J is for Justified

Sometimes, there’s a good reason to break the rules.

Following the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the freight company with which I was employed was one of the first airlines permitted to return to the air. We carried canceled checks for the Federal Reserve, and were subsequently an important part of keeping the economy running. In addition to canceled checks, we were entrusted to transport other time sensitive objects, such as radioactive medications and donated blood.

Late in the evening on September 12, 2001, I was part of a crew which delivered a jet full – and I mean completely full – of boxes of blood for the Red Cross to the New York, NY area.

1976 Learjet 35A, S/N 073 configured for freight operations

A Learjet configured for cargo operations is essentially gutted of all seats, with the exception of the two in the cockpit, and a small bench seat opposite the entry door. There is a net that spans the interior of the fuselage, separating the cargo from the seating area, and keeping the door clear as an emergency exit.

When we picked up the blood destined for New York, there were too many to fit them all in the cargo area. The thought of leaving those few boxes behind was unacceptable, as the schedule had been thrown into such chaos that we had no idea whether another flight would be dispatched to take them.  So, we agreed to break the rules.

We instructed the ground crew loading the plane to pile the extra boxes on the floor, the bench seat, and up to the ceiling, before securing the door behind us, sealing us in.  Had anything gone wrong and we needed to exit the aircraft quickly, we would have been in serious trouble.  However, in this one instance, we felt that the ends justified the means.

I cannot say for sure that we made a difference that night with our small act of rebellion, but I believe in my heart that we did. And, in my opinion, that’s really all that matters.

E is for Expedite

Wait… THAT’S my ride?! Oh, hell yeah!

As a woman in aviation, I have experienced a lot of weird job interviews. In one, I wore a very nice suit but was still lectured about the dress code – specifically, the part about “no girl shall wear short shorts or tops with their boobs hanging out.” Yes, he seriously said that, and no, I don’t think the same rule applied to “boys.”

In another, the interviewer expressed concern that their clients would balk at being flown around by a “girl.” I can only conclude that the customers are afraid that either breasts get in the way when the pilot reaches for the autopilot button, or that women lack an extra brain in their pants which is used solely for navigation.

There is only one interview that I would consider doing over again, and it had nothing to do with the meeting, per se. It was because of how I got there – I was flown to headquarters on one of the company’s Learjets – and it was the day that I learned how freight dogs define the term expedite.

This potential job was with a freight company, so at about 10:00 pm, I was belted into the sideways-facing jump seat of a learjet and we took off. The jet was configured for cargo operations, which means that, besides the pilot and co-pilot seats in the cockpit, there is only a small bench seat just inside the entry door and the remainder of the fuselage is stuffed completely full of… stuff.

The captain was friendly – the co-pilot was not – and after we arrived at our destination, he chatted with me for a little while before my meeting. I was pleased to learn that I would be catching a ride back home with him after my interview, and he said he would keep an eye out for me.

The interview went well, I got a quick tour of the facilities, and it wasn’t long before I was on my way home again.

In the aircraft, I leaned forward into the cockpit to marvel at all the gauges, switches, instruments, and controls. I had never been in a Learjet before that night, and I was mesmerized. Noticing my interest, the captain said, “We’ve been given a descent to 10,000 feet at our discretion. Since we get a better airspeed up high, I’m going to stay up here as long as they’ll let me.”

As if on cue, the controller came over the radio and told us to expedite our descent to 10,000 feet. The captain flashed me a big grin, said, “Watch this,” pulled the power all the way back, and nosed the jet over.

It felt like we were going straight down. I know that we were descending in excess of 6,000 feet per minute because he showed me the gauge that confirmed it. I couldn’t help myself, I laughed out loud for the sheer joy of it. It was glorious. I don’t know if the captain was testing me, or trying to scare me, but all he really accomplished is making me want that job more than ever.

He smoothly leveled out at exactly 10,000 feet, and before I knew it, we were back on the ground in Chicago.

Luckily, I got the job.  And to this day, I can’t hear the word “expedite” without thinking of that flight, and mirroring the captain’s huge, cheesy smile with one of my own.

2011 Wrap Up

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!














Simulated Fun

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 from the safety of the simulator 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?

Life’s Road

When I was a morose teenager, I wrote a poem I called “Life’s Road.”  Like most angst-ridden hormonal prose, it was never really meant to be shared.  It was just a method for me to purge some of my juvenile emotions.  Here’s what I can remember:

Life’s road is filled with many twists and turns

And from tragedy to tragedy, one never learns

That the potholes in the Road are meant to be

Small reminders throughout history

That we must pick ourselves up and dust off the dirt

And let no one else know how much we hurt

Else those we love and in which we’ll confide

Become strangers who leave us cruelly behind.

