Welcome to my Blog

I am starting this blog just as I am starting my airline career. Feel free to ask any questions, or if you are in need of any help related to seeking employment with an airline then just let me know. I really enjoy helping others in any way that I can.

This is my blog with a name that stems from a long standing joke. Damnit Bobby was a term thrown out during a fun family sports match. Damnit Bobby Airlines was destined to be a loving name given to any flight I conduct which has passengers on board

I was a flight instructor and a part 91 (private carriage) pilot prior to becoming employed with an airline. Please enjoy the blog, and feel free to comment about anything and everything.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I was looking under my stats page and I ran across a link to this site: http://www.pownetwork.org/phonies/phonies1001.htm. This is pretty sad to think that someone has listed my Dad as a "phonie" without doing any background check into his military history. His POW ribbon was awarded to him in 2003 by the Little Rock Air Force Base Commander. His DD214 also includes that information about his POW time (Edit: I will have to ask him about that as I'm not sure what is on his DD form 214 -I know they later showed how his job first job was listed as medic and his second job was listed as a series of 9's - the number of which I don't remember, but it indicates - Other, Classified information). Not to mention the public records that are available - They were in St. Louis, He knows where they are at now, but they moved his public records after the fire. It just makes me irate to see someone pegging people as "phonies" when they don't have any military records in front of them. Just look at that page - It just lists peoples name with no proof of how they came to that conclusion. I guess physical scars, military records, and being listed as a POW within the Air Force's list of POW's count for that website. Who runs that site? They did have one thing right... my Dad was past president of the Hot Springs VVO... I'm sure Ret. Col. Marc Summers would love to get his hands on that website. Col. Marc Summers is the one who verifies information about members of the VVO, and he also does the same thing for the VFW for the State.

Hey, I'm not a pilot either, I never flew the SAAB although I claim to have flown the SAAB, but somebody knows better cause they have proof that they can't show me.Odd how the Air Force will Award Dad a POW ribbon, after their records search but some website makes a claim based off of what, again?

EDIT: I just happened to remember... This was the website that the VVO used to verify member's past. For reasons I can't remember they proved dad's status as a POW, however because the records were classified still they only had Dad's DD214 to use and they said that wasn't enough proof for them. The good news is that the PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL SPECIAL FORCES ASSOCIATION was a member of the VVO, and he is the one who got Dad's records to prove his POW status and his status as an Air Commando. His name was Colonel Wayne Lowley - He passed away about a month ago. I bet a quick check with the NSFA would be in order. It is a disgrace that a website would list my dad for that. I sure as hell plan on telling him about it to make sure that is the website I'm thinking of. If not, I doubt it takes long before a libel suit comes out.



It is interesting to talk to pilots, both private and professional pilots. Sometimes the private pilots come across as being more knowledgeable then the professional pilots. The same is true about the reverse, but in any case there is always something that gets overlooked. There are those who are book smart and there are those who are street smart. Is one particular group better then the other? Before addressing that, let's also consider if there are pilots out there who are natural pilots or are there also pilots out there who are simply number fliers?

When you board an airline flight, what do you expect from the Captain? Like a great Doctor, the expectations of a Captain are very high. The Captain is viewed as the person who has proven knowledge of the aircraft systems, capabilities, and the person who can make the timely decisions necessary to ensure every flight comes to a safe end. Are they all that way?

As I fly with more and more Capatains, and as I meet more airline pilots I have come to realize that there are many more pilots that fall into either category (street smart/book smart) then there are those who fall in between each one. The obvious answer to the earlier questions would be... You want someone who is equally street smart and book smart. The other question was very similar to the last one, however it was dealing primarily with pilot skill. Is there a correlation between being street smart and a natural pilot, or a combination of the various types? Every pilot is quick to judge another. It probably has more to do with competitive human nature then anything else. As an airline pilot I have learned that the best combination is divided amongst two pilots.

So, how does one gain skill? I usually hear people answer with... To be a good Captain you need to be very experienced. Odd that they say that, isn't it. What they are really saying is that to be a good Captain you need to know how to make decisions. These decisions can range from how to handle an irate passenger, to decision to divert, and every quick or important decision that needs to be made. Wouldn't it stand to reason that when you look at the big picture you will have Captains that fall all of the same categories I was talking about above? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but I think passengers have a false sense of perfection when it comes to the Captain. Just Drs. who make mistakes, we all do the same... the difference is that in the airline world our mistakes rarely greatly affect anyone other then when the ultimate mistakes are made which lead to an accident.

When it comes to making Captain, I've often asked myself... do I have the experience to become a good Captain. Today, the Captain I have been flying with said something to me that made me think about it for a minute. He told me that I would be a natural at being a Captain. I thanked him for the compliment, but that started my wheels turning.... Which is better a Natural Captain or a Book Smart Captain?

That is the great challenge for me, now. I think the best Captains in the industry have a nice balance between god given talents and they have learned enough about their plane, their office (weather), their world that every flight they make passengers all get off the plane going... wow what a boring flight. You can put the books down, and you'll plateau.... keep the books open and I think that the study efforts with everyday flying will pay off great dividends for everyone.... Airline Captain or Captain of the family trip in the Mooney.

Part of my ongoing experience of new things.... It will be fun to go to upgrade school. The fun will come from knowing that I have come this far and failure is not an option. I've made it this far without ever failing a checkride or PC, and I am determined to get that extra stripe when the time comes.

