I can occasionally be a bit clumsy when I’m around airplanes. Not so much when I’m in them, just when I’m around them. I have walked into the (very sharp!) stall warning vane attached to the nose of a Learjet which resulted in a nasty bruise. I have closed the top hatch of the entry door on my own head (and you didn’t think it was possible!) and nearly gave myself a concussion. I have tripped down the stairs while exiting. You get the idea. But my most memorable tumble happened on a cold, winter night, right before departing St. Paul, Minnesota.
I was flying a Cessna 310. It’s a light, twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft which the pilot enters by stepping up on the wing to reach the door. While the ramp crew unloaded and reloaded my aircraft, I took the opportunity to hang out in the building’s warm lobby, use the facilities, check the weather, and get myself a cup of coffee for the next leg of my route.
I had only been doing this route for a few weeks, and I was completely full of myself. Looking back, it’s a miracle I could even fit my big head through the 310’s door. The opportunity was ripe for kismet to knock me down a peg or two. Which, of course, it did.
I grabbed my steaming, hot beverage, secured its lid, and headed out to my aircraft with a sprightly bounce in my step. As soon as I got both feet up on the wing, I slipped and tumbled off, my coffee flying in a graceful arc before plummeting back to Earth to completely coat me in liquid slightly cooler than lava as I lay dazed and flat on my back on the tarmac.
It must have been hilarious – mostly because the only damage I suffered was to my immense ego – but I didn’t stick around to find out. I slunk up into the cockpit with my tail between my legs and pretended the whole thing never happened. It’s possible that no one even saw it happen, or it’s possible that the incident was captured on film and one of the ramp guys won a bazillion dollars on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” I don’t think I want to know.
It seems to me that many people are under the false impression that pilots lead a life of luxury. While that is certainly true in some circumstances – I’m talking about you, Travolta! – in most cases, it is sadly, not.
There are many different types of pilots, but a majority fall into one of four general categories: limo driver (corporate), taxi driver (charter), bus driver (airline), and truck driver (cargo). Now, don’t get me wrong, there are also a plethora of other occupations available for qualified aviators: air ambulance, sightseeing tours, flight instructor, stunt pilots, aerial photography, and the list goes on. But, be honest, when you conjure up an image in your mind of a generic “pilot,” the older, white-haired, Caucasian male, dressed in airline blues with four stripes on each shoulder that you spotted checking into the same 4-star hotel in which you were lucky to score a room eight months ago, is what you imagine.
I have only had experience in two of the four major categories: cargo and charter. The only thing remotely hedonistic about freight operations is the opportunity to sit in the gorgeous, yellow and black, ’67 Shelby Cobra that one of the mechanics is restoring and brought in to show off – and only after a lot of begging on my part, I might add.
Charter is a whole different story. I have taken clients to some amazing places – Nassau, Bahamas; Veracruz, Mexico; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Marco Island, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada – and enjoyed every second of the spectacular accommodations afforded us lowly pilots on those trips by spending a majority of my time lounging by the pool with a cocktail. Oh, fine, several cocktails.
But those trips were few and far between. Most of our clients traveled for business, which meant I spent more time ensconced at Signature Flight Support at Teterboro Airport twiddling my thumbs than on any beach ever. I had a 13 on /5 off schedule, and I was on call for those 13 days – I could be sent anywhere, at any time of day or night, for any length of time – and had to be able to arrive at the airport for duty in an hour. Once I arrived, I had the potential to be on duty for the next 14 hours, which could pose a problem if I were called in at 10:00 at night. It rarely happened, but it was not outside the realm of possibility. All in all, not a schedule that is conducive a healthy lifestyle, let alone one of luxury. Stable family life? What’s that?
So, don’t envy those “hedonistic pilots” enjoying a Porterhouse and a glass of Chianti at the Baleen Restaurant in the Naples LaPlaya Beach Resort. Tomorrow, they will most likely be at Teterboro Airport scavenging the smelly cheese left over from the catering they picked up for the passengers five hours ago. Yep, they’ll be living the dream, all right.
