My captain’s upgrade bid opportunity with Northwest Airlink came up in November 1995. That, however, was to be the captain of Jetstream 3100, referred to in our pilot group with little affection as the “Junkstream.” Those aircraft in our fleet were beat to hell and the trips all sucked. No thanks, says me! My chance to bid captain on the Saab 340 that I’d been flying since I started at the company came up the following spring. Yet, my prime bid for vacation came out at the same time. Unwittingly, the idiots at crew scheduling had approved my sweetheart choice of two weeks back-to-back beginning on July 5th! If you were a pilot at a regional airline in those days, that alone could trigger an orgasm. When I showed it to the guys in the crashpad they all laughed, and then immediately began a group scheme to preserve and protect my bid.
First off, I needed to NOT bid for captain. Second I needed to not interact with scheduling for any reason- just lay low and be a good boy. Additionally, no one outside of our CID crashpad could know about this award. Finally, I had to sit tight and watch a whole bunch of pilots that I was senior to go to captain ahead of me. The result was that within four months I was the number 2 first officer in the whole company and number 1 in MSP.
A funny trend then took place. Tim Hughes, who was the senior captain at CID and the leader in this conspiracy, had been bidding with me nearly all year. He was also an IOE (Initial Operating Experience) check airman in the Saab. So, sometimes he had to go and fly with newbee captains. When he did that, the company usually stuck me with some newly minted captain out of the southern system. It was sometimes fun but on one occasion I needed to drop the hammer on one of these egos.
Tim and I flew up to MSP on our first leg of the day then he had to split to do his IOE dance. Our next scheduled leg was to Duluth, also known as “Scrub Dog.” It was early May, and the weather had been unseasonably warm. But my look at the weather that morning showed a quick moving cold front sweeping down out of Canada. There was a lot of moisture in the air, and that spelled nasty for Scrub Dog. I hadn’t met the new guy yet as he was not one of our northern pilots. He was born and minted in MEM and the southern system. Worse yet was the fact that the newly earned fourth stripe had really inflated this person’s ego.
I’d remained in the cockpit finishing my paperwork when captain newly-minted stomped aboard. He flopped into his seat, looked at me, scowled and said,
“Here’s my rules for first officers…”
Gee… no hand shake… no hello? Gosh.
As he was uttering the old worn out “Flaps up, gear up, shut up,” line I unbuckled, nabbed my flight bag and got out of my seat. I’m not God’s gift to aviation, and I had always been a really good guy to trip with. Sense of humor and clear focus on the job and procedures- but at age 39, I was a good deal more mature than nearly all of the other FOs and some of the captains at the company. Plus, this was my second airline… I wasn’t gonna take that sort of crap from anyone.
“See ya’…” I said calmly.
“Where, ya’ goin’?” he said with a note of surprise.
“I’m fatigued,” I replied, “thirty seconds and I’m tired of your shit already.”
“Wait, wait…” he chirped, “ya’ don’t have to be like…”
Now it was time to lay out some facts for this new captain from the tropical southlands.
“You probably haven’t looked at the weather up in Duluth, and there’s no way I’m flyin’ into that shit this morning with the likes of you.”
“Hey, hey, “ he waved his printed paperwork, “I just got off my flight in from Memphis and I have it right here. Look… maybe we got off on the wrong foot.”
“Yeah, and it’s in your mouth. Now you’ve got mine in yer’ ass.” I decided that maybe this guy was worth keeping if I could deflate his head enough to allow for room in the cockpit. “Look at your sonority number and look at mine. I’m nearly a full year ahead of you. That means that I’ve been flying around in this shit up here for a long time. They had you all set up to go into the worst of it today with me, but you gotta pull that “my rules for FOs” bullshit on me. So now I’m gonna leave and they’ll replace me with someone new who is sitting on reserve. Get it?”