Good news... We agreed to a TA between all three pilot groups. We, guys flying the SAAB-O-MATIC, will be getting pretty nice raises. The Q400 guys will only be on the same pay scale as the CRJ200 pilots from Pinnacle. Some of our insurance options, scheduling long Call lines, and our 401K really were not that great, but it definitely is worth voting in. I hope all the pilot groups agree to it.... Tis far easier to adopt the contract in then go back and change one thing here and there at a later time then it is to wipe the slate clear and start again for the sake of getting some minor tweaks.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Fun Times

The past few weeks have been a lot of fun. I'm flying with a Captain who was originally from England, but now he lives here in the states and goes back to England to visit family a few times a year. It has been a lot of fun to fly with him so far. On a similar note, I have been enjoying flying for an airline so much. I honestly thought that I would have more times where I questioned my decision, but I have never looked back once since I started this journey. I think a lot of it has to do with careful decision making. I didn't just jump into this industry with the shiny jet syndrome - For those who don't know, that is basically the unrealistic idea of a glamorous life flying things that people always look up to you for doing. I was fortunate to have several friends who were retired airline Captains, in addition to asking several pilots I met online, about the world of commercial aviation.

You know how a lot of people will say they never envisioned themselves doing the job that they do now as their career? Well, I can say that I not only did want to become a commercial pilot since I was a little guy, but I never envisioned myself as a pilot on passenger carrying flights. My goal was to join the Air Force, then after the required 11 years (your commission starts at the end of your first year and you have a 10 year commitment) I wanted to fly for FedEx and stay in the National Guard so I could draw a military retirement and a retirement from FedEx. Well, a recruiter screwed me over - and it wasn't until it was too late that I discovered I could have got a waiver for his failure to turn my paperwork in on time. A quick sidebar on that - You can only take the AFOQT twice. The first time I took it he didn't tell me you couldn't use a calculator on the test. The math isn't too hard, but it is time limited and without practicing I almost passed it the first time. I passed all other sections but I missed the math by one point and there was no way the review board would take me with a math score that was any amount under passing. So the second time I passed it, and I scored well in all of the subjects. He sat on his hands, apparently, and didn't turn my packet in on time... Then the review board sent me a letter saying that I would have been accepted if my paperwork had been received on time, and in that letter they asked me to hold the paperwork and resubmit for the next review board. Well, the test results are only valid for a 6 month period, and the next review board was going to be a few days after that 6 month limit. The letter also told me about the 2 attempts they allow. So, that was it for me.... I was stupid and didn't say anything to my parents until later, and then Dad told me he could have helped me get a waiver by contacting a friend of his. Oh well.... Everything happens for a reason.

Flying with my Captain this month has already been a great experience for me. I mean experience as in learning, LOL. He likes to hand fly the plane a lot more than the others I have flown with. I decided to do it also, and it has been great for quickly developing a feel. Just like with any family of aircraft, each SAAB has a different feel to it. Some will land soft even if you plant it on the runway, and some will feel like a hell of a hard landing even if you are super soft on touchdown. It has to do with the wear of the main gear struts. The differences between the aircraft can be enough that it takes a flight or two before you have all the little nuances worked out. At the same time, hand flying these planes has really helped me to go from that in-between stage where you still make one or two errors in a month to that point where you feel very comfortable with the plane. Comfort levels really help you fly a plane well.... at least in my experience people who are a little nervous during landing have more difficulty with landings. It is almost like squinting when you are at bat when playing baseball. If you are afraid of the ball hitting you, you won't get that home run you want. You'll end up striking out more times than not. On that day when you realize that getting hit is very unlikely and you feel confident standing in the batters box then your batting average and home run total start to skyrocket up.

For the pilots out there.... The SAAB's we currently fly are /A equipped aircraft. To save you some time in case you don't have the entire equipment suffix table memorized... that means we have a mode c transponder and DME capability. Having DME is required for us since we do occasionally fly above FL240. Often we will bracket our courses instead of allowing the autopilot to track them. The VOR signals are often weak, even within their standard service volumes - No, we really don't have the time to look up and see if each VOR we use has an extended service volume, LOL. The weak signals cause a lot of scalloping, or in autopilot layman terms - it can't find the center of the course and keeps going from side to side to try and find that center. So if you are ever aboard a SAAB 340 and notice the plane keeps making shallow turns every 20 mins or so then that is the reason why.

Going back to the subject of feeling very fortunate... I say this for many reasons, but for the short term reasons here is why! I have not had a month of reserve yet. I have been fortunate enough to be a line holder since my first month off IOE. The other, most recent and most exciting reason is that I saw that I will be able to upgrade to Captain within a few more months. I was awarded an upgrade with our last vacancy bid, however they forgot to account for those who were currently in training to upgrade to Captain. I was near the bottom of the list, but that does mean I am close enough to making the list that I should be able to upgrade in February or March.

How about a little tour of Houston?

Here are a few pictures of the ramp, note that we currently use buses to bring the passengers to the planes, but you can see the extension to the terminal they are currently finishing. Hopefully in the next month they will finish the extension and we will be able to board in a more convenient and modern way at IAH:

Here are a few pictures of our crew lounge:

Have a great day and safe flights

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What is new

The simple answer to that question is: a lot!

Thankfully, my sister youngest sister (I'm the youngest of 4) gave birth to a healthy baby girl. She had to have a c-section, but the little lady was just as healthy as could be. She apparently didn't want to join us.... kinda like me - I was born almost a month after my due date, which would have been on my father's birthday =-).

Things have been interesting on the line this month. I seem to have developed a bit of a passion for centerline landings. I seem to nail the centerline in 4 out of 5 attempts, but missing that one centerline has me coining new phrases like: Bob, do you think the centerline is painted for deceration only? I feel the airplane more each time I get to fly it. Studying the systems and company procedures each night is a great way to help quickly develop confidence, but getting a feel for the airplane is the only way to progress with making smoother more lackluster flights. I think the best flight is the one where all of the passenger's get bored. It is a good indication to the flight crew that the passenger's are comfortable enough with the flight that they have full trust in the flight crew. Making a diversion around a later afternoon build-up can mean the difference between someone saying nice flight and someone saying.... "That wasn't fun at all".

