Oct 14, 2018 – Contract Flying

It is windy as hell out there this morning, and the temperature isn’t rising above the low 50’s as I write this. I need to exercise, but I’m not inclined to ride my bike along the water in this wind and temperature.

Not many pleasure boats are on the canal either. The new flag pole is getting a real workout today, so we’ll see how that holds up. When we woke up this morning, we found two of our plastic like wicker chairs had walked themselves down from the upper deck to the lower deck. One of them continued right down the steps and out into the yard! As the day progressed – even the heavier metal chairs had to be laid down to stop the sliding. One of the downsides of a maintenance free deck surface, I suppose. Winter can’t be too far off.

Just thrilled to report that I was given the opportunity to do a second contract flight in a Westwind II from October 14th to the 16th. The chief pilot, Ben, had been a client of mine in for recurrent a few months back. It came up in conversation that I wanted to fly.

While out on a motorcycle ride the other day, I took a bee in the helmet and had to pull over. I started receiving texts from him right as I was dealing with the bee. I was glad that it gave me the opportunity to respond before he moved on to someone else.

In the first text, Ben wanted to know if I was interested in doing a flight with him later in the week. I told him Hell Yeah!, or something to that effect. Before I could commit, however, I’d need a few minutes to check with work and home to ensure that I can do this.  He asked that I get back to him quickly, as he had to get all my information registered with his insurance and with customs for this international flight (Canada). With my head still throbbing from the bee stings, I got busy right there on the side of the road.

First I reached out to my boss at work to see if he could move an assignment I knew that I had for one of the three affected days. Scott jumped on that and moved my work around to accommodate what I wanted to do. I promised to do whatever he needed me to do in order to make up for that change, and signed off with him. Next I called Beverly to see if she’d be ok with me disappearing for three days. She runs the house and has an awful lot of responsibilities these days. We talked a bit, and as usual, she was supportive and told me to go have fun.

Really excited now, I sent a text back to Ben from the side of the road, telling him that I could do it and that I was definitely interested. He needed an image of my passport and other details as soon as I could get them to him, so I told him I’d get all that done in about an hour. I explained I was on the road and would have to get the motorcycle home before I could do that. Give me an hour and I’ll get it done.

Passport, driver’s license, and miscellaneous other details went out as soon as I got home, and I was all set and ready to go. What a turn of events!

The first day of the trip was a travel day out of Philly. Ben set up the flight, and I’d be flying my old alma mater – Piedmont airlines – to get to Burlington, Vermont. This would be my first time flying in an EMB145 aircraft, and I’m here to tell you it’s a tight fit. I had seat 1A, right up front, and found the accommodations rather cramped. I had packed lightly enough that my small bag just fit in the overhead, but just barely. Two days of clothes, exercise shorts, shoes, and my ZULU headset in it’s protective case. The iPad and computer I take with me were in a separate personal bag that I held in my lap or at my feet for the flight.

No delays and no drama on this leg, I arrived in Burlington on time. As the door opened, I sent Ben a text and walked off of the airplane. I honestly could not remember what Ben looked like, but recognized him the moment I saw him drive up. He is the chief pilot for the firm, and a very interesting and capable guy at only 29 years old.

The Westwind we’d be flying was on the GA side of the field, and that was going to be our first stop. We arrived at the hangar, and I climbed into the right seat as Ben stood back and described the configuration of the airplane. We talked for a few minutes about what I could expect the next day, including an insight into who the passengers would be.

We left the hangar and Ben dropped me off at the Holiday Inn nearby. Before leaving, he asked me if I’d like to have dinner with him and the airplane’s owner whom I’d also had in recurrent.  That sounded great to me, and we planned on that as I headed inside to get settled in my room. Ben returned to a scheduled flight lesson he had with a Cessna 172 client, and I relaxed with a novel I’d brought along.

Time wore on and Ben was delayed at the airport. Dinner didn’t work out, so I followed his suggestion and walked next door to a local restaurant. I sat at the bar and ordered french onion soup and dry rub wings. No beer for me today, as I’m working very hard on continued weight loss – about a pound a week. The food was excellent, and I was back in my room by 8pm, firing up the GTN750 simulator to re-familiarize myself with the radios in this Westwind.

I felt pretty comfortable with the Garmin software, so I opened ForeFlight and reviewed the most likely approaches for the next day. I don’t subscribe to Canada charts, but I was able to download PDF versions of them from AirNav.com and save them in ForeFlight manually. As it turns out, I would be using neither my iPad nor headset, since Ben had both of those and all of the approach plates I’d need ready in the airplane. If I get to do this again – I’ll travel even lighter by leaving my headset behind.

I awoke Monday morning and got myself showered and dressed by 6:30. Ben is coming at 8:30, so I have time to get breakfast and read a bit before he gets here. The restaurant on the first floor will suffice for breakfast.  I order an omelette, hash browns, and orange juice to get my morning going. The coffee here is pretty good, and I make sure to take some back to the room.

I finish my novel by the time Ben picks me up around 8:30. We get to the airplane and he explains how the pre-flights had already been done by both he and his A&P. He has me climb in first, fire up the batteries, and get ATIS and a clearance while he does a walk-around. I appreciate the fact that we work together to do a number of the ‘first flight of the day’ expanded procedures, and otherwise use the checklists thoroughly. This is a different experience than the last flight, and a very different caliber crew. The flight to Montreal takes only 20 minutes, and I’m busy doing my FO role the entire time.

I learn the process for getting coffee, papers and ice in the FBO before the passengers arrive. I’m the first one back in the cockpit again, getting ATIS and a clearance for the flight down to Teterboro. Ben is inside greeting the people we’d be flying this morning. They are an American couple living in Montreal who happen to lease a piece of this jet. I have my work done and attempt to remain inconspicuous up front. Both of the folks make a point, however, of introducing themselves and telling me that they are happy to have me here. I’m incredibly grateful myself, but don’t tell them that.

