Friday, April 29, 2005

Rock the Rockies

Flying in Montana is a bit of a two-edged sword: it's some gorgeous country, but you also get famously fickle & fierce mountain weather. Yesterday we flew SEA-GTF-HLN (Great Falls and Helena, respectively). The forecast called for 2000 BKN and 5 miles visibility in light snow at Great Falls; as we approached, the ATIS called it 3500 broken, 6 miles visibility in mist. I planned on a visual approach but briefed the ILS just in case. Sure nuff, we're 5 miles from the marker when tower says, "ABC 322, our weather is deteriorating fast. We now have 2 miles visibility in snow." I flew the ILS and ended up breaking out at only 400 feet. Ten minutes later, it was snowing hard.

But as they say in Montana, if you don't like our weather, just wait ten minutes - it'll change! By the time we left for Helena, the snow was ending. This morning dawned clear and cold, and the flight from HLN to GTF took only 13 minutes. The ramp showed no sign of yesterday's snowstorm.

After departing Great Falls, we crossed the Rockies just south of Flathead Lake, affording us a very nice morning view.

I'm in Edmonton right now. Somebody needs to get the word out to Montana & Canada that it's spring; it's been snowing here all day. Brr.

Dawn and I are moving into our townhouse this weekend (once I get back tomorrow afternoon). Yay!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bad Airplane Movies

From the early days of aviation, Hollywood has been fairly enamored with flying. This has resulted in some really good movies like Twelve O'Clock High, but the majority of them have been stinkers. You'd think they'd be able to get it right: many movie stars, writers, directors, and producers are pilots, and aviation consultants are a dime a dozen. I think a lot of pilots would consult for free, just to have the satisfaction of seeing a movie that gets it right. Still, bad airplane movies are like bad kung-fu movies: they can be entertaining by their very badness.

Last weekend I watched "Turbulence" on TNT, not realizing what it was when I first started watching. But then I started laughing, and I couldn't turn it off. It's not a comedy, it's just so bad there's nothing you can do but laugh. It involves a serial killer hijacking a 747 with the intention of crashing it into the detective who arrested him (yes, this was pre-9/11). Standing in his way is a flight attendant who outwits him and locks herself in the cockpit, where ATC and a 747 try to talk her down. After standing aghast at all the travesties in the plotline - the autopilot executes a perfect slow-roll as the FA struggles with the serial killer - you can't help but giggle when they work in a somewhat accurate depiction of programming the 747 FMS for arrival.

Some of the quotes are priceless. At one point ATC is trying to convince Teri (the FA) to change the airplane's heading to avoid bad weather, advising her that "you've got a level six storm." "Is that a six on a scale from one to 10?" she asks. "No, Teri...on a scale of one to six!"

Of course, flight attendants landing airplanes were a staple of the 1970's disaster movies, which were pretty uniformly bad. The Airport series got worse and worse with each subsequent release, although it did provide lots of great material for Airplane! to spoof.

Bad aviation movies often center on the military rather than the airlines. 1957's Jet Pilot, starring John Wayne and Janet Leigh, had some great flight footage but was sunk by a thin plot, ludicrous dialogue, and horrible acting. Of course, everybody has seen Top Gun, a film featuring great footage of F-14's strutting their stuff and not-so-great footage of Tom Cruise strutting his. Oh yeah, the flat spin that killed Goose? Totally implausible, the F-14's engines are close enough to centerline that compressor stall/flameout on one would not induce enough vertical instability to send it into a flat spin. However, when you see the world spinning around from Mav's point of view, that's an actual flat spin performed by aerobatic champ Art Scholl. He never recovered from it, and was killed in the crash.

But the all-time Super Silver Screen Stinker award has to go to Iron Eagle. You know, where the teenage Cessna pilot steals an F-16 to go save his dad. Yeah. I don't even know where to begin, it's so horrible and implausible throughout. A great movie for parties with lots of pilots present, you can all throw popcorn at the screen. My favorite scene has to be when he's racing the dirtbike through the canyon in his C150....with the flaps full down! I laugh myself silly every time I see it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Happy/Sad Cities

One reason I dislike Hotmail is because when you log out, you have to see MSN's horrible portal page with banalities such as "10 ways to tell if your man is cheating on you." This one, however, caught my eye: The Twenty Happiest and Most Depressed Cities in the U.S., as measured by antidepressant sales, suicide rates, and reported cases of depression.

