Monday, April 1, 2013

Good Friday Chants

Dateline: Good Friday, March 29, 2013 A.D.
Location: Flight Level 310, 30 nautical miles west of JST (Johnstown, PA, USA)
Time: 6:45 PM
Speed and Course: GS 417 knots, course about 085 degrees magnetic

This is where we were and where we were going, in the sunshine and smooth air.

"Fa-ther, in-to your hands I com-mit my spi-rit".  I was looking for something to help me bide my time with to Philly.

The autopilot was engaged, I was the pilot flying, and I had the ADF tuned to 1060.  A Catholic station with a strong but distant signal was fading in and out some, but without much static.

"Fa-ther, in-to your hands I com-mit my spi-rit".  A Priest with a reverent voice was singing, slowly, a beautiful chant from some unknown location.  I started listening intently.

I noticed the words and remembered where they came from.  Was this in one Gospel or more?  The sun was behind us, and scattered, early spring cumulus clouds far below were doing the best they could to grow, not very much albeit.  A weak layer of haze between the clouds was obscuring the earth in between.

"Fa-ther, in-to your hands I com-mit my spi-rit".  Repeatedly, with a perfect rate and rhythm, and pause in between.  These were the last words my Lord and Savior, and I hope yours too, said on the cross before he died, and 'gave his life as a ransom for many' (Mark 10:45).

We were still forty minutes out from landing in Philadelphia.  I had time to ponder questions that arose in me.  In saying this, Jesus in his bodily death gave his spirit back to the control of God the Father.  So, where then, did the Father send Jesus to in between his death on the cross and his resurrection on the third day after he was crucified?

"Fa-ther, in-to your hands I com-mit my spi-rit".  It was from Luke 23:46 (and Psalm 31:5), I later learned, and Luke was the only gospel these words of Jesus were recorded in. 

After my good First Officer, in a precise manner, brought us back to terra-firma on Philadelphia's 5,000 foot runway - a demanding but typical feat for our CRJ200, I had time to ask Dr. Google these questions.  Jesus didn't descend to Hell, per se, (yes it is in the Apostle's Creed)  for more punishment for mankind's sins, all of it was paid for on the Cross.  However, scripture seems to indicate that He visited Sheol/Hades, two other realms of he underworld, 'waiting areas for the dead' you might say.  It is interesting and educational reading waiting for you at Got questions? and "C.A.RM.". 

 "Fa-ther, in-to your hands in com-mit my spi-rit".  I was reminded of some of the other last words Jesus also said were ones of complete humiliation and abandonment, of separation from God.  Because our sins were laid upon him - although He was without sin, He was made to become sin for us, for my sins and for your sins (2 Corin 5:17) These words of separation from God are from Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  How could Jesus issue these trusting words of finality, after He had asked God in a seemingly highly confused and anxious state (he was still human after all) "why have you forsaken me?" 

I think this showed his humanness in that his reaction displays the difference between knowing that something difficult is coming and actually experiencing the overwhelming, unfamiliar emotions of it.  Jesus had already sweat drops like blood, been tortured and humiliated incomprehensibly, been nailed to a cross, and now the sin guilt burden of all humanity had been laid upon him, an innocent man.  Our Holy God had withdrawn His presence from Jesus, because a Holy and Perfect God cannot be in the presence of sin, it is his very nature.  This is not a weakness or fault of God as post-Christian thinkers assert, but a characteristic that belies his universe and life creating majesty, honor, and glory that He deserves.  Besides, our Holy God's complete presence in the midst of any sin utterly destroys that person (Moses saw God's backside - He wouldn't let Moses see his front because it would've killed him). 

"Fa-ther, in-to your hands I com-mit my spi-rit".  Via Max Lucado through Pastor John O'Neal, the clarity of contrast is made that Jesus is now reunited because he calls Him Father, not God, when he gives up his spirit to his control.  He is separated from God because he took on the guilt and bore the punishment of MY sin; He asks "My God why have you forsaken me?".  Then the work is just complete, He knows it and exclaims "It is Finished!".  Then

"Fa-ther, in-to your hands I com-mit my spi-rit".  I was feeling blessed by these now comforting words Jesus gave in complete trust to the Father, just as those in Christ should aspire to do in death and in life.

He is risen, He is risen indeed!  The richness, the mystery, and the truth of the Gospel message is well worth your time investment in getting to know the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep.  And took it up again.  Jesus' resurrection is proof that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life! 

God bless you, and thank you for reading my blog.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Keep your day job, er, career