That took the wind out of those sails and we started to communicate. He offered to take the leg up to Scrub Dog and I said I’d take the leg back to Minni. We made it in and out in unsettled weather then on the climb out the shit hit us. I was flying and we started to get thunder ice. I knew which way the stuff was moving and our normal route to the southwest was just not gonna cut it. Then we hit a large area of turbulence just as we contacted MSP approach there was a “woosh” as we ran through a brief area of severe ice that turned to moderate. I called for the boots to “continuous” and he asked about “bridging.” I told him that was myth and give me “continuous” which he did, then the radar went pure red. Of course it wasn’t heavy rain, it was the raydome iced over- which happened on the Saab sometimes. Now it was a matter of just knowing the pattern of the storm’s movement. I called ATC and told them about the icing and asked for a turn to about a 135 heading. He cleared me for that, plus “as needed” and asked to let him know when we were in the clear. It only took about the longest five minutes or so in that new captain’s career before we popped out of the shit. I had to ask him to tell approach and they had some Northwest flights follow our lead. Captain ego was pretty much puckered in his seat.
We came into Minni from the east and landed just fine. I asked how he liked flying in the northern system?
“I ain’t never seen notnin’ like that before?” he shook his head.
“Don’t worry,” I told him politely, “it can get worse.”
We flew together for three more trips before I hit my go-home day. He instantly mellowed out and was a darned good pilot and well on his way to being a good captain. However, he did tell me that he was bidding back into the southern system right away.
Oh… “and what about the vacation bid?” you may ask. Well, that’s another story.
Get Wes' aviation spy thriller novel "Invisible Evil" HERE
|My 1977 neoprene book bag.|
Not in bad shape after all these years.
|I decided to make one just for this|
blog post.Yes, it flew...
I still got it, eh.
|Check out my Hat trick of best sellers HERE|
catch them on e-book ...Here!
|Former DOT Secretary and Congressman from California Norm Mineta (Right)|
who is a legend, and Me, the guy who has never done anything worthwhile (Left).
The day before I got a text from my buddy, fellow ERAU alumnis and author Bob Brantner. He had spoken to me a few weeks earlier asking if I wanted to attend the annual Wright Memorial dinner with him and his dad, former DOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta- who very much prefers to simply be called "Norm." It would be a "black-tie" event and the tickets were $250... each. Of course I could hand out a few business cards and deduct the ticket cost, but that term "black-tie" was like scratching a blackboard to me (for those of you who do not recall what a blackboard is, the reference used here indicates a very annoying noise that causes a shiver to run up your spine. - Advice from a boomer to the generation know-it-all, yet experienced nothing). My normal formal wardrobe involves jeans, sneakers and a CCM Hockey T-shirt. I suggest to Bob that I'd probably pass on the offer. On Thursday morning, however, he hit me with a text saying that his dad had bought six tickets to the event and two people had dropped out, so now I had a free seat and if need be, just a suit and tie would be fine. I said I'd have to contact Teresa and see what she had scheduled for Friday.
Texting my wife I outlined the situation. Now, she has been working as an FAA contractor at several different companies since 1990... she replied, "NORM! You GOTTA GO!!!" I responded that I did not have tux. She fired back, "It's Norm Mineta. RENT ONE!" Then a moment later she sent another message saying that I did to have a tux- "Look in your armour." I went to the armour and began sliding back the "good shirts," ties and dozen hockey jerseys all of which were waiting for countless years steeped in the atmosphere of cedar wood. There against the back wall was a single hanger with a plastic bag-draped item that had not been disturbed since New Years Eve 1999... it was my long forgotten tux that was older than both of our children.
Of course the first question was... does it still fit? Pulling it out, the pants, jacket and shirt amazingly still fit. In fact the pants were slightly large. Examining the jacket closely I found one small moth hole on the sleeve so tiny that no one would notice. Next I dug out the shoes... the damned things fit too! My only issue was that the shirt collar was too small to button. The tie would hide that. I was in business and I quickly texted Bob and told him to count me in.
