Posts Tagged ‘Aviation’

Saevire in Machina

Posted: November 23, 2019 in Aviation, Life
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I haven’t posted anything in a while, and just recently I was reminded of some thoughts I shared regarding the photo above. So permit me a moment of your time to share a short story about love, loss, joy, pain and and sometimes having to wait around a while.

“Uh, it’s a bridge, Matt.”

That is true. My relationship with this bridge goes back nearly a decade and is full of the kind of complicated emotions that run deep. While it is a bridge, it’s not just any bridge. What you’re looking at is the infamous Chelsea Street Bridge. On one side of the bridge is Boston Logan Airport, and on the other is Massport Parking where working crews and airport employees must park before reporting for work. The side you’re on when this motherfucker goes up can very well determine the outcome of your day. Many a crew and airport employee have been stranded for up to an hour waiting on various types and tonnage of shipping traffic to pass underneath, making those poor souls late for their duty assignments. Due to its completely unpredictable nature, never has one piece of machinery so directly determined the fortunes of so many.

They say no one has ever beaten the Chelsea Street Bridge. And they’re right. On this day, completely by chance, I was on the airport side of the bridge when I happened upon it raised completely with slow moving traffic passing below. With traffic stacked up, no end in sight and a report time to make, I made a split second decision to divert to short term parking. I made it to work on time, but that son of a bitch bridge cost me $70.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the stranded, despondent, unfortunate souls on the other side, waiting not so patiently on this pain in the ass bridge to come down, so they can report for duty to faithfully serve the traveling public. Theirs is the untold story of despair so often overlooked. We should never forget their bravery, and determination… or mostly that they need their jobs badly enough to sit around and wait and not just go home because “f this bridge.” Sometimes you have to wait kind of a while.

Stay strong, weary employees. Stay strong.

September 11, 2001

Posted: September 11, 2019 in Aviation
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I’ve never really participated in the sharing of 9/11 stories. Partly because I don’t really have one that’s worth telling, but also I’ve always felt that it cheapens the day to shift focus from the loved and lost, just to talk about myself. Who am I? Just a dumbass who drives airplanes for a living.

Where was I 18 years ago this morning? It doesn’t really matter, but since we’re talking about it, I was in Fort Lauderdale waiting to start IOE for my first flying job. I was barely a pilot then. Hell, I was barely even an adult. My mom called early (for her), woke me up and told me to turn on the news. I watched the towers come down and then spent the next three days like so many other Americans, glued to the coverage trying to grasp what just happened. I didn’t know anything about the industry I was trying to break into, or how it was the day before, but I knew for sure it wasn’t ever going to be the same.

So here we are nearly two decades later. I won’t presume to speak for all of the men and women I work with, but for those who were working, or old enough to remember September 11, 2001, I think it’s safe to say that we carry this day with us every time we walk onto the airport property to start a trip. Every time we close the doors and secure the aircraft for departure. Every day. Not just the one day a year Facebook explodes with the “Never Forget” pictures. I’m not saying the emotions behind the pictures are disingenuous, I’m simply saying that for a lot of us, it doesn’t end on September 12th.

For the thousands of families who were directly affected through the loss of their loved ones, they don’t have the option to forget. They’re living with the blackness of this day on their soul for-ever. For the rest of us, we show respect to their immeasurable grief by keeping them in our thoughts, and when we put on a uniform, being proactive in our security practices. I consider my security brief to be the most important part of my introduction to my inflight team, and while they sometimes look at me sideways when I ask to see everyone of them, there’s a method, and a message too important to get handed down through the telephone game. When we walk on to the airplane, the bullshit meter is pegged, and there’s no room for shenanigans. We do these things so the country doesn’t have to suffer again. Admittedly, it’s a small contribution, and in this huge and complex world, we may just be one airplane of thousands. But inside that airplane, we’re 200 human beings with families who expect to pick them up at the airport (reasonably on time).

