Saturday, June 13, 2009

Visualizing and the F-word

(Disclaimer: This post is not about the other F-word. This post is safe for family reading. I just had to make a title with a hook. Maybe not had to, but wanted to. Thank you.)

“There it is”, I proclaimed, I admit inappropriately, just after takeoff. A violation of the sterile cockpit rule (non-essential conversation below 10,000 ft), yes, but the view warranted it. Even heroes do it, as it was reported yesterday that Captain Sullenburger remarked “What a view of the Hudson today” during US Airways 1549’s climbout from La Guardia, moments before hitting the flock of geese which would lead them to ditch in that same river. Non-essential conversation happens, the point of the rule is to not let it distract from operating the flight. And in that way, this post won’t be about the sterile cockpit rule.

We had just taken off from Ithaca, NY, a couple days ago, with me as PNF and ‘Nate’, an FO I favor quite a bit, at the controls. Nate and I have had a couple big learning experiences together, mostly because of his errors and my temporary lack of oversight which permitted him to commit them. But he’s a pretty knowledgeable and capable guy, and very easy to work with.

Laid out before us, beneath my left shoulder and to stretched out to horizon to the right, was beautiful Lake Cayuga (click here for pictures), one of the famous western New York state ‘finger lakes’. Ithaca (click here for tourism info) is at the south end of it, and this morning it was calm with a sliver sheen, inviting a tranquil time for those on its surface, surrounded by towering 500 plus foot lush green, round ridges on both sides. The Finger Lakes are a sight from the ground and the sky; they are five or six narrow but long lakes, carved by glaciers long ago. Because they’re glacier lakes, they’re pretty deep, great for fishing and sailing, and whatever suits your fancy.

The Finger Lakes region combines with the Poconos and Niagra Falls areas as a classic and growing area for tourism. There are wineries which advertise Napa valley style tours via brochures placed in our Ithaca hotel. My shameless family vacation fantasy involves relatives meeting us for sights of Niagra, time on the Finger Lakes, a night or two in Ithaca, and of course a car race at nearby Pocono or Watkins Glen.

A bumper sticker you might see in Ithaca, which houses Cornell University and Ithaca College, would be ‘Visualize World Peace’. At the moment over the lake, I was visualizing sailing on it (multi-tasking of course). That's when Nate pointed out the tall waterfall 2,000 feet below us, which fed into the lake via a half mile creek at it's bottom.

Waterfall? Instantly I thought I was in Brazil somewhere. The previous day I’d been flipping through a copy of Outside magazine, some ‘cabin bounty’ that had been left by a passenger. First was a picture of a kayaker making a 70 foot drop over a waterfall in South America. Later a column documented another Brazilian kayaker who did a 125 foot waterfall drop and lived to tell the tale minutes later, after coming out from behind the waterfall curtain, and encountering three boa constrictors during his swim.

“Call Outside magazine”. Taughannock falls (click here for info), I’ve now found out, has a 215 foot drop, the highest east of the Rockies. You cab barely make out people viewing it up close on the right side of the picture. The eons spent carving the rocks was evidenced by the high circular granite around it. However, the low water flow and shallow pool would make it an even crazier drop than what I’d read about. But as they say ‘If it can visualized, it can be done’.

That’s more of what this post is about, what we visualize and what we actually do, or what is actually done. I’d like to learn to sail someday, I visualized it but don’t know if it will happen.

I can visualize Steve, the cool fella I flew with two posts ago, reading the bible I gave him and he accepted at 35,000 feet somewhere over Kentucky, on the flight from Kansas City back to DC last week. On the way to KC he asked about my ring: ‘so is that a Templar ring?’ He said it looked like the Templar knights cross, he’s apparently a Dan Brown and DaVinci Code/Angels and Demons fan. “No, it’s just a regular cross, I’m an evangelical Christian, yep”. So we started talking, it went from ‘I don’t believe in God’ to talking about his and my opinion of God’s nature and why does God permit so much evil in the world, religion is the cause of so many wars, etc. Tough questions, but from a certain basis unfair questions, biased against God in the first place, in my opinion. I did my best to listen to him and contrast his statements to my point of view. He let me share my personal experience with Jesus Christ, and I encouraged him to seriously investigate his life and claims. It was a good exchange, we coasted in to park at the gate and Steve went to retrieve us both sandwiches.

I felt led to give him this small New Testament that I had been carrying around. During the long cruise portion (for a regional jet) of the flight back to DC, and after a quick prayer for courage, I offered it to him. He accepted it and started reading the gospel of Matthew right there. I had to turn away and hide my easy smile, praising the Lord silently in our heavenly office. Well, who knows what will happen spiritually with Steve. Like the U2 song I’m (coincidentally?) listening to at this moment, ‘One step closer’, I hope that he is that person.

I’m sitting in NWA first class, commuting home, on the way to Minneapolis-St. Paul, visualizing them holding the FSD flight for me. We were delayed in a ‘ground hold’, from taking off from DC this evening due to thunderstorms blocking the ‘departure gate’, in ATC terms. It will be a tight connection, one I may be running for, but one that they just may hold the flight for. I know there are at least ten other FSD peeps on this airbus, and this will be the last flight of the night. Such is the life of a commuter, especially a ‘two-legger’ as I am.

This morning, the fifth day of a five day trip, I didn’t want to get up. A 4:30 AM van, 12 hour day, six legs, and 6:45 of flying awaited us, and it was all perfectly legal. I and my crew were blessed with a message from crew scheduling, left on my silent ringer set cell phone at 3:30. At 4:00 I (my brain did) heard the nice CS gal tell me that because of yesterday’s weather, our jet didn’t make it to Albany for our morning flight. Our first three flights were cancelled and we didn’t have to report for duty until 9:00 AM. Yes, three more hours of restful and needed sleep!

