AVweb's Kevin Garrison doesn't ever fly for hire except for his airline. Well, there's this little bit of instructing he does ...
Click here for the full story.
It was a tough approach to a landing and I was all by myself. No co-pilot to help me and no company dispatcher to ask for numbers or advice. I was
fairly low on fuel -- about two and a half gallons left -- and the air pressure in my left main gear tire was clearly a little on the underinflated side, for a 6.00 x 6.
I had to use my throttle hand to reach up over my head and put in just a tweak of nose-up elevator trim as I came careening down short final to an even shorter runway. Left wing a tad low to
counteract the left crosswind, and I touched down completely away from any kind of pavement, ILS, building, airport lighting, or hold-short lines. I landed just like God intended an airplane to land:
The CEO As a Teacher?
It would shock and awe the airline I fly for to realize that I have been teaching little pilot munchkins for years and years. Boggle their minds is what it would do. Imagine an old, crusty captain who
has more bitch than pitch left in his flying life teaching youngsters how to fly airplanes and become professional pilots.
I never taught at the airline. It wasn't because I was against the idea. In older times, an airline flight instructor enjoyed the same days off as a line pilot, was in his own bed (if he wanted to be)
every night and had time to run at least one full-time, outside business when he worked for flight training. It was a good deal if you didn't mind flying a box.
Today, the seniority-list flight instructors who are left labor like sled dogs on a short lead and keep awful working hours. Not to mention the fact that they are still flying boxes, not airplanes.
Most of them have been replaced by retired pilots who had to return to some kind of work when their pensions disappeared. The replacements are just as good and cost a third as much as your average
I don't teach people how to fly 767s ... well, in a way I do, but I do it through nothing larger than a Champ or a 172. We use pencils, not FMS units, and maps get drawn on, not displayed on
A Well-Rounded Pilot Can Still Fit In A Champ
"Outside flying" is what the airlines call what I do. Seriously, that is the exact term used in the flight operations manual when it describes aviation that differs from Point A to B autopilot
navigating for the company. You see, there is only so much outside flying an airline pilot can do for money. You are only allowed a hundred hours a month of commercial flying and the airlines, quite
rightly, want all of it.
Airlines are egotistical enough to think that any flying that isn't in one of their barges counts as "outside." Having never been a military guy, I don't know if they feel the same way, but many
airlines look upon outside flying as more of a problem than a blessing.
It officially only counts as outside flying by the Feds in the FAA if you get paid for it, so I'm in the clear with my little instructing experiments: I instruct for free. I might accept the odd, free
motorcycle from a grateful student, or perhaps a few hundred gallons of auto gas, but I would never fly for money outside of the airline. Plus, they get pretty damn close to a hundred hours a month
out of me now, anyway.
On our airport, which has mostly paved runways by the way, a large percentage of pilots scaring themselves in the pattern can be found flying Boeings and Canadairs during their work weeks. On their
days off, they can be found slouching around here, wiping grease off wheel pants, sweeping out hangars, and sitting in the shade watching me screw up landings.
Thinking that airline jocks only fly airliners is like kids thinking that mommy and daddy only "did it" once before they were born and stopped completely after. Where do you think airline pilots come
Chuck Makes A Fat Joke
Seeing me try to squeeze my more-than-ample buttocks out of the door of the Champ, my friend Chuck sidled up and asked, "Hey, need a spatula and some grease to get out of that thing?"
When I was a young pup, I could extricate myself from a Champ with a certain amount of panache. Today, with my large behind and tennis-abused knees, it looks more like a water buffalo giving birth. I
straightened myself up and started tying the bird down while Chuck kicked in some chocks and then helped me put the windshield cover on.
Chuck had spent a large amount of his 10-year airline-piloting career on furlough until he finally gave up his seniority number and went to law school. He now practices law and owns the airport. Not a
bad trade-off, but I can tell he still misses flying the big jets more than a little. Of course, flying his Citation makes up for it a little.
I was then introduced to my latest victim -- a 16-year-old guy named Ted who wanted to fly more than he wanted to eat. I know that "fly more than eat" phrase is a cliché, but in many cases it is
true. Ted looked like he was short about a dozen meals. I began to remedy that by taking him across the field for a hamburger.
Now, before you ask, we don't have hundred-dollar hamburgers at our field. They cost about two bucks. As Ted ate and I sipped on my Diet Coke, he began to tell me all about how much he wants to be
just like me and be an airline pilot.
Mid-Munch Is Not An Airport In Germany
I had to stop him in mid-munch.
Ted, I said, nobody starts out wanting to be an airline pilot ... nobody sane, anyway. You are young; you should be aspiring to be a fighter jock, an adventure pilot, a bush pilot, a gawd-darn
astronaut on the first Mars mission. Airline flying is a great career for men and women with kids and responsibilities, but trust me, none of us started out looking at flying as a straight-and-level,
when-are-we-going-to-get-to-Pittsburgh kind of thing.
