When I Delivered Time

959saI learned yesterday that a chapter of my life has officially reached its end.  AirNet Express, once known as U.S. Check, or simply The ‘Net to some of my fellow freight dogs, has all but closed its doors.

I wanted to share some of the stories and good times that I remember from those days.  Here are some of the highlights (in no particular order) of my freight hauling days.

Note: You have to click the link to read the story.  🙂

The Interview

Snow Days

Checkrides

Air Traffic Control

Simulator Training

Pranks

Flying While Pregnant

Being Flexible

Hazardous Duty

My Favorite Airplane Ever

Being Patriotic

More Pranks

Ramp Checks

Delivering Time

Having fun

Initial Learjet Training

And finally, this AMAZING video by JJ Guerra that is sure to make at least a few old freight dogs cry.

So long, Airnet, and thanks for all the good times, good friends, and training that was second to none, as evidenced by our notoriety in other circles of aviation.  I have lost count of how many times I heard, “Starcheck? Those pilots are crazy!”  Yep.  Crazy good, my friend.  Crazy good.

Names Have Been Changed to Protect my Crazy Friends

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.

Fly with me

I cannot name the day when I first fell helplessly in love with flying.  My parents must have somehow recognized my natural inclinations before I did, for their gifts of an aerobatic glider ride for my 16th birthday and my first flight lesson the following year exposed me to the virulent devotion that would define my initial education as a pilot.   The pristine joy of directing my little airplane to leap into the brilliantly crisp air and quixotically soar as an ungainly metal raptor still haunts my most pleasant dreams.  It was as if my very soul was released from it’s fleshy prison to leap jubilantly into the effervescent cosmos, surf the glowing tails of comets, and dance among the silently spinning galaxies.

But like any pearl of simple pleasure, it eventually became lost among the detritus and trappings of life.  Not only is aviation an expensive pursuit, but it is further tarnished by demands of man.  Oppressive regulations often favor monetary interests rather than the beleaguered pilot, who, at least initially, is so enamored with the joy of flying that a duty day of 14 hours and a starting salary well below the poverty level is foolishly and wholeheartedly accepted without question.  Such a demanding schedule is also detrimental to the “normalcy” of having a family, and many pilots have sacrificed their dreams of a spouse and children at the altar of their career.

My passion was further dimmed by the neolithic beliefs unabashedly proclaimed by some of my male acquaintances about the proper place of a woman.  A man with whom I worked once said that he would never ride in an aircraft with a woman in the cockpit.  He even boasted of refusing a seat on a commercial airliner whose crew included a female copilot.  My disbelief and shock at this sentiment grew exponentially upon discovering that there were even some male pilots who shared the belief that women were somehow subordinate to them in ability simply due to their gender.

Things such as these have weighed upon my love of flying in much the same way clear ice coats the wings of the unwary.  And while I have since chosen another path, nothing will ever change the fact that my heart was first captured by the giddy sense of bright freedom offered by even the smallest of aircraft.  I have been blessed with experiences and accomplishments in my short career as a pilot that reduce the petty chauvinistic attitudes and callous greed of others to puffs of lukewarm air beneath my wings.

I can fly.  Never doubt that you can, too.

Fun with freight

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.