Stop the Roller Coaster…I Want to Get Off!

 

Life is like a huge Zen roller coaster; it’s designed to be that way. At times its fun and exciting, just like the ride at the amusement park, but occasionally it becomes a sledge-hammer serious affair. At the park, we get on and off at our choosing, we laugh to our hearts content, and the experience becomes a warm memory brimming with joy. Although the past few months can certainly be described as an emotional roller coaster, it has been anything but joyous. Rather than a fun-filled, heart pounding dash around a set of twisting tracks, it’s been more of a confusing whirling dervish of heartbreaking tales mixed with stories of love/compassion and yes, even heroism. It seems, the big cosmic “PAUSE BUTTON” was pushed for the entire planet, and the effects have touched every facet of human existence. Raise your hand if you’ve personally felt the effects. I’m guessing most of the 7.8 billion humans on this big rock in space are forlornly raising their hands as we speak.

 

a1rc

 

In the world of aviation, there has been but one event that would be remotely similar to the past few months. On a sky-blue September morning, 19 years ago, a horrid, evil-driven, slaughter of innocents took place. It was heinous to its core, but it was not a dreaded nuclear device, or an invisible invasion of microbes that did the killing. It was a culture of malevolent, evil intent, and it used four shining, graceful airliners to inflict death and destruction. While the smoke was still billowing, and humanity was recoiling in shock, an unprecedented thing happened; the airspace over North America was switched off completely, as if some gentle giant had moved a lever and the atmosphere would no longer support flying machines. We were all struck numb, and horrified emotions swept across the world, however, a big difference between then and now exists. While the 9-11 “black swan” event was centered over one locale, this vortex covers the entire planet like a huge blanket of pain and suffering. The terrorist attacks were shattering to be sure, and the effects on my world of air machines was nothing short of devastating. Thousands of employee layoffs occurred, pay-cuts came in droves, airplanes by the hundreds were moth-balled, and untold numbers of lives were turned upside down.

 

a2rc

Being passed over the Pacific by a Boeing 787. They are 1000′ above us (Seattle to Tokyo).

 

But then something happened. When the shock began to subside, we found to our relief, that we were left with an air travel system that was mostly intact. People were fearful, and the world of aviation had changed, but we hitched up our big boy/girl panties and fought back. We hardened our machines (ex.; installing bomb-proof cockpit doors), we hardened our procedures (with x-ray machines galore, the birth of the TSA, and pilots armed on the flight deck [see my blog concerning being an FFDO]), and we hardened our hearts (the battle cry of “Let’s Roll” became our mantra). Airline travel slowly returned, and although the storm of evil still existed, we now had several tools to deal with it. One uniquely human by-product of the entire experience has become an integral part of the current experience of air travel. The wonderful folks that sit behind me, are now as physically and emotionally invested in the safety of the flight as the flight crews have always been. The massive ripples from that day swept throughout my industry, and it took a huge paradigm shift for us to fly airliners again (and for people to want to be on an airliner again), but we prevailed, and eventually prosperity returned.

 

So why mention the attacks of 9-11 in a piece about a viral pandemic? Because there is good news to be gleaned from these “nightmare-like” days we find ourselves mired within. Please hear me; we WILL prevail once again. Across the spectrum of life, the human race will adapt and overcome. We will fight for our lives, and we will fight for our families and friends. In the process, we will fight for our values, our societies, and our collective sanities. I am profoundly convinced we will come out of this “Twilight Zone tunnel” as the next version of a “Brave New World”. Let’s call it “World 2.0”.

Aviation will be no different. It’s bad, but it’s been bad before.

So the question is: how am I (personally) doing during this world-wide “flat spin”?

Conflicted actually.

 

a3rc

Sunrise abeam Midway Island in the mid-Pacific (Nagoya to Honolulu).

 

The conglomeration of cells, synapsis and soul that differentiate me from other species is truly hurting…grieving actually. I’m torn between the pain of the unfathomable amount of suffering the world is living through, and the pain of the death of my “normal”. Our world is not like it was barely a few months ago, and it’s nothing short of shocking. We’ve seen the ugly rise of government control (both federal and local) beyond our wildest imaginations. My country’s founding tri-gospel of; “Liberty”, “In God We Trust”, and “E-pluibus unum”, is being put to the test daily. We’ve had dire mortality predictions that would frighten the stoutest of warriors. We’re now living with restricted gatherings at venues like malls, parks and restaurants, and every man will attest to the vast numbers of the female world anguishing over the lockdown of their coveted salons (with the “COVID 19 hairdo” becoming the topic of many a conversation). It’s enough to make one jump in the ‘ol time machine and set the dial for a different year…almost ANY year. On a serious note, the cost in human lives had been staggering, both in the horror of broadcasted daily body counts (decidedly NOT good for the psyche IMHO), and in the devastation of the financial world. Thousands of family (and many corporate) businesses closed, never again to see the light of day. Jobs lost, and careers ruined (in the case of some college folks, before they ever began). Things we celebrated mere weeks ago as bedrocks of our lives (sporting events, weddings, graduations, family reunions, etc.), are all part of the tsunami-like “PAUSE BUTTON” effect. It sometimes feels like we were all standing on a street corner, minding our own business, and “BAM!”, we were struck by an errant dump truck!

 

a4rc

The errant dump truck just flashed by.

 

However (and at the cost of sounding uncaring; I promise you, I am not), when my left-brain speaks to its counterpart on the right, it says… “so what?” Not to the suffering, but to the shift in our collective “reality”. Our world has been irrevocably changed, and our “normal” is no longer that…normal. But again, so what? The historian in me says that we need to be intellectually honest with ourselves. This has happened throughout the span of time. Mostly, not with the “it affects ME, right here, right NOW” type occurrence, but its’ simply a part of what happens on this planet named Earth. The day Copernicus first looked to the stars, or Madame Currie first peered into a microscope, the world changed forever. It was permanently altered on a deserted backstreet in Sarajevo in 1914, and on a midnight Polish border twenty-five years later. The planet reset itself the day a quiet Minnesotan put the cockpit compass on “E”, flew solo through an ink-black night, and somehow found Ireland shortly after sunrise. The world was violently changed on a lonely swath of desert in 1945 known as Trinity Site, and human life was (again) redefined when two brave men planted a flag on an even lonelier stretch of dust by the name of Tranquility Base. Many times, in our collective history as people, we have forever changed the planet due to our efforts, and just as many times, the planet changed without consulting us. This happens to be one of those times.

 

a5rc

I was but a young lad of 13 when I witnessed my first real world changing event…the entire planet watched with me.

 

Were all of these world events good news for humanity? Of course not, but they were world changing nonetheless. The Earth morphs constantly, and we as practitioners of the art of being human, change with it…we must. I weep, and am profoundly sad for the human cost of this ugly monster of disease. Side note: I’m finishing an amazing book titled “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Viktor Frankl…holocaust survivor and physiatrist (  https://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl-ebook/dp/B009U9S6FI ). One cannot read such a book and not be left with the following thoughts.

Sadness and grief have been a part of the human experience since the dawn of time. We risk it ALL, every day of our lives, and we do this by simply getting out of bed in the morning. Does this mean I believe this nightmare isn’t real and deadly serious? Of course not, I most certainly do. But I understand that as humans we all have an “expiration date”, it’s just part of the deal. We’re born, we live a certain number of days, and then we die. The big question that this event has forced most of us to consider (myself included) is this: what if I can last longer by living less (i.e., locking myself in isolation)? Is that a deal I’m willing to make? We all must make this decision. It is my fervent belief that government does not have the moral authority to make this call for us. Do I think that a lock-down during the initial “banzai charge” by the disease was the correct move (and an air travel ban thus grievously wounding the travel industry)? Yes, I believe it was. We were gobsmacked by disease and mis-information (not to mention LACK of critical information), and we were forced to take drastic measures. Do I agree that this sequestering remains warranted? That my friend, is a subject for another piece.

With that said, let me add that I am not depressed, I’m not down-hearted, and I am most assuredly not afraid. I know humans are ingenious (and at least as devious as a virus), and I know that we will marshal our intellect to craft medical miracles, and couple that with amazing skills within the world of entrepreneurship. This will inevitably lead to solutions yet to be dreamed of. It’s simply what we do.

 

a6rc

Small park in Reykjavik, Iceland. Is this a scene we will see again anytime in the future?

 

Now, the pilot part.

I will not lie, a part of me is enjoying this break from the daily pressure-packed world of professional flying, while another part feels the loss of my world above the clouds. In a weird turn of events, this personal break from reality is actually due in part to two different events. The first is the virus that’s worldwide, the other is an extended sick call from the airline. It seems that a rather strange malady popped up beginning last summer (trust me, getting older is not for the faint of heart). One of the by-products of a life of international travel, is the varied (and “interesting”) dietary offerings within the overseas borders I routinely visit. A few years ago, I had been blessed with a stomach bacteria contracted in South Korea, and I assumed that the mysterious weight loss I was now experiencing was the return of this old gastro-intestinal friend.

After several months of routinely tightening the notch in the belt buckle, and regardless the fact that my appetite was still quite normal, I was continuing to drop pounds as fast as Hollywood types dropping complaints about the White House at a dinner party. My ability to eat more than a few bites during any meal was non-existent, and I found myself on the losing end of a rather serious battle. I was slowly getting smaller, slowly getting weaker and by the end of February, I deemed that I was no longer able to safely do my job. I took myself off of flying status.

 

a7rc

The last time I flew the big Boeing. February, Guatemala City to Los Angeles (picture taken by our jumpseat rider).

 

I was mistaken about the bacteria, and after some medical head-scratching (and an upper G.I. endoscopy), the doctor types eventually diagnosed the issue as Achalasia. We were in the midst of formulating a plan for my return to good health, when things changed. Unfortunately, this is the part in the movie where the “errant dump truck” meets the pedestrian, and the sick pilot finds himself now part of an entire planet that had been diagnosed with a serious illness. So, I found myself in a personal tail-spin as I watched my world begin the slow nose-up attitude that all pilots know will lead to wing buffet, and the eventual loss of precious lift (my/our “normal” was about to stall). Clearly, I was not quite “ready for prime time” physically, but was I emotionally ready for all of this? As in commanding a passenger laden jet during an emergency, I had no choice, I had to be ready.

Yes, I could put on my “Captain’s face”, compartmentalize my emotions, “work the problem”, keep my spiritual and physical wings level, and see myself (and my dear loved ones) through this. The last forty something years in my profession was superb training for what I was now facing. I needed a plan to get my body better, so I could keep my brain in good shape, so I could keep my sanity humming along on all cylinders. Though they had no real idea what caused this condition (much like my thymoma tumor in 1999), they informed me it was fully treatable. There were several options, but the fix Deb and I chose would involve anesthesia, scalpels and a one-night slumber party at the local hospital.

