The World is Round Right? We’ll Get There.

During the holiday season, it seems we all end up having to do some extra traveling, either to visit friends and family or to take advantage of the days off from school or work for a bit of fun.  And just like life, there are many paths from which to choose that will take you to your destination.

Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that my husband will always avoid the direct route.  The direct route takes us through local streets, riddled with traffic signals.  In order to avoid the lights, he will – nine times out of ten – choose the highway.  In my opinion, the benefit of no red lights is cancelled out by the extra travel time required to get to the highway in the first place.  So, why not take the direct route?  It’s not like we were in a huge hurry to get there. No prizes for the fastest travel time.  No competition.

Now, I understand travel time competition.  I was a freight dog, after all.  As several of us would leave for the same destination at once, we invariably jockeyed for departure position and called the airport in sight fifty miles out hoping to get visual clearance to land ahead of our rivals.  We taunted each other on a company frequency, and generally did whatever it took to be first.  But what did it really earn us?  Well, besides a ton of fun and bragging rights?  We ended up at the same place at roughly the same time.  It would have happened anyway no matter if played along or not.  So, why not enjoy the ride?  In our own way, that’s what each of us is doing: making the trip interesting.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

Hop in. I’m driving.

My own journey as a writer has not been a direct route by any stretch of the imagination.  And it certainly has not been a cruise on the freeway. More like a Sunday drive through the countryside with the top down, sun warming my windblown hair, and my only goal to discover what lay around the next bend.  Along those same lines, I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for me, and I’m excited to be able to share it with you here.

Thank you for reading, and please hang around for more.  As they say: the world is round, right?  We’ll get there.  So, let’s go for a ride!

Happy 50th Birthday, Mr. President!

A blast from this day two years ago. Happy 52nd birthday, Mr. President!

Tawn Krakowski

As you pause to reflect on your life’s journey at this most auspicious of milestones,  please remember those of us who helped you get where you are today.  I understand that sometimes we have to take detours and make fuel stops in order to reach our destination, but I, for one, would like you to be sure to return to your original flight plan for our nation.  Don’t give up on us.

Happy birthday!

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Trapped!

Once again, I beg you. Send help. Or wine. Chocolate is also accepted.

Tawn Krakowski

Please help me.  All I want is my freedom, if only for one measly hour.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.  I imagine even convicted felons currently residing in Stateville Penitentiary get an hour out in the yard to lift weights and plot their grand escape during a staged prison riot.  In comparison, my transgressions barely register.  I’ll confess that I do know, and frequently use, a plethora of exotically glorious foul language, but what girl doesn’t?  Surely an occasional f-bomb doesn’t warrant such extreme chastisement.

Not only have I been cruelly ensnared in a dragnet of stupefaction, but an insidious and terrible campaign of psychological warfare has been instigated and is even now slowly and unequivocally smothering my sanity.  My mind is being assaulted by horrific domestic propaganda in the same way climate change is eroding the Maldives but without the glimmer of hope provided by…

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T is for Training

As the pilot of a jet, I was required to pass a competency check every six months.  Some of the maneuvers I needed to perform were less expensive and much safer to do in a flight simulator.

It may not look like much from the outside, but inside it’s better than Disney World.

These simulators are incredibly advanced, offering full motion and exceptional graphics which are capable of giving the pilot a very realistic experience.  The instructors also have the God-like powers to place you at any airport, in any time of weather conditions, with whatever broken aircraft systems that floats their boat.

For this reason, many a pilot has woken up in a cold sweat at the prospect of simulator training.  Not me.  I loved it.  Where else can you test the very limits of your flying expertise and not run the risk of dying?

My freight dog brethren understood.

Great. Where’s the flashlight?

A night time approach in a half mile of freezing fog with clear ice building on the unprotected surfaces of your aircraft was not a far fetched scenario, it was common.  Losing your interior lights may not even be noticed during the day when most pilots are working, but it could be a giant pain in the ass for a freight pilot at 2:00 in the morning.

Some of the instructors particularly enjoyed the freight dog “bring it on” attitude.  Once, after a particularly difficult approach and embarrassingly ugly landing in the Learjet 35 simulator, I had angrily asked my instructor what I did wrong.  He just laughed and said, “I loaded you up with about 3000 pounds of ice.  I can’t believe you didn’t crash.”

Asking one of these folks for a zero visibility approach and landing must have been like manna from Heaven.  How horrible would it be to have omnipotent powers that you could only use when some adventurous and arguably masochistic soul said, “pretty please?”

Call me crazy – you wouldn’t be the first or the last – but I never wanted to be the pilot caught by surprise in a dangerous situation for the first time in an actual aircraft.  I wanted to experience everything in a training environment first where I could explore different solutions, have the luxury of stopping time, and review what worked and what didn’t.

All the fun with none of the risk.  What could be better than that?

