Wednesday, December 30, 2009

refocusing...or attempting to

As I continually have issues trying to find a focus for my blog, I've run into yet another problem. I realize that everything I have to say will, by the time I write something, already have been said. Thanks, Twitter, for ruining my buzz.

I could talk about the American Airlines Jamaica runway incident, or the attack on NWA253, or all the silliness the TSA has been involved in. Unfortunately, those are all horses that have been beaten to death.

I fear that until I'm back at work, I won't have anything interesting to write about. Hopefully when I'm recalled I can continue with what I originally planned to do here, and talk about day to day life of an airline pilot. I still plan to, but recall could still be months or even a year away.

I'm finding that my true passion in aviation is safety. So I'd like to start focusing on that subject here. Unfortunately, there are already a few other blogs on the subject, and I'm having a hard time finding original information to cover.

So there. A few more excuses as to why the blog hasn't taken off yet. I remain, truly, your resident Airbus A320 semi-expert and aviation nut,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Crossing fingers...

I realized today that I never feel like I have anything useful to write for this blog, but yet I LIVE aviation. So maybe I should be trying to find something at least a couple times a week to write about.

Currently I'm still awaiting recall; a combination of rumor mill and facts from management point to a possible recall in January to be back on the line in March. According to our DO we should be getting 2 A320s in March, then 1 in April and 1 in May. At the current rate of about 7 crews/airplane, this should require at least 42 recalls (assuming that NKS is keeping 1 A320 as the spare airframe that we so desperately need, as evidenced by our need to contract flying out while we had an extended maintenance issue a few months ago).

By guestimate I'm around 24 back in the list. Hopefully I'll get picked up by the first recall.

It's very frustrating to be sitting here with just under 600 hours and a type rating. A type rating with under 500 in type is useless enough, but add to that the fact that I'm practically uninsurable because I don't have an ATP (airline transport pilot, this requires 1500 hours of flight time plus some other requirements). This is why I have yet to find any sort of flying job. I can impress people enough with my flying skills, and I have a great cockpit personality, but they just can't afford to hire someone with under 1500 hours. And it's not their fault, so I can't be mad at them.

It comes down to my eagerness to get my first flying job without regard for the volatility of the industry and the idea of "paying my dues." I really should have stayed at ERAU and become a flight instructor. I may have been still there, no type rating and no jet time, but I know I would have had twice the flight time I do now and would have been in a better position when the economy recovers. But! There's no use looking back. I'm in a pickle and need to make the best of what I have gotten myself in to.

1. Get recalled. Knock the socks off as many captains I can.
2. Work hard, get some overtime in (as long as everyone's been recalled behind me) and get to ATP as soon as possible. This may be difficult if I get stuck on reserve.
3. Start looking for something more solid. JetBlue and Continental are my top two choices. I interned at CAL so that helps me when it's time to apply. Hopefully in 2 years I will know several people at JetBlue.

Most importantly - keep my head above water and my nose clean. Work Hard. Fly Right. (Thanks, Gordon.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Crashpads on wheels? GREAT IDEA!!

I got a facebook msg from a pilot who's early on in his training. I decided I'd just copy/paste my response here because I'm feeling a little lazy today.

"LAX parking lot is home away from home for airline workers - Los Angeles Times

It's a pity. I wish I had more to look forward to pursuing a career in aviation. Have you heard of this kind of arrangement before?"

My response:
I saw that article too. Oddly enough, it's not the first I've heard of it. I have a friend who flies for Piedmont. His family bought and renovated an old bus for a family vacation. Nick was based in NC but got displaced to Roanoke recently. Instead of bothering to find a new crash pad he just put everything in the bus, hooked his jeep up to the back and found a KOA near the airport that had showers and wifi.