Top on the happy list: Laredo, TX. What the heck!? I've been to Laredo. There's not much to be happy about other than that you're not in Nuevo Laredo, just across the border in Mexico. Maybe that is what they're happy about. Ditto for #2, El Paso. No matter how bad things get, you're not in Juarez! The rest of the list I could accept - some good, wholesome happy midwest towns - until I got to Fresno and Bakersfield, CA. Especially Bakersfield. If you haven't spent any time there, it's basically the armpit of California. It's hot, dusty, smelly, crime-ridden, all the boredom of a small town with all the problems of the big city. Stockton is #13 on the list, and it's essentially just like Bakersfield but improved by being within decent driving distance of Tahoe. Sacramento, #19, is better than the other California cities (except San Jose)...but we're still in the San Juaquin Valley, folks!

Anchorage seemed a little funny to be on the happy list, too. My impression was that depression-fueled alcoholism was rampant in Alaska. Perhaps just not in Anchorage. Still, I'd think there'd be enough SADS (Seasonal Affective Disorder Syndrome) to go around in the winter.

I expected Portland to be on the depressed list, but #20 seems kind of far back. Between weeks of rain and gloom in the winter, and hordes of depression-prone angry left-wing artist types, you'd expect a higher depression rate. I was a little surprised to see Kansas City on the sad list when Omaha is on the happy list - c'mon, at least ya got better BBQ in KC!

I just realized that this list is scewed because it only recognizes depression that people are doing something about by seeing a doctor, taking meds, or killing themselves! You won't pick up slight depression that goes untreated, or somebody who is so depressed they can't even bother to commit suicide! Or, for that matter, the folks in Anchorage who self-medicate with the help of Johnny Walker.

Okay, here's Sam's list of Sad/Happy Layovers, as decided by my impression of the general mood of the town:

Happy: Boise, ID; San Jose, CA; Sacramento, CA; Spokane, WA; Missoula, MT; Kalispell, MT; Calgary, AB; Victoria, BC; Santa Barbara, CA

Sad: Seattle, WA; Fresno, CA; Butte, MT; Helena, MT; Billings, MT; Edmonton, AB; Vancouver, BC; Klammath Falls, OR

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Twentieth Hijacker

A few days ago, Zacharias Moussaoui plead guilty to charges against him regarding conspiracy with al-Qaida to perform terrorist acts against the US. Moussaoui is the infamous "twentieth hijacker" apprehended in Minnesota shortly before 9/11, although it now seems that he was to carry out a later attack.

Unlike the other hijackers, Moussaoui seems to have been a thoroughly incompetent pilot, having failed to solo a C172 after nearly 60 hours of training. After 9/11, there was a tremendous amount of attention on arab flight students...I often wondered about some of the students at the school where I'd taught the previous summer. I know the FBI was at the school several times and took records.

Moussaoui was apprehended due to a sharp ex-airline pilot working as an instructor for Pan-Am Int'l Flight Academy, Clancy Prevost. You can read an interesting article about it here. It is interesting to note that Prevost's suspicions were flared by both Moussaoui's incompetence and his ethnicity/apparent religion. Fast-forward to today, after thousands of lives lost to terrorism and four years of struggle against islamic fundamentalists, and political correctness still keeps airport security officials from profiling young arabic males for additional screening.

No, I'm not being reactionary and far-right about this. I'm not saying this out of hate for arabics or muslims. I'm not racist except in the sense that I recognize that a young arabic male is statistically much more likely to engage in terrorist acts than your 80-year old grandmother. Yet, behold, our airport security apparatus: still entirely incompetent in identifying and stopping weapons passing through checkpoints, only able to closely search a select few; and officialdom denies us the one weapon that might give us an upper hand: our knowledge of the enemy.

Folks, we're safer than we were 4 years ago, but it isn't because of the TSA's window dressing. It's because any terrorist will only gain access to an airline cockpit through a horde of angry passengers, determined flight attendants, a reinforced cockpit door that's staying locked, me weilding a crash axe, and increasingly often, the captain and his gun. No American airliner will again be used as a guided missile. Still, the twentieth hijacker is still out there somewhere. And I'd prefer the TSA stop him before he gets on my plane.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Kill a Commie for Mommy!

One of my early memories is from when I was about six years old, playing "war" with the older neighbor kid. He was the Russians and I was the Americans; we had all of our toy cars (tanks!), boats (ships!) and planes (F-14s!) in order on my living room floor, facing each other. We engaged in battles, their outcomes determined by the rapidly escalating volume of our sound effects. Finally, the neighbor kid took a plane, flew it over my formations, and with a deafening "BOOM!," scattered them all over the room.

"Ha! I dropped a nuclear bomb on you!"

I didn't know what he was talking about. "What's a nuclear bomb? You wrecked all my tanks!"

