Archive for the ‘Aviation Careers’ Category

Lifestyles: The regionals

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Regional jetYou spend every free moment thinking about flying, or actually flying, or studying flying, or actually thinking about studying flying—maybe even while flying. Your hours slowly build, your certificates and ratings begin to pile up. First is the private, then the instrument, then your commercial, and your CFI. You live sparsely and spend the same, minimizing your expenditures while trying to maximize your income. You provide the best service and instruction you can, being fair to your customers and yourself, and in time collect your multiengine credentials. You make mistakes, scare yourself (and others), and learn more about flying while working as a CFI than you will for the rest of your career. Always focused, you can sense that your opportunity as an airline pilot or a charter pilot is within reach.

What will it be like?

The routine at the regionals is, in many ways, different than it is at the majors. Because the regionals feed to the hubs of their partners, they often provide a frequency of service to the smaller cities that the majors cannot match. Towns like Des Moines, Iowa; Richmond, Virginia; Albany, New York; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are the bread and butter of the regionals. The majors may bring in the occasional 737 or MD-80, but the RJ (in some variant) is king here, sometimes for as few as two flights a day, and often for as many as seven.

As a regional pilot, you will spend your days bouncing in and out of one or more hubs, connecting people to larger aircraft bound elsewhere or bringing them to a meeting or home. There are some point-to-point city pairs, but not as many as there used to be. Some cities, like Raleigh, are mini-focus cities for multiple carriers. You will typically fly trips that range from one to four days (usually three days or four), though a few are five days. You may start early in the morning or sometime after lunch. Frequently you will stick with an “AM” or a “PM” schedule, but not always. On reserve, the one day, two-leg out-and-back may turn into a six-day trip. As a line holder, you will generally fly for three to four days and be off for three to four days. Usually there is a long block of seven or as many as 10 days off somewhere in the month.

On the same day you may fly from the warm beaches of Miami to the frigid winters of Green Bay, stopping to deice, or even being forced to re-deice somewhere along the way. You will learn to deal with broken airplanes, rushed passengers and gate agents, and tired flight attendants. You will learn to eat faster than a Marine in battle, and to time your walk-around so you don’t have to stand on a ramp in the rain. You will average at least four flights a day, and  at times you will do as many as eight, and you will feel exhausted when you do.

You will learn that the names of the days no longer matter. You are on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

You will sleep in a different hotel each night, and you will learn to pack your bags efficiently and only unpack what you must. You will need a few months to figure out how to pack for yourself: winter clothes versus summer, workout attire, your iPod, and whatever personal items you deem to be critical to making life on the road just a bit easier. You will learn to pack your suitcase so that you can fit it into an overhead compartment on any airplane.

Some nights you will go to bed late and wake up all too early. On others, you will be done flying by noon and start again the next evening. You will learn by necessity how to constantly juggle your sleep patterns. There will be some nights when you sleep like a newborn baby and others where, for no explainable reason, you will not be able to sleep a wink no matter how exhausted you are. Soon, you will know where the best hidden jewels for restaurants are, and you will try to bid your schedule accordingly. At times you will forget where you are.

You will learn to maximize your time off to get as much done as possible. Laundry, dry cleaning, and errands all need to be completed ASAP on your return home. You will pay the bills, get used to your own bed again, get used to sleeping with your spouse or partner again, and finally get the lawn mowed just as your neighbors are organizing a homeowner’s intervention. Soon, you realize you are wise to have a set of clothes ready to go at home so you can swap clean and dirty in a pinch if you don’t have the time or energy to do laundry. If you commute—and odds are good that at some point you will have to—you will check the flights to get you back to work. You may need to book your hotel room for the night before or after your trip.

