Friday, November 25, 2011

Why I Hate Christmas

I hate Christmas. Well, that’s not entirely true. I hate what Christmas has become. I hate that it’s become more about getting 50% off a new sweater for dad than being thankful that you even have a dad. I hate that it causes stress in an already stressful world. I hate that there are people out there hurting because their family has abandoned them, and I hate that someone can’t be with their family because they can’t afford airfare to see them, or worse yet, because they don’t have any more family left.

Today, people woke up early to go spend hundreds of dollars on their loved ones. Why? Because the more money you spend, the more you love someone? Trust me, I’d love to wake up on Christmas morning and unwrap a new iPad 8 (or whatever number they’re up to now). But, I’d much rather wake up and see my beautiful wife lying next to me. I’d rather go lift my daughter out of her crib and start creating new Christmas traditions. I’d rather spend an afternoon with my parents, thankful that I still have parents to spend an afternoon with.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to give gifts. The Three Wise Men brought gifts for Jesus when he was born, and I have every intention of spoiling my little daughter with toys and games throughout the years. But sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in gift giving, that we loose sight of what’s really important. Some of my best memories of Christmas aren’t what gifts were opened, but memories of Christmas eve dinner, or memories of mom warming up the coffee cake to fuel us for a day of tobogganing down the hill with my dad and brothers. I guess what I’ve learned, is that the greatest gift, isn’t a gift at all. The greatest gift is the memories themselves.

I guess that’s why I hate Christmas. I hate Christmas because I wish it was more like Thanksgiving. We should be thankful for our family and our loved ones. We should be thankful that we’ve made it through another year and can look forward to a new one. We should be thankful that Jesus was born and died for our sins. And yes, if someone gives you an iPad 8, you should be thankful for that too.

You only have so many Christmas’ left. Be thankful for what you have. Be thankful that you have loved ones. Lastly, if you get to spend time with your loved ones, be thankful for that too, because the gift of each other, is the gift that lasts a lifetime.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

That Journey That Almost Wasn't

Flying is often said to be more about the journey than the destination. I’ve found this to be true, not only in general aviation, but also in my position as a first officer for a major airline. After a recent layover in Paris however, the journey to Washington, DC almost never began.

After battling Paris traffic for an hour, we arrived at the Charles De Gaulle airport approximately one hour before our scheduled departure time of 5:00 PM. After clearing customs and security, we walked on board the Boeing 757 to find the concierge waiting with our paperwork. He told us our original flight plan had us stopping in Gander, Newfoundland for fuel, but dispatch had been able to find a way around that, and our new flight plan had us filed to the Dulles airport non-stop. Because of that however, every pound of fuel would be critical in preventing an unscheduled pit stop.

As I prepared the cockpit, the relief pilot did the preflight walk-around, while the captain was in the business first cabin, talking with a mechanic about various write-ups and to confirm the ETOPS pre-departure check had been accomplished. ETOPS is an acronym for “extended twin-engine operations,” but we also joke that it stands for “engines turn or people swim.” Meanwhile, the flight attendants were busy preparing the cabin for service and preflighting all of their own emergency equipment. Once they finished, the concierge began the boarding process.

While the passengers found their seats, the captain, relief pilot and myself began briefing our departure. We noted that fuel was going to be critical on this flight but also saw that we were over-fueled by 200 pounds of Jet-A. The boarding process invariably heats up the cabin, and since we had an extra 200 pounds of fuel to play with, we started the auxiliary power unit to establish a stronger source of air conditioning than the ground air could provide. Of course, that also started the fuel burn countdown to the minimum fuel quantity we could legally take-off with; 75,700 pounds. Around the same time, the mechanic came back to the airplane to reset a nuisance status message. While he was in the cockpit, he asked if he could disconnect the ground power and air conditioning. Since we had started the APU, we couldn’t think of any reason not to.