A ramp check by an official FAA representative is one of the few things that universally gives a lot of pilots the heebie-jeebies. It’s essentially an pop quiz while you’re working that can happen anywhere, anytime you are on the ground, and can have some repercussions damaging to your career if you are caught doing things you really aught not to be doing.
However, a visit from a Fed was never something that bothered me in the least. While I may have “explored the capabilities” of my aircraft during my years flying freight, I was always very conscientious about my paperwork (weight and balance, flight plans, weather briefings, etc.), had no issues refusing to fly an aircraft that was mechanically unsound, and I was always friendly and accommodating while simultaneously neglecting to volunteer any information that the inspector had not specifically requested. I understood that, like me, they had a job to do, and they weren’t happy about having to do it at 2:00 in the morning any more than I was happy to be checked. It is also quite possible that, for once, being a female in aviation was an advantage.
When an inspector is performing check on the ramp at our main hub, it was common for us to hear the warning “Blue Light” relayed over the company frequency. Where that codeword came from, I have no idea. One rainy night, upon hearing this, the guy I was flying with practically went into spasms checking and rechecking his paperwork, verifying the cargo was properly secured, making sure he had his own identification in his wallet. Then, as soon as we parked and the engines were shut down, he bolted from the plane like his eyeballs were floating and his pants were loaded with fire-breathing ants, leaving me to finish up the paperwork and deal with the Fed.
This is how this particular ramp check proceeded:
The inspector respectfully waited until the cargo was clear before he entered the jet and introduced himself.
I asked to see his Form 110A, just so that he knew I was familiar with at least the one Federal Aviation Regulation that required he show identification.
Once we were both satisfied that we were who we said we were, he said, “That guy sure tore out of here fast. Is he the captain?”
When I confirmed that it was, indeed, the captain that left the aircraft so quickly, he laughed and said, “Well, you pass. If you’ve got an umbrella, I’d appreciate it if you would let me share it on the way into the building.”
A.D. Duling’s first post from the 2013 April Blogging A to Z Challenge was delivered to my inbox yesterday and it got the rusty wheels in my head whirring. I need a blog-cation. Between writing my eSeries fiction for BigWorldNetwork.com and the upcoming summer of focused insanity slinging smoothies for my Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees & Smoothies business, I have a lot on my plate. I need to get organized. But, I’ve recently met some wonderful writers and readers and was even able to con a few into following my blog. The last thing I want to do is to take a hiatus and leave my new friends dangling without a dose of TotallyTawn for a whole month. That’s a sure way to allow any kind of relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to cultivate to wither and die.
When I first began blogging, I had no idea where to begin, so I decided to work my way through the alphabet and see how it went. With the serendipitous timing A.D. Duling’s first post of the Blogging A to Z Challenge, I’ve decided to drag those posts from the TotallyTawn blog attic, dust them off, and share them with those of you who have just joined me so that I can concentrate on getting caught up on my work. Viola! The TotallyTawn Blogging A to Z Unsanctioned Imitation is born!
For April 1, 2012, please enjoy my (slightly revised) post “A is for Attitude”:
This is something I know quite a bit about, since I’ve been accused of everything from having a good attitude, a bad attitude, and/or simply a lot of ‘tude. From a flight perspective, attitude is the orientation of the craft about it’s center of mass. In a way, it’s a measurement of equilibrium. I think a person’s attitude is the same – a measurement of equilibrium. If you have a bad attitude, events seem to never go your way. But if you have a good attitude, things just seem to click into place without any real effort on your part.
So, how do we keep a good attitude? It’s just like flying a plane (or driving a car, or riding a bike): you keep an eye on it and when you see it going off course, you fix it right away with a small adjustment to keep it from deviating even more. And that small adjustment can be anything. Try it. Take a look in the mirror, make the goofiest face you can think of at yourself, and smile. If that doesn’t give your attitude a bump in the right direction, have a nice glass of wine and call me in the morning.
I found another writing competition based on this photo:And here’s my submission – I hope you like it:
FLYING SQUIRREL CARGO
He stirs as the sun dips peacefully below the horizon. His deep, even breathing becomes a yawn, followed closely by a very satisfying, bone-popping stretch. Sighing heavily, he sits back on his hind paws, using the other two to groom his fur. “Another night, another walnut,” he mutters to himself, absently scratching his tail. He grabs an acorn from the pile opposite the hole in his tree, snags his flight bag with another paw, and hurries into the deepening gloom.