It is a rhythm. It isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always fun. But most of the time, it is. When you are home, you are home. There is no work, and your time is your own. And soon, you are watching your logbook fill up, and you are anticipating two more milestones: captain, and an offer from a major.—Chip Wright

How the captain earns the money

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

It is well-known that the captain makes the big bucks. Another joke is that when thegold coin first officer looks to the left, he sees the captain. When the captain looks to the left, he sees a window with a reflection of…himself.

So what is it that the captain does that the FO doesn’t that earns the captain those big bucks?

Airlines use seniority for everything, so the captain’s rank and pay really don’t mean anything other than that he or she was hired first. Even this isn’t absolute. Some FOs decide to stay in the right seat because of personal reasons, and they may actually be senior to their captain.

The pay differential is there because the captain is being paid for generally having more experience (the above example notwithstanding), and for having more responsibility. The captain and flight dispatcher are jointly responsible for the flight—but once the airplane leaves the ground, the captain becomes the final authority.

The captain makes his money not during normal operations, but during abnormal operations, when difficult decisions need to be made. The two examples that most stand out are in-flight emergencies or developments that might require a diversion, and in making a decision that could result in a cancellation.

Diversions usually result from weather, and where there is one diverting aircraft, there are usually several. This is not a big deal by itself. The diversions that become issues are the ones that arise from in-flight mechanical problems. Some of these are cut and dried. Others are not.

If the checklist calls for a diversion, then you shrug your shoulders and divert. It’s the ones that are done more on personal comfort or intuition that get tricky. The dispatcher or even the chief mechanic in charge may believe that the flight can continue, but a captain with thousands of hours in the airplane knows exactly how the airplane is supposed to sound, feel, smell and fly. If the captain—or an experienced FO for that matter—says that something isn’t right, then chances are something isn’t right.

I’ve been in similar situations during which the folks on the ground both supported me and also began to question what I was saying. Diversions are not taken lightly, because they are so expensive. This is less of an issue with weather-related diversions than the odd mechanical diversion in which the airplane may be grounded for days.

The captain also is tasked with other decision-making responsibilities that affect other groups and people. Getting extra passengers on or having to remove them because of weight issues is not an enjoyable experience, especially when you have to see the despair on their faces. I had a group of passengers who were trying to get to a wedding out of Islip, New York. Islip has short runways, and the winds on this day were heavily favoring the shortest of the short. We were over our max takeoff weight, and we had to remove some people. These folks were the unlucky chosen ones (the airline determines that order, not us), and there was a heated discussion between the agent and myself. All the pleading in the world couldn’t change the fact that we were over our weight limit. While it wasn’t by much, we were over, and we couldn’t go with everyone on board.

Someone ultimately has to make the hard choice. The worst possibility is a person who is wishy-washy or incapable of making a decision. Fortunately, that’s rare. Being the captain means being the one with the mindset of “the buck stops here.” As the old saying goes, it’s better to be alive to talk about than to be dead and unable to defend yourself.—Chip Wright

Spring and summer plans

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

As we look forward to spring and summer flying, it’s never too early to start thinking of ways to take advantage of it. Whether it’s a new rating, or a just to build confidence, there are plenty of ways to get some bang for the buck as the weather changes.

Crosswind proficiency. This is one of the skills that pilots have the most difficulty conquering, so it is also one of the skills in which most pilots have the least amount of confidence. If you fall into this category, or have a student who is struggling, make a plan to fix it. Spring is a great time to go find some gusty winds, and the safest way to do this is to find an airport with a long runway so that you can take your time getting a feel for crabbing and slipping. If you happen to be the only one in the pattern, try landing in each direction. Don’t just get comfortable doing crosswind landings when the wind is from your “favorite” direction.

As you master the skill on a long runway, start challenging yourself to touch down on a certain spot, and then start assuming a tall tree at the end of the runway. Force yourself to use not just a 50-foot tree assumption, but even a 100-foot tree. As you get more comfortable, start looking for shorter, narrower runways.

This can be a bit of a drawn-out process, but few things do more to boost your confidence than mastering crosswinds. Once you have them figured out in one airplane, transferring the skills to another is just a matter of aircraft familiarization.

