Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mentors from my past

I tried to make a comment at the bottom of my last posting, THE UBIQUITOUS DC-9, but when I did, I continuously received an ERROR 303 message. I don't know what that means and being a bit of a ludite, I gave up and decided to create a new posting to express my thoughts. 


Do you remember dc9man from the previous post comments who explained the term "SIX" for me? Well, here's Tom in 1995 at altitude in a DC-9. I had the good fortune of spending many hours aloft with him; he's one of those whom I'd mentioned who had a hand in helping me along my career path and teaching me to fly a jet. As you can tell from this picture, he's a laid back, easy going fellow who created an atmosphere where learning is easy. So easy in fact that you don't realize you're learning, until that cold, dark, windy night with heavy snow falling on short, slippery runways as your fuel diminishes, options fade and decisions need to be made arrives. Then the lessons that you've learned from men like this suddenly surface.

Everyone marvels at your cool headed decision making under pressure, your consummate flying skills and completing the mission under adverse conditions. Even you are as you pack up your flight bag, walk off your airplane and head to the hotel with a sense of accomplishment, suddenly noticing that your cap feels too small as your head has swelled. In the dark of my hotel room though, with the adoring crowd now dispersed, it suddenly occurs to me that I had mentors, Tom and others like him who took the time to prepare me for the conditions that I experienced tonight. 

I've been asked many times, "flying is one thing, but how do you learn to be a captain?"  For me it was easy; I paid attention to Tom and his contemporaries who ran a good cockpit, allowed their FO's to participate in decision making and never really got too excited about anything. I've seen the other side of the coin too and flown with captains who where verbose, raised their voices often, needed to throw their weight around and acted as though everything was monumental. Through keen observation however, I learned that the minute these fellows raised their voice and said "I'm the captain," they lost their command authority. Sound decision making, quiet leadership and sticking to your guns always wins the day. You should never have to remind someone that you're the captain.

Here are a few more guys, retired now,  who played a role in how I conduct myself.

                                      
Vern

                                     
Ben

Danny


Ted

When I was bumped off the 727 at the REP/NWA merger, Ted was my DC-9 FO simulator instructor. Nine years later when I checked out as a DC-9 captain Ted flew as my OE instructor. Another great guy with whom I spent many enjoyable hours and learned much from.  

These fellows all happen to be former Southern Airways pilots, pilots with whom I flew the most when a DC-9 copilot. When I flew as a 727 flight engineer and copilot I spent a great deal of time with the former Hughes Airwest and North Central pilots. Republic was a very diverse group, built around these former airlines and was a fabulous training ground. By the time I checked out, the name on the side of the airplane said NORTHWEST and the complexion of the airline was entirely different. 

                                    

In 1995 NWA started to move away from the old red/white/blue Northwest Orient paint scheme and experiment with a few others after the Beach Boys purchased us. (Al Checci and Gary Wilson) Here's a DC-9 paint scheme that you've probably never seen. If I remember correctly, this is the same airplane with different paint designs on each side. Anyway... where was I?


Tom and I were descending into Washington Dulles one afternoon and I casually asked him "why does our pattern list the days as one, two, three, five?" Unbeknownst to us, what we thought was a four day trip was a five day trip with a 26 hour IAD layover. After an early breakfast the next morning, we rented a car and drove to Gettysburg, PA to learn about one of the decisive battles of our Civil War. As we approached the battle field, Union and Confederate soldiers formed lines to re-create Pickets Charge. Cannon's roared, bugles blew, muskets fired and sabres rattled as the pungent aroma of cordite filled the air and a thick layer of smoke obscured the battlefield. Thousands of soldiers yelled and stormed the "stone wall" defended by union troops as men from both sides fell like cordwood.  

The date was 3 July 1994, exactly 131 years from the date of this famous battle and we'd driven right into the middle of a huge re-enactment. It was fantastic. Later, we walked across the battlefield with a park ranger and learned much of this bloody battle. 

Tom is also a former minor league pitcher and we'd carry our gloves with us when we knew we'd be flying together. He throws a heck of a curve ball and kindly took something off his fastball to spare my left hand. We'd spend hours in a city park or next to a motel throwing until sunset. While waiting for a (very late) hotel van at Memphis once, we pulled out our gloves and threw in the hotel pickup area to pass the time. He's also a former Air Force pilot who flew DC-3's in Vietnam and wrote a wonderful account of his experiences for a DC-3 newsletter that I edited at the time.

When I listen to guys complain about this job and hear the tired, old "it isn't like it used to be,"  I know immediately that they've never flown with captains like Tom, Vern, Ben, Danny or Ted and many others from my past who didn't have time to complain because they were too busy getting out and doing things. These guys didn't let grass grow underneath their feet and I've tried to emulate that. In previous posts I've written that "it's all about the people." Well, Tom is one of those people.

                                      

My last DC-9 trip as an FO in 1994. I left the Nine to fly the Ten (DC-10) as a BOS based FO. Look how red my moustache was! My hair too. As chance would have it, if you flip back to my previous post and pull up the DC-9 in Delta colors on the taxiway, you'll discover that this is that airplane 16 years ago. 

