July 28, 2008
|CEO of the Cockpit
It seems strange to feel cold while flying in the middle of summer but I was chilled to the bone. Long legs in high-altitude transports always result in a cold-soak, and the low temps work their way though the cockpit wall and over to your seat.
On the Boeing 727, it was just something we had to live with. A normal long leg in that airplane was one request to "throw another log on the fire" to the engineer after another.
This was a problem for me when I flew in the flight-engineer seat because I never got cold next to all the hot lights of my flight-engineer panel. Every time I turned the heat up to keep the captain's and the first officer's butt cheeks unfrozen, I had to endure jungle-like conditions back in the sideways seat. Also, even though the left air-conditioning pack was supposed to only supply the cockpit, a lot of the air also fed the first-class cabin. This almost always led to calls from the flight attendants in the front cabin telling me to turn the temps down a little.
When Boeing got around to designing the 767, they added an electric sidewall heater next to each pilot's position. It works great and can really make you feel all warm and fuzzy on a five-hour leg like we were on tonight ... when it isn't broken.
Mine was broken, in another example of MBC, or, "maintenance by crisis." The airline probably didn't have to fix this problem for a month and wasn't going to waste precious airline-management bonus money by doing so. My copilot, Riley, was enjoying his heated work station and was as comfortable as an old sweatshirt on a sweet-smelling coed while I was a cold as a witch's kitty in a snowy litter box.
My discomfort was increased by the fact that the fuzz was not only on board, she was sitting right behind me. An FAA inspector was riding with us from Chicago to San Francisco. A lot of times it isn't such a big deal to have the fuzz on your jump seat. For example, if a tired maintenance inspector is just trying to hitch a ride back home, you've got no problems. Connie, our jump-seat rider, was an air carrier inspector. This can lead to problems if we screw up.
Even if we did everything right, this would be a very long leg. Not that we ever plan to do anything wrong, but even a simple thing like reading a short magazine article to keep your mind sharp while the other pilot is flying, or listening to your MP3 player, can be misconstrued by the fuzz as a lapse in the rules.
Riley was staying out of the whole thing by playing dead. I hadn't heard a word or a sound out of him since we got west of Rockford, climbing into the flight levels.
Connie Quizzes the CEO
I had called back and had one of our few remaining blankets delivered to me from the back along with a hot coffee for me, a Diet Coke for Riley (even though he hadn't asked for one) and a Bloody Mary mix for Connie.
I had put the blanket over my left shoulder and was sitting on the tail end of it to get a little shelter from the cold. Just as I was about to zone out for the next three hours, Connie spoke up. From directly behind me I heard a question that would keep me up most of the rest of the flight.
"Are you," Connie asked, "going to Oshkosh this year?"
Yes, I am ... right after this rotation. Are you going?
"Yup" she said. "I'll be flying my Cessna 140 up from Crystal Lake after I get home from this trip. I've camped there in the past, but this year I have a motel room with air conditioning and running water. I'm getting too old to enjoy waking up under my wing."
So, I asked, when you are up there, do you take your violation ticket-book and gig pilots who don't have their logbooks up-to-date and stuff?
"Naw," she said, "I'm on vacation when I'm at Oshkosh. Of course, now that you mention it, I'm about five violations from getting my quota for the month and this is my last trip until August ..."
Connie was all right. I knew I could relax a little bit because we could talk about aviation things that wouldn't put my ticket in jeopardy.
Suddenly, a voice that up until now had been as quiet as a Queen's fart, said, "I'm flying my Ercoupe into Appleton and going to the thing."
Riley was alive! Who would have guessed that he was a closet 'coupe flyer?
The CEO Rides A Car To The Big Show
I've got to make a confession here, I told them. I'm not going to fly into Oshkosh quite as much as I'm going to drive my Toyota there. I know the fly-in is the "big party" and everybody wants to bring their planes, but I'm inhibited by two things. First, I don't own a plane; and second, I get enough flying in high-density traffic areas during the year. I'm content to let others look for six or seven dozens pieces of traffic in the pattern while they try to slow from 200 knots to 80 so they can fit in behind a Skycatcher on short final.
"Wuss" said Connie.
Yes, I said, but a live Wuss, thank you very much.
It is like New Year's Eve, I continued. Why get drunk on a night when everybody else is getting sloshed? Semi-professional drunks I've flown with over the years have called it "amateur night." I agree. Even though I might go for a flight or two with a friend or two the week of Oshkosh, for me it's all about sitting in my lawn chair and re-connecting with my friends.
"You have friends?" Riley asked. His question reminded me of an old saying that an even older captain told me once, something to do with the fact that even though everybody likes a little ass from time to time, nobody likes a smart ass.
The CEO Admits To Having Friends
Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have friends. Oshkosh is where we meet every year to find out who is dead, who got divorced, who got remarried and who has a new flying story to tell. As we have gotten older, we even discuss our grandkids and mourn the loss of those who died out of our group during the earth's most recent trip around the sun.
The world of aviation is a very small one and it only gets smaller as you get older. The thing I love about our little Oshkosh confabs is that we can drop all the crap for a few precious days and talk flying. We are old enough now that we aren't lusting for each others jobs or spouses. We have seen enough wars, storms, in-flight fires, hijackings, tremendously adventurous layovers and all-nighters to keep our mouths moving non-stop for the entire week if we want.
"Talk about small worlds," said Connie, "try the size of my world as a female pilot and FAA inspector. Half of the people I run into don't want to talk flying with me because they think I'm out to get them and many in the other half still can't get over the fact that you don't need a penis to fly a plane."
But it helps, I said.
"Did I mention the five violations I have yet to give out?" Connie said with a grin that I couldn't see behind me but I could feel.
Connie, you can join our group any time. You call the cell number I going to give you and I'll throw another brat on the fire and ice down another six-pack. You're welcome anytime, especially if you leave your ticket book at home.
Riley had to chime in: "What about me?" he asked.
Didn't you mention that you are flying in an Ercoupe?
"Yeah, what about it?"
Tell you what, I said. If you can manage to fly that thing into Appleton and leave it there -- and by that I mean refrain from taxiing it south to the fly-in -- you can join our pilot party. You don't have one of those Ercoupes with those lame rudder pedals, do you?
The Job Interrupts a Puppy Dog Moment
Like many happy moments in flight, ours was ended by the FAA. We got a call from Denver Center.
"Triad seven six five," the disembodied voice of the high-guy said, "flights up ahead on your route report continuous moderate turbulence over the front range from FL210 up to 340. Rides above FL350 are reported as continuous light to occasional moderate chop."
This was a great, albeit unwanted, opportunity to show old Connie some highly trained aviators in action. I turned on the seatbelt sign while I was asking the controller for higher. Riley made a PA to the back telling the flight attendants to sit down for a while and, without thinking, all three of us casually leaned over to the cockpit trash bag and poured a little of our drinks into it just before the first nibble of rough air.
Once those chores were done, all we had to do was ride out the bumpiness for two or three hundred miles. Our conversation turned back to our common world -- the world of pilots happy to be getting ready to go to the big show -- as our "whale," the 767-300, lumbered through the surf on our way west.
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