“You’re late, Sal!” yells a big red squirrel, heralding his arrival to work.
“Bite me,” replies Sal with a rakish grin. He knows Red just likes to bust his nuts. “Got anything good for me tonight?”
“Nah. You’re still on standby,” Red replies.
Sal drops his flight bag next to a recliner and wordlessly pours himself a mug of the thick, stale, caffeinated swill that passes for coffee in the hangar of the Flying Squirrel Cargo Company. Sipping it with only a slight grimace, he scampers over to the computer to check the weather.
All the METARs, TAFs, and FAs indicate nothing but light winds and clear skies throughout the entire system, relegating Sal to a long night of sitting around. The only way he’ll get to fly tonight is if a regular line pilot has a mechanical.
Sal drops heavily into one of the green recliners in the pilots’ lounge, takes another sip from his cup, and calls to Red, “We playing Hearts tonight?”
It takes a few moments for Red to respond. He is busy informing the ramp squirrels which yellow bin of cargo goes to which aircraft and when all the cargo must be loaded for departure. “Yeah. That and a little Texas Hold’em. Gus still wants a chance to kick your tail after you walloped him yesterday,” Red guffaws.
Sal’s grin doesn’t reach his eyes. He’d rather be flying. Well, he thinks, a little sadly, at least the coffee and card games will help me stay awake. If only I was a flying squirrel! Being nocturnal would make this job so much easier!
His reverie is interrupted by Gus’ arrival. “You on standby tonight again, Sal?”
Sal nods once.
“Good. You’re going to owe me a whole bag of peanuts this time, buddy!” Gus settles onto one of the wooden stools and pulls out the deck with a flourish.
Sal sighs in resignation, pushes himself up from the recliner, and grumbles, “I’m going to need a little more coffee before I skin you, Gus. Deal ’em.”
The night passes slowly, painfully. When dawn finally arrives, Sal waves goodbye to his coworkers and makes his way back to his tree. As he curls up in his cozy nest and prepares for sleep, Sal fervently hopes that he won’t be on standby again tonight. He is rewarded with vivid dreams of exuberant, joyous flight through inky skies sprinkled with stars.
“The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.”
Intending to callously delete this comment, I abruptly paused with my index finger hovering over the left mouse button. What if this is legitimate feedback? What if the glaring absence of apostrophes is because the commenter had been moved to point out my whiny, attention-seeking ways on their android phone, but lacked sufficient time to insert proper punctuation?
I realize that I am, indeed, a bit of a publicity whore. From the beginning, I have spent a lot of time writing about myself and my pet peeves without so much as a infinitesimal thought of what anyone who might come across my blog might enjoy. I have even “borrowed” the work of others when I was too lazy to post my own thoughts.
At times, however, I did believe I had something amusing, or interesting to say. Whether this was simple narcissism – as the commenter suggests – or something else, I cannot say. I imagine everyone believes themselves to be witty, gracious, and a touch philosophical. I am no exception. I would even go so far as to say that an author must imagine themselves to be all these things and more, else their foray into the hazardous (to the ego) and mysterious world of writing would end before it even began.
Sighing deeply, I returned to the task at hand and decisively clicked the button. The self-reflection was fun, but I have to get back to writing.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to pass a few moments of my hectic day contemplating the falling snow and daydreaming. It was almost magical, watching as the crystalline drops drifted and fluttered determinedly past my window to coalesce into a unbroken alabaster desert on the far side of the glass. Until the plows buried the foot of my driveway. Again.
