  “Breathe, GnuKid, breathe.”  Thankfully he turns off.  i scurry to the airport (tapping my toes impatiently at the one red light) and start checking the plane over.


Low on gas.  I’d been on a long pleasure flight the weekend before and the gas pumps were blocked by other airplanes when i got back.

To the pumps, fuel up, and into the air, to the other airport, and there they are, waiting on me.  Quick goodbyes to those staying behind, and the patient and his mom board the (stinkin’ hot just sitting in the sun) airplane.  Up and away and heading eastbound to Pittsburgh.

The guy fell asleep and i talked with the mom.  Come to find out the guy was mugged sophomore year of college and shot with an AK-47.  Blasted his insides.  Pancreas, liver, small intestines were all messed up.  Amazingly, the liver and pancreas made a remarkable turnaround, so he just needed a small intestines (i didn’t even know you could transplant those).

that's me on the left...not

He’s been on the transplant list for two years and finally got the call…just as they walked in the door from great-grandma’s funeral.

Landed right around 8pm (how’s THAT for a wild ass guess?).

On the way in to the terminal building, the mom said, “Yes, great grandma was called to Jesus…and when she got there, she asked Jesus for a small intestine for my boy…”.  And then, i guess, Jesus went out and killed someone so he could have that small intestine <ducks from impending lightning bolt>.

Saw them to the cab and off to the hospital, then turned around and went right back, landing at home base at 10:30pm.

i know i did a good thing.  But, strangely?  i wasn’t as jazzed as i thought i’d be doing a mission like this.  And I found myself thinking, it’s *just* a small intestine.  It’s not like it was a heart or lungs or some other awesome organ.  Oh well.

Waiting to hear (which i never may, such is the life of a volunteer Angel Flight pilot) on how the operation went.

But it was a good thing.  I helped.

And ready for the next one…crap…left my flight bag in the airplane.

Making Work Fun

December 8, 2009

Coming home from my sister’s memorial service, I had to take a couple airline flights.  On the first one today, I ran into what I thought was only urban myth – – the humorous flight crew.

happy to serve

I say ‘urban myth’ because of the internet jokes which occasionally hit my e-mailbox.  Given the push for professionalism in the workplace, especially when you have lives in your care, I sort of doubted that the jokes were true.  I’m speaking specifically of the flight attendant or captain speaking tongue-in-cheek to the passengers when giving the mandatory safety speeches or welcome speeches.  You may have seen some in your e-mailbox.

For example:

Captain:  “Welcome to XYZ Airline which has some of the finest flight attendants in the sky…unfortunately, we don’t have any of those on this flight…”

or, another I saw in an e-mail…after a supposedly rough landing:

Flight Attendant:  “Please remain seated while Captain Kangaroo bounces what’s left of the airplane to the terminal building.  At that time, you can unfasten your seat belts and work your way out of the smoking remnants of the aircraft.”

…and many more…

They just all seemed too flippant.  Too irreverent.  Too unprofessional.

But not on Southwest Airlines.  They seem to encourage it.

Today, I heard a couple that really made me smile.  So, for you I am now that person — “I heard this from a friend who was there, so it has to be true…”.  I admit that none of these are gut-splitting howlers, but they did give me a chuckle, which was needed —

1)  “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a full flight today.  I realize that means some of you have to sit in seats that don’t lean back.  Therefore, we ask that you just lean forward to make up for it.”

2)  (After the safety briefing about seatbelts and oxygen masks)  “For those of you paid attention, thanks very much.  For those of you who didn’t – – ‘good luck’!”

3)  “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to point out the flight attendant in the middle of the cabin.  She was nominated as Flight Attendant of the Year for our airline!”

<passengers give her a round of applause>

“…now, I don’t know why you’re clapping…she didn’t win.”

4)  (As we stopped at the arrival gate)  “Flight attendants, prepare doors for arrival.  Everyone else…Get Out!”

5)  “As you depart the aircraft, please check the monitors for your connecting Southwest flights.  If your connections are on another airline, what the hell were you thinking?!”

I asked the perpetrator of 4 of the 5 if she had a professional writer.

and there are quite a few professional writers out there

She claimed they were spontaneous.  Perhaps she was looking to get on the website of Southwest Airline jokes.

Me?  I enjoy having as much fun on the job as I can, so it’s good to see others doing so as well.

If she only looked like this...

And my hat is off to Southwest Airlines allowing stuff like today…and this…


July 5, 2009

Missed them.

Didn’t feel like fighting the traffic, especially since it was raining off and on during the evening leading up to the local show.  Heard them off in the distance.

