Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Sick 'Man in the Box'

I'm writing about my recent Proficiency Check (PC) in the 'box', the full motion flight simulator a couple weeks ago. It wasn't cool, radical, or impressive (the modern slang definitions kids use for something that is 'sick'), but I made it through ok. I actually was sick, the cold and flu kind, and afterwards I wished I had called in sick instead. Unwisely, I had deadheaded down to CLT the day before, 18 hours after I started feeling a little achy and stopped up. By the time I made it down to CLT I felt significantly worse, but still good enough to eat mexican next to the hotel. The day of the checkride came, and I regretted showing up, but I made it through. The worst was yet to come.

Whether you're a pilot or not, do yourself a favor, and learn from my mistake. If you're sick, you're sick, no matter what you're scheduled to do. The simulator is used all day and night long, and there's significantly less airflow in 'the box' than in the real airplane's flight deck. It's a great germ factory to pass on bugs to other pilots and instructors, and I didn't properly consider that factor before I showed up at the training center. It's easier to reschedule a PC than cancel a few because the examiner is sick, and you only need one pilot, not two, to conduct a PC. I hope my sim partner or examiner didn't get sick. I emailed them to express my regret if it occurred.

Post -checkride and post-adrenaline, I boarded the US Airways jet in CLT for the flight back in misery. Breathing rapidly, I definitely had a fever going, and appearance wise, I thought it was good I was out of my pilot uniform. Then, waiting to get off the plane in DC, I was still trying to clear my clogged ears, and rubbing my hands together to prevent shivering. A hot crash pad bath later, I myself crashed in exhaustion, and awoke to wet sheets. However, my fever had broken, and I felt much better, relatively speaking, so I went home on my first of two days off, knowing I would call in sick on the second day. I was to commute back the day before for another trip, and by experience I knew my sinuses and especially my ears would still be too congested to fly an RJ around for three days.

What kind of fun do we have during a PC? Well, for the first two hours we have an 'oral' portion, where the examiner quizzes myself and the other pilot on our jet's pre-flight procedures, limitations, emergency memory checklist items, and the operation of the various systems of the jet (Electrical, Environmental, Fuel, Powerplant, Hydraulic, etc.).

Next, we have a four hour simulator ride, where we're basically put through the ringer. The examiner 'plays God' with the weather and aircraft's location and behavior. The simulator is mounted on hydraulic struts and is connected to a 'host' computer, which is programmed to make it mimic the real airplane. It's so realistic that the FAA permits new pilots to do all of their flight training in the sim. That's right, the first flight almost all airline pilots perform in a new jet (to them) is one with the paying public on board.

One of us is the PF (Pilot Flying) and the other is the PNF for each half of the four hour session. We fly a normal takeoff, and that's as about as normal as it gets. Steep turns and demonstration wing stalls are performed before we start a myriad of instrument approaches, with aircraft system malfunctions occurring at various times. Engine failures always thrown in, usually right at rotation speed on takeoff roll. We experience windshear and loss of control events that we would valiantly try to avoid in the real world. On a PC we expect to usually go around from an approach, not land. We have so much to get done in such a short time that a PC makes for an intense experience, we really have to pay attention, focus for a while and work together as a team.

My PC partner Ben and I have both been studying for a least a couple of weeks for this, both the oral portion and the flying portion. It's stressful, but if I've studied, I'm prepared. I've been flying this jet for over five years now, so these days it gets a little easier each time. For me, the part that requires discipline is actually studying, because I am pretty familiar with the aircraft. Fortunately, I didn't slack off too much for this one, and my PC went pretty smoothly.

When it comes down to it, I actually like PC's, because I always learn a few things, make new friends, and afterwards I feel accomplished and prepared to fly the paying public for another six months. Speaking of which, what would you like me to write about for the next six months? New or old stories? Flying related or crew/passenger? Spiritual matters or practical? Educational - career wise or my personal history? Let me know, or not.
Before I'm done with this one, I'd like to drop this on your lap. Commuting home yesterday from my last four day trip, I was narrowing down a title for this post, and the thought of another sick 'man in the box' came to me. I remembered Layne Staley, former lead singer of the grunge-metal band Alice in Chains, and their song 'Man in the Box', from 1991.

