Commercial flying can be a drag. This trip got off to a rough start. I got myself to Philly at noon for a planned departure on the first leg to Washington (IAD) at 14:40. Scheduled to arrive at 15:42 pm, I’d move from Gate A to Gate C at IAD for the planned second leg departing at 17:15 and getting me to Burlington, Vt at 18:47. I could probably squeeze something in there for dinner while at IAD.
The itinerary allowed 80 minutes or so between the scheduled landing in DC and departure from a different gate for the second leg to Vermont. I was considering the adequacy of that time when they called the first delay for my flight. Ok – it would be a late dinner in Burlington and I’d have to run between terminals to make this work. It was snowing in Philly and aircraft were de-icing, but it was still possible. This was not going to be a relaxed journey, however.
I checked FlightAware to see if the airplane we’d be using was even in route, and saw that it was only a few minutes out. That is good news – let’s get this done.
The airplane arrived and United managed an impressive turn around. We were boarding not ten minutes after the last arriving passenger walked off. I was impressed and found my seat, ready to go!
Light snow was continually falling all this time as we pushed back from the gate with an assurance from the Flight Attendants that all connections were still good. Taxiing for takeoff I had my game face on when the flight deck announced we had to return to the gate. The previous crew experienced a mechanical enroute, and dispatch just determined that this condition demanded that additional fuel and paperwork were needed to make the flight happen. I might be spending the night in DC, or even sleeping in the terminal for an O’Dark Thirty departure.
I’m not very good at recovering from travel foibles without Beverly, but I’d have to manage somehow. The gentleman next to me started asking about getting off, and the Flight Attendant said she’d check. I stopped her and told her I was in the same boat and needed to get off. I made the decision to try for one of the American flights I knew were usually there, and knew Ben would back me up on that call. There was no way going to DC was a good idea at this point, and the snowfall increased to accentuate the point. They’d have to de-ice now as well.
The Captain said no problem with us getting off, but we couldn’t get our luggage. the two of us only had carry-on, so problem solved! I grabbed my gear and waited about 15 minutes while the gate agent sorted it all out. She put me on the 4:20 that was boarding RIGHT NOW a full two terminals away. I started hustling and Ben called me while I was on the run. I wheezed out what I was doing and told him I’d get back to him. United recovered me nicely on the direct flight now, so I’d be having a nice dinner at the WindJammer instead of something less appealing at a DC airport. That chest cold that was trying to develop gave me a cough for the flight north, but it was all good.
Uber was awesome for the second time now that I’ve used it. Made the quick trip to the hotel and then walked next door to the WindJammer. Two beers and a nice dinner later I was in my room trying to sleep. The only unappealing part of this work behind me for now, until the ride home.
Thursday Flying: Ben swung by the hotel at 6:45 and we headed over to the airport. He and Luke, the mechanic supporting the airplane, had the airplane pre-flighted and fueled so we would be ready to go. I put my gear in the airplane and sat right down to get our clearance and weather. We were in the air not 20 minutes after we left my hotel. Ben does a fantastic job of not rushing me, but I’m telling you I have to be awake and ready to go when I get there. My goal is to impress him with my efficiency and to be a solid crew member.
As we taxi out and complete all the checklists in a professional way, Ben reminds me of the ATIS (weather) frequency up in Montreal. That was a very nice way to remind me that we only had a few minutes before we’d arrive and I should get that weather before calling in.
Montreal had continuous light snow and 33 degrees on the ground with information Kilo. I called in and managed checklists and radios as we landed and called customs. Ben is giving me additional duties in manageable portions, allowing me to spin up end-to-end at my own pace. He knows I want to do it all, so this time I called CanPass and Customs as we land and taxi in. We picked up one passenger at our normal FBO, fueled, and departed for Teterboro, NJ not 20 minutes later.
I have learned how to actively manage the fueling in terms of balance (important in a WW), but Ben still does the planning and preparation. I managed the GPU plug-in and activation, and then obtained the ATIS and clearance for the ride south. Ben had asked me to get the V-Speeds using an application – E6B Pro, and that that was another elegant reminder of what my workflow should look like. I got that done using the new fuel load, and always have the FSI book right behind me to do it manually if I get lost in the app.