 

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

A new airplane. Speaking of aircraft familiarization, consider learning to fly something different. It doesn’t have to be a faster airplane. It can be something slow, like a Piper Cub. Learning a new airplane is both challenging and fun. If you can get a taildragger endorsement, all the better!

A new rating or certificate. If you are in a position to get a new rating, great! It used to be that a multiengine rating was a relatively inexpensive add-on. That’s no longer the case. But a seaplane rating is usually fairly affordable, and seaplane flying is some of the most fun you will ever have. Seaplane schools are not always easy to find, but if you can combine it with a trip or a vacation, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. [Check the Seaplane Pilots Association directory for a list of schools.---Ed.]

The commercial certificate was probably my favorite one to get, since it’s all VFR and the maneuvers are fun. Even if you aren’t planning to use it, it might help on your insurance. But even if you have no nterest in pursuing it, get a CFI to teach you the maneuvers. They will greatly enhance your handling of the airplane and boost your confidence. Plus, they’re just “plane” fun!

Soft fields. If there is a grass field in your neck of the woods, go forth and prosper. Take an instructor with you if you haven’t been to one in a while, and if you need to call for permission or to give a heads-up, then do so. This is a skill you may never use or need, but it’s fun, and it’s a good excuse to fly. More practically, if you ever need to ditch in a field, you’re better off having some actual experience landing on grass instead of just simulating it on asphalt. [Students: Your flight school may or may not permit grass-field operations in rental aircraft. Check before you go.---Ed.]

I’m sure you can think of some other items to add to this list. Cross-country flights to places you haven’t been, for example, might be the highlight of your summer. The point is just to have a game plan, and to go into the warmer months with some goals in mind. After all, what fun is being a pilot if you don’t use it or continue to improve?—By Chip Wright

Where are they now?

Friday, January 24th, 2014

I used to fly for Comair, the Delta Connection carrier that was headquartered in Cincinnati. Delta shut Comair down in 2012, and the pilots, like the other employees, scattered about like a colony of ants looking for work. Some had seen the writing on the wall and began their search in earnest months before it happened.

I’ve written on this blog before about the importance of networking, and keeping in touch with your network. Watching some of the pilots I used to work with is proof of the validity of that concept. Watching others is proof that some of them didn’t, and should have.

A friend of mine had been a captain for a while, but only logged about 600 hours of PIC time. He knew he wasn’t going to get where he really wanted to go without logging an additional 400 or so. So, before Comair closed down, he began reaching out to folks he had met throughout the course of his career, and began doing some part-time flying on the side. His travels took him to some fascinating places—he flew into North Korea and spent three days there—and gave him a wealth of experience he would never have gotten otherwise. One thing led to another, and he was doing a lot of contract CRJ flying in Europe and Asia. Back stateside, he’s flown Bon Jovi and Beyonce on their recent tours and been privileged to meet some Fortune 500 executives. Talk about a network!

A few other folks I knew reached out to some foreign airlines via friends they had, and got some enviable positions. One is a 787 captain overseas—he was hired as a captain “off the street,” and has been privileged to participate in new aircraft deliveries. Others are flying heavies—Boeing 777s, Airbus A-340s—for foreign carriers, and they are in a position to virtually pick which carrier they will fly for back in the United States when their contracts are up.

A few have caught on with contract cargo carriers like Kalitta and Atlas and have fallen in love with the idea of circumnavigating the globe twice in a 14-day stretch of work followed by a two-week period at home. Further, they can live anywhere they want because they are flown positive space to work. The cargo they carry varies—food, Christmas packages, animals, and human remains—as much as the destinations.

Others have become simulator instructors for FlightSafety International, jetBlue, or SimCom, while others have landed at the majors in the United States. The one thing we’ve all had in common is that we had contacts and a network to tap into, and we weren’t afraid to use them.

