Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

They call themselves, “Freight Dogs.”

They belong to a mythical yet elite outfit called, The Order of the Sleepless Knights.

Freight Dogs Anonymous Secrets of an Airline Freight DogWhen you go to sleep, they go to work, schlepping boxes 25,000 feet over the countryside, often in aging aircraft, some even without autopilots, through rain, sleet, snow and hail. And, yes, through dark of night.

Despite their hardships, they are some of the most respected pilots in the aviation industry.

Recently, one of these “Sleepless Knights” caught a jumpseat with me to his home base. I became fascinated with his story, and was determined to share it with you.

Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you First Officer Mike B

In the airline world, every company has different standard operating procedures, and it’s good to teach yourself how to adapt.FO Mike B

Mike, you have an interesting background and life. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Flying the 737 1 Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog  I came from an immigrant family who thought that the idea of becoming an airline pilot was strange. I graduated from high school with the dream of becoming a Boeing 777 captain. Since I didn’t know anybody in the aviation industry and my family wasn’t supportive of me becoming a pilot, I couldn’t figure out where to start from. I decided to start college with an undecided major to learn about myself, and I was hoping that my father would let me follow my dream.

  Two years into college, it was time to declare my major. While my family was pushing me to do something in the medical field, I was persistent on becoming a pilot. On a Thanksgiving day, we had a family gathering, and my uncle was asking me about what I was doing in school. I explained to him what was going on between me and my parents, and suggested that I talk to one of his friends who is a captain at American Airlines.

  Sure enough, he was very helpful, and he gave me guidance on how to get into aviation. At some point, my father realized that I wasn’t going to give up my dream, and he decided to meet the person my uncle introduced me to. After that meeting, my father changed his perspective and decide to help me accomplish my goal.

Wow, that’s great! Can you tell us a little about your flying career so far? How did you get your flight ratings?

I took the typical path that most people take. I got my CFI license after earning my commercial tickets, and I instructed for a little bit. After earning some hours as a CFI, I got a job offer from a 135 cargo operator flying Shorts 360 (SD3-60) as a first officer. Each job I’ve had has taught me a lot of new things about aviation, and it also helped me meet new people and make friends.

Initial CFI pass Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

Mike passes his CFI. 1st step to the airlines!

Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

You bring up a good point. In an age where young pilots are beginning to “buy” their way into the cockpit via ab-initio classes (going from zero time into an airline cockpit with very little real world experience), you seem to be coming up the “old school” way by “paying your dues.” How have you built your time so far?

Very good question. I started my flight training at a small flying club, Wings of Carolina (, in Sanford, NC. All of that club’s instructors were very knowledgeable and helpful. They were instructing because they love to teach. My instructor, whose name was also Michael, went out of his way trying to help me succeed. I earned my private pilot license and couldn’t be any happier with the training I had.

First flight in the shorts Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

First Flight: Mike trains in the venerable freight hauler, the Shorts 360 “Flying Boxcar”

Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

  After that, I decided to go to ATP flight school to earn the rest of my tickets through their “fast track program” Sure enough, I finished my college classes and started the program in the summer. It was fast pace, and I had to study a lot to stay on top of my game. The program took longer than it should have, but I had all my tickets within six months.

It was more about teaching procedures than flying a plane.

While in the program, I realized that these big schools have nothing very special to offer other than how fast they get you done. I noticed the difference in the quality of training between the flying club and this big famous school.

  Unfortunately, nowadays flight schools guarantee their students an instructor job without knowing how good that student is going to be. In addition to that, it seems that any person goes from zero to hero at one flight school, they work for the same school and teach the same thing over and over. The question is, what skills and knowledge is that instructor earning? I am not saying that there is nothing to learn, but why should someone limit him/her self to one flight school? In the airline world, every company has different standard operating procedures, and in my opinion, it’s good to teach yourself how to adapt to new procedures. I didn’t instruct at the same school that I did my flight training at because I felt like it was more about teaching how to do procedures than how to fly a plane.

Mike B Shorts 330 Secrets of a Freight Dog

Check out! Mike qualifies as FO in the 360!