We land at Teterboro and taxi behind a Cirrus over to customs. That process takes only minutes and requires only my passport and a promise I hadn’t brought in any goods. We taxi over to signature and won’t be needing any gas. Our second passenger arrives shortly thereafter, and I’ve already gotten our weather and clearance. Ben gets them inside and closes the door – I’ve got the flight deck ready and we are outta here.
Not so fast there buddy! Getting out of Teterboro would have us in a traffic jam today. We had enough fuel, but not so much we wanted to squander it on the ground waiting. We were number 20 for departure and followed the directions to zig-zag in line so we’d always be facing the tower. That would keep one jet from smothering the ones behind with jet fumes. Not everyone followed directions, and we were a bit dizzy by the time it was our turn.
Once out of there and heading to Raleigh, we were limited in climb to 26,000′ as a final. That was another challenge for our fuel planning, and Ben responded by pulling back the power to 75%. I might not have considered this as quickly as he did, and will study the performance numbers some more. Our complaints about the altitude fell on deaf ears, so we motored on more slowly than planned, landing with 2000# of fuel in Raleigh. Ben’s management was spot on and he flies this jet like I used to fly Twin Comanche. His technique is wired tight.
The social side of this: Like in the airlines, you have to enjoy who you are flying with. These trips are a welcome break and a fun excursion for me. That I get paid well to do them is just a bonus on top. I’m having fun doing it, and it’s a challenge I welcome.
There was no convenient breakfast for me this morning, so I was pretty hungry by the time Ben and I went to lunch in Raleigh. We found a place called ‘The Pit’ and I enjoyed a plate that included Carolina BBQ, Fried Chicken, and coleslaw. I had a wonderful local beer with my lunch and was very much enjoying myself. I’m under a bit of stress and eating more carby food and good beer than is good for me. I’m enjoying my life though.
Back at the room, on the 9th floor of an Embassy Suites, I began to study the airplane manuals for my own airplane. I am hoping it will be ready Tuesday or Wednesday, and I want to be ready to test fly it safely. Reviewing the operation of the Aspen glass panel and the Altimatic IIIb autopilot are on the agenda today, since I haven’t touched either device in over two years. The TV is on for background noise and I end up engrossed in a movie that came up. Time passes quickly.
Around 7pm, Ben and I head out for dinner to a local Mexican restaurant. I drive to give Ben a rest and find that his attention span is too short to be an effective navigator on the street. He is busy answering emails and running one of the few successful small aviation businesses I’m aware of. We miss a few turns and finally get to the restaurant. I have a steak fajita that is amazing, but you can keep the beans and rice. I’m driving, so no beer for me. My diet is shot this trip anyway and I keep enjoying the experience.
We have a late start tomorrow so we decide to have a drink or two at the bar before calling it a night. I very much enjoy the light conversation and camaraderie. I’ve missed flying and training with close friends, and I realize that I’ve gotten some of that back with Ben. Really – how much better could this situation be? It may not last forever, but it is really good for now.
Friday Flying: We check out and get moving around 11am to get the airplane fueled, soft drinks on ice and hot coffee in the urn. Fresh newspapers are arranged in the back and the seat belts neatly arranged. I’m looking forward to another opportunity to hand fly the empty leg home, but it may not happen if time gets tight. I’m working tomorrow and need to get home tonight. I’ll turn down the opportunity if we need to push hard.
The trip to Montreal at 35,000′ was clear and mostly smooth. Ben briefed me before touch down to call CanPass in Canada, and then US Customs to inquire about an early departure. By the time we were on the ramp, Canadian customs approved our arrival and US Customs approved an early go for us as well.
I wished our passengers – who are paying my fees indirectly – a very happy holiday season as they departed. The smile on my face was genuine, and I quickly got back to the business of flying. The clearance, weather, and V speeds were all ready when Ben got back in and he briefed me on the taxi out.
