Cap’n Aux Answers YOUR Q’s – Part IV, 2.0!

Here we go — our final round of questions!

Blog Reader Junior M. sent me a whole laundry list of excellent questions:

What are 10 likes and dislikes about being a pilot?
Oh, wow, that one will take a whole blog post!  Good Q, I think I’ll save it for another post!

What’s your favorite airport to land at?

Probably DCA if we’re doing the River Visual to 18, or JFK, if we’re doing the VOR or visual to 13L.  Maybe BUR  as well.  Those’re about the only really “challenging” approaches left in our system.  Not “hazardous” per se, but you have to pay attention!  PVR, cuz that’s my favorite overnight!

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TEX (Telluride, CO), is one of my old favs’, too, not only for the challenge…

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…but also because it means I’m going skiing, or to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival!

How do you know what hotel you’ll be at overnight?
That is planned months in advance by the Company.


Do you pay for it?
All our hotels are paid for by the Company.  If we’re traveling on our own, we can sometimes get nice discounts at hotels that we would stay in when we’re working.

Let’s say you have a week off.  Can you go to Paris or another country in that week off for free or it has to be during your vacations?

Absolutely! Many people get into the airline biz for one reason: to travel!

But not for free.  We buy “ID90’s” or “ZED fares”—basically hugely discounted tickets on whatever carrier we need to get to that destination.  But, it’s all on standby.  So, if flight’s full, you get bumped!

I got bumped going to Thailand last year, and also this year coming back from Manila.  But, that’s a small price to pay for the freedom to travel the world on a shoestring!


How often can you bring family on flights?

Any time there are seats available.  These days, not much!  The planes fly pretty full any more, and you really have to plan ahead.  If they get bumped and you’re working the flight, you have to leave them behind!

Once, my newlywed wife got bumped in Vegas at midnight from my redeye flight.  I felt terrible, as she was, at the time, quite naive about traveling, and she nearly panicked.  However, she figured out how to deal with it—get a hotel room, catch another flight in the morning, etc.  Suddenly, she realized she could see the world on her own . . . And I hardly ever saw her again, LOL!

This is something I’m really worrying about. Do most pilots go through divorces since they are barely home? I don’t want the same thing to happen to me.

Sadly, that “time away” is a big factor in divorces.  It played a part in mine.  Statistically, I have no idea, but I would guess that pilots have an “elevated” (scuz the pun) chance of divorce.  But, it just means that you and your spouse have to be aware of that fact, and work that much harder on your relationship.

Are you a captain?

Yes!  I upgraded on the A320 in early 2000.  I had also been a Captain for a year on the DHC-8 when my company had them.

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Cap’n Aux’s First Command!  (Eh, pay no attention to my last landing!)

My first “Captainship” was on a Twin Otter for the Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle in 1988!

How can you change your bases?

Each company is different.  Right now, my pilot group has only one base: PHX.  After our merger, however, there will be many more opened up, eventually.  I would like to stay in PHX, however!

What’s your favorite part about a flight?

Hmm…I’d have to say the landing, just because it’s the most challenging time.  Especially if we have to shoot an ILS to minimums.  It’s just a really satisfying feeling to be able to use your skills.  I also really love to say “Hi” and “Buh-bye” to the passengers, especially the kids.  I finally tracked down some plastic wings (sadly a thing of the past) to hand out to them.

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How do pilots stay up during long flights, and crossing multiple time zones?

It’s a big challenge.  Mainly you have to plan ahead and be well rested.  Internationally, there are “IRO”s on flights—International Relief Officers, who fly the plane after takeoff.  The Captain and FO go sleep in a bunk until landing time, then take back over from the IROs.

What do you think about doing PA’s? Do you like them?

Love to do PA’s!  Although, I wish I were a better “comedian.”  Some pilots just have “the touch” to crack passengers up.  I learned along time ago I get all tongue tied trying to be cutesie, so I stick with a (mostly) standard PA.  Although I have to say I’m a fairly good “tour guide.”  I flew Grand Canyon tours for several years as one of my first commercial aviation gigs, and I had to entertain my passengers for 3 hours straight!

Have you ever been told you won’t ever be a pilot? How did you feel?
No, I was, blessedly, always encouraged and supported.  In my 6 years of flight instructing, I always encouraged the student, however poorly they performed.  I only told a student once that he was “not a very good pilot.”  I said this SPECIFICALLY because he was very cocky, and as a result very sloppy in his flying!  It “scared him straight,” however, so it did the trick!

Can a pilot change the plane he or she flies if they don’t enjoy the routes, don’t like the style or feel uncomfortable flying it?