I feel fortunate that the people that I include in my extremely limited social media presence, and include me in theirs, are those in the industry that do understand these things, or those that serve or have served our country in one way or another. I have always said there’s a fine line between paranoia and preparedness and we must be cautious to be on the right side of it. For my part, I’ll continue to check my doors and corners, and maybe, just once, get off the gate on time.

 

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To say that I have a fairly storied, bordering on sordid history with this little airport would be something of an understatement. As a young man in my early 20’s, trying to learn how to fly, be an adult human and make my way in the world, I was bound to make a few mistakes. At the Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena Airport in the late 1990’s, most of them involved a few hilarious vehicle incidents (including a exploding lav cart), the secret service and at least one totaled patrol car. I am not at liberty to disclose any more than this. Suffice to say, much learning occurred inside the perimeter fence of this historic airfield, and almost always the hard way. Such was my way in those days. 

The last landing I logged at KBUR was on April 30, 2001 in a 1951 Piper Apache. A decidedly less complicated airplane than the Airbus A320 I am fortunate to have under my command today. This landing was the return flight from Van Nuys following my Commercial/Multi-Engine checkride and my last in Southern California for quite some time. I’ve talked about that flight and the lasting impression made upon me by an impressive gentleman who had likely forgotten more about flying airplanes than I’ll ever know. In the two decades that followed, more hard lessons were to be learned about becoming a professional pilot and a decent human being at the same time. These two things are not always coincident. The road has been difficult and fraught with peril. 

This two day trip marked my first return to Burbank in almost a decade and more notably, the first time putting wheels on the deck as Pilot in Command in nearly twenty years. As Terrence Mann once said, ”The memories were so thick, you could swat them away like flies.” I marvel sometimes that we all got through those years relatively unscathed and out of jail. Fortune was riding shotgun, perhaps undeservedly so. But, prevailing wisdom suggests that fortune indeed favors the bold, or in my case the stupid, so here I am, in the left seat of a pretty impressive machine with none of the 87 ill advised tattoos I attempted to get after many nights out on the town. My list of people to thank for that alone is staggering.

My connection to Southern California runs deep and I look back upon those days as a closed chapter in the ever writing story that is life. Not good or bad, but a series of experiences that helped shape the man I am today. Whatever that means. I look forward to sharing with my son (when he is MUCH older) the lessons learned as a young man trying to figure it out in SoCal. 

Man or Animal?

Posted: February 9, 2016 in Life
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I think what this blog needs is a frank discussion on what is most important in life. I think you know what I’m talking about.

Coffee.

Nailed it, right? Popular scientific opinion will tell you that it’s opposable thumbs that separate us from the animals, but I respectfully disagree. I think it’s a good cup of coffee.

After fifteen years of moving airplanes at ungodly hours of the day and night, I was finally forced to acknowledge the fact that airport and local coffee vendors simply can not be relied upon for the most important component to safely transporting crew, customers and aircraft to the intended destination without incident. They’re never open when you need them, or worse they are and their excuse for coffee is at best criminal, and at worst utterly inhuman. The stakes are just far too high to take the chance. Now, if you’ve read any of this blog you would be correct in surmising that I am a systems guy. Every good idea needs a better system, right? So when it finally became apparent that it was time to solve the dilemma of how to have consistently good coffee while traveling, it turned out to be a task worthy of my OCD research and analysis.

Before we even talk about the tools, I’ll briefly touch on actual coffee. Choosing the right coffee bean is a lot like choosing a pair of running shoes. It’s incredibly personal, and what works for one person, may not work for someone else. Whole bean only, and the darker the better. If I can see daylight through my coffee, I’ve obviously made a horrible mistake. Trader Joes Italian, French or Sumatran are my usual go to beans, but some of the best coffee I’ve had comes from the smaller roasters that you can’t find on a shelf in a brick and mortar store. In either case, stay away from pre ground coffee at all costs. It’s important to note that you can have the best coffee on the planet and still kill it with a substandard brewing system.