Friday morning I decided to get a start by putting some badly needed polish on the shoes. Opening the can I found what had once been the polish was now dried up and cracked, looking very much like a lunar sample that had just been re-opened after a half century. Additionally I found that I did not have a plain white T-shirt! Every shirt that I had was garnished with some sort of block writing or insane image. It was sure bet that people looking at the front of my tux shirt would be able to read "WKRP in Cincinnati" in red letters right through it! It struck me that I was a long way from my days as a corporate pilot where the shoes were shined and the ties were ironed. Thus it was a dash to Walmart. Now... just try to find a package with one, size L mens crew neck T-shirt, in that place. All that was on the shelf was the packages of 8 or 6 and most were size 3XL... which I guess was the hottest seller at Walmart along with the wife-beater shirt because they had plenty of them. Finally, after strolling around a bit and digging up to my elbows I found a pack of two! The shoe polish was easy, but as I picked up the can I heard one of the other shoppers mumble, "What the hell do ya' use that for?" Apparently our wardrobe normality was similar.
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That afternoon with freshly polished shoes I donned my tux which felt happy to finally be out of the armour. Yet I considered that I'd be way more comfortable in my hockey gear, but had hope that I may somehow blend in with the black-tie crowd. Teresa was, as always, working from home on Friday as I stepped out of our room and into the living room to show her how I looked and with the hope that she'd catch any glaring errors. Of course since she was working from home, I was pretty much invisible. I cleared my throat to get her attention. She looked over, smiled slightly and twinkled her fingers to indicate either "good bye," or "get lost" I'm never sure which.
|To get a signed/personalized copy|
click HERE to get the e-book
Driving to meet the rest of the party I stopped at a red light and the guy next to me looked over as if to say, "humph... a waiter." Then navigating to Norm's house, my amazing Google navigation gave me a last moment wrong turn and I found myself in the driveway of a dilapidated country house with two disabled rusting pickup trucks and a mountain of trash in the year. The rusting screen door had a hand-scrolled sign hanging on it that read "BEWAR OF DOG."
I knew that Norm was a down to earth sort of guy, but that could not be his house. A quick call to Bob got me turned back in the right direction and soon I joined the Mineta team. In the gang, which was led by Norm Mineta, were Bob, who was directing activities, plus Patrick McCarthy, Kaylee Downen-Pizzonia, and Don Knight.
|The Mineta gang (L to R) Norm Mineta, Patrick McCarthy,|
Kaylee Downen-Pizzonia, Bob Brantner, Don Knight, Me.
|The great Mark Usciak|
and some other guy...
Of course plenty of pictures were taken. The only problem was that they had the ball room bathed in burning blue light- so we all looked purple. My later solution was to transform my photos into gray scale.
Mike Collins got this year's Wright trophy award and he spoke to the crowd. In typical Mike Collins fashion his plain-spoken, humor-laced speech had us all in the palm of his hand. I met General Collins for the first time last summer at Spacefest. I got the chance to tell him that his book, "Carrying the Fire" was what inspired me to become a writer, and later the author of more than two dozen books and counting. In the summer of 1977 as I was preparing to head off to Embry-Riddle and become a professional pilot, I read his book cover-to-cover. I said to myself, "Gee... the guy who wrote this is an astronaut and a pilot. If he can write, I can too." For some reason that solidified my deep belief that you don't have to do just one thing in life.
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For an e-book click HERE
Unlike my friends Bob and Mark, who often attend black-tie events, for me, the Polack kid from the wrong side of the Saginaw River, such is extremely rare. I have to thank Bob and especially Norm for this chance for me to mingle among aviation's elite. As I repacked my tux this evening I told my wife I would need a new shirt for it. She just smiled and said, "Whenever you get invited to another tux event, we'll get you a new shirt," we were both certain it'll not be anytime soon.
|Ummm... yeah... these are my books... so far anyhow.|
|Yes... that pen rest is sitting on a hockey puck. Those pen holders|
are always too light weight, so I glued mine to a puck. Works great.