Posts Tagged ‘career flying’

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

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

It’s just a seat, right?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

 Boeing_737_cockpitIt’s always funny when it happens to somebody else, but it isn’t so funny when it happens to me. And it’s especially not funny when I watch it happen to someone else and swear it won’t happen to me, only to find that it does.

Sometimes it seems like half of learning to fly a new airplane is just figuring out how to get in, get out, and plug in your headsets. Cars are built with certain standardization requirements that we can all count on: the gas pedal is on the right, the key goes on the right, and the gear shift on an automatic follows the same order of P, R, N, et cetera. The intention is that a person can easily transition from one car to another. Even when there are noticeable differences, it’s easy to navigate them.

Airplanes, on the other hand, do not always have such luxuries. I am currently going through training on my second new airliner in the past six months. In both cases, my training partners and I ran into some frustrations and difficulty with something as simple as getting the seats and rudder pedals situated. In a car, you can bet that the seat adjustment tools will either be a handle on the side or under the front of the seat. The handles are immediately recognizable, even if the seat is electric.

Worse still for pilots is the battle with muscle memory fighting not just the novelty of a new airplane, but often of a different seat, which might be left versus right, or an altogether new seat design. Years ago Bombardier introduced new cockpit seats for the CRJ series, and even with memos and photographs, pilots who had flown the aircraft for thousands of hours struggled at times to remember the location of the new handles. There we were: two pilots fumbling around, wiggling in place like we had ants in our pants, charged with flying a $20-million-plus airplane, equipped with two new seats that cost more than $15,000, with some of the best training money could buy, and we couldn’t even move the seats. We looked like idiots.

Every time I get in a new airplane, I vow that this isn’t going to be a problem. And every time, it is—at least just a little.

In my most recent adventures, the problem hasn’t been the airplane, but the training devices, one of which is a fixed-base, non-motion simulator with actual cockpit seats. The other is just a seat on rails, but each is different. Plus, we are taking turns flying left seat (normal for all of us) and right seat (not so much). Various manufacturers put the levers in different spots, and they don’t all work the same. Some have plunger handles and some don’t. Some have both. Some have lumbar supports. Some have lumbar supports that actually work. Some have switches—under the seat, of course—that adjust the flex in the front of the seat where your leg bends.

And it isn’t just the seats. I’ve run into the same problem with the headset jacks. Sometimes, if you don’t know where the jacks are, it feels like a scavenger hunt. Once you find them, their location seems obvious, but deep down you know it isn’t.

Even the rudder pedals are different. Some are electric, but most are manual. But some of the manual ones are a simple turn device. Some, like my new one, have a spring-loaded doohickey that you pull to release the turning thingy. It took me several lessons to figure that out, and it’s important information for me because I’m just barely tall enough to reach the ground.

I often think that the first lesson of any new airplane should be a 15-minute session just on getting in and out. It’s a simple task, but when you can’t do the simplest things, and you are already overwhelmed with what you need to learn, your frustrations are just compounded.

And then there are the different designs for the cockpit doors…—Chip Wright

Memory aids

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Pilots love to fly new equipment, and I’m no different. Back when I was able fly GA all the time, I was the first one on the ramp asking for a ride in whatever new piece of metal or plastic would show up. It didn’t matter if it was a homebuilt or factory-made, because I just wanted to fly it. I would beg and plead—usually to no avail, but I occasionally got lucky and got try out a new—to me, anyway—kind of airplane.

When I went to the airlines, I had no idea just how different learning a new airplane really was when it came to the heavier iron. “Here’s the key, there’s the fuel selector, and don’t forget to turn of the master switch” was the philosophy of the past. Airliners and corporate aircraft are a whole different breed when it comes to learning the airplane.

A typical jet has up to 18 different systems. Some are very elaborate and complex (electrics), and others are very simple (lights). In between is the gamut of hydraulics, flight controls, the autopilot and pressurization, and a dozen more. Buried within those systems are details and numbers and pressures and volumes and degrees and more details. Nobody can just remember it all, and some pilots have certain systems in which they excel.

I learned a long-time ago that every memory aide I can use will come in handy. In addition to the standard flash cards and notes from class, it’s easy to come up with memory joggers and acronyms to help you out. Multiengine pilots are familiar with the “dead foot, dead engine,” or “working foot, working engine” to recognize which engine has failed. On the CRJ, I struggle at first to differentiate between the number of leak detectors on the 10th and 14th stage bleeds. One bleed system had two, and the other had one…and then it hit me: a Cessna “2-10” and a Commander “1-14.” The 10th stage had 2 and the 14th had 1. Piece of cake!

Some airplanes have odd numbers on the left and even numbers on the right. An easy way to remember is that “the captains are odd.” The ERJ has a rudder over-boost protection system. One hydraulic system is supposed to stop contributing to rudder control over 135 knots, and that system happens to be the number one system. To help me remember it, I just say that the number one would be the captain, and after 135 knots, he takes a nap.

Electrics can be a challenge as well, especially if you have to remember which busses power what equipment. Often there is a central bus, and it isn’t so much that the central bus powers much of anything as it is between two different sides of an electrical system. It helps me think of it as a train station: It controls the flow of electricity based on the demands of the system.

It doesn’t much matter how you finally imprint certain things in your head, so long as you do it. I’ve used baseball and football analogies, dirty jokes, you name it. Whatever works, works. And when a good one comes along, it usually catches on. My 2-10/1-14 aide was one a number of pilots thanked me for many times over the years.

Learning new equipment is a challenge, and you need to use all the resources at your disposal. Just hope that you can remember them all!—Chip Wright