Every now and then I hear from my RJ friend who quit his flying career to be at home with his wife and two boys.  He dove into a Network Marketing system, only a month later to find not success but proof that his wife was on her third boyfriend outside of their marriage.  
Now the divorce is nearing completion, and they share custody of their one son together, while she has custody of her first son from her first marriage.  
He steered away from network marketing and started a commercial janitor cleaning service, which has succeeded well, apart from the constant problem of hiring and keeping good workers, he says.  That problem is also present in his new business, a commercial account donuts business for convenience stores.  
With a starting wage of $10 per hour, which he says is higher that other companies of the same type, his employees work ethic and attitude typically fizzle out after a few months, and he finds himself doing most of the work.  Now with both businesses (because his commercial cleaning business hasn't sold off yet), he sleeps when he can get it, during the day or a nap in the morning after the donuts have been delivered.  He is looking for a manager of the donuts side, I told him he needs a professional.  
"Keep your job career Craig!  At least until you can make as much as your current job career with your business you have now" he says (my business is good but I have quite a ways to go).  
What is the difference between a job and a career?  My First Officers lately have again been describing their occupation of Airline Pilot as 'just a job' and not a real career.  I just refuse to see it that way.  Maybe airline pilots are spoiled prima donnas like the stereotype portrays, because I still constantly meet passengers and others who wish they could have my career.   
I'm feeling a little spoiled right now, actually.  Currently I have a few more days off, because Hurricane Sandy has taken a pretty good swipe at New Jersey and New York City.  I was scheduled to start a four day trip this past Monday, but it was delayed Sunday night.  I will be lucky if I fly the last day of it on Thursday.  As a result of water from Sandy feeding into Long Island Sound from the east, LaGuardia Airport is flooded and closed as I write this.  It might be closed for days more.  Feet of water covers the runway, and the water line is up to the terminal I fly out of.  Consideration of the scene brings questions to mind which include: when will it re-open?  Will the runways be damaged?  Will the runway lights still work?  Will the ILS (Instrument Landing System) still work?  When will I return to LGA?  
Fortunately, I've been blessed to be at home all during Sandy.  Many of my fellow pilots were flying during this event, which is now called "Superstorm Sandy" and were given re-routes from their flight schedules to take their aircraft to places away from danger like Charlotte or Cincinnati.  My hat is off to them.  A good number of them are now stuck away from home on their scheduled days off.  This storm will leave a deep impact in terms of damage and lives lost.
Storms of nature, storms of life.  A mess is created and then someone has to clean it up,  during which lessons are learned in the reflective process, and the "if I could do it again"s come up.  
Aaron's "if I could do it again" after his storm included continuing to fly, even if he knew his wife was having affairs.  No one saw it coming, at least in my circle; I certainly didn't.  Divorce would've been likely whether he kept flying or not.  Even if he did, I think he still would've been a good father to his son, present and active in his life on his days off.  
After about a year, Aaron started to mention that he missed flying, he missed making the 'life and death decisions', I think he missed the joy of it, the adventure of it, and the camaraderie.  He didn't miss the inconvenience of being gone half the time, of living out of a suitcase, from airport to airport to hotel to airport, or the various headaches he had to put up with.  He was using personal skills he had honed while flying in his new business, but it missed some of the challenges and adventures that flying satisfied him with.  I felt bad for him, still do, and every time we talk it is like his words reset my outlook on my career.
What is is the difference between a job and a career?  Chris Rock knows the difference, and its pretty funny (four letter words warning):

Note to self: try not to talk about how fun my job is to friends and relatives (unless they ask). 

If you can't wait to get out of there and go home, and the clock surely runs slow, you are working at a job.  If what you are doing requires extensive training and education, intelligence, good judgement, a specific skill set that can only be had by training and practice, social skills, and entrusts a great deal of responsibility and authority to those in the occupation, you are working as a professional.
That is why they call it being a Professional Pilot.  You call it a job to my face and you might as well have used God's name or His Son's name in vain.  I don't like it, it makes me frown inside.  When you call it just a job, you sell yourself short and you sell the profession short, and give yourself and your passengers a false justification to make less of an effort at excelling at your job than you should.
Furthermore, you place all value of what you do for a living in terms of pay and benefits, when in reality, so much of job satisfaction is experienced because of other factors.  Real job satisfaction does involve pay and benefits, but ask these questions of your job/career: do you enjoy it?, are you good at it?, does it leave you time for a personal life?, does it help or hinder your overall quality of life?
Yes, all airline pilots, including regional airline pilots, make less than they used to, as much as 50% of what they did before the 9/11 attacks.    Yes, it is difficult to get by as a regional jet Co-Pilot these days, especially if you have a family and/or live in a high cost of living area.  Yes, management 'doesn't treat us as well as they used to'.  It is just the way it is.  
The saying "I'll act like a professional when they treat me like one" just rings hollow and like a selfish child to me.  If my Chief Pilot or Domicile Manager rode in the jumpseat, or even in the first row, on every flight, I would act like the professional I am every time (not that I don't already, but even more so).  This is the equivalent of the boss being in the cubicle or office two doors down, a situation which many workers still have, and airline pilots don't.  It is a convenience that we often take for granted.
Furthermore, and I won't dwell on it much but just touch on it: the difference between being a professional just working a job is in the attitude one has.  One could be digging ditches or in a factory doing a mundane job, but if you make a daily effort to give that job your best and take advantage of every opportunity to excel and be the best ditch digger or assembly worker you can be, you will be noticed and advancement in position, responsibility, and pay will follow.
Ahh, but Craig, you say, its easy for you to behave as a Professional, because you have a job you love, and passengers who respect you.  Yes, that is true, I am blessed/fortunate/lucky to make a living at something I love to do, many don't, but stay in a job/career for the money, convenience, etc.  
I can't elaborate very well on how and why one can actually take joy in toil that is not your preferred line of work, but this link can: from the Bible book of Eccelesiastes by King Solomon, this is a good, readable study: "Fear God, Enjoy Life".  I can testify though that anyone can glorify God through their work, if they work with an attitude being one of serving God and doing his will, with joy and to the best of his or her God given ability.  This is scriptural as well: "Modeling Christ in the Workplace Through Work Well Done".
If you would like to have a career as a Pilot and have that burning, passionate desire that you can't shake, like you can feel in your clenched hand when you dream about it, I encourage you wholeheartedly to pursue one, but be prepared to be a Professional in your conduct throughout.  Others will notice, and you will build a reputation that will continue to pay off throughout your journey in the sky.  Professionals do a professional job because they love it, not just because they are paid well to do it.  
And maybe that is the simplest way to look at it.  If what you are doing for a living is something you love, even once upon a time, that is a career, and deserves to be treated as such, for everyone's benefit.  Even the Almighty's.
God bless you and thanks for reading my blog!