Up until this point, everything had the appearance of the beginnings to a normal flight. However, after the mechanic left, the radio crackled with a French accent. It was operations calling to inform us that the ground crew had just gone on strike and they would hopefully be done striking at 6:00 PM. I turned to the captain and asked, “Did he just say the ground crew is on strike?” Nodding his head, the captain said, “That’s what I heard.” Once we processed the news, I called operations back and asked if they thought we would be pushing back at 6:00 PM. It wasn’t that simple. There were still hundreds of bags to be loaded, so he arranged a wheels-up (aka slot) time with the tower of 6:46 PM, with the hopes that the ground crew would be done with their strike at 6:00 PM, at which point they’d load the bags, and we’d be airborne by our wheels-up time. Then he told us he might be able to get some management personnel from the company who handles our ramp operation (who aren’t in the ground crew’s union) to load bags. They, of course, were busy with other airplanes so it may be a while. Wonderful. So, the best case scenario is, we would be leaving over an hour and half late.

With a critical fuel situation and an unknown delay, we thought it would be a good idea to reconnect the ground power and air conditioning so we could shut down the APU and conserve some of our fuel. Fortunately, the mechanic who had been working with us, worked for a partner airline and not the striking ground company. The mechanic came into the cockpit and we asked if he’d be kind enough to reconnect the ground power and air. The good news just kept coming when he told us, “I’ll do my best but the ground power requires a key to start and the ground crew took the key with them.” Great.

If getting ground power back wasn’t an option, there was no way we were going to be able to sit at the gate for two hours, with the APU burning into our precious fuel supply. We would need a fuel truck back at the airplane. Again, we were fortunate that the fueling company was separate from the ground company and were able to get more fuel without any issues. Because of the known delay, we asked them to give a little more than what was on the release. The fueler obliged and gave us 400 pounds more than we needed. The APU burns about 200 pounds of fuel per hour, so that would get us by for the next couple hours.

As the natives were beginning to get restless in the back, our first glimpse of hope showed up; the ground crew management we had been told about. Around 5:30 PM, three people dressed in shirts and ties began loading bags onto the airplane. The master caution light illuminated with the opening of the aft cargo door. Finally! Progress! After about ten minutes, the blue “ground call” light on the overhead panel illuminated. The captain picked up his microphone and answered the call, “Hello?” In a thick French accent, the ground manager said through the headset outside, “Captain, we have loaded the aft cargo compartment and we are ready to load the forward cargo, but the forward cargo door is stuck closed. Can you call maintenance?” This was turning into a comedy of errors. How could so many things go wrong before we even leave the gate? Fortunately, the mechanic, who was quickly becoming our new best friend, was already onboard repairing a malfunctioning oven in the aft galley. We told him of the problem outside, and he rushed outside to fix the broken cargo door. Once he finished working on the cargo door, he came back to inform us there were only a few more bags to be loaded. We asked if he knew who would push us back. He said he would do it for us and he would be outside ready to go whenever we were.

The ground crew management finished loading the bags, and the concierge came up to the cockpit to tell us that they were ready for push-back, however he can’t drive the jetway, so we needed one of the ground crew managers to operate the jetway. Finally, at 6:00 PM, we called for our push-back clearance and were told by the ground controller that we had a slot time of 6:46 PM and should call back in fifteen minutes. We, of course, already knew about the slot time, but we thought getting off the gate and away from all the problems would be a better idea.

Seven minutes later, another problem arose when a flight attendant came into the cockpit to tell us the coffee maker in the mid-galley was leaking water and she couldn’t shut it off. I went back, thinking my magical pilot powers might be able to stop the leak. They, of course, were useless against the mighty coffee maker. Despite shutting off the valve, water continued to spill out onto the counter. Chuckling at our misfortune, I walked back to the cockpit to call maintenance. Of course, in order for the mechanic to come onboard, we need the jetway reattached to the airplane, and the only people who could drive the jetway at the moment are the managers from the ground company, and since they were done with our airplane, they had moved on to the next airplane and are nowhere to be found. Another call to operations.

We were quickly approaching the time the ground controller wanted us to call for a push clearance and now, not making our slot time is becoming an issue. About 6:15, I was tickled to see one of the managers from the ground company walking up the jetway’s external stairs to reattach the jetway so maintenance could come on board. The mechanic quickly fixed the coffee maker, bid us adieu, and headed downstairs to push us back.

