May 20, 2010

The Upgrade!

It was a dream come true.

After countless years flying small, propeller driven aircraft, it was finally time to become a "real" pilot. The steam gauges of all those slow, aging, oil-stained workhorses would be a distant memory.

Granted, there wouldn't be any coveted left-seat flying for a while. The Upgrade was more in the form of pay and machine than status, per se. But that damned BDL or MHT turn would be history. Thank God for that. He wouldn't have to deal with the trouble of being kept low, in the clouds, while those jet-jockeys made smooth, sweet contrails high in the flight levels.

This was it. Even the cliche "the sky is the limit" seemed romantic at this point.

And so, ground school began in earnest deep within a large building next to the Toronto Pearson airport. The book work was menial but clearly necessary for such an amazingly complex airplane. The hours spent in the E175 full motion simulator tested the mettle of all those being tested. And after countless fake emergencies, gradually improved procedural efficiency, and a few moments of tearful doubt, it was time to fly.

The preflight was complete, the flight plan was loaded into the flight management computer with slightly trembling fingertips, and the speeds were calculated...

Mach .62!? "What is that, like 230 knots at Fl310?" A nod from the captain.
"Not much faster than that ole' Beech 1900 you came from, eh?"

"Well, the tailwind will help...and the true airspeed isn't exactly the same, but...." There is an urge to increase that Cost Index above.....what was it again? Do we even have one?

"Gotta save the gas somehow. How else can we stand a chance of making money?"

"That's pretty lame, I must admit."

Meanwhile, the company check airman, sitting in the jump seat, monitoring the first week or so of real line-pilot action, is pretending not to listen...

"Company only lets us speed up if ATC asks us to go faster. As you can imagine, they have trouble sequencing us at that speed....then we call dispatch and let them know."

"Wow....they wouldn't notice if we just bumped it up a notch, would they? To, say, something a little more jet-like?"

"....You've got a lot to learn, kid." He and the check airman chuckles.

Time to get this show on the road.

Till next time, which may be a few weeks....


May 2, 2010

For better or worse

I love my job, and try to come to work everyday to enthusiastically do a better job than I did yesterday. At some point I'll get old and stop caring, but that is a long way over a distant horizon.

So with that in mind, I offer an example of why I can't wait to go to work and be productive and safe and make a difference, followed by another example of why I'm still learning (aka "young and stupid"):

The rides have been decent in my area lately, even with some cold fronts moving through. Lots of clouds and rain, but not much else to cause a stir. The altimeters have been low for weeks on end, and not having FL180 available gets tiring sometimes at the low sectors...especially when an aerial photo mission wants a block altitude from FL180-FL200 and my sector doesn't own 17000. Seriously, you can't have it.

So, I was enjoying my time at the RKA sector the other morning as the first wave of eastbound arrivals showed up around 8am. A regional jet checked in at FL350, with the standard "light chop, got anything better?"

Earlier, all the westbound departure traffic found nothing but light chop at all the westbound altitudes, so I reported that chop was everywhere today. As a few more planes showed up, I asked around, found nothing better as far as rides were concerned, but offered a lower altitude which would become available once I descended a BDL arrival.

"Descend and maintain FL290, if you like FL330 or 310, let me know, you can keep it."

Three minutes later, the RJ levels at FL310 and happily reports it to be smooth as glass. "Roger, maintain FL310."

A half hour later, most of my planes are crowding up FL310, but I'm happy that they're in smooth air not complaining too much. One of the few jets not at FL310 is an BOS bound MD-80 who hears the other reports with envy. I turn him out a little to the south to get him down to FL310 as well, paralleling some MHT and PWM traffic.

My effort is rewarded with the heartfelt, southern twang of appreciation. "Thanks, son, this is the first good ride we've had since we departed Dallas three hours back."


Later in the day, I'm back at RKA sector yet again. The rides have improved dramatically below FL320 and above FL370. Area B is short cutting alot of westbound traffic into my sector, and they are, remarkably, all below FL320 and above FL380. Some of these short cuts are given to MDW traffic, which I shake my head at since there is in-trail spacing to MDW.

The first two jets are at FL380 and holding steady at Mach .78. The sector to my north gives their MDW a short vector to the north to get the 20 miles we need, and then goes direct Jamestown, NY to follow mine. This MDW, however, is at FL320, which, as I've just noticed, has 60 knots less headwind than FL380. There is no assignable speed that will keep him 20 miles behind my two MDWs for long.

After giving this third MDW the same shortcut I mentally scolded Area B for issuing, I am now slowing this guy waaaaay down to Mach .70, and there is still an overtake. Sigh. I call Cleveland and beg for forgiveness and I get a chuckle and a "no problem" after giving them control to fix my mistake in my airspace. Luckily, Ithaca is a long way from MDW, so it's not the end of the world.

I'll try to do better next time.

Till then....