Pelican's Perch #17:
Strange Critters — Pilots, Captains, and Chief Pilots
AVweb columnist John Deakin — whose commits his day job in the left front seat of a Boeing 747 — offers a riotous insider's look at the professional pilot pecking order, and explains why he'd much rather be called
First, a little housekeeping. In my previous column, I mentioned a neat little booklet by Hamilton Standard that I said I might get duplicated if there was sufficient interest. Wow, was there ever: I received over 50 serious inquiries! I have placed the order for 100 of them. My final cost will be something over $20 each. I'm not sure of the final price, and I'll probably add a buck or two to make sure I'm covered. If you've any interest, send me an email for more information. If you've already received an acknowledgment from me, there is no need to repeat it, you're "on the list."
Also, I had "sort of " indicated that this month's column might be on mixture management, to go along with the previous two columns on manifold pressure and props. Sorry, but some of the data I need is not here yet, and I ran out of time. Perhaps next month.
When I was just a pup, even before I got my Commercial, I was "hired" to fly some folks around in their new Cessna 172. One of my early trips was to Miami, Fla., and upon parking in the transient area, I was approached by a wonderful little fellow from the Miami Port Authority whom I came to know as "Alfie." The first words out of his mouth endeared him to me forever, for I was but 17, very wet behind the ears, and this was my first time ever into the big Miami International Airport.
"Good morning, Captain, how are you, today?"
I would have killed for him at that moment for that "Captain." I wondered where I could buy a shirt with epaulets, so I could wear four stripes. Years later, Alfie told me about the look on my face that first time, and we both had a good laugh.
Later, we had a nice enough fellow show up at my home airport (Sarasota, Fla.) flying a DC-3. He had retired from National Airlines, as I recall. He made it a point to introduce himself as "Captain," and all his pages came across the PA system as "Captain." It wasn't long before I became aware of a lot of snickering at the overuse of the honorific, even though he was truly entitled to it. I resolved that I would never make that mistake, and I'm still uncomfortable today when someone calls me "Captain" unless I'm on duty, and it's "official business." Even then, I prefer "John."
I remember clearly when the term "Chief Pilot" first became a negative term for me. It was in the fall of 1960, and I had just taken a job as a Cessna 310 pilot for Tom Adams, the Florida Secretary of State (Elect) at the time. "The Senator" (he had served in the Florida Senate, and still loved that title) was a wonderful boss, very caring and considerate of those who worked for him. However, he seemed dogged by politics and the press. One problem was his heavy use of such a nice airplane charged off to the state, particularly in light of his predecessor having spent at total something like $13 in travel expenses during 50 straight years in office.
This was my first "real" job as a pilot, as all the previous flying I had done was part-time, rag-tag, oddball stuff: charter, ferry, test hops, some cargo work, and the like. I was 20 years old and very full of myself. Okay, okay ... even more full of myself than I am now. (Beating my friends to the punch.)
Politics attracts lawyers, and almost everyone else in that crowd was one. I was at a party one night when I learned that I was not particularly talented at dispensing bovine waste. One of the lawyers, initially just trying to be friendly, struck up a conversation.
"John, what did you do before you took this job?"
In my deepest voice, I explained, "Oh, I was the chief pilot for a small cargo airline."
Unfortunately, the attorney was much too impressed, and decided this needed following up.
"Really! What kind of airplanes, and where did you fly?"
Still in my glory, and completely unaware of the trap I was laying for my ownfoolself, I said, "We had North American B-25s, converted for cargo use, and flew them throughout Central and South America."
(No, folks, that was a much simpler time, no drugs.)
A short conversation followed, during which I explained that we flew perishable cargo from the U.S. south and frozen fish north, explained some of the problems, and told a few war stories. All true, incidentally. By this time, there were several more lawyers present, plus some lovely young ladies. I was in full swing, just loving all the attention.
"That's very interesting, how many airplanes did this airline operate?"
This was a question I didn't really want to answer. The first glimmerings of just where this conversation might be headed began to dawn upon me. I waffled, counted on my fingers (as if I needed to), and said, "Oh, about four."