Monday, October 8, 2012

A moment in HPN time

I was only a moment I had this evening in a typical day, looking through the best office windows of any job in the world.  I was able to savor it and contemplate for a few seconds, then we came in to land.  Don't fret, I was the PNF (pilot not flying).
We were on approach in mostly smooth air to White Plains, NY, home of some of the wealthest folks in the USA, and home of the most crowded small airport terminal I know of, bar none.  My fine First Officer, with six years (almost) service to our regional airline, was smoothly flying our fully configured for landing CRJ on final approach to runway 34 (towards the north).  The beads of water kept sliding past on the windscreen.  Light raindrops falling were being interrupted at one hundred sixty miles an hour, and rolling back on the 'rain-x' treated windscreen.  The visual of that led me to shift my near focus to the scene outside.  The still lush green lawns and golf course below.  The broccoli tops of the trees now starting to turn to autumn colors.  The dusky yellow light on the horizon, breaking through where gray clouds and scud blocking the view weren't.  The points of light lit up in a vertical rectangle growing larger, quickly on the ground up toward us, - the bent strip of metal shaped runway that make this place one of the more challenging airports we fly into. 
FO Josh was configured, on speed, on glideslope.  The center landing light was on and that meant the Control Tower had cleared us to land.  He reduced thrust and flared right where I would've, in fact he was doing it as I was thinking it.  Then he didn't flare enough.  Or did he?  The runway underneath us had just made the switch from a slightly uphill grade to a pretty steep grade, for a runway anyway.  With the jet losing speed and lift, and the sink rate apt to increase without an increase in yoke back pressure, the runway was 'rising' to meet us faster than normal.  More back pressure was needed to avert a firm touchdown.  I saw us sink that last three feet and it was a nice plop to terra firma, not the firm touchdown I was expecting.  I was impressed.  Josh had a nice touch and didn't land long either, or gyrate the jet too much.
Leaving the runway I knew, I felt, once again, that I was right where I needed to be, wearing this uniform (as much as I complain about it), doing these duties, performing these tasks, being with these people (co-workers), all with pride, honor, and excellence.  At least for this moment. 
I used to hear that to be an airline pilot for a career, and to stick with it, you have to 'really love flying'.  Easy to understand until you think long and hard about what one has to put up with to endure an airline pilot career.  The sacrifices that everyone makes do not stop.  Not everyone gets the six figure plus salary, their desired airline, or a quick upgrade.  Not everyone keeps their first wife or first house (but that is great advice).  Not everyone flies till retirement.  To get into it, sure, you love it, but to put up with all the negatives, you better love it still.  I'm still flirting with getting out, somehow, to be honest. 
But the beauty of the sights to be seen, the moments of camaraderie and achievements to be had, and the opportunities to share my testimony of Jesus with others, still give me a real sense of receiving (outside of pay and benefits) something valuable for what I sacrifice - the precious time I spend away from my wife and family. 
I still hope to write more in the future.  I am currently still trying to juggle my side business better.  I feel that three balls are in the air again, so to speak, and the focus is there.  God bless you, and thanks for reading my blog!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Look before you leap

As a one year CRJ Captain, about six years ago, I taxied the jet out of the Philadelphia regional jet ramp late one evening for Binghamton, New York.  This was the first trip with this particular First Officer, and we were getting along great together.  He had many good qualities, and you don’t always find well rounded FO’s (or Captains) on the line.  Many times one is able to determine (or hear on the line) that each pilot has a few areas which are their strengths, but there is one area where the other crewmembers would be wise to ‘cover them’ on.  It’s a wise and professional tactic to practice, and if you do it in the right way it does not disrespect the other crewmember at all; on the contrary it makes your ‘team’ stronger. 
Jay appeared to be strong in all areas; but there was still one corner in which I thought I might have to be careful in, and that was in taking his suggestions.  He was pretty assertive for a First Officer and a little cavalier (he had a lot of confidence which seemed to give him leeway), but he used the right tact and balance in communicating with me.  During our flights we had been conversing, mostly out of “sterile cockpit”, about all kinds of subjects – politics, company goings-on, our pilots union, and religion (and his lack of faith in my Jesus), and we had a pretty good time doing so, in spite of our differences on matters of faith.   
Really, we probably talked too much, in places where we shouldn’t have been.  I can’t recall how much the sterile cockpit rule was bent, but I’ve learned over the years that heated conversation during periods out of sterile cockpit can leave a pilots mind remain focused on the subject relatively long after sterile cockpit is entered again.  This is where discipline could and should come into play (not talking about subjects not pertaining to the flight at hand), and an area I try to focus on more these days.  I say ‘these days’ because as the years roll on, things happen, things that make you think twice about how disciplined you really are in your duties, and how you would like to be matches us with the reality.
It was late, a quarter till eleven, when we were given the “cross two-seven right, right turn on sierra, contact tower one one eight point five” clearance.  We continued south on taxiway Echo and followed the snaking, right left right path of taxiway Sierra, my left hand on the tiller steering the pointy end of the CRJ toward the rows of the orange lights of the UPS ramp nearby runway two-seven left. 
Whatever non-pertaining conversation there was (couldn’t have been much) stopped suddenly when Philly Tower gave our takeoff clearance, “cleared for takeoff runway two-seven left”.  My ‘strong in all areas’ first officer repeated the clearance back to the Tower, and I called out “Flaps eight before takeoff checklist”, which we quickly completed, leaving a two hundred yard straight section of taxiway Sierra, headed west, before a quick left and very short taxi segment on taxiway Sierra One (S1) to get on runway two-seven left, and then a sharp right turn to align with the runway for takeoff (see the airport diagram below).
Philadelphia International - Taxiway S1 and Runway 27L on center lower half, near control tower