The one hour flight down to down to Teterboro gives me another chance to practice my right seat skills. I miss a radio call here and there, and feel like I’m behind the airplane a bit even thought I’m not the one flying. My standards are higher than my performance, but Ben takes it in stride. He repeatedly tells me he can see that I’m organized and have a process that is coming together for me. He appreciates that I’m there and I recognize that I’m dealing with a very smooth professional. I’m going to learn something here, and be able to grow.

Just like the airlines, Ben has me call the FBO 10 minutes out. I let them know we are going to taxi to the customs are first, and ask them to pickup our two passengers there. We’ll taxi the jet over after we’ve been cleared.

Our landing is smooth and I run the after landing checklist and reconfigure the airplane accordingly. Ben calls customs to let them know we are here. The door must remain shut until they arrive to inspect the airplane and passengers.

Once the officer arrives, we open the door and follow him inside with only our personal bags. All four of us have our passports reviewed, but no paperwork is actually processed coming back into the US. Meridian FBO has a van ready, and the passengers bid us farewell as soon as they are cleared.

Ben and I return to the airplane and he tells me I’ll be sitting in the right seat, and will get to taxi the jet to Meridian (from the customs area). I bring on the batteries and will be doing my very first jet engine start in a real airplane. It goes smoothly and I add power to get us moving. The taxi sensitivity is on high for the tiller, and he recommends I leave it there. This is exciting – I reduce too much power after we get moving and we almost come to a stop before I get it back in there and continue. Ben says nothing while I figure it out, and I appreciate his patience.

It is a relatively short taxi, but is the very first time I’ve ever used a tiller, and the first time I’ve ever taxied a jet. I’ve done these things a hundred times in simulators, but it was a big deal to me in an actual jet. I appreciate his confidence and professionalism in allowing me to get these experiences.

The taxi over is uneventful, but it gets exciting for me as we approach our destination hangar. The lineman in front of me has no idea this is my first time doing this, and is directing me into a very tight spot among millions of dollars worth of jets. Acutely aware of my surroundings, I kept the jet moving and the tips clear while I brought us to a stop right where we needed to be. So very cool he let me do this!

I shut the airplane down and clean up the trash and newspapers while Ben orders fuel for tomorrow. For these shorts flights, there is no need to clean out the bathroom. I am thankful I don’t need to learn how to do that. It isn’t all that hard, really, but not having to deal with it at all is certainly appreciated.

Lunchtime in Teterboro started with a crew car ride to a restaurant Ben found on yelp. These kids have the digital thing down between UBER and finding food, and I’ve got to get better at this if I’m going to travel allot. The place we stopped was very friendly and the food just great, even though it was located in a seriously industrial area within Richland, NJ. I don’t remember North Jersey being this friendly, but it was a nice surprise. Just like the experience I’d expect to have at my friend Tommie’s restaurant in Delaware.

After lunch, we return to pay bills at the FBO, and then get a shuttle ride to the Hilton hotel. I’m told that this hotel isn’t the best choice, but it seemed just fine to me. Ben has paperwork to do and heads to his room, while I head to the gym for a solid elliptical workout.

Around 6pm we UBERed out to dinner at an Artesian restaurant. It was an excellent choice for me to stay on track with my diet. UBER just makes the whole thing so easy, and having Ben handle all the charges makes tracking expenses unnecessary.

After dinner we UBERed back, but I noticed my phone was missing as we got a few blocks away. The driver didn’t speak english very well, but we managed to communicate that a return to the restaurant was required to look for me phone. I figured it was inside on the table, or may have fallen out of the holster as we left. Pulling up in front of the restaurant – there it was lying in the street.

Damn good thing Ben could navigate us back, since I was completely turned around at that point and had no idea where the place was. I got lucky on this one, and will have to be more careful. Losing weight has my belt loose, which make the phone move around more.

Back at the Hilton, we had a few drinks in the bar before calling it a night.

Tuesday morning started early again for me. I was dressed and ready first thing, reviewing weather and approach charts for the days flying. We were supposed to be leaving the hotel around 8:30, so I sent Ben a text around 7:30 to see if he was interested in breakfast. We met up in the lobby and ate at the restaurant there.

Today we’d be flying the couple back home to Montreal before returning the jet to Burlington. I was told to expect to do the leg home from the left seat, which would be my very first time doing that!  I was very much looking forward to that, but the first leg would be additional right seat practice that would help me get back into the groove of being a solid crew member.

Winds today were kicking – 15 gusting high 20’s as I recall, and not aligned with the available runways. Our passengers again were very polite to me, so I tried to come out of my shell a bit more with them. I am happy to be here and they should know that, I think. We dropped them at Customs and they were gone once we cleared.

I’m not sure what changed as we got back to the jet, but I wasn’t doing the left seat for the 20 minute flight home now. I wasn’t too disappointed, since I’d still be flying from the right seat and that was also great experience. It could be that I said something about my inexperience or appreciate for the opportunity that gave him second thoughts, or it could just be knowing that the wind might present a challenge.

We briefed the take-off process and departed successfully. I took the opportunity to hand fly the airplane all the way home, and we did a landing in LLWS and gusting conditions on rwy 33. I was super excited, and very much enjoyed all of this.  I hope to keep flying with this guy. For a 29 year old person, he has the maturity of a 40 year old and absolutely no ego to carry around. Ben has his stuff wired tight.

Once clear of customs, we headed right over to the airport to ensure I could catch my flight home. It only took me 10 minutes to get through security there, and another 10 to get to the boarding area.

Life is good!  Fly Safe!

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