As I continue along with the ALPA committee I am a member of, and as I progress as a new airline pilot I can't help but wonder if those passenger's flying with our flight crew think of us as amateurs or professionals. As I said before, as professionals we strive to never be wrong... we don't want to be labeled as amateurs. The only way that I can tell is from the reactions of those passengers that say something as they deplane. At the same time, I know they can not tell about my passion for aviation and learning all that I can with regards to instrument approach procedures. I have had several passengers comment about how young I look. As a freshly minted CFI, I heard the worst thing any new CFI would ever hear.... I don't want to fly with you, you're just a kid. This lady that called me a Kid was indeed an older lady, however, I assured her that this wasn't my first rodeo. The painful part came when more people continued to say the same thing. Now, I am hearing these same replies echo the cabin of the plane I fly now.

If I had grey hair, people would call me an experienced pilot. If I flew on a mainline aircraft, people would call me a professional pilot-- assuming I had great skill. Yet, doing the flying that I am I have noticed passenger's seem to think that age directly correlates to experience and skill. I do have more experience then some pilots twice my age. I do have some things to offer that other pilots can't. We are all unique in our skills and abilities. I just find it odd how people stereotype my profession.

I have two jobs. My parents own a golf car distributorship in Arkansas. On my day's off I go work for them - voluntarily. I have a strong commitment to my family, and I am willing to do anything that is needed to help any one of my nuclear family members. The family business was started by my grandfather and father. My grandfather and I became very close buddies over my youth. We did everything from fish together, to him teaching me about baseball and golf, to him teaching me about investments and how to get a good portfolio together. Something I have never told anyone before is that my grandfather was a professional baseball player. He played for the NY Yankees in the late 40's. My Father was a professional race car driver. He drove grand prix cars for Alpha Romeo (Pronounced: Roe-may-o) in the middle 60's before and during his time as a soldier in Vietnam.

My Father was an Air Commando in the Air Force, with the 311th Squadron. He was in a group that was the predecessor to the PJ's - The Air Force Pararescuemen. You just about have to be a PJ to understand what his job was, but he was a sniper for the Air Force. He held a Crypto level Security Clearance. While a POW he was subjected to things that no human being should ever endure. I am so proud of my father that I wanted to take the time to share a little bit of his experience as a POW with you all.

My dad was a good shot. His first experience with shooting a gun was with the Air Force during basic training. As he explained to me, he shot 99 out of 100 targets during his qualification trials. They asked him if he was a hunter and his answer was "No, I just listened to what the instructors told me". This lead him down a path that put him in a position where he was one of the first members of a new Air Force special operations squadron... Called the Air Commandos. He did most of his initial training at Sheppard Air Force Base - where I have also been - back in 1966. From there they moved between Florida, California, and Louisiana for their training. Skip ahead almost a year (they were on a rapid training program) and he was in the thick of the war. He ended up spending 3 tours in Vietnam, and amazingly to me his time as a POW was not the end of his service.

After a while as an Air Commando, he was tasked with training montenyards with tactics and strategies that they used. Normally, the Air Commando's operated in smaller groups than the Navy Seals (who they cross-trained with)... Dad's group operated in pairs of two. One was usually a demolition's expert and the other was some type of weapons expert. In Dad's case, they usually only sent him on espionage and/or assassination missions. This particular time they had two Air Commandos training 10 other Montenyards. During a particular fight, his squadron friend was killed. As a result of their heritage, the Montanyards didn't follow dad's orders and as a result his friend was killed by being left exposed to the firefight. The Montenyards gave up the fight and left dad alone against a platoon size force of viet cong. Dad was taken prisoner, and he was beaten so badly prior to arriving at his first camp that he has no recollection of what occurred after the Viet Cong surrounded him. He woke to find that many of the others had urinated on him, and in his open wounds. From there they forced him to do things like play Russian roulette, they shot others as he watched... they pried off his finger nails with bamboo sticks. They put him in the Chinese water torcher table.... and to describe some of his more difficult collections:

Further along his time as a POW, they placed him and 6 others in a bamboo cage that was submerged in a river. Only about 6 inches of air separated them from the top of the cage. The cage was tall enough that you could not stand on the bottom. Your only choices were to swim or hang on to the bamboo door on top. Their cage was guarded 24/7, and if you started to hang onto the top of the cage they would take the butt of their AK-47s and smash your fingers until you let go. Dad said one of them had a finger cut off because he was too weak to let go, and the soldier's constant beating on his hand caused his finger to be amputated. Then after the first few guys died (which they did not remove bodies from the cage) the mice started showing up and taking bites at those dead and undead in the cage. Dad was the only one to make it out alive. He was able to use some of the dead to help stand so he didn't have to tread water. They were in that cage for about 2 weeks he said. Their feeding time consisted of rice being thrown into the water for them. As they moved dad from camp to camp they would first tie his hands together and each time he would trip they would tie... first his ankles together, and then if he tripped again they would tie his writs to his ankles... with his wrist being tied behind his back. He estimated that at one point they made him walk "duck" style for 10 miles. He said he could see the bones in his wrists and ankles from the rope digging in so much over that distance. He knew his "usefulness" was coming up as he was not far from the Hanoi Hilton, and that meant that they were going to kill him soon. While at his last POW camp, he made friends with several others. One was an Air Force Captain who flew F-105 ThunderCheifs. They would talk to each other, even though they couldn't see each other. They were kept in cages that were around 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide... made from bamboo. They had one light in the top of them (no shade and they never turned them off). Dad said the two of them talked all the time about life back home... they even took beatings as a result of taking to each other, but it was worth it to them both.