 

a8rc

In EVERY life a little rain must fall…it’s just a by-product of living. My medical issue and the resultant surgery was what we in aviation term a “squall line”. I’ve seen many of them (both medical and real), and this was just one more to deal with.

 

This is where the deadly virus almost derailed my entire little apple cart. My surgery was scheduled with the caveat that the medical governing body may not allow it due to the crisis that our health care industry was facing. I was informed that if they nixed my procedure, I was looking at a delay of up to 6 (and possibly 8) more weeks! Doing the math (considering the continued loss of weight), and considering my general worsening lack of stamina, it was looking like I would land short of the proverbial runway (with the resultant causality list). The bureaucrats relented (apparently our local health care facilities were NOT being overwhelmed), and we were “fight’s on”!

The morning of my surgery (16 April) I was, for lack of a better description, a mere shell of myself. The pre-bout weigh-in had me at 141 pounds (my normal “fighting weight” is 175-180), but I felt more than ready. The bathroom mirror had been cruelly lying to me for several months, for my reflection showed not ME, but what appeared to be an abused, starved P.O.W. from an enemy internment camp. The good news is that the procedure went swimmingly, and the better news is that I now can eat anything that’s not nailed down! I have since gained just shy of 20 pounds, and am feeling like $12 (that’s a million, adjusted for inflation and the virus effect on the market). OK, “Mysterious Weight Loss Emergency checklist complete Captain”. My plan is another month off the line to build my weight back, get my immune system back in the green band, and then spend the last 12 (sunset) months of my career flying the big jetliner hither and yon.

 

a9rc

Another jaw-dropping sunset “suffered” on the beach in Palau.

 

Will I have an airline to go back to? Yes, I will. Will the airline be the same as when I last flew four months ago? Of course not. If you know anything about aviation in general, and airline flying in particular, you know it (like the world) changes constantly. Airframes are added, airframes are parked, cities are added only to be dis-continued a few months down the road. The only thing truly “constant” in the airline business is change. Will our procedural world be different? Yes it will, but again, that stuff changes all the time also. Before each trip I’m required to wade though the pile of (virtual) bulletins on my flight operations website…it can easily take an hour or so. From things like FAA airspace changes, or how I’ll conduct a night visual approach into a mountainous airport, to even the most mundane things like which “holiday ties” are acceptable while wearing the uniform. Will face-masks, hand sanitizer, and “social distance” verbiage now be part and parcel to the language of aviation? Probably, but again, so what? A few decades ago, I had never heard of things with the alphabet soup names like TCAS, CRM, RNAV(RNP), PBE, RVSM, and the list goes on and on. Pilots learn to change, adapt and prevail every day and on EVERY SINGLE flight. It’s part of the challenge (and excitement) of the job. This medical paradigm will be no different in terms of the result.

 

a10rc

Haunting to each and every pilot. Most will see the clouds again…some will not.

 

There will be many questions, and untold challenges ahead for me and my world of airliners. But with adversity, we rise to the occasion. There exist certain absolutes in the world of flying, and even a world-wide pandemic cannot alter them. It will always take fast air moving over the wings to get my 250,000-pound collection of metal and humans into low Earth orbit, and no invisible virus will ever change that. It will take smart, creative, and very brave folks to run my incredible world of aviation (like it has since that long night the man stared at his fuel gauges, nibbled on cheese sandwiches and prayed to find the coast of Ireland). Oh, and a couple more things that I’m 100% convinced of…it will take this old airline pelican several more weeks (and roughly 20 more pounds) before I’m fully ready to strap on the jet again. And when I do, it will take a Herculean effort to wipe the smile off my face as I board the beautiful machine, turn left and enter my personal “Brave New World” 2.0

 

a11rc

Courage was a value we seemed to have intrinsically in days past… I’m not so sure now (we are bound for Japan…passing the island whose very name invokes the word”courage”… Iwo Jima).

 

a12rc

A not so brave man, with the bravest person I’ve ever met…my love, my rock, my Debora.

 

So I say…stay on the roller coaster, you’ll be glad you did. To quote my amazing bride, “I’m not afraid to die, but I’m terrified to not live.” Please be smart and remain safe.

(“Smart and be safe”…. honestly, what the heck does that even mean these days? The goal post is being moved constantly, so “smart” and “safe” are also being re-defined every day. Don’t hang out in huge groups of people, wash your hands like you’re a germaphobe, get plenty of sleep, get your fat-ass off the couch and exercise, eat right, spend time in the sun, seek medical attention if you get sick, and for God’s sake, stop licking those toilet seats! Wait! Aren’t all these the very same things your Mother hammered you to do every day as a kid?)

But most importantly, know that suffering is a byproduct of being human. Our Maker gives us love and joy to go with the pain, it’s just part of the big roller coaster we call life.

 

a13rc

Sunset on a Guam to Tokyo flight. Every moment of every day sees the sun set somewhere…but realize it is also rising at that very same moment.

 

a14rc

(What our route looked like on the tablet we use.)

Lastly, I urge you to contemplate these simple things:

Be brave and be kind…for they are both contagious. Live each and every day as a gift (for it truly is)…and don’t forget to be human.

‘till next time.

 

 

 

Standard

“Hello…My name is Bill and I’m…”

 

Prologue: As we all know, in the first few months of this year, the world found itself in the midst of a viral nightmare. Some might think that the following piece about “playing video games” might be thoughtless, even silly given the scope of suffering that humanity is experiencing. I offer the opposite. In the darkest hours of my life, I’ve found that limiting my exposure to anxiety and worry, and attempting to replace it with joy and fun is truly powerful therapy. In the year 2000, I spent months living in a blur of surgeons, chemo and radiology doctors, and waiting rooms populated with sad faces and anxious looks. I lived through many bleak days (and nights) filled with questions regarding my health, my family, my career and pretty much everything in between.

I survived that year with the love of my family and friends, the medical heroes that brought me through that horrific tunnel, and the “therapy” of doing things that gave me joy. Loving my wife and children, staying in touch with siblings and friends, and (yes) logging time in front of my computer were the suave for my wounds. I could be in a world devoid of needles and cancer cells, twisting and turning through the clouds, and losing myself for hours at a time flying…albeit in a make-believe world, but flying nonetheless. When I exited that dark tunnel of personal nightmare, I penned an article titled “Take Two Sims and Call Me in the Morning”, and it was about just that. Using a beloved hobby to keep my mind from drifting where it had no business living. I know that now, as I spend days on end in my home, I’m staying sane using the same “therapy” I used two decades past. Love of my wife, children, siblings and friends. Lots of reading, writing, movies…and yes…my “addiction” to cyber flying.

The following is my promised entry about flight simulations.

 

“Hello…My Name is Bill, and I’m…”

…a flight sim addict.”

 

 

There, I said it. I’m essentially addicted to flying cyber aircraft around in a cyber world. Do I have other “addictions “and hobbies? Of course, I do. For instance, I’m dangerously drawn to a computer keyboard (obviously).  Also, in my teen years, I was consumed with two early loves (three counting flying machines). They being an attraction to motorcycles, and sports (both as a participant, and a voyeur). To this day, I find football season to be my favorite time of year, and I’m drawn to watching the four “major” golf tournaments like a fat kid to cake.  Concerning the two-wheeled wonders, I find it impossible to resist stopping to admire a gleaming, shining, motorcycle whenever the opportunity presents itself. My last addiction concerns the past. I love most everything history related, with my most compelling interest centered around modern (read 20th century) military events. Ask me the differences between Passchendaele, and Pelelui, the significance of Haiphong, and Helmund, Incheon and the Ia Drang…such is the byproduct of being a history nerd. This fascination of military history nicely dovetails into my love of flight simulations, which will be explained a bit more later. I’m compelled to say that I lay this last addiction squarely into the laps of two people. My dear father, and Adolph Hitler (seems that might also need some further explanation).

At the tender age of nine (circa 1965), our family packed up its worldly possessions, (lock, stock and barrel like many times before), and moved to a different military base. This particular move however was radically different than the others. Where we had crossed an ocean before when moving from Washington State to Hawaii, we had never actually relocated to a foreign country. We were now bound for the historic Bavarian city of Nuremburg, (West) Germany. I had no idea that it was to reveal undreamt of sights, sounds, tastes and a host of other things that my feeble young brain had never before contemplated. We began our two-year journey (to include a move to Munich the following year) by living, not on the Army base, but “on the economy” (meaning, in a neighborhood with the natives). I was gob-smacked to say the least, but the adventure was exhilarating. Lacking information to reflect on the momentous, world-shattering events that had taken place in this country a mere 20 years before, I had no idea that the scars (both physical and emotional) of World War II, were still very much a part of daily life here. My introduction to the fascinating world we call “History” was about to begin.

My parents were amazing people. First of all, because they were smart enough to have a kid like me (lol), and secondly because they never wasted an opportunity to throw us five “kinder” into the trusty old family station wagon and traipse us out into the German countryside. We traveled to castles, we visited museums, we drove to other Deutsche cities and towns, we even took a day to visit the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. I was but a mere lad of 10, but that day is seared into my memory, and the things I saw, and the feelings that I experienced will haunt me to my grave. It was a very confusing and upsetting day. Many days, and conversations later, my young brain started to faintly absorb it all. It was all so frightening, but I was drawn to the story of what had taken place HERE, where I was living, a mere two decades before. I wanted to know more, and the more places I visited (especially those that involved famous [and infamous] World War II locales), the more I started to feel the “tug” of the past.

 

1 tank pic

(My brother John and I standing on an M4 Sherman tank somewhere around the Munich airfield that my father flew from, circa 1966-67. Apparently, it was used as an Me-262 jet base by the Luftwaffe at the end of the war.)

 

I vividly remember standing on the concrete and marble podium where Adolph Hitler addressed the masses at the rallies of the 1930s, and I was enraptured by the enormity of it all. My father schooled me of him and his evil ideals (my Dad was roughly the same age as myself during those dark days of the Second World War). I remember there were forested areas with signs reading “Verboten” alerting folks that these woods had not been cleared of dangerous ordnance left from the war, and thus, they were closed to the public. I watched films and TV shows (a favorite of my generation was Vic Morrow’s “Combat!”), and I began to understand that what we call “history” isn’t just black words on a white page. I concluded that It was a living thing…past our spot in time…but living nonetheless. Real people, with real lives (and hopes and dreams and loves) stood where I was now standing, and I could almost feel them. Be it at historical places in 1965 Germany, or almost 50 years later, seeing the caves of Saipan, flying past Iwo Jima at 35,000’, or walking the invasion beaches of Normandy, it’s as if I could easily imagine myself in that place, at that moment in time. I loved it then, and I love it to this day.

