Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sticking your neck out

Here I am in room 435 of the Hampton Inn, overnighting in Burlington, Vermont, and it's not yet 1 PM. A 4:55 AM wake up will do that to you. I'll be catching a snooze (maybe) and then the crew and I, and another regional airline crew perhaps are are planning to take a van to picturesque downtown Burlington. The folks here seem pretty liberal but friendly. Burlington is located in a very beautiful area. The Green Mountains are nearby to the south, and they really are green. Lake Champlain is on the north edge of town and stretches out southwest for forever it seems. It's great for lots of things, it even has its own North American 'Loch Ness monster' legend.

I started out this morning on time, but still rushing to get our first flight out on time to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. I met my Flight Attendant, a nice gal I hadn't flown with before, and my First Officer, whom I had. It had been a while since I was paired up with him, so I quickly went over the basics of how I like to operate.

My pace was limited today, though, by my sore and stiff back and neck. My upper left back and neck has a kink in it, by overdoing it again I surmise. A run yesterday with Maren, my almost five year old, in the jogging stroller may have done it. She's almost too big for it, but we went round the golf course and had a great time. Lately my back seems to take a pounding when I run, my legs are now in shape for it and my back is next, it seems, I hope, rather.

I told my FA and FO that I'll be craning my neck in a funny way, and having to turn my body toward them to look them in the eye, so don't be offended if it looks like I ignore them. Shannon has seen me like this a few times, it's always when we are road tripping it in the van, it seems. No Nurse sympathy is given by her, it's more like time to laugh at and ridicule your pilot! It's OK though, I'm tough and can take it. I know I must look funny, like our dear departed weimeraner dog 'Molly', when she used to turn and look at us slowly.

So I was busy prepping the flight deck for our first flight to RDU when I caught my FO staring at me. It wasn't at my craning neck, mind you, but at the ring I now wear on my right hand. That would be the fairly large sterling silver cross ring, as in Jesus cross ring. This ring is one that has taken me some courage to wear on the job, and one you can't help but notice as I spin the altitude pre-selector knob, operate the flaps, set the engines thrust, and program the ACARS box.

I didn't have it the last time we flew together, and now I asked myself silently 'should I mention it or my faith, or play it cool with 'Steve'? I decided to play it cool, so for now we're having fun and learning how to best work with each other again. If he asks about it, I'll be ready to share, and talk about it if he wants to. Later, he did mention that he just saw 'Angels and Demons', but I didn't take the bait, we had to get our flight out up here to Burlington, and my neck was killing me at that moment. I hope I'm not sterotyping too much, but Steve seems to be the type who watches closely to catch a 'Christian' sinning, and then point out their hypocrisy.

Well, one of my favorite bumper stickers is 'Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven'. Biblically, we aren't perfect, but in the process of being perfected. In God's eyes, who sees us and accepts us through the lens of and work of Christ Jesus, we are perfect. Though in the world's eyes and Steve's eyes we're supposed to be perfect, and aren't. Forgiveness seems to be a second sticking point, after the 'perfectness' question. Skeptics use a Chrsitian who is imperfect as a barrier to hide behind the question of their own forgiveness with God.

Steve and I taxiied out, and heard two different jets, one of ours and another regional, go around off of the runway 19 instument approach, as we were waiting to takeoff from Washington National toward the south. They didn't see the runway at the prescribed missed approach point (MAP), pushed the thrust levers foward, pulled the control column back, and raised 42 eyebrows in the cabin as well, I imagine. The weather was advertising scattered clouds at 800 feet, but the view out the window looked more like a fuzzy overcast sky at less than that.

ATC was going to have to switch the runway from the south direction to the north, we just hoped they would let us take off towards the south first. Aligned on the runway, I started us out as pilot flying for the first leg. Things were about to get interesting, as always.

My hands and feet on the controls, I advanced the engines most of the way towards takeoff thrust, glanced at the engine instruments, and released the brakes. There was a mental reminder to myself to trim the tail quickly once airborne, as I wouldn't have to apply much back pressure on the control column before I could feel it in my aching back. 'Set Thrust'. "Thrust set". The plane was commited, the tires becoming alive and birds skirting out of our way. "80 knots". 'Checked'. The runway showed its age with a few bumps, and its stripes slid by faster. "V1 Rotate". The nose was ready to come up. By muscle memory and experience, just a gentle pull on the yoke set us aflight, and we were unleashed from the bounds of what was known before. Angled skyward, our wings gladly bore the weight of our craft. Through my fingertips, I was connected to the machine, to the air, once again. The tires exhaled their rolling, receding silence into the airstream, as the freedom, titilating and pleasing familiarity, duty, and honor of flight rapidly regained a prescence with us as the airpeed built, climbing to 'acceleration altitude'. "Positive rate". 'Gear up, speed mode, nav mode'. "Gear up".

