Christmas Lift 2011

Position: 100 miles south of KMSP
Altitude: 37,000 feet
Groundspeed: 515 knots (592 mph)
Equipment: A320 V2500-A5 engines
Pax-on-Board: 150 + 2 jumpers
Local Time: 0220 hrs

Airborne... Compass heading 091 degrees

It's the beach thing again... Think I am looking west (for as the Led Zeppelin song goes: there's a feeling I get when I look to the west...)

The wife-of-my-youth, laying beside me in the ridiculously skimpy bikini I bought her last summer, is the quintessential, semi-professional, non-revenue, sun bunny. The beer is iced down in a battered but still functional airline-issued six pack cooler (Yep, back in the un-PC days it was SOP for the Chief Pilot's office to give us atta-boy prizes for behaving longer than a couple months; beer coolers, pens, wind breakers, etc.). Little trinkets dropped from Cloud City where the F-4 Gods of Thunder lived... I remember.

How did I get to this beach? Well, obviously I have made it to the top of the seniority mountain where the wise old captains fly day trips, or an occasional run to the sun. A Chicago overnight? You must be kidding!

Reality check... 37,000 feet

The noise of the slip stream is back in my head again. What happened to the world's smallest bikini and coldest beer? Am I awake? Yes, I am awake... The thin air beach fantasy runs wild in the middle of the night. My co-pilot looks like he is awake, but you never know. We are operating a trans-con red-eye in the deepest part of the night. Even though I am a high-time night pilot, my body wants to sleep. It is called circadian rhythm and trying to defy it is most difficult.

My left hand reaches behind the seat and brings the oxygen mask out of its storage box with a loud hiss as the regulator charges the head-gripping harness. The co-pilot jumps when the mask hisses... I laugh and tell him, "Need to wake up. Going on the Os."

The alien-inspired harness slips over my head; I release the finger-pinch valve and the harness squeezes my head sealing my consciousness from the outside world. Automatically, fingers feel for the 100% valve under my chin. It is ON... Pure aviator's oxygen. A deep breath of the cold, gaseous elixir... And I feel better instantly; will stay in the mask until my throat gets too dry.

Overhead, the star fields of the Milky Way are bright and clear. Consider that I am looking through an oxygen-mask face plate and one inch of heated Plexiglas with old eyes. Imagine what the stars must really look like... It is a humbling thought. One hundred miles north, I can see a yellow smudge on the horizon. That is Minnie under a layer of fog.

Underneath, appearing sporadically through a broken cloud layer, the homes of sleeping farm families are disappearing in our six. If they are awake, the faint whisper of V2500-A5 engines passing overhead in their ears...

First hints of twilight...
Finally, the morning light ahead of us.  It is a beautiful pale blue... The pale blue light of Christmas Eve 2011. Payloads are heavy, open seats are non-existent as we haul the kids to Grandma's once again.

Tonight, westbound and looking for Rudolf's nav light...

Life on the Line continues... Crew O2 pressure is 1400 psi.

Elevator to Heaven

Position: Fifty miles southeast of KOAK (Oakland)
Altitude: 18,000 feet and climbing
Groundspeed: 370 knots
Rate-of-climb: 2,800 fpm
Equipment: A319
Pax-on-Board: 123


It has been one of those weeks... Juggling a heavy flight schedule with family matters taking place away from the domicile. I am glad to be back in the cockpit where I am in control, more or less. The ascension feels good to these old bones! After clearing inbound SFO traffic, our 319 is climbing to the thin air like an elevator to heaven.

The right-seater is an experienced Electric Jet pilot. He is a sharp kid and does not mind babysitting a semi-crotchety captain. I flew with him a few times when he was a newbie and showed him some of my get out of jail free techniques for handling this electrical entity which we fly. He has always remembered those days and treats me with respect, which, naturally, I take advantage of in my pre-geezer state.
I know... It's bad, but I've got to keep my reputation intact. There seems to be no shortage of co-pilots who want to fly with me, so I must be doing something right. And this in spite of the wild stories my low-life buddies spread about me.

Such as:
  1. The wife-of-my-youth is an ex-stripper. Totally false, but she thinks it is funny.
  2. The Chief Pilot has my iPhone on his speed dial. Unlikely, but possible...
  3. I have inside knowledge of the infamous three-crew 2003 Orlando Hooters Incident. Where? Who?
  4. I am hard to get along with and "write up" co-pilots. I have never written up anyone in my life and certainly am not hard to get along with... Under any circumstances.
And on it goes... But, I must admit that I love it.

22,000 feet...

The winter sun is rising above the cloud deck giving light to a new day on the Line. This morning, underneath Fi-Fi, it was dark, wet, and cold as I pre-flighted her at the Oakland gate.

Yesterday, when I checked in for this trip, I saw two more pilots on the bulletin board... Yes, that bulletin board. The one we will all, one day, have our photo pinned in the upper right hand corner.

As I was shining my flashlight on Fi-Fi's smooth belly, I could not help but thinking about those two pilots. They were down here, where I am, not so long ago, and now they are gone... Flown west. Two photos, enlarged from their IDs, pinned to the bulletin board by an assistant Chief Pilot. We regret to announce...

28,000 feet...

The two V-2500 A5 IAE engines are in their element now as we soar high above the undercast. The fuel flows are falling as the altitude increases along with the groundspeed. Winds on our tail and sunlight in our faces... It is better up here. The early morning trepidations are gone.

39,000 feet...

The auto-pilot captures the altitude at 38,700 feet and begins to lower the nose and reduce the thrust to level at exactly 39,000 feet.

Mach number- .79
Groundspeed- 560 knots
Seat-belt sign- OFF
Starbucks Christmas Blend- Excellent
Cabin Altitude- 8,000 feet

Seven more days until Christmas Lift 2011 begins. I am working it, of course. Not complaining, just saying...

Life on the Line continues...