 

Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, RAD-Parade

Reichsparteitag 1937. Der große Aufmarsch der 38 000 Arbeitsdienstmänner vor dem Führer. a[uf].d[em]. Zeppelinfeld

3 Iwo Jima

4 Omaha Beach

(The Nuremburg podium, the island of Iwo Jima, and the “Dog Green” landing beach at Omaha .)

 

So back to the “addiction”.

Flash forward to the year 1995, I was living in Dallas/Ft. Worth and traveling the highways and by-ways on my “Honda-Davidson”. My shiny red VT1100 Shadow was an awesome bike, and it fully stoked my love of motorcycles. It didn’t offer one thing however; and that was any protection from the thousands of dumbasses that I was sharing those highways and by-ways with. Having lived through some scary moments when I was a teen delivering my paper route on my little Suzuki 125, I was pretty up to speed on keeping an eye on the cars and trucks that were all bent on my destruction. But on one particular warm, sunny Texas morning, on a very busy super highway in downtown Dallas, all that changed. Suffice to say that at my speed of 80+ mph (just to stay with the traffic), had the divine hand of the good Lord (or whatever else might have been looking out for me), not stepped in when they did, I would’ve been but an ink spot (and an obituary) chalked up to “those damned donor-cycles”. A rapid lane change caused one car to hit another in front of me, and I was merely going to be collateral damage in this event, but dead is dead and blame be damned where I was concerned. The next day I found myself at the Honda dealership selling this beautiful machine (a sad day to be sure).

 

5 Rick and Hondas

(My 1988 Honda VT1100 on a road trip in 1994 with my ex-college roommate Rick. He has recently retired as a Boeing 777 Captain at American Airlines.)

 

Shortly after closing the motorcycle chapter in my life, I entered an entirely new world for me. I bought a computer and began a journey through the cyber-world. That old Gateway 2000 was a monumental mystery to me, and I was a COMPLETE moron when it came to this contraption. I was such an idiot, and was on the phone to the Gateway Help Desk so often I think I knew them all personally (“Oh, hi Bill.” “Hi Jason.” “What did you need help with today Bill?”). Slowly but surely my knowledge base began to grow, and I found that even though the beast known as the internet wasn’t a daily thing back then, one could still have fun without it (and the dail-up connection it required). I also found among the stack of software discs that came in the box (you know, the ones explaining how to use your printer, and your “AOL email”, etc), there was one stack with the intriguing name of “Aces Over Europe”. Huh? The Gateway package also came with a little thing that had suction cups on the bottom, a few red buttons on the base, and one on the top of what looked to be a small joystick. WTF was this?

6 Aces Over Europe (1)

(Literally my “Gateway drug” into my world of flight simulations.)

 

OK, I had to try it out. Being an intrepid aviator in R/L, I couldn’t pass this up. AND, if it truly did portray some sort of what it was like yanking and banking in a P-51 Mustang (or Bf109) over the Normandy fields and the forests of Belgium in 1944…then I simply could not let this pass. It was surprisingly fun, and (much to my liking) the missions, campaigns and pilots listed was uncannily accurate. Although by today’s standards, the graphical representations looked completely cartoonish, and downright silly, it was quite entertaining being totally new to the scene (and having no idea what the future would bring).  As I beat back the resurging Wehrmacht in the Ardennes, and battled Goring’s Luftwaffe in the European skies, I was seeing something intriguing for the first time. My love of history was playing out before my very eyes…and I was a player in this strange little CRT world.  Again, the flying aspect of it was very cool, but I was totally surprised that the folks that made this thing seemed to be history buffs also. To quote an iconic American television character…” fascinating”.

Within a short period of time, my neophyte “flight simulation” library gave birth to a new addition by the name of “Red Baron 3D”.  I was now indeed THE famous Albert Ball flinging my wood and wire Se5 through the skies over the blood-soaked trenches of the First World War. Wow! With the passing of four years, and the leaps in computer technology, the visuals concerning everything from the terrain to the machines themselves really started to improve. I wondered…do they make jet and or helicopter versions of this stuff? Next came a title by the name of “Hind” (showcasing the Russian Mi-24 helicopter in their war in Afghanistan), and I was in the heavenly world of military choppers that I had grown up in as that kid way back in 1960s Germany (see my piece titled “Going To Work With Dad”). Shortly after that, I discovered my first “fast jet” title by the name of “Hornet Korea” …and that little gem led me smack dab into the brave new world of the internet and online flying.

 

 

(Box covers of the early sims “Red Baron 3D”, “Hind” and “Hornet Korea”.)

 

In the next installment, I’ll tell about my first foray into the online world of flight simulations.

Standard

“My name is Bill” Part 2

 

Flying online with my mates.

 

10 Falcon 4.0

(The “granddaddy” of them all, and our MSP LAN groups first serious “study” type flight simulation…Microprose’s “Falcon 4.0”)

 

Fast forward a few more years, and I’m now living in the sprawling suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota. By now, I’ve summoned enough courage to delve into the swamp known as the internet (not flying mind you, just lurking on the flying forums). I was new to all of this, and learned that this collection of pages whereby folks discuss aspects of the hobby, ask/answer questions (very helpful for us “noobs”), and sometimes just bitch about stuff (and each other) was a totally foreign universe for this new citizen of the cyberworld. I learned tons of stuff about the flight sims that I was enjoying (and that helped keep the frustration level down about a jillion notches), and when asked, I answered questions about real-world flying. So, for the most part, I generally enjoyed my time with my new “cyber” mates. On one occasion, I noticed that the forum poster was from my neck of the woods…literally. He was a scant few miles north of me, so I sent him a PM. Terry and I chatted a bit, and decided to meet for lunch (the year was 1997, and to this day we fly online often, we text, we phone, and I consider him and my other LAN mates some of my close, “go-to” friends). We did indeed meet for lunch, and he brought along his neighbor Dale (another flight sim junkie). We had tons of fun, and began to explore the idea of meeting online to do some flying. Apparently, he had done it before, convinced me how much fun it happened to be, so I consented. I was going to be the proverbial online virgin…” all I ask is that you please be gentle”.

Terry was (before recently retiring) an important management “mucky-muck “at a large, nationally known dairy conglomerate in the upper mid-west, and like pretty much everyone else in the hobby, has a fascination for aviation. We set up a time for a call, he rang up “the virgin” (me), talked me through the online hookup (dial-up no less, and off we went. Note: our inflight “COMMS” being holding the telephone in the crook of the neck with your head bent over like Quasimodo at a head bashing concert)! He walked me through finding each other online in the simulation he had chosen (“Hornet Korea”), and briefed me that our “mission” was to depart our airfield, fly to a certain point, merge and dogfight with two “bad guy” Hornets frown by two dudes in Florida (apparently he had flown online with them before). We were to “do some of that Pilot sh*t Mav!”, send them to “bad guy” hell, and return to base (RTB) as two victorious warriors, awaiting laurels and medals (and bragging rights) beyond our wildest dreams.

 

11 Hornet Korea in game

(This is what it looked like that fateful day when my online virginity was lost. I was flying number 2 on Terry’s wing, and about to be embarrassed…several times.)

 

This is most assuredly NOT how the mission played out. I found myself in the cockpit of this F/A-18C Hornet, mentally going through how I was to set up all the “Air to Air” weapons and sensors that would be needed, and how I was to program the “countermeasures” (chaff and flare dispensers and jammers). I then tried to figure out our routing, and fuel requirements before we released the brakes, but time was running out, so I just decided to follow Terry. We taxied to the duty runway, lined up on the pavement and departed as a “two ship” of battle hardened (at least one of us) jet-borne killers. I figured that all I would have to do is keep him in sight, hang on to his wing (meaning DO NOT RUN INTO HIM), stay off the COMMS, call out threats, protect him when I could, and become cannon fodder when the situation called for it. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

We raced down the runway in afterburner, rotated, sucked the landing gear up, flaps up, all the while me being so proud of my ability to stick on Terry’s wing like glue when….WTF?….he snapped rolled to the left, dove for the deck, rolled inverted and FLEW UNDER A BRIDGE just off the airfield boundary! Holy guacamole…I was in way over my head! All the while he’s yammering in my ear about how good these two guys were that we were fighting against, and how he was picking them up on his radar (I couldn’t detect a thing), how he had them on his RWR (Radar Warning Receiver…I barely knew what it was), and we were going to be displacing the right (or did he say left?). I was back about “row 10” in my struggle to stay ahead of the jet, barely holding onto his wing, not sure which Air to Air Mode I was in, which missile I had selected, and where the bad-guys were! It was all happening too fast, and was a complete mystery to me! BTW…WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FUNNY WARNING IN MY COCKPIT? WHAM! Suddenly, I’m a roman candle, and I have no idea where it came from…that was fun! Less than five minutes flying to find out that I’m the online equivalent of Pee Wee Herman, and I’m flying around, at 400kts, hair on fire, in a very sophisticated war machine, looking like (to quote the movie “Dodgeball”) …” a retard humping a doorknob”!  We reset the flight (thank God dead is NOT dead), tried it again several times, and guess what? Same result each time. Lovely…they were not gentle at all. I think I needed about fifty puppies AND a balloon.

This was quite the eye opener. I had spent some quality time flying/fighting against the A/I (artificial intelligence) bad-guys that each flight simulation had written into its code, and I felt I could hold my own. Granted these aerial duels were in the “Single Player” world, against the A/I and since I was in a “pre-radar” Sopwith Camel, or P-51 Mustang, I could always see the antagonist…not this BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missile stuff. I had dabbled into the fast jet thing, but CLEARLY had not spent the required amount of time to be proficient in that 4-D chess world of 400kt death. The folks that have a handle on this type of stuff have spent years learning it (some are actual ex-Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps types). They know exactly how to use the different radar guided missiles from very long distances. In that world, you can’t see the victim that you’re about to turn into a flaming ball of (virtual) teeth, hair and eyeballs (read ME). They know how to get in close and use the “heat seeking” Sidewinders that were made famous over the skies of Vietnam. And when that “Maverick moment” arrives (“…too close for missiles, switching to guns!”), they know the proclivities associated with that type of knife fight in a phone booth. PLUS…they can air to air fight their way into a target, bomb or rocket said target into the next dimension, then escape unscathed back to the airbase or aircraft carrier (OH…and can hook up to the re-fueling tanker on the way home for a sip of jet fuel). I had a HUGE amount to learn about how this online world worked, and I had a HUGE amount to learn about how flying a modern warplane with its spider-web of systems and weapons worked. I also had volumes to ingest about air to air tactics and the procedures for attacking a ground target.  And lastly, I had a large amount to decipher about how a person goes from being the “bumbling uber-noob/here I am, come kill me” boat-anchor, to being able to survive in the online skies for more than the time required to film a Tony Romo fumble. It was going to be an uphill battle, but I if I could fly as the Commander in the left seat of a Boeing 757, then I could certainly figure out how to not be a COMPLETE idiot in the virtual skies. (I hoped)

 

Our LAN Group.