Fast forward ahead a little, and after Dad had an "interrogation" session - which involved unusually brutal beatings and burning, he saw an opportunity. For whatever reason they only sent one guard to take Dad back to his cage. Dad said the gaurd was only 18 or younger, but this was his only opportunity. So he saw the guard had a momentary lack of attention and he stepped behind him and broke his neck, killing him. He then took the key's off of the guard's body and went to unlock all of the other prisoners.... probably about 12-15 Dad said. They knew what they all had to do. They split into groups of two and all headed off in different directions, and since it was the middle of the night they knew they had fairly good odds of survival in smaller groups. Dad paired up with the Captain he had spent all that time talking to. They headed through the forest and walked/ran for a few days. Eventually they came to a road where they knew they could wait and take some transportation. The thing was they only had one gun, the one dad took from the guard he killed to break free. So, they figured that the Captain would take a position as a wounded person on the road and the first vehicle that came they would take, using the gun as necessary. First was a scooter with what was obviously a civilian and his wife/girlfriend.... but, this was a war and they had no choice. Dad shot each one and they took the scooter. Dad drove, and as he said he drove it as fast as it would go until it ran out of gas. Then they decided to stage things to look like an accident occurred when they ran out of gas. After a while, a truck showed up with about 5 people in it. Through a combination of hand-to-hand combat and use of what bullets were left, they took the truck. They did the same thing and ran it until it was out of gas. By this time they both had been living off of rice thrown on the dirt or in the water for the last month. When the truck ran out of gas they knew they were not far from the DMZ and knew they could walk the rest of the way. Their hunger was so intense that they started looking for anything that they could find. They happened to stumble across a patrol of 10 or so North Vietnamese. They didn't care that they were out numbered, they were so hungry that they knew what they had to do. Unfortunately, the Captain didn't listen to what dad told him as far as the tactic they would use to kill everyone. The Captain was so hungry that he jumped to action before he should have. As a result the Captain was shot in his leg. They did get the food they needed, but the Captain couldn't walk anymore. So Dad did what he had too. He picked him up and threw him over his back. Dad walked for over 20 miles carrying the Captain. He continually talked with the Captain, because he knew what it meant if the Captain stopped chatting. Dad had formed a close bond with the Captain, and he promised the Captain he would get him back home to his family.

Eventually, dad came upon an Army base, but he knew his friend needed urgent care. So instead of spending time going through the process of verifying who he was with a sentry, he snuck onto the base at night. Went straight to the infirmary, and gave his friend to the doctors..... who pronounced him dead. Dad knew it, he knew had had passed away about 10 miles before they got to the base, but he didn't want it to end that way.

Dad spent 3 days recovering before he went out on his next mission.... Which he was reprimanded for since his Squadron Commander, Col. White, forbid him from any activities until the Drs. cleared him for duty. He just couldn't bear the fact that someone he cared for so much was killed by those who caused him so much pain to begin with. He just wanted to get back out and kill as many as he could. He served one more tour before becoming medically retired from the Air Force.

Today, he still will wake up in the middle of the night screaming Mad Dog, the name of a friend. He still will just suddenly get the million mile stare if someone says something that triggers a memory from then. He is an amazing person.... Ask him what it was like and he will always answer the same way. It was a mental challenge, and that is all that he will say. Ask him how he made it through, and he will say that he spent the whole time building... part by part... his dream car.... Ask him about the Captain, and he walks away.

His Commander was going to nominate him for the Medal of Honor for his actions. At that time, his Squadron was classified enough that his commander's request was denied..... It would require an act of congress, and that would bring too much attention to his squadron. So dad earned a bronze star as a result of his actions.... because that was the highest award they could give that didn't require congressional approval.

I will post the letter that dad wrote to use kids about his time as a POW... to put his own words to his experience. I think it is something that others need to know about.... but I know my dad. He doesn't care if anyone else knows what happened and he doesn't care how others feel about what he did. He cared most about the Captain, and he couldn't help him like he wanted.

Whenever I get down or feel bad, I don't have to look far at all for my encouragement. Maybe one day the government will recognize Dad. Currently, it requires presidential approval to obtain his military records. Sometimes I think about how proud of me he is, and I wonder if he realizes that it is I who am probably more proud to be an Albertson than he is of me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day to Day

I wanted to post this so family members and friends could have an idea of what things are like on a daily basis for a regional airline pilot. Obviously, day to day happenings vary based on location, company, and equipment flown. For the SAAB 340B the days are fun and full. There is only a handful of things that I would like to do, but none more so than to fly. The honeymoon phase of the new job has worn off, and I continue to find myself just living up every moment. At first, having a lot of passengers in the back was new and cool. Now, it is more a realization that those people in the back are counting on my captain and I to be just as skillful as a surgeon. No one gets on an airplane with the impression that the pilots are going to be anything less than at the top of their game. Mistakes happen, yet the goal of any professional pilot should be to never make a mistake. That is what separates professionals from amatures, because amateurs strive to get it right where as professionals strive to never be wrong. There are professional pilots who fly for a hobby and there are amateur airline pilots. Fortunately, the armature airline pilots get weeded out pretty fast.

A day starts out a month in advance when we bid on what schedule we want. Getting a particular schedule may or may not work in your favor. The idea is to go through and pick as many schedules as you would like to possibly fly. If you don't select very many options then you may find yourself getting leftovers as your choices are evaluated and finally selected for you based on your seniority with the company.