It finally looked like we were going to say au revoir to the lovely people of Paris and get out to the runway before our slot time expired. With the jetway pulled away, I saw the mechanic walking toward the nose of the airplane and a few seconds later, his voice was heard over the speakers in the cockpit. “You guys aren’t going to believe this,” he said, “While I was on the airplane fixing the coffee maker, the tug disappeared.” Of course it did. I had seen the tug sitting in front of the airplane at one point, but when the coffee maker fiasco started, it was as if it vanished into thin air. I don’t know where it went, but we suddenly found ourselves without a push-back tug. Knowing that it can sometimes take upward of an hour to get a new slot time, we would have to be underway soon or face further delays. Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do at this point besides sit and wait.

At 6:30 PM, clearance delivery called us to ask if we were ready to go. I told him about the lack of a tug and that we would call him back when we found one. We sat in wait, laughing at the debacle that is our flight. Finally, about fifteen minutes later, across the ramp, I noticed a tug barreling towards the airplane. Could this be our ticket out of town? Perhaps, but we only had two minutes until our wheels-up time. We would clearly not make the slot time. The best we could do now is call and ask what they had in store for us. After the tug we saw pulled up to the airplane, the mechanic got in and told us he was ready for push-back. At this point, our slot time had expired, but when I called for a push-back clearance, the tower told us all slot times had been cancelled and we could take-off as soon as we were ready. It looked like things were finally turning around for us.

With the push-back complete and both engines running, we called for our taxi-clearance and waved good-bye to the mechanic, who had been so faithful in assisting our departure. Before we even got off the ramp and onto a taxiway, the ground controller’s voice crackled in our headsets. I could tell from the tone of his voice it wasn’t going to be good, “I can’t find your flight plan,” he said, “Expect a delay while we work out the problem. It could take about one hour.” It just keeps getting better and better.

At this point, I’d lost all faith in us even taking off for Washington. In my mind, I was thinking about going to dinner at the crêpe place I had gone to with some flight attendants the night before. With both engines running, we were quickly burning through the fuel we needed to keep us above the minimum required for take-off. We started sending ACARS messages (our way of text messaging) back and forth with our dispatcher. If we had to wait an hour to take-off, there was simply no way we’d make it to Dulles with the fuel we had. Typically, we would just go back to the gate for more fuel, but during the push-back, the mechanic told us the ground crew had extended their strike until 8:00 PM. If we went back to the gate for more fuel, who knows how much longer we’d be in Paris. Thinking the best option would be to land in Gander to refuel, we were trying to get dispatch to re-release us to Gander, but legally we couldn’t take-off below the minimum fuel of 75,700 pounds listed on our release. As my fingers began smoking from all the typing I was doing, the air traffic controller called us and unexpectedly cleared us for take-off. I looked up at the fuel gauge, we had 76,000 pounds of fuel on board; 300 pounds more than the minimum required. Just like a fast moving line of weather on a hot summer day, our problems had come and gone. No fuel stop would be necessary and soon the only problem we’d deal with is what kind of salad dressing to have with our crew meal.

With just minutes to spare, we lined up on the runway, engaged the auto-throttles and soon we were passing over French vineyards, across the English Channel, over the North Atlantic, down the Saint Lawrence River, past New York City, and into our nation’s capitol. Having finally reached our destination, I was glad the journey had come to an end.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Last week, I wrote a piece which is being published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today, September 11th, 2011. If the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks weren't such a somber occasion, I'd be pretty excited about my first paid publication. But that's pretty small apples compared to what today is all about.

Today is about remembering the lives lost and the families who will never be the same because of that tragic day. It's also about remembering the soldiers whose have paid the ultimate price and the military families who have sacrificed so much over the past ten years in the war on terror. May we never forget the heroes that make this country great.

Below is the article I wrote. You can also find it in the online version of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The radio crackled in my headset as we passed over a tranquil Lake Calhoun. Downtown Minneapolis drifted outside the cockpit window. The landing gear was down.