Now that I've thoroughly embarrassed Tom, he's a very modest man, let me move on to other points of interest.


JB, Don, Jonathan, Sarah, Ryan, Michael, Joe, Capt Schmoe, Mark and Anonymous... thanks very much for your comments; believe me, they make writing all this stuff worthwhile.


JB, I haven't flown into BOS for quite a while as a pilot, but commute through BOS regularly. The last time I flew through was when NWA had the BOS-AMS route.


Don, not that I'm looking forward to accelerating my age any, but I'd have loved to have flown for the airlines when you were there as I'm sure it was very exciting. Delta was at the TOP of its game then, everyone wanted to fly there and the family ethic was in full swing. I hope that Mr. Anderson is the quiet yet strong leader who will return DAL to that level of service.


Jonathan, I couldn't agree more with your thoughts concerning skill level and exposure to older techniques. Someday a screen may fail and the experience garnered from DC-9's and 727's will come in very handy. (Also, thanks for the plug.)


Sarah, thanks as usual for your thoughts and uncanny ability to recognize locations. I unfairly put you on the spot with this question as you'd have to have DC-9 experience to answer this nutty question. 


Ryan, 31,000 feet minus 10,000 feet equals 21,000 feet divided by... ah 3,000 feet per minute, traveling at, let's see six miles per minute and we have.... ah. Hmmmm, 31,000 feet minus....  Believe me, it took years to be able to do this quickly, while descending, answering radio calls, getting an ATIS etc. I'm not sure that I could do it anymore. (Also thanks for the plug.)


Michael, keep thinking about smoothness and efficiency; it's the only way to fly.


Joe, good thought about 255.


Anonymous (Tim) I agree strongly as I miss those days, but have benefited greatly from the lessons learned.


Capt Schmoe, many of those old Champion birds were former NWA airplanes that I'd spent many enjoyable hours in. I'd LOVE to fly a 727 again!


Mark, coming north for a day of DC-9 spotting would be a lot of fun and yield much historical data... don't wait too long. A South Africa vacation with Zurich shooting thrown in sounds fantastic!


Tim G, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!


Tyoung, Glad that we could help with your travel plans. I flew that route many times and always enjoyed PHL layovers.


Perry, Thanks for the update on your DC-9 project. For DC-9 enthusiasts, visit Perry's site concerning his efforts to save the history of a particular DC-9 and re-create its instrument panel.


J: I hope all is well in the -400.
Do you see the names above shown in BLUE? Click them on and you'll be directed to that persons blog. You'll very much enjoy their experiences, comments and pictures... but don't forget to return!


As usual, happy flying and thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


Rand

24 comments:

  1. Yet another fantastic post! I'm one those passionate commercial aircraft buffs and can't help but get a little choked up when I see/hear of types being phased out or Capt's retiring, I think of the journey they took and the people they carried, if only planes could talk. Thanks again!

    Joe, Claremont NH.

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  2. Hi Rand,

    I see the 767 parked over at Terminal A a lot. Do you know if that one still flies to AMS or is it a domestic runner? I generally fly out of C, and am jealous because A is so much better for food! I fly nearly every week, and am always looking for a mustachioed aviator on my flights to or from BOS. However, I'm generally not traveling to a DL hub, so chances are slim of me seeing you, I suppose.

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  3. One more question on the DC9, that little tiny steering wheel that turns the wheel nose, does that thing have some super power steering? I would imagine it would have to with such a small diameter!

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  4. May be fed by the hydraulics but I look forward to know as well.

    Joe, Claremont NH.

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  5. Joe, I'm getting choked up to think how close I'm getting to be turned out to pasture!!

    JB, I really don't know what the mission of the 767 is, I haven't seen it in BOS. You're more likely to see me commuting to DTW, but I'm considering a change of venue and bidding NYC for a change. And that little tiny nosewheel steering wheel... Joe's correct, it's hydraulically powered and really quite easy to use, particularly if you wait for a little forward motion before trying to turn.

    More food for thought concerning the taxi phase: The DC-9 nosewheel is in front of the pilot, where the 757/767 nosewheel is considerably behind him, so different techniques are employed when making 90 degree turns and having the mains split the yellow taxiway line after the turn.

    Rand

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  6. Hi Rand,

    Thanks for the info on the steering wheel. I assumed most jets used the rudder pedals for steering, guess I'm wrong!

    I'll try to find out where that 767 goes.

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  7. One more thing, do you steer down the runway when taking off with that steering wheel?

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  8. I found the mysterious 767 in Boston. According to the timetable, it was DL2035 BOS-ATL, only flying on Wednesdays, discontinued Sept 1. So I guess it was a domestic bird, and not a very common visitor!

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  9. Rand knows best (would make a good show), but I think if I'm correct that the nose wheel is effective up to about 60kts or so then the rudder becomes more effective in keeping centerline.
    Aviation 101, love it. Keep the questions coming jb...

