Career Change: An Airline Adventure

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Chapter Three: Off We Go

Finally, the weather broke and we were called back. Flight training was fast and furious. I had told Wings that I had not piloted a twin (engine airplane) in years and never a cabin-class airplane like the 402. I was told not to worry about it. I should have. The airline clearly expected new pilots to be instrument twin-current. I wasn’t. Training the first week was in a Piper Navajo simulator, which, we were told, flew like a 402 but had none of the switches and few of the gauges in the same place. I finished this phase with the second half of the class. Then came flying the real airplanes. We flew with instructor pilots who were also flying daily runs, so from day to day, never flew with the same guy (or gal). Their attitude generally was that they didn’t care for instructing and had been drafted into it. I had some trouble, not having flown a twin in years, VFR or IFR, but made it through ok. The airline had allocated two weeks total for the flight training, a very compressed schedule. We flew, sometimes, twice a day. I finished my syllabus, again in the second half of the class, and was scheduled for my check ride. After several postponements for weather (under ¼ mile visibility and clouds lower than 200 feet above the surface), I finally did it. I flew with one of the few check pilots who really enjoyed both flying and instructing and the ride was a pleasure after previous experience. I passed with flying colors and was awarded my wings, to begin my Initial Operating Experience (IOE) the next week. I returned home elated and excited.

Came next Monday and I was at the airport bright and early and vibrating with excitement. I was assigned to fly with Pilot A that day. Once aboard, he said, “The weather’s lousy today, so why don’t you let me do most of the flying and you watch.” Fine with me. And off we went. A Wings pilot typically flew between five and 14 runs a day, usually switching airplanes, with flights into and out of Boston more than half the time. I was impressed by Boston, which most pilots will tell you is a freaking nightmare of traffic, harassed controllers, and brutal arrival/departure timeframes. Later in the day the bad weather turned worse, with serious thunderstorms building all around the Cape. I assumed we’d wait for them to blow through. I was wrong. Scheduled air carrier means just that, so you suck it up and plunge along. I sat in the right seat stiff with apprehension on one approach as we flew through the edge of a truly scary storm with no onboard radar or weather finder. The passengers – ignorant of what was going on – sat there stoically as we heard thunder crash outside, saw lightning flash all around, and stared at rainfall so heavy that visibility was reduced to several hundred feet. My check pilot just motored on and, to his credit, broke-out on the ILS dead center and on glide slope (4).

After we landed the wind was so strong that we had to leave the airplane short of the terminal and let everyone dash inside, including us, leaning into the wind. I went to the airline ticket office to try and dry my clothes and hair on a towel. As I sat thinking about what had just happened, the sweat soaking my clothes heavy and leaden in the 100% humidity, my doubts about my fitting into this type of flying increased. We left later that day taking some passengers back to the Cape.

The next day I was assigned to Pilot B. This guy was a big, booming type less than half my age who treated me like a disliked, retarded nephew. He didn’t help or instruct, he barked, sneered and belittled. I couldn’t do anything right for him. I was flying this day and he sat in the right seat and gave me a running dialog on how badly I was flying. Never a word of help or encouragement. I immediately thought of what one of my classmates had said during our qualification in the 402C: “There are a lot of Chuck Yeagers working here.” He wasn’t suggesting that the airline’s pilots had the skills of Chuck Yeager. He was commenting upon the gigantic egos most of the pilots demonstrated and their belittling attitude toward new hires. On this day I flew into Boston’s Logan Airport for the first time.

I had been through Navy flight training, which is probably the toughest in the world. When I went through, it was full of booming instructors, some given to violence. I flew at times with a Marine Corps instructor who spent the flight yelling at me and hitting me in the face with his clipboard while calling me highly imaginative names I hadn’t before imagined possible. The problem I was finding with Wings was that the check pilots were young enough to be my children, hadn’t half my flight time or experience, and came across, basically, as egotistical assholes who made themselves feel better by belittling others. What did this say about Wings?

Nonetheless, I plunged ahead.

Next: Chapter Four: Boston

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