The sad thing is, I think it's a great idea. Here's my personal airline experience. Just after I got hired on at Spirit, they opened a San Juan base, which is where I got sent to. The crashpad there cost me $400/month, and I had to pay $12 each way in taxis to get to the airport. On top of my $800/month rent at home. After a 1 1/2 months there I was able to transfer back to FLL. My crashpad was $250/month, but at least I drove my car from Daytona to FLL every week so that I'd have a car while there (I was on reserve). Buuuuut after 2 months in FLL, after a round of furloughs, I got displaced to ACY. There aren't any crashpads in ACY since Spirit's the only show in town. I had to stay in a hotel and rent a car. Plus, everything out of ACY is day trips, so I had to have a hotel every night. Total cost for the month? $2400. Add that to my $800/month+utilities back home, and I was in the red for the month.

So after all that, I seriously see the plus of having a crashpad on wheels, and the next time I get displaced, I'm looking into a RV. :)

On the career thing: just keep the faith. That's why my older pilot friends tell me. You're in a good spot right now. By the time you get all your ratings people will be hiring again. It's not a glamorous career anymore, but when I'm cruising at FL390 amongst all the contrails I really couldn't care less ;)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The probation 15...

I didn't have a problem with the freshman 15 in college. I did enough walking to keep myself healthy, since I didn't have a car. I really didn't have a problem until I moved off campus (and had a car), but even then I only gained about 5 pounds.

Getting my first airline job, though, was a different matter. In less than a year my weight creeped up to 142 pounds, which for my height (5'0") was a BMI of 28!!! I didn't realize how chubby I had become until even my size 10 pants were getting tight (in high school I wore a size 4). I'm calling it "The Probation Fifteen."

One of the first things I did after I was furloughed was rejoin Weight Watchers. I can't say enough good things about their program. There is nothing you can't eat on WW, instead you're encouraged to eat things that are GOOD for you and keep you full. Sooner or later you learn that you may loooooooove a big ol' cheeseburger, but for the calories (or Points, as WW uses) you could eat a huge Greek salad and some pita chips with hummus, which (for me, at least) is a lot more satisfying. But if you want to have that cheesburger, go right ahead, just count the Points.

Well 2 weeks ago I finally reached my goal weight of 120 pounds. I'm back to the weight I was in high school. My BMI is 23, which is "normal." I wear a size 6 now, but that's alright, because after all I didn't have any "womanly curves" in high school, either.

I've promised myself that when I go back to work I WILL NOT GAIN THE WEIGHT BACK.

So I'm going to share my tips with you on how to keep the probationary (or reserve or line flying) weight gain from creeping up on you!

- If you can run, running is a GREAT way to exercise. is a cool site where you can find running routes all over the country. Also, GirlsWithWings tells me that most hotels can give you trail maps as well!
- Since I ruined my knees playing softball I don't run. And most hotel gyms lack an elliptical. So learn how to do exercises that don't require one! Fitness Magazine has really great resources. A lot you can even do in the hotel room. Or go swim laps in the pool! Do some exercise every day you're on your trip.
- Carry an insulated lunchbox. I have a Travelpro bag that has an insulated pocket, but most FA's I know swear by for cute insulated totes. This way, even on 4 day trips you can carry healthy snacks like hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, string cheese, and maybe even some frozen entrees. Bring some extra zip-lock bags for ice. If you're lucky you'll have a fridge in your hotel room to refreeze those icepacks, but at the very least you'll have an ice machine!!
- Don't forget to carry workout clothes with you! If you pack them, you'll want to use them!
- I know some people even carry their workout videos with them. I don't always carry my computer with me on trips, but if you do, consider that! Of course, I don't know how appreciative any other hotel guests below you will feel about hearing you jumping around.

If anyone else has tips, I'd love to hear them!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Another aviator flies west...

One of the great opportunities I've had in my life involve a very cranky old airplane at KTIX in Titusville, FL. A few weeks after we started dating David brought me down for the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum open house. Tucked into a corner of tarmac was a group of guys called the Air America Foundation.

These guys, for years, have been putting their heart and souls (and blood and sweat) into restoring a Fairchild C-123K Provider to flying condition. I instantly fell in love with the airplane and became good friends with the crew. Almost every Saturday for the next year and a half I spent with my boyfriend and friends working on "Big Lou." Through AAF I've learned how to rivet and re-skin this beast of an airplane.