Everything was as it should be. Outside, the skies were clear and the air was refreshingly less humid than it had been the previous month. I briefly looked down at the passing homes and schools of south Minneapolis.

School was back in session, and bright-yellow buses were busy transporting children, as they would on any other Tuesday morning. But this wasn't any other Tuesday morning. This was Sept. 11, 2001.

As I was completing what would be another uneventful flight, there were four other airplanes whose final destiny would be anything but normal.

That day has forever changed our lives, whether because of enhanced screening at the airport or, heaven forbid, the loss of a friend or family member in the attacks on domestic soil. We all have stories about what we were doing on 9/11.

Most, like mine, aren't anything to write home about, but everyone remembers where they were when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center's North Tower, and what happened afterward is something to write about.

It's what we did after 9/11 that changed America and its people.

Maybe you watched the television with disbelief. Maybe you cried for the loss of fellow Americans. Maybe you called your parents and told them you loved them. Maybe you held your children extra long before they went to bed that night. Maybe you thanked a police officer or firefighter. Maybe you bought a traveling soldier dinner before your flight home.

But what did you do two years afterward? What did you do eight years after 9/11? I don't think people will ever forget that dreadful day, but it has definitely slipped into the back of our memory bank.

For someone like me, an airline pilot who is constantly dealing with airport security and working with federal air marshals, I am reminded of our post-9/11 world on a regular basis.

But for the insurance salesman driving around Kansas or the schoolteacher struggling with a lack of funds, telling your kids you love them one more time before they go to bed or thanking the police officer for what he does after he just wrote you a citation may not be the first thing on your mind.

This past week, just seven days short of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, I was sitting in Terminal B at Newark's Liberty Airport, waiting for my flight home. I noticed a group of TSA officers wearing honor guard regalia.

With them was a U.S. Army master sergeant. I learned that the master sergeant was escorting a fallen soldier on a final flight home. I didn't ask for the soldier's name, or even if the soldier was male or female. I honestly didn't know what to say.

After the airplane arrived, the honor guard and master sergeant went outside. I stood at the window, along with many other passengers, watching in silence as the honor guard stood at attention while the fallen soldier was loaded on to the airplane.

Through the tears in my eyes, I looked out at the New York City skyline, and it all hit me. Ten years ago, when I was flying over that school, where kids were playing outside -- maybe, just maybe, one of those kids was this soldier who gave everything for our country.

So, when you see a soldier at your regular lunch spot, tell the manager that you'll take care of his or her bill. Call your parents and tell them you love them. Thank police officers for all that they do. And when you come home from work today, hold your kids for a few extra seconds. As a matter of fact, that was the first thing I did when I got home from that trip. I forgot about the bills, forgot about the oil change the car needed. I held my little daughter in my arms for as long as she'd let me.

After today, we each have one day less. Make the most of it.

Above is a picture I took of that soldier taking his last flight home. May God bless you my unknown hero.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review: "Unbroken"

It’s not often that I write book reviews. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve written a book review since my 8th grade English class with Mrs. Olson. Then again, it’s not often that I read a book that is so good, I feel the need to tell the whole world about it. That changed this last week when I finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the same woman who wrote the tale Seabiscuit: An American Legend. In the acknowledgments chapter of Unbroken, Laura writes, “I felt certain that I would never again find a subject that fascinated me as did the Depression-era racehorse and the team of men who campaigned him. When I had my first conversation with the infectiously effervescent and apparently immortal Louie Zamperini, I changed my mind.” I’m glad she did, because the story of Louie Zamperini is one for the history books.

Unbroken is an amazing tale of survival, resilience, and redemption. Louie Zamperini, an Olympic class runner, is thrown into World War II as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps. After mechanical failure forces his B-24 crew to ditch in the Pacific, he finds himself with two other men, floating alone on sixty-four million square miles of ocean. Given up for dead, the once world class runner’s body had wasted away to less than 100 pounds. After floating for twenty-seven days, they anxiously set off flares when they saw what they were sure was a rescue plane. As bullets pierced their rubber raft, they quickly learned that what they thought was a rescue plane, was actually a Japanese bomber. Their only choice was to jump into the water. The same water that, for twenty-seven days, had been swarming with sharks. What happens next will forever change your definition of a “man.”