Let’s start with the grinder. Go out and get yourself a burr grinder. Like, right now. I’ll wait… (Just kidding, maybe finish reading this first…) They can range from obscenely expensive to sort of reasonable, but I believe for the money you are buying a higher level of grind capability. The difference is noticeable in the quality of the final outcome. I use a Cuisinart, which allows you to adjust your grind from extremely fine to extra course. I’ve found an extra fine grind produces a stronger brew while a mid coarse grind turns out something a bit more balanced. Since the grinder is prohibitively large and heavy, traveling with it is not an option. My solution to that is to pre grind as much as I need for the length of trip I’m heading out on, and seal the grinds in small ziplock bags.

Never, and I mean never, use the coffee machine in your hotel room. I know it looks like it will make coffee, but I promise you no good can from from it. I’ve experimented with the French press for a while, which I’m sure we call all agree is a significant improvement over your standard drip machine. However, if my priority is making coffee on the road, I have to admit that it’s a little too bulky, not to mention fragile for a portable operation. I was at a drive in campsite with some friends a couple years ago when I was introduced to the Aeropress coffee press. To be honest, I’m not sure why the coffee that comes out of this odd looking little coffee press is so spectacular. I can only assume it uses what in aviation we refer to as PFM Technology. Either way, I could see the Aeropress would be a man-portable way of bringing good coffee to the most remote of locations, like this hotel room in upstate New York.

What about water? When I’m on the road, I use bottled water, which fortunately I have in abundant supply. Local water conditions may effect the taste of your coffee, so if you can, bottled is the way to go. As I’ve mentioned, your standard hotel room coffee machine, while being a coffee machine in name only, is an equally unreliable method of producing water at the right temperature for your perfect cup of coffee. I settled upon the Bodum 17 oz. travel kettle. Smaller than your average electric kettle the Bodum gives you the opportunity to get your water to exactly the right temperature. I shoot for about 175 degrees, and yes, I have a thermometer.

Most fanatics (read: addicts) will tell you that brewing the perfect cup of coffee is as much art as it is science. After some trial and error I identified a recipe that turns out a cup coffee so amazing you’d think it was brewed by unicorns:

– 2 generous Aeropress scoops of beans, mid coarse grind
– Water heated to 175 degrees – I push as much water as I can through the grinds without diluting it.
– Just a splash of half/half – This isn’t really necessary, as black coffee from the Aeropress is just as good.

I spend a fair amount of time in a confined space around expensive electronics that don’t react all that well to coffee spills, so in looking for a water tight container I discovered the Contigo insulated mug. It advertises keeping hot liquids hot for five hours, which I would say is a little optimistic, and has a lockable spout. This is especially important because when I inevitably knock my coffee over while performing those “preflight checks” you’ve heard so much about, I won’t cause significant delays and expensive maintenance procedures. You’re welcome, traveling public.

Forget for a moment the operational need, whether you travel for business or leisure, sometimes the impact of starting the day with a good cup coffee can make all the difference in the world. Being away from home is hard enough without having to suffer unnecessarily.

Please brew responsibly.

  

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I remember it like it was yesterday: April 30, 2001. This was the date of commercial multi-engine checkride, the last hurdle between me and the beginning of my career in aviation. I was scheduled to be evaluated by Adam Berg. I didn’t know much about Mr. Berg going into the office, but in the briefing with my instuctor the day before, I was told that he was some kind of Navy pilot and if I could get him going on about the war, I’d probably coast right through my checkride. It sounded like pretty good advice, so the next day I walked through the door with that in mind.

It started out ok. Not great, you know, but ok. He asked me a few questions about my experience and the airplane, all pretty standard stuff. In turn I countered asking about some of his experiences in aviation. He mentioned that back when he was younger he was in a movie or two and that he did some flying in the war. One look at my senior examiner left little question as to which war he was referring. It was all going according to plan. He also went on to note that the airplane We were flying for the checkride that day, the aesthetically uninteresting PA-23 Piper Apache, was one of the aircraft his squadron used for training in 1941. Really? That is interesting (read: aw, shit). The inquisition resumed with more questions about airspeeds, operating weights and single engine operation. I was treading water alright, but I was nervous, so I tried to put the focus back on him. Because I’m a genius, I asked him if he ever had the opportunity to fly the P51 Mustang. I mean, here’s a WWII pilot, right? And who wouldn’t want to fly the Mustang? I think we all know the answer to that. Navy Pilots. As soon as the words left my lips, I knew I had made a horrible mistake. In that moment, which seemed to last a lifetime, the entire tone in the room changed. He revered me with a look that would have made even the hardest Marine uneasy, and said, “I don’t fly Airforce airplanes, son. Lets go do some flying.” I swallowed hard, grabbed my gear and headed for the airplane.