It would be my right seat departure on the way home. The flight was only 10 minutes, so I left the autopilot off the entire time to enjoy the experience as much as I might. Up to 10000′, and just as quickly descending to 2200′ for the visual to RW33. Traffic was inbound and close-in, so they asked us to keep it tight. I just flew the airplane like I knew how, though my right hand was moist. I don’t do this often enough to be smooth in this airplane, but I’m not doing bad.
Ben calls out my bank angle in the turn and asks me not to bank any further. He reminds me that people in jets get into trouble with too steep a bank in the final turn, close in like this. I know this and will pay closer attention. I wasn’t unsafe, in my opinion, but his call out was warranted.
I lined up a bit right of the center line, and followed his guidance to center us. Slipping left and adjusting my sight picture, I ignored his call to flare more and set the airplane down the way I’d planned and practiced. He is very good at smooth as silk touchdowns for his passengers, but that is not my initial goal. We train back home not to do this type of landing since it could consume significantly more runway, and instead prefer a more direct arrival. I’ll do it his way after a few more on my own.
I am blessed to be here. The timing and opportunity is astounding to me. Ben talks about my coming up early for the next trip, and getting me some left seat time. He has a development plan to have us sharing legs, and will work with his insurance to make that happen for me. I’m basically in a training program that fell in my lap. This is unimaginably good for me.
We transfer controls on the roll out and head over to customs. The process is down cold now and we are out of there in minutes. I get to the airport about 45 minutes before my flight to Dulles and then home. I’m the only person in the security line, so I have a beer at the Skinny Pancake there in the airport. Oh – my diet is hurting but my soul is content.
Arriving Dulles, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that my second leg flight will be out of the gate right next to where I just arrived. I didn’t have to spend time running to Gate C, and would instead have time for dinner. The chicken wrap that was quite good, and I washed it down with a beer to extend my mini-vacation a bit more. I even ate some of the fries, which I shouldn’t have, and can feel fatigue setting in. It’s a good tired, but tomorrow will be tough.
I finally get home at 1am, knowing I’d have to be at work by 8am. Before I even got in bed, I had to wake Beverly up because her Dad was calling on the intercom. She went to take care of that while I crawled into bed and found I couldn’t sleep very well. When I’m home, we never sleep more than 4 hours at a time because of the seniors.
I’m having wonderful flying experiences, but do feel guilty about not being home to help Beverly while I’m gone. Her family has been coming over each night to cover in my absence. It’s good that they are getting involved, but I worry about my wife. She seems ok and encourages me to keep going with this. She is a good girl. Amazing, actually.
Improving my travel efficiency: The only bad part of what I’m doing with these flights is the commercial air travel. It absolutely sucks, so I’m always looking for ways to make it suck a little less. Here are a few things I’m trying:
- TSA Pre-Check: I’m going to spend the $85 to get pre checked in an effort to stream line Philly airport security.
- Look into flights into and out of DCA instead of Philly. My friend Mike recommended this, so I’ll look into it.
- Purchased a nice brief case for my laptop and ipad, along with a few other items. It is working well; carries just what I need; and fits nicely in the airplane.
- Pack only a soft duffle bag with no hard sneakers in it. These CRJ jets I’m flying on have very little overhead storage, and it’s imperative that I do carry on bags.
- Re-think how to bring exercise clothes. Maybe another pair of lightweight Merrill sneaks would fit ok.
- Purchased a new lighter wallet and a leather passport holder. I’m going to put my licenses and medical into this, and carry it with me all the time. Passports are an absolute must for this work, and I must never forget mine.
That is enough for now. I’m really having the time of my life at 60 years old – again. My airplane will be ready for me this week, and I’ll bring it north. Look for updates on the radio work – IFR Certs and updates; and soon thereafter, the paint repair process up at Smoketown. I’ll also post a bit about burning off the 25 hours and then hitting the 50 hour mark as quickly as weather permits.
I’m also wondering what the video will look like, and we’ll see that on YouTube by year end.