Unfortunately, Layne Staley is gone from the earth, his emaciated body found two weeks after a fatal overdose of cocaine and heroin in April, 2002. Alice in Chains had quite the following during the 90's, starting with 'Man in the Box' and it's despondent and shockingly honest lyrics of his seeming resignation to a fate of intended spiritual blindness: (these are PG lyrics BTW)

"I'm the man in the box, buried in my ____, won't you come and save me, save me
Feed my eyes, can you sew them shut
Jesus Christ, deny your maker
He who tries, will be wasted
Feed my eyes, now you've sewn them shut"

Shocking words from a song which struck a chord in many a lost young person's soul, which is still played on the radio. More often than our culture knows or acknowledges, rock song lyrics reveal the true duality between the dark spiritual lives and real struggles in the physical lives of people.

However, to be fair, in a recorded interview with Fuse TV, Layne Staley himself stated that the lyrics are about censorship in the mass media, and "I was really stoned when I wrote it."

Really. I've always taken song lyrics in any song at their face value, and everyone should have that attitude. How can Rock artists say with a straight face that the controversial words in their songs are just words, they don't mean what they seem to? It's just another denial after the first one. Conversely, the hymns and praise and worships songs we we stand and sing for the Lord our God on Sunday morning and at Christian music concerts don't mean what they say either?

Taken in the context of the words, these lyrics have scriptural truth, strangely enough, and in my opinion are tantamount to (1) taunting God to save you with no act of the will on your part, (2) asking and inviting the Enemy to help you deny your maker (who is naturally known to all men - Romans 1:19-20), and (3) declaring the spiritual truth that if you intently deny Jesus Christ, you eyes will become spiritually blinded and 'shut'.
Taunting God to save you will not get much of a response from Him. Crying out in submission and acceptance of Jesus as your personal savior will. Being saved still takes an impetus of the will, from somewhere deep inside your heart.

Think about the difference between belief and denial. These lyrics portray the process of denial but belief changing to pure unbelief. They deny Jesus Christ while at the same time acknowledging him as his maker - There is no unbelief in those words, just denial. The final fruit is a blindness in which there is no way to see the light anymore, an inability to believe anymore.

Applicable verses? We got plenty of 'em. John is a favorite 'Gospel of Love' that teaches good deal about the 'light'. From John 3:18-20 (the part after 'for so God Loved the world . . .'): "18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah saw Jesus' coming glory and wrote about him. John quotes from Isaiah 6:10 after Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the last time, and 'most of the people still don't believe in Jesus' despite all the miraculous signs he had done: From John 12:40: "He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them."
The apostle Paul has some very interesting and applicable words from his second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 4:4 (NLT): "4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God."
Are you shocked by all this, or would you like more? The popularity and prevalence of Satanic images and the acceptance of 'evil' (as long as it doesn't 'hurt' anyone) in our culture is to me just more evidence that the Enemy is among us, and that we're living in the last days. The popular metal band Metallica has the strong presence of the Enemy evidenced in the words of their hit "Sad but true". Click on the link for a look at the lyrics.
Let's put on the full armor of God, and remember this from Ephesians 6:12: "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."
Maybe I brought you down with my other 'sick man in the box' stuff. But in the fallen world we live in, which is currently the enemy's dominion, it needs to be addressed. As Christians, we can reach out in Christ's Love and fellowship to others who are sick men and women in the box, no matter how sick they are. Some will come out in the light to be treated and made well by the master physician, and our eternal God will be glorified forever.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Craig Needs?

A slight diversion, not the airplane kind, from the usual format for this post will be in order.

I was tagged by my lovely wife, who did this on her blog. My excellent sister and other friends have done it as well. And it is kind of fun, so in tribute to google and the incredible search engine (and verb) it has become, here goes.

Directions: google your 'first name' + 'needs' (Craig needs). Then you have material ready made a commentary on what all-knowing google knows you need. Here are my top ten search results:

1. Craig needs to sell his '92 Saturn SL2 - $2900. Yes, and go right out and buy a $2900 Mazda Miata. I know it's a little girly, but I'm a regional airline pilot, not a major. And Shannon will ask if she can drive it during the warm months - all four of them.

2. Craig Needs To Please A Lot More Fans... Really? That's inflating my 'pilot ego' even more.

3. Craig needs Australia. Love it down under, never been. Friendly, fun loving blokes, at least on TV. Good beer and steaks, and onion rings. Oh I'm such an American. Underrated rock n roll.

