Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Taxing time

Hello, It’s Tax Day. Taxes are in the news, people are protesting, mailing tea bags to their 'favorite' Congressman and such. Uh, no comment. Anyway, are yours done? I wasn’t late with mine, but I’m late with this post. I’d hoped to finish it before Easter, then by tax day, but I’ve had a ‘taxing time’, doing mine last week, almost late and in haste. It’s all good though. Through the grapevine, I’ve heard that my posts can be ‘long’. In response, I’ll try to shorten them in the future. Just think though, I write every week at the most, so it’s about the same material as if I wrote three shorter posts a week! A glossary is in the works too, so the acronyms won’t be so confusing. Here’s where I started on this one.

It’s Palm Sunday, on the fourth day of my current five day sequence. I’ve hit the wall, so to speak. I’m officially homesick and weary, sleep indebted, and missing my wife and two young girls. A number of things are going on in my world right now, spinning in and out of my head, in addition to a trip interspersed with spring season curveballs.

Day one: Afternoon show in DCA, DH to PHL, wait for my FO and FA to arrive late from another flight they were performing so we can all go late to YUL, CAN (“Muntrayall”) and back. We depart PHL about two hours later than scheduled. Montreal is really an island, and beautiful at night, lit up so we can see the outline of the lake and rivers that surround the city. We pass by the attractive Olympic tower (which was finished in 1987, only 11 years late! click here to find out more info about the tower) again on base leg to final, as we always do. Lately I’ve been fantasizing about a Toyota Tundra truck making a colossal jump off the tower and surviving, just like in the TV commercials. We were empty back to the States because all our peeps went on an earlier flight. Our male FA enjoyed the view from ‘his jumpseat’, a different one that his normal seat if you know what I mean (I didn’t tell you that BTW). I found out about his fiancé and got to know him better, as I had worked with him before. He’s a good guy and good FA in spite of his trait to talk incessantly.

A ‘converging’ ILS approach to runway 17 in PHL meant exactly that: PHL ATC had the Boeings and Airbuses flying approaches to 9L, towards the east, while we were landing toward the south, our flight path converging with their flight path, if we both went missed at the same time. To prevent this, the FAA has an alternate missed approach procedure, which for us is an immediate left turn away from runway 9L’s approach path. Higher legal cloud and visibility minimums than normal on this approach also better facilitate the separation of aircraft in the event of a ‘missed’. I had to program the alternate missed approach in the FMS manually, but it’s just par for the course. The approach turned out to be a layered affair, with multiple orange street light lit cloud levels unfolding before us down to about 1,000 ft AGL, revealing a damp runway to land on.

A midnight departure for the short hop to DC, still one hour behind schedule, had me leaving the thrust up for maximum speed at 10,000 ft MSL, about 320 knots until Baltimore VOR, which we have to cross at 250, even in the middle of the night. DCA ATIS reported 1 mile visibility with moderate rainfall and 800 ft OVC (overcast). On the ILS approach to runway 01 I had ground contact but only a dynamic gray wet splotch on the windscreen. Ah, that’s what wipers are for. The runway appeared with no depth perception, the darkness, wipers and rain on the windscreen taking away what was left of it. Soon we saw that this airport, ‘The Nation’s Airport’, was absolutely soaked with water, with big, deep puddles in the low spots of the predominately asphalt runway and ramp surfaces. Full reverse thrust and light to moderate braking with what seemed like a little hydroplaning later, we turned off two runway exits later than normal. We taxied in and ‘treated’ (we had to) the passengers to dashing down the airstairs in the hard rain to get on the bus for the short ride to the terminal. The women looked like cats, the men like sheep. I looked for an umbrella in the coat closet, and found one just when the bus was leaving without me and my crew. The younger FO and FA went for it, college kid style. I caught up to my FO and we shared a taxi to our respective crash pads at Crystal City, Arlington, DC. It was lights out at 2 AM, after a cool down spent reviewing the day. This was only a one day trip, so I was starting anew at 1 PM with a new crew, and the show time was creeping up to me.