As I read through Unbroken, I kept saying to myself, “This is unbelievable.” The struggles Louie Zamperini went through will give you an idea of who the true hero’s of the world are. I still can’t understand how anyone could withstand the punishment Louie’s body, mind, and soul underwent. Seven years of research, writing so eloquent you loose track of time as you read, and an amazing story easily makes this one of my favorite books of all time. You would be doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t read Unbroken, for it could forever change your life.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

On Writing

Wow. It's been over three months since I've blogged. Do people even read blogs anymore? Based on my fan mail, I'm guessing not. I can count on one hand how many blogs I read regularly, and that includes my own. I could tell you that I don't have time to write blogs because I have a kid now. She's a good excuse for a lot of things. This could be one of them.

I'd like to say I've had a case of writer's block but that's not entirely true. I have been writing, just not on my blog. If you follow me on Facebook, you know I write way too much on there. Of course, it's easy to write Facebook updates when you only have to think of one or two sentences.

I recently submitted a piece to Flying Magazine for publication. If they don't publish it, maybe I'll post it on here. As you can infer, it was about flying. I love flying, but I don't want my blog just to be about flying, because there's so much more to me than that. Plus, I can't imagine everyone wants to read about flying. I don't even want to read about flying all the time.

Some of you know I've been working on writing a novel. That's where I've been putting most of my writing efforts. When people ask what kind of book I'm writing, I usually say, "It's kind of like a Nicholas Sparks novel." Now, I'm not so arrogant to think that I have the ability to write like Nicholas Sparks, but I can try. Writing my book is frustrating. Some days, the words flow and I picture myself at book signings all over the country. Other days, I wonder why I'm bothering spending over a year on something that may not even be published. Regardless, I'm still perfecting my autograph...just in case.

So, if you've been patiently refreshing my blog in hopes of an update, here you go. I'll try to be faithful to my fans out there...all four of you...and write more often. But I'm also going to concentrate on bigger and better things, like finishing my novel, and teaching my kid how to be a kid.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Addicted to Facebook??

It wasn’t long ago that I was anti-Facebook. For all the people I’m friends with on Facebook, that may be hard to believe. If you talked to me eighteen months ago, I didn’t want anything to do with Facebook. I didn’t want people to know what I was doing or where I was going. After all, what business did they have knowing where I was eating dinner, and why would they even care? I especially didn’t want people to know where and when I was traveling. I was paranoid that iPhone pictures being posted would be embedded with GPS coordinates that would lead a bad guy directly to my front door while I was on a trip. However, I also heard stories of people reconnecting with friends from days gone by. So, after a little more research, I realized Facebook wasn’t all that evil, and signed up.

At first, I was overwhelmed. Friend requests? Status updates? Pictures? Tagging? I almost deactivated my account within the first ten minutes of signing up. It didn’t take long, however, before I was updating my status daily (and sometimes more). I was loading more and more pictures, and eventually, **gasp** telling people where I was going? Throughout the past eighteen months, I’ve reconnected with old high school friends, a few old work buddies who I had no way of finding, and of course, I’ve made a lot of new friends and have been able to keep in touch with them. It really is quite entertaining, and a good way to keep tabs on your friends.

The funny thing about Facebook, however, is that as you acquire more and more “friends,” it’s easier to spend more and more time on Facebook trying to keep up with all of them. One of my status updates once, said something to the effect of, “It seems the number of Facebook friends one has is inversely proportional to the number of real friends they have.” This may not be entirely true, but the social networking site, seems to make some people, less social. After all, who’s more social; a guy walking down his street talking to the neighbors, or the same guy walking down the same street with his head buried in his iPhone keeping tabs on his friends latest trip to Starbucks? I’ve been that guy so I’m certainly not throwing stones, because if I were, I’d have to throw some at myself.