"A nuclear bomb can wipe out a whole country. The russians have lots of them!"

"Well," I said slyly while pulling an airplane from around the corner, "you didn't get this airplane, and it's gonna new-clear you! BOOM!"

That was probably my first realization of the existence of nuclear weaponry, or that the Soviets were our enemy in the 40-year old Cold War. As I got older, I became rather interested in foreign affairs and followed events closely. I'm thankful that I'm just old enough to have seen the liberation of Eastern Europe throughout 1989, and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. I distinctly remember watching the Berlin Wall come down on our little 12-inch black-and-white TV.

Right now I'm reading "Fifty Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War" by Norman Friedman. It's a comprehensive look at what he describes as World War III, fought at a much slower pace than usual "hot" wars. It's hard to find books on this subject that aren't slanted left or right, because especially in the last 20 years of the war, the left and right were often viruently opposed on foreign policy. Friedman, however, takes a pretty balanced approach that recognizes the victories and missteps of all parties involved. Here are some of the high points:

-- Truman wasn't negligent in "losing China," as Eisenhower claimed during the 1952 campaign, but the 1947 cease-fire imposed upon Mao and Chiang Kai-shek was ill-advised, since it allowed the communists critical time to regroup from a devastating defeat. Still, once war broke out later that year, Truman was right to not send massive aid to Kai-shek, who was unreliable and corrupt, and lacked much popular support.

-- Eisenhower was somewhat disengenuous in his 1952 campaign declaration that he had a plan to win the Korean War (echoed in Nixon's 1968 "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War). However, during Eisenhower's eight years in office, he proved to be a brilliant strategist who projected American strength during a crucial time. His "nuclear brinksmanship", decried by some as reckless, worked well in keeping Stalin and then Khrushchev at bay.

-- The "bomber gap" and subsequent "missile gap" of the late 50's never existed: American firepower at the time was far superior to the Soviets. The intelligence community miscalculated the number of missiles the Soviets had because they assumed prototype-to-production time was the same as for the West; in fact, because of Stalin's purges of the Soviet aircraft industry, their production capability was limited, and getting a prototype into production took considerable time.

-- By 1960, the CIA realized their error, and decided any "missile gap" was in favor of the Americans. John F. Kennedy was provided with this information, yet he continued to exploit the public perception of a missile gap in hammering away at the Eisenhower administration (and by extension, his opponent, Vice President Richard Nixon). Kennedy narrowly won the election; Eisenhower was disgusted by his tactics.

-- Kennedy was not an instinctive politician, and he relied heavily on his advisors. Unfortunately, much of the advice he got was poor, in particular that from Robert McNamara, his SecDef. In particular, their policy of escalating wars incrimentally to "send messages" to the Soviets was to have disasterous implications for Vietnam.

--Khruschev was a moderate compared to Stalin, and was mostly uninterested in directly waging war with the west. Rather, he was mainly interested in currying favor with client states, so they could wage war by proxy at his bidding, as Stalin had done with the Koreans. Placing missiles on Cuba was an attempt to bind Castro to him; when the missiles were withdraw, Castro was furious. Only after the Soviet's 1968 invasion of Czecheslovokia did Castro reconcile with the Soviets, realizing that it was dangerous to stray from the Soviet line.

-- Khruschev's attempts to deal with some of the inefficiencies of the Soviet system are what doomed him; it was too inconvenient for too many people. Brezhnev reversed Khruschev's reforms and gave Soviet industrialists laissez faire in production of military goods, in exchange for their loyalty. Thus, the huge Soviet military output in the late 1960's and 1970's and corresponding shortage of consumer goods. This weakened their economy considerably, which Reagan would exploit in the 1980's.

-- The war in Vietnam was very winnable, and through most of it the US and ARVN (South Vietnamese) were winning. The Viet Cong was virtually decimated and the North Vietnamese regulars were weak and demoralized by 1971, but by then public pressure to end the war precluded any escalation which would've done so. In particular, failure to take aggressive action against the Ho Chi Mihn trail in Laos for political reasons had immense consequences. The first mistake Johnson made, however, was deciding not to gain public and congressional support before escalating the war.

-- The western anti-war movement was not Soviet originated, but the Soviets found it extremely useful and eventually funded much of it and directed some activities. Ironically, the Soviets had very little control over the war; it was primarilly the Chinese, by then opposed to the Soviets, who were waging war by proxy via the North Vietnamese. The anti-war movement's public influence was one of the few bright spots for the North Vietnamese; the media portrayal of the Tet Offensive as a disaster for US forces (in reality, the Viet Cong & North Vietnamese got royally slaughtered) was one of the few things that convinced North Vietnam to try it again during later negotiations.