Before my snow removal work was increased tenfold by the city snowplows, I recalled a few random experiences where snow and aviation collided. I remembered how, ages ago, when I eked out a living as a flight instructor, I was able to make earn more money clearing the runways with the owner’s decrepit, underpowered pickup truck rigged with an oversize plow blade and minimal heat than the way below poverty level income guaranteed me actually teaching. Once, to save money, the owner decided to dig out his airport himself and it turned into an unpaid, compulsory two week vacation for me. That’s how long it took him to get the airport unburied without assistance. I think it was his way of cutting costs, but it seems to me that it would have been better to have at least a minimal revenue stream during those two weeks. After all, even though he didn’t have to pay any of his staff, he still had utilities and other fixed expenses. Either way, I was stuck at home eating Ramen Noodles. Some vacation. I didn’t even get a lousy tee-shirt.
Things changed significantly when I worked as a freight dog, though. I actually did have one snow day during my 5 years of employment. I was flying a route out of Midway airport that started around 4:00 p.m. and ended at midnight. I arrived on time, despite the fact that the airport was closed and no one was going anywhere, to find the first of our 3 Beech Barons in the hangar awaiting a visit from maintenance. The second was also parked in the hangar, which, as it turned out, could not be opened as the door had been blocked by drifting snow. The third aircraft was almost completely buried outside on the ramp, with only a single propeller blade protruding from its cold shroud.
Dispatch insisted that I wait to see if the airport would open and I and my fellow pilots could simultaneously fly the single usable but trapped Baron to complete our routes. We decided to pass the time with a snowball fight on the ramp. After about 6 hours of goofing off in the snow with hourly calls to Dispatch begging to be allowed to go home, they finally relented and let me – and only me – go home an hour before my shift would have ended anyway. It took 3 guys to push my car, encased in 6 hours of snowfall, out of its parking spot and out into the deserted street.
Ah…good times. At least I’ll get a chance to go sledding tomorrow.
A little more than a year ago, I timidly wandered into the Blogosphere hoping for nothing more than a creative outlet. To my surprise, I have gained so much more than that. I have no words for the depth of the gratitude I feel for the support, encouragement, and friendship I have received from so many. I am overwhelmed. Thank you.
I’ve heard that you can’t move forward without looking back, so I thought this would be an appropriate time to share one of my favorite posts from each month with you. I hope all of your years to come are filled with joy, adventure and love. Thank you for sharing my journey with me!
If you’re like me, you’ve probably had to be reminded countless times to shut the door. The consequences of failing to properly shut the door are serious. Since the door was invented (by Ugg Cavewoman who needed to be alone and wanted something to slam in order to get that point across) many a foolish human has been utterly devastated by a door left ajar.
You may be letting the heat out or, perhaps, air conditioning the Earth. You may be letting in mosquitoes which will suck your blood while you sleep and then breed millions of additional microscopic vampires in order to desiccate your comatose body in a single night. Or even more heinous, if you do not heed door-shutting warnings, you just may end up naked at work. This last example is what ultimately cured me of my lax door closing habits.
The first aircraft I flew as a freight pilot was a Beech Baron. In order to enter this aircraft, you must climb up on the wing on the right hand side. Once inside, the door must then be latched from the inside in two places before you scoot over to the left seat to get down to business. If the top, deceptively unimportant-looking latch is not closed correctly, the door will pop open during a critical phase of flight and not even Hercules will be able to close it again while in the air.
The first time I discovered this Baron door anomaly, I was departing Midway airport on my way to St. Louis. It was a beautiful, bright, sunny afternoon and the door became decidedly un-shut immediately after takeoff. The air pressure was such that my hat, which was innocently perched on the co-pilot’s seat, instantaneously vacated the aircraft.
Cursing my door closing lapse, I turned on the autopilot only to find that closing this door again while in flight was not going to happen. Ever. Not wanting to listen to the wind howl my failure while the cold nibbled my extremities all the way to St. Louis, I requested and received a clearance through a small uncontrolled field, landed, shut the door and took off again to continue my flight.
The next leg of my route from St. Louis to Peoria was uneventful except for the mild sting of the loss of my hat. But, alas, I did not learn my lesson. This time when the door popped open on takeoff out of Peoria, my jacket was martyred. I barely managed to sweep my approach plates, which were all cozy underneath my ill-fated jacket, onto the floor to safety.
