Thursday, May 01, 2008

Four Striper

My fed ride on Monday went very well. It was a short flight from Minneapolis to Madison, with pretty good weather on both ends, and everything was working on the airplane, so it wasn't especially challenging; I just had to refrain from screwing up. I mostly succeeded, at least enough to convince the check airman and ADP that I'm safe to unleash upon the general public. The return flight to Minneapolis was a deadhead for me so they could check another Captain candidate. It was my first time riding in the back of the JungleBus. Overall it's a pretty nice ride, albeit a little noisier than I expected. Also, the ride in mid-cabin - on top of the spar - actually seems a little rougher than the cockpit. I didn't realize the extra length of fuselage had such a dampening effect. That's something to keep in mind when deciding whether to turn off the seatbelt sign or not.

Today I had my first flight as a line-qualified Captain, from Minneapolis to San Antonio, TX. I wasn't very apprehensive beforehand. After all, during the latter half of my OE the check airman was just acting as a normal FO with little instruction involved, so this should be the exact same, right? I guess it was in execution, but it felt surprisingly different. The closest thing I can compare it to is my first solo. Nothing quite prepares you for the eerie sight of an empty right seat on your first solo, and "play-acting captain" on OE certainly isn't the same as being in charge. It's not that I haven't thought of the responsibility of command before, I've done a lot of thinking on the subject. I guess I just didn't realize how jarringly aware of it I'd be as I taxied onto Runway 17 and pushed the thrust levers up.

This being my first flight off of OE, I was hoping I wouldn't get a new FO fresh off their IOE. Normally, captains with less than 75 hours in type have a restriction against flying with FOs who have less than 75 hours in type, a condition known at my company as "green-on-green." However, our operations specifications actually have a waiver that allows green-on-green flying. As the company gets bigger and expansion slows, the FAA will likely take away this waiver. Thankfully, today crew scheduling gave me a FO who's been on the line a few months and knows what's up. It helped when San Antonio Approach slam-dunked us into the airport today.

It was actually fairly entertaining to watch the FO do my former job. Because I flew with a lot of different captains both at Horizon and NewCo, I got a pretty good feel for the different techniques used by various captains. At Horizon, I jumpseated on the Q400 enough to also see other FOs in action. It was a valuable experience: I picked up some tips and tricks and it also made me aware of bad habits I didn't even know I had. I haven't had the chance to ride the jumpseat on NewCo yet so today was my first chance to see a line FO at work. There were a few minor differences in technique but for the most part it felt like watching a play of a script I know by heart. I'm interested to find whether FO technique is more uniform here than at Horizon. If so, I suspect it's because all the FOs are relatively new. As an FO, I found Captain technique to be almost as varied here as it was at Horizon (although, I should make clear, adherence to standardization is excellent at both companies).

As an FO, you get good at being a chameleon. You constantly adapt to the different Captains you fly with, within reasonable limits. They all have their quirks and preferences; the way I saw it, adapting to those was one way I could make the flying part of their job easy and free them to focus on Captainey things. Now that I'm a Captain myself, I have the leadership role; I set the tone and the pace in the cockpit. Just like observing different FOs made me a better FO at Horizon, having flown with lots of Captains will make me a better Captain. I can incorporate the best of what I've observed into my own cockpit. That said, I think Captains need to retain a certain amount of flexibility with their FOs. I hated flying with guys who nagged me over every nuance of technique when both of our methods were completely within the boundaries of standardization. It's worthwhile to pass along tips and tricks to FOs - indeed, mentoring FOs is an integral part of a Captain's job - but you need to make a clear distinction between technique and holy writ.

Like I said, I've recently thought a fair amount about what being a Captain really entails, and I'll write about it more in upcoming posts. That is, what little I'll have the time to write this month: I finished OE too late to bid, so the company built me a schedule with 11 days off and 97 hours of credit!


Bill said...

Well done indeed.
Bill au

David said...


MathFox said...

