Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Montana Metroliner



This weekend, Dawn and I visited our friends Jeremy and Crystal and baby Logan in Whitefish, MT. Jeremy and I go back to our flight instructing days, when we worked for the same school. He was hired at Ameriflight shortly before I left for my current company, and has flown for them ever since - currently as a SA227 Metroliner captain (and Be99 training captain). His route is stationed out of Kalispell, and he mostly flies to Missoula and Billings.

In aviation, there are few jobs that are harder than freight-dogging in a Metroliner, single pilot in the Montana Rockies, in the dead of winter. My airline used to fly SA227's in Montana, under part 121 with two pilot crews, and the pilots who did that remember it as some tough flying. After my company quit flying Metroliners, many of our airplanes found their way to Ameriflight. There, interiors replaced with sheet aluminum and cargo netting, they ply many of the same routes across the wintertime Rockies, guided by hardy souls like Jeremy.

You won't hear Jeremy complain about it. He says that the Metro is a great airplane for this kind of flying, with lots of power and good stablity, and a nice ride in turbulence. The airplane's notorious weaknesses - touchy ground handling, heavy control forces, "interesting" engine-out characteristics - are all things that can be handled with experience. A first officer comes in handy, he says, but isn't crucial. Ameriflight trains their captains for both single pilot and dual pilot operations, but the focus is on ensuring that the Metro pilots can safely handle the airplane by themselves in all situations.

As Jeremy preflights the airplane and supervises the loading of cargo, he notes a thin patch of ground fog just starting to form across the runway. "Bet it's going to be foggy tonight." Both Kalispell and Missoula are prone to fog; Billings is known for some wild winds. All three cities are subject to fierce snowstorms; in between them lies certain turbulence, icing, and lots of granite to avoid. There are plenty of ways to get yourself hurt out here; any pilot flying here on a daily basis needs to be smart and prepared. Jeremy is both, and flying the Metro here will make him only more so. This is experience that will serve him long after he moves on. It is turning him into the kind of pilot that everyone is glad to fly with on a dark and stormy night.







8 comments:

John said...

I remember hearing from someone that the U.S. is one of the few countries where the Metro is certificated for single-pilot operations. I know some people who have flown them and they all speak of the plane's idocyncratic handling.

I've even learned the various (and sometimes colorful) nicknames for this plane. San Antonio Sewer Pipe has to be my all-time favorite, though The Death Tube is a close second.

Kudos to your friend Jeremy.

Sam said...

It's the Texas Death Tube, to differentiate it from the Long Beach Death Tube, ie the MD80.

Flygirl said...

San Antonio Sewer Pipe?!...I'm still laughing! :)

Traytable said...

Must admit I'm surprised to hear the M23 is flown single-pilot over there... I think here in Aus, it can be... but very rarely... and only for freight of course...

Lots of bad press for the good old Metro in the last year or so, here and in NZ...

Anonymous said...

A company in Australia runs about 11 of them exclusively single pilot for freight. They're a great machine. Keeps you on the ball. Agree that fog can be a pain. Love flying them!

Anonymous said...

I'm going on the FlightSafety course in San Antonio next week. Looking forward to it. I'll be doing cargo as well, as a UPS feeder out of Vancouver BC. It's hard to believe you guys fly it single pilot. I'm doing that in a Caravan right now, but that's no comparison.

Cheers,

Simon

ryan said...

I fly the metro out of Seattle to various destinations in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California and Alaska. They say beechcraft was designed by geniouses to be flown by idots, and metros were designed by idots to be flown by geniouses. I love it@

FlyAllDAy said...

Hello, I love the Metroliner. Drop me an email sometime if you want to tell me about the airplane, I am also from Montana!