The heart and soul of this amazing organization was Paul Vasconi. With his motivating force and near-obsession (maybe it WAS a full-blown obsession, actually!) with the project, Paul managed to create an cohesive group of people who spent every weekend, and often weekdays, on the dream of restoring our baby to flight. Paul gathered donations, conscripted people to the cause and made sitting on top of a metal airplane in the middle of a Florida summer something we looked forward too all week long.

Unfortunately Paul passed away unexpectedly July 3rd. David and I miss him terribly. It's hard to believe that someone who had so much drive and energy towards anything he wanted to accomplish could be gone. He was a great friend and mentor.

David and I have promised to not let AAF and Big Lou fail in Paul's absence, and I know the rest of AAF feels the same way. We will get Big Lou to fly someday. We'll continue to educate the people about Air America and the amazing airplane that is the C-123K Provider. That's our promise to Paul, wherever he is. David says he's up there flying B-17s and C-123s. Knowing Paul, he is.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In reference to Air France 447...

As several instances of unreliable airspeed/primary airspeed failures have been released by the NTSB (read this article by Reuters: U.S. probes altitude, speed data on two Airbus A330s), I was reminded that unreliable airspeed is one of the "memory items" I was taught while getting my A320 type rating.

Memory items are checklists for emergency situations that you are required to memorize, as immediate action is required by the crew (i.e. you might be dead by the time you pull out a checklist). Now there are a lot of situations where pilots know how to act without needing a checklist (engine failures, stalls, etc.) but there are some where the response isn't instinctual, so a memory items checklist is needed. I've heard of some airlines that had more than 20, luckily on the A320 we had 3.

Here's the memory item for "unreliable airspeed indication."

MEMORY ITEMS - If safe conduct of flight is affected:
Note: respect all stall warnings if in ALTERNATE LAW
1. Adjust pitch/thrust:
- Below THR RED ALT -- 15 degrees/TOGA
- Above THR RED ALT and below 10,000' -- 10 degrees/CLB
- Above THR RED ALT and above 10,000' -- 5 degrees/CLB
2. AUTOPILOT................OFF
4. AUTOTHRUST...............OFF
5. Flaps....................Maintain current CONFIG
6. Speedbrakes..............Check retracted
7. Gear.....................UP

When at or above MSA or circuit altitude, level off for troubleshooting.

Basically, these pitch attitudes and power settings are there to keep you from stalling and give you a decent climb rate. It seems Airbus believes most unreliable airspeed problems are expected to be on takeoff, as the dividing line on pitch attitudes and power settings are based on whether you've passed the thrust reduction altitude, which is usually around 1,000' above ground level, where the pilots reduce engine power from TOGA (takeoff/go around - maximum power) to CLB (climb power, which the engines can sustain for long periods, unlike TOGA power).

After this there is a checklist which deals with resetting the ADRs and has tables of the correct pitch attitude and power setting for climb, cruise, descent and landing at a range of different altitudes in case the ADRs do not come back online. From what I've gathered from the news articles, in both instances it seems the crews were able to reset the ADRs successfully.

As with most Airbus emergencies related to data failures, it's more likely than not that the computers can be restarted quickly and the flight can continue normally. This is, as I mentioned before on another post, not an easy airplane to fly when things go wrong. Combine an emergency such as unreliable airspeed with a situation that Airbus may not have considered, such as the suspected severe thunderstorm activity, and it may have been a recipe for disaster that enveloped Air France flight 447.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Those boring announcements are there for a reason...

“All right, you can go ahead and let them up now.”

In pilot-speak, this is the captain telling me, the first officer, that he or she is satisfied that the flight is going to be smooth and the passengers should be free to move about the cabin. When I’m not flying the leg I get to make the announcement.

“*BING* Good morning, folks, from the flight deck. We’re currently at our cruising altitude of 36,000 feet. It looks like our ride should be nice and smooth today so I’m going to go ahead and turn off the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign. You’re free to move about the cabin but please keep your seatbelts on whenever you’re seated, just in case we run into any unexpected turbulence. Also if you could try and keep the aisles clear our cabin crew would really appreciate it. We’re showing an on time arrival, when we get a little closer I’ll be back to let you know what the weather looks like. Thank you for flying with us and have a great flight.”

