Monday, June 01, 2009

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!

Today I flew from Houston, TX to Minneapolis, MN. Normally, that would be just another flight but today was different. It my last flight as a Boeing 737 first officer - well for a while anyway. I'm sure I'll be a B-737 FO again at some point, but tomorrow I start training to fly the Boeing 757/767.

The B-757 and B-767 are two somewhat different airplanes, the main difference being the B-757 is a narrow body and the B-767 is considered a wide body. However, the FAA says that since the cockpits are so similar, the pilots that are trained on one, can fly the other with a just few hours of differences training. There are actually a lot of airplane types that are different but can be flown with the same rating, even the different models of the B-737 I used to fly are dramatic. For example, the 737-500 holds only 114 passengers. The 737-300 has old analog gauges in the cockpit. However, the biggest model of the 737 is the 737-900ER (extended range), it holds 173 passengers and has a "glass cockpit", meaning the instruments are laid out on a TV type screen.

Since I've had training on all the different models, I could walk off a B-737-900ER that came out of the factory 2 months ago with satellite TV, and walk into a 30 year old 737-300. Once you get used to it however - it's like getting in a car, it doesn't matter when it was built, all the controls are basically the same. You push the throttles forward and the airplane goes faster, you pull them back and you slow down, you pull back on the yoke and the houses get smaller, you push the yoke forward and the houses get bigger - no problem. Of course, if it was that simple, training for a new airplane wouldn't be two months long.

I've been through a few training courses in my day. I went through all my "small" airplane training at a few different airports in Minnesota. My favorite place was this little grass-strip about 30 miles south of Minneapolis. Talk about the good ol' days - when I was in high school I used to paint hangars, wash airplanes, help out the mechanic, and mow the lawn in exchange for flying. There were no paychecks, I just kept track of my hours on a scrap piece of paper and turned it in to someone, who I'm pretty sure didn't even keep track of how much I worked or flew. I got a few ratings there and then got the rest while I was in college. I had a lot of fun learning to fly in college, but it wasn't the same as the grass-strip I started at - too many kids running (and flying) around. I missed the days when it was just me flying around the pattern watching the sunset over the farm fields of southern Minnesota.

I eventually got hired by an airline and spent two months in Memphis, TN getting checked out on the CRJ-200. That particular airline didn't consider you an employee until you passed the check ride so, for two months there was no paycheck and of course, no company provided lodging. In an effort to save money, my best friend Mark and I stayed together in one of those hotels that are set up for extended stays, much like an apartment. It was $30 cheaper per week to have one bed instead of two so we agreed that I would pay a little more to sleep in the bed and Mark would sleep in his sleeping bag on the floor. Mark kept pictures of his wife and I kept pictures of my girlfriend on the mirror, that way the cleaning people wouldn't get the wrong idea.

A few years later I decided that buying a type-rating in a B-737 might help me advance my career so I attended Higher Power Aviation in Dallas, TX. This had to be one of the most enjoyable training courses I've been through. I hadn't felt so at home somewhere since my days at the grass-strip where I got started. It seemed like everyday they provided us with some sort of food - pizza on one day, root-beer floats on another day, even lunch at Ranger Stadium. Since I was doing this on my own, I had to provide my own lodging. My friend Mark happened to be there at the same time as me, so we once again shared a hotel room - two beds this time!

Eventually, I was hired by my current employer and went through training again on the B-737. Even though I was already rated in the airplane, each airline is responsible for training you on their procedures. Now after a few years, I've decided to upgrade to the B-757/767. The B-737 is fun to fly and I've seen cities all over North, Central, and South America and even the Caribbean. After I finish training on the B-757/767, most of my flying will be over to Europe with an occasional Hawaii trip. There will still be some South America, Caribbean, and domestic flying but most of my trips will involve crossing the Atlantic.

So for the next month or so, I'll be spending most of my time in the classroom learning about the aircraft systems and running through all the normal, non-normal, and emergency procedures in the simulator. Some of these scenarios include engine fires and failures, electrical malfunctions, and even what to do when you have a medical emergency while you're over the North Atlantic.

I wonder if they'll teach me why a 300 lb man with a 48 pound bag pays less for weight than a 100 lb woman with a 52 lb bag??

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm sure you'll do really well on your transition training.Have a fun and i bet you must be excited to fly to European destination!Good Luck!