4. Craig needs a friend. Yes, this is true. You're reading my blog. Will you be my friend? Do you know someone else who will be my friend? Seriously, I still meet people in the OC who ask 'do you live here'? Being gone most of the time limits my 'friend time' at home.

5. Craig needs New York 'Defiance': Yes, I defy all that is wrong with New York these days, from wall street corruption to geese in the way to Conan leaving to . . . (be careful with this one, I could be based there in the future - my seniority would be much better than at DC)

6. Craig, it seems, needs some money to help him pay his legal bills. Uh Oh. Shannon? (the lovely one pays the bills)

7. Craig needs to resign, not because he is gay. I insist this is a misprint, they left out 'married to a' gay. Er, Shannon Gay. What I wrote first sounds worse. Must actually be referring to Senator Larry 'wide stance' Craig.

8. Craig needs to get his facts straight over salmon. I Love salmon, even though we're landlocked in Iowa. Shannon hates it, and has fooled the girls to do so as well. So far.

9. Craig needs help - with pics. Pics I can't get out of my head (not really) of my true airport bathroom / airliner encounter I had with Larry 'wide stance' Craig. I only tell the true Larry story in person, sorry.

10. Craig needs someone to kiss his boo boo. This has absolutely nothing to do with me and 'ole wide stance.

If you're my new friend, or an old friend, consider yourself tagged. ______ needs?

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Week in the Life - Day 3 and 4

After sleeping well, but not very long in another nice bed and room, I awoke pondering what to do during this third day of my trip, which would idle me in our system. Originally I was scheduled to fly MKE-CLT-RIC-LGA-DH (deadhead) to DCA, but the Crew Scheduling gal I talked to the previous night was unable to schedule me to deadhead back into my trip while giving me the required amount of rest. Hard to believe it, but all I had to do this day was show up at HPN at 1:30 PM for a deadhead back to DC. I had a one day trip starting the next day, so unfortunately I couldn't go home just yet.

The winter storm had thrown CS (Crew Scheduling) a curve ball, and I was already on base. The reassignment they gave me turned out to be an RBI: with my DH back to DC I was home free (at my home away from home). I don't know where the logic is in all this, but you won't find anyone saying that Crew Scheduling ever acts logically, either. CS had told me previously that they had cancelled 348 flights out of 500 on the second day of my trip, so the storm was very disruptive, and they had a big job of rearranging flight crews to where they needed to be.

I had a nice quiet time with the Lord, did some studying for my upcoming checkride, and got a good workout in before heading downstairs for a late van for a late airplane. Hanging out with the crew who were to take me back to Washington, the time clicked by and I was soon back at my crash pad after a refreshing 20 minute walk from DCA. It's very convenient having a crash pad that close to the airport, that I can walk to and have other transportation options (metro, taxi, hotel shuttle) available. The area, Crystal City, is full of business high rises, apartment buildings, and restaurants and shopping. I can only think of a couple airport bases which have the same amenities that close by.

The only negative of my crash pad is that I have launder my own sheets and towels, and boy did they need it. Catching up on my sleep was easy on fresh linens. The next morning 'high pressure was dominating the eastern US' as a TV Meteorologist would put it. It was indeed a great day to fly DC round trips to the Music city and the Motor city. Blue skies smiled at us all day long.

We departed DC on time at 12:15 for Bananaville (BNA) and soon I had a great view of a suprisingly large ski resort in the Blue Ridge mountains. I wondered how far a drive it was from DC, how the snow was, and how empty the hills would be on a Wednesday afternoon, late in the season. Westward, our route of flight tracked over greening horse and hay meadows set between dark wooded hills, with the Cumberland River forming out of the hills and 'hollers'.

By experience and instinct, I tuned our ADF, an AM radio frequency based non-directional beacon navigation device which is at least half a century old, but which we still rarely use, to Nashville's AM650 WSN 'The Legend', my favorite country music station anywhere. WSN has a very powerful signal, and I tapped my toes and hummed along as our jet did the same toward Music City.

The river snaked and sneaked back and forth, reminding me of the unfair stereotype of the real people and families that proudly settled and inhabit these parts. Gradually the Cumberland river grew and became the still beautiful Old Hickory Lake, now a suburban Nashville Lake, much of it surrounded by suburban neighborhoods. We saw that the Lake had flooded the uninhabited parts of it's coastline, and it was time for my FO to make a smooth approach and landing at Nashville International.