Anyways, the book has considerably fleshed out my world history knowledge for 1940-1975; I'm looking forward to reading what Friedman has to say about Reagan's military buildup and economic attacks on the Soviet Union.

(By the way, the title of this thread was a tattoo on the forearm of General Curtiss LeMay, for years the head of SAC (Strategic Air Command). Peace is our Profession, indeed!)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

April 17, 1997

"Cambridge traffic, Cessna 704XX departing runway 34, left closed traffic, Cambridge."

It's a clear, chilly April morning in Minnesota. The air is still, the silence broken only be chirping birds and the sound of an idling airplane. The airport is quiet this morning, and the only person visible is a middle-aged heavy set man, carrying a headset and looking over his shoulder at the airplane turning around at the end of the runway.

That airplane is a little yellow-and-white Cessna 150. In it is only one person - only a kid really, having turned 16 today. He doesn't have a driver's license yet, and he's struggling through algebra. Painfully shy at times, he's had little luck with girls, but that's okay, because he has one true love already: flight. He's been slowly working towards this day for three years now, and it scarcely seems real to him that he sits in this airplane alone, the sole master of the machine.

He's only a boy and he knows it, but there is nobody in that right seat to help him now. He holds his fate in his hands, and it makes him pause as he lines the Cessna up on the runway. It reminds him of the hesitation that comes when about to jump into water from a tall cliff. I know what I need to do, but the price for negligence is high. He breathes a quick prayer - don't let me screw up! - and pushes in the throttle.

*** *** ***

That was 8 years ago today - my first solo. After that first exhillarating takeoff, I don't remember a lot about it except a feeling of immense pride and happiness as I shut down the engine 30 minutes later. I was happy that I was safe and didn't let my instructor down, plus the happiness I always felt when I got to fly. I was proud that I had just done a very adult thing, and done it well.

I look at my 16-year old brother, Josiah, and marvel at what I was able to do at his age. I was so young and had a lot to learn in both flying and life. But, looking back to that day, I can see the beginnings of who I was to become. That first solo marked a transformation, or perhaps a step in evolution. I'll always remember that day as one of my finest.

Gizmos Gone Gonzo

Technology is great, when it works. My airplane has a ton of gee-whiz electronics to play with, a rather impressive array for a regional turboprop. It features an all-glass cockpit ("fly by watching TV!") with the latest and greatest in situational awareness. We have two very capable flight management systems in the airplane, which is rare for regional airlines in the US - most have an FMS for the captain only. We have a state of the art navigation system that lets us shoot precise GPS approaches with lateral and vertical guidance (LNAV/VNAV) without any ground-based navaids. Significantly, we have Cat III approach capability that lets us land with only 600 feet visibility. Usually Cat III approaches can only be done by a capable multi-channel autopilot with autoland features. Amazingly, we hand-fly ours - by use of a military-style Heads-up Guidance System (HGS).

The captain flies the approach while looking out the window, instead of looking down at the instrument panel. He looks through a clear glass plate, onto which is projected a display of aircraft attitude, airspeed, altitude, etc. A small pointer serves as an "intertia vector," showing where the plane is headed at any particular moment. A circle moves to show where the airplane should be heading to stay on the approach path. Keep the pointer in the circle, and voila! Precision, hand-flown Cat III approach in insanely crappy weather (600 ft is covered in under 3 seconds at our approach speeds). We're even certified for single-engine Cat III approaches - no other regional can do them.

Okay, so that's assuming everything works. What's really maddening is that it often won't, for no apparent reason. The HGS is programmed to not arm itself for Cat III if everything isn't set up perfectly, but it sometimes seems to think you've messed up even through you know everything is in order. Today we were flying into Seattle, and even though the weather was well above Cat I minimums (200 ft ceiling and 1800 ft visibility), the captain wanted to practice Cat III procedures. So I checked and double-checked that everything was set up, we ran the appropriate checklists - and it didn't arm! We reset the system a few times to no avail. This has happened to me several times before, fortunately always in decent weather. There are many foggy Northwest winter days, however, when we need the Cat III capability, and the HGS puking then could leave a crew with a poor choice: divert to the alternate - or cut into fuel supply on subsequent attempts, hoping the system finally decides you've set everything up right. (Note to future Captain Sam: Adding extra fuel on foggy days is a good idea!)