Of course I don’t think 90% of the passengers actually listen to this announcement. I can’t blame them; before I was an airline pilot I didn’t either. But there’s a reason we make the announcements we do.

The most ignored direction we give our passengers is “please keep your seatbelts on whenever you’re seated.” I understand that they don’t want to wear the seatbelts any more than necessary. After all, if the flight has been smooth so far, and if we hit any turbulence, they’ll have time to get their seatbelts on, right?

I realized a few weeks ago that I didn’t really have a good way of explaining turbulence and what causes it to appear out of, literally, the clear blue sky. So here’s what I hope is a good explanation, concentrating on high-altitude turbulence that jets encounter.

While flying at high altitude you can encounter turbulence both within clouds and in clear air. The former is caused by convective currents.

Inside a cumulus cloud, air is cooling and sinking as well as warming and rising. You’ve seen this if you’ve watched a thunderstorm “build” (as warm, unstable air is lifted) and dissipate (as the warm air cools, it condenses, becomes saturated with water, and sinks again – this is when it’s raining). All these convective currents buffet the airplane as it flies through them. Luckily most jets fly above where most cumulus clouds thunderstorms form, with the exception of very strong thunderstorms. These can have vertical extends well above 45,000 feet, and these we fly around.

This kind of turbulence can be very dangerous, but since flying into thunderstorms is so risky, we use weather radar to go around all but the smallest cumulus clouds. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t TRY to make the ride rough. But sometimes, due to traffic or just the widespread nature of a storm system, we can’t go around it. However, since your flight crew knows that a cumulus cloud will hold at least some turbulence, we would never have the seat belt sign off if we anticipated flying through any.

The other common form of turbulence we encounter is called mountain wave turbulence. This is caused by air currents moving over the tops of mountains. On the leeward side of the mountain the air becomes very turbulent. I haven’t flown across any tall mountain ranges so I can’t offer much insight on mountain wave turbulence besides that.

The most critical form of turbulence with concern to passenger safety is Clear Air Turbulence, or CAT. This is turbulence that occurs without any sort of visual cue or warning, and is the reason we ask passengers to keep their seatbelts fastened whenever they’re seated.

CAT is caused as an aircraft moves between different bodies of air that are moving in different directions at different speeds. This occurs most often around the jet stream or frontal systems. I’ve flown with captains that were good enough at reading weather reports that they could tell by the “winds aloft” report where there would be some turbulence. Winds aloft is a weather report that lists the speed and direction of winds at different altitudes at certain locations – over commonly used navigation facilities and airports. The reporting starts at 3000 feet (with a few exceptions) and continue up to FL390 (39.000 feet).

By interpreting the change in wind speed and direction along the route, you can determine where you’re most likely to encounter CAT. If we use this technique to establish the likelihood of hitting CAT on the flight, we can anticipate the need to keep the fasten seat belt sign lit as well as ask the flight attendants to remain seated until we are sure the danger is past.

A quick search of the NTSB’s Aviation Accident Database revealed over 30 aircraft incidents involving CAT over the last 10 years. In the majority of the accidents the only injured people were the flight attendants, who are especially vulnerable to turbulence since they are not seating during the majority of the flight. Most of these incidents resulted in G loads to the airplane of less than +2Gs and -1Gs, which is about what you feel on a roller coaster. Imagine being on a roller coaster without your seatbelt on!

In several accident reports I’ve read, the flight crew had no reason to expect CAT. At most, weather was observed several miles ahead. In the vast majority of cases, no warning was given to the cabin. In a Northwest Airlines incident in 1972, five flight attendants and nine passengers were injured, two of them seriously, when the Boeing 747 entered “an area of unforecast and unexpected severe clear air turbulence when numerous occupants did not have their seatbelts fastened.” (NTSB report number: NTSB-AAR-72-27)

So please, when the flight crew asks you to keep your seatbelt on whenever you’re in your seat, do it! I guarantee your captain and first officer are doing the same.

