Sunday

TISSUE! TISSUE!


Sunday morning and I had fixed breakfast for my three beautiful girls. There they sat at our breakfast bar, still in their night clothes, happily eating away; right to left in order- mommy, oldest daughter and youngest daughter.  In the background the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay sparkling outside of the windows, it was a scene of pure beauty and happiness.

I thought to myself that this must be an illusion, a dream and any moment I was going to snap awake and find myself back in the early 1980s, living in a hovel like a hermit trying desperately to work my way through college. That thought often haunts me because surely a slob like me should never have attained this level of happiness- it is simply against the laws of nature. Indeed, I could very likely be having a sweet dream.

Then, suddenly, my six-year-old snorts, sniffs and abruptly reaches up from her breakfast wiggling her tiny fingers and demands, “Tissue! Tissue!”


Nope- this is reality, because an illusion would not have the snot.   

Tuesday

I SMILED FOR THREE MONTHS


In aviation careers we have a saying that there are some people who were born on second and think that they hit a double. In my case I was born in the dugout and expected to be hit with a stray bat.

After a stumbling start at Embry-Riddle I went onto the path of working my way through school- in for one semester and out for two or three or more. In the autumn of 1979 I was “out” of school and had to find a job to earn enough money to get back in. I got very lucky and obtained work at hangar 6, Airflite and Serve-A-Plane at Saginaw’s Tri-City Airport (MBS) which was less than a mile from my house. Most of my job consisted of emptying trash cans, sweeping floors and walking around the hangar with a bucket of Stoddard Solvent and a mop and mopping up little oil blotches from the floor. Indeed I was starting at the bottom of the aviation business, the very cold concrete bottom.