In my generation, we all began thinking of flying when we read books about airships and over-the-pole flights by heroes flying Ford Tri-Motors with sled dogs as passengers. I drew pictures of fighters
during school when I should have been paying attention, not airliners.
I dreamed of saving pretty girls in peril with my flying skills, not getting 300 angry people into Denver during a snowstorm. I had a vision of getting picked up for my job at the airport by a passing
friend in a helicopter. He would simply drop a rope ladder into my back yard and I would climb aboard. No bicycle trip to the field for this kid!
This is why you very rarely see airline pilots flying airliners on their days off.
Pilots do lots of things totally outside of flying. Heck, Glenn Curtiss set the land speed-record for motorcycles before he even built his first airplane. Ernie Gann wrote books and hated commies,
Richard Bach sailed boats. Others collect guns, race cars, or even preach on their own time. Trust me: Being an airline pilot is great and is a wonderful career if it happens, but there is so much
more out there in the world of aviation for you to sample and taste before you settle for eight hours of straight-and-level at a time.
Uncle Rick Was An Airline Flying Man ...
Ted put down his hamburger and said, "Well, my Uncle Rick was an airline pilot and I want to be like him. He died two months ago."
I'm sorry you lost your uncle. What did he do before he was an airline pilot?
"He flew F-4s in 'Nam, dusted crops, flew Lear Jets for Executive Jet Travel, and had a Ford dealership." Ted brightened up a little. "I think I get it. He was an airline pilot but he was much more
than that; he was a by-gawd pilot first and foremost, right?"
You definitely are getting it, Ted, and you are really ready now to start learning. It isn't about being an airline pilot. It is about being the best possible pilot you can be. That is why you are
going to know dead reckoning and pilotage as navigation techniques long before you enter your first waypoint into an FMS. That is why you'll deal with the little bit of power a 65-horse engine gives
you way before you operate your first General Electric GP7200 engine on an Airbus A380.
When I am done with you, you are going to have just as much fun, if not more, flying that beat-up old Champ out there than you do captaining the most expensive airliner in the world. Flying isn't a
job, Ted ... it's an honor and a way of life.
Now, let's go scrape some bug guts off of a windshield and put some air in a 6.00 x 6 tire!
Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.
If you hear this hangar story, don't roll your eyes. It's true. The pilot was forced to do a touch-and-go at O'Hare in a Cherokee.
Click here for the full story.
It was late in 1981 or maybe early in 1982, because that's the only time in the history of O'Hare that the draconian departure restrictions in this
tale were used. To understand how those departure restrictions fit into our story, you need to know a little about how IFR departures work at the world's busiest airport.
Everybody gets the same instrument departure procedure (currently the O'Hare One), which routes them over one of more than a dozen standard departure fixes, depending on requested altitude and
direction of flight. If you're eastbound at high altitude, you can file whatever you want but you'll get the O'Hare One over either Keeler (ELX) or Gipper (GIJ). These fixes coincide with a letter of
agreement between Chicago TRACON and Chicago Center, specifying that the TRACON ensures all high-altitude, eastbound departures are handed off to Center in two single-file lines, one destined to pass
over each fix. Similar agreements cover high-altitude routes in other directions. The radar separation minimum for most Center operations is five miles, but in order to allow for margin of error (and
these days, to keep the computer "snitch" quiet), the actual in-trail spacing on these routes is closer to seven.
Ideal vs. Reality
On ideal days, tower controllers launch departures with only three miles in-trail separation between airplanes going over the same fix. Departure controllers increase that spacing to at least five
miles. Doing so isn't difficult: The speed differential between a departure three miles off the airport and one just breaking ground is substantial, so spacing naturally increases. More space can be
obtained via speed control and/or vectoring if necessary.
On less-than-ideal days, when thunderstorm activity requires that the Center allow pilots leeway to make course deviations, or when controllers must provide radar vectoring to avoid big, black clouds,
more spacing is required for all the zigging and zagging. The call goes out to Chicago TRACON, and to O'Hare Tower, with a restriction that will put fewer airplanes into the affected airspace. Such
restrictions can involve more in-trail spacing, the combining of multiple routes into one, or a combination of both. A restriction such as, "Treat Iowa City (IOW) and Dubuque (DBQ) as one fix, 20
miles in trail," is common during thunderstorm season. The result is two airplanes in the airspace where, previously, there were eight or nine.
Since even the best departure controllers have a hard time making 20 miles out of the normal three, it's up to the folks in the tower to make up the difference, via the oldest method of separating
airplanes ever devised: holding takeoff clearance until the in-trail will exist. If there's only one way to access the runway, the delay affects not only the aircraft in question, but every aircraft
in the line behind it. Consequently, ground controllers at O'Hare put a lot of effort into providing a split -- separating like-fix departures from airplanes going in a different directions -- to
avoid such delays.