'Ron' is another FO I have a very easy time working with. A former Naval Aviator, he's a real pro and has plenty of experience. He flew helicopters and fixed wing turboprops, no jets, but that's OK. After the NAVY he flew for an eventually failed local regional and national airline out of DC, and now he's been putting in good time with our airline. He drives 45 minutes to work from near Washington Dulles airport. I'm envious. A little bit.

A Neeley's Bar-B-Que sandwich (Concourse B, near gate 4) is a darn good way to spend your break. Ah, the smell of the sauce on my sticky fingers! 'Savor it, don't use the wet wipe until the flight controls get too sticky', I think to myself.

Like clockwork, our chariot climbed us out towards the east at 1,000 ft/min to 29,000ft above sea level. Our indicated speed was 290 miles/hour, the speed the airplane felt, but because of less dense air at altitude our true airspeed was 400 miles/hour.

From our perch up high more interesting sights followed. We were high above widely scattered clouds which were sun-beaming their shadows down to the gray, lumpy, pie crust and un-leaved terra-firma far below. Stray strip mining operations, which left telltale roads, flattened and whitened mountain tops, and jobs for Americans who need them, were observed here and there.

Closer to DC the Blue Ridge mountains came back into view. The yellow farm fields in the long valleys displayed an engaging contrast to the spined ridges next to them. Quickly we were back on the ground in DC, then climbing out over the Potomac River toward the northwest, next stop Detroit, Michigan.

A few clouds got in our way, but we had a fairly nice flight to DTW. Just past Cleveland (CLE), with the sun trying to hide behind a gap in the high overcast cloud deck that stretched to the horizon, I got an erie icy feeling. Although it had much to do with the frozen great Lake Erie below us that had to do with it. The sun wasn't done for the day though. A golden and energized sum beam aimed horizontally across the frozen surface directly toward us, illuminating the breaks and cracks in the ice, and promising a melt in a future but unknown date.

DTW ATC put us on their classic left downwind leg for landing toward the south, as high as can be. I don't know why they bring us in so high but next time I just might ask. Downtown Detroit was bathed in a deceptively beautiful dusk light, not a harbinger at all of the American auto industry's current troubles. We turned final in the clear but with a clearance for an ILS approach. Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport was hiding in the contrasts of the suburban Michigan landscape. Soon enough we saw the runway, and ATC made up for leaving us high by having us 'sidestep' to another runway which was closer to the airport.

The sidestep saved us at least five minutes of taxi time, which I put to good use by trying out 'The Earl of Sandwich - Artisan breads', in the north terminal. After I ordered and paid the lady told me they were out of horseradish for my roast beef, can I just take it with mayo? I was a little beefed (ha) because of this and because she was treating me impatiently because of Earl's problem. I changed to a Tuna Melt, and got over my frustration after the first hefty bite. I don't know where other 'Earl's' sandwich places are but it's worth finding out. It was the best tuna melt I've ever had, and the bread is one that beats the pants off Subway and Quizno's. (Dad and Lyn, this place could give Diamond Jack's a run for their money!)

It was Ron's turn to fly us back to DC again on a calm evening. We circled to land on runway 33, the short and sporty one. Ron and I parted ways and I walked again to my crashpad to catch a few winks and get up early for a 6:30 departure to MSP. I'd be home almost by lunchtime to reunite with my beautiful two little girls and my one beautiful big girl. It was time to trade the pilot hat for the husband/father hat for two and half days.

To perform four flights on a beautiful blue day as advertised with no hiccups is quite a difference from the first three days, where I flew only 2 out of my 7 scheduled flights. When airline flying is uneventful, it's becomes all about the food, see? And the beauty and friendship of flight as well.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Week in the Life - Day two

The 'Maid knock' came at 08:30 AM. "No thank you, later please"; no 'Do Not Disturb' sign was to be found in the previous depth of night. DC had received eight inches of snow, and it was a sunny but cold Monday morning. If I had been disciplined it would have been a great time for a workout, but I hit the snooze button while the 11 AM van time was fast approaching.