 Looking back, I hardly recognize that person anymore.  So many things have changed and shaped who I am today to led me to this point in my life.  I have been a Mary Kay consultant, flight instructor, and business owner.  I am a wife, mother, and aunt.  I have realized my dream of flying a Learjet, which I wanted to do ever since I first laid eyes on its sexy, agile fuselage.  And now, I even have the audacity to call myself a writer

The person who wrote that poem could not have even imagined that she would one day fly a Learjet at 45,000 feet and witness the spellbinding beauty of the Northern Lights illuminating the barely noticeable curvature of the Earth.  She did not know that not only would she have children of her own, but that each one of those children would be tiny pieces of her soul exposed to whatever Life’s Road may throw at them.  She never dreamed that she could ever write anything that anyone would care to read.

In this last year alone, I have learned so much.  I have very hesitantly shared my thoughts and have received more than my share of encouragement.  I have made new friends and re-ignited a passion for writing that allows me to share the joy, hope and gratitude that I never knew I could feel when I penned “Life’s Road.”

And the journey continues.  I am overwhelmed by my good fortune and so very happy that I took this fork in the Road.  Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement and for joining me on my expedition of self discovery. 

Now, buckle up.  We’re going for a RIDE!

Drinking from the Fire Hose

There have been several times in my life when I have stepped so far outside my comfort zone that I was unsure I would ever find my way back.

My J.R.O.T.C. Drill Team

While some of these jaunts were exercises in personal growth, such as performing as a member of my high school J.R.O.T.C. drill team, competing in my local Junior Miss Pageant, and even going away to college, most involved flying.

Some milestones on the path to a pilot’s license are mild comfort zone busters:  first solo, solo cross country, check rides, etc.  Others, such as initial Learjet 35 training at Flightsafety International Inc., are akin to drinking from a fire hose.

Learjet training

Prior to my two week indoctrination into the right seat of the Lear, the most complicated piece of equipment I had flown was a Cessna 310.  Going from this relatively docile aircraft to the bad tempered rodeo bronco that hid behind the sleek facade of the Learjet was exhilarating, terrifying, and so far outside my comfort zone that I couldn’t even speak the local language to ask where I might find a bathroom.

For two weeks, I and three of my colleagues were completely immersed in Lear 35 systems, operating procedures, high altitude and emergency operations, and simulator training.  Each night, I would have nightmares about whatever system we had gone over the day before, certain that I would never, ever, be able to remember even a fraction of the information dispensed.  Each day, we were thrown into the deep end of an unfathomable ocean of information and expected to dog paddle our way back to the shore.

It wasn’t until much later on that I realized the only way to truly learn to operate a Lear was to actually fly it.  At first, you are so far behind in your copilot duties that the captain is essentially flying solo until you catch up, which usually occurs about 30 minutes after landing at your destination.  But eventually, your comfort zone expands to the point that you know the cockpit blindfolded.  And that’s usually about the time you’re ready to upgrade and belly up to the fire hose again.

The moral of this story?  Don’t let fear keep you from drinking from the fire hose.  If I had allowed fear to win, I would never had known the pure, unadulterated joy of flying a Learjet.  Who knows what you may miss out on if you won’t break free of your comfort zone?


Mommy’s girl wants a Learjet

While recently dining in the 19th level of Parental Hell otherwise known as “Chuck E. Cheese’s,” I noticed through my headache induced haze and paralyzing dread of eventually having to drag my children from the establishment like junkies from a crack house, that my daughter’s taste in arcade games is very similar to my own.  This worries me.

Although she’s still a toddler, she is entranced by the idea of operating a vehicle.  She pretends to chauffeur other children to class in Chuck E. Cheese’s little yellow school bus, imagines herself humiliating a score of NASCAR legends in the racing game, and practically salivates with excitement when trying out the collective on the helicopter game.  She would sell her adorable little soul to whomever would allow her to drive our business’ 16 foot box truck proudly down the street and she is continually putting her Little People baby in the Captain’s seat of her brother’s Playmobile airplane to depart for exotic vacation destinations like Chuck E. Cheese’s.

My concern is that she’ll fall in love with aviation and want to be a pilot.  This cannot happen.  Being a professional pilot is not something even the evil genius Plankton would wish upon his arch-nemesis Eugene Krabs should the glorious  Krabby Patty secret formula hang in the balance.

Even if you completely discount the thousands of dollars spent pursuing this elusive dream, the time spent working for the monetary equivalent of ox spit as a flight instructor, the years of being on call, commuting across 3 time zones to work a 14 hour shift and sleep in a “crashpad” to stave off bankruptcy, and living under the constant threat of loss of flight status due to furloughs or failing a biannual medical or flight examination, the life of a pilot is stressful and exhausting.  And the life of a female pilot can be even worse, not only because of the surprisingly large number of men in and out of the industry who truly believe that mammary glands interfere with the proper control inputs of an aircraft, but because of the horribly ill-fitting and completely unflattering uniforms women are expected to spend their entire career trying to live down.  I mean, do they really think that neckerchief thing looks professional or are they trying to force women out of aviation by making them look like homely blue trolls?

I love my daughter and as much as I appreciate her need for speed and would love for her to experience the unmitigated feeling of freedom and joy when flying an aircraft, I can’t let anyone do that to her.  I can think of only one possible solution to this vexing dilemma:  someone’s just going to have to break down and buy us a Learjet.