I remember it so clearly, as the trial lawyer instinct in my friend Bill Roberts took over, sensing my discomfort and sudden evasiveness, boring in the for the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God.
"Okay, four airplanes. All at the same time? How many at any given time?"
"Er, no, ah, well, just one at any given time. You see, there were several different companies, and as one would go broke, we would..."
"Okay, just how many pilots were there, that you were chief pilot for?"
The silence was profound. My face was beet red. In the smallest voice I've ever used, I mumbled something inaudible.
"What? How many?"
In utter misery, I said, "One."
Even this was not enough humiliation. "Hmm, seems odd to have a chief pilot over only one other pilot, don't you call that a captain, and the other guy a copilot ... or were you both captains?"
"No, I was the ONLY pilot."
At this point, they all lost it, and just roared with laughter at my expense. (Boy, it's no wonder some people hate lawyers.) They couldn't help it, and in retrospect, I can't blame them. For the rest of my time on that job, Bill and others called me "Chief." I've never forgotten that lesson, and it is well that I learned it early. I've even had occasional feelers to become one, but every time someone mentioned it, I broke out in hives. Not for me.
I next flew a D-50 Twin Bonanza for a company in Birmingham Alabama, then a D-18 Twin Beech in Nashville, Tenn. In conversations about both I very carefully identified myself as only a "pilot," avoiding the terms "captain" and "chief pilot."
The Real Thing
My first encounter with a REAL chief pilot was shortly after joining Air America, in 1963. The "Chief Pilot Southeast Asia" was one Fred F. Walker. We called him "Fearless Fred" when he couldn't hear, but "Sir" and "Captain Walker" to his face. He was a giant of a man, looked about eight feet tall to me, but in reality was probably only about six-five. Fred ruled the pilots with an iron fist from his home station in Vientiane, Laos, where he personally flew most of the airplanes, with special fondness for the C-123, and the C-46.
An old airline pilot's saying is, "When they throw my retirement party, I want the chief pilot to say 'Who?'" This is the way most of us felt about FF. He demanded and got near-universal respect. Not only because of his size and power, but because he was an excellent stick-and-rudder pilot. He had flown many hairy missions, and was an "Old China Hand" who had been with Air America from the beginning. He had even flown some missions over the ill-fated Dien bien phu. He did an excellent job as chief pilot all those years, at least from the company's point of view. Like most chief pilots, he had a phenomenal memory, and never forgot a misdeed or unfortunate fact. In a social situation, he could be a real charmer, but when crossed, he was worse than an angry rhino. Everyone agreed that he was a superb administrator.
I did not know until later that Fred hated any pilot under about 40, or one who had not done at least 10 years (preferably 20) in the military as a pilot. Air America was quite top-heavy with military retirees in those days, and since I had by this time attained the ripe old age of 23 without serving my country (I'd failed the pre-induction physical), there were some serious questions about the parentage of those in Washington who had seen fit to hire me. It did not help that I was under the impression they had hired me as a C-47 captain, not copilot.
Upon my arrival in Vientiane the C-47 chief pilot was assigned to give me a copilot checkout on October 19, 1963. This consisted of 2.4 hours in "N147," a stripped out but wonderfully maintained C-47. That "tail number" could be "147," "N147" or "B-147," depending on "local sensitivity" and whether a United States or Taiwan registration was welcome, or not. In fact, the number resided on a removable plate which slid into a bracket near the main door. Air America aircraft sometimes needed to take off with one N-number (or company name) and land with another, with uniform changes in-flight, as well.
This C-47 "chief" was an old (50 was "old" to me then), profane, drunken, miserable excuse for a human. He proceeded to bully and browbeat me for 2.4 hours of misery, during which I learned many new ways of swearing, and discovered the ancestry and sexual proclivities of everyone from the Laotian tower operator to the bosses of the company (but nothing about Fred, oddly enough).
I wasn't very impressed by my new chief, and even less so when it became obvious that I was not going to be immediately checked out as a captain, no matter how good I was, or what promises I'd received in Washington, D.C.
That evening, I discovered yet another strange ritual. Fearless Fred and my new chief had a habit of mixing up a large thermos full of martinis, and holding court in the corner of the company hostel until the thermos ran dry. Fred never showed much evidence of this conspicuous consumption, but my new chief quickly grew even more obnoxious than usual, becoming ever more so as the evening wore on in a sea of gin.