At the DCA zoo, or airport rather, the system was stubbornly trying to reset itself. Our 12:10 deadhead to CLT on US Airways 'mainline' actually left at 12:45, after an unknown to a known gate change. It was strange to see CLT covered in snow, the southern sun had quickly warmed things up to melt all the roadways. We arrived at our gate just in time to take our CRJ to MDT (Harrisburg, PA) a half hour late. The flight to MDT was pretty straightforward, with widely scattered clouds below 10,000 ft, post late winter storm in the sunshine.

It was my leg to fly, and would be an interesting and picturesque visual approach. We were flying east toward the airport at low altitude. MDT ATC expected us to call the airport in sight for the visual, but the ridge on the west bank of the Susquehanna river was in our way, and I hadn't been to MDT since my United Express days. We would wait to call it until we had the airport in sight, framed with the infamous Three mile Island Nuclear power plant to the right of it.

I flew a left base to final towards Runway 31, using Three mile Island as a widely (very widely) spaced pylon. It got bumpy, as the low level gusty north winds down the river were stirring up a lot of friction and mechanical turbulence. Once below 200 feet above ground the sun went away and the ridge across the river was silhouetted in it's late winter bareness.

With a friendly Piedmont Airlines jumpseater in the jumpseat, we had a pleasant flight back to CLT, appreciating the light butterscotch haze the lowered light in the sky painted like an ice cream topping on the white and rolling PA farm land, settled and sown by the Pennsylvania Dutch, 'too yet'.

At CLT OPS told us that our MKE (Brew City) aircraft for the overnight was delayed till 9:30 PM. That meant a 1:45 late departure, and we dealt with it by enjoying 'green' (Verde) pollo enchiladas x tres (yes FO and FA too) at Tequileria Mexican in the CLT terminal. Pretty good, but they need to heat lamp their chips and give more salsa. (Mas salsa por favor!)

Our posted departure delay stretched to 10:20 PM. 'zzzZZZ Ring' - Crew scheduling calling - I woke up from my nap hearing the nice gal tell me that Milwaukee was cancelled, and I was being reassigned, because of a lack of Captains in CLT, to fly to White Plains for my overnight (HPN). If you haven't heard of it, HPN is just north of NYC, and a pretty crowded and busy one runway airport. The passengers have money too, and act like it. The nice nickname we have to HPN is 'white pains'.

But a new FO, one I'd flown with quite a bit and enjoyed working with, and a friendly FA made the sudden change bearable. The sky was mostly clear, and the night visibility was great. An orange halogen light lit landscape slid by from NC to VA, DC to BWI (Baltimore) to Wilmington, Delaware, to PHL, NJ, and on to NY and Long Island.

In clear but gusty conditions, we landed at midnight plus 30, after the tower had closed. My FO had to dredge up her knowledge on how to make the radio calls and other odd things when operating to an 'uncontrolled' airport. We expected it, but still groaned when HPN OPS told us we had to reposition taxi our jet to a parking ramp for the night. Fortunately we get paid 10 minutes for it.

For all the $ the HPN area has, they have the tiniest (but nice red brick) terminal, and heavy demand for airline flights. JetBlue and AirTran have been adding flights and getting piggish with the gates, so it's always fast paced and hectic at the terminal. HPN has lots of corporate and general aviation traffic also, it's an airport to keep your ears on and your eyes peeled at.

The airport had been receiving snow all day on relatively warm ground. After the airport plowing and because of the gusty cold wind, a very glass like frozen surface was left. I took it very slowly parking out jet on the off camber (downslope, not level) ramp the nice agent was 'wanding' (guiding) us to. Anti-skid in our plane doesn't work below 10 miles an hour, a fact I'm reminded of each time I move the jet over slippery ground.

After a relatively long van ride, we checked to our nice rooms and beds at about 1:45 AM. My FO and FA had a different deadhead than I did, and an early van at 10:50 AM. We said our goodbyes and I rested quickly, trying to make a productive plan for the new day coming soon. My schedule for Tuesday had changed as well, and I'll let you know more about that on my next day of 'A Week in the Life'.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Week in the Life - Day one

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged the brush across my head
My wife fed the girls and got 'em dressed
and we sped off to church to be blessed

Once back home I quickly packed
Soon I'd be leaving highway tracks

Now I'm riding in the jumpseat to DC
There's just no room in the back for me

AAaaahhhh aaaaahhhhaaa aaahhhaaaAAAaaaaaa

I'd love to turn you on . . .