When my airline was first doing FMS approaches, they had a heck of a time with those, too. The FMS would wait until you were in the middle of the approach to decide it wasn't absolutely sure that it knew it's position, and would kick you back into enroute mode. Software upgrades have mostly fixed the problem, but everyone keeps a close eye on them when shooting FMS approaches. Whenever possible we just shoot the ILS.

So yes, my airplane has lots of electronic wizardry on board, but you know what? At Ameriflight I fly 1970's-era Chieftains with original analog avionics and they do quite alright. You'll never ask "what's it doing?" in the Chieftain so long as you know what you're doing. Plus, you never have to fly when it's so foggy that the birds are grounded.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Ontario Incident

Well, we did it. Last night Dawn and I signed our lives away and closed on our townhouse. We're moving in at the end of the month.


I just got a call from crew scheduling - I have an 11:05 show time for a Ontario roundtrip. When mentioning Ontario, I occasionally get asked, "You guys fly that far east!?" Heh, no, not Ontario, Canada...Ontario, CA. It's in Southern California, in the Los Angeles basin, about 50 miles east of LAX. It's the heart of the Inland Empire, the 909, the armpit of SoCal. I used to instruct, and later fly freight, out of an airport just northwest of Ontario, Brackett Field.

Anyways, this brings me to an amusing story. In August 2001, my dad came to visit me in SoCal over a weekend. I had been an intern for TWA that spring, so I had some free passes left over; my dad flew out on one, connecting through St. Louis. My car was broken, so my roommate Brent drove me to Ontario to greet dad. When he arrived, we'd rent a car. I waited for him at the gate (pre-9/11).

So the flight arrives and everybody gets off - and no Dave! I waited until the flight attendants got off and confirmed that nobody else was on board. Hmmm, perhaps he missed the flight? I called MN - mom hadn't heard anything from him since he left Minneapolis. I called the crashpad I was staying at...he hadn't called there, either. I told my flatmates to answer any calls and I'd check in occasionally while I waited for the last TWA flight from STL.

I hung out in ONT, calling home every half hour. I'd been doing this for several hours when Brent answered the phone to tell me that my dad had already been by the crashpad and was driving to Ontario to pick me up. Whaaaat? How in the world did he get here without me noticing? Then I realized: I'll bet he flew to the wrong airport.

Sure 'nuff, that's exactly what happened. Dad flew to LAX instead of ONT. I'd told him he was flying to Ontario, but in his mind, he was going to Los Angeles, and that's the flight he got on. The departure time was the same as the Ontario flight, and he didn't notice the difference in flight number. The gate agent didn't say anything because for non-revs, TWA treated LAX, ONT, and SNA as the same airport. His first inkling that something was wrong was when he went to the Hertz counter and they couldn't find his reservation. Upon further checking, the Hertz employee found his reservation in Ontario. "Wait, I'm not at Ontario??" Fortunately, Hertz had a car from him, and gave him directions, so his mistake merely costed an hour on the 10 freeway and some confusion on my part.

Plus it's a pretty funny story. You hear of people who flew to San Juan PR instead of San Jose CA, or Portland OR vs Portland ME, and after this I can defintately see how it could happen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Union Guy

I've talked about unions at the regionals. This is a story about a special breed of pilot - The Union Guy.

You'll find a wide range of attitudes about unions in this profession. There are a few pilots who are dead set against unions in general, or are convinced that their union is out to ruin the company. Some tolerate unionism as a neccessary evil. A few simply dislike the way their union does things. Some see the union as a useful tool for positive change, and a handful of these get actively involved in it. And then there is The Union Guy. Every airline has at least one pilot who is vocally and rabidly pro-union - and by extension, anti-company. With so many pilots who are at best ambivalent about their unions, being known as the union guy isn't exactly an honor. Given the typical personality, though, I think most are clueless about the stigma or just don't care.

A few weeks ago I flew with the union guy at my airline, K. He used to be a representative on the MEC, and is still very vocal about union issues. His reputation had preceeded him: I recognized the name as soon as I printed out my trip key. He turned out to be a very nice guy, and I enjoyed flying with him - but we had some pretty lively discussions.

Some union guys are ticked off at the company for some past grievance. So far as I can tell, K has no specific complaints; his rabid unionism is more an outgrowth of a personality that's spoiling for a fight, a gleam in the eye daring you and the world to take him on. When talking about our contract negotiations next year, he was almost giddy at the prospect of a dirty, drag-down, all-out brawl.