But I know too many pilots who allowed themselves to get complacent, and they thought that a logbook full of hours would be enough to get them the job they want. They’ve been surprised to find out that such is not the case. Knowing people; having a varied resume; bringing other skills to the table; and showing ambition and desire are all key to finding work. Some have decided to leave the industry altogether for their own reasons.

Having been there, I am convinced that a pilot who is unemployed for any period of time has only him- or herself to blame. The work—good work—is available. But it isn’t going to land on your doorstep unless you go get it. And you never know where it will take you.—Chip Wright

So, what goes on up there?

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

I am frequently asked a lot of questions about life as a pilot. One of the most common is, “What do you actually do up there for most of the flight?” Most people understand that the autopilot is flying the airplane for most of the trip, and the crew is in more of a monitoring role, so the question is understandable.

The answer depends on the kind of flying. On short legs, we’re pretty busy on the radio, and we set up early for the approach, check our weights and speeds for landings, and make any special requests for the station to address (lav services, wheelchairs, et cetera). On longer legs with a lot of time spent in cruise, there is more freedom to do various things.

Back up to the first flight together as a crew. Especially at larger airlines, it isn’t uncommon for a pair of pilots to fly together only once. This means that the first time they meet for the trip may be the first time they’ve ever met, and they will spend some time getting to know one another. Pilots being pilots, it isn’t unusual to meet someone and hit it off like you’ve been BFFs since grade school. At other times one of the crew may be more reserved, but there is still a getting-to-know-you period. In no particular order, you can count on certain questions coming up: Where are you from? How long have you been here? How do you like it? Did you bid this trip? What’s your flying background? And so on.

The first leg or two usually consists of a lot of banter about company goings-on, rumors, new developments, or big announcements made or expected. There is a lot of chatter about family life, common interests, etc. Most pilots will try to avoid certain subjects, such as politics or religion, but some can’t resist the temptation. There are a lot of “Have you flown with…?” stories, and usually a few laughs get shared about someone doing something funny or dumb.

But very personal information gets shared as well. If you spend three or four days or longer in a room the size of a phone booth with someone else who has a tendency to dress like you do, it’s inevitable that you get to know—and share—more than you ever thought you would. Personal fears, secret desires, or just plain secrets get shared. I’ve heard stories of affairs, unplanned pregnancies, crazy tax schemes, you name it. The unwritten rule is that what is said behind that door stays there (except for anything criminal), and most of the time it does. There is a certain sanctity within the cockpit.

And, as you might expect, locker-room style talk and behavior takes place as well.

On longer legs or trips, it isn’t all chatter. There are certain record-keeping requirements for fuel or certain minimum equipment list (MEL) procedures. On long international legs, it isn’t unusual for pilots to read or do crossword puzzles just to keep themselves alert.

But, like the proverbial light switch, when the situation calls for professionalism, that’s what you see. Whether it is a mechanical problem that becomes apparent, or a regular checklist or a weather deviation, pilots never forget who they are and where they are, and when the situation calls for it, the shenanigans are discarded and attention is focused on the job at hand.

It isn’t always work and it isn’t always play…but most of the time, if nothing else, it’s fun!—Chip Wright

Time flies when you’re landing an Airbus on the Hudson

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Hard to believe that January 15, 2014, marks the five-year anniverary of the day that will always be known as “Miracle on the Hudson.”

As most of us recall, US Airways Flight 1549, piloted by Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, landed in the Hudson River in New York after striking a flock of Canada geese. Both engines failed on climbout from LaGuardia Airport in New York City en route to Charlotte, North Carolina. Sullenberger decided they didn’t have enough altitude to turn back or make an emergency landing at Teterboro, New Jersey. He told New York Tracon, “We’re gonna be in the Hudson,” and that was the last transmission from the airplane before it touched down in the river.

Just writing that last sentence gave me goosebumps.