Lately, I’ve noticed I’m spending way too much time on Facebook. It’s become so addictive that I’ll find myself logging off Facebook on my computer, only to pull out my iPhone less than a minute later, and logging back in. It’s easy to become addicted. You post a status update and it’s almost like the number of comments you receive is akin to a popularity contest in high school. It doesn’t help when people tell you they love your status updates (although it is a nice stroke to the ego). And who doesn’t love seeing those little red numbers when you log in? A few personal messages, half-a-dozen notifications, maybe a new friend request...gonna be a good day. But is that really what being social is about? Do I love keeping up with my friends? Absolutely. Do I enjoy seeing pictures from their latest vacation? Yep. Do I enjoy reading a well worded status update. You bet. Do I need to know “John Smith” was at Olive Garden three hours ago with two other people? No.

This piece sounds a lot like something a girlfriend would say right before she breaks up with you. The whole, “It’s not you, it’s me” line. This isn’t that. Some people take Facebook fasts. Some people deactivate their Facebook account altogether. I’m not going to do either of those things. From now on, I’m going to be conscious of what’s going on around me. I’m not breaking up with Facebook (or all my friends). But I don’t want to miss out on life either. I’m going to be social...socially.

Pilots have a saying they use while taxiing around when the pilot who’s not taxiing the airplane is going to look down at the airplane computer, or get something out of his flight bag. They’ll say, “I’m going head’s down,” as an indication to the other pilot to be extra vigilant because there are no longer two sets of eyes on what’s going on outside. And whenever the pilot who was “head’s down” is done doing what they were doing, they’ll say, “I’m back.” So, if you’ve seen me “head’s down” lately, my apologies. I’m back now. I’m going to keep my chin up, so I don’t miss out on things, and trust me, if something cool happens, I’ll tell you about it. Maybe not the second it happens, maybe not even the same day, but if you need to know, you will.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Ten Little Miracles

There are a lot of phone calls you don't want to receive when you're 4,200 miles from home. One of those is that your pregnant wife's water broke. However, that's exactly the phone call I received on January 23rd after I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal. You may be thinking, "How in the world did you make it back from Portugal for the birth of your child!?" A lot of tiny miracles.

The first miracle was that my wife Erin called me as we were walking through customs in Lisbon. If she had called just an hour later, I would have missed the one flight back to New York. Instead, I was able to go right to the ticket counter while talking to crew scheduling who bought me a ticket, not only back to New York, but all the way to Minneapolis...that's miracle number two. We left Lisbon fifteen minutes early and because I knew the captain, I kindly asked him to fly a little faster than normal...miracles number three and four.

Once we landed in New York, I heard one of the pilots come on the P.A. and tell us that our gate was currently occupied. This wasn't helping my blood pressure. Because international flights can only park at certain gates, they very rarely change our arrival gate, but this day they did. Not only did they change the gate, but it was closer to my next flight (which was leaving in 45 minutes)...miracle number five.

Typically, when we go through customs, we have a crew line which is always shorter than the normal passenger line, but if you get stuck behind a foreign crew, you can be there for upwards of an hour. A few months ago, I signed up for Global Entry which is a program US Customs has for "trusted travelers". Basically, instead of meeting with a customs agent, you just scan your passport in a machine, and it lets you into the country. It cost $100 to sign up, but this day, it was worth a million dollars...miracle number six.

After I went through customs, I got through security and walked up to the Minneapolis flight about 10 minutes before departure time...miracle number seven. I told the gate agent that I was on an emergency positive space ticket and after a little confusion, she gave me my boarding pass. When I walked on the airplane, I talked to the pilots, told them what was happening and asked if they could fly a little faster. On the descent into Minneapolis, the pilots made the following announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a special request. There's a passenger on board who is on the way to the birth of his child, so if everyone would stay seated until he gets off the airplane, we'd appreciate it." That was very nice of them, but I was shocked when everyone actually stayed seated when the seat belt sign was turned off...miracle number eight.

Because employee parking in Minneapolis is at the Humphrey Terminal, and the airlines I typically fly on park at the Lindbergh Terminal, I have to take the light rail train between the two terminals. On Sunday afternoons, the train usually operates about every 20 minutes and typically, I'll show up to see the train pulling away. Not this day, I walked down to the train station and less than one minute later, the train pulled up...miracle number nine.