What followed were two of the most harrowing hours I have ever spent in the skies over Southern California. To say he gave a very thorough and exacting checkride would be the most grievous of understatements. Stalls, were followed by steep turns; the VMC demo was followed by single engine ops, multi and single engine approaches, go around a and landings. It seemed as though every maneuver started and ended with, “Who told you to do it that way?” And my personal favorite, “What are you doing now?” It was pretty clear to me that this checkride could probably have been going better. One hour and forty five hard fought minutes later, with the ride over, we landed at Van Nuys and taxied back to his office. The cockpit was silent. I was absolutely positive that I was going have to come back and endure another two hours of unrelenting abuse from a man who had obviously forgotten more about aviation than I was likely to ever know. I set the brake and as the engines came to a stop, I braced for the inevitable. My eyes straight ahead, I could see him in my periphery getting his things together. He stepped out of the airplane, stopped and said, “You fly a pretty good airplane kid. Secure it, and I’ll meet you upstairs.” He let the door close behind him and I sat there a moment, trying to figure out what in the hell just happened. My composure somewhat regained, I chocked the airplane and went up to his office. He signed off my logbook, shook my hand, said, “Fly safe,” and sent me on my way.

I didn’t realize until much later how established an actor, and no kidding war hero Adam Berg actually was. For his service in combat against the Japanese Navy in 1944 he was awarded the Navy Cross. It reads as follows:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Adam William Berg (NSN: 0-278522), United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Dive Bomber in Bombing Squadron FOURTEEN (VB-14), attached to the U.S.S. WASP (CV-18), in action against the enemy fleet in the vicinity of the East Philippine Sea on 20 June 1944. Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Berg’s attack against an enemy fleet oiler was pressed home to a low altitude with determination and skill in the face of intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire. He scored direct hits with his bombs and contributed heavily to the destruction of the enemy ship. During retirement his excellent airmanship and coolness were instrumental in frustrating enemy fighters which made repeated attacks against his division. While returning to his own forces, his fuel exhausted, and he was forced to make a water landing in complete darkness. Both he and his air crewman escaped injury and were eventually rescued. His courage and skill were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.
General Orders: Commander 1st Carrier Task Force Pacific: Serial 0583 (September 27, 1944)
Action Date: June 20, 1944

So, let me see if I understand this: Dropped bombs on an enemy ship, scoring direct hits; fought off scores of enemy fighters; ran out of fuel and performed a water landing (read: crashed in the ocean) at night, and survived. Yeah, this guy was the real deal.

And I asked him if he flew the P51. Genius.

As far as his movie career goes, I’ll just leave this here:

Adam Williams IMDB

It too, speaks for itself.

I was saddened to hear that he passed away in 2006. Another loss from a generation to whom the country, if not the world, owes so much. I think of that day often, as a funny story about how I was chewed up and spit out by a tough old fighter pilot turned actor, turned in my face FAA designated examiner. He didn’t give me an inch, but when the dust settled and the engines cooled, I felt as though I had earned his endorsement.

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Of horseshoes and hand grenades

Posted: May 31, 2013 in Aviation
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(The above image is a vast exaggeration of the aircraft and events contained in this short narrative)

It was a close one. Uncomfortably close. I’m not sure just how close it was, but it must have been, because aside from the feeling in the pit of my stomach, everyone who saw it from the ground thought we were done for.

That’s pretty fucking close.