We made the left turn and started to cross the hold short line for runway two-seven left.  I had made this turn many times, and only as a Captain.  Because S1 was a very short taxi segment before the hold short line, it was tricky to visually check the final approach of runway two-seven left for traffic before actually crossing the hold short line for the runway.  Not to worry, though, we had good men with good intentions looking out for us; the control tower was close enough that we could still see their silhouettes in the cab during the day.  Many times, but not always, before this evening I would delay making the turn until the last moment in order to make a sharper turn, which would give us more room to visually check that there is no traffic on the final approach course before the jet’s nose crossed the hold short line that marked the boundary between the taxiway and runway.  
“Tower are they going to get out of our way in time?”  The clearly and quickly spoken words by the female UPS pilot alerted us to a major problem, simultaneously as I got over my disbelief and did a triple take with my eyes, observing the multiple bright lights of a Boeing 757 on short final of our runway, and their runway also, two-seven left (27L).  My synapses snapped into overdrive, suddenly thinking as quickly as possible.  There was no time to wonder about why this was happening, no time to deny or delay the reality of the moment, no time to escape from the sudden pressure of the situation.  A huge airplane about a half mile to our left and about two hundred feet above the ground would be right where we were in less than fifteen seconds. 
The need for a pilot to check the final approach is a primary safety directive taught from a student’s first flight: always visually check that the final approach is clear before you take the runway for takeoff.  By this evening I had about six thousand hours of flight time, and I had never been in another aircraft’s way on the runway.
Fortunately I didn't freeze.  Because they were so close and we still weren’t aligned with the runway and wouldn’t have started the turn to do that for another ten seconds, there was absolutely no way we could have taken off and cleared the runway in time.  That was a no brainer, and postflight that made me think the UPS pilot’s words were a polite (and surprised) way of asking the control tower to make us clear the runway so that they did not have to abandon the approach and execute a go-around.   
Runway boundary constituted by 'holding positions markings' shown - FAA AIM

Because the nose and our cockpit was already past the hold short line and we were technically on the runway even though the plane wasn’t past the runway edge lines (see FAA AIM diagram above), I didn't let my feet ever touch the brakes.  I saw my escape across the runway to the other side of taxiway “Sierra One” and started to advance the thrust levers.  We could sort out the taxi back to the runway after we got out of the way.  With a stuttered surprise, the tower controller ordered urgently:  “Exit the runway at Sierra Two”.  He owed us that much at least, after clearing our aircraft to take off while having already cleared one to land, and creating a serious safety risk all at once. 
At that point I didn’t know if Sierra Two was straight ahead or where, I just wanted to ‘get away’ and have a snickers, so to speak.  “To the right, to the right!”  My First Officer urgently yelled and motioned in reply to my question regarding Sierra Two: “is that straight?”  I gunned the thrust levers halfway up, made a quick right turn down the runway halfway between the edge and the centerline, found Sierra Two (S2) and turned off clear of the runway, back eastbound, again on Sierra.  We watched the big, long 757 with cool customers driving it land just as we finished the turn on Sierra.  They braked normally and took the left turnoff from the runway at taxiway Yankee (Y) just like nothing had happened.  But something had just happened, something bad.  The control tower had cleared us for takeoff, directly conflicting with another aircraft they had already cleared to land.  We had just experienced a moment you do not want to have, ever, as a pilot.
The tower did not miss a beat, in spite of knowing their mistake.  I should say his mistake, although I don't know the staffing at that hour but I assumed the tower was minimally staffed with one controller for the tower and one for ground, and no manager backing either of them up.  He was businesslike as he stated to us “you are still cleared for takeoff, runway two-seven right”.  Still cleared for takeoff.  No takeoff clearance cancellation had been given, in spite of us severely cramping some big iron’s style on short final.  He should’ve cancelled our takeoff clearance, and I thought during our climbout that he didn’t because (1) he didn’t want that to be on the ATC tapes, and (2) he didn’t want to perform any possible paperwork required, (3) he didn’t have time to either.  He knew what he was doing, except for that one moment, and that’s all you need is a moment, unfortunately.
My First Officer and I talked a lot about this on the way up to Binghamton, New York, that night. 
How did that happen?  I didn’t visually clear the final approach path, and the tower probably had cleared the 757 to land before we had switched to the tower frequency.  Runway 27L is not usually used for landings, except by UPS at night when it provides them a short taxi to their nearby ramp.  I didn’t have my guard up for that possibility.  I have a theory that at some point the controller couldn’t see the 757 because the approach path position of the 757 made it to become blocked from view by the control tower cab roof, unless the controller gets up close to the windows.  The controller had a moment of inattention and permitted himself to be distracted.  Controller fatigue could have been a factor.  They could have had reduced staffing and fewer controllers to back each other up. 
I asked: should we report the controller’s mistake?  It would surely get him in trouble.  We wondered if they had an immunity program to write a report about their mistakes and be given protection from discipline or termination (they didn’t at that time).  Reporting him would force us to admit we didn’t clear the runway visually before entering it, and we wondered about what that meant for us.  We could call him when we arrived at Binghamton and asked for an explanation, he probably had a ready apology. 
What do you think I did, reader, at the end of the flight and end of the night?  What would you have done, and why?  Let’s start a little discussion. 
Learn from my lesson: always, always, always clear your runway before you cross the hold short line, control tower or not!  My favorite quote from Ronald Reagan applies here: “Trust but Verify”.
God bless you, and thanks for reading my blog!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Where have you been?