We were on our way to RDU. A short flight later, the airport, or a white smudge below the clouds, was called in sight by Steve in order for ATC to clear us for a visual approach. Turning final, I was a little high, and adjusted the nose down a little, and decreased the thrust a little, to descend to the proper glide path. Only taxiing in did I realize I did this by feel and experience, not by checking our groundspeed and descent rate first, doing a little mental math calculation, and then adjusting pitch and thrust to compensate. The thought that I'm that comfortable and experienced enough in this jet to do that is at once both comforting and concerning. I hope to check the numbers next time as I normally do. Better to not hedge your bets in a jet, and keep what you've established as a regular and safe routine. Pilots like their 'warm fuzzies' as they say. More information is better for many pilots. There is a place for seat of the pants flying, and sometimes we do it by choice, or because we have to, but that is another subject entirely.

Steve flew as PF back to DC and on up here to BTV. He stroked it, rolled it on, as they say, here in DC, on a bumpy asphalt runway, I was impressed. In DC, ATC made us wait for an approach clearance, giving us delay vectors left and right like our jet was a varmint going back and forth around a known trap, desperate to find a safe way to get the bait without getting caught. But it was a short wait, and it was a safe cage to be trapped in. We flew a short ILS approach, breaking out as bits of blue and sunlit patches of ground proved the sun's ongoing win of the latest battle with the fuzzy wool cloud cover. A shiny glint off the majestic, three spired Air Force Memorial, just west of the Pentagon, hinted at what was to come shortly.

Boarding the peeps for our BTV flight, I asked Steve 'what is that'? Soon it became apparent it was a classic 'Buff', an eight engined B-52 Stratofortress bomber, coming in straight and low, almost right at us. Evidently, a burial service for an esteemed U.S. Air Force Officer was occurring at nearby Arlington National Cemetery, and this was his glorious and deserved sendoff 'into the wild blue yonder'. It was a sight, and a fast mover too. Climbing and banking away, leaving testosterone ladened noise and laying down its old fashioned eight tailed black smoke trail, it surely did leave a memory with those honoring the deceased on terra firma.

'Off we go, . . .' to Burlington, for another standard garden variety ILS, to observe and appreciate the tops of the Green mountains, cradled in white by the blanket of cloud we just descended though. They appeared otherworldly, are we in New Zealand perhaps?

What else do I have to say this morning, after our meandering around the eastern US, from our capital down to the southern cultured, educationed and technified RDU research triangle, then back and up to beautiful and free thinking, friendly Burlington? Sticking your neck out is a good thing, even if it involves showing your religious faith, even if it confirms your experience and bolsters your confidence while avoiding convention, even if it risks your life and honors your country and call to duty, even if someone else has a different opinion.

Reminded of the quote 'To thine own self be true', I should know who said that; in any case I respect another person who operates that way. At least when we interact and talk, it very likely will be lively and interesting, not boring and dull.

Sticking my neck out when it's already physically aching, well that's another variation, one which I hope gets better soon. Good thing this is only a two day trip, I left plenty of ibuprofen and biofreeze at home. Doh!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Welcome back, few readers! Yes, It's been a long time since I posted, almost a month, but I've got a new post almost finished. I will try to post more often, I need a new small notebook to sit on the side console next to me when I fly, and that is now on the shopping list. Lately I've been flying, Tulip Festivaling, running (ran a 5K yea), and thinking. Sometimes I've been praying, but not like I should be. Since it's Memorial Day, I've got a few thoughts I'd like to share.

All US Military Veterans, thank you for your service and sacrifice for our great country!

All US Military spouses, thank you for your sacrifice as well. It's difficult to take care of your families, wear all the hats, and be both parents while your soldiers, sailors, and airmen are overseas. I feel for you.

Most importantly, to all those who've lost a loved one or friend who gave all and made the ultimate sacrifice in Military service to our country, I commiserate with you today for your loss. From generations and many generations past through Vietnam and present day, it has always been difficult to lose a husband, son, father, daughter, or friend who gave their lives in combat fighting for our great country. It is a burden to bear that I can only imagine, and I just want to say that I remember and I still care.

I neglect to wish others a Happy Memorial Day, because I'm sensitive to the fact that this day is not necessarily a happy one for those who've lost a friend or loved one in war. It is mainly a solemn one when we remember those who gave all. I guess the happy part of this day, if you could term it that way, comes from the celebration of our freedoms which were paid for in blood, starting with the Revolutionary War and continuing today, and from showing appreciation and gratitude for others who've served and sacrificed.

Please don't wish others a Happy Memorial Day to others in the context of having fun, partying, or spending quality time with friends and family without reflecting on the sacrifices of those who've died in battle before us. That attitude misuses the Holiday and disrespects our Military service members.

Thank you.