Yes and no.  Each job comes with its own opportunities and restrictions.  At a major airline, you normally have several types of aircraft, several bases, etc.  So, if you are senior enough to change planes, you are welcome to bid for it—if and when a bid comes out.  Normally, once you change planes, you are restricted to that plane for several years, to cut down on training costs of people jumping around too much.

When do you reference speed as a percent of Mach and when do you use knots?
—Roger P.
Note: Before I could answer this question on my Facebook page, we received an EXCELLENT reply to this by Peter F.—far better than I could have answered!  So, here’s Peter’s reply!:
When pilots use knots, they usually mean indicated airspeed. Due to physics, the speed of sound, as reported in indicated, lowers with altitude, gradually approaching operational speeds of jet airliners. Some physical effects manifest when approaching the speed of sound, neccessitating that pilots are aware of the speed ratio to sound speed.

Airplane will usually change from “knots” to “mach” by itself when the time is right (depends on speed and some other factors), and it happens usually in high twenties (measured in thousands of feet). This altitude is sometimes called crossover altitude.
Thanks, Peter!

I have very much been enjoying the blog posts, especially readers Q’s. I also loved the “Flight Gathers” (http://youtu.be/jlvLD7s79p4video. Thanks for all your stuff.  Just wondering how you manage your fitness while “on the road.” Are you able to get in workouts? How do you do it? What kind of program do you follow? Or do you only workout when at home?
—Tyson P.
So glad you’re liking the blog n vids, Tyson! Fitness on the road is a challenge, but not insurmountable.  Certainly there are times when you work all day and have minimal rest at the hotel, so you can’t always get in the best workout.  But, nearly all hotels now have some semblance of a gym—some so-so, some excellent.  And, if the weather’s nice, I’ll often run outside for cardio.

I did P90X a couple years ago.  You can do most of the workouts right in your room.  It also changed my habits for the better.  I now take a food bag with me, packed with healthy meals and body building supplements like energy drinks and protein powder for post workout.  My girfriend’s also a comepetetive body builder, so she always challenges me at the gym at home!

Another great round of questions came from Ken McQ., 
a TV aerial cameraman in DTW, who’s working on a degree at Embry Riddle.  He was writing a paper on CRM (Crew Resource Management, see Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockpit_resource_management) and asked me the following:

Are you familiar with the crash of Northwest Flight 255?

Yes.  It was instrumental in forming the concept of “Sterile Cockpit” that is absolutely adhered to in the world’s airines today.

Has CRM training changed or evolved much during your career?
Dramatically.  I started this career when the general mindset was, “The Captain is God.”  Today, the Captain is an experienced pilot who is ultimately in charge, but also respectfully incorporates all his/her human resources–the FO, FA’s, ATC, Company, etc., to safely operate the flight.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the perfect example of this evolution in thinking can be seen in the original Star Trek’s Captain Kirk vs. The Next Generation’s Captain Jean Luc Picard!

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How are checklists performed in your cockpit?  Are they paper or electronic?
For standard procedures, Paper.  Checklists are read verbatim, and never “memorized,” as it were.

If we have, say, an engine failure, an electronic checklist will pop up on the ECAM.  But we also have a QRH (Quick Reference Handbook) and other printed resources with which to follow up all “non-normals” and emergencies.

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Have the checklists changed much over time?
Again, dramatically.  A lot of research on CRM, human error, and such have taken place in the last 30 years, and our checklists are direct result.  They are simpler, more straight forward, and precise.  We “Verify” the most important items (“Landing Gear – Verify, down, three green.” “Verified – Down, three green.”)  This, “Verify” system, I believe, comes directly from NASA studies.

Is it always clear who’s responsibility it is to complete the checklists?
Yes.  The PNF (Pilot Not Flying) always reads the checklists.

Do you ever have to prompt the First Officer to complete a checklist?
Occasionally.  Boredom, fatigue, distraction, and low morale can affect anybody at any time, and these are serious human factors that have to be overcome to get the job, however simple, safely done.

Do you have hard cues to perform the checklist, or is it something you do as part of a “flow”?
We have a “Triggering event”, such as approaching 18,000′ on descent for the “Descent/Approach Checklist.,” or the FO pushes the T/O Test button (I’m on the A320), which then comes up “green.” This is my signal to call for the Taxi Checklist.

Are you required to perform checklists using the “Challenge – Response” method?
To clarify, each checklist is a “Challenge – Response” format, but  I think what you’re asking is if we Read an item, then do it, then Respond.  We don’t to that method except in an emergency.  (“Engine Master Switch – verify Off”…PF guards WORKING Engine Master, then says, “Verified,” then PNF switches inop Master off, saying “Off.)

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Are you ready for me to read the “BEFORE START” CHECKLIST?!

Normally, we have a “Flow then do checklist” type of format.  It greatly simplifies, well, the “flow” in the cockpit.  The Power Up cklist and Shutdown cklist are straight “Read and do.”  Read the line, “Batteries – On,” turn the Batteries on, etc.