Hello again, blogosphere!  "Where have you been, Captain Craig"?

Well, you're right, the last post was in October.  I've been flying and have had a few "moments" I'd like to write about sometime.  I have also been on twitter, as you can see.  My respectful apologies to Rush Limbaugh listeners, regarding his current troubles and my retweets.  I listened to him in the nineties, but now its just to get my blood pressure up.  And yes, I am an evangelical, born-again Christian.  Anyway, that's not what I'm writing about quickly this morning.

Passion.  Everyone wants it, needs it, and hopefully recognizes when they have it for something and how valuable it is.  When you are excited about something going on in your life so much that you want to take that moment and squeeze it in your fist, as if in childlike faith you could make your passion ooze out of your fingers in exultation, victory, and vibrant life?  That's my street version of passion, and you can have it for many things:  for a spouse or loved one, for God, for a career, for a vocation, for sport, for an activity, for a hobby, for an interest.  When our passion is brought out in what we love, it resonates within us and around us, and that is a good thing.

One of my passions has long been flying, obviously, still is.  I still love catapulting a riveted aluminum pressure tube full of human cargo five miles in the sky at eight miles a mile.  The wonder, beauty, adventure, and challenges flying presents to me always makes for a satisfying experience.  Its what I do, and I believe I am fairly good at it.  But I have other passions as well, and want to share them with you.

Another passion I have is entrepreneurship, specifically in the realm of designing and marketing new products and services.  I've made other attempts at this, but my latest foray is successful, so far.  I'm happy about it, and it has a good deal of untapped potential and market share to gain.  Unfortunately, between airline flying, family time, starting and running the business, and sleep, I've had a difficult time carving out time to blog.  I'd like this to change; maybe I can devote my airline commuting time solely to blogging.

Okay, thanks for waiting, wondering what it is.  Logbook Solutions is the main entity of my LLC, and we serve pilots who use computer based logbooks.  We don't sell software or plan to.  We sell high quality logbook binders and paper, to help pilots to look their best when presenting their logbook at a pilot interview, checkride, or whenever.  An appropriate binder and paper is becoming essential for pilots to maintain their professional image with, while taking full advantage of today's excellent logbook software.  We also have a printing service; a pilot can purchase a binder and paper, and have us professionally print his or her logbook, all at once.  We are planning a logbook conversion service also.  Performing the data entry of a pilot's handwritten logbook into logbook software will be a major time saver for new computer logbook pilots.  To learn more, please visit

The website is basic but clear, I hope.  It needs work, however, and I need help with it.  I need help with other tasks in addition to the website also; logbook conversion services and marketing come to mind.  Interested or know someone who is?  Please contact me at your convenience.
There are other great ideas I am chasing and developing, in the area of PED accessories for personal and aviation uses.  PED = personal electronic devices, BTW.  I can't share very many details here, but these ideas have great potential.  I need business partners and investors, angel investors are desired but not required. 

This blog started out as a passion, one in which I wanted to combine my passion for flying with my passion (which God gave me BTW) for the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  In my writings I've desired to correlate my flying experiences and adventures to my personal faith life and the scriptures as I understand them.
I'm still going to write, but it will probably be infrequently, due to my other business activities.  This blog would be better served if pilots who had time would participate.  Would you like to write for this blog?  I am inviting passionate pilots of faith to write posts which I will publish on this blog.  It doesn't have to include elements of your faith, but it would be nice.  I prefer to host only pilots who call themselves Christians, by any standard commonly accepted.  I know it sounds non-inclusive, but this is inline with the intent and mission of this blog.  Blogs are free!  If you're a hedonist, free-thinking atheist pilot (extreme example) and want to write, get your own blog!  (And God bless you).

Maybe I will get a few takers, maybe not.  If I do, great!  If not, that's all right too.  Like being an entrepreneur, asking for assistance from complete strangers involves risk taking.  Come to think of it, that is what Jesus and a good 'preacher-man' asks believers to do: take a risk and share your story and faith in Jesus with others.  God bless you, and thanks for reading my blog.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Stupid Questions

On a March day, ten and half years ago, I started my first IOE (initial operating experience) for an airline.  It was an eye opener, even more than I expected it to be.  CRM (cockpit resource management) was in the forefront of the airline industry then, but it hadn’t established a great presence at my commuter turboprop airline, and I was about to find out.

The first flight was easy, a short one from Spencer, Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with me as the PNF (pilot not flying).  From my first impression, I could see that my IOE Captain, whom they call a Check Airman, was ‘crusty around the edges’.  That means he was very capable and skilled, but with a certain disregard for standard procedures and protocol, and a lack of patience to go with it.  ‘Burned out’ is another term often attached to pilots like this, and although he was seemingly a good guy outside of the cockpit (he gave me a ride to the hotel two nights in a row, even though his home was the opposite direction from the airport), he was past his expiration date and needed to move on, which he did later on that summer.

