Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Home Away from Home

Now that I'm based in Newark, NJ, I needed a place to stay. Most airline pilots that "commute" have crash pads. Usually, they're apartments or houses that have a bunch of bunk beds and 8-14 guys staying over at any one time. Usually, there are only a couple guys at a time but occasionally there can be more. It's a lot like a college dorm, furniture that doesn't match, bunk beds all over the place, random food in the fridge, and one T.V. for everyone to share.

I found my crash pad through a friend of mine. It sounded great, a 10 minute walk from the employee parking lot, no "hot bunks" meaning you have your own bed, and a reasonable $210 per month. But, did I mention it's in Newark, NJ?

For those of you who haven't been to Newark, it's not the prettiest place in the world. There are a lot of warehouses, shipping docks, and railroad yards. I've heard the walk between the employee parking lot and my crash pad isn't the "safest" but I thought, it's only 10 minutes, how bad can it be?

When I flew in tonight, I found the keys to my new "home away from home" along with a not-so detailed map. I found my way out of the parking lot and felt like a farm kid lost in the big city. I can't imagine I looked like a "local". While everyone else was wearing Carharts and stocking caps, I was wearing an airline uniform and had my suitcase dragging behind me.

After I made my way past the shipping dock, under the train tracks, and through a dark alley, I finally found my way to my crash pad. It's a nice duplex and we have the bottom half of the house. I arrived to find nobody else here and got settled in. I packed some sheets with me which I put on my bunk. I get the top bunk because I'm the junior guy in the crash pad, it's kind of like being in college again.

There are four other beds in my room, hopefully none of those guys show up tonight because I have to get up at 0400 tomorrow morning! Another new experience with a new airline! Tomorrow my schedule shows one flight to Los Angeles, CA and a long layover! Should be fun!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My First Week as a Major Airline Pilot!

Well, I've finally made it! Last week I finished my check ride on the Boeing 737 and am now out flying "the line". It almost seems unreal; this is what I've been working toward for years. I'm actually a major airline pilot!

My first couple trips are with instructors to make sure I can fly the airplane to company standards. The two instructors I've had so far have been great! I've been learning a lot and having fun at the same time. My first trip started in Houston, followed by a trip to Cozumel, Mexico and back and then an overnight in Phoenix, AZ. Cozumel was fun, but we were only there for about 45 minutes so I didn't get to see much. It sure looked like a place I wouldn't mind coming back to sometime though. The flight to Phoenix was on the biggest 737 we have, a B737-900. We left with 160 passengers on board. When we got off the plane and were walking to catch the hotel van, I was a little confused. I didn’t even recognize half the flight attendants we had! I got on the plane after they had started boarding and 3 of the flight attendants were already in the back of the plane so I didn’t have time to meet them. It felt a little weird meeting them for the first time after we had worked a flight together. After a short night at the hotel, we flew back to Houston the next day. My next trip started a few days later in Newark, NJ.

My second trip didn’t start out not quite how I expected it to. I walked on the airplane and one of the flight attendants said, “There’s a pigeon back here.” Now, I’m not exactly the crocodile hunter. To say the least, dealing with wild animals is not my forte. I tried to put on a brave face but to myself I was thinking, “I don’t want anything to do with that pigeon.” The captain got on and went to the back to try and scare it out of the plane. I was standing in the front galley making small talk with the other two flight attendants when I heard my captain say, “Look out! The pigeon is flying up your way!” I turned to look toward the rear of the airplane and all I heard was, “flap, flap, flap, flap” and all I saw was a lot of wings very close to my face! This pigeon just about landed on my head…..just about! I let out a little scream and dropped to the floor! I had my full uniform, hat, coat, and everything on and I’m lying on the galley floor! Meanwhile, the two petite flight attendants are staring at me lying on the floor wondering why a 6’2”, 230 lb man is so scared of a little pigeon. Well, let me tell you, pigeons aren’t so little when their wings are flapping and they’re 6 inches from your face! This whole event certainly loosened things up for the rest of the trip.

We flew to Indianapolis, IN where I had what I thought was my best landing so far (because I’ve made all of 4 landings at this point). Then it was on to Houston where my landing was so good that it was similar to some of my best landings in the CRJ. I was even thinking to myself, “Don’t get too cocky, you’re really not that good, mostly just lucky.” Well, that was proven when we arrived in McAllen, TX tonight. If our passengers weren’t aware that we had arrived, they were well aware now. Probably my worst landing yet! Of course, I’ve only got 6 landings in the B737 under my belt and I’ve got 32 years to practice so I’m sure I’ll see some more good ones, and I know I’ll see some more bad ones. My captain had a salad sitting by his bag in the cockpit and told me, “Well, thanks for tossing my salad tonight, that’s one less thing for me to do at the hotel.” “Sure, no problem, glad to help”, I thought to myself.

We all know an airline pilot or a flight attendant, and as you know they’re a very dynamic bunch. I have no doubt that it’s going to be a fun 32 years. As much as I’ve enjoyed my first week as a major airline pilot, another one of our more senior pilots recently passed away while working a flight. As it turns out, I had met him just two weeks ago at the training center. It makes me realize that we never know how much time we have on this planet and I thank God that I get to go to work everyday loving what I do.

Blue skies and tailwinds!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Published! Sort of???

I've often said that I would like to someday write for an aviation magazine on a regular basis (like monthly) but don't really know how to get into it. What would I write about?? Well, I haven't figured that out yet but I do like to write, and I especially like to write about aviation. In December I was finally published in a real aviation magazine.....kind of.

I subscribe to a magazine called "Professional Pilot". It's mostly related to corporate aviation and the issues that corporate pilots deal with but there's usually always an article about weather, a quiz on an approach plate (an approach plate is kind of like a map), and various other articles that all pilots can learn from. There is a section called Av Hazard where people can write in regarding "hazards" they've found while flying around. These can be anything from an air traffic controller reading back clearances so quickly that you can't understand, problems with airport lighting, etc.

I wrote in a few months ago because whenever I flew from Minneapolis, MN to Moline, IL it was always hard to listen to the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) frequency in Moline. Basically ATIS is the frequency we listen to when we want to hear the current weather at an airport. The reason it's hard to hear is because Minneapolis air traffic control uses the same frequency. When you're up high and half-way in-between the two airports, the frequencies are always "blocked" by one another which means having to listen to the ATIS frequency a lot longer than normal, when you could be doing something else more important.

I didn't really think that they would publish something like that but they did! It's in the December version of Professional Pilot! Now, my name isn't attached to it, but I'm proud to say that I'm one step closer to having my own column in an aviation magazine.....one, very small step!

Click here to see how it looks in the magazine. Scroll about half-way down to where it says "Frequency Overlap" and you can read what I wrote.