"Oh, it's gonna get mean!" K practically gushed. "They're gonna try and take every cent we have coming, they're gonna bend us over, but we're gonna grab 'em by the balls and squeeze, it's gonna hurt and we're gonna get what's comin' to us!" He threw a grin my way and started to giggle. "It's like Robin Hood. We're just taking from the rich and giving to the poor. I'm all over that sh**! Taking from the motherf***ing rich, that's right!" I decided to throw a little flame-bait his way. "Just like United in 2000, eh?" I queried with a sideways smile. "That's right!" he exclaimed, missing my point (that United pilots essentially sank their company by getting greedy in negotiations that turned decidedly mean).

K never missed an opportunity to opine what a dirty bunch of crooks were in our management. Regarding one of our assistant chief pilots, he burst out: "Oh sure, he comes across as this really nice guy who invites you into his office and has nice chats about airplanes - but never forget, as his one arm is around your shoulder, his other hand is in your f***ing pocket taking all your f***ing money!" After every parking checklist, K would erase the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), and then shout into the microphone: "F*** you, [so-and-so]!" (a middle-level manager in flight standards). He'd turn to me with a grin: "He already knows what I think of him, but I'd love to have him hear that!"

Later we had a discussion about why it was so hard to raise the standard of living at the regionals. I said that market forces were neccessarily stronger than any union right now, given the large numbers of qualified pilots looking for work. "Sure, there's a lot of excess pilots," K responded, "but it's against their long-term interest to work at shoddy operations for peanuts." Well, K, a guy has to feed and shelter his family. "Well if everyone would stick together, it wouldn't be an either/or proposition!" True that - but that's far from the true situation. Here's the problem: That guy flying the jet for peanuts thinks it's a good deal because he was previously flight instructing for even less, and before that he was paying for flight time.

"Why is that?" demanded K. "Why do people pay for flight time? The airlines should pay for their training." I was so incredulous upon hearing that, I didn't know how to respond. "That's just not going to happen, because there will always be enough people willing to pay to learn to fly because they're attracted by the same things that made you become a pilot rather than an accountant or something," I began. "Starting out by paying for flying means that simply getting paid, no matter how little, is going to be a step up. The only way we'll ever change the market forces is through a change in culture among newer pilots, where they also expect to be compensated as professonals, the same way that aviation culture has changed over the last 30 years to where it's no longer acceptable to scab at a striking carrier." K nodded slowly. "You're right about that; it's tough to change the culture when new pilots are coming in all the time, but we as unions need to reach out to pilots who are just starting out."

K actually was somewhat ambivalent about the Teamster's being our union. "The Teamsters are not an airline union. They know nothing about airlines and they are new to representing airlines," he said. "That has cost us." However, he continued, "ALPA would be completely wrong for us. They represent [XYZ Co] pilots, and it would be a conflict of interest. We know that everywhere they've had a similar conflict, they've backed the mainliners over the regionals. An independent union would've been a possibility, but the Teamsters have pull on Capitol Hill that we need and no independant union has." Good points all.

I enjoyed flying with K more than I thought I would, if only because many of his statements were so outrageous that they were entertaining. I have, however, seen similar personalities in other union guys, and I think it's what turns many pilots off to unions. It's a shame, because although I don't agree with K on everything, we did agree that a culture change needs to take place where professional pilots expect to be compensated as professionals, and unions are a useful tool for that. There will always be a need for firebrands like K - particularly come hardball negotiation time - but the public persona of the union needs to be more thoughtful and levelheaded for us to remain unified and working towards our goals.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Winter Wonderland!

I went back up to Timberline today, and boy am I glad I did. They had 5 inches of snow overnight, and it was powder too - real nice and light, a joy to ski in, none of that Cascade Concrete crap. It snowed throughout the day, heavily enough to cover the morning's tracks so that it was almost virgin powder by the afternoon.

Funny that it took until April to get bona fide winter weather in the Pacific Northwest. I'll take it, though - Spring lift ticket prices! I also had a 2-for-1 voucher for Tuesdays so my five hours of skiing bliss costed a mere $16. Yeah, sometimes being the junior whipping boy with Tues-Weds off isn't so bad!

This makes four times I've skiied this winter. Previous seasons it was usually once or twice. The additional practice definately helps. I stretched myself a little today and tried glade skiing - and I loved it. Skiing through trees can be hairy if you don't keep your speed under control, but otherwise staying off the trails yeilds awesome virgin powder skiing plus the occasional set of moguls, terrain, etc.

So - if champaign powder falls in the woods, does anybody hear it? Doesn't matter, skiers will ski it!

Okay, I've hardly posted anything about flying for the past several weeks...with everything going on, it's looking more like a personal blog. Okay, I'll make some aviation-related posts soon. I promise.

*Back to your regularly scheduled programming*

Deep Thoughts from Daisy

I'm sure glad they went to the trouble of printing that. I laughed my butt off when I saw it, and yes it was like a breath of fresh air!