My new crew was all female, a switch from the all male crew the first day. I was paired us with a new FA I hadn’t flown with before, a friendly and outspoken Chicagoan, and an FO I have flown with before. She’s got skills, as they say. An all around good FO communicates well, flies well, and is proactive and helpful, among other things, and she fits the bill nicely, ready to upgrade if you ask me, but she’ll have to wait awhile in today’s climate.

On the agenda was DCA-CAE-CLT-MKE, and a 10 hour overnight there. Our sky chariot arrived late, and we rushed to swap into it as the Captain handing it off to us checked the operation of the cabin door. He said the FA told him it was difficult to open. It seemed fine to him, and that was good enough to me, as I watched him operate it. Our peeps were on the ramp, peering through the bus windows, imprisoned together with a hair trigger impulse to board at the first sign, at least that’s always my impression. Columbia, SC, the Capital, was sunny, but compensated for that with a gusty crosswind, evidenced in the new leaves on the trees before the runway swishing their color just below us on short final. We had a friendly jumpseater in the cockpit with us, who had the last name Gurley. We called him ‘girlieman’, of course, and he said we weren’t the first to do so. It was OK because he is one of us, a fellow Captain for my airline, going home for a few days. His nickname fit even better after he couldn’t open the door. See, our FA called him to assist in opening the cabin door, she had lifted the handle but it wouldn’t open. She tried, he tried, I tried, and we all scratched our collective heads. I’d never had a cabin door that I couldn’t open. We had 50 peeps in back dealing with yet another delay, and I had the voice of Clint Eastwood from Heartbreak Ridge in my head declaring “Marines improvise, adapt, and overcome” as I felt compelled to quickly resolve the problem. My FO told the station over our radio that we couldn’t get it open, and after opening the service door I told a ramp agent of the problem, and to bring external stairs over to the service door. The service door, on the right side of the plane, right across from the cabin door, is much shorter and narrower than the cabin door. Catering drivers board drinks and supplies through it. It was unorthodox, but I briefed the pax over the PA on what we were doing and what to expect. They looked like they were coming out of a cave into the sunlight; I stood on the platform at the top of the external stairs to help them out. Contract maintenance came relatively quickly, and after a couple minutes, he got the door to open. How? He replied ‘I pushed’. I couldn’t believe it, we had all pushed, hard, before, I think. How did a mechanic pulling, pressing, and inspecting a door for a few minutes make it operate better than we had? After letting the FA operate it again and a phone conversation with MX based on her comments, they decided to MEL (Minimum Equipment List) the door as a deferred maintenance item. The handle didn’t feel right to her, and I agreed that it was likely that the door would jam again sometime in the future. With the door MEL’d, that meant we could fly the plane, but without passengers. We were to ferry the plane to CLT, the short flight that we were already scheduled to do, and then take a different plane to MKE. Presumably, another crew would take the broken door and the jet it was attached to towards a MX base from CLT.

My FO, ‘Jan’, ran to Burger King for a flight deck meal that wasn’t ‘fit for a king’. To save time, we boarded as soon as the FA was ready. Jan climbed our different, good plane into the dark sky over North Carolina as in haste I ate my lukewarm and getting cold whopper, and listened to a new jumpseater we had with us tell me about why he was grateful we were taking him to MKE. He was a US Airways Captain, and his father lay dying in Wisconsin, an hour’s drive north of MKE. His father was afflicted with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and he had been unable to properly swallow food or liquid for about a month. They had stopped feeding him and giving him water because of this. Food and liquid in his lungs had already caused an infection and worsened his condition, and he had given a ‘no feeding tube’ order. My jumpseater hoped he could make it there in time, we could only hope with him and sympathize with him. My own father in-law has Parkinson’s disease, and he has a lot of trouble with just moving around, with hand-eye and body coordination, and vision. But he still has his faculties mentally. What a trial that must be for the close relatives of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s. We were glad to serve him, even though we, our 50 pax and one jumpseater arrived 1 hour late, over dark Lake Michigan, into the welcoming lights of the ‘Brew City’ and the green and white MKE airport beacon.