Little did I realize the honor that was bestowed upon me when they invited me over to have a martini with them. This very generous gesture was in celebration of my joining the company and passing the check ride earlier that day. In one of the more glaring social blunders of my life, I politely declined the martini with, "No thanks, but I'll have a Coke." That seemed perfectly reasonable to me, but apparently not to them. Fred's response was "Where the **** are they getting people, now," but my new chief's monologue was considerably more colorful, and took a lot longer. It was not easy to understand him by then, but somehow I sensed he did not approve of me, my age, my drinking habits, or anything else about me. I sometimes wonder where life would have taken me, had I simply accepted that gesture, and choked the martini down.
I was later told they tried to call the airport communications office to stop the message to the head office in Taipei that indicated I had successfully completed C-47 copilot training. Once they discovered that the message had already been acknowledged, they saw no easy way out, other than to just let me continue. They did NOT offer me any more drinks. In fact they totally ignored me for the next two months.
It finally sank into my thick skull that I had a short career path in Vientiane. When I heard about the chance to transfer to Saigon as a Beech Ten-Two (D-18 conversion) captain, I leapt at the opportunity, even though that was at the time the very worst station in terms of pay and flying (wonderful place for a young man to live, though).
The chief for most of my time there was George V. Calhoun. He was one of those folks to whom I'll forever be grateful, because he not only did not hold me back, but let me advance, in spite of Fearless Fred (his superior), a very courageous act indeed. In late 1964, when George wanted to put me in the C-47, Fred sent a message saying:
|"WE DO NOT CONSIDER P129 [my code] MATURE ENOUGH TO SUCCESSFULLY OPERATE THE C-47 AIRCRAFT IN THE VICTOR [Vietnam] AREA. STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU RECONSIDER."|
I never forgave FF for that message.
George, bless his heart, went ahead anyway. Not only that, but a short time later he put me into the much larger C-46 "Commando," and made me an instructor and check pilot on both! I can only imagine the conversation and rage in Vientiane over that thermos full of martinis.
(Fred F. Walker passed on a few months ago at 80 of complications from an auto accident. The end of an era. He was a very famous and colorful figure, in some quiet circles. Calhoun also "went West" several years ago. RIP.)
Things remained quiet for me on the chief pilot front for some time, but I think eventually some of that "May I have a Coke, please?" caught up to me, and I was transferred to Taipei on the DC-4, much against my will. Don Teeters, the Director of Flight Operations, made it very clear that I would stay in Taipei under really miserable conditions. I'll always wonder if Fred had a hand in that dirty deed. Teeters and I didn't think much of each other, either, and since Air America was dying by then, it was time to get out. Perhaps Teeters did me a favor by shafting me so badly, but I don't think that was the idea. In any event, I was going insane in Taipei and desperate to get out.
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
About that time the Japan Airlines job opened up, through a U.S. hiring company called IASCO. The chief pilot in those days was one Sid Joiner, one of the class acts of all time (also passed recently, RIP). He probably saw a young (28) fellow who may have reminded him of himself as a young man, and did all he could to get me on. I served happily under him until he retired.
My next "chief pilot experience" was with a tall, distinguished-looking retired USAF Colonel, who shall remain nameless here, except for his nickname, "Daffy." He joined JAL after I did, and I quite unintentionally crossed swords with him pretty early. In conversation one day, he asked about my flying time and expressed surprise at that number vs. my age. He went on to indicate he thought it was a little high, informing me that he had spent 20+ years in the USAF, and had "only" about 12,000 hours.
It never occurred to me that he was calling me a liar, and I was truly impressed at his flight time. I said something like, "Wow, that's really remarkable, most military retirees come out with around 4,000 hours, and have flown little more than a desk for the final ten years or so." I thought little of the conversation at the time, but found out later that he was enraged, thinking I had called him a liar! He spent the rest of the day bouncing off the office walls, and I was well warned to steer clear of him. I did, until he made chief pilot, then I guess a clash was inevitable.