Thankfully, all turned out well. All passengers and crew were evacuated safely.

Now retired from US Airways, Sullenberg remains an active and vocal figure in the aviation industry. Jeppesen created an approach plate commemorating the “Miracle” landing.

Skiles took a leave of absence from the airline and is working for the Experimental Aircraft Association. He eventually got a seaplane rating, too [insert your own joke here].

One of the passengers on that fateful flight went on to earn a private pilot certificate. I interviewed Clay Presley shortly after his solo for this Flight Training magazine article, and you can hear him tell the story of the Miracle on the Hudson from the point of view of someone who was sitting in the cabin section on this AOPA Live video.  —Jill W. Tallman

This entry was edited to correct the date to Jan. 15—Ed.

Record foul-ups

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

A friend of mine was recently terminated while in training with a regional airline. In the regional sector, it’s not unusual for an airline to terminate a new-hire without giving a specific reason. That was the case here, and the only explanation he received was that “there was something in [your] application.”

That’s vague, and he was convinced that it was bogus. One of the reasons he was so sure is that he had been employed by another airline for over a decade with no problems. He had disclosed his lone Part 121 checkride failure. But, just to be sure, he began a dialogue with the FAA. He was shocked at what he found.

To make a long story short, he had started an oral exam for a checkride, but he had been sick. The event was going well, but he had to bail out because of his illness. The next day, he finished the oral (and passed), and took the checkride (and not only passed, but got high praise from the examiner). However, that event was almost 20 years ago, and he had forgotten that he had signed a second 8710 for the oral. The first one was recorded as a failed event. Right or wrong, agree or disagree—that’s what went into his file.

Fast forward to now. The records that he had in his possession prior to starting this job did not include the 8710s and did not indicate that he had a failure of a checkride (remember, it was the oral, not the ride), and it cost him.

The lesson from this for any pilot is two-fold: Never lie on an application, because it will be found. He didn’t lie; he simply didn’t realize the full ramification of what was going on when it happened. But, the point is the same. If you try to hide something, it’s going to get uncovered. Second, when you start the process of applying to airlines, whether it’s a regional, a major, a foreign carrier, or anything in between, get in touch with the FAA in Oklahoma City, and get copies of everything that might be in your file. Ask questions.

You should keep your own detailed records with regard to ratings, certificates, et cetera. Whenever you take a checkride, make a note of the date, time, place, and examiner. If there is a mistake found later, you will know where to start. In this case, the school was long gone, and the examiner had passed away.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not impossible to get a job with checkride failures, even after the Colgan accident. The thing to remember is that you need to fully disclose your past, and you need to own up to your mistakes. If you aren’t sure of something, get it taken care of.

In a case like this, if it happens to you, your best recourse is to write a detailed description of everything that happened. As you apply to airlines, you can attach this to your application or take a copy to the interview.—Chip Wright

Marketing as a CFI

Monday, December 30th, 2013

The FAA provides CFI candidates no help in the way of marketing tips for folks looking to make a living providing flight instruction. If you are simply relying on your local flight school to do the work for you, you are making a mistake: Flight schools on the whole are some of the worst businesses that exist when it comes to properly marketing their offerings. Too many rely on walk-ins, web site hits, or word of mouth.

Further, your local flight school probably wants you to work as an independent contractor, not a full-time employee. However, even if you are an employee, the chances are you will only get paid based on billable hours. This is where you have a direct say in generating some of your own income.

