CEO of the Cockpit #57: Mentors

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Don't let experienced pilots convince you they got where they are solely through their own efforts. All good pilots had folks who helped them out along the way, including AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit.

They found a box in the main terminal. The box didn't seem to belong to anybody and when the Homeland Security team looked at it, it looked suspicious. Bomb or brownies?

The contents of the box in question would be either a bomb in fact or simply a gut bomb, but either way it meant that every single airline and aircraft operation associated with out terminal was as dead as Elvis.

We were locked up and ready to push back for our flight to Miami and later San Juan, but because of the current climate of fear we were also cast in airline-delay amber like a fruit fly containing dinosaur blood DNA. In other words, we were beached and were destined to remain so until either the box blew up or Grandma came forward to claim her brownies.

As security situations go this one wasn't that bad. All of our doors were already closed and the tug person had moved us off of the chocks, so there was no need to let everybody out and have to re-do the boarding of a full 767. All we had to do was wait and it looked like when the wait was over we would probably be the first allowed to push back and boogie.

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em ...

As I always do when there is an interminable delay, I opened the cockpit door, flipped the seatbelt sign off and made my usual comment on the PA.

Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we are going to be at the gate for a while due to the security thing that we've already briefed you about. I've turned off the seatbelt sign so you can move around, use the restrooms and make all of those cell phone calls I know you are just dying to make. Please do me a favor, though. When I turn the seatbelt sign back on and make the "We're on our way" announcement, please grab your seat and strap in as soon as you can.

Many times it is the first airliner that reports ready to go that actually gets to go. If we delay too much getting ready, it could literally mean hours on the taxiway waiting for our quicker cohorts to get in the sky. Thank you.

An Old Head Sticks It In The Cockpit ...

"Hey, can an old captain sit up here for a while?"

It was Frank, one of the very first captains I had ever flown engineer for in 1979. He had retired over 10 years ago and I haven't seen him since our last trip together when I was a co-pilot back in '89.

Along with Dave, Frank was the guy I patterned my whole flying life after. He was the Yoda to my Skywalker, the Ren to my Stempy, and the Mr. Hooper to my Grover. He was a mentor and I don't mean that in a T-34 sense. He literally set the example for what a captain was supposed to be like.

Grab a jump seat! Do you want or need anything? Some coffee? Gwen! Can you bring us two black coffees? Jim, do you want some? Okay ... Gwen! Can you bring three black coffees?

"Now, calm down, Dumbass ..." (His pet name for me was Dumbass). "I'll take the coffee, but you have to tell me how in the world you became a captain after all of those negative things I said on the new-hire reports I filled out on you."

Oh, that one is easy. Do you remember who you gave the form to after our rotations and told to review, change if he saw any errors and then turn the form into the Chief Pilot's office?

"Yeah ..."

You gave them to me. I noticed you wrote things like "absent minded" when you obviously meant to write "exemplary" so I made the necessary changes before I turned the reports in.

"That explains it," Frank said. "I suppose it is too late now to keep you from becoming a captain?"

I've been a captain for 16 years now, so I think I have tenure or something, but you're welcome to try

"Sixteen years? How many passengers have you killed in that time?"


"Outstanding! I guess it's OK if you want to keep being a captain," said Frank. "I hope you remember at least a little bit of what I tried to teach you."

Good Advice

I remember it all. Jim, you might want to make a list of these items. Frank is extremely old and may not be around that much longer and some of these are gems you can use if you ever make captain, which at this point is doubtful.