After coming back around to land and shut the damn door, I took off again for Milwaukee. Somehow, the next air traffic controller not only knew of my clothes-depleting shame, but he was also highly amused by the whole situation. He wanted to chat about it. Over the radio. For the world to hear. Lucky me. Now everyone was placing bets on whether I’d have any clothes left at all by the end of my shift.
Yet despite my abject humiliation, these misadventures may have saved my life.
A few months after learning my lesson the hard way, I was flying from Milwaukee to Midway with a co-pilot who was about to have a harsher lesson than my own. We were in an aircraft that was equipped with a single “throw over” control yoke and he was using it to fly from the right seat. When the top latch of the door opened while in cruise flight, I knew that as soon as he put the gear down, the rest of the door was going to follow suit. However, while I was prepared for this outcome, my co-pilot was not. And when the door opened, the wind dried out his contacts, effectively blinding him.
Panicked, he tried to throw the control yoke back over to my side so that I could take over the flight. This, we found, is not possible in the air. In that instant, I decided our only recourse was for us to work together. I operated the rudder pedals and managed the power while talking him through the control yoke inputs he needed to make in order to get us safely on the ground. Had I not already had my own humbling shut-the-door lesson seared into my being, this flight may not have had such a happy ending.
In posting this blog, my deepest wish is for you to learn from my mistakes instead of having to experience the folly of improper door closing for yourself. Doors left ajar can only lead to suffering. Please, stfd!
In the midst of the unmitigated craziness that has been my life lately, I once again find it impossible not to sweep away the dust from my neglected little blog to share a snippet of humor that I found in the eye of the storm this past weekend.
If you don’t already know, I have a 8-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. My business frequently requires that I leave them in the care of my parents who live nearby and love their role as grandparents with an almost maniacal glee. They willfully spoil my children with ice cream, Popsicles and whatever else their tiny hearts desire and then chastise me for the lack of vegetables in their diet. There has never been a time that I have not reminded myself, upon retrieving my cranky, sugar-crazed, overtired sweetlings that what happens at Mutti’s house, stays at Mutti’s house. This past weekend, however, my lovely daughter managed to transmogrify into Pele, the fiery Hawaiian Goddess of Volcanos, much to my parents’ horror.
I finished up at work and was enroute to the meeting place previously agreed upon with my parents to take possession of my children. Since I was running a little bit early, I called ahead to let them know that they could leave whenever they were ready. The first inkling of trouble was the terse response, “We’re working on it. We’ll be there at 5:30, like we said before.”
Not five minutes following this exchange, I received a 30 second call in which my mother asked for advice on getting my daughter dressed (she had been swimming) while my daughter screamed incoherently in the background. That call inspired me to take pity on my parents and simply drive to their house to pick the children up instead. The relief in my mother’s voice was palpable.
When I arrived, my pants-less, red-faced, tear-streaked 3-year-old screamed, “NO! NO, MOMMY! I DON’T WANT TO GO TO MOMMY’S HOUSE!” I’m quite sure she could have been heard in space. When my mom stood up to greet me, my daughter screeched, “NO MUTTI! YOU SIT HERE!” and my mother promptly sat down like a mistreated animal.
Stifling a giggle, I decided I should visit the restroom before tackling this train wreck. My little half-naked dictatoress followed me into the bathroom and flatly and loudly forbade that use the facilities in any way, shape or form. My obstinate disobedience elicited an immediate escalation of preschool hysterics. Shortly after relieving myself, I tried to calm her by kneeling to converse on her level and in my most soothing voice explaining that I understood that she’s feeling very frustrated right now. Her instantaneous and explosive retort was “I AM NOT FRUSTRATED!”
At this time, I decided that enough was enough. While wiping away tears of mirth, I stuffed my daughter into some pants, manhandled her wiggling, caterwauling, 35 pounds of indignant fury into her car seat and bid my beleaguered parents “adieu.” Her bellows of rage subdued after about 30 minutes into a pleasant conversation I was having with my son, who was also pointedly ignoring her.
My mother couldn’t muster up the courage to call me until the next day, but when she did, she related this little gem: “Now you know what you were like at that age. Except, you used to hold your breath until you passed out. It only scared me until I realized you’d start breathing again once you were unconscious.”