Day three was coming quickly. A short overnight in MKE awoke us abruptly to our easiest day of this trip, a DH to PHL, then our flight to BUF for the overnight. We left on time and everything was normal for my leg to fly to this large city on the east end of ‘Erie’. Until we started getting ice on descent and approach, that is. We expected it, as you always do in areas downwind of the great lakes. Descending into the cloud deck about 10 minutes before landing, the ice detectors detected airframe icing immediately, indicated by a corresponding message 'ICE' displayed in yellow on one of our flight displays. The visual prscence of it on the windshield wipers confirmed it. We already had our engine anti-ice on, as is SOP, and turned the wing anti-ice on now. Immediately it was accumulating quickly, and internal my danger detector started illuminating. ‘Tell approach we have light to moderate clear icing’, I said while thinking this is moderate. The windscreen flashed all cold, alternatively gray and white. ‘Can you see any on the winglets’, I asked my FO. Her response was ‘I can’t see the winglets’; which made me look as well, sure enough. It’s rare that I’ve seen ‘thick’ clouds like this before, but this stuff is out there sometimes. It seemed to be very frothy, to have a lot of air spread in with the moisture. A particular nut and safety wire which is part of the windshield wiper arm assembly accumulates a lot of ice, and it had grown a pretty ice flower to a half dollar coin size within a couple of minutes maximum. I activated the engines’ continuous ignition, disengaged the autopilot, and asked Jan to ‘Tell approach this is moderate’ as we heard Colgan checking on the frequency behind us. If you’re in the know I don’t have to tell you about Colgan and Buffalo, where one of their big turboprops unfortunately crashed in icing conditions here in February. We had entered the clouds at 6,000 feet and now had been in icing for perhaps only three minutes when it seemed to subside as we were in the bottom of the layer, breaking out at 2,000 feet and looking for the Buffalo airport. The controls felt funny and gave a constant buffet at some point; either that or I was imagining it, because I was certain that icing had accumulated on our unprotected tail surfaces. But it was certified that way, ‘it’s OK’ says the FAA. Five extra knots airspeed wouldn’t and didn’t hurt on final. In the warmer air on final approach below the clouds the ice couldn’t hold on and started breaking off the airframe. We taxied in with almost nothing hanging to us, told the outbound crew of the conditions, and went to the downtown Holiday Inn hotel.

I did a few hours good work on our income taxes (part of this ‘taxing time’), and celebrated with my crew by dining at a neat German place called Ulrich’s. It was a speakeasy with food out front during prohibition, and is now a rustic place with plenty of character and excellent German food. I thought 'Now I know why my Iowa Dutch wife puts applesauce on her mashed potatoes', after seeing their potato pancakes served with a side of applesauce. 'Yaw', The Netherlands are right next to Germany, you know.

And that brings us back to where we started, day four, Palm Sunday morning, to be exact. What other things are taxing me, besides taxes, and the changeups and challenges in my flying? I have to bid for May’s schedule by Sunday night, to try to have a few critical days off. We have six legs to fly today, BUF-LGA-GSO-PHL-ORF-DCA-GSO. Fortunately it’s going to be a beautiful day, with a great air tour of Manhattan and a DC Potomac river visual approach, sightseeing the cherry blossoms in bloom around the Jefferson Memorial. I’ve promised to help out our union with some work, which I’ve hardly touched so far. I’ve already stated I’m homesick, and in addition, I’ll be missing Palm Sunday services and watching my Daughter Marissa sing with others in her age group as part of the service. I’ll admit it, I feel overwhelmed, burdened, and low on sleep, probably just a minuscule, molecular bit compared to how Jesus felt in his human body during his last week on earth.

Where do I go when I need a shelter?Where do I go when I need a friend? Where do I go when I need some helping? Where do I go? Back on my knees again.