My savior(s) came in the form of a group of like-minded individuals, and the large 700-page manuals you USED to receive with these hard-core, up-scale “Study” type flight sims (nowadays you get PDF files…. oh, and tons of YouTube videos…quite helpful actually). By the way, many of these “hard-core, study type” flight simulation software programs originated in the actual military aviation world as training aids, then are purchased by the simulation folks, re-worked to remove the “sensitive” stuff, re-cleared through the aircraft makers and the govt/military types, and then released to the public. A particular A-10 flight simulation for instance, was born in the world of transitioning real world National Guard A-10A pilots into flying the “C” model of the Warthog. It’s accurate to a gnat’s ass (except for, of course, the parts that can’t be part of the public domain). After the debacle known as my first foray into the world of online flying, Terry (and his neighbor Dale) brought up the idea of a “LAN” (local area network) get together. I had no idea what they were talking about. Essentially, your homies show up at someone’s house (or other venue), hook all of your computers onto one network, and fly the piss out of them not having to fret about things like how fast the internet is working, or having to use a telephone for COMMS, etc. Plus, you get the added benefit of lots, and lots (did I say lots) of “chin music” back and forth to each other. I would be remis if I didn’t mention also, that learning a hobby in close proximity to others that are more advanced in that endeavor is a real plus. Remember Terry flying under the bridge INVERTED on my first online sortie? Yeah, these guys were damned good flying in the virtual world (but I’m not sure I’d hand them the keys to the big Boeing…lol.)

 

(Two pics of the 700 plus page manual for the flight simulation “Falcon 4.0”. One of the design team members was an ex-Air Force F-16 pilot.)

 

(Pics from our our very early LAN days. LOVE those 25 pound CRT monitors!)

 

14 LAN group

15 Terry LAN

(Top: most of the original LAN mates. Some really ugly mugs to be sure. Bottom: my original online partner, “TBob”… “Mr. inverted, under the bridge” himself!)

 

16 Frug Fleming Field (2)

(August of 2002. L to R: Son, Daughter, the one and only Mark “Frugal” Bush, yours truly, and my second LAN mate, “Olieman” at an airshow at Fleming Field, St. Paul.)

 

Our LANS grew more frequent, and we had more and more dudes showing up (many from out of state). Within a year, our core group consisted of myself, Terry (business exec.), Dale (painter), Chad (State I.T. expert), Roger (also State I.T. guru), Tom (engineer), Bert (world renown research physician/scientist), Chad (Police officer), and Dusty (United States Army, Ret.). Soon we were holding at least one LAN per year (sometimes more), and had welcomed lots of “cameo appearances” from those famous in the flight simulation world (Mark “Frugal” Bush), those famous in the REAL world of combat aviation (Lloyd “Bozo” Abel), and a host of others from around the country. Add to this blessing, the fact that my wonderful bride loved these get-togethers (pretty sure some wives would not), for she got to show off her world-class hospitality skills. Being an incredible hostess is a crown she has worn proudly since the dawn of our marriage, and the food, drink, and general “welcome to our home” type atmosphere made the events special to be sure. Her white chicken chili, lasagna, and bar-b-que ribs are legendary among the group…oh did I mention she’s also a world-class bartender? Trust me, that didn’t go unnoticed. Oh, and one last tid-bit concerning our LANs. Once Debie and I had relocated to the back woods of Wisconsin, we routinely carved out one of the afternoons (the LANs usually lasted 3 days), to spend at our personal shooting range. We turned old milk jugs, beer cans, stuffed toys, and whatever else needed blasting into about a zillion little pieces. The local guys brought their own shootin’-irons, and the out-of-towners were welcome to pick from my arsenal. Food, flying, shooting and “libations” …not sure if it CAN get any better than that…right?

 

 

(“Dusty” and “Griff” kicking virtual butt in the A-10C, and “Cat”, “Griff” and “Olieman” turning stuff into junk.)

 

Somewhere out of the blue the television and print media heard of our little computer flying “coffee-klatches” and decided to interview us. The next thing we knew, we were in the print media, and the subject of one the evening news “fluff” stories. IIRC, the day the newspaper lady showed up to interview us, she had her teenage son in tow. During the span of the interview, we (of course) sat her down behind one of the CRTs, briefly explained the use of the joystick and throttle, and turned her loose in the F-16. She didn’t last very long, and it was not a pretty sight. We (again, of course) asked her son if he’d like a turn in the barrel, and he jumped at the chance! The kid was a natural! He could fly quite nicely, and seemed to be enjoying himself (not like his mother). I’m fairly sure all those hours spent on the X-box were a bit of an “in your face Mom” type moment for him. Lol.

At one point she asked the obvious question, “Why would you want to fly around in little “make believe” airplanes when you fly REAL airplanes for a living?” Fair enough question. The answer seemed pretty obvious to me, but clearly not to her. I offered this, “Well, that’s a good question. I guess the big reason is that at work (at the airline), I don’t get to fly inverted under bridges, and lock onto the tail of the United or American or Delta jet in front of me and launch a missile up their tailpipe!” (big grin on this ugly mug, versus the “huh?” look on her face) …me thinks she neither understood nor appreciated my flippant remark…oh well.

 

21 old LAN

(TV news dude intently concentrating on NOT ending up “D-E-D” dead in the cyber world of “Falcon 4.0”…”Cat” is in the foreground. I’m giving him a few “priceless” tips…which I’m sure didn’t help at all…lol. Photo circa 1998-1999.)

 

We met regularly for many years, and though our professional paths were all quite different, we happily shared the bonds of aviation, and the fellowship of those times. Sadly, many of us have moved, some have lost the ability to attend the LANs (kid commitments, etc), and some have simply lost their passion for the hobby. I still adamantly hold at least one LAN per year, our last being about a month ago at the new digs here in the sunbaked world of Arizona. One guy drove in from the Reno area, one dude flew in from MSP, and “TBob” flew with us online from back in Minnesota. We had tons of fun, like always. Good friends, good food, good “adult beverages”, good cyber flying, and good (to great) “chin music” (seems the older we get, the better the insults get). Oh, this year we did not load up the truck with a gaggle of firearms and proceed to the local range to kill paper bad-guys, but it WILL be on the agenda for the next little “clam bake”.

The next (and final) installment will focus on a few of the simulations themselves…including the principle sim that we’re flying online at this time. Screenshots and videos included.)

Standard

“My name is Bill…” Part 3

“1’s and O’s”, (and lions, and tigers and bears) …oh my!

 

So, exactly WHAT is a flight simulation? It’s obviously a software program you run on your computer that allows you to fly around in a world created by that program. Cool. Can any computer run them? For the most part, your average run of the mill, home computer would not run them very well. Those of us in the hobby tend to build our own rigs, tailor them to our software needs and regularly upgrade them as the simulations themselves get more and more complex. The basic needs for a machine to run one of the current programs consists of a pretty robust computer chip, but it must (and I mean MUST) have a powerful video card, lots of memory (not only in the form of “storage” type, but also in the family of RAM…or random access memory), add in a good 4K monitor, and you get a gorgeous, very real looking environment. It is, after all, a visual medium, so the stuff that makes the program run and LOOK good is vitally important (I’ll address the advent of VR…virtual reality… in a bit).

 

22 Huey

23 P51 Mustang

(Above, in an online mission [with a dude from Australia no less] flying the iconic UH-1 Huey escorting some CH-47s Chinooks, and below, in a single-player [meaning flying against the A/I] mission in the P-51D Mustang escorting a formation of B-17 Flying Fortresses. Again, it’s a VISUAL medium…that chip and video card have to make literally millions of calculations very, very quickly.)

Is all that junk fairly expensive? It can be, yes. The latest and greatest video card will set you back about one large (not in 100 large, it’s big brother with one more “0”), the motherboard, the chip, the RAM, the hard drive(s), the cooling system (these babies will run very hot as you ask them to do all that fancy math), the computer case, the monitor, the “peripherals” (joystick, throttle, pedals, etc), and you can be looking at a rather spendy “hobby”. More than say, collecting sportscars, airplanes or ex-wives? Good God no, but it does help to have an understanding banker, and far more importantly, an understanding spouse. Luckily for me I have both…lol.

Back to the programs themselves. BTW, I will be addressing military flight simulations only, there are civilian versions of these thing (Microsoft X being the most famous), but they aren’t really my thing. First of all, when speaking of military flight simulations, there are two basic types…  they are either a “Survey” sim, or a “Study” Sim. A Survey sim means just that. A veritable smorgasbord of stuff to choose from (some Study sims offer a bit of that too), but THE major difference is the complexity of the program, and this is most evident when you’re sitting in the cockpit. They are both visually stunning (and I mean jaw-dropping gorgeous), but the big difference is what is called a “mouse clickable cockpit”.  In the Study simulations, the folks that code them work extremely hard to make it as close to being EXACTLY like the real deal as they can. Every switch, every knob, every dial, every lever is movable, and MUST be moved with a mouse click (or mouse wheel rotation) to operate the machine correctly. In a Survey simulation, all of the stuff is there, but the cockpit is not “mouse clickable”. You simply “map” all of the things you might need to move (flap lever, gear handle, gun/rocket/bomb arming switches, etc.) to either a keyboard press, or a button push on your joystick/throttle setup. You can do that too in the study sims, but sometimes it’s just way too much fun to flip the switches, move the levers, and push the buttons…lol.

 

24 non clickable cockpit

(Screenshot of a “non-clickable” cockpit. It’s the P-38J from the sim “IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Bodenplatte”  https://il2sturmovik.com/  )

 

25 clickable cockpit 2

(Screenshot of a VERY “clickable” cockpit. It’s the F/A-18C from the sim “DCS World” (or Digital Combat Simulator”  https://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/ )

 

So, the major Survey sim is called “IL-2:Sturmovik” with its different add-on “battles” (it also offers an outstanding WWI add-on called “Flying Circus”).  “IL-2: Sturmovik” only covers the Second World War (again, except for “Flying Circus”), and it offers a plethora of different machines to fly; from Spads and Halberstadts in WWI, to Stukas, Heinkels, Mustangs, Spitfires and Messerschmitt’s (even the late war jet powered -262) in WWII.  Note: I’ve listed probably a third of the machines you can fly…they even have the good ol’ “Tante Ju” (Auntie Ju), the venerable Junkers Ju-52 tri-motor! Sound a bit weird …what the hell do you do in a Luftwaffe transport airplane on the Eastern Front? How about dropping paratroopers into battle? Plus, in all the bigger machines that have multiple crewmembers, you can switch around to any of the crew positions as you fly…tired of being the pilot, a few keyboard presses and you’re now the tail gunner! LOL! In the online world, you can jump in a machine AS the gunner with a human pilot…fun as hell. Again, it’s a “Survey” simulation, no button pushing, flip switching, etc., but a hoot to be sure. Like the other one I’ll talk about, it offers LOTS of different ways to get into the virtual skies. It has: Quick Missions, Single Missions, a “Career Mode” (you select the theater, a machine, create a pilot and follow them through with each day generating different objectives), a Mission Editor (where you get to build your own missions), and of course, the online option so you can fly not only against (and in cooperation with) the A/I, but against (and in coop with) other homo-sapiens from around the globe. They’re continually upgrading things (like a plan to add a Pacific Theater with carrier operations), and they’re quite good at “thinking outside the box”. They recently added a tank version whereby you can operate armor in the different crew positions in the battles of WWII.