Our second flight was to Denver, over the South Dakota and high plains.  They became dark below us as night had fallen, and as the pilot flying I was wondering about the STAR (standard terminal arrival route) we were on into Denver.  I wanted to study it and see what the courses and DME distances on the fixes were (on the VOR’s we were tracking).  At a normal airline both pilots have their own set of charts, but my first airline was not a normal one.  Only the Captain received a set of charts, to be shared between the two pilots of each flight crew.  The Captain decided where the charts would be placed in the tight cockpit.  Captain ‘Bruce’ had the arrival chart on his yoke, as I recall, and I couldn’t see it well in the dim cockpit.  Before Denver center had us start our descent, something happened which made me lock up, and not ask my Captain what the fixes were or to see the STAR. 

I couldn’t believe he said it, but he did, and then and there I had to deal with it.  And the method in which I did turned out to be not the greatest.  In the end it was a great learning experience for me in what to do, what not to do, and especially how NOT to be.

“Well, at this level, there are stupid questions.”  That was what he said, definitively and blank faced to me, after prefacing that inane statement with “you know how you’ve been told in your flying career that there are no stupid questions?”  I was immediately both shocked and programmed to not ask any stupid questions.  Not on my second flight as an airline pilot, and my first one as the pilot flying. 

We were now on the STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) portion of our flight routing.  Each major airport has several standard arrival routes, or paths, and we were on one from the northeast of Denver, headed southwest. 

The following is as best as I can remember it.  The numbers may have been different, but this is the best I can recollect.  The STAR we were on is called the LANDR arrival, and it also included a fix (or waypoint) on the route which had the same name of LANDR. 

It was seemingly not more than a couple of minutes after the ‘stupid questions’ comment that my Captain read back that a crossing restriction clearance to Denver Center on the radio.  “Cross LANDR at-maintain one one-three-thousand” were the exact words I heard him repeat back to Denver Center, which set my synapses running. 

(Thirteen thousand feet is lower than the published crossing restriction at LANDR, but I think ATC liked us there because that permitted faster moving jets to pass us above us on the way in if needed.)
(This link is a map of the LANDR STAR.  You might have to rotate it clockwise to view it better.  Just right click your mouse and select "rotate clockwise".)

As Bruce twisted the knob, set the altitude alerter to 13,000 and I verified it, my face felt warm and flushed with the pressure of facing my first real crossing restriction, with no real knowledge of the DME (distance from a ground station) of LANDR, and most critically, with too much fear to ask what it was.  He had just intimidated me (unknowingly, probably) into not asking any ‘stupid’ questions, no matter how simple they were.

(Background: Our Beechliner was strictly ‘green needles’ for navigation; we received VHF ground navigation stations and tracked courses to and from them, following our flight plan and clearances that way.  A nice feature we used constantly was referencing the distance (DME) from each ground station (VOR), which was displayed on our EHSI’s (electronic horizontal situation indicator)). 

Two simple equations drilled into our heads in ground school training were ones regarding how to descend and make crossing restrictions.  We had to do mental math, but it was relatively simple.  To descend at an approximate three degree angle (preferred): (1) Distance to descend before the fix = thousands of feet to descend x 3, (2) Descent rate per minute to make crossing altitude = ground speed x 6 (ground speed was displayed in the cockpit).  Also, to get the current distance to the fix you had to do some arithmetic.  There are other mental math ways to do this, but this is the way we were taught.  The problem was the actual training to do this was OJT, on IOE, so it could get sketchy and stressful, and was about to be that way in our cockpit. 

I started descending at a gingerly rate, consumed with the question of what DME the fix was, but afraid to ask.  “Thirty to thirteen”.  Bruce started barking out numbers, and I had no idea what he was talking about.  “Twenty to thirteen”.  I was kind of frozen.  “Sixteen to thirteen”.  In higher volume and more urgent tones my crusty Captain pronounced this codespeak out loud. 

Post-incident, I realized that he seemed to think that I should have understood the information he was giving to me.  I admit I was a ‘green’ airline pilot, but regardless, he never explicitly explained what the numbers meant.  Also, I was so paralyzed it never occurred to me that I could just descend to 13,000 feet as quickly as possible.   I wanted to do the mental math to make the restriction, but what the heck was the DME of the fix?  In the heat of the moment, I was still too afraid to ask, and had no real idea. 

It continued: “Twelve to thirteen”.  The tension in the cramped cockpit finally reached a climax as he practically yelled: “Eight to thirteen!  My aircraft!”  I relinquished the controls as Bruce exhaled a frustrated sigh, and chopped and dropped – reduced both power levers to flight idle and pushed the control wheel forward to lower the nose of the beechliner, and increased our rate of descent to make the crossing restriction.           

We made it fine, but it wasn’t fine.  Bruce was now skeptical of me and how I would do during IOE, I could tell.  To my relief, he quickly cooled off, gave me back the flight controls, and I remember that my first landing in the Beechliner was a good one. 

But my first impressions of him had already been cemented.  He was burned out, his communication skills were poor, and he didn’t seem to care about it or about teaching new pilots very much.  At the very least, his actions showed that he was unaware how much he had intimidated me. 

However, for my part, I should’ve asked what he meant by those numbers when it was happening, should’ve asked him if I could see the chart or what the DME of the fix was, and should’ve explained my confusion once our conflict was past.  I should’ve resolved that conflict, but didn’t. 