If you know me, I love to When I left New York, they had already started giving my wife an epidural, which I assumed meant she was getting close. I used that information to justify driving 90 MPH to the hospital. I figured this was my one opportunity to speed and have a really good excuse. Fortunately, I didn't get pulled over...miracle number ten.

I ran into the hospital expecting blood, screaming, doctors and nurses throwing scalpels across the room like circus jugglers. Instead, I felt like I had walked into a library. The lights were dimmed, classical music was playing, my wife's dad was reading a book, my mom was eating a sandwich, Erin was laying in bed resting. I said hello, changed out of my uniform, and three hours later...I met our little miracle.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Year

One year. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. 31,536,000 seconds. The older I get, the quicker the years seem to pass. When it comes to flight time, however, it took me over half of my life to accrue one years worth of flight time. I started flying about 18 years ago and it wasn’t until yesterday that I reached a grand total of 8,760 hours flying airplanes.

The flight time adds up quick while working for the airlines so it’s easy to forget how hard it used to be to add up all the early entries in my logbook. There were many days when I thought I’d never see 1,000 hours. When you’re paying for flight time yourself, or starting out as a commercial pilot, the hours don’t always come easy. My advice to young aviators has always been to “beg, borrow, and steal” as much flight time as you can. I have to say, when I was younger, I did a lot of begging...I also did a little borrowing and some stealing, but I won’t talk about that. What I will talk about is some of the flying I did when I was building time way back when.

One of the most fun flying jobs I’ve ever had was flying skydivers. I didn’t get paid anything (besides sandwiches and Cokes), but on a good weekend, I’d fly 16 hours, and that’s 16 hours I didn’t need to pay for. The “benefits package” that the skydive club offered was pretty simple; free skydiving. I guess that’s kind of the opposite of a normal companies’ benefits package. Most companies offer health plans, this one offered free opportunities to injure yourself and no health insurance. I took them up on it. During my time there I flew a lot, earned my skydive license, and managed not to break any bones...or airplanes for that matter.

Another flying opportunity that arose after a lot of begging was the chance to fly with the Minnesota State Patrol. When I was in college, I worked at the St. Paul Airport which is where the State Patrol kept their airplanes and helicopters. I became friends with many of the troopers which turned into offers to go flying. I went up in their helicopter many times, which was fun, but I couldn’t count that as flight time because I didn’t have a helicopter rating. I also went up in their airplanes whenever they had to deliver emergency blood or to enforce speed on various metro freeways. Flying for speed enforcement was a blast! Not for the guy getting the speeding ticket, but I was sure having fun chasing them. Usually, the trooper would run the stopwatch and talk to the troopers on the ground to stop the cars while I flew the airplane around in circles. Basically, every five minutes, we’d have a one minute car chase. Not only did I get to log this flight time, which was paid for by the good ol’ State of Minnesota, but I also got to fulfill my childhood dreams of being a cop.

People often ask what kind of emergencies I’ve had as a pilot. Thinking back, I’ve had a few. They say “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” In terms of flying, I’m strong enough. It’s funny, when I go fly airliners around, if we were ever down to one engine and one radio, we’d consider than an emergency. But the first airplanes I flew only had one engine and some didn’t even have a radio. Over the years, I’ve had an engine quit (on a plane that only had one engine to begin with), I’ve had smoke in the cockpit due to an malfunctioning heater, I’ve had a few flap failures, I’ve had a thunderstorm lift my airplane one thousand feet higher than we wanted, and once I had enough ice built up on the wings to build a small ice castle (and force us into an airport we weren’t planning on going to). So yeah, I’ve had a few emergencies, and I’m sure I’ll have a few more, but it’s those emergencies that build character and put hair on your chest...something like that.

The past 18 years of flying have had their ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change one bit of it. After all, it’s not the destination that makes flying fun, it’s the journey, and I’ve had a great 8,760 hour journey.

One year.
One year of amazing memories.
One year of doing what I love.
One year of flying airplanes.
I am truly blessed.