That’s from a great classic song of praise. As a believer, for me, that’s easy to say, but hard to do, consistently, sincerely, and honestly. But this morning I try, and it helps, and I feel better about this day, with a measure of grace that only comes from the Lord above.

On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem not on a stallion as a conquering King whom for the Jews would bring rebellion and revolt against the occupying Romans, but as a gentle and peaceable King on a donkey’s colt, just as Zechariah 9:9 prophesied. Matthew 21:8-11 recounts how the crowds which lined in the streets in Jerusalem recognized but misinterpreted Jesus’ true glory: They spread their cloaks on the road, and waved palm branches, and shouted him along: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna (‘Save!’) in the highest!”. The ‘whole city was stirred’, but it wouldn’t last long. For more on Jesus' 'Victory Parade', click here for a good study of Luke 19:28-48.

I cannot do the rest of his story justice, especially his crucifixion, but I will try to look at one of some of the times of Jesus’ suffering, specifically his time praying in the garden of Gathsemane, where he came to terms with the work he was about to complete, and prayed and gained strength to 'finish the mission', in fighter pilot parlance. If you’d like to learn more about his crucifixion, click here.

Garden of Gesthemane, Gethsemane Basilica of Agony and St. Mary Magdalene, Jerusalem, May 15, 20

From Matthew 26:36-46: Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"

If he was the Son of God, why then was he ‘overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’? Jesus often called himself the ‘Son of Man’, and as he was still in a human in an unresurrected, unglorified body, he still had the same ability to feel pain and suffering as we do. Jesus was in great agony over his approaching physical pain, separation from the Father, and death for the sins of the world. 'Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death'; he was so stressed that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). I feel that the most indicative element of his sorrow is that he was starting to shoulder the burden of taking on the sin of all humanity, of becoming the sin that all humanity (including me and you) has and will commit (2 Corinthians 5:21).

He asked that the cup be taken from him, ONLY if it was possible. He furthermore asked that his Father’s, God’s, will be done. That’s not really saying ‘do I have to’ as a child (your child perhaps) might say to a parent, is it? Or was his human body, his ‘son of man’ body revolting in temptation to avoid the pain and suffering he now was just getting a taste of? Maybe so, the ‘spirit is willing but the body is weak’ verse I’ve heard here is usually applied in reference to him finding his disciples sleeping instead of praying. This could also be a reflection of his prayers and victory of his spiritual intent prevailing against his body seeking escape from the sorrow and pain he was already enduring and about to commit to in the deepest degree humanly possible. He was tempted to give up his mission, he prayed, multiple times, was victorious, and prevailed. Praise God!

Here's just a couple observations regarding his death on the cross. Crucifixion was a supremely horrible and tortuous death. Jesus had been flogged and whipped, and had been made to carry the crossbar for a ways until he could no longer. He was already weak before he got to Golgotha. Considering that and the burden of the sin guilt of humankind that he felt since the night before in the garden, it becomes understandable that Jesus declared ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30), gave up his spirit, and died before the other two crucified criminals did. Even in how and exactly when he died, Jesus fulfilled prophecy: he died without any bones being broken (John 19:31-37, Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, and Psalm 34:20). If the soldiers had found Jesus to still be alive, they would've broken his legs, causing him to suffocate immdiately, like they did to the two other criminals crucified along with him. The Jews had asked Pilate to have their legs broken and their bodies taken down, because the Sabbath was about to begin, and this wasn't just any Sabbath, this was the Passover.

I can't make an Easter posting without referring to Jesus' resurrection, however. If you are so disposed, see these two sites for a defense and validation of the resurrection. By his resurrection, Jesus proved he has power over death, the power to have eternal life, and that he is God in the flesh. Because of his death on the cross and resurrection, and his Love and grace for you and me, he offers and will deliver eternal Life for anyone who believes in him.

If you don't, then try him out. Seek him out and believe. 'Taste and see that the Lord is good.' (Psalm 34:8) Happy Easter!

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