Sharing a breakfast table with the outbound crew; Captain Presley ‘Press’ Cooper wanted to make sure the outbound crew was aware of everything that might later be of importance to them. Basically, the plane was in excellent shape except for a few minor items that would cause them no worry. The crew finally departed leaving us to finish our coffees before turning in for a few hours sleep. Press slept during the time it was my turn to fly – and he dozed during his leg to fly, forcing me to do my job and his. It had been a long night – I was exhausted.
Press was part American-Indian, an ex-hotshot-fighter pilot, TWA first Officer, and at last an all-around non-sked pilot. Age had turned his body into a heavy-set doughboy sort of individual. His uniform always gave-off the impression he’d slept in it. Nevertheless, he had an easy grace and droll sense of humor that made me comfortable.
Other copilots had warned me about Press; “The sonovabitch can sleep between Vee-one and Vee-two.” “He’s got narcolepsy – I’ve never known anybody that can sleep so much” “On your leg he slides his seat back and sleeps; on his leg he leans forward and sleeps. You notice how he always has a cigarette in his hand? That’s his timer – when he smells flesh burning or feels it getting hot, it wakes him up to remind him to do something.” I didn’t believe all I’d heard about the guy, but they were right; he slept through the entire trip except to wake up for the takeoffs and landings.
“The same as everybody else; three times the altitude, plus ten – why?”
“I noticed you were a little sloppy getting down to approach altitude at Kelly. Do you mind if I show you a more efficient way to execute the descent?”
Christ, I thought, he slept the whole trip, now he wants to critique my flying. “No I don’t mind. I think the controller started my descent early and that’s why I got screwed up.”
“The controller cleared you from our cruise altitude to two-four-zero at pilot’s discretion – you didn’t have to start down that early. Hand me that napkin, let me show you how to do it better.”
I gave him the unused paper napkin and wondered when I could gracefully excuse myself to go to sleep.
Press pulled out his pen and began drawing a descent profile. “Okay, let’s assume we’re going to land straight-in and the airport’s at sea-level. We can throw in adjustments later for different conditions, I just want you to get the general idea of how to do something that is a lot more efficient than what you’ve been doing. Now, it’s a given that thirty miles out at two hundred and fifty knots and idle thrust the plane is on profile for a normal landing – agree?”
“Yes.” I’m tired.
“And it takes ten miles to slow from the barber-pole of three-fifty, to two-fifty. So we can say that you must be at barber-pole forty miles out. The problem is how do we get there when we’re cruising at thirty-one thousand feet at four hundred-eighty knots at mach seven-eight?”
“Agree.” This is going to be a complicated discussion and I’m not sure I can stay awake much longer – much less understand what he’s talking about.
“It’s really not that difficult; if we subtract ten from thirty-one it gives us twenty-one. If we descend at three thousand feet per minute and idle thrust we’ll hold our mach number to the barber-pole and then maintain barber-pole the rest of the way down. Three divided by twenty-one gives us seven. It will take seven minutes to get from thirty-one thousand feet to ten thousand feet at maximum airspeed and idle thrust.”
I was sort of following his dissertation. That big old teddy-bear of a man was a lot sharper than he let on. Maybe he wasn’t sleeping all the time; maybe he was just bored.
“All that remains is to get a groundspeed check at altitude and divide that by six so you have the number miles traveled in a minute. Multiply by seven and you’ll have the miles it will take to get to forty miles out. Four hundred eighty divided by sixty is eight miles a minute. Eight times seven is fifty-six. Add to that the forty miles given and the answer is ninety-six. If you start down ninety-six miles out at idle thrust and follow this profile you won’t have to add power until you call for flaps and the Approach Checklist.”
Press had given me a lot to think about and I was beat. “I think I’ve got it. I’ll have to think about it before trying it out. Press, excuse me, I’m going to crash.”
“No worry. We’ll practice tomorrow on our way to Warner Robbins. Once you do it a few times, you’ll get the hang of it. Give me a call when you wake up and I’ll show you the plane I’m building.”
“Okay, I’m dead. It’s gonna be about seven or eight hours.”
“Get plenty of sleep; we’ve got a long night ahead of us. I’ll see you when you get up.”
No wonder Press sleeps in the plane, he builds models in his hotel room. Dragging myself and two bags up to the room the thought crossed my mind; We don’t have a long night – I have a long night ahead.
Nevertheless Press was a prince; no shouting or yelling, just a lot of common sense and easy patience. I felt like a sponge absorbing all his wise and well thought-out counsel. “Now let the bird slow to flap speed and call for flaps fifteen and approach checklist and set one-point-two on the EPR gauges and the plane will take care of herself. (There were key power settings; the one-point-two was a key.) I no longer felt like a complete idiot after a month with Press.
It was later that I learned he did indeed have a problem sleeping; he couldn’t lie down without choking up, so he slept in a chair. (Back then ‘Sleep Apnea’ hadn’t been defined.) I guess I’d be tired too if I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep once in awhile
Another thing I learned from Press was to pace myself so I could last all night on those long, long, dark Logair nights. That, and a multitude of other things he taught, indebted me to Press on the way to making me a one-day-world-wide-non-skedder.