Maverick pilot

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Fortunately, Anita had no difficulty turning-over the condo in Hawaii. I’d bought it for eleven thousand, selling it a year later for sixteen; I was indeed a lucky man. (Of course if I’d hung on to it I could have sold it in 2005 for over a half a million; maybe I wasn’t that lucky.) After deducting taxes, commission, and escrow expenditures, the remainder barely covered our direct costs. Moving, clothing and auto expenses had set us back a bundle. We were hemorrhaging money, but we’d secured a nice apartment in a good neighborhood, Toni enjoyed her new school and bonded well with her new Mom. Vickie liked the neighbors and I was having the time of my life – what the hell, it was all worth it.

The months flew by working eighteen days on, and twelve off. Most of the flying was at night; I’m a day person so that took some getting used to. For the most-part the captains were a joy to fly with and I was learning a whole new skill. High altitude, mach numbers, fuel burns in the thousands of pounds per hour and a multitude of other things were expanding my professional envelope. The DC-9 remained a hotrod, outperforming anything else on the Logair circuit. We basked in the awareness that we were the envied few who flew pure-jet equipment.

The company added more DC-8s & ‘9s, and expanded their Electra fleet. My seniority number of seventy-two was a good fifty from the bottom. Gutt, Kutchara, and I each received orders we were scheduled for upgrade at the end of the month. We were given left-seat authorization, which meant captains could let us fly in the left seat when it was our leg. This was done to allow a smoother transition for us in training. After ground school and a modified simulator review we were assigned to Captain Lawrence ‘Moose’ Adams for final flight training prior to our rating ride.

Moose was a giant of a man; a freshly-retired navy transport pilot. The first time we all met was in Warner Robins, Georgia, where he suggested we get-together over a pizza. I remember he stepped up to the cashier and ordered a pitcher of beer and a large combination. When Moose pulled out his wallet to pay, Ed Kutchara suggested we all chip in and split the bill evenly.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Moose queried.

“You just ordered the pizza and beer so I thought we ought to split it.”

“I ordered a pizza and beer for me – you guys get what you want.”

“You gonna eat all the pizza and beer yourself?” Ed was astonished.

“What’s wrong with that? I gotta keep my strength up for training you guys.”

“Nothin’ I guess.” Ed replied.

The same order fed the three of us.

Training under Moose was fun – the complete opposite of my experience a year ago. All the flying was at night around the local area; we had the sky to ourselves. The three of us were absorbing Moose’s training in a friendly relaxed manner. There was no question we were going to pass as Moose explained it; he was just there to show us a few maneuvers and keep us from getting into trouble.

After the last session before the FAA examiner gave us our rating-ride Moose observed a mechanic working on the APU (auxiliary power unit) of a parked DC-9.

“Hey you guys come on over here and let me point out some things that might be of help in the real world,” he said as he motioned us over to the tail of the parked plane where the doors were open exposing the running APU.

The piercing noise from the little jet turbine was ear-splitting. The three of us bent under to view the items Moose was concerned about. It was interesting but all I could think about was the deafening high-pitched sound of the screaming jet turbine.

Later that evening, before going to bed, I took a shower and damn-near fell on my butt when I closed my eyes to wash my hair. I got so dizzy I had to lean against the shower wall to keep from falling down. With my eyes open I was all right, but when I closed my eyes the room started to spin. This was not good; I was scheduled for my rating tomorrow at three in the morning and I wasn’t sure I could fly the plane. Common sense told me I should let Moose know of my problem and reschedule for a later date. Another voice said to ignore the dizziness and try to get through because there might not be another chance. We’d already lost three men from our original class and the company had demonstrated they would fire anyone who remotely didn’t look suitable. I lay down to get some sleep while the bed slowly spun ‘round and ‘round. Tomorrow’s another day I reasoned and it may be just a temporary condition.

The check ride went well; I had no problem with any of the maneuvers and procedures as long as I focused on the instrument panel. The final approach was using the ADF (automatic direction finder) to the airport cumulating in a circle-to-land on the reciprocal runway. As I mentioned earlier, I was completely at ease with the thing that usually gave pilots the most problem; the dated, dreaded, ADF approach. However, when we got down to one-thousand feet and Moose removed the blinder saying, “Okay take her around to the other runway and keep her in close; you’ve only got a mile visibility,” my flying went to hell. Looking at the runway lights surrounded by blackness from the cockpit I began to get vertigo; the lighted runway was undulating like it was floating on an ocean. On base leg my head was spinning so badly I thought I was going to lose it; I worried I was going to puke. Fortunately, the plane was configured to land except for the final flaps. Turning Final I called for full flaps.

“Flaps, full – checklist complete; you are cleared to land,” Moose confirmed.

I went back on the gauges; the artificial horizon, gyro compass and ADF needle remained steady and I was able to line the plane up with the runway relying on the cockpit instruments and the ground mounted lighted visual approach slope indicator, (VASI), until I was one hundred fifty feet and ready to flare. I eased off the power checking our descent and the plane flared right on target.

“Nice job; that circle-to-land is the one that gets most pilots, you executed it perfectly. Congratulations captain.” I appreciated the compliment and didn’t miss the new title the FAA examiner gave me.

Later over breakfast Moose asked me what the hell happened during the approach. “I saw you go back on the instruments when you were supposed to be visual and I almost said something. But you were doing a good job and the Fuzz didn’t pick up on it, so I just sat there.”

I confessed to Moose what happened and how I thought the noise of the APU had damaged my ears.

“You gonna be all right to fly?”

“Sure, I just need a few days to get my balance back.”

“Your route check doesn’t start ‘til Monday; you’ve the weekend to rest up. Captain DeWitt’s gonna be your first check airman; aren’t you the lucky one?”

“He’s a jerk.”

“He’s not that bad – just humor him and go along with his nonsense and you’ll be fine. By the way – that was a good job last night.”

“Thanks Moose.”

“You’re welcome. Oh and Rick Skala is going to give you the second half of your ride. The company wants two opinions before they turn a captain loose.”

“He’s another jerk.”

“Everybody’s gotta jump through the hoops – they’re not that bad.”

“Yes they are.”

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