Friday, April 05, 2013


Yesterday, I flew my first revenue flight since December 21. The three and a half months in between are the longest I've gone without work since I started flying professionally in 2001. As noted, I at least had the Cub to occasionally putter around the wintry skies, so I wasn't completely grounded, and I managed to keep myself busy through most of the downtime. I partook in the various family Christmas festivities, journeyed to see friends in LA and Alaska, had a grand adventure dirt-biking down Baja California for three weeks, and even worked on a few side projects - one of which will be hitting newsstands near you in a week or so. So the break was pretty nice, and wasn't the downer I feared it would be when I left the line in December.

But it was time to go back. I've actually had my medical back for over a month, as the FAA approved the special issuance more speedily than expected. But because my landing currency was about to expire and my annual line check expired in January, training was required to return me to the line, and it took NewCo a while to fit me in. When they finally scheduled the training, they decided to wait another week and a half so I could combine the landing currency simulator session with my regular six-month checkride on April 1 (the first day of my "early grace" month). I used the intervening time to return to Mexico and ride solo from Loreto to Cabo San Lucas via some interesting backroads & trails. When I got back, I had a few days left to study for the checkride, during which I wondered just how much I had forgotten in 100 days away from the JungleBus.

As it turned out, not much. As soon as I was in the simulator and sank down into the familiar captain's seat, each control was exactly where I'd left it, my hands flew through the flow patterns and the callouts dropped from my lips like they were natural instinct, and I moved through the intricate steps of low-vis takeoffs and Cat II approaches and V1 cuts as though I'd never left my old dance partner's side. I don't note this to brag, but rather to show that I've been flying the JungleBus for too long! After five and a half years and over 4000 hours, during which I've taken 13 simulator checkrides, it would be more noteworthy if I didn't ace the ride after a mere three months away. This airplane's behavior and quirks and procedures have been deeply imprinted on my brain over time, to the extent that I worry about learning another airplane - almost certainly one far less automated - when the time comes to move on from NewCo. I haven't had to learn anything thing new in some time, and I wonder if that part of my brain has atrophied.

The fact that the checkride went so well eased my mind, and yesterday's two legs of Supervised Operating Experience with a check airman became less of a test to be passed, and assumed more of the flavor of a homecoming. For once, I enjoyed ironing my uniform and driving to work and even the drudgery of updating my Jepp plates. Where I usually avoid the crew room, I lingered there yesterday, visiting with old friends who were excited to see me back to work. As I sat in our airplane's first class and reviewed the maintenance logbook, I happily eavesdropped on our flight attendants' latest crew gossip and workaday chatter. Such a simple chore as tearing the flight release into its constituent parts and placing each in its usual spot around the flight deck brought a smile to my face. When we rolled down the runway, I called "rotate," the nose lifted off, I felt the wings load up, and the dirty brown grass of MSP just smoothly faded away, I suddenly realized just how much I'd missed this. I talk a big game about the drudgery of airline flying and how much more fun flying small planes is and how nobody should give up a good ground-bound career to jump into the insane airline business, but the simple act of lifting off in the pointy end of a small jet for the five thousandth time is still enough to give me goosebumps. Either I'm really easily amused, or this flying business I've been immersed in since the age of 13 is pretty seriously ingrained in the very core of my being. I suspect the latter.

So, losing my medical and being grounded for three months, rather than making me consider what I might do if I couldn't fly, has further convinced me that I must fly, come what may. It's one of very few things in this world that I can't do without. That doesn't square very well with the diagnosis of an incurable, unpredictable, and perhaps eventually career-ending disease like Crohn's. So I'll just take each day as it comes and do what I can. If I can't fly professionally, I'll fly small planes. If I can't hold a medical, I'll fly light sport. If I become too ill to do that, I'll hitch a ride with friends. In the meantime, as long as I can, I'll continue to practice the time-honored profession of Airline Pilot. And while I can't ignore airline industry turmoil and the various challenges facing my profession, I'll do my best to focus on the positive and appreciate what I get to do on a daily basis, for as long as I'm allowed to do it.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Baja Video Blog - Episode 5

Last one, I promise. At least for the two weeks that Brad and I did. Last week I returned to Baja for six more days of riding from Loreto to Cabo San Lucas, this time alone. I got some pretty great footage, especially from my nearly 100 sometimes-treacherous miles of dirt riding to the tiny isolated fishing village of San Evaristo. I'll put that together for one last video blog, eventually. In the meantime there's (gasp!) aviation activity to write about, I'll get that up soon.

Episode 5, wherein the Big Red Pig gets fixed, Sam and Brad make the best of a long stretch of pavement on Highway 1, and we explore a bit in the mountains above Loreto before stashing the bikes and flying up to LAX on Horizon Air.