That's the beginning, ala Beatles (thank you J.P.G.R.) and 'A Day in the Life' of my week in the life. I've got an excellent view out the NWA Airbus A320 cockpit windows, seated behind Captain Steve. I'm heading out on a four day trip starting Sunday evening, leaving Shannon unfortunately with a hurt back. She'll go to the Chiropractor tomorrow, and I'll be home Thursday for lunch.

Heading east, snow covered Minnesota transitions to a tan and frozen Wisconsin, with a fluffy comforter of clouds covering Lake Michigan from the WI/IL coastline eastward. With a blue sky above us, the air is tranquil, for now, but Captain Steve says we're racing a low pressure storm system to DC which has already dumped 4 inches of snow on Atlanta, just to say 'not so fast spring'.

Our surroundings changed to flying in the 'lampshade' with light, occasional moderate bumps. The weather had arrived in DC, and was going down as we were. From over Steve's shoulder I got a nice view of a CAT 3 ILS approach through star wars style warp speed snow down to a 500 foot overcast. The runway was wet because the ground was warm, but it wouldn't be for much longer.

The snow was horizontal, heavy, and wet. Add those up and it would be an interesting evening. All we had to do was take an airplane full of peeps down to CLT (Charlotte). What would that entail? We would find out soon enough.

We were scheduled to depart for CLT at 9 PM, and the weather wasn't good there either. CLT had moderate to heavy snow falling, 1/2 mile visibility with a 400 foot ceiling, braking action reports of fair and poor, and thundersnow. Great. It was all still legal, just daunting, especially for CLT, NC.

The plane arrived a little late. Then the gate had a delay in boarding the passengers via buses (at DC peeps take a bus from the terminal to the planes on the ramp). About an hour late, we had the peeps boarded and the plane kept giving us a temporary message on our TV screens (flight displays), this one was a 'WOW INPUT' caution message, with a yellow light and a bell dinging every time it went off. It would stay on for a moment and extinguish. It means the airplane can't tell if the nosegear is on the ground or not, basically. Could the snow now caking on the nose gear be causing it? I didn't know, but the QRH (quick reference handbook) read that with a WOW INPUT message airborne you may not have nosewheel steering on landing. In CLT, on this night, on a snow contaminated runway after an approach, that would be a WOW INPUT for the pilots! A call to maintenance was definitely in order.

MX (maintenance) came and told us the nosewheel strut was completely deflated, and needed to be serviced, which required that the passengers be off the plane. We got that done in quick order, and requested an aircraft swap, which dispatch did with surprising efficiency. The passengers were transferred directly to the other plane from the bus they got on. This was the only thing that got done quickly this evening, unfortunately.

The large, cold, wet, heavy, sideways snow was slowing down everything. Ramp employees seemed to be disappearing, and OPS (operations) was slow in producing the required paperwork for our flight. The ramp was slow in transferring the checked and gate checked baggage to our new jet.

We settled in the new aircraft and the flight displays started heating up. I determined that one of the display cooling fans wasn't working properly, and the previous flight crew hadn't written the problem up (thanks guys!). Selecting an alternate fan gave the displays the cooling they needed, and a quick call to maintenance and some paperwork would make the fix official. It added to the workload though, I was quickly feeling 'task saturation' approaching.

Finally, at about 11:15 PM, we had received all the paperwork we needed and were about to start engines when our dispatcher ACARS'd us (sent us and email over the ACARS system, 'Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System'), saying to call him immediately and don't take off or move the airplane. Puzzling, so I asked my FO 'Don' to start the engines and I'll call 'Ed'. Fortunately, he had been paying attention to the notices on our paperwork. Down at the bottom of our notices, or NOTAM's, it listed that both of CLT's runway's had failures of the navigation facilities used to fly instrument approaches to those runways. What? This meant that with the current weather in CLT we couldn't legally fly an approach to either runway, effectively it meant the flight would be cancelled if it was confirmed true. He let me go so he could actually call the CLT airport and ask, he would ACARS us the news. I found it on our paperwork where it printed it out, plain as day. Runway 36R had the localizer OTS (out of service) and runway 36L had the glideslope OTS. Presumably the heavy snowfall had been the culprit. Usually I check the notams, I should every time, but trust and depend on the dispatcher checking them for me. I was thankful he had, and soon I was on the FA's (Flight Attendant's) PA in front of the cabin sharing the bad news and the dreaded C-word (Cancelled). Times like this, I bite the bullet and face the news and the passengers myself.