Daffy's very first act as chief pilot was to shuffle the seniority list to make himself #1, and thus always in command when any of us flew with him. This did not sit well with any of us. Things went rapidly downhill from there as he put out a constant stream of BS "Memos" which promptly became known as "DaffyGrams." For some reason, he didn't like that takeoff on his nickname. Having come from SAC (Strategic Air Command), he liked to think of himself as running a tight ship, Curtis LeMay style. I doubt anyone ever called LeMay by any nicknames like "Daffy."
The memos just kept on coming in floods, and many of them ended up in the wastebasket next to the crew mailboxes, plainly visible. Some of us who wanted to keep a file made copies, then threw the original memos in that wastebasket, being careful to leave them face up where he'd be sure to see them. There are rumors that some of us even made multiple copies to throw away, increasing the count — and Daffy's blood pressure.
I would never do that, of course. Of course not. Not me, boss.
After one particularly stupid series of deadly serious and utterly asinine DaffyGrams, I decided that some humor was needed, so I took pen in hand — a typewriter, actually — and wrote a couple of memos of my own to all crewmembers.
You must realize, neither JAL nor IASCO had any sense of humor at all at the time, and Daffy was the most humorless of all. JAL still doesn't, but the current management of IASCO is somewhat more laid back, so hopefully they'll refrain from firing me for writing this particular column. Fortunately, few of the current IASCO management were around when these events took place.
Knowing that what I was doing would certainly get me fired, I took elaborate security precautions. I had an IBM "Selectric" typewriter, and bought a special typeball to be used solely for these nefarious purposes. The photocopying was done at 3 a.m. when no one was around, and I put the memos in all mailboxes when the schedule showed I was not in town.
At the time, the Watergate affair was in full swing, and "Deep Throat" was the nickname for a famous "leak" in the Nixon White House (as well as the title of a famous movie at the time). So I decided I would sign these memos as "Deep Tongue."
I also timed my activities very carefully so that Daffy was away for a week, and I did not put a copy in his mailbox. As a result, he did not see a copy until the owner of IASCO (Captain Jim Jack) gave him one.
Two of my memos went into the mailboxes that fateful night. Here is the first:
|August 9, 1982
A secret plan has recently been discovered which is of major importance to all IASCO crewmembers.
This plan apparently evolved from meetings among Japan Air Lines (JAL), International Air Service Company (IASCO), the Japan Civil Aeronautics Board (JCAB), the Airport Security Service (ASS), Nippon Electric Corporation (NEC), and others.
The following problem areas were identified:
Increasing numbers of IASCO captains with too much idle time in Tokyo, whose only desire is to spend more time in countries other than Japan. Some want to spend more time with their families, some less. Admittedly, some of these Captains do have other desires, even less desirable, such as drinking, smoking, telling dirty and/or racist jokes, and lusting after young women. It must be pointed out, these are unconfirmed rumors, but even such rumors contribute to the problem. Even if true, such behavior is counterbalanced by many of our people who devote so much of their time to much more worthy activities with the World Reunification Church (the Moonies), the Hare Krishnas, and other such groups.
Many IASCO captains seem reluctant to attend such mind and soul enriching activities scheduled for their benefit such as GST, GSN, Ditching drill, group meetings, and 3-minute meetings.
Some IASCO captains are all too eager to participate in activities which involve danger of physical injury or disease, such as skiing (water and snow), jogging (or, even worse, running), and extending various and sundry appendages into hazardous areas.
A constant flow of IASCO captains through the IASCO office with various petty complaints, requests and other items of business, interfering with the proper business of IASCO, which is figuring more and better ways to withhold crew payroll funds for non-payment at a later non-date.
Not all the problems are caused by IASCO crewmembers, however, as the remaining problem areas point out:
As everyone knows, a large force of security police have been deployed to secure the Narita airport. The problem here is also too many people with not enough to do.