I managed, however, to grab extra bucks by cleaning aircraft and my biggest customer was Dow Corning and their Falcon Jet and King Air 200. Often they had off-hour turn-arounds, so the pilots had my home phone number and they could just call and I would meet them at Hangar 6 at whatever hour they may need me.
Turning around a corporate aircraft was not hard labor. Normally it meant taking a trash bag and gathering a few coffee cups out of the cabin, some napkins and perhaps a candy wrapper or two. Then the seats got whisk-broomed, the seatbelts got crossed and if required a bit of hand-vacuuming was done. All of that was accomplished while the first officer dashed inside and refreshed the coffee pot and the captain called in his flight-plan. On occasion a waiting passenger needed to be greeted, but otherwise it was quite a simple process.
Just prior to punching the clock and heading home one evening, I was told that Dow Corning had requested a turn-around between 11:00 and 11:30 that night and I was supposed to be there to meet the King Air. So, like always, I was there a half hour early and punched in, thus gaining an extra 30 minutes of pay while I waited. In corporate aviation, having services ready early is considered a very good thing, so no one ever complained about me scarfing up an extra half hour of pay on every turn-around. I gathered up my stuff, started a fresh pot of coffee for the pilots and then took a stroll out into the hangar.
The big hangar door was shut tight and the place was packed with aircraft, as usual, so it was a way more fun for me to hang out there than in the lobby. I walked over to Corning’s Falcon 10 and popped open the cabin door. As casually as I would slip into an easy chair I slid into the right seat of the 10. I liked to spend time in there just studying the panel. Even when they did lock the bird it didn’t keep me out because I had the key; so I made pals with N592DC, Dow Corning’s Falcon 10.
I was in the cockpit for just a few minutes when suddenly I heard a voice over my shoulder, “When you get done flying this thing, can you come out and turn us?” It was Don Hebert, Dow Corning’s chief pilot. Apparently sitting in the Falcon 10 I could not hear the King Air pull up on the ramp. I laughed and started to get out of the seat. Looking at Don I asked, “How’d you like to have an extra left nut?” He laughed and exclaimed, “What?” I replied, “I’d give my left nut to fly this thing.” Don laughed again as he gave me a pat on the back as I headed toward the ramp with my trash bag and whisk broom in hand. I added, “That seat is exactly the same shape as my ass.”
It only took me about four minutes to get the King Air in shape and ready to go again. As I climbed out Don met me on the ramp and told me that the Falcon 10 was going in for an “A” inspection the next week and when it was done, they would have to take it for a test flight. He said that if I wanted to, I could ride along in the jumpseat. Of course Don, like everyone else at Hangar 6, knew that I was working my way through Embry-Riddle toward a pilot’s career and I’m sure he knew what a ride in the nose of the 10 would mean to me. I gleefully agreed, as the first officer dashed past and thanked me for starting the coffee for them. I went back into the hangar and those guys blasted off.
Actually I helped do the “A” inspection the following week. It was, as inspections go, a fairly minor task in itself. The only complex part was that Dow Corning had ordered a set of taxi lights to be installed in the aircraft’s nose. When it was over Don walked up to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Are you ready to go my friend?” he asked. I excitedly said that I had to go and tell Tim, the hangar ram-rod, that I was going and then punch-out on the time-clock. Sprinting to Tim’s office I told him that the 10 was ready to fly and I was going to punch-out and take the jump-seat. We’d discussed my taking the flight earlier that morning and so he just mumbled, “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” then he looked up from his work and asked, “Are you still on the clock for 92DC right now?” I replied that I was and he told me not to bother to punch out. They were gonna pay for my ride. Considering that Airflite and Serve-A-Plane was billing the customer $18 an hour for my services and my cut was $2.50 an hour I’m sure it was not a losing venture for my employer.
By the time I got back to the aircraft, Don and his first officer Gary Dice were already strapped in and Dave, the lead mechanic on the inspection, was waiting for me; it was the fourth day of December, 1979. Gary asked if I knew how to get out the jump seat, but he was too late- I was already setting it up. On the Falcon 10, the jumpseat is also the toilet, or the toilet is also the jump seat; depending on how you wanna look at it. You simply pull out the potty and then unfold the seat over top of it. Don, speaking over his shoulder demonstrated how to start the engines. Being a Cessna pilot I was amazed at how much easier it was to start a Falcon Jet. Gary pulled out a small checklist and ran it quickly. Then flipped down the sun visor where the performance chart was pasted and got the numbers. They set the bugs and we were rolling.
Just as casually as can be we taxied to the end of Runway 5 and blasted off. Gary requested a block altitude between 12,000 and 14,000 feet over Saginaw Bay which was instantly approved by ATC as we rocketed out over the water. The guys checked a few systems, noted a sluggish HSI and I sat there with my eyes the size of pie plates. As they talked to Dave about the HSI it was the first time that I noticed that Dave was out of his seat and kneeling on the cabin floor behind me. Then just out of nowhere, Dave baited the guys by saying, “Hey, you guys never do anything crazy, do ya’?” Don replied, “Naaa, we’re a couple of straight arrows.” And Gary chimed in, “Yeah, we’d never do anything like this!” and he shoved the throttles forward, pointed the nose a few degrees down and then pulled back up and commanded the aircraft into the smoothest aileron roll anyone could want. As we leveled out again the two pilots were giggling like kids and Dave was laughing out loud; I was still sitting there with my eyes as wide as pie plates. Then it struck me that in that roll, at one point, Dave was kneeling on the ceiling.
After a few more items were checked we headed back to the airport. I was amazed at how easily the Falcon 10 flew. It simply cruised along as steady as a can be and as we rolled onto final the guys brought her home in an effortless approach and landing. While we taxied in I made a comment about how stable the 10 seemed to be and Don replied that it was the most stable jet on approach that he had ever flown next to the Saberliner.
Walking across the ramp I found myself smiling. I had just been given a taste of what my future may be like. After months of mopping hangar floors, emptying trash cans, washing airplanes and bashing my brains out against the university, I finally saw the reality of where I could go if I wanted to, if I worked hard enough, if I kept my eye on my primary goal of finishing what I had started at Embry-Riddle and if I just did not give up. It was real and it was within my ability. I smiled for the rest of the day, I smiled for the rest of the week and I smiled for the next three months. A few years later I returned to hangar 6 during a summer out of college to work on Falcon Jets as a mechanic under the shop certificate- I smiled all summer long.
Eighteen years almost to the day after that jumpseat ride in 592DC, I had my degree from Embry-Riddle and all of my ratings as well as two furloughs under my belt and my fill of airline piloting. After a protracted period of being “between pilot jobs” I happened to stumble upon an opportunity to fly for a small fractional outfit. The best part being that they had Falcon Jets! After a brief interview they asked me to come in the following day and fly the Falcon 10 to see if I had what they were looking for. That morning I walked out to the 10 and looked at her like she was an old friend. I smiled that same smile I had back in 1979 and eased into the right seat. I’d never flown a Falcon Jet before, but I felt as if had hundreds of hours in one- the seat was the exact same shape as my ass. It was the most “at home” I had ever been in a new aircraft. I already knew every system, I had already dropped every panel and been up inside every inch of one of these birds when I worked as a mechanic on them back at hangar 6. During the flight I did the requested maneuvers with ease and then did three fine takeoffs and landings- Don and Gary would have been proud of me. That evening they called me and asked me to do the same thing the next day in the Falcon 20 and the day after that I was hired and had my first trip in the 20 and later in the 10. The bumps and turns in the aviation business had put me where I wanted to be and every time I flew one of those Falcon Jets, I smiled… I just couldn’t help myself.