But, it reminded me of another fireworks show last year.  No, not during the 4th of July celebrations.  It was the middle of May (or so…).


As part of being a pilot, I have to maintain currency for day and night flights with passengers by making 3 landings within the prior 90 days.  Being at about 80 days for night flights, I wanted to beat the deadline.  So, invited my best friend to come along for company.

There’s something quiet (yeah, ironic considering there’s a noisy engine just a few feet away) and spiritual about night flights.  It just feels like you own the sky (yeah, I still keep an eye out for other folks).

After I completed my mandatory 3 landings, we decided to just putter about the sky a little bit on my way back to the ‘home’ airport.  Enjoying the stars in the skies…the random airplane lights in the distance…the lights on the ground…

My friend noticed them first.  Fireworks in the distance.  She pointed them out to me and we decided to go take a look.  As I said, we weren’t expecting them since it was before the 4th of July.

This wasn’t just some yahoo in the backyard with leftover, cheapo stuff.  These were really big fireworks.

Finding a safe, yet still close, distance away, I started circling.  Fully expecting the ‘show’ to stop at any time, we were both thrilled to see the red, gold, green, and other colored fireworks blossom again and again.  We circled for about 20 minutes watching this wonderful display.

It was a unique viewpoint.  While we couldn’t hear a thing (one of the best parts of fireworks shows is being close enough for the reports to reverberate through your body), we did get to see the bursts from the air.

Finally, they stopped.

The beauty of the night flight got an extra bonus that night.  I was very glad to have someone to share it with.  And it obviously made an impression, since I still recall it.

It provided a needed reminder that the random and unexpected things in life provide the icing to life’s cake of adventures.

The Wild Blue Virtually

February 2, 2009

Sometimes it’s who you are.  Sometimes it’s who you know.  Sometimes it’s who you… well, anyway…

In my case, it was the middle one.

As mentioned in last post, I occasionally enjoy multiple a beer with my usual crowd of fellow drunkards friends who enjoy a rare libation.  At one such recent soiree, a guest* was in attendance who happened to have business connections with the local Air National Guard.  When he heard that I was a pilot, he asked if I’d be interested in a little time in the local Guard’s flight simulator for the F-16.  Resisting the urge to kiss the man (I barely know him), I agreed wholeheartedly, though expecting it was one of those many drunken promises that would soon be forgotten.

But, remember and deliver he did.  This past week I had the privilege to spend an hour at the controls in a real F-16 cockpit flying through a virtual world.

It.  Was.  Awesome.

I was ushered into the simulator by the sim tech** and given a brief overview of what to expect.

The door closed behind me and, a few switch clicks later, my surroundings lit up as if I was actually in the aircraft on the airport runway.

Applying throttle, I rolled down the runway and was soon airborne…without crashing yet!  Yay!  I had to learn the sensitivity of the aircraft, just as you do with any new plane you fly.  Learning to keep the nose fairly straight to the runway I just departed, I was finally able to start looking around my virtual world.  Okay, not the highest resolution, but I could recognize roads and airports.

Now, flying the planes I usually do (gerbil powered with a speedometer measured in furlongs per fortnight), it takes about 15 minutes to get to our great fair city’s international airport*** from the simulated airport I just departed.

Flying the sim?  I was there and past it in a few minutes.  Barely enough time to recognize it for what it was… and that wasn’t at full speed.

Then I started seeing if I could actually fly this sucker.

Now, there are some simulators that have full motion, meaning it will bounce you around and turn as you turn.  Not so this one.  Six screens surrounded me with virtual pictures scrolling past.  Since it was not a full motion simulator, I thought there’d be no feeling of motion when I started doing turns.  Uh-uh… the thing was being over-feisty to my control inputs, the screen matching my control commands.  Very soon I felt my simulated airsickness growing to reality.  But, I was able to keep my composure and, as I learned to not over-control the aircraft, found I could turn and loop without ill effects.

With the simulator, you can simulate permanently full tanks, so I played by turning on the afterburner…basically putting the aircraft’s engine into turbo overdrive.  And watched in amazement as the fuel use gauge raced quickly up to a put-your-SUV-to-shame guzzling 24 000 pounds of jet-A fuel per hour.  To put it into context of the planes I fly?  The plane I usually fly has fuel tanks that would go from full to bone dry in about a minute and 15 seconds at that same fuel rate.****

One of things I soon found I enjoyed doing was rolling inverted and flying upside down over an airport.  Looking ‘up’ (down) to watch it slide by my virtual canopy was a thing of beauty to me.