That very first day notified me that sometimes there will be conflict between crewmembers, and how important it is to resolve it.  Over the years my experiences in airline flying have taught me how to resolve it, and just as importantly, how to avoid it.

It’s better to focus on how to be than not to be, but that experience left an impact on me I remember well.  I used to tell this story to my First Officers after I upgraded to Captain and it amazed them that a pilot could act with such disregard, unawareness, and ego.  Bruce had let his ego get too big in his left seat and eventually didn’t have enough patience and grace that was needed for the new First Officers he was given to fly with.

To a certain degree though, his implied advice was useful; let me elaborate.  Nobody wants to look stupid, but everyone needs information.  As in any industry, if there is information you need that can be easily obtained, get it yourself if you can.  If you can’t answer it, then try a higher up (Captain in this case).  But regardless, above all, don’t withhold a question because you’re afraid it might be stupid!  Safety depends on it, and professionalism dictates it!

Thanks for reading my blog, and may God bless you.

Monday, July 18, 2011


“Oh, they won’t wait anymore.  We’re up for sale, you know.  Have to get that on time performance to look good.  The only way they will hold this flight is if mainline calls and tells them to.”  I was greeting the friendly pilots of the red, white, and blue regional jet I was boarding for my flight from Chicago to my home, and had just told them the CSA (Gate Agent) had mentioned to me that they had seven passengers who had just landed on a mainline flight, who would probably be late for this flight.  Even though it was the last flight of the night to my commuting city home, these two professionals (and I mean that in every sense of the word) didn’t even think it worth their while to request, tell, order, or demand to the agent and/or operations that the flight be held for these passengers customers.  Performance wins too frequently these days, and humans end up losing.  Performance over customer service.  Performance over safety).  Performance over sticking your neck out over the risk of getting a ‘demerit’ or worse. 

I kindly let their ambivalence slide and answered their questions about how my regional airline was doing, thanked them for the ride, and found my seat.

The door was shut and jetway disconnected at 9:11 PM.  We pushed back five minutes earlier than scheduled departure time at 9:15 PM, while I visualized these seven passengers running and showing up at the gate at 9:17 PM, pleading that the agent re-open the flight and board them on the plane.  No chance.  This scenario has probably occurred on my watch, when I’m tired at the end of the day, and want to get to the overnight.  I try to guard against it and leave no one behind; I try to show how I care.  But I won’t say it has never happened.  When this might occur, it is usually the gate agent’s last flight of the night and they want to go home. 

Why don’t we care like we used to in the airlines?  We care more about staying out of trouble and not getting a late departure than we do about our customers.  It starts from the top down, and if an employee fears being late more than stranding passengers, unhappy passengers lose.  The airlines say they care as much about customer service as they do about safety, on time performance, and ‘economic efficiency’ (fancy phrase for cheaper), but in my experience these priorities are unbalanced.

I’ve been on two airlines who hold flights for late passengers, however, and I will name names: #Southwest (they do a great, consistent job of this) and #United, believe it or not (the last flight of the night). 

What a day I had, five legs after a 6:30 AM van.  I tried to ‘drop’ the last two flights, a Pittsburgh round trip, but crew scheduling denied it, due to ‘lack of reserve coverage’.  We woke up in humid, stale, stinky still air in Florence, South Carolina (sorry Florence), flew up to Charlotte, over to ‘Rocket-Town’ - Huntsville, Alabama.  Loading up the peeps a United Captain came to the cockpit to meet us and ask for ride back to Washington.  Lo and behold, it was Alan Cockrell, one of the best airline bloggers and writers, in my opinion.  It was nice to meet him, and you should read his blog.  He should write a book on airline flying.
In DC we then had a three hour fifteen minute break until the Pittsburgh round trip.  If my drop request had been granted I would’ve been on a 2:30 PM flight home on the first leg of my commute. 

After my FO tried to encourage me that I could still make it home later, I replied that I’d already used up my optimism on my rejected drop request.  At the time, we had just seen the departure monitor show that our plane for the Pittsburgh flight would be late.  It was ‘posting’ as a 4:22 PM departure instead of 4:07 PM. 

A nice lunch at the new Qdoba should’ve cheered me up, but the lack of tortilla strips in my Mexican gumbo left me a little riled (no apology and no offer of chips in their place – this is a little like McDonald’s running out of French fries).  This was the first instance of someone not caring this day.

I feared that our plane would become more delayed, not knowing why it was running late.  I could’ve called dispatch to find out, but I was juggling my phone with many business emails (see today.

Fortunately, post Qdoba our jet looked like it would arrive at about 4:15 PM.  We would still go out later than 4:22 PM to Pittsburgh but I had a fighting chance of making either the 7:20 or 7:50 PM flight to Chicago. 

Fast forward to the visual approach my fine First Officer was flying into Pittsburgh.  He was ‘freestyling’ (hand flying with flight director off) a visual approach from a semi-high position (all strictly within our flight limitations), and on base leg had extended the flight spoilers.  On approach we noted that we had indications that the spoilerons and outboard ground spoilers had minor ‘faults’ indicated with them.  One or more of these spoilers had one of two actuators that didn’t seem to be working properly.  It didn’t mean the spoilers wouldn’t work, just that they had lost some redundancy.  On touchdown I verified that all the spoilers (panels on the wing which pop up and disturb the lift the wing produces) actuated properly.