Hurry Up and Wait
Now go back to 1981 and the months and years immediately after the PATCO strike. The five-mile minimum all but disappeared. Center controllers were stretched thin; many were working multiple sectors
simultaneously, and they needed more than five miles. Twenty-, 30- and 60-mile restrictions became standard. The slightest problem with weather, of course, would exacerbate things. The result was an
airliner traffic jam on the airport, pretty much all day, every day, for months after the strike.
On this particular day, I was working south Local (Tower controller), with 50 or 75 jetliners lined up for my three departure runways: 22L, 27L, and 32L from the T-10 taxiway. The line for 22L
stretched over a mile down the cargo taxiway and the 27L parallel taxiway was solid with nose-to-tail jets. The 32L departures stretched out from the departure intersection at T-10 up into the
terminal area. Fortunately, arrivals were being vectored for landings on the north side of the airport, where a different local controller dealt with them. My only job was to roll departures, and
comply with the in-trail restrictions between airplanes cleared over the initial same departure fix. It was sometimes a slow process.
Enter the FLIB
I received a landline call from an Approach controller in the radar room 20 floors below me who knew my reputation for being "FLIB friendly." (FLIB is an unofficial controller acronym for ... um ...
"Friendly Little Itty Bittys.") He wanted to get a Cherokee out of his hair, and off his frequency, just a little sooner.
The Cherokee was southeast of O'Hare, IFR to Schaumburg airport, located nine miles to the west. The problem was that while Schaumburg was VFR, the Cherokee was in IMC at minimum vectoring altitude
and Schaumburg had no instrument approach. The pilot needed to make an instrument approach somewhere to get out of the clouds.
This wasn't unusual, and the normal procedure was vectors to Dupage airport (eight miles southwest of Schaumburg) where the pilot could make an instrument approach, break out, cancel IFR and then
proceed VFR to his original destination. The question for me from the Approach controller was this: "Howzabout, rather than vectoring this guy all the way out to Dupage, we put him on the ILS to 32L
at O'Hare? When he breaks out, give him a clearance to exit the O'Hare airspace, VFR to the west."
"Sounds good to me," I said, and a few minutes later I spotted the radar target of the Cherokee inching down the 32L final approach course.
As I perused the flight strips representing the jets at my departure runways, it became apparent that, despite everyone's best efforts, the in-trail restrictions were about to take their toll. When
the Cherokee was about a seven-mile final, I ran out of rollable airplanes. The next aircraft in line at each of the three departure runways was subject to a delay and, with the traffic jam, there was
no way to get any non-restricted aircraft to a runway. I made my brief, and somewhat routine, explanation on the frequency of why departures were stopped and for how long, and then sat back and waited
for the Cherokee pilot to call.
The Cherokee driver was not enthusiastic about his O'Hare adventure. He nervously announced JOCKY inbound on the ILS. I asked him to report canceling IFR. He did a minute later and requested a VFR
departure to the west.
With two-and-a-half miles of empty runway in front of him, and me with no one to use it for the next few minutes, I couldn't resist: "Unable. Cleared for touch-and-go on three two left, then your
westbound VFR departure is approved."
You Gotta Be Kidding!
Silence, at first. Then, a stammering explanation of how all he really wanted to do was go to Schaumburg and that it hadn't been his idea to make an approach to O'Hare in the first place. Clearly, he
thought he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that the touch-and-go clearance was some sort of controller code relating to his penance.
"No problem," I replied. "Cleared for the option -- low approach, touch-and-go, whatever you like. At midfield, you can turn westbound." I didn't want him going westbound from where he was. That would
put him in conflict with the 22L and 27L departures that I planned to start rolling shortly. I needed him to come to the runway first, and then start the turn to the west.
He finally grasped that he was being offered a rather unusual opportunity. "Oh! OK, I'm cleared for a touch-and-go! I won't start my turn until midfield! Wow, thanks!" Creeping down final he spotted
all the jets lined up for takeoff and asked, "Uh, Tower, all those airliners aren't waiting for me, are they?"
Before I could answer, someone said, "Nah, we just heard there was a Cherokee coming in here to do a touch-and-go, so we all came out to watch." The bewildered Cherokee pilot touched down softly, then
lifted off and began a turn to the west.
After that, each pilot seemed in a particularly good mood. Many offered some wry comment. "Thanks for the half-time show," said one. Another observed that the Cherokee pilot would have a logbook the
rest of them didn't -- their O'Hare landings were always to a full stop. He sounded a little envious.
The pilot of the Cherokee was effusive in his thanks as he departed the O'Hare airspace. I assured him that it was all part of the day's work, and not to worry, he hadn't delayed any airliners. As I
approved his request for a frequency change to UNICOM, he acknowledged, then made the comment that has stuck with me all these years: "Man, the guys back in Columbus aren't going to believe this!"
They probably didn't. I hope that now they do.
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