Congratulations and safe flying!

Lance said...


It's interesting you compared it your first solo, I completed my first solo last weekend, what an experience to be on short final knowing there is no one in the right seat to bail you out ;)

phil said...


Anonymous said...

Congrats, Sam! Way to go!


B. N. Sullivan said...

Congratulations, Sam. I guess one of the best parts is that now you'll always get to fly with your favorite Captain. ;-}

Grayson said...

Ahh, you flew down to San Anton, my neck of the woods!....Give or take....a few hundred miles...Hey Texas is big.

I like that: "Captianey things"
Great job!

Anonymous said...


Cheers :)

zb said...

Congratulations. Like always, I very much enjoyed your writing -- and the good mixture of enjoying the job and being considerate about its quirks.

Windsor said...

Congrats. I'm guessing the 97 hours is the company's way of getting you off high mins a.s.a.p. You going to do anything special with the fat paycheck that will follow?

Tracy said...

Congratulations. It really feels good to get that all out of the way doesn't it? Now you can get back into a work routine. You'll develop one fairly quickly. With 97 hours this month, you won't have much choice!

I'm glad to hear the philosophy you have with regard to the FOs. There are an infinite number of ways to get from A to B, all of them safe and legal. Some may be better than others in your opinion, but all arrive at the same result and the route that was taken may be better suited to the other person.

It seemed that the CAs who were the most restrictive/uptight were the ones who had the most doubts about their own ability.

Now the fun begins!

Ryan said...

Congratulations Sam!

You hit this one right on target. Being a CA on the JungleBus not long after you stepped into it for the first time is not only a huge accomplishment but shows that you indeed have the right stuff! Nice job and great post on your thoughts regarding other crewmembers. I couldn't agree more - I thought I was the only one who wondered how experienced FO's did their job... Now you have come full circle. Keep those green FO's in check!


Anonymous said...

Hey Sam,
Any comment? It wasn't your plane by any chance was it?

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Loadmasterc141 to leading me to your blog. As a Tacoma native, I am enjoying going back and reading your Horizon adventures. Excellent Blog!!!!!

GC said...

Congrats, Sam!

My first Fed examiner fell asleep in the jumpseat of the Brazilia between LAX and PSP. Nevertheless, he still managed to come up with a few things to discuss during the debrief.

Fly safely!

Anonymous said...

Well done, Sam!!

Nothing like the first flight with your fourth stripe. Your comparison of your first flight as Captain to the first solo is just do "scrunch" in the seat just a little harder the first time.

Best of luck.

Rick Barlow said...

In your honor Sam.....

by Rick Barlow

When you call me “Captain",
If I took a poll,
Would find few comprehending,
The price I paid, the toll.

To wear four stripes upon my sleeve
Laurels o'er my brow,
And sit in high commanding places,
To peer beyond the prow.

The hours, days, months, years,
And "why is daddy gone?”
The awful, silent, empty nights,
My wife has sat...alone.

The missions flown in distant lands,
The friends forever gone,
Or seeing ONCE the havoc wrought,
With merely human hands.

The dead of night, red eye flight,
Begun at dusk till early dawn,
Or why I always had to fight,
For simple pleasures, mow the lawn.

Bearing souls to many places,
Joyous, anxious, wanting faces.
For their safety ne're abstained,
Fatigue endured, and meals refrained.

My honored craft and how this hand
Will place you soft upon the land,
And all for “love" you can not see,
No one would know, 'tis not to be.

Pilot said...

Your post is deceitful! I kept reading ... and reading... but I couldn't find the part about the four strippers!


Good job Sam!!!

G. F. McDowell said...

Is blue juice flammable? I hope not!

Scheets said...

This is my first time commenting on your blog, so I think a congratulations is appropriate for my first time. I am a student pilot, and have read all through your blog. I recently started one, partly about my flying experiences. You've have given me such a great perspective on flying, and I want to thank you. Keep on writing, and I will keep reading.