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Western Minnesota: On Highway 27 between Alexandria and Wheaton. Having lived in mountainous areas for four years now, I'm pretty used to them. Flat, open land is now about as novel as mountains used to be. You can see for miles with nary tree nor house. In good visibility, you can see the very edge of the earth, broken occasionally by the very tops of a tall oak, peering over the horizon like a ship's mast. The prarie has much of the same lonely charm as the desert. Driving through here, I rolled down the windows and cranked the radio station up. Nothing comes in out here but country music. I cranked it up high and sang along. Mind you, I detest country, but out here it fits.

Downtown Wheaton Minnesota, population 1600. Unlike many prarie towns, Wheaton has managed to retain most of it's population against the urbanization trend of the past 50 years. The grain elevator still runs, and the Super Valu is still in business. Many of the other stores come and go in the same tired buildings. A surprising number of young people return from college to raise families here. A completely new face, however, is somewhat rare, and grounds for rumor to flare through town. My first time here, Dawn and I went on a walk together, and the number of people staring at the skinny kid holding the Schmitz girl's hand suggested Dawn would get a few inquisitive phone calls soon (she did, too!).

Back in Princeton at the Weigels', the sun rises over our pond (really a swamp) with a light ground fog forming. I took this from our 4-season porch, which is a great place to spend a summer evening with the windows open. As the sky darkens, the pond comes alive with bullfrogs and crickets competing with each other for loudest chorus. It gets loud to the point you'd think you'd be irritated, but it's really quite soothing. You listen to that and feel the warm breeze come through, and look out at the stars, far away from all the city lights - and civilization seems completely overrated.

My brother Steve, rockstar of the family. Now with hot rockstar's girlfriend, Anna! Steve's been the wild, charasmatic sibling for almost as long as I can remember. He's the one who broke the bones, took the groundings, and drove the chicks wild. Steve is 19 and recently moved out of the house to the Twin Cities, where he's much closer to work and the MSP music scene (and Anna!). While I was there, he got together with his friend and ex-bandmate Josiah for a little jam session in our basement.

Back from MN and hitting the slopes! Ironically, the Pacific Northwest is finally getting a taste of winter now that April is here. The snow on the mountain is deeper and better than it's been yet this year. Dawn and I went up to Timberline for a few hours today, which was incidently Dawn's first time on skis in many years. She took a few spills but improved greatly during the time we were there.

Mt. Hood as seen from near Timberline Lodge. This area was completely bare of snow a month ago. Then in mid-March, the weather finally went back into the winter pattern and we've gotten dumped on by storms out of the Pacific ever since. And it was good snow today, too! The last few times I've been up the mountain, the snow has been crap. I might have to drag Andy up to Mt Hood Meadows this week.

Back on the Left Coast

Dawn and I made it back here fine on Friday night. I haven't posted in several days now....yeah, I noticed the large number of comments from friends concerned about where I was!

Okay, I'm firing up Picasa, I'll post some pictures from today & this last week.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ride the Lightning

Dawn and I ended up driving to Princeton last night. Between St. Cloud and my parents' house we went right through a severe thunderstorm, with torrential rain, pea-sized hail, and non-stop lightning. I was a little surprised that the car didn't get struck by lightning, as there are several stretches on Highway 95 with no trees or tall objects near the road.

Once we were home safely, the lightning show was a little more enjoyable. The big spectacular thunderstorms are one thing I miss about living in the midwest (but not about flying in the midwest!).

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Greetings from Wheaton

(Population 1600)

I made it to Minnesota just fine on Sunday night. Yesterday morning I drove to Dawn's parents' place in Wheaton. We'll be driving back down to Princeton to visit my folks tomorrow morning and staying through Friday or Saturday.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bring on the Airbii

So I'm done with my 2-day trip, ready to head out to Minnesota for my week of vacation. But first, to get there. The United flights to Denver and Chicago were packed so I'm trying the Northwest flight that leaves at 4PM. It used to be a 757, now it's an A320. It was usually full before so it's sure to be packed now. Here's hoping I'm the only jumpseater.

Actually, I think NWA's A320s have two jumpseats. Guess I'll find out. If I don't get on this flight, I'll be going up to Seattle to catch the 1AM redeye to MSP. Yeah, the same flight that left Dawn stranded in the Sea-Tac terminal overnight.