A day for us always starts one hour before our scheduled departure time. We must be at the crew room in full regalia ready to step on the aircraft and go. Once we get to the crew room we use one of the company computers to log onto the company website and "check-in" for our day. This notifies the company of our arrival time, and really serves to protect us from schedule issues. Once the entire crew has arrived the Captain gives the flight crew a briefing on the day and upcoming flight. Then we head to the plane, where I, as a First Officer, do the pre-flight walk around. This is the same thing that pilots do from the first day of flight training. It is my responsibility to make sure that the airplane is in airworthy shape and to ensure the accuracy of that last statement... After All, the Captain is final responsibility for the safety of flight and this includes delegating the pre-flight walk-around to me. Some Captains choose to do this themselves later in the day as they may want to stretch their legs some. Once that is finished, I go inside and gather the ATIS (current weather broadcast from a weather data station on the field), and then I get our IFR clearance. Once those two things are done I begin the weight and balance computations along with figuring takeoff and landing performance. The Captain uses the information I provide (or they determine if I'm not up to the point they are) and calculate our center of gravity. Once that is finished we work as a team to record the forward and aft limits (CG stations)along with the required trim settings for our weight. From there we begin out checklists and procedures... Which vary widely between companies, and this includes large variances on the same equipment (aircraft).

After the flight, we do a post-flight walk around and start the cycle of events again. I absolutely love it! There are always two groups of airline pilots... The love it and the hate it groups. The one thing I have quickly learned about those who fall into the "hate it" group is that they have all to quickly and easily forgotten about the most perfect part of the job.... The love of flying. The hate it group tends to have nit-picky things to say about the company, their schedule, the union, the way they are treated.... basically, they talk about everything except flying. For me, at least, it is easy to see those who fall in the "hate it" group have already forgotten about the fundamental part of the job.... FLYING. I think if most of those pilots would take a minute to look out the window their attitude would change. If their attitude doesn't change then that is a sure-fire sign that they are in the wrong profession. You find those people in any profession you ever are a part of... even millionaires can be very unhappy people because they forget about the fundamental parts of their job/company and family.

Some people feel it is their gift to others to be a pilot... I feel it is god's gift to me to allow me to see the things I see, be witness to his majestic work, and the privilege of getting to share my passion with the flying public. I'm not a pilot because I wanted a challenge... I'm a pilot because the lord blessed me with the privilege to dream about what it would be like to one day see the world from 20,000 feet. One day I will have to retire from flying, and I say this with the same conviction my grandfather said "I can't stop working or I will die" (My grandfather died one month after he stopped working), but the day I stop flying is the day my life will effectively end. I may still be on this earth for a while after I stop flying, but I can promise I will spend all of that time wishing I was in heaven flying again!

A few pictures to finish:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Life on the Line

Ever got on board an airline flight and wondered what goes on before the plane gets into the air? Well, one of the common questions I hear is "why are we just sitting here". That is a frustrating issue to the frequent flier who is also in a constant state of rushing around. Typically, passengers can not see into the flight deck and that makes things frustrating... We all want to get on and go, and if we can't see a reason why we are not moving then we all tend to get frustrated. I can't speak of larger planes or aircraft with more advanced avionics and FMS's on board. I can tell you that on our flights with the SAAB 340B we have to do our own weight and balance manually, and we must get our performance numbers from our data sheets (part of our release papers). Sometimes this can take a few minutes as ground service personnel add last minute bags or a late passenger finally arrives just in time to make the flight.

Typically, we try and keep everyone informed of any delays. That is not always possible as we try to resolve problems and just don't have enough time to make a quick update. We try and resolve issues as quickly as we can, but often times it is out of our hands as we have to wait on other service providers to come to us. For example, the longest delay I have seen occurred because the fuel truck did not have enough fuel to refuel us for our flight. The truck had to go back to the fuel farm and get the fuel. Anytime refuelers add gas to their trucks they have to ensure the quality of the fuel (i.e. devoid of any contaminants). This takes several minutes to do. All-in-all the delay was 15 minutes before we started taking on fuel. The total time of the delay was 25 minutes. Thankfully, we were trying to get an early start so by the time all was said and done we actually departed at our scheduled time. The passengers might not have been as polite if we were 25 minutes after our scheduled departure time.

Have you ever wondered what some of the lingo line pilots use means? Well, here are some things that may help with that:

In Range: A required call to company operations to inform them we are within 15 minutes of landing. This is required per the regulations for flight following purposes. Company Dispatchers must maintain flight following on every aircraft they dispatch until all aircraft have completed their flights or until they are relieved. Since our SAABs are not equipped with an FMS with ACARS we have to make this radio call ourselves. For other aircraft, ACARS automatically updates company operations personnel.

Out-Off-On-In times: If you fly with us, you may hear one of the pilots calling ops on the radio after the flight deck door is opened after arriving at the gate. Since we do not have ACARS, we have to report these times to operations. Our pay depends on it, LOL. Just like the terms imply, Out is the time we pushed back from the "Blocks", Off is the time we our wheels were off the ground, on is the time our wheels were back on terra firma, and in is the time we "blocked in" at the gate.

Blocks: This term is in reference to tire chocks. When you here a pilot talking about the time he/she blocked out they are talking about the time that the main cabin door was closed and the plane was pushed back from the "blocks".

Another question I have been asked before is can a passenger ever get to just poke their head in the flight deck and look around? Don't be shy, if you would like to do that just ask the flight attendant at some point during the flight. Don't ask during boarding as that would delay others. Ultimately, each airline varies with this policy, but at our company it can be done on a time permitting basis. The Captain obviously has the final say in the matter.

What is a "line"? Each month pilots and flight attendants get to bid on several choices for the schedule they would like to have for the next month. The likely hood that you get your first, second, third, ect... choice is based on seniority. When you bid on a particular schedule it is called a line. The name comes from the fact that the schedules are displayed vertically showing the flying you do on each day and the days off you have. If you want a particular schedule, you are going to bid on that vertical line... hence the name.