The next stage of our circus (the music had already been playing in my head by now) was the frustrating task of getting our passengers and their bags off the aircraft and into the terminal. We had immediately called OPS for two busses to take people inside, and we waited 30 minutes for the first one. They couldn't find a driver, everyone had simply gone home. We were the last express flight attemping to leave DCA and none were coming in. Finally, in the freezing wet snowy wind we loaded up one bus, twice. The airstairs were so slick with slushed and frozen snow that myself and another deadheading pilot guarded the airstair rails for fear that someone would fall.

Meanwhile, crew scheduling (their official name) had reassigned us to reposition the aircraft to RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC), where the jet was supposed to spend the night. We still had the aforementioned dead heading pilot with us as well, trying to make it home that night, he was based in RDU.

After more mysterious paperwork delays we were, and the plane was ready to go to RDU with the four of us including the deadheader. Except for the whole left side of our jet caked in snow, however. We would need a good deicing and anti-icing. My good FO 'Don' had been keeping track of the weather in DC, and at times the visibility was down to 1 mile, which in night conditions was equivalent to 'heavy snow'. In heavy snow, there are no holdover times established for us, meaning that even if we got the aircraft de-iced and anti-iced in heavy snow, we couldn't take off, even immediately, without a legal guarantee that the wings and control surfaces wouldn't be contaminated by snow. It's a legal and practical technicality and limit to what we can take off in.

Fortunately, when we were ready to crank the engines for the 'repo' to RDU, the visibility was reported to be 2 miles. OPS had kept bugging us that we need to take off in the 'next ten minutes' at least two times. I had no idea what they meant, finally they communicated that the airport operations people wanted us off the ground ASAP, and gave us the number to call them. We had just started the de-icing process, and it would take a good 20 minutes probably. I called the airport number at 1:20 AM and got a gruff but persuasive man on the other end telling me that no aircraft has landed in the last two hours, the braking action on the runway is at least poor, there's quite a bit of new snow on the runway, and most importantly that they were going to plow and treat the runway for three hours, starting at 1:30 AM and wanted us to take off or cancel, in polite toilet terms. Faced with the fatigue we were feeling, the time pressure to get de-iced and takeoff, the runway conditions (snow and slush contaminated, possibly in excess of the aircrafts limitations - max 0.50 inch of slush or 1.0 inch of wet snow), and the airport operations priority to get the runway cleaned and treated for the early AM flights, I added all those up and the sum was to tell the 'plow chief' that we were giving up. We were going to tell our dispatch we weren't comfortable going and wanted to cancel.

Shortly afterward, I called our dispatch and heard words come out of my mouth that I had never uttered to dispatch before: "I'm not comfortable going because . . . "; and it wasn't a problem at all, no opposition at all to my request. I kind of felt defeated but relieved. Pilots have to balance a desire to 'finish the mission' with safely managing the risk in demanding conditions, and I was hesitant to give up, but in retrospect it was exactly the right decision to make.

I had been concerned with overcoming all our troubles in trying to just get the airplane moving, and admit I hadn't completely considered what the weather had been doing to the runway condition. Thanks, good FO 'Don', great job in looking out for us! The FAA requires that we have a flight deck crew of two, and a dispatcher in a dark cubby hole. We used all of them to full advantage this trying evening.

Too many things had gone wrong, the weather was horrible, and by midnight things just didn't feel right anymore, feel safe anymore. We stumbled back out of the airport through an alternate exit, as the regular passenger exit was closed, flagged down a taxi I had to pay for myself to be reimbursed for later, and made it to the Holiday Inn Old Towne Alexandria, VA, at 2 AM.

Settling into my nice bed and pillows (the most important part of a room, followed closely by the air conditioner, light, and noise), I was lights out by 2:45, with the circus music stopped temporarily. Instead of flying from CLT that morning, on the second day we were re-scheduled for a noon deadhead down there to then fly CLT-MDT-CLT-MKE.

After this roller coaster first night, I fell asleep missing my three lovely girls. Why couldn't I have been off this night and warm and comfy in my own bed? Sometimes this job is like the NAVY, 'It's not just a job, it's an adventure'. And this was only the first day.