One Six Right

Just saw the trailer for a very cool forthcoming documentary on Van Nuys Airport in Southern California. It looks like a very quality film, with production values closer to large-scale cinematic releases than any flying video you'd order from Sporty's. It is aimed more-so at the non-flying public than pilots, I think, and will be shown in public theatres. I certainly hope to make it to a screening; if not, I'll be ordering the DVD.

One Six Right: The Romance of Flying

Portland on a sunny morning...

Just a little antidote for the more typical winter weather we're currently having: dreary, cold, rainy, windy. Bring back the sun!

It'll probably come back to Portland when I'm in MN this week. The upper midwest, on the other hand, will see record lows and a freak blizzard. Uh huh.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Sam's Arch-Nemesis

Whoever designed the heating/cooling system on the MegaWhacker needs to be severely beaten with a blunt instrument (and I mean that in a very positive way, Sylv). It has two temp controls, one for the cabin and one for the flight deck - but in actuality only has one pack (heating/cooling unit). That'd be kinda okay because there are two sets of seperate expansion chambers, heat exchangers, etc - but then the air is all mixed together before being split for the various ducts. So basically, if we run the system in auto mode, we get the same temperature of air that the passenger cabin gets. If there are more than 40 people in back, we need to keep the duct temps pretty cool because of all the body heat. Of course, this means we freeze our butts off in the flight deck. It's worst on full flights. I've been cold to the point of uncontrollable shivering on full flights to Canada or Montana. We rest our feet on the instrument panel because the floor is often cold-soaked.

Sometimes we can get a mediocrum of heat going in the flight deck by using a bass-ackwards combination of manual pack controls, or turning the flight deck pack off, turning flow control to max, and turning the pax control way up. Each plane is different, though, and seems to change from week to week.

The situation is made worse by the touchiness of the temp controls. The slightest movement can drive the packs to full hot or full cold. Sometimes selecting the packs to manual improves things; sometimes it makes it worse. Also, I've had situations where the temp was set up perfect, but reducing power to start descent drove the pack to full cold or full hot. One time descending into Santa Barbara, it was essentially a race to get on the ground before the passengers passed out from the heat, because nothing we did could nudge the packs from full hot. On the return leg, they worked perfectly.

So needless to say, dealing with this A/C system requires a mastery of four-letter words. If any MegaWhacker pilot ever catches the Canadian engineer who designed it in a dark alley...well, it ain't gonna be pretty. One really wonders how it made it through flight testing and certification, in Canada of all places. If anybody can design a proper heating system, it should be them. I mean, heck, Bombardier puts hand-warmers on their snowmobiles - how about foot-warmers on their airplanes!?

Hanging out in PDX

I'm hanging out at PDX with Dawn. I deadhead to SEA at noon for a Kelowna turn and Boise overnight; Dawn hopefully heads off to Denver around 1PM. I'm listening to The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on my computer & Dawn is taking a catnap since she's been up all night.

I'm not a big fan of the drug culture or arguments to legalize certain drugs, but you can't deny that some of the world's best music was written and recorded under the heavy use of psychedelics. Sgt Pepper is one of the better examples. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, indeed.

Somebody call the pee-in-a-cup lady, Sam and Dawn look a little doped up themselves! Yeah, lack of sleep will do that.

Dawn: Stuck in Non-Rev Hell

I was woken at 5:30am today by a call from Dawn. She flew to Seattle last night to try and catch a redeye to Minneapolis on Northwest. It was not to be: NWA had substituted A320s for 757s throughout the day and had a huge backlog of stuck revenue pax, to say nothing of non-revs. Apparently the situation is the same throughout the western US: the best chance of getting to MSP is from Great Falls, MT, and only because it's booked solid rather than overbooked.

Okay, fine, there are other games in town than NWA. The best way is to go to Denver on Alaska or Frontier, and then to Minneapolis on NWA or Frontier. I checked Alaska's 7AM flight to DEN: 8 seats available, but 50 - count 'em, fifty, non-revs listed. No-go! Desperate, I started checking Alaska flights to the southwest and the east coast. Boston, Washington DC, Newark, Miami, Phoenix, Las Vegas: everything is overbooked. I checked Frontier to Denver: oversold all day and all week. I checked United. Oversold. I checked America West to Phoenix. Oversold.

I decided it's just not a good day to non-rev out of Seattle, and listed Dawn on a Horizon flight back down to Portland. The good news is that here, there is a 1PM flight to Denver that's wide open. From there, she'll non-rev on a Skywest flight to Fargo (her ultimate destination anyways) that is looking wide open. Just gotta get creative sometimes.

She'll get there at 10PM, nearly 24 hours after she began. She didn't sleep all night. I'm going to keep her company at PDX now, until I leave on my overnight trip at 11.