Jim played along, turned to the back of the weather printout and listed Frank's best captaining advice as I counted them off:

  • Go ugly early;
  • Fat women are OK -- shade in the summer, warmth in the winter;
  • Never turn down a motel room from the company;
  • Never answer your phone on Christmas;
  • Always tip your van driver;
  • Always buy the first round at the bar during a layover;
  • New hires never pay for a meal when you are around;
  • Weather is always better avoided than penetrated;
  • Speaking of penetrated, if you want to retire with any money, keep wife #1;
  • Speaking of weather -- don't ever push it. Five years from now nobody will remember being pissed at you for being two hours late because of weather. Their families will remember forever if you pushed it and killed their relatives;
  • Never attend an ALPA or company meeting on a nice weather day off;
  • You can never get back a Christmas you missed with your young kids if you were stupid enough to go junior;
  • Ten knots too fast is way better than ten knots too slow;
  • Never give a flight attendant your phone number;
  • Never eat Mexican food at a non Mexican restaurant;
  • Don't brush your teeth in India unless it is with a new toothbrush and beer;
  • There is not ever a situation in which being on reserve doesn't suck;
  • Peanuts and black coffee isn't breakfast;
  • Every airplane, even the 777, feels like crap if you are flying it at 3 a.m.;
  • Don't poop in the airplane lav -- ever;
  • Never slip a Boeing 727 to a landing. A 767/757 is OK to slip a little, but never a 727;
  • If a senior company official ever asks what you really think, don't tell them;
  • Never drink with a line check airman or the FAA;
  • Don't trust a Chief Pilot with anything;
  • Try not to kill anybody or bend any airplanes; and
  • Deny, deny, deny ...

The CEO Gushes ...

Frank, I miss you so much around here I just about can't stand it. What are you doing now?

"I'm still flying for a living, if you want to call instructing a 'living'," he laughed. "That's right -- 'FBO flight school in a Citabria' type of stuff. Hoods on students, Ray Ban sunglass case on my belt and the whole schmear. Some of these kids I'm teaching are pretty talented and, unlike you, have a future in aviation. I just hope there is a job they can get into that'll buy the beans and raise their yard apes in a proper manner."

Personally, I think there is a great future for making a living in aviation and flying, just not in airline flying. We've had hundreds of pilots with this airline quit this year to either go back to the military or to other jobs. Maybe the future for these kids will be flying RPVs (remotely piloted vehicles) at work and a Pitts on their day off. I think you and I have seen the best the airline world had to offer a pilot, Frank. The kids will have to find another, better way.

Jim Bails ...

I wasn't going to say anything," murmured Jim, "But this will be my last month with the airline, maybe forever. I'm going back to the Air Force to fly F-16s. I never thought I'd go back to the military but they pay better, have free medical coverage and an actual retirement. After three or so years I'll look at the airline world again but for now I'm going to be career Air Force while I still have a chance."

The CEO Pontificates -- Again

I've learned a lot during my years flying. One thing I've learned from being a line boy, flight instructor, banner tower, turtle surveyor, forestry pilot, charter pilot and even airline pilot is that every one of those gigs was nice, but they were just jobs.

Jobs come and go. It looks like this one is going but that doesn't detract for one second the fun I've had or the stuff I've learned from people like Frank here.

I've heard dozens of time from dozens of pilots that they were "self-made men" and got everything they have in aviation through virtue and hard work and all on their own.

Nobody gets here on their own. Frank is only one of dozens of people I owe my flying career to. There were guys at the FBO in Lakeland who instructed me for free when I couldn't pay for it. There were others, like Frank, who overlooked my immaturity and gave me the calm advice I needed to survive and get ahead.

Les and Johnny Roberts at Roberts Flying Service in Lakeland were willing to overlook what a self-centered jerk I was and give me my first aviation job. Cleaning bathrooms, dumping airplane toilet tanks and sweeping floors, but I was in aviation! Both of them are dead now but they left behind dozens of people like me who owe them everything.

I'll be gone from the airline flight deck myself some day soon and I hope I'm able to teach some fuzzy cheeked pilots how to do it with class like Frank taught me.

Uncomfortable Silence

This would be the point in our conversation where somebody would try to break the ice with a joke, but the Homeland Security people beat us to it. We heard from the agent right then that the box was, indeed, brownies and we were free to push back and aviate.

Well Frank you're going to have to go to the back now. You are considered by the system to be a threat to my safety at this point and have to leave the flight deck.

"Jim's flying this leg, right?" Frank asked.

Yes, I think it is Jim's leg.

"Phew! Jim, don't let him touch anything important. So long, Dumbass ... See you around the pattern."

Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.