And last but not least (and the principle sim I fly online), is a gem by the name of “DCS World”. It’s the premier Study Sim at the moment, and covers from World War II to the present day. Here’s a kicker…it’s actually FREE to download! It comes with two “modules” to fly…the Su-25 “Frogfoot” (basically, a Russian version of the USA’s A-10 “Warthog”), and the civilian version of the P-51 Mustang (the TF-51). From there, you’re free to purchase a dizzying number of props, jets, and helicopters. It comes with the map of the Caucasus, but you can purchase the Persian Gulf, the Nevada Test Range [basically Nellis Air Force Base and surrounding areas], and the Normandy area for your WWII flying (plans are to soon release a Mariana Islands map). It has a very robust Mission Editor, and our online flying is usually done is either missions I (or one of the LAN mates have) concocted, or something we’re downloaded from Al Gore’s internet. Since it’s a Study sim, it can be a bit intimidating (read complicated); hence the same “Study” sim. But with some honest effort to learn the machines from the PDF manuals included with each one, and liberal use of the “how to” videos on the internet (God bless the folks that take the time make these things), I find the challenge quite enjoyable. Like “IL-2” these folks are nothing short of magicians. Here’s a video of their newest marvel to be released in a few days. It’s a modern-day aircraft carrier going through “launch” operations with artificial intelligence animated crew members. Here’s the clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ztrv_ZML8w

 

A few screenshots from the two mentioned above:

 

26 P38J

(the P-38J from “IL-2:Sturmovik  Battle of Bodenplatte”)

 

27 Pfalz III 2

(the Pfalz III from “IL-2:Sturmovik  Flying Circus”)

 

28 3 on a match

(from “DCS World” at the end of an online flight…Myself, Roger “Falkan” M., and Terry “TBob” K.)

 

29 Huey on a train

(messing around in “DCS World” in the UH-1H module)

 

30 Dusty Hornet

(James “Dusty” R. in an online flight about to trap aboard the carrier U.S.S. Stennis)

 

So those are the two simulations that occupy my “addiction hours” (and they can be many). One I fly principally in the Single Player world (“IL-2”), and the other entirely online (“DCS World”). We’ve come to the last thing to mention in the world of flight simulations. The advent of Virtual Reality, or VR. It came out a few years ago, and has gone through a couple of upgrades in both the hardware and software. These days, most every flight simulation supports VR, and it’s truly a game changer. Does it look as gorgeous as the 2D world showing the miracle of flight? Not exactly, but don’t get me wrong… it’s beautiful to be sure, but the clarity is not quite the same. It’s getting better, and it’s still amazing, but it’s not quite the same.

But what is it like to fly something in a “virtual reality” world? First of all, it’s REALLY freaky at first, and it takes a little time to get used to it. Here’s the best way I can describe it: in the 2D world, you SEE yourself in the monitor flying around in the world, and it translates into a “pseudo feeling” of what you’re doing. Of course, you don’t get any actual feelings like g-forces, air-sickness, vertigo, etc., but in the VR world, things are different, vastly different. Once you put on the headgear, it becomes your world. You DO feel things…hard to believe, but it’s true. Obviously, no g-forces, and even though I’ve never felt air-sickness, I’ve had friends try my Oculus VR setup and after a bit of time, some of them got a bit nauseous. In the 2D world, it starts with your eyes, then it travels to your brain, and that translates to (again) pseudo- “feelings” that build your simulation reality. But in the VR world, IMHO, it starts in your brain, works into feelings, and then you confirm that by what you’re seeing with those big baby-blues. Here’s a good example, everyone, and I mean everyone that I’ve ever watched wearing the VR headset while flying a flight simulation, has (usually several times) REACHED OUT TO GRAB something in the virtual cockpit! The landing gear handle, the flap handle, and any of the various knobs and switches. It happens every single time. Your brain “buys into” the idea that you’re sitting in an actual cockpit very quickly. It’s fun to watch…and usually elicits a giggle or two from the person trying to grab something and ending up groping in thin air. I find it much easier to do “feel” things (like hovering a helicopter, or hooking up to a refueling boom, etc.) in the VR world than in the 2D world. Strange, but true.

It does come with some downsides (there’s always a downside). First is the lack of total clarity. The center of the what you’re seeing is crystal clear, but the stuff on the peripheral of the view is not quite as sharp. Not horrible, in fact still very good, just not as clear as the center. Secondly, if you need to see the keyboard for whatever reason (like to take a super cool screenshot of you doing something very heroic), you have to tilt your head back and look “under” the visor itself, or simply lift it up, push the appropriate key, then put it back on (they’ve also developed a “voice command” software so you can simply speak what key you want pressed and it does it for you). Next is that fact that I find the headset to not be the most comfortable thing in the world. It’s not awful by any means, but it could be better. So if you’re doing a longer mission (say over an hour or so…and that’s not at all uncommon), it can get rather warm under the visor. The last actual “ding” I offer against the VR type flying concerns the price of one of these whiz-bang contraptions. They’re pretty expensive, again, not yacht and ski chalet “Kardashian” expensive, but not for the “VISA faint of heart”.

So, there you have it.

I stumbled into the flight simulation world about 25 years ago, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing things in terms of advances in software, hardware and Mr. Gore’s internet. The hardware keeps getting better to keep up with the software, and it promises to just keep getting more amazing all the time. Did you watch the video of the “animated” folks on the aircraft carrier? Was that unbelievable or what? The advent of a fast internet has revolutionized the online flying part of simulations, as I routinely fly with folks from Europe and as far away as Australia with no “lag” at all! Where my connection speed in the backwoods of Wisconsin was (for the most part) fine, the fiber optic setup in my new house is …well, I tear up just thinking about it. So all in all, I would have to say that, in my opinion, it’s a great hobby no matter the time period you choose to fly (or the genre being represented…military or civilian). You are offered literally an entire world of great people to fly with, and insanely cool hardware and software to do it with. I love the flying, I love the people, I love tinkering with the hardware and software, I love the “historical feeling” of the sims I choose to fly, and I dearly (dearly) love the fact that my wife understands (and supports) my “addiction”.

 

Below you’ll find a video compilation of many of the “movies” I’ve made over the years (and some random clips I made just for this vid). It showcases some of the machines in the two flight simulations mentioned above. I hope you enjoy it.

(be sure and hit the little HD thing in the lower right hand corner…and TURN UP THE VOLUME! LOL!)

‘till next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard

Dear (younger) BBall

“Time flies never to be recalled…”

We are all born with a finite number of sand pebbles in that big hourglass of time. They drop relentlessly, and no matter what our thoughts or feelings, they continue their eternal trip from the top to the bottom. Our last day on this planet begins its march to meets us at the fateful moment the doctor slaps our bum, and we struggle to take that first sweet breath of air.

Wasting a single tick from the clock, wishing for days gone by, is a waste of a precious moment never to return. However, if those moments are spent recalling fond memories of people and places, then I offer that the minutes spent are certainly not in vain, but are added to our “Zen bank account of joy”…and that’s a very good thing.  But wishing to be “back in the good old days” seems pointless, for chances are very high that they were not as good as we remember them to be. The evil twin sister to this “pining away for the past” program, the insidious and sometimes worse trickster labelled “yearning for days yet to be lived”, can be just as damaging to the psyche. Plus, it’s as much of a waste of those beloved ticks of the clock as the former, for the folly is a fool’s wish to be certain. That my friends, is the subject of this Logbook entry.

Newsflash. We are all guilty of it. I recall early childhood days, wishing for the end of summer vacation knowing that the money from all those hours spent mowing the neighbors lawns, will finally end in the purchase of that glorious little blue Bonanza mini-bike. Flash forward to later in life, dreaming of that wonderful day when the company president hands you the golden watch, shakes your hand one last time, and hustles you out the door. Every human is guilty of the crime, for we all have at times in our lives “wished” for a future that pleases us, when we should be pleased with the current tick of the clock known as “the now”.

Bonanza Mini Bike

(The object of many a 7th grade dream…the Bonanza mini-bike. The beginning of my love of the two-wheeled wonders.)

last flight 2

(The traditional way an old airline Pelican is greeted after his/her final landing.)

Nowadays I find myself often sharing the cockpit with men and women who are younger than myself. And by younger, I mean somewhere in the “half my age” mode of younger. Side note; I recently had a new First Officer, during some idle chit-chat on our flight to Anchorage, query me about the year I had been hired at Northwest Orient Airlines. I offered, “1983.” He countered with “What month?”, my retort “November”. (I could tell where this was going…maybe his smirk was a tip-off…lol) And his final question, “What DAY?” Oh, no…here we go. After my reply of “the 14th…”, he thought for a moment, and dropped the bomb. “You had been in new-hire ground school for two weeks WHEN I WAS BORN.” We laughed, and I “counter-bombed” him. “Oh yeah, well I was going to buy you a beer in Alaska, but CLEARLY you’re not of legal drinking age (he was), so I’ll spring for a glass of reindeer milk for you!”

So, it seems that these young folks are benefiting from a pilot shortage that I first heard about way back during the 1970s as I began the early days of my college career. You know “THE PILOT SHORTAGE” due to the Vietnam War, and its voracious appetite for aircrew members. Those gentlemen were now too old for the airlines, and that would benefit us young bucks greatly. In those days, there were three big “career killers” when applying for an airline job. No four-year college degree you say? Come back in four years with that new sheepskin in your hand. You lack 20/20 vision you say? See ya “four eyes”! Ever thought of becoming a librarian? And the one that killed many a prospective career; OVER THE AGE OF 30! Sorry Gramps, once you stop drooling on your chin, we have nice rocking chair on the porch out back for you. Oh, and we have a cuddly warm blanket for your lap too.

If you fell into any of those categories, you need not apply…period.  But unfortunately for my generation, that shortage never happened. They are called “black swan” events; man-made or a freak of nature, they can hit the airline industry harder than Mike Tyson hitting Holyfied. We most certainly had one during the 1970s, it was called the “oil crisis”, and it hit the world like a proverbial maximum magnitude quake.