Marketing can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want it to be:

  • At a minimum, have some business cards printed up, and give each new client six or seven cards to distribute to people who may be genuinely interested in learning to fly (or getting back into flying or earning a new rating).
  • Add a signature to your email that lists your credentials.
  • Utilize Facebook and Twitter to advertise not only your services, but also the accomplishments of your clientele. To minimize the risk of inappropriate material being posted, create a business page/Twitter handle that is separate from your personal one.
  • Even if you are working for a flight school, create a simple website that gets to the heart of what you do and offer. Minimize the number of links people need to hit. Advertise what you offer (more on this in a bit). Use your website to brag about what your clientele have accomplished, complete with photos or videos of recent first solo flights, checkride completions, et cetera.
  • Direct mail is old-fashioned, but it still works. You can talk to your local post office about how to target certain ZIP codes (those with higher incomes) and send out a professional-looking flyer or brochure advertising yourself and your flight school. In fact, you should confirm that the flight school is OK with this, and if it is, ask the school to share in the expense. If it won’t, use your contact number on the brochure, not the school’s.
  • Coupons. People are suckers for coupons. Work with local businesses—hotels, grocery stores, barber shops—to place and distribute coupons for intro/sight-seeing flights. Include them in your mailers and on your Facebook page and website. Make sure you include an expiration date that is 4-6 months out. This motivates the buyer/user to come in and use it, and also protects you from spikes in fuel prices.
  • Local events. During the holiday season, set up a booth in the local mall that has a running DVD about flying and has a few ground-school kits and flyers. You will have to coordinate this to keep it staffed, and it might be expensive up front, but people love to give and receive sightseeing flights for gifts. Do the same thing at local fairs, school events, et cetera. See the note above about expiration dates (for Christmas sales, extend the expiration date to Labor Day). Keep notes on the trickle-down business you create from this.
  • What do you offer? Besides being a CFI, talk up what you can add to that. Are you an instrument instructor? Multiengine? Can you offer seaplane training or a tailwheel endorsement? Come up with a package or a series to offer for your sightseeing rides. It should include a photo of some sort or a video if you can do it safely. If you can mount a camera on the strut of a Cessna, you can offer a fantastic memory to your customer. If you can get a great aerial shot of a local landmark that you fly over routinely, you can sell the same one over and over, but personalize it with each customer’s name, date, et cetera.. They may never come back to take lessons, but they may refer people to you for training or just for more rides. Remember, you want to fly to get paid, so it doesn’t matter what you are doing to produce billable hours.

What do you want to specialize in? Are you into night cross-country flights? Some instructors don’t like missing family time at night, so maybe you can become the go-to night CFI. Or do you want to do IFR training? How about IFR training on long cross-country trips? I got several vacations from my clients when I was a full-time CFI for which I actually got paid.

There is much that you can do to market what you do and what you offer. It isn’t hard, and I have not even scratched the surface of it here. Whatever you do, keep detailed records on what works and what does not so that you don’t throw good money after bad. If you do this correctly, you will probably make more money than a regional airline first officer can dream of, and maybe as much as regional captain. If you leave to pursue a flying career elsewhere, you may find that your former employers will make a strong pitch to keep you or will offer to pay you for some of your contacts, et cetera.

Heck, you might even be able to market marketing!—Chip Wright

Living and flying overseas

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s one thing to read about the number of American pilots who have embraced the expat opportunities overseas, especially in Asia, but it’s something else to hear it on the radio. I recently flew a trip to Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Saigon, and along the way, I heard a large number of pilots flying for Korean Air, Emirates, Dragonair, Cathay Pacfic, Singapore Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air (a Philippine carrier), and Vietnam Airlines that were clearly from the United States (as well as Canada, Great Britain, and Australia). Korean, Emirates, and Cathay are very popular for American pilots because of the pay and the better living conditions in Seoul, Dubai, and Hong Kong, respectively (especially the pay).

I know many pilots who have pursued these opportunities, and many are having the time of their lives.

Americans are needed here because flight training in Asia is virtually nonexistent. There is no infrastructure (almost no general aviation airports, no GA airplanes , no 100LL fuel, no instructors), and the airspace system was not designed to accommodate flight training. The military owns the airspace and is not willing to share.

