I recently received a nudge from a friend who wanted to know when I would publish a new post. He actually enjoys reading my work. No accounting for taste, I suppose. Or maybe he’s just hoping I’ll write about him. Either way, I aim to please.
As you may know, back in the day I flew cargo for a living. During my first week as a Learjet copilot, I had the experience of a lifetime, all thanks to Avril Lavigne (I told you names would be changed to protect my crazy friends).
I had completed a two week Learjet training course, passed the required checkrides and been flying the line as a copilot for about a week when I had the opportunity to fly a few legs of my route with Avril. The first two legs of the trip were completely uneventful despite the fact that I couldn’t keep up with what needed to be done and Avril was essentially flying solo. It was on the third leg of this trip that things got interesting. I know I’ve said in the past that whatever happens in the plane stays in the plane, but I think in this case suitable precautions have been taken and a small portion of the story needs to be told.
While cruising at an altitude of FL430 (43,000 feet above sea level where you can practically see the curvature of the Earth), Avril asks me to calculate the distance from the airport that we should begin our descent. Our company standard operating procedures suggest a rather aggressive 2 to 1 descent profile which basically meant that doubling the cruising flight level would give you a distance to start your descent. When you’re flying a planeload of cancelled checks at 2 a.m., you don’t normally have to fly through the same hoops to which an airliner going into O’Hare at 6 p.m. would be subjected. So, when I doubled 43 and added a little padding to come up with 90 nautical miles from the airport, Avril agreed with my conclusion.
“But,” he said, “we’re going to do things a little differently tonight.”
Avril had been a freight dog jet jockey for a long time, and since he flew the same route most nights, he was practically on a first name basis with the controllers working that evening. Each time we were handed off into another controller’s airspace, Avril would ask if we could maintain our cruising altitude for just a little while longer. Each time, the request was granted, probably because the controllers were just as curious as I was how we were going to pull this off.
Finally, at 43 miles from our destination, Avril calmly keys the microphone and requests a descent, with a languorous smile for me. His wish is ATC’s command and he pulls the power back to idle and begins our 1 to 1 descent with a happy little chuckle. I may have heard the controllers taking bets on our success before the transmission cut out, but I can’t be sure.
My duties at this point include completing the appropriate checklists and monitoring communications while Capt. Lavigne is completely focused on our altimeter winding down at a rate in excess of 6,000 feet per minute. When I checked on with the tower controller, we were cleared to land straight in after he asked, “Are you going to make it?”
“Of course we’re going to make it!” I replied indignantly and without hesitation. After all, it’s highly unprofessional to sound wishy-washy over the radio, no matter what happens to be going on in the aircraft. Then, with a questioning glance at Avril, I said, “We’re going to make it, right?” In response, I think he actually giggled like a teenage girl.
It was the most beautiful approach and landing I had ever witnessed. We descended from 43,000 feet to sea level and touched down in the landing zone without ever having to move our power from idle or maneuver to bleed off excess airspeed. It was exhilarating. It was glorious. And I loved every second of it.
And I think there may have been more than a few grizzled old air traffic controllers who thought they had seen everything that went home shaking their heads and just a little richer that night.
Thank you, Avril Lavigne, my crazy friend, for a one in a million experience that I will never forget. Thank you for reading and encouraging me to continue to write. It means a lot. And I hope this post brings a smile to your lips that mirrors the one you brought to mine that night.