R is for Rock

Freight pilots really are a different breed.  Perhaps it has something to do with the demands of a constantly fluctuating  circadian rhythm or the stress “on time performance” places firmly upon the pilot’s shoulders despite the line of  60,000 foot level 5 thunderstorms stubbornly raging on final approach, but a sense of humor seems to be a common denominator in a vast majority of freight dogs.  And in my observations, this sense of humor usually manifests itself as a fierce love of practical jokes.

These practical jokes run the gamut from casually turning off a co-worker’s unattended microwave causing him to believe that his meal is still frozen solid after 10 minutes on high to clandestinely placing tire valve stem caps on a co-worker’s vehicle which illuminate a lovely shade of hot pink when the wheels are in motion.  But the most beloved and time honored freight dog practical joke tradition is covertly placing a large, heavy rock in another pilot’s flight bag.

To fully appreciate this joke, you need to understand that a freight pilot changes aircraft several times a night and must therefore transfer the flight bag containing all of the required charts and manuals to whatever aircraft currently being operated.  But he may only go to five different airports in the span of a year, so digging too deeply in the flight bag for information is a rare occurrence.  Additionally, a pilot schlepping around a “Travel Rock” is usually the only one who is unaware of it’s presence, so the rock is periodically removed by other pilots, aircraft loaders, shift supervisors, or late night pizza delivery drivers, updated with a date and location in permanent marker and then lovingly placed back in the bag for the clueless pilot to transfer to his next aircraft.

When the offending hitchhiker is finally discovered, the embarrassed mule will proudly display his Travel Rock as a trophy declaring not only his stature as a recipient but also his acceptance into the illustrious ranks of freight dogs.  He probably wants to keep an eye on it, too, so that it doesn’t end up back in his flight bag.  This logical escalation of the original practical joke has, to my knowledge, only been pulled off once when a clever photocopied Travel Rock forgery allowed a genuine Travel Rock an opportunity to collect a substantial amount of additional flight hours and autographs before once again being discovered.  Quite an honor.

There are times that I look back fondly on my experiences as a freight pilot.  Then I remember that I have yet to figure out who put the “I hate truckers” bumper sticker on my car.  Rest assured, when I finally do uncover the culprit, revenge will be swift.  I have a rock picked out just for you, Joker.

Q is for Quick

I’m having difficulty keeping up with my A to Z Blogging Challenge, so I figured I could get away with re-telling 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.

I is for Icing

Image

Yes, Mom. This is exactly what I’m talking about.

Today’s post is a cautionary tale, so Mom, you may want to skip this one and just pretend that “icing” refers to the pink stuff on your granddaughter’s favorite cupcakes.

Back in the days of flying freight in a small, twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft, the company would occasionally have “interns” – usually low time pilots – who would accompany the regular line pilots on their routes to gain experience. I initially welcomed one such pilot to join me on my routes because I had thought that if I could share my workload, I would have less to do.

I was wrong.

I essentially became a flight instructor all over again. My new student was a nice enough person, but he lacked initiative and on one cloudy, cold, miserable night, he tried to kill me.

We were flying from Milwaukee up to Green Bay. The clouds were thick and low, and we had no choice but to travel through them. It was his turn to fly, so I monitored the flight’s progress and communicated with Air Traffic Control.

We were perhaps halfway to our destination when I noted that we were beginning to pick up some ice on our wings. Although this isn’t a critical situation – our aircraft was equipped with rubber “boots” on the leading edge of the wings and tail for the purpose of removing ice in flight – it is certainly a situation that warrants attention. Something that he wasn’t doing in the slightest – he was reading a book.

When I mentioned that we were picking up ice, he casually flipped the switch to activate the boots and returned to his book without so much as a glance out the window.

“That’s it?” I asked, incredulous. “Shouldn’t we think about doing anything else to complete this flight safely?”

“Like what?” he asked, nose still buried in the paperback as the rate of ice accumulation increased.

This is the point where I lost my temper. I immediately asked the controller for a higher altitude where it should be colder and less conducive to icing. Then, I informed him that we would have to come back down through the icing on our approach, which meant we needed to pay attention and fly at a higher than normal speed to avoid stalling, crashing, and subsequently dying. Finally, we would have to make sure the plane was free of ice before we could depart again, which could prove to be an problem since there was no one on the field at that time of night to provide deicing services.

“Can’t we call dispatch for help?” he asked, his attitude (finally!) a little less complacent.

“What are they going to do? We’re on our own out here. You know, if you’re not paying attention and thinking about what’s going to happen next, especially in less than ideal conditions, an airplane – any airplane – will bite you in the ass in a heartbeat.”

I flew the approach, and when we landed, we had quite a bit of accumulation on our leading edges. Thankfully, the boots took care of most of it and I removed everything else by hand prior to departure. We climbed straight up through the icing layer and remained virtually ice free all the way back to Milwaukee.

I hope he learned a valuable lesson. There’s usually a whole chain of little things that lead up to an accident, and all it takes is one broken link to avoid it.

Pay attention.