Tyson Holyfield 2

(Tyson v Holyfield)

Gas prices skyrocketed, and supply was way down. You couldn’t just drop into your trusty Shell station and top off your Ford Pinto. No, you had “even and odd days” (based on your license plate number) when you could fill your vehicles gas tank. When that magical day rolled around, you’d better not try it during your lunch hour, for the lines of cars at your gas station would literally wind around the block! Airport tarmacs were lined with parked Boeings, Lockheeds and McDonald Douglas products, and pilots were “hitting the bricks” (furloughed). My old college roomie Rick K. , within a year of leaving our campus, was hired by American Airlines to be an entry-level Flight Engineer on the Boeing 727. However, due to the jet fuel prices (and some very questionable management decisions), less than twelve months later he found himself hanging storm doors (among other things) for the next 3+ years.

1970s-car-gas-station-lines_credit-AP-photo_do-not-reuse

(Gas lines at the Texaco. My Dad’s red Ford Pinto is in there somewhere.)

boeing 707s 2

(Beautiful Boeing 707s to be put out to pasture.)

Shortage? Hell, the only real shortage back then was in the form of a gallon of “Jet A” kerosene that wasn’t being held ransom by the powers that be in the Middle East. Need a pilot?  The dude bagging your groceries probably had an ATP and several thousand hours in the cockpit. Clearly, the forecast of a huge “pilot shortage” way back then was in error, but this time it actually seems to be accurate. I’m glad for the young pilots that are profiting from it…good on them, timing is everything in this industry.

As the crisis began to abate, and the carriers were recalling furloughs and hiring new pilots, where did that leave me back in the early years of my 20’s? It left me wishing that my training days would come to a quick ending, and I could get on with my plan of working for the major airlines. Somehow, with them over, I would be a slight bit older, far more “qualified” with a spanking new Bachelor’s degree, a laundry-list of ratings and licenses, and a few hundred more precious flight hours. The next vision in my “can’t wait for the future” fantasy, had me strolling onto a gleaming new jet airliner. Picture say, Leonardo Dicaprio. Tall, coiffed, adorned in perfectly tailored pilot garb, and worn to within an inch of its life. Yep, life would be good…no actually, life would be awesome! All my troubles would be over, I could sit back, bask in my glory, and spend the next 40 year career trying to figure out those deep, “Rubix Cube” type riddles. You know the ones… like…red Porsche or black? What a ignoramus I was…

With that said, I decided to write myself a letter. A note as it were, from “the now” person with four additional decades of aviation wisdom, to the impetuous, impatient, young man back “then”.

 

========================================

14 March 2020

Dear (younger, circa 1977) BBall,

You’re a moron. There, I got it out of the way early in the blather, and now we can get down to the reason for this letter (btw…[that means “by the way” in my time world]…the postage for this letter was more than the gross national income of Paraguay).

Give Mom, Dad and your sister Teriesa my love. Sadly, you will lose her less than six years hence, and both of them a scant ten years later. Fortunately, you won’t remember any of this paragraph, save the “give them my love” part. Selective amnesia is a good thing…just wait until you’re married…it’ll make more sense then.

I know your flight training is going well, for those memories may fade a bit with time, but they never leave. Your instructors are smarter than you (trust me), they’re better aviators than you (trust me), and they will teach you many things. Do your best to listen to them …actually LISTEN to them, for their yarns of personal success and failure will serve you well.

Remember the day of your first “real” emergency in a flying machine? I’m sure you do, for it was early in your college flying life. You were in the infant stages of obtaining your Commercial License, and most of the required 250 hours would be spent “solo” working alone on your Chandelles, Lazy 8s, Turns About a Point, Stalls, and the myriad other maneuvers you would be tested on at the regular “Phase Checks” with the instructor cadre.

You and your roommate, Dan F., launched into a bright-blue, clear Oklahoma morning headed toward the “practice area” located west over the confines of Lake Texoma. Unbeknownst to your instructors (back at the Eaker Field home base), you and he had hatched a plan to meet over the Texoma dam and do a little “dog-fighting” in your little Cessna 150s.  (The non-aerobatic rated version…the 150K “Aerobat” version is rated at +6 to -3 Gs…these were definitely not rated for that) What could possibly go wrong?

c150

(Cessna 150K Aerobat.)

You flew out in a “loose” formation, extended away from each other, did the “merge and the fight’s on” thing, and off to the races you went! Twisting, turning, pulling Gs (not many mind you), and it was all such a tremendous amount of fun! You were Manfred von Richthofen and Albert Ball, over Flanders fields, vying to send the other down in flames. You were Richard Bong and Saburo Saki, battling over the warm blue waters of the Pacific, each with respectful malice in their hearts. You were doing what those gladiators of the sky did, and it was amazing. You were their brethren, and you loved every second of it.

albatros-dva-3

(Albatross DV, circa 1917 during “the Great War”…seems like the ultimate oxymoron.)

Then it happened. The loud “BANG!” and your heart skipped a beat. Did you snap a wing spar? Did you lose an engine mount? Your immediate thought of “maybe we better knock this stuff off, and get these little birds back to their nest” was the smartest idea you had all day. You moved the yoke to recover to a wings-level attitude and you found the issue. The cable in the wing had popped off of the pulley system and you had no aileron control! Elevators and rudder were fine, but with no roll control, this might be a bit tricky. OK, jam on a rudder pedal to level the wings, push forward on the yoke to get the nose down and let Dan know what’s happening. A terse “roger” was all you got on the discreet radio frequency you and he had agreed to communicate on earlier.

eaker field

(Home base. Eaker Field, Oklahoma.)

Make a gentle skidding turn toward the field, start a slow descent and try not to panic (or cry, or wet thyself). Thank God the air was like glass, and after a very long final approach, you touched down on runway 35, and began the process of breathing again. After taxiing to the university maintenance hangar, and painting an “I have no idea what happened, I was just doing my maneuvers, and bang…it just happened…” picture to Denny, the mechanic, he told me to tell one of the instructors, and thanks for getting the machine home in one-piece. I don’t remember my instructor’s reaction, but I’d guess that he knew the story was B.S. (heck, I’m sure he did the same stupid crap when he was a young bird-man).

SOSU Hangar

(Maintenance hangar at Eaker Field, Durant, Oklahoma. The “straight-tailed, tuna-tanked” Cessna 310A to the left was the machine that I did my multi-engine training in.)

Dan and I went back to the apartment, ate lunch, went to a bar, drank beer and played Foosball the rest of the afternoon. We didn’t speak of it (ever), for I think we both realized that things might have gone very badly over the lake.  It looks like one of us dodged a bank of questions at an FAA inquiry, and the other probably dodged a grave marker. (Note; of the three famous pilots mentioned above, Saburo Saki is the lone person NOT destined to die in the cockpit of a warplane.)

You learned…thank God you learned. Fear is a great teacher, and it’s a good thing that you weren’t so stupid/ignorant/cocky that you felt immortal around those beautiful flying machines. You needed that day, you needed that lesson, and you needed the hundreds more that would come during the next 3 years of training in the skies over Oklahoma and North Texas. You were good back then (the awards on your office wall will someday attest to that), but you were most assuredly not “seasoned”. That would come in the ink black nights flying freight over the Sandia mountain range, and in the years spent moving turboprop “commuter airliners” across the Southern U.S. You would get that precious thing called experience (just a fancy way of saying “wisdom”) the hard way…you would earn it. I’m sorry to say this my young friend, but you will lose friends and colleagues along the way. The sky can be as cruel as it can be beautiful.

metroliner

(SA-226TC Swearingin Metroliner flown by my first “airline”, Scheduled Skyways of Fayetteville, Arkansas.)

NEW CAPTAIN

(A newly minted “baby Captain”. My first command came in 1980…maybe juuust a few years ago…lol.)

You will work very hard in the next few years, the studying, the testing, the “sweaty-palmed” flights with a University Staff Instructor critiquing your every move (you will become one of those instructors your last year of school), and then the pay off. Spending an entire afternoon with the dude sporting a badge reading “(insert name here), FAA Inspector”. They grilled you in the room, they grilled you in the cockpit, and your handling of the machine had better be AT LEAST as good as the “spot on” correct answers to their questions. You can “talk the talk” in the briefing room, but if you can’t “walk the walk” in front of all of those dials and gauges, in the high stress world of the clouds…then go home and maybe check into becoming that librarian we mentioned earlier.

As the ratings got more advanced (like the Instrument Rating, the Multi-engine Rating, the Certified Flight Instructor Certificate, the CFI-Instrument Certificate, the Multi-engine Flight Instructor Certificate), things got harder…really harder. More studying, and more stress. Thank God you lived/ate/drank and breathed this stuff. You saw classmates fade; their dream of the gleaming airlines simply wasn’t like yours. They wanted the prize; they just didn’t have “the fire in the belly” to get them through. You would see that later in your training when you moved to the right seat of the cockpit and became the Instructor Pilot. You saw those that were there because their Moms/Dads/Uncles, etc. worked for the airlines, and they were expected to also. They had loves and passions to be sure, it’s just that their dreams didn’t come with wings.

As the Instructor, you were now “the dude”. You will never (I’ll say it again, you will NEVER) learn something as well as when you have to teach it to others. You know your stuff pretty well, but this is not that. You have to truly know it, not just the answer, but the “why” of the answer. You learn the most grievous sin is to bull*hit the student. If you don’t know the answer, TELL THEM THAT, and that you’ll do some research and get back to them. No one likes a “poser”.

You will learn to become a resident “aviation expert”, a mentor, a friend, an antagonist, a psychologist, and a pseudo “life coach”…all rolled into one. You will praise, you will scold, and you too will sweat their first solo flight being anchored to the Earth (portable radio in hand) as they do their “3 circuits and a full stop landing”. You will sit by the phone after sundown anxiously waiting to hear if they’ve made it home from their first solo “cross-country” flight. Somehow when you did these things as a student, you never once thought that the Instructor might be WAY more nervous than you.

ALL of this journey you need, for you will not be the aviator you wish to be without it. Just as importantly, you must learn to APPRECIATE the walk through those days, it paints the picture of “perspective” that you will need to survive the next phase of your pilot pilgrimage.

One last thing…and this will fade from your memory (like the second paragraph) the moment you close this letter.

You will be blessed with an adventure through the skies that many in your shoes will never have. You will visit exotic places of beauty that God himself still marvels at, you will fly machines that you will love, and ones that you will most certainly not love. Your rewards will come monetarily to be sure, but the greatest gifts that your life in the sky will bestow upon you is the people you will meet. They will come in the shape of roommates, Instructors, students, First Officers, mechanics, Captains, doctors (don’t forget your journey includes the FAA medical folks…they have a BIG say in this story), passengers, and just the everyday folks you’ll spend a brief moment with on this passage of the next forty years.

 

DC10

(A couple of my all-time favorite machines that I’ve flown during my airline career. The McDonnel Douglas DC-10.)

