Monday, June 22, 2009

Back at it

I am, after a long awaited family summer vacation to a warm (hot) place with an ocean and multiple swimming pools. All by ourselves too, just my wife and I and our two girls, Marissa (almost 9) and Maren (almost 5). I don't share too much about my family here yet, but we had such a good time that I'd like to.

We successfully and harrowingly non-revved on US Airways to RSW (Ft. Meyers, FL) and back. Sanibel and Captiva Island are long and narrow land strips just off Ft. Meyers in the Gulf of Mexico. We stayed at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island, a very nice place. A regular asked us just one thing with his guitar in hand at our swimming pool, next to our 'tennis villa' (condo): 'just don't tell anyone about this place'. Oops, too late now. Click here for my wife's great pictures and stories from her blog.

Major activities: Pool and ocean swimming, ray catching (the sun kind), chillin' and grillin', beach jogging, sunset watching, sea shell hunting, diet throwing, golf attempting, ocean kayaking, and relaxing in general. It's hard for me to relax in general, on vacation that is. Home between trips, I have no problem at all doing that, just ask Shannon. It took me a day or so to slow down on Captiva, but that's okay.

Some great quotes from this trip: Marissa, after trying her jumbo fried shrimp at the Island Cow on Sanibel Island: "This shrimp is amazing"; Maren, post-saltwater gulping experience: "Mommy, I think I'm allergic to ocean water"; Shannon, after eyeing 'cheesecake' under glass in Philadelphia International: "I might have to get some cheesecake"; Me, in response: "that's not cheesecake, that's quiche!" But she was under the effect of Dramamine, after all.

Good times were had and good memories made, kind of like airline flying on the good days, only better and more personal. Now, can I segway to tell you about my day of flying? Not very well, although they did have those on the Island, segway tours that is. The fam and I are too cool for that. Well, actually the girls are too young for that. D.C. eight years from now I suspect we'll succumb to it.

In any case, today was pretty easy, as far as RJ flying goes. The plan was three legs on a nice early summer day: DCA-GSP-PHL-BTV. GSP is Greer, SC, serving Greenville and Spartanburg, SC. I never know which city to say so I say all three. Burlington, Vermont, our overnight, has the Green Mountains, which I've blogged about before. PHL, well, everyone knows about PHL. But it has actually improved during this recession. The reduction in flights has decreased the delays, one of the short runways has been lengthened, and the ramp and gate vendor has been able to trim the 'deadwood' and hire workers who actually like to work and service our aircraft.

The jet was a little late, and then upon inspecting the plane a chord struck me. Exposed tire chord, in three places, on our right nosewheel tire, that is. Quickly, I started singing a different tune. (The music references are almost over.) Bear in mind that I can't sing very well: on our radio to operations: "Ops, we're delaying boarding, we have a maintenance delay, I'll call you back in 30". I called Maintenance and wrote up the tire for an inspection. My educated guess said they would change both of them, as the left tire had deep gouges as well, and they did. The sort of wear they showed could've been from placing too much load on the tires, as in turning too sharply, and exiting the runway too fast. You can't control the other guys though, just yourself.

About 45 minutes later I told ops our NASCAR tire change was complete, and we were ready to board. He, who on the radio sounded like a black immigrant who is friendly and speaks 'the Queen's english', didn't get my humor, understandably.

We took off into skies which had scattered, gray bottomed cumulus clouds attempting to shield grounded beings from the sun. Far below us, these classic poofy cotton balls accompanied us all the way to Greenville and up to Philadelphia. A 'bug wash', just like we ordered, was done within five minutes after setting the parking brake in PHL. They even sent the 'Blue man group' over to perform after we gave them short notice. With a third apology to the third group of peeps, a clean windshield, and a freshly serviced lavatory, we pushed back for Burlington.

I steered our CRJ's nose from pointing toward the west to pointing toward the east, raking the nose through more cumulus clouds. We punched a small one, had minor turbulence, then asked center if we could deviate or climb around the next one. Shaped like a pyramid, it resembled a Dora the Explorer type buildup. We could've made it through easy, but it wouldn't have been easy on the peeps. No 'vamonos', no we aren't going. 'We couldn't go through it, we had to go around it'. NY center thanked us for the request and Dora's cloud was used as a ski pylon.

No views of NYC were had this day either, smooth looking stratus clouds covered the area. Situational awareness of our navigation was completely by our MFD and FMS (Multi-function display, our 'moving map') and Flight Management System, the computer we program to 'drive' the autopilot.

Descending into BTV, the controller thought we would pick up the airport visually at 3,500 feet, which would permit him to give us clearance for a visual approach, but we weren't that confident. Apprehension set in, up to a minor but very common level. Potentially ATC was vectoring us in for a short final approach from a higher than preferred altitude. Just when I was about to ask my FO to ask ATC to give us a turn to give us more room, he did, and let us descend to a lower altitude where we could see the airport.

I am always awestruck at just how green the Green Mountains are, and I was again today. Saying it over and over doesn't do it justice. If it looks like that from the air, what would hiking, biking, and kayaking/canoeing it be like? Add it to the list. We we approaching BTV from the south, the hilly side, so we had a great view of the valley that stretches out to the southeast from BTV. Our MFD's terrain showing features from the ground proximity warning system database were coloring up the screens as we lined up on final for a 'raw data' approach. The winds were shifty and a little gusty, they made me work for it a little.

Thinking about our tires now, it's comforting that we didn't have to worry about tires with chord showing which might hit runway centerline lights at 140 MPH, didn't have to worry about handing a bad plane to another crew, and didn't have to worry about the tire blowing for another reason. After a nice run and some great home cooking leftovers, it's time to hit the sack for another early show.

A reminder to me after recollecting my vacation and this three leg day: 'God is good, and I've been blessed.' It's kind of hard to say in light of all the wrong and evil things people and governments do to each other (Iran is this moment's example), but God IS good. He proved it with the life, love, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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