    Joe

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  10. JB and Joe,

    The hydraulic powered rudder steering is effective for about 7 or 8 degrees left and right of center which is helpful when taxiing straight ahead or on the takeoff roll until the rudder becomes effective... about 30 mph or so. But for turning off or onto a runway or any large turn while taxiing we use the "tiller" as we call it. Boeings and DC-9's only have one tiller and it's on the captains side. Our Airbuses have a tiller available to both pilots, but company policy at NWA was to have the captain taxi the airplane. I'm unsure how DAL handles that though. I've yet to fly a domestic 767, my experience to date is on 300ER's to/from Europe and Asia.

    I'm assuming JB that you've seen a picture of the DC-9 tiller. If so, that black disc in the center of the wheel is the parking brake. To set the brakes, the captain depresses the rudder pedals and pulls the disc out. To release them, simply depress the pedals again and you'll hear a "snap" as the disc returns to position.

    That's about it....

    Rand

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  11. Are MD80s and 90s just stretched versions of the 9 ?

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  12. I also noticed DC9's could push back with reverse thrust, did/does it cause any more engine wear than normal to reverse from a standstill at t/o weight rather than just slowing at landing weight ?

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  13. What a great post Rand! That is a serious amount of nostalgia invoked there I'm sure! Thanks for sharing it!

    Regarding the push back with reverse thrust - I'm interested in that answer as well regarding engine wear - I remember when I first moved to STL years ago, AA and TWA also used to push back with reverse thrust - but that was on MD-80's.

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  14. I believe Eastern Airlines was the pioneer of the power back with their 9's and 727's. Republic quickly adopted their procedures which if I remember right was no more than 1.2 EPR in reverse thrust with your feet on the floor. (no braking going backward please) All this was preceded by a slight roll forward to get the wheels off the flat spot.

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  15. dc9man, thanks for the info! What made me think of the question was a short clip on youtube and it did indeed show it roll forward a bit before the cans opened and moved back. I imagine you really needed to trust the ground crew with procedures like that. I suppose you could relay the info from a rear window to up front but what fun would that be. "This is the capt, could the passenger sitting in seat X please yell up when we're clear of the ground equipment and good to taxi out, thank you"

    Joe

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  16. Thanks for answering that Tom, I'd forgotten that EAL had precipitated that procedure and the 1.2 EPR limitation. On my 727 OE, powering off an end gate at the Dixie concourse at DTW, we had a substantial tailwind that prevented me from accepting a powerback. Maintenance advised of a 15 minute delay for a pushback crew if I persisted. My OE instructor intervened and advised that he thought it would be OK. I deferred to him but once again voiced my discomfort under the circumstances and off we went with a three engine powerback. After rolling forward a few inches, then establishing reverse thrust at less than 1.0 EPR, we heard the most god awful compressor stalls. BANG! BANG! We spent the night in DTW after maintenance discovered that we'd thrown several compressor blades on the center engine fan assembly. The center engine of the 727 is connected to its air intake by an S duct that made up for the difference in height between the intake and the engine itself. Shortly after this event the company revised its 727 pushback limitation with regard to tailwind component. I never really liked powerbacks anyway and wasn't unhappy to see them further restricted.

    Rand

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  17. Wow, if it was that substantial up in the front office I can only imagine what it sounded like in the back...

    Joe

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  18. Rand,

    Your paragraph regarding how you 'learn to be a captain' is one of the most perfect explanations on this subject matter that I have ever read. Every aspect of this paragraph is spot on. I think I want to put in the bulletin board in our crew room! Keep up the great work!

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  19. Excellent post I really enjoyed it. Two questions
    1. Why were Cecchi and Wilson called the Beach Boys?
    2. Would you be doing more International flying out of NYC I assume?

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  20. J, thanks for commenting about how I learned to be a captain... I certainly had good teachers.

    John, they were from California and had a bit of a free wheeling, attitude. In fact when Checci grew tired of his airline, he spent a fortune running for CA governor and lost. Wilson was also discovered with drugs by TSA during a bag search at some airport that only added to to the image. Then BusinessWeek magazine put them on the cover standing on the wing of a jet and I think that the article's title was "The Beach Boys" buy an airline or something to that effect.

    Rand

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  21. Great post and thanks for the plug! I just got endorsed and am now flying the cessna 402! Great plane, hopefully the metroliner is next, maybe october if it falls into place. Again, i love reading your accounts of this sort of stuff. I have asked myself a few times how i would be as a captain. I guess time will only tell.

    Regards, Mike.

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  22. Found some good info for jb about the steering question.
    Below is a Schematic of a boeing aircraft nose gear and you can see the actuator that "push/pulls" the nose column left or right.
    http://i94.photobucket.com/albums/l118/Jet-Mech/NLG1.jpg

    Also, an actual photo of nose gear where you can clearly see the actuator which has the what looks like GPU lines draped over it.
    http://www.airliners.net/photo/1761950/L/

    hope this helps a little.
    Joe

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  23. Links didn't seem to work right so you will have to cut and paste, sorry.

    Joe

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  24. Jumping in the 'Way Back Machine'...I seem to recall some of the Boeing 747-200 operated by NWO had tillers on both sides of the flightdeck-maybe it was just the freighters. Worse nightmare I had was dreaming I put a set of mains in the mud. Well that and a cold-shot off a carrier. Tim 8DMEWORD.

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