And, to wrap it up, a few more fun questions from Junior M.

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My most recent celebrity:  A pig named “Web” from Charlotte! Hmm….
Have you ever flown any celebrities?

I’ve flown many, but rarely known it until they left and the Flight Attendants told us!  I’ve had a Tom Cruise here, a Britney Spears there.  My favorite was former “Tonight Show” announcer Ed McMahon, who was a pilot in WWII and Korea!  He marched right up to the cockpit and shook our hands.  I told him, “You’re twice the pilot I’ll ever be!”  (Note: Brigadier General McMahon passed away in 2009.)

My ultimate dream was to have Leslie Neilson stick his head in the cockpit and say his famous line from the movie Airplane!:  “I just want to tell you both, good luck.  We’re all counting on you!”  (He was known for doing just that!)

That would have made my career!

 
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Sadly, Leslie passed away in 2010 (see my blog post “Cap’n Aux’s Ultimate, and Ultimately Shattered, Aviation Dream” http://capnaux.com/?p=143)

What was the funniest thing that happened to you during a flight?
Great Q!  We’re always pulling pranks on the new flight attendants.  My favorite is to type “Large Rodent Loose in Cabin” into our MCDU computer scratch pad, and then bring her up to show her the message.  Then we switch to the hydraulic page, which shows the word “RAT” (for Ram Air Turbine).  Then we send her in back with a trash bag to catch the critter!

My April Fool’s day joke backfired when, during the flight, I made PA’s about our progress toward LAX . . . although we were going to Vegas!  The FA’s went nuts, calling us and demanding we correct ourselves.  They finally begged us, as one little old lady was about to have a heart attack!  It was then that I learned that, the voice on the PA is the voice of God!

What was your most memorable flight?

I’ll never forget the time I flew three orphaned bear cubs from Haines to Juneau, Alaska, in a Cessna 207.  Their mom had been killed by a poacher, and so the Alaska Fish & Game had to ship them off to zoos.  It was bitter sweet, as it was sad that they had been orphaned, but such a cool experience to fly these three cubs!  They were sedated, in cages . . . and they stunk to high heaven!  Sadly, the poacher was never caught.  So, I just had to write a fictional account of this episode in my novel, The Last Bush Pilots, wherein the bush pilots exact “poetic revenge” on the poacher!

My favorite was a ferry leg PHX-LAS, when I was able to put my wife at the time on the A320 jumpseat (pre-9/11.)  I asked her if the flight “made her day,” and she answered, “It made my life!”  I’ll never forget that!

Have you ever had any incidents on flights?

All the time.  See my blog post, “Go Ahead, Make Cap’ns Day!(http://capnaux.com/?p=108)

AND FINALLY….


I SAVED MY FAVORITE QUESTION OF ALL FOR LAST….

Why are so many pilots mean but you’re nice ?
—Junior M.

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JUNIOR, YOU JUST CHARMED YOURSELF INTO A FREE SIGNED COPY OF “THE LAST BUSH PILOTS!”

Haha glad to hear I’m nice, but sorry others are so mean!

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I think the past 20, even 30, years have been brutal for airline pilots.  Very volatile.  Many have lost great jobs and are back at crappy ones, if they’re flying at all.  So, understandably, they’re bitter.  Also the pay has come wayyy down—1/2 of what it was 30 years ago!  So, I think the realities of this biz have fallen far short of expectations.
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Conversely, I have to say that I have been extremely blessed in my career.  As most pilots climbing up the ladder experience, my early years were very volatile.  My paycheck looked like a yoyo for a good 10 years (up, down, non-existent, way up, way down!)  Also, I was blessed to get a relatively early start at a company that was the sole surviving post-deregulation upstart airline!  While I did spend a couple years on furlough in the early 90’s, since recall it’s been a relatively smooth ride.  Nevertheless, while I have 15 years left in my career, I have no idea where I’ll be even 5 years from now.

This business ain’t for the faint-hearted!

That is why I always stress in this blog, the airline career is like a box of chocolates….

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ENJOY THE RIDE!!!!!!!
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RELATED POSTS

PART I
“Cap’n Aux, have you ever…”

PART II
A day in the life of an airline pilot

PART III
Technical Questions, Part 1

PART III, 2.0
Technical Questions, the Sequel

PART IV
Question Potpourri

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Posting May 25 @ 11:00 PHX:

A Memorial Day Special.

An Encore Presentation.
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Monday, June 3:

Blogging in Formation Week!
Posts all week beginning Monday, June 3!


This month’s themed post: “My Most Memorable Flight”
Cap’n Aux post: Wednesday, June 5 @ 8am!
“Launch my career or die?  What the F%^&* did I just get myself into?”

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