I will continue to update this on a more regular basis now. I hope you have enjoyed reading it, and as always feel free to ask questions or leave comments. Have a wonderful and safe flight weather you are flying on an airline or flying yourself to your destination. Keep the blue side up.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Way of the World

Flying in the North has been great. I love the cooler temperatures during these past few weeks. The only thing that I don't like is how hectic my schedule has been during IOE. The schedule will be much easier once I get on reserve because I won't have so many back-to-back reduced rest periods. I have a few days off right now because of two reasons... One is that I have hit my limit of 30 hours within 7 consecutive days. There were days where I was pretty tired, but I made sure to go and work out in some way. Staying active is very helpful for days of long flights and quick turns.

My line check is scheduled for the 9th on a flight from Boston to Augusta Main and back. I have 30 hours of IOE, and only need 35 total. To finish up those last few hours I have an overnight that I am going to be doing in Binghamton (KBGM) on the 7th. The next day I wake up at oh dark thirty (4:00am) to make a 5:00am show time. We fly back from Binghamton, and everyone else is done but me. I fly two more legs going to Allentown (KABE)and back finishing at 3:30pm. The next day I take a "limo" to Washington Regan airport (KDCA), and catch a flight to Boston so that I can complete my line check at 11:00am. Once I complete my line check, I will be all finished with my training and on my way to find a small efficiency apartment in the Houston area. I will be semi-commuting while I sit on reserve. I will come home when I can, but when I have early morning flights or several days in a row with tight schedules then I will at least be able to make sure that I have a place to sleep and remain well rested for each day. Once I am able to hold a line then commuting will be much easier. There are about 8 direct flights a day between Houston and Little Rock. As a result, when I hold a line I will definitely be able to commute much more easily. With all of the overnights that are done in the Houston system it will also be easy to commute and have limited expenses while doing that.

You know how pilot's can go years and years without ever having any kind of problem occur? I think with these SAAB's the saying is that you can go days and days without a problem. On one of my legs we had a master warning, then on another the prop sync didn't , and another the autopilot switch (electromagnet) lost it's magnetic field. Also had some problems on another flight with the PGB oil pressure. It looked like it was one of the old paddle wheel transducer type of sensors that was running the gauge .

I am almost all finished though. I am on my way home for one day before I come back up to Dulles again. I have a huge layover here in Charlotte, NC. When I get back, I have a fun but red-eye kind of schedule. I do a Binghamton run with an overnight there (basically a stand-up, or high speed as some guys call them). Gotta be up at 4am for a 5am show time, and then off to a 6am flight.... but, since I'm finishing IOE I keep going on an Allentown run and one other leg before I finish at 8pm that night. They give me the next day off, but conveniently I have a 6am flight to Boston scheduled to take me up to Boston for my line check. I get to make a round-trip flight from Boston to Augusta.

At least this time I come back on the 6th and travel home on the 10th. Right now I have three days off because of my 30 hrs in 7 days limit, and we are so understaffed with Captains in Dulles that the checkairmen are full with getting the upgrades their 50hrs of IOE and getting the Fed rides done.

I did get to do my first visual approach yesterday. They are fun, but definitely a challenge. You get used to flying a pattern at 120kts and slowing to 80 or so on final. This plane we are usually slowing through 200kts on downwind and just keep the throttles at flight idle as we work our way down to Vfa. Judging the point to start down is a bit trickier too, because with the extra speed there is a tendency to be just behind the plane enough that you are 3 whites on final. The nice part about the SAAB is that the 11ft props do a great job of pouring the drag on. My visual approach was pretty good, my checkairmen didn't say a word to me.... and his critique was that being close to the end of IOE I handled it just like he would expect.... but he told me to be a bit more confident in myself and to relax . The relax part is easy, but I think until I get done with "firsts" and start getting into the "experienced" bracket I may second guess myself for a bit. That seems normal from my past experiences with most things.... you just need to get a few things under your belt before you really get into a groove.
I am having a blast up here at Dulles! The SAAB lands so much different from anything else I've ever flown. Take out the speed and "feel" differences of the Cessna's and other models I flew, and as far as sight picture and pitch requirements for landing go.... it is way different. The pitch attitude looks like a low pass... in a G/A tric gear plane, if you used the same pitch attitude it would look like you were going to wheelbarrow the nose. After you touch down, though, you can tell that it takes a few seconds for the nose to touch.... when it looked otherwise until that point. All of my landings have been something I have been doing well with. My checkairman told me that I am squared away with those and that he and the previous checkairman gave me 1's for them. We get graded on a daily basis. 1-3 is the scale system they use, where 1 means proficient, 2 means requires additional training but has normal progress, and 3 means you need more training but lack normal progress. There isn't any sugar coating, but they don't bull$hit you with your progress... No harsh words or anything demeaning, they work more like the military... The checkairmen will say you are squared away or you don't meet the standards. No extraneous stuff... probably to just limit their liability in case someone accidentally says something that walks the line.

My last landing of the day at Allentown was kind of a plop, LOL. The two prop systems we have on our planes actually do cause performance differences as far as power reductions go. One drops quick when you pull the power lever and the other will keep coasting on in. No one ever mentioned that in ground school, but the class was taught by someone who never flew a SAAB.

This part of the world is beautiful .... We did have to pick our way around buildups this afternoon. That is definitely different than G/A flying, because we keep it tight to the cloud. In G/A you try to get some distance between yourself and a cell or TCU. I do have my line check on Tuesday... that is where you fly a normal day (in my case several legs and not just one out-and-back), and after the checkairman is satisfied with my performance then I get signed off as having all my training completed and I can begin normal ops at my base. I'm looking forward to it. You all have a great evening.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This is long, but it is my update of all the stuff that happened on my first day... :D

Started off great. We flew out to State College, PA., and back without a hitch. The only catch was a fed decided to jumpseat with us... Great, so my first flight EVER and I have a fed breathing down my neck, LOL. My checkairmen made sure to inform the guy, but the Fed, being a Fed, kept telling me wrong things to do, LOL. I wasn't about to go talk to center before I turned on a bleed valve. It takes two seconds and is part of my climb flow to open one Low pressure bleed valve at a time. As quick as the cabin heated up, I think center/departure can wait for 2 seconds while I keep people in the back from having heat stroke.