It’s June 10th, and the typical spring thunderstorms had thrown another wrench into the ATC system works on the east coast. Out three legs left were PHL-DCA-RDU-DCA, and our jet was late as well. It came at 1:30 PM and it was hot, literally. We would leave at least two hours later than scheduled with the jumpseat and cabin full. We had 41 hot and frustrated passengers, and the other nine ‘deadheaders’ and one jumpseater. Fellow pilots and flight attendants sometimes become critics of your operation, but I know they mean well. And we had something to be criticized for, our plane had only one of our two air conditioners, or ‘packs’ as we call them, operating. This was all legit, the problem had been documented in the aircraft maintenance log and the bad pack had put placed on the deferred maintenance list. Inflight, the cabin never got below about 83 degrees, and the airflow was poor. One pilot I know really tried to persuade me to write the aircraft up as having unsatisfactory air, even unsafe air, as he was sweltering and couldn’t breatheon the PHL-DCA flight.

I wanted to, but I had an ulterior motive, I had to get home. We were already about two hours late, and I was afraid if I wrote the plane up the increased delay would mean spending another lovely night at the crash pad. If we immediately flew the last round trip I’d get to the gate for the MSP flight at about 7:30 for an 8:00 PM flight. So I sympathized with our FA and her sweaty ‘pits’ (her words, she was NOT happy), and went to fetch the paperwork for an RDU, NC round trip.

I noticed inflight that the sole remaining pack was only putting out 30 psi. The training file was clicking in my head, hmm, ‘I think that the pack is supposed to put out 41 psi while operating on just one, do you remember that, Nate?’ The systems description of our FCM, Flight Crew Manual backed me up on this. The pack will regulate air inside it to 30 psi when two are operating, and to 41 psi with only one. ‘Trivial’ numbers do have a use after all. The pack was operating, but not according to advertised standards. The plane was safe to operate, but questionably so for passengers, especially those sensitive to heat. It was definitely not acceptable customer service. We were ‘pissing off the world, fifty people at a time’ today.

The only bright side of this scenario is that we requested and received an external air conditioning cart at PHL, DCA, and RDU, which blows a cold, hard stream of air through the ducts into the cabin while boarding, and cools things off a bit before the roasting begins. The shine of it is that this wouldn’t have happened in the past, only in the last year has US Airways Express placed these in service for us.

The flights to Raleigh-Durham and back were done with lots of water and patience, and the weather radar on. Haze in the atmosphere, and leftover cloud material from previous buildups made the danger clouds difficult to see. It seemed that two thunderstorms over the Potomac river might be in our way on the approach back into DC, but we skirted them with ATC’s help. Their radars have weather displaying capability, and we seemingly always get a turn away from cumulonimbus clouds moments before we politely insist they we need a turn, now. Cloud to ground lighting mere miles from the White house, seen from the ramp in DC by our sweaty passengers, reflected the ongoing political tug of war that is Washington. No further comment please!

The swapping crew, the poor souls who would take our sweat box, arrived and the FA said she gets heatstroke very easily. I was already thinking hard about writing it up, and this fact helped clinch it. Maintenance was understanding and didn’t fight me. Good, the right thing was done here.

Do you think quoting rock lyrics in a personal blog is tacky and wrong? I don’t, but a comment made on a widely read fellow airline pilot blog did. Here’s my latest, from Don Henley’s song Heart of the Matter:

I’ve been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about

Everyone wants to be forgiven for the wrongs they’ve done to others and to God. That’s an easy thing to do; after the humbling step of acknowledging your wrongdoing, ‘please forgive me’ is universal. My lovely five year old, understandably, doesn’t consistently have the sorrow and admitting your guilt part down yet. She’ll say loudly ‘I’m sorry’ and think it makes it all better without any remorse at all. She’s working on it.

The other side of the F-word is forgiving another when you’ve been wronged. When you’re bitter and hurt. When you’ve been wounded and disrespected. When your relationship is fractured. When you’ve been betrayed and manipulated. When the person hasn’t admitted wrongdoing or asked you for forgiveness, and might not.

The Lord has revealed to me recently that I have and have held unforgiveness in my heart, toward others, friends and relatives. I’m in the process of forgiving them, and it feels great. I feel liberated and free. I don’t need an apology from each of them, although most have. How do parents of children who’ve been brutally murdered forgive their killers? We’ve seen this on TV time and again. I posit that it’s only by the power of God and the Holy Spirit.

We can: Visualize Forgiveness, more forgiveness, in our lives and in our hearts, toward each other. More forgiveness in our citizens, and our citizens of the world. Peoples forgiving peoples, nations forgiving nations, races forgiving races, tribes forgiving tribes, cultures forgiving cultures, governments forgiving governments. It's a big bumper sticker idea like the other one previously mentioned, it's a step on the road to world peace (another subject entirely).

It’s important, forgiveness, is, so much that Jesus taught us (and his disciples) to do so, from Luke 11:4 and his teaching on prayer: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” God’s forgiveness of our sins brings us back into a right relationship with him, it does the same when we forgive others.

Did I make it home this night? Did I catch the last flight out of Minneapolis? Did NWA/Delta hold the flight? Yes! I had a peace about it that I like to think was from God. It was just another moment in life acknowledging the ‘God things’ he has blessed me with. Amen!

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