Tuesday, February 07, 2006
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.
Posted by Sam Weigel