Next out and back trip: There was a Captain doing IOE with another checkairmen, and the plane they were scheduled to use had a problem with the tiller. The SAAB does not have any interconnect unit for the rudder pedals and nosewheel steering. So the only way to move the nosewheel is with the tiller or using differential power. Because the Captain was doing IOE, the checkairmen requested a plane swap. So they took our plane... I went to preflight their plane and guess what? I discovered a leak coming from the PGB (Prop Gear Box). So, we got swapped for a broken plane, and a full load of passengers had to wait over 3
hours. What we did is take the first plane into a gate... Remember when I talked about wanting to try and do a REPO flight from IAH to ALB? That was the plane we ended up getting. So our 12:28 scheduled departure was really 4:00 ish. We did that out and back to a place called Charlestown,PA..

I was feeling good on that out and back. My Checkairmen was really pushing me to be quick, and I did it (yeah I was kinda surprised myself, LOL). We made up so much time that we got back in time to make the last out and back of the day on the scheduled time. That was quite a feat, because we had about 2 hours of block time for the trip, and we did it in just under an hour. That is where I learned about having 3/4 of the next leg's weight and balance form filled out. I also had experience getting a clearance through an RCO, so that made the inbound (to Dulles) leg go a bit quicker.

We got back, went inside for the release papers (yeah Internet was down too so we had to get it from the gate agent). As we went out the Captain told the gate agent we could only take 31 (my w&B figures, and he calculated the CG... that is how we normally do it - he uses a whiz wheel for the W&B). We got the paperwork ready and I looked back to tell the F/A we were ready to board (Capt.'s Blessing). She wasn't there, so I told the Capt. that she must have gone to smoke a cigarette. So the Captain got off the plane and told the gate agents that as soon as they see the flight attendant to start boarding behind her. That is when the flight attendant came back on board and the Captain found out she was gone calling S.O.C. with a fatigued call. Well, guess who was behind her? LOL, 31 people who had to be told to go back inside. The pax were very nice throughout everything. Fast Forward just a tad over an hour, and the reserve Flight Attendant gets there. She was very pretty, so my Captain had to remind me that we were there to fly and not talk, LOL. We got ready fast enough, but that is when they loaded up 34 people, 30 checked bags and 27 carry-ons. The Captain was ****ed... The gate agent didn't believe the Captain was right. So I took the prerogative to do the W&B form with our load.... Specifically to have a paper trail showing that we were not gonna be legal to depart... seeing as how we were almost 1,000lbs over max ramp weight. So, that paperwork and a very smart Captain made the gate agents start working on deplaning passengers. The problem was that everyone was apparently holding out for higher dollar amounts and more vouchers. They were up to $400 and a free round trip (and the pax tickets didn't cost that much either). No one budged. We had the right engine running because they had removed the A/C cart and we were planing on hauling *** out of there. So we sat for over 1/2 hour with the engine running and HP Bleed Air going through the A/C (it is a trick we can use to increase the amount of cool air entering the cabin). I asked the Captain a question about our 16 hour duty limit, and that ended with him calling in and talking with the dispatcher. Because no one budged, we ended up timing out.

.... And that was my "operational" experience for my first day. I was really excited about my landings though. They were all "greasers", and mostly on the centerline, LOL. I don't mind being hard on myself though. The SAAB is pitch sensitive and roll is like a 747. I over did the pitch and wanted to have the sight picture of a Cessna. We land at about 3* nose up pitch, so I ballooned on my second landing... The first one was great, but I think that was purely luck LOL. My visual approaches were not great by any means. You don't realize how far out you do have to start planing the descent. I tried to fly my first approach like a Cessna, and that won't cut it. You can't drop a SAAB out of the sky. Each of my first three landings were back at Dulles, and a little difference was that Dulles is a high speed place. They barked at us because we slowed to 190 during some massive turbulence on our way in. We had no speed restrictions, yet as soon as we hit 190 the controller asked what our speed was. Capt. told him. The Controller was definitely upset when he told us to let him know first next time. I had to shrug my shoulders... no speed restrictions right? The arrival we were on required 160kts or greater... 190 covers the "or greater" part, LOL. What made judging my visuals hard was that I had to slow down and go down. The SAAB is slippery when clean, and a drag bucket when configured. We can't get the gear down till 200KIAS. But, the good Captain help talk me back onto a nice approach. I wanted to beat myself up over my judgment errors on those approaches, but he kept telling me... Hey man, it's your first day of IOE you can't expect yourself to go from a Cessna to a SAAB and start off perfect. I just expect better of myself and approaches... but, I did at least joke with him that it doesn't take a good approach to make a good landing hehe.