The final problem area is scientific, and involves Cryogenics, the science of producing and maintaining very low temperatures, and Cryobiology, which is the use of such low temperature environments in the study of living plants and animals. It has long been known that reducing living flesh to the temperature of liquid helium or liquid nitrogen (-320° F) can preserve such flesh for many years, perhaps centuries, with essentially no detectable biochemical activity. A Cryostat is the heavily insulated box in which this process is performed. Until recently, this process was only used on persons already dead, or on persons whose death was desired. Recent advances by NEC have made it possible to not only perform this process on a living person, but to keep that person awake and mentally alert during Cryogenation, and return that person to normal at will. Apparently Cyrogenized people do not need sleep as we now know it. The problem is that not enough willing volunteers can be found to carry out further testing.
It took a stroke of pure genius to solve all these problems at once in such a tidy manner.
Cryostats are now being installed in the lower levels of the rotundas in the terminal at Narita, and construction should be complete this month.
Beginning September 1, 1982, all IASCO captains arriving at Narita will be loaded into Cyrostats and placed in a state of suspended animation for the duration of their stay in Japan. During this time, continuous films, videotapes, and other training materials will be shown, which will help them to perform their duties in an improved manner when they are warmed up. There being 24 hours in a day, and only limited training materials at this time, some repetition is anticipated, but this is probably beneficial, allowing crewmembers to really absorb this fine material the way it deserves.
This procedure will have far-reaching effects. For example, it will no longer be necessary for IASCO crewmembers to clear CIQ [Customs, Immigration and Quarantine], as they can remain in transit. Transportation costs will be drastically reduced, especially for those crewmembers now living in Yokohama, as will hotel costs, with no IASCO captains using the hotel JAL hotel facilities at Narita and Haneda. Crewmembers will always be immediately available for unscheduled flight duty, as the warm-up process can be reduced to 15 minutes, and even that is not wasted time, as the crewmember can be briefed on the flight data while this takes place. Other benefits are expected.
It is anticipated that families may want to visit crewmembers under Cryogenation, and facilities will be provided for this purpose, such as tables, chairs, refreshments, and video games, etc. The Cryostats are being made large enough for two, so wives may choose to join their husbands during their stay in Narita, but should be aware that any frigidity problems may be aggravated by the process. On the other hand, movement is not possible under Cyrogenation anyway, so it won't matter. Since the Crewmember will be awake and alert at all times and one-way communication is quite easy, wives will probably find it much more satisfactory to remain normally firgid outside the Cryostat, where they can pour their hearts out to their husbands for the first time in years (while the videotapes are rewinding).
It is anticipated that there will be some slight initial resistance by the crewmembers involved, and this is where the Airport Security Service (ASS) comes into the picture. Each aircraft that arrives with IASCO crewmember(s) aboard will be met by an ASS team, with not less than two stationed at each possible exit, including the overhead escape hatch and the electronics compartment access door. This will ensure orderly compliance with the new procedures, and give ASS a good deal of much needed work.
It was originally hoped that this plan could be simultaneously implemented at all JAL stations, but unforeseen legal problems have arisen in other countries. In the United States, for example, the ACLU has ruled this process to be cruel and unusual punishment for wives, as proper argument requires the responsiveness of two-way communication. The Cryogenics Corporation of America has filed a countersuit, however, contending that no wife ever had any trouble at all getting into or carrying on an argument without reasons or assistance. The National Organization of Women was, for once, speechless.
Considerable research is being done on placing a Cryostat on board each aircraft in place of one crew bunk, and assigning an IASCO captain to each aircraft. At first, it was planned to keep the captain Cryogenized at all times with placards saying "Break Glass In Case Of Emergency;" however, it was later decided that captains probably should be warmed up at least for takeoff and landing in order to maintain proficiency, and to make cabin announcements.
It is hoped that this timely report will be of assistance in preparing for this bold new journey into the future, and I am sure that we will all consent to having our asses frozen in such a good cause.
Your friend and fellow crewmember,
And here is my second memo. Since some of it will only be clear to those who were there at the time, I have added a few clarifying comments in square brackets:
|August 10, 1982
To all crewmembers,
It has become obvious that the recent DAFFYGRAM has been subject to widespread misunderstanding, and that further elaboration is obviously necessary.
Now we all know that the procedure of splitting the captain time in half on a multiple crew was invented by one of the most senior Japanese captains, and that almost invariably it is a very senior Japanese captain who initiates (or orders) this procedure. It should also be obvious to all but the most obtuse that the more Japanese we can get rid of, the more secure we are, and the more we can enhance our image, the better off we will be.
