Maverick pilot

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An easy going Captain George Flavell, together with First Officer Hobie Ball, introduced me to the line. Hobie patiently went over each and every item involved with, what to me was, a most-confusing maze of paperwork: “Dave, George will tell you what route and altitude he wants to take based on the company flight plan and the weather. George is a good guy, so you can ask him to explain something and he won’t get pissed off. He’ll also tell you how much fuel he wants.”

“Thanks; where does he get the fuel requirement?”

“That’s based on the amount of cargo and the length of the flight and of course the weather – it sounds complicated, but it’s not.”

“Show me again how you work that weight & balance template.”

“You start here and then you add each compartment…”

It seemed like something thought up by the designer of the Ouji Board. I was mostly lost; but I kept telling myself, if others have done it so can I.

“Hey you’re lucky, we use flip cards for the Vee speeds. All you have to do is confirm the weight is correct and Douglas gives you the numbers in big letters on this nice card – see?”

We were assigned 9-34, the same plane I’d received my training in, so I wasn’t prepared for George’s comments on takeoff: “Hey Dave, this thing drives like a truck,” George announced. “How’d you manage to fly this sled? The controls are stiff as a board.”

“Isn’t that the way all the jets fly?” I asked.

“Hell no, this is worse than a simulator. Here Hobie, you try it.”

Hobie took over the flight controls, “Jeez, it sure is different than 9-31. It feels like they tightened everything down too tight.”

“Yeah, I got it,” George said as he took back the controls. “You must be a good pilot to have survived Walent, Balsey, and this truck.”

“I think more lucky than good; but I’m glad to hear this isn’t the way jets are supposed to fly.”

Most of the line captains and copilots were like George and Hobie; generous in sharing their knowledge with us neophytes. The first officers took the time to patiently explain how to fill out the various forms such as flight plans, weight & balance, trim settings, and Vee speeds. They were careful to make sure we got it right; always stressing the importance of meticulous accuracy, as a mistake could lead to a catastrophe. The captains performed the exterior pre-flight walk-around and made the major decisions after consulting with meteorologists, customer load supervisors, and our mechanics.

The cockpit atmosphere was relaxed compared to the training environment. At altitude and in cruise there was easy banter between the captain and the copilot. It turned serious when the job required it, such as on takeoffs, approach and landings. Practically everybody liked the company and was positive about its future. I felt very lucky to be a part of the organization.

My first flight as a fully qualified first-officer, (co-pilot), was with Captain Bob Francis, a retired Air Force Colonel. He phoned me at home to say he’d drive-by to pick me up since we only lived a few blocks from each other. My initial nervousness vanished on the ride over to the airport. Bob was easy-going, with a great sense of humor that immediately put me at ease.

“I don’t want to load you up with too much to do right away so I’ll take the first leg to Tinker, okay?”

“Sure, I’m already overloaded. Keep an eye on me; I don’t want to make any mistakes.”

“Don’t worry; this is all fairly easy once you get the hang of it. We’ve got 9-31, a good flying bird – it should be a smooth trip.”

Bob performed all of his duties and effortlessly coached me on what I needed to accomplish without the slightest ruffling of feathers. I kept wondering why training couldn’t have been more like this; working and learning with Bob was a pleasure.

After our one-hour stop at Tinker we were fueled and reloaded and filed for Hill Air Force Base in Utah. “You seem to have figured out most of the paperwork and you don’t have any problems with communicating on the radio. I’ll line you up on the runway and you can give it a go.” He said as I called ground control for taxi clearance.

I was nervous and began to sweat; the fully loaded ‘9 wasn’t the hotrod it was when empty. Still, it was a mighty quick bird and my mind was geared to flying the stiff-controlled plane from San Diego. “Okay, just keep an eye on me – I don’t want to do anything stupid.”

“Don’t sweat it; you’ll do fine and I’m right here if we lose an engine or anything.”

We received our clearance to Hill Air Base and were cleared for takeoff. Bob carefully lined the plane up on the center line of the twelve-thousand foot runway and I advanced the throttles for maximum power. The powerful jet immediately accelerated down the runway as the control column came alive in my hand

“Vee One – Rotate,” Bob called out.

I took my left hand off the throttles and pulled back on the control column with both hands as I had in training. This time the plane leaped into the air and effortlessly rotated to fifteen degrees nose up. I over-controlled the plane; we almost rotated beyond the fifteen-degree target. This bird was completely different on the controls than the training ship.

“Vee Two – Positive Rate,” Bob said.

“Gear Up!” I responded.

He reached over and raised the landing gear lever. “Take it easy Dave, feel the plane; let it talk to you.”

“Yes sir.” I said as I more gently lowered the nose to ten degrees, “Flaps – Ten. Set climb power.”

“That’s it – that’s it – take it gentle,” his voice was calm with no sign of stress.

Climbing to altitude I continued hand-flying the bird, getting more of the feel of her. This was the first time I thought I might learn to like flying a jet. This plane flew completely different than Nine Thirty-four; she was a joy on the controls.

“We’ve got an autopilot, you know,” Bob kidded me as we passed eighteen-thousand on our way to our cruising altitude of thirty-one thousand.

“I know; I’d like to hand fly it up to twenty-four before I flip on the autopilot. I want to really get the feel of this plane, she handles so much different than Nine Thirty Four.”

“Really? You do what you want, just don’t put us on our back, okay?”


Later, Bob said I could fly every leg if I wanted. Generous with his knowledge, he filled me with valuable pointers and tips. In my opinion Captain Francis was a far better teacher than either Walent or Balsey. Between the flying and later the social aspect, (Vickie and I, Bob and his wife Helen, became dinner partners.) it was a most enjoyable month. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be introduced to line flying than with Bob.

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