I’m feeling nostalgic today, so I figured I could get away with telling you a little story from my freight pilot days. Nothing incriminating, mind you, because aviation is a little bit like Vegas – what happens in the airplane, stays in the airplane. This is especially true when flying night freight and the only one you could possibly scare with your antics is yourself. If no one saw you do it, it simply didn’t happen.
I was flying a small twin engine aircraft stuffed to the brim with freight four nights a week on a set schedule. When you fly in and out of the same airports using the same call sign at the same time each night, the controllers recognize you and are able to get a sense of your capabilities as a pilot. One early morning toward the end of my shift, I was flying into my home base and had to be set up for an instrument approach due to reduced visibility from fog. It was not unusual for me to have to do several instrument approaches in a night during the course of my 12 hour shift, so I was prepared and following ATC instructions which would put me on my final approach course.
Standard procedure for approach and landing for a freight operation can be vastly different than that of a passenger operation. The most notable difference is the speed of the final approach. An aircraft flying passengers will commonly be completely set up for landing approximately five miles from the runway and will therefore maintain a consistent speed throughout the entire final approach. My company’s standard procedure called for a decelerating approach in which I changed configuration at specific points during my approach and only became fully set up for landing a short distance from the runway, something that this controller had seen me do on several occasions.
So, as I’m waiting for ATC to direct me toward my final course and clear me for the approach, another aircraft checked on, a small 8-passenger jet. When the jet pilot discovered he was being routed behind a much smaller aircraft for the approach, he attempted to remind the controller that he was flying a bigger, faster (and presumably more important) aircraft and should be cleared for the approach in front of me. The controller’s response? “Don’t worry. You’ll never catch her.”
The resulting silence from the jet pilot had me laughing so hard I had to wipe the tears from my eyes to see the runway lights as I landed a full five minutes ahead of him. I never found out whether he was more embarrassed that a light twin could best his approach speed or the fact that the light twin in question was flown by a girl. But I do know that this story still makes me smile and I hope it did the same for you.