With this in mind, if we read between the lines, it becomes much more clear what our course of action should be.
If and when one of these turkeys suggests this procedure, you should curtly refuse, tell him why, and also write the sucker up. This will really enhance our position with JAL, and our popularity will soar.
It should also be obvious that the paragraph on sleeping in flight refers to INTENTIONAL sleeping while the above single-pilot procedure is in effect. Unintentional sleeping is quite acceptable at any time, as we all know. Reclining the seat and relaxing is a bit more of a gray area. It is probably better to let your forehead rest gently against the window frame while sleeping, or, in any event, to avoid relaxing while sleeping. It is also preferred that you remain awake during cruise, and confine your sleep periods to the area between the outer marker and the runway, but this must remain at the discretion of the individual, as everyone has different sleep patterns.
The name of the game is to get as much sleep as possible without the other crewmembers realizing it. To this end, IASCO is preparing simulated eyeballs on pressure sensitive paper, designed to be applied to the outside of the closed eyelid, simulating an alert condition. These will be available in the normal eye colors, and in various sizes from "half-asleep" to "Total Terror." Crew meals should be eaten before these are applied, as it will be impossible to open your eyes once they are in place. On the other hand, you might prefer not to see what you are eating anyway.
Some have wondered about the elaborate security precautions while gazing at the initials at the bottom of the letter (TD:ti). Please be advised that Miss Ishii was instructed to type that letter without reading it, and to forget she ever saw it.
You will be pleased to learn that we are to be appointed Second Lieutenants soon, at a time and place yet to be chosen. General D. will administer the oaths in private.
CAPTAIN "DEEP TONGUE"
I was really proud of that first "memo" on Cryogenics, but sadly, it got lost in the noise and fallout from the second memo. Even I was shaken by the reaction, and decided enough was enough, and never did it again. Daffy went absolutely nuts. First he started asking questions of the crewmembers, trying to find out who "Deep Tongue" was, but quickly gave that up in the face of all the uncontrollable giggles.
Next, he took the "memo" to the airport police station, and asked them if they could check for fingerprints on the paper. That one scared me, I hadn't thought of that, didn't know fingerprints could be lifted from paper. Apparently their technology wasn't quite up to the task, and besides, a couple of English-speaking cops started asking him embarrassing questions about "this Daffy person."
A few days after the bomb went off, I walked into the regular watering hole for IASCO crews, the 11th floor bar of the Nikko Narita Hotel, and found about a dozen of my compatriots reading "my" memo, though none knew I was the author. There was only one copy, so someone suggested that I read it aloud for the group! I did so, and was laughing so hard at the situation, it seemed that I was laughing naturally at the contents. No one even suspected the memo was mine, and no one learned the identity of "Deep Tongue" until more than ten years later, long after Daffy retired.
Life after Daffy
The chief who succeeded Daffy was a friend, but unfortunately an alcoholic. I was the one who pulled the rug out from under him. Years later, he thanked me for it, even credited me with "saving his life," but there were some very bad times, especially after he dried out and came back as chief pilot again a couple years later. I always expected to pay a price, but never did.
His temporary replacement was perhaps my all-time favorite, Ed "Fast Eddie" Thelen, now retired and living in Stuart, Fla. Fast Eddie wasn't a big man, but he'd been around the pea patch a time or three, was very smart and tough, and somehow everyone just knew this was not a man you messed with. I tried to be a very good little boy during his reign. I wouldn't have dared to write that memo with him in the office, he'd have KNOWN who did it, and had me doing the rug dance in his office for days. On the other hand, he never wrote any memos that moved me to make any fun of him, either.
The last ten years or so have been strangely peaceful, chief-pilot-wise. I suppose it's just possible that I have finally grown up, but really, I'm trying very hard not to.
My current chief pilot is Dave Belsito (USAF Retired), formerly a PIC on the Presidential 747s. Dave reminds me of "Fast Eddie" a little bit, and I think I'll be able to finish out my career under him without either of us getting too upset with the other.
I hope so, I really don't want to have to do another memo.
Be careful up there!