After shutdown at the gate, my good First Officer asserted in a professional manner that we should give maintenance a call about the spoilers, and write the messages up in the aircraft logbook.  Because we had received the messages in flight, if we had called maintenance it would require a visit from an on-call mechanic.  This I readily admit I did not want to do.  I could visualize us waiting to twenty or thirty minutes for the mechanic to arrive, twenty or thirty precious minutes I needed to catch my DC to Chicago flight. 

In the end I called.  I cared more about doing the right thing than about getting home; I do admit I had mixed motives, but still.  On my non-company cellphone I talked to maintenance, wrote the two messages up, and waited for the on call mechanic to arrive.  It really varies from airport to airport how long it takes maintenance to get there.  But before I had much time to fret, he was in the jetway.  He took care of the writeup and circuit breaker reset in record time. 

We had already loaded up, and after closing and pushing back I had confidence again that I would make the last flight out of DC this night.  Thirty minutes later, after a fast climb to the east, ATC announced holding instructions to us.  “Holding?  What for?”  I thought screamed (“traffic volume” the ATC controller included with our clearance), while my FO wrote the clearance down, programmed it in the FMS, and I observed and confirmed it.

My FO later expressed a little admiration for me not ‘sailor talking’, saying that he would’ve been throwing the four letter words if he’d been in my position.  This exemplifies the stress pilot commuters endure, trying to get home and to work, and it adds to an already sleep deprived high workload.  Maybe someday I’ll have an easier commute (one leg instead of two) or even drive to my domicile.  But for now I’m still making the best of it.

I did make the flight to Chicago, by the way, where they closed my flight home early to the seven “mis-connects”.  We were released from the hold ten minutes early, at 6:50 PM.  The flight to Chicago was to depart at 7:50 PM.  I set the parking brake of our thinly painted, rivet exposed, well used CRJ at about 7:15, and hustled two concourses over as fast as I could briskly walk. 

We who transport people across the sky from one place to another should care more (myself included).  Too many pressures from management and bean counters “spoil” what comes naturally to many of us: to show how we care about customers by serving them to the best of our ability while performing our duties professionally and efficiently.  And in this arena we deliver something of bedrock importance to them : sustainment of their dignity as fellow humans.  When a customer is dissed, everything gets degraded: they do, our culture does and society does too. 

In earth’s short human history, one person lived who showed that he cared more than any other, and still does.  Even though He was actually a King, He served others as a servant, taught marvelous truths, healed many, had many followers, and He promised that by following him, you could enter the kingdom of God.  He cared so much that he voluntarily gave up his life on a cross of crucifixion, to pay for the penalty of my sin, and of your sin.  By putting your faith in Him as your Savior, you receive the promise He gave from John 3:16: “that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  By exercising faith in Him and his “substitionary atonement”, we are made clean and become acceptable to God.  You should conclude then, whoever this person is who died in all of humanity’s place, he must be very special, and very Holy.

And you would be right.  His name, Jesus Christ, of course, you’ve heard of him probably.    But in this post-modern, now post-Christian world (at least part of it is), others disagree.  They believe in a universal spirituality, and they don’t believe in the concept of sin as the bible teaches.  They don’t believe that their sin separates them from God, and if they believe in a personal God, they likely believe that God’s grace is available to all. 

Those beliefs lead them to not think of Jesus as the bible teaches and claims he is.  This is a grave error, and is the same as “man making God in his own image” instead of viewing Jesus through the lens of “God making man in his own image” as the bible states. 

God’s grace is available to all, but the one pre-condition to being “under grace” is believing and receiving Jesus as your Savior.  If you don’t claim Jesus as your personal Savior, you are still “under the law”.  Liberal theology and ‘pickers and choosers’ of the Bible tend to discount any claim of exclusivity that Jesus had as unworthy additions by newly zealous Christian converts in the first century.  But in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verse 6, Jesus is quoted in no uncertain terms as stating this to his disciples "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  A Methodist Pastor puts this passage in better perspective.  I personally feel that there are many spiritual paths to come to Jesus, and that Jesus is the best and truest way to God.

God showed how he cares about us, about you and about me, by sending his son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins.  Jesus never sinned, so that is one reason that he had the ability to serve as a sacrifice for the sins of many.  Another set of reasons are the many, many Old Testament prophecies He fulfilled, involving his lineage, his life, actions, and death.  His work of Salvation for us is a marvelous thing, an amazing gift available to all who trust in Him.  Taking a cue from that cute Mexican beer commercial, Jesus is the real “most interesting man in the world”.  “Stay thirsty, my friends.”  Let me ask you, though, are you, yourself spiritually thirsty enough to want to know God, the God that personally cares enough for you to die for you? 

I’m not trying to scare anyone or to sell ‘fire insurance’.  But this is the basics of orthodox Christianity.  I see universal spiritualism creeping into our society and culture more and more, and sold out Christians (myself included) aren’t speaking up enough for Jesus, aren’t pointing toward the person He is and the light He shines, aren’t saying hey, wait a minute, that’s not how God is.

Don’t let the ideas of Universalism spoil your opportunity to go down God’s jetway.  God cares about you, reader, enough to hold the flight for you, as long as you have breath left on this earth in this life.  God will meet you where you’re at, when you’re ready to take a step of faith and put your trust in Jesus as your savior.  You don’t have to board the plane in clean clothes either, come as you are, straight from the mud pit, if that’s where you’ve been. 

God bless you, and thanks for reading my blog.