  I went to a different school, Total Flight Solutions ( and accumulated some hours teaching private and instrument students. At the beginning, the transition from student to a CFI was interesting, because it scared me and taught me how to be patient at the same time. While instructing, I was looking at some other opportunities to fly larger equipment and build turbine multi engine time. I then applied to a second in command position with a Cargo Carriers and got the job.

I agree about becoming an instructor. It truly helps you to “learn how to fly,” as you observe and must correct other students’ mistakes. Now, you’re what we call a “Freight Dog.” Can you describe what your typical day (night) is like?

Our first priority is safety and the second one is being on time.

A typical night is showing up at the plane (a Shorts 360), doing the preflight, and checking weather to know how much freight we can take. After getting loaded and making sure everything looks good, we fly to the hub, layover for a couple of hours and then fly back to base in the morning. Of course, our first priority is safety and the second one is being on time. We fly around thunderstorms in IMC in the summer time, and we deal with icing quite often in the winter, since most of our flying is in the North (Northeast section of the U.S.). It makes the job challenging, but it teaches you to handle weather.

That sounds like a rewarding and challenging job! What are your career aspirations, both short and long term?

ASRC_fleet_Chevrolet_Colorado Secrets of an Airline Freight DogMy short term aspiration is upgrading to Captain at this company to gain PIC experience in a challenging environment. My long term aspiration is to become a major airline Captain.

What is your take on the state of aviation today? How do you think it fits in with your aspirations? What do you think of the “looming pilot shortage?
I think aviation is becoming a more stable industry with opportunities. Of course, that means there will be more jobs for pilots which will hopefully help me land a job at a major airline. I think the pilot shortage is coming, since there will be a lot of retirements at the majors, and not many pilots are coming from the military.

Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

Outside of flying, what do you like to do? Hobbies?

I like going to the gym and playing tennis. I also like to work on cars

Have any There I Wuz stories you’d like to share with us?

Flying the 737 3 Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

Mike takes a hitch in a 737!

It’s hard to tell. That book (There I Wuz! series) is full of interesting stories. I like how Cap’n Aux thought he was going to die when the sky “fell” and he kept descending to stay clear of the clouds. While he was getting very nervous, one of his passenger pointed at the runway and he was very calm.

  There is one cool story that I want to share with you though, I was jumpseating on (airline censored), and the First officer went to the rest room. The captain allowed me to sit in the right seat, and I took pictures of myself as if I was flying the 737. I showed them to my friends, and they couldn’t believe it. It was funny!!!

Great story! I have no doubt you will be flying the very same type plane, or something similar, for a major airline in the near future.

Best of luck on your career!

Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

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Me and Captain Aux Secrets of an Airline Freight DogWell, folks, there you have it—the story of an up n coming “Next Gen” pilot, still learning the “old school” way. Pilots like Mike, I believe, will be the leaders of the industry tomorrow.

I am very concerned about the industry’s continuing tilt toward the “ab initio” way of learning. That is, taking a zero-time pilot candidate and teaching him airline procedures—and not necessarily how to fly.

I agree with Mike that the industry seems to be stabilizing, and opportunities are increasing. Note that Mike made a quick jump from CFI to a 2-pilot, airline-type cockpit—something that took me nearly five years to accomplish back in the 80’s—which is indicative of the increasing pilot shortage. However, despite the “shortcut,” his current job is an excellent step toward the majors. His daily immersion in real world situations such as dealing with thunderstorms, deicing, radio work in the world’s busiest air corridors, etc, is honing his craft and experience like nothing else can.

77272609It is stories like Mike’s that give me comfort that men and women such as he will keep the skies safe for the foreseeable future, despite the continual trend toward shaving the margin of safety  in the name of cost cutting, via reducing training, replacing humans with automation, etc.

It is to all of you Freight Dogs out there, of the Royal Order of the Sleepless Knights, that I tip my Cap’ns hat.

Here’s to you, Sirs and Madams!

This is Cap’n Aux . . .

Showtime Folks! Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

Signing Off!

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Touching down in May

Airways Maho Banner! Extra Secrets of an Airline Freight Dog

Last year’s Airways Magazine Cruise crew, at Maho Beach!


From the Airways Magazine Alaska Cruise!

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