No, I didn’t get the chance to shoot anything down… boo.

Finally worked myself up to chancing a landing and surprised the sim tech by actually landing a simulated F-16 on my first attempt (with his guidance on how best to do so)!  Then I proceeded to satisfy the sim tech’s expectation by ‘crashing’ the next 5 times on landing attempts.  Nailing (i.e., not crashing) one more landing, I decided to call it quits, having worked myself into adrenaline exhaustion.

I left the simulator with a renewed awe of the pilots who fly the real F-16.  Bless them all.

And, on leaving, I was very surprised to find that an hour had slid by in what seemed only a short 10 minutes.

And, yet, ready for more…

virtual pilot in a virtual world
virtual pilot in a virtual world


*We welcome guests to our weekly galas.  Though, after seeing our debauchery, few rarely wish to return.

**No, the technician is not simulated.  He’s real.  And a whiz at running the virtual controls.

*** Said a bit tongue-in-cheek.  One flight every 10 days or so to and from our beloved Canadia to the nort’ makes this officially an “international” airport.

****Good thing my little prop plane has no afterburner… for lots of reasons.

Barely Enough

July 3, 2008

I am a good pilot.  I am a safe pilot.  And, as of this past week, I am a commercial pilot.

So why aren’t I crowing and cheering?  This is, self admittedly, a big accomplishment.  But I don’t feel like celebrating.

I passed the written test and the oral test without much trouble.  The practical test… actually getting in the airplane with the examiner and flying specific maneuvers… was, to me, horrendous.  To the examiner?  I passed.  

Why horrendous?  Well, there was the obvious and expected nervousness.  But, then, the examiner was fussing at me about every little misstep.  It was not remotely a safety issue, those missteps.  Rather, it was a procedure issue.  How I was doing the maneuvers was, in the mind of that examiner, insufficient or wrong— “Why are you doing that?”, “Why are you doing that that way?”, “Why didn’t you do it this way?”

Now, the examiner’s guidelines do call for him to try and distract me; to see if he can take my mind off task and do something really stupid and unsafe.  While I didn’t do that, I did let his questions bother me.

I am not one of those people who have to be perfect all the time.  But, likewise, I’m also not the kind of person who thinks that it’s good enough getting a 71% when 70% is a passing score.  And, at the end of the flight, I felt like I had gotten a 71%.  On getting out of the airplane, the examiner compounded that already downtrodden opinion of myself by saying, “Good enough.”  Crap.

One year from now… one month from now… hell, next week… I can go apply for a job as a commercial pilot and they will not care how grandly or barely I passed my test.  They will look at my pilot certificate and note I have a commercial pilot license. 

And, like any license, it is actually a license to learn and improve.  I take solace… and a bit of pride… in recognizing that.  I know I still have to stay on top of my game, learning, practicing, improving… (and, an aside, it scares me that there are some of the pilot egos out there that DON’T recognize that).

I am a safe pilot.  I am a good pilot.  I am a commercial pilot.

…and soon I will feel up to celebrating this wonderful accomplishment…

Call Sign Confusion

June 26, 2008

Always in poor weather and often otherwise, when I fly I will put myself in the hands of Air Traffic Control. This puts me on the same radio frequency as airlines and corporate flights.

When talking on the radio, most of us ‘regular’ pilots identify ourselves by the type of aircraft, followed by the plane’s full (or after contact, shortened) registration number. So when talking to Air Traffic Control, I may be “Cessna 7-3-Bravo” (more on the fun of the phonetic alphabet another time).

Airlines and corporate flights are almost the same, but they get to use more fun names in place of the type of aircraft. And the airlines use their flight number instead of their registration number.

Some airlines are proud of their name and heritage, so listening on the radio you’ll hear—“American 4-1-2-1” or “Aeromexico 2-0-7”

Other airlines, no less proud of their name, still use other identifiers for their flights—“Speedbird 2-7-9” (British Airways) or “Springbok 3-9-4” (South African Airways)

Corporate flights vary in the same way—“Ford 1-7-Foxtrot” (Ford Motor Company) or “Air Johnson 3-7-4” (for Johnson Air)

And some relate to individual people—“Shepherd 1” (that would be the Pope’s jet) or “Unicorn 1” (Prince of Wales)

So, on a flight a few years back, I was surprised to hear a call sign I’d not heard before. I had to listen closely to hear it again. Then asked my passenger to confirm what I’d heard. I later looked it up and could not find an official call sign, so the mystery deepened and continues.

So I ask you, gentle reader… who do you think is being flown in an airplane with the call sign identifier: “Cross Dresser”?