Sorry that was so long, but my first day was a bit more memorable then some from what a lot of the guys told me, LOL.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What an awesome day! I flew a lot in the SAAB today, and got to try my hand at integrating sim training to line ops.. There were as many operational problems as legs that we flew. Just to summarize my day:

We had a show time of 6:39am. I got the dispatch release and weather then I started to fill out what I could from our W&B sheet. Next thing you know, there is a maintenance issue with another plane so we did a plane swop. We had to do that because the steering wheel tiller was busted on the plane we were gonna take. After going over there to start over at the top. On my walk around I discovered where the PGB (prop gear box)had a leak. That caused us to push the scheduled departure time back 2 hours until another plane came in that we could use. We finally got under way about 2.2 hours later. We made our out-and-back with so much efficiency that we blocked in 10 minutes ahead of our planned ETA from our original flight. As we prepared for another flight, our flight attendant decided to call in fatigued. So we waited another 90 minutes for a reserve flight attendant. After she arrived, we booked it out to the flightline and were ready to go in about 10 minutes. The problem was that the gate agent didn't listen to the Captain when he told him we could only take 31 pax. We had just finished boarding 34 passengers and then the fun began. No irrate passengers, but no volunteers to give up their seat. Cutting right to the chase, we had to cancel the flight due to several things which caused us to time out.

The plane is so fun to fly. It is very sensitive on ptich control inputs, and very slow on roll. I had a great first landing in the SAAB, but my second one was not as good. ATC slam dunked us, and as a result I was about 15 knots fast over the threshold. We didn't go to the UK, bu we made it within our company's policy for speed limits on final and within the company's policy for max distance from the threshold that we may land. All of the flying was very fun, and I can't wait till tomorrow to do it all again, but with a few more destinations thrown in there. I will add more details about the flight later, but for now I need to get some sleep.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How to become Current with one Landing

After a long two month 1 week hiatus from flying, today I was able to get back into the air. The now ever increasing pace of training brought me to Dulles Airport last Sunday. The intent was to do orientation training (how to conduct line business) with the hope that they would get us scheduled for some extra duties. As comes standard with any job of this nature, I was prepared for the complete revamp of my schedule issued to me on Monday. I will say, if you are a person set in your ways, then you shouldn't bother. Schedules change faster then the best mom can change a diaper.

My Tuesday started off as planned, an observation flight where I sat in the Jumpseat and... well... observed. Not too much demanding tasks to complete there, but a lot of great information to be missed if you just sit there with your jaw open and eyes filled with dreams. Normal ops vary greatly from things done in the simulator. The pace of things is greatly sped up, and there is definitely a noticeable difference between crews. Most all crews follow the procedures to a "T", but how they conduct the flight can vary greatly.

My fun started when I was able to take the last leg of a flight because the Captain was a Checkairmen and the F/O was a past Captain (rehired after a furlough from a Major, but he gave up his seniority to go to the major). After I filled out our standard paperwork (completed our TOLD card and W&B sheet) the F/O asked if I wanted to take the leg. I told him that I wouldn't mind, but he was in my seat =). So I got to fly the leg from Charlie West (Charleston West Virginia) back to Dulles (KIAD) airport. The flight was fun, and pretty standard. My approach to the landing was great, right on speed and on sink rate. My landing, however left a little to desire. Naw, LOL I'm just kidding... It was actually very good for my first ever landing in an airplane with 34 passengers on board (a full house). I was surprised by the actual affect of going to flight idle compared to that of anything before. The plane slows down in a big hurry when it produces no thrust, LOL.

In case you were wondering about the title.... Imagine a great approach that ends up in a bounce, then another bounce, and on the last time you stick the landing. Yeah, that's three landings isn't it, LOL. A joke I used to play on some of my friends was if they bounced a landing twice I would tell them one more and you'll be current.

Have a great one,

Friday, July 16, 2010

I recieved a phone call that I have been waiting for. I get to fly to Dulles Airport in D.C.. I will be finishing up my training, and the things left to complete are:

1) Orientation - Company check-in policies, general operations, ect...
2) Observation - There are two flights that me must observe from the jump seat. The purpose is to allow the new hires (me) to see and learn how flights are managed. This includes everything from doing the preflight inspection to securing the plane after the last flight of the day.
3) IOE - This stands for, Initial Operating Experience. We take on our roll as a first officer on passenger carrying flights. During IOE, pilots are paired with very experienced and specifically trained Captains. The Captain helps ensure the flight is conducted safely while teaching us about flying the real plane, and ensuring we conduct the flight according to company policies and procedures.

Once I finish those three things, I will earn my wings as a new airline pilot. It has been a fun process, and it seems like we just started training a few days ago. It's been nearly 10 weeks to the day from the date of our first class. The group of pilots I enjoyed ground school with have all done well. There have been a few hard times along the way, like trying to study all 40 pages of our study guide... while studying for our company procedures and systems tests.

We took a total of 3 written tests during the entire process. The first test was administered during our interview. The test was a 50 question test based off of ATP written test questions. The questions and answers had been changed enough that attention to detail is the only way to ensure a passing score. They did not rearrange the answer order or copy every question verbatim. Some questions had two right answers, however only one was more correct than the other.

I think I am very fortunate to have an opportunity like this. There are a lot of pilots and flight attendants that go to class with big eyes and huge excitement about being at an airline. For so many of those pilots the shiny jet syndrome kept them from researching day-to-day life. For those who ignore any information about the life on an airline pilot.... they eventually hate the job. I tried to do all the research I could. Learning about schedules, time away from home, stress, and pay. In the end, I definitely made the right choice for myself. This is the kind of stuff that I love to do, and I was able to start with the knowledge of things to come. Going into this industry with limited knowledge about it is very tough on the person. Homesick? Don't fly for the airlines! Need a set schedule to be your most productive? Same thing!!

I can't wait to start flying the SAAB! It is almost surreal at this point!


Thursday, July 15, 2010

First Post

Well, I finally decided to make my own blog. I enjoy flying so much that I worked hard to earn an opportunity to make aviation my career. I hope to join the CHIPs committee within ALPA soon. The CHIPs committee is the Charting and Instrument Procedures committee. They are a part of a several different organizations within the aviation profession that develop instrument approaches among a host of other responsibilities.

This is a short blog entry, but keep checking back as I will update this as frequently as I can.

Safe Skies, and remember to always stay in the books!