Boeing 767-300ER

(And the Boeing 767-300ER. I’ll have you know that I DID NOT taxi this thing into the gate that far off the centerline! We were towed in and the Tokyo tug driver porked it up…seriously!)

They will capture your heart, and they will add fun, spice, knowledge and joy to your life. Some will become life-long “brothers” (and “sisters”), and some will occupy but a scant moment in your life. I know you’re thinking, “Hell, I’ve been on this rock 23 years! Flying for 7 of the them, so don’t speak to me like I’m a total idiot old man!” I most sincerely am not. Just know that you have an almost indescribably wonderful life awaiting you (yes, you will have pain and heartache, but that’s all part of the package). This is a path that you are now just beginning, and it will be long, winding, and arduous at times. It will give you joy and stress, and it will most certainly try your commitment to your dream. Never let the dream of the prize get in the way of the love of the walk. You’ll get there. It takes time, it’s supposed to.

Love your life. Make it worth loving. It’s a long journey, enjoy every step.

Love,

BBall (from the future)

========================================

A scant few of the thousands of amazing sights I’ve seen along my journey:

SEA to SEL 17 August 2019 (4)a

(Some of the hundreds of active volcanoes along the Aleutian chain of islands.)

 

Mount Fuji (2a

(Mount Fuji, Japan.)

 

SEA to SEL 29 August ovr S China Sea 2

(Over the South China Sea, following an Airbus 380 into SEL.)

 

Sunset SEL

(Sunset over Inchon, South Korea.)

 

Checkpoint Charlie

(Circa 1989; Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin “West Germany”. This was a few months after Reagan’s famous “tear down this wall” speech and the demise of a divided Berlin. The Second Officer and I, flew up from Frankfurt on a 50 hour layover and crossed here into the old “East Berlin”. Very surrealistic to be sure.)

 

ANC MSP

(The end of a long night. Sunrise through the cloud layers nearing the end of an Anchorage to Minneapolis/St. Paul “red-eye” flight.)

 

And finally…

(A short video of departing Guatemala City bound for Los Angeles.)

Till next time…

Standard

“Ship 51”

(note: my last entry alluded to this next one as being a chronicle of my journey into the world of flight simulations…that one is pending…this one just couldn’t wait.)

In everyone’s journey through this thing we call life, we all develop relationships that please us. Normally, we think of another person when we use the word “relationship”, but in some cases that’s not completely accurate. Like other homo sapiens, we find ourselves getting that warm and fuzzy feeling over things that don’t necessarily involve a heartbeat, but nonetheless elicit emotion. From personal things like places, smells, and music to the more social entities of the spectrum like sports teams and politicians. If we like these things, we quite often refer to them as our “favorite”.

This is a piece about one of my favorites.

I know my youngest child will attest to (regarding her years spent in the saddle) the fact that she can easily look back and recall a favorite horse.  This seems to be the norm in the equine world, and for obvious reasons. Although not a rider myself, over the years I’ve listened to many a conversation between those that are, and there always seems to be an emotional connection between horse and rider…mostly good, sometimes not so good. Currently I’m reading a fascinating book about the origin of what became known in America as “the Pony Express”, and it alluded to that very thing. All of those young, courageous men were expert horsemen, and although they came from different backgrounds and histories, they seemed to have one common theme. To a man, they sang the praises of their favorite steeds. These magnificent, strong, steadfast creatures would carry them through countless miles fraught with incredible danger. From extreme weather, to wild, untamed country, to savage warriors all bent on their failure.

1

(An actual add for the Pony Express…lol)

I too, have had a favorite steed for many of my airline years, and we met up again last night. I was tasked with safely delivering over 2oo souls to a destination that lies on one of the last frontiers in America. The state of Alaska sits many miles removed from the “lower 48”, and in a lot of ways the mindset of this amazing place is as far removed as the land itself. I’ve been flying to Anchorage since the late 80’s when I was a (lowly) Flight Engineer on our massive 747s, and I’ve always been enamored with its beauty, its challenging environments, and yes, even that mindset.  On my current jet (the Boeing 757/767), in the Minneapolis/St. Paul pilot domicile, an Alaska layover is a prized trip.

I first met this favorite early in my career as a Boeing 757 pilot. Northwest Airlines was a convert to this amazing machine in the early 1980s, looking to replace our aging fleet of 727s. This new Boeing took the industry by storm for many reasons. It was big (not “wide body 747″ big, but much bigger than the 727), and it was VERY powerful with its two high-bypass turbofan  Pratt and Whitney PW2037 engines. It could haul almost 200 passengers, any and all freight that you wished to stow in its two large cargo bins, and would launch, climb unrestricted to almost 40,000’, fly non-stop to a destination five hours distant (with ample fuel reserves), land on a short runway (relatively speaking…short for a Transport Category airplane), and then stop almost on a dime. In other words, it excelled in pretty much every category that mattered. I’ve often said that Boeing did what rarely ever happens in the airliner industry…they matched the perfect airfoil to the perfect engine combination (you will see 757s with Rolls Royce engines also). Plus, they somehow managed to do this and produce a stunningly beautiful machine.

1a

(IMHO, you can just “feel” the beauty, power and grace. Photo courtesy of Kevin Whitehead.)

Like a magnificent race horse, a superb driving machine, or a timeless work of art, the lines of the Boeing 757 please each and every pilot I’ve ever met.

2

(Lifting off from Anchorage…Delta “ship” number 551NW. Photo courtesy Ashley Askew.)

So, you have to ask, “what makes this particular 757 so special?” Fair question.

The carrier that I began my “major airline” career with back in 1983, Northwest Orient Airlines, was aptly named. We were one of the first airlines to serve a myriad of destinations in Asia immediately following the Second World War. Simply speaking, they became one of THE dominant carriers in the Far East, so much so that they began serving many “smaller” destinations from their Tokyo Narita airport hub. They even had a small pilot base in Guam for a few years flying Boeing 727s. In those days, we did a rather large amount of “south” flying from Tokyo Narita, to include Saipan, Guam, Palau, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila and a host of other cities. Shortly after the 757 became part of our fleet, they realized that it was the perfect aircraft to do this type of Asia “short to medium haul” flights. Their idea was to essentially put a certain number of 757s in Tokyo permanently, fly them on the “south” trips and rotate the pilots through on a monthly 12-day trip.

We would dead-head from the USA (usually Minneapolis/St. Paul) to Tokyo, spend the next week and a half flying to all those wonderful destinations with every other night in Tokyo, then dead-head home at the end of our trip. Work a mere 12 days a month you say? Spend many of your layovers on the beaches of Guam/Saipan/Palau or in the exotic worlds of Hong Kong or Bangkok you say? What’s the problem…sign me up!

Back then, Northwest had two versions of the Boeing 757. The “55 series”, and the newer “56 series”, which was the pool of jets that they pulled the “Asia birds” from. And that’s where we first flew together. The date was over 2 decades ago, an we’ve crossed paths many times. Her airline name (or FAA registration as it were) is “N5651NW” (or “ship” 551NW). (Pause to say, “Sorry to all you “social justice warriors”, but sometimes actual guys refer to boats, cars, and yes, even airplanes in the feminine vernacular…if you’re offended…email me your address, and I’ll send you a balloon…or a coloring book…your choice.”)

3

(When I first met N5651NW, or “ship 51”, this is how she looked…we at NWA called it the “bowling shoe” paint job. Photo courtesy of Bruce Leibowski.)

Over the last 22 years, sitting in the left seat of the 757, I’ve seen them all. From the jet that just won’t seem to stay in “trim” for best fuel efficiency (aileron, elevator and rudder…yes….we DO actually hand fly these jets, and the smart aviator makes sure it’s trimmed correctly before engaging the autopilot), to the jet that ALWAYS seems to have some sort of niggling “issue”. Things the likes of a lavatory that doesn’t work right…comm radios that always seem full of static, fuel imbalances that need constant attention, and all the way down to the ones that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make a smooth landing. (Did Boeing make that one landing gear an inch longer than the other one? Just kidding…that would never happen.)

4

(“51” just touching down. How can I tell? The wing spoilers have deployed, and the engines have begun the process of “reversing”…not really the best of techniques to do that with the nose off the ground…a tail strike is a HUGE no-no in the airliner world. Photo courtesy of Joey Collura.)

Not “my” jet. She’s perfect. Really. I’ve flown this particular jet on many, many flights over the last two decades, and I’ve NEVER…not once…NEVER had an issue with her.

Side note: I’ve heard over the years to NEVER buy a car/truck, etc. that was built on a Friday or a Monday. The Friday worker can’t wait to be done with their shift anticipating the freedom of the weekend, and the Monday employee is maybe a wee bit “bruised” from said weekend of freedom. I would offer that if I took the time to research it, I would find that “51” was finished on a Wednesday. A day that the sun shone brightly high in a clear blue Everett, Washington sky. A day when the air was sweet, the robins sang, the daffodils bloomed, and all was right with the world. I’ll stop there….my “unicorns and Skittles” metaphor would’ve been a bit much.

A bit over a decade ago, Northwest merged with Delta airlines, and all of our birds now sport new paint. She may not have the famous “red rudder” of NWA, but to me she’s just as beautiful.

5

(These days, “51” looks gorgeous with the new paint scheme, and her new fuel efficient blended winglets. Photo courtesy of Tamas Kolos-Lakatos)

So, I flew her again last night from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Anchorage. More accurately, John R. (the First Officer) flew her, and I assumed the role of “PM” (or what we call Pilot Monitoring). Basically, that means that I do pretty much EVERYTHING other than fly the jet, and on the next leg, we switch and I do the flying. This is standard protocol at most all airlines.

On this leg though I was to do the enroute paperwork, keep track of the destination/alternate weather, also keep track of the enroute weather (finding smooth air is paramount), talk on the radios (although over the vastness of western Canada there isn’t much talking taking place…New York’s Kennedy it’s not), continually check fuel and navigation accuracy, and tons of other things that are required to get a 250,000 pound hunk of metal and fuel to 38,000 feet and 2500 miles down the road. Also, as the Captain, I’m tasked with keeping track of any maintenance issues we have with the jet. Once again, as “51” has been for the last 22 years, she was flawless.

We took off at very close to our maximum allowable take-off gross weight, on a snowy, frigid Minnesota night, and climbed immediately to FL340 (or 34,000’…best initial altitude for speed/fuel burn/and turbulence).  Over our first checkpoint of Fargo, ND, we were already 4 minutes ahead of the flight plan ETA numbers and had more fuel than anticipated. She clearly had her head, was breathing strong, and galloping like the amazing mount that I had seen many times before. She knew I was going to need her again this night, and she was ready.

6

(“51” at the moment of liftoff.  20,000 pounds of thrust per engine at full power. Photo courtesy of Matthew Wallman.)

