So You Think You Want To Fly for an Airline?
Chapter Two: The Call of the Air
When I reported for training five weeks later, of course I didn't know just what to expect. The classroom was indistinguishable from any other classroom I'd been in over the years. To get to it, first you parked in the outside lot that borders the ramp fence and walk along the fence, giving you the opportunity to briefly get a personal weather check and to check-out the airplanes parked on the other side of the fence. Most of them were Cessna 402s, the airplane I was to fly for Wings, a small airline plying the Cape Cod and Islands area. Upon entering the hangar, you walked past aircraft in various stages of disassembly and repair, through two large hangar bays, and finally into the classroom, tucked behind the Coke machine and pizza cheese-encrusted microwave oven at the back. There were tables and chairs for nine people, and a coffee urn at the back. No creamer, unfortunately. The room was cold though well-lit.
I took a seat in the middle. In a few minutes eight of the nine seats were filled with other people, glancing at one another in that uncertain way people have in such a situation. The instructor entered.
"Good morning. My name is Norman Glover (*). I'm training director at Wings and I'll be your instructor for this initial month of ground school on the Cessna 402." Norm was a bright, cheerful fellow who talked in an animated and confident manner. He wore a typical airline pilot's white shirt. His black shoes showed considerable wear at the soles. Norm gave us a brief biography of himself, and then it was out turn.
Starting from front, left, was Donald, who had left a job flying right seat in an RJ (the "Regional Jet" popular with many smaller airlines) for a job with Wings and the opportunity to log multi-engine PIC time (the pilot-in-command flight time so valued by both pilots and airlines) for Wings in the 402. He had left his family in Missouri. Next was Roger, who was single, barely old enough to have been eligible for his ATP (Airline Transport Pilot's License), and had left a job he wouldn't talk about. Second row, left was Morgan, who was divorced and who was currently sleeping at a camp ground until he finished training, started getting paid, and could afford an apartment. Morg had been flying checks at night in a Baron (a small twin) out of state. Next to Morg sat Linda, who had flown C-141s (a large transport) in the Air Force as one of their first female pilots. She had been out of flying for years, but had recently reentered it, gotten her ATP, and wanted to fly for Wings. She had left her family in Maine but hoped to import them when possible. Next was me; retired Navy, in electronics until my unfortunate experience with Pointer.Plus, Gregory, et al, and part-time flight instructor. Last row. First was Earl, whose wife had thrown him out when he took this job. He'd been flying a small twin somewhere. Then there was Duke, divorced, who had been flying charter, and last was Philo, single, who'd been wrestling a Caravan (a large, single-engine turboprop) around Alaska. I got a warning twinge, the first of many. I was the only one still married and not separated. Well, a sample of eight isn't statistically significant, I assured myself.
Ground school was familiar. Lots and lots of books and information, hands-on with airplanes in the hangar learning the “flows”(3), lots of quizzes, lots of homework at the local pilots’ motel that can be found at any airport in the known world (cheap, modest, close-by). I passed ground school with a 90% and felt pretty good about myself. However, because weather on the Cape and Islands is the worst in the world for flying (frequent at- or below- minimums for the local instrument approaches) we had a two week wait to begin flight training. Most of us went home, Morgan back to his camp ground to lie miserably in the rain.
(*) All names have been changed to protect the innocent -- and the guilty
(3) Flows: Scheduled air carriers work a merciless schedule. Since there is never enough time, the cockpit checks are done from memory using “flows” – the crewman’s vision scans – flows -- through a sequence of checks as her hands follow to turn the right controls. In an emergency, steps are also first taken by memory; then the emergency checklist comes out and every step is checked for completion.
Next: Chapter Three: Off We Go
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