It started like any other flight, in the briefing room. I met my First Officer, and we discussed the particulars: full flight, airplane is in good shape, the weather, not so much. “It’s windy as hell up there with low ceilings,” I tell him, “and the alternate doesn’t look much better. But, it’s right down the runway, so it should be fine.” I didn’t love the situation we were about to fly into. “You’re just worrying too much,” I told myself. I signed the paperwork, and headed for the gate.

The preflight, boarding and departure were unremarkable, as were the next two and a half hours heading northeast into the night, towards our destination of Halifax. As we closed in on the destination, I pulled up the weather to start the descent and approach planning. The ceiling was about 1200 feet and the wind was still blowing hard down the runway at over 40 knots. Peak gusts were recorded at 45. Ok, this is gonna suck a little.

It was my leg to fly, so I briefed my partner on the approach and we talk about the missed approach if we can’t get in. Fuel is tight, so we’re gonna have one shot, maybe two before we head to the alternate. The alternate, who’s weather was now a little worse than where we’re going. Something to keep in mind.

The initial descent was smooth, just picking up the occasional bump. The fun began as we descended below 2000 feet. The occasional bumps became continuous. The light chop started to feel more moderate. As advertised, the wind was right down the runway. “It’s not so bad,” I thought as we came up on 1200 feet and broke out of the clouds. Then the shear started. Airspeed fluctuations of 10 to 15 knots above and below our target speed added to the unsettled approach as we descended below 500 feet.

I notice that I’m off the glideslope… Half a dot high and climbing. Ok, just take a smidge of power out to correct. Just. A. Smidge.

At the same moment of my power correction, the wind sheared. The abrupt change in direction and velocity caused a dramatic loss of lift that I can only describe as a feeling of “the bottom falling out.” Simply put, the airplane stopped flying. I’m not sure what the altitude was. We hadn’t crossed the threshold of the runway yet so we were higher than 100ft, but not by much.

In a brief second of panic, I thought to myself, “I am NOT crashing this airplane tonight.” While that might seem a bit dramatic all these years later, at that moment time, I assure you, it felt appropriate.

Without the time to verbalize it, I slammed the thrust levers forward and pitched up slightly. I called for the gear and flap retraction on schedule while the airplane clawed it’s way back into the sky.

Once stabilized in the climb out, we call the tower and explain what just happened. They issued us vectors for the downwind to try the approach again. I looked at the fuel and called up the weather for the alternate. It had gotten even worse, and we only had enough gas to get there and maybe make one approach. Not the best option.

I briefed the Flight Attendant and the passengers, then I looked to my partner, who was all business.

“Alright dude, heres the deal. We dont have the gas for another missed. No matter what happens, we’re landing this airplane.””Roger that.” Is the reply. ” Let’s do it.”

The second attempt is a near carbon copy of the first. The chop turned into moderate turbulance below 2000 feet, getting progressively worse as we closed the distance to the runway. Below 1000 feet, again, the shear worsened. I’m a little high again. Instead of taking power out, I pushed the nose down and get back on the glideslope. The runway is getting bigger in the windscreen and I fight the airplane closer to the ground. The threshold lights pass beneath us and I pulled the thrust back to idle. The airplane solidly thumped to the pavement, I deployed the thrust reversers and applied full braking.

The airplane came to a stop on the runway and I caught my breath. My FO slapped me on the shoulder and as I remove my hands from the yoke. I noticed they were shaking.

“Dude, that was messed up.” I heard from the right seat.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t want to talk about it.” I said as I taxied us off the runway.

The tower called to get a pilot report, and informed us that a 767 blew a nose wheel tire on the same approach two hours before we got there. It occurred to me that I could have used that information just a little bit earlier.

The gate sent greeted us with a look of shock on her face. “You guys almost crashed!” she said as she opened the door.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

I stood in the doorway to see off our 50 customers and I noticed something I hadn’t before. Every one of them looked me in the eye, and thanked me. Each and every one of them. It caught me off guard. We didn’t do anything special. We just made the best of a challenging situation.