The ride became a bit bumpy over Regina, so I asked her to take us higher, and she easily complied. She was still early on the time and up on the fuel over the next checkpoint, but I wasn’t surprised. She was feeling her oats, and I was once again trusting her from my cockpit “saddle”. It was as if she was saying to me, “I got this Captain, you relax…we’ve done this before. Remember that night over Siapan in the typhoon? I didn’t let you down then, and I won’t let you down now.”

Edmonton slipped by, and I could see the glow of it’s lights below the white, snowy overcast…on she purred. Later, when Fort St. Johns was behind us, we were still ahead on our flight plan time, and up on the fuel. After another hour over the black vastness of the Canadian territories, Whitehorse, Yukon appeared at our 1 o’clock position. Whitehorse is an approved “Alternate Airport” in case things go bad for us, and tonight it would’ve been a challenge with low clouds, gusty winds and blowing snow…I was ready if we had to “pull the plug” and land there (due to things like a medical emergency, etc.…those things do happen on long flights), and I knew she was as ready to tackle Whitehorse as I was.

Passing Juneau, back in United States airspace and just over an hour to go before Anchorage. We’re now over the largest of the countless mountain ranges on our route (up to 19,000’ peaks…not to be taken lightly), but if one of our engines decides it’s had enough, could she keep us above the jagged tops? The books say she can, and in my heart, I know she would…it would be a struggle, and we would have to be at our best, but John, I and “51” are confident. I’m always on “high alert” over this potentially dangerous terrain, but in a Boeing product, and in this bird particularly, I sit comfortable feeling the rhythmic rumble of her strength and listen to her run her race with practiced ears.

7

(Inside of an hour from Anchorage, those dots are peaks, and the numbers are the elevations…not for the faint of heart)

We glide into Anchorage through some rather ugly turbulence, but she’s taken this kind of abuse before, shakes it off, and continues her gallop inbound. The bumpy air smooths out at five thousand feet, we locate the company 737 inbound from Seattle that we are to follow on a “visual approach”, and turn a 10-mile final approach for runway 07R. The lights of Anchorage are on the nose, the full moon is bathing the surrounding mountains and the calm waters of Cook Inlet in its soft glow, and the view is almost dreamlike. I know that she now “smells the barn” and we are as good as home for the night. John does an outstanding job on the visual approach (NOT his first rodeo), and flies us to an ultra-smooth touchdown. I compliment him on his landing as we clear the runway, but I’m smiling because in the back of my mind, I’m thinking (actually KNOWING) that “she” has had a hand in it.

8a

(On final approach looking at the end of runway 07R in Anchorage with the mountains in the background. The cloud layer is obscuring the far end of the runway…the funny cloud you see sticking up is left over from a departing flight.)

Thirty minutes later, I’ve secured “51” for the two hour nap she’ll get before she’s asked to repeat the journey in the opposite direction, and I’m patiently waiting for the cabin crew to follow our passengers off the machine. Normally, I do this for one reason; but tonight, I have two. One, I was told many years ago from my principal aviation mentor (my Dad) that I was to be the first one on the jet and the last one off…period. As he would say, I had signed for the machine, and am ultimately responsible for it (and the safety of the crew and passengers), until everyone is off the jet. But tonight, I have my number two reason. I want a moment alone with her as I step through the 2L door onto the jetway. I want a moment to pat her on the cold metal skin, feel her now still, quiet strength and give a silent “thank you old friend” to an inanimate object that has been something far more than that for many years.

“Thank you 51. The day we both go out to pasture, will be a grand day indeed. We’ve both more than earned it. I hope we cross trails again before that days comes. Good night old friend…sleep well, for your journey is not quite done.”

9

(Photo courtesy Josh Frizzell.)

 

Standard

Getting Off the X

Move! Just Move…

Interesting fact. More people are injured and killed in disasters like earthquakes, fires, floods, and yes, even catastrophic aircraft evacuations, not because they did the wrong thing, but because they did nothing. The military calls it “getting off the X”, and my lovely wife Debie and I very recently did just that. Not that packing up and moving 1700 miles across the heartland of America solves all of life’s problems, but in our case, it was the right thing to do at the right time in our lives.

Deb’s health issues (of which, she’s kicking major assage, and to the amazement of her doctors, is markedly improving), and our general disdain of all things winter, helped us immensely in our decision. We found that the cold (nee frigid) climes of the Wisconsin winters were a huge detriment to our physical, and mental well-beings. Funny thing, when you’re younger (20s-30s) and you slip and bust your arse on the ice, you laugh, but more importantly, you hope that your buddy didn’t get it on video thus making you the next idiot gone viral on Al Gore’s internet. However, the longer in the tooth you find yourself, the worse that kind of thing becomes. You slip, crack your head (or worse), and the next thing you know, you’re in the E.R., or prone waiting for a hip to heal. Add infection to age, and you can find yourself on a cloud, in front of a pearly gate talking to a dude named Peter. Suffice to say, it took us more than two decades to have it, but our epiphany was that we are simply NOT fans of the long, dark, cold winters above the Mason/Dixon line.

a4

(Our farm during the dog days of winter…as taken from my friend Pat’s J-3 Cub)

a1

(Pat and I at “work” a few weeks ago. MSP bound for Anchorage.)

So, we “got off the X”. More accurately, we left the backwoods of Wisconsin, for the sun-drenched city of Phoenix, Arizona. Needless to say, it was not an easy thing to accomplish for many reasons. Leaving friends and family was difficult, and getting a 20-acre horse, hobby farm “strack”, packed, marketed, sold, and in your rear-view mirror was nothing short of a monumental feat! Rest assured, Debie deserves ALL of the credit…the woman is simply amazing. I’m sure that had old “Ike” Eisenhower (and his brain trust of WWII generals) been privy to all the logistics involved in our move, they would’ve been wishing for something as easy as “Overlord” and the invasion of “Festung Europa”. I was happy to do my part (OK, I bitched and whined a lot, but nevertheless), I logged quality time on the mower/weed eater, in the dirt of the landscaping, behind the power washer, and in the ugly realm of heaving the refuse of 12 years of life into one of the THREE roll-off dumpsters we had delivered…and I won’t sugar coat it…it sucked. Mix in probably the busiest flying summer of my life (read me being out of town a lot), and it made for quite the crap-laden last many months.

a10

(Pretty sure these fellas were NOT singing my praises when moving my BIG gun safe.)

a9

(A few hours away from the actual launch for Phoenix. The end of MONTHS of effort)

But all that has changed now.

a2

a7

(Out walking Carson one morning, looked up to see this…ANOTHER bright blue sky, and some folks enjoying life. Hehe…and it was snowing back in Wisconsin…sorry, just saying.)

We moved into our new crib about three weeks past, and are loving every minute of it. We revel in the SINGLE LEVEL floor plan, love all the windows showcasing the (soul lifting) bright sunshine, and even have a huge hole in the backyard that will soon house a beautiful pool/spa. My plan calls for yours truly to float around in it like an old, pale, piece of sea-going jetsam (I have my eye on a unicorn floaty that was seen at Walmart as my main vessel of choice…the “U.S.S. BBall” as it were). Couple all of this with the excitement of exploring and learning about one of the most intriguing States in our Union, and we’re firmly in our happy place.

a11

(My new favorite dude…the guy making my “cement pond”.)

However, all of this paradise is not free. As the old saying goes, “if you’re going to dance, you gotta pay the fiddler”, and two of the small prices to pay, can be broken down into two distinctly different categories. Time and people.

I will indeed find myself back on the roller-coaster ride of “commuting” to my career. Long ago, in the first decade of my airline life, I chose to live in a city that was not one of the pilot domiciles chosen by Northwest Airlines. A pilot base in Little Rock, Arkansas (and later, when I moved to Dallas/Ft. Worth) were not part of their global business strategy, so I would have to find a way to show up in my base (first Minneapolis, then Boston and later Detroit) on the right day, at the right time. I would often leave a day early on many of my trips, ride the cockpit jumpseat (or “First Observers” seat as the FAA calls it…some really hilarious yarns about that someday), or if I was lucky, get a seat back in the cabin with the real folks. Going to work a day early sucked, but far worse was not being able to get home on the last day of your trip (or “Rotation” as Delta calls it). Another night in a hotel room, when heart and mind are miles away with loved ones, is not an optimal reading on the happy meter. However now, sensing I have but a mere 18 months before retirement, I’m pretty sure I can gut it out, and take whining about more airplane rides over shoveling snow quite easily.

1

(NOT the most comfortable seat in the house…but sometimes the view is rather awesome.)

The other price to pony up comes in a single word…humanity. Deb and I have been living away from the hustle and bustle of the city for many years now, and moving headlong back into a neighborhood, and a city of almost 2 million people, will take a bit of getting used to. So far, we’ve found that we truly LOVE the convenience of it all, but things like traffic (and moronic things like Homeowners Associations…don’t get me started), can tax even the most mild-mannered of “seniors” like myself. We’ll see how it goes. I do miss the quiet and solitude of the woods, but each yearly trip around the sun, when the many months of snow falling from a lead grey sky would begin, I would quickly find myself ready to trade peace and serenity for just about ANYWHERE warm. Our only real option, was for me to bid “beach destinations” (like Palau) for my monthly trip, and have Deb accompany me to work.

a5

A4

A3

(Some shots suffering from another horrible Palau layover. Sadly, those days are gone, for my airline no longer serves this heavenly place. For us line pilots, the term “code share” make us see red.)

One final thought about “here” as opposed to “there”. The internet.

When we lived in the backwoods of Paul Bunyon and Babe, we had an “OK” internet hook up…not bad, but certainly not great. But here in civilization, we have this wonderful invention called a “fiber optic” connection (did Al Gore invent that too?). It now literally takes minutes, to download things that used to take hours. So what you say? Well, it’s actually quite a big deal (and one that’s truly vital) for a particular thing on my list of hobbies.

a3

(The “backwoods” during the NOT cold days…of which, there were not enough.)

Those that suffer with my acquaintance, know that I dearly love to spend time with my lovely wife, and incredible children (and now two beautiful grandchildren). They know I  love to play golf (badly I might add), love to shoot lots of different types of weapons from my collection (WAY not politically correct nowadays), love to read about the human history of this amazing planet, , and have been enamored for years with one more thing.

Hello, my name is Bill, and I’m a “flight simulations” junkie…there, I said it.

Screen_191102_170659

(Here’s a picture of me landing an F-16C at Creech AFB, NV…well, in my virtual world, I’m landing a Viper in Nevada…lol)

Screen_191102_170603

(The HUD view from within the machine. On localizer, on glideslope, on speed I might add…lol.)

I love to fly virtual flying machines, in virtual times/places, against and with virtual (and non-virtual) friends and foes, on the not virtual computer, on Al Gore’s internet. And have for the last 20+ years.

(and thus, the subject of my next “Logbook”)…

 

‘till then.

Standard