Chapter Five: A New Beginning
On Friday morning we walked out to an airplane and I asked him what he wanted me to do during our flying. His reply was, “I want to see if there is any hope.” Swell. Norm had trained us, he had personally told me he wanted me to fly for Wings, I had done very well in his ground school, and had passed my check ride on the first try. His attitude this day was surprisingly different. We talked some more about not having had any training flying into and out of Logan, and again, another surprise. “I may want you to get an apartment down here.” What? “If I think there’s any hope I’ll want you to requalify in the right seat. I’ll want you to be down here for at least six months, on call, for any flight I want you to do into and out of Boston, until you’re comfortable with Boston.” I again held my tongue about the training program. I had no intention of suddenly abandoning my wife for half a year. Instead, I ruminated about the worst aspect of this experience: the every-man-for-himself attitude of the aircrew at Wings.
I went to the pay phones ands called my wife to discuss all. Bless her, she said she’d abide by whatever decision I made. She also noted that she was going to the doctor that day for a recurrence of an illness she had been fighting. When I told Norm what was going on he told me to go home and see to my wife since he didn’t think I could fly well if I was worried about her. I left the terminal to go back to the hangar, get my stuff, and return home, see my wife, and think about things.
When I got home there was a message on my answering machine. It was Norm, who apparently had had a change of heart. Without actually apologizing, he reiterated that he was dedicated to qualifying all the new pilots and maybe I could come back for another go. Apparently he’d heard from his superiors who had not been happy about how the training program had been going. I thought about it all. Flying in weather with which I was not comfortable. Check pilots serving only to make flying difficult and unpleasant. I again thought about the Navy and how Wings violated most of the rules by which I’d flown safely for so long, including staying safe even while having gone to war, where unpleasant people I did not know were trying to kill me and my entire crew. Decision time. Again.
Regrets? Some. I would have liked to do some airline flying. But not in an atmosphere like that of Wings. At different times in life you have different priorities. I would not have been willing to sleep on the ground like Morgan in order to get an airline job. I would not have been willing to leave my family for this job, like Linda, or be thrown-out like Earl. I would never have run a training program that left trainees “hanging out there in the blue” by themselves. Wings had spent over $15,000 to qualify me to fly single-pilot Part 135 airline in a Cessna 402C, something I could never have afforded to do myself. I had spent several months away from home and done some intensive flying. My piloting had been sharpened a lot. I had learned a lot, including a new aircraft, what I was willing to put up with in a job, and my personal limits when safety and comfort were involved.
Some readers will say I simply failed. That’s incorrect. Staying with a job for which I was so ill-suited would have been a failure. In the end, I’d had another valuable flying experience. I’d also seen up close and personal one reason part of the aviation industry is in trouble and continues to teeter from crisis to crisis. Wings has a generally good safety record, punctuated every so often by a crash caused either by a pilot having done something really stupid, or because of the natural limits of capability in the environment in which the airline has chosen its business model, or both. In the end my adventure worked-out best for both me and for Wings. We both won.
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