Most of the Asians learn to fly in the United States (including on Guam, U.S. territory in the Pacific) and Australia, then come home. However, they enter the work force very inexperienced and with a nearly pathological fear of hand-flying a big airplane. Americans are desired because of their experience. We’ve spent years learning how to fly, and we’ve flown in the most demanding airspace in the world. Further, Americans love to turn everything off and just fly. The Asian pilots have yet to embrace that concept, and they know they need to.

This is not to say that Americans are always welcomed. Sometimes they are viewed as a necessary evil. But many pilots go on to long, happy, productive careers living as ex-pats, taking advantage of the ability to move around to different countries every couple of years while seeing parts of the world they’d never get to see otherwise. Once you have this experience, it’s also easy to parlay it into a job as an instructor teaching the locals in the simulators.

There are also those who go abroad for a few years and then come home. In years past, pilots with international experience could just about pick out the airline they wanted to come home and work for. It remains to be seen if that holds with the new round of hiring. Also remaining to be seen, for that matter, is just how many pilots will even bother to come home. Foreign compensation packages have gotten so good that many will find such a move hard to justify.

Moving overseas to fly is a huge commitment, but if you are open-minded and can get past what you think “oughta be,” it can be an extremely rewarding, fun lifestyle—even if only on a temporary basis. After all, what better way to see the world than to get someone else to pay the bill?—Chip Wright

The back side of the clock

Monday, November 11th, 2013

alarm clock.svgIn my old job, it was unusual for me to fly late at night, with “late” being defined as anything past 10 p.m. With time, I got the seniority to make sure that I didn’t fly at night, as I am a morning person and prefer to just get up, get started, and get the day done. Sometimes, I miss those days…

In my new gig, there is a lot of night flying, including all-night flying. These flights aren’t the classic red-eye, per se, but the effect is the same: You spend a lot of time on the “back side of the clock,” flying between midnight and daybreak. For most of my life, I have not been a real good napper. Getting older helps, but more importantly, I’ve learned to do it out of necessity. On days when I know I’m going to be flying at night, or if I know that there’s even a possibility of flying late, I will force myself to lie down and catch some Zs. It’s a bit easier when I already have an assignment. I will generally lie down in the early afternoon and allocate at least 90 minutes to sleep, and if I can get two hours, I’m ecstatic.

The key is to figure out what works best for you. I’ve asked a lot of people how they do it, and everyone seems have a slightly different methodology (except for those who have no methodology). For me, if I can go to bed shortly after my normal lunch time, I don’t feel “rushed” to get some sleep. Sometimes I don’t really sleep, but I can just lie there and rest, and that’s enough. Fortunately, my new home has shutters that allow me to make the room as dark as a dungeon, so it looks and feels like it does when I go to bed at night. I’ve also found that for napping, I sleep better without an alarm. Instead, I have someone in my family wake me up.

By napping early, I can still get up and be somewhat engaged in the goings-on of my household, and it also gives me a chance to come to my senses slowly, take a shower, and maybe even eat something before I go to work. In fact, I try to push lunch back until after I nap, since I know I will get a meal when I’m on the airplane.

Flying at night is against the natural programming of the body, but it can be done. But, to be safe, as the pilot you must make sure that you are properly rested before you go to work. You also need to make sure you don’t aggravate your sleep debt by not sleeping the next day. I always crash the next morning for a few hours, and because I don’t drink caffeine on a regular basis (I don’t drink coffee at all), I can fall asleep more easily than most people, and if I need a soda to keep me awake, I can count on it working.

Staying engaged during the trip also helps. Nothing is as stimulating as a good conversation with the person I am flying with, and that goes a long ways toward passing the time. Sometimes the weather becomes the “stimulant,” but most of the time I just count on having a good rapport with my fellow workers. Good communication is also key in another respect: If you are flying tired, or have not slept well prior to a night flight, you need to convey that so that your fellow pilots can keep an eye on your performance.

Night flying can be fantastic, but it comes with a new set of challenges. Make sure that you are “up” for them!—Chip Wright