We gathered our things, and headed for the cab to take us to the hotel. “Holy cow, you guys almost went in! What happened?” the cab driver exclaims. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Is the reply, still not quite ready to deal with what just happened.

We got to the hotel and I said to my FO, “Meet me in the bar in twenty.”

It was well after midnight when I got up to my room and sat on the bed. I pulled out my phone, and called my fiancé.

I made it to the bar just before they closed, and a minute or two before my FO. I ordered four shots of scotch, the good stuff, gave two to him and we talked over the whole thing. We got pretty lucky that night. We had never worked together before, but he was an outstanding pilot and crew member, and we both defaulted to our training to get the airplane on the ground without any injuries or bent metal.

That makes all the difference when it counts. And that night in Halifax, it counted.

Amazing Grace

Posted: May 31, 2013 in Aviation
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I have no idea what time it is.

It’s late… No, its early. I’m so screwed up.

Lighting flashes in the distance and the ride gets progressively worse. The radar is showing the green and yellow blobs that indicate that we’re going to be picking our way through some weather. Meanwhile, the Rolls Royce engines dutifully carry us northbound over the thousand miles of ocean between us and the eastern United States.

I check my watch, it’s 0430. The indiglo numbers confirm my fears, it’s both late and early at the same time. Awesome.

I look out the window and there are no stars. Lightning flashes again, this time from below. Yeah, that’s what I thought, we’re in it. St. Elmo’s fire lights up the windscreen and the ride gets worse. There’s no indication that deviating off course will help. We’ve got to ride it out and wait for it to get better. Sometimes the only option is to do nothing.

The radio is quiet. The HF comm is shut down between reporting points. It’s one of the few benefits to working at this ungodly hour of the day. The nav computer keeps us steadily on course as I scroll through the system pages. Values and tolerances are normal. All green, no red. Life is good.

Ani Difranco is the chosen playlist for this segment of the flight. It’s an old album my sister gave me a long time ago. One of my favorites.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound….

The ride smooths out a bit and we break through the clouds. The northeast quadrant of the sky reveals the first grey blue indication of the coming dawn. It’ll come fast, stretching its long arm of daylight across the horizon. I’m going to need my sunglasses soon. That’s gonna suck.

The equal time point sequences and I enter in the next points. Any emergencies before the ETP and we go Bermuda. Passing that point means no matter what, we go to Boston. That suits me just fine.

The lower part of the horizon is dark orange now, backlighting the storms off in the distance. A lightning strike reaffirms my contentment at heading in the opposite direction.

0500. Two hours, seven minutes to go. A look at the TCAS shows traffic a thousand feet above and converging. I look out to the east, and a Delta 767 passes overhead leaving a contrail behind it. On the ground, a thousand feet seems like quite a distance, but up here, it can feel pretty close.

I can see where the sun is going to break the horizon. Directly on a 090 heading. How about that? Theres an anvil cloud out there with a deep orange outline. Orange streaks invade the shades of blue above it marking the imminent sunrise. That’s the spot.

I’m not the poetic sort, but I will say that there is something special about witnessing the sunrise. Everyone sees the sunset. It’s just as pretty and it happens just as often. The difference, I think, is that so few people see the sunrise, and even fewer get to see it from here.

I get up to stretch my legs and the stiffness is a reminder that just 24 hours ago I was waking up on top of a mountain. I passed up watching that sunrise for an extra hour of warmth in my tent. I later felt that I might have missed something kinda special up there. This morning makes up for it. I haven’t seen the sunrise from my seat in the cockpit in a couple months. The experience is not lost on me.

As expected its nearly time for the sunglasses. A light overcast layer obscures the the new sunlight light from my weary eyes. Half of the sky is bathed in a pinky orange hue that is indicative of the new day. I was reluctant to come in tonight. Working a redeye is hard, but sometimes these small moments make it a little better.

The VHF comm crackles to life as Ani is winding down. Radar contact. The ETP has passed, and now it’s Boston or nothing. Just over an hour and we’ll be on the ground. There’s a lot to do between now and then.

Ok seriously, where did I put my sunglasses?