(For more details on weather, pick up “Aviation Weather,” another great FAA publication (AC 00-06A).)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oh Murphy, I hate you

Last Thursday I finally got to take my CFII checkride. For the first time before a checkride I felt calm, I felt like I knew the material backwards and forwards and could handle the flying portion of the checkride. I attribute this to the fact that I had a week's notice and spent plenty of time that week studying. No last-minute rush to finish up the lesson plans or realizing you've missed studying a critical section of knowledge.

I even managed to eat breakfast that morning, another pre-check first for me. Normally I'm so nervous that I can't stomach anything. But this time I had some semblance of calm knowing that this would be my last FAA checkride for a very long time. I probably won't have another checkride that isn't for work, unless I choose to get my multi-engine instructor rating in the future, or go for seaplane ratings.

FAA checkrides involve an oral exam, consisting of knowledge/judgement-based questions, and a flight check. The FAA has what's called "pratical test standards," which give guidance to examiners on what to test candidates on. It's basically a checklist of certain items they need to hit on during your test. Some of this is accomplished in the oral and some of it on the flight, or a combination thereof.

I won't hit much on my checkride itself other than that the oral and flight both went very well, with the exception of what follows. But I did pass :)

Murphy's Law (as defined by
1. If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it.
2. The law that says anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

My flight school has two Cessna 172SPs, SA and PJ. I was scheduled to take SA on my checkride, but the manager of the flight school asked if I could take PJ. SA only had about 5 more hours before it needed a 100-hour inspection (required of all airplane for hire) and she wanted to try and extend that over the weekend. So I preflighted PJ, filed a flight plan and we got ready to go. PJ was very reluctant to start but we attributed this to the engine and the outside air being hot (fuel injected airplanes are very susceptible to vapor lock). We taxied to the runway to do our engine runup...and the left magneto was bad (there are 2 on each airplane, and they help generate the power for the spark plugs, more or less). After attempting to clear the mag several times (this is accomplished by leaning the mixture and running the engine at high RPMs to "burn off" whatever is choking the spark plugs) we brought the airplane back to the ramp.

So here we are, filing a revised flight plan and taking SA, the original airplane we were suppose to take. Whoops.

And in case that wasn't enough, now we got to argue with Tampa Approach.

Normally Tampa Approach is fantastic. But that day was a GREAT flying day, both for VFR and IFR. The ceiling was just under 3000 feet so you could get some decent actual instrument time in. We had filed IFR just in case and picked up our flight plan with Tampa. We requested and received a hold so that I could demonstrate holding, and then requested a full VOR approach into Lakeland Regional. And were denied due to traffic. So we canceled our IFR flight plan (now seeing that the clouds were high enough so that we could operate under VFR), contacted Lakeland and asked for the full VOR approach. Lakeland said they could accommodate us and instructed us to proceed direct to the LAL VOR. When we were about 4 1/2 miles north of the VOR Lakeland said "Oh SA, Tampa said they can take you now."

This struck me as odd, but ok, let's talk to Tampa. I check in with them and hear this: "SA turn 360 immediately you are entering Lakeland's airspace!"

Me: "Um...SA turning 360 but sir we were just talking to Lakeland, they cleared us for the full VOR approach and then told us we could talk to you."
ATC: "Oh. Standby. OK SA heading of 290 vectors for the full VOR approach."
.....Me: "290 on the heading, vectors for the full VOR approach."

After another 10 minutes of vectoring we're back to where we were, 4 miles from the VOR and cleared for the approach *facepalm* Sometimes I really don't understand ATC.

At one point the examiner said, "well you know what they say about Murphy's Law" and I just responded "I hate that guy."

But all in all I passed with flying colors, got complimented on my crosswind landing technique (apparently this is the FAA's new "topic of concern") and came back just in time to be there when one of Jim's students got back from his first solo (woohoo!!). Just with a little more excitement than I would've preferred!

Monday, June 1, 2009

An explanation of fly-by-wire...

As the time I've written this we don't know the fate of Air France flight 447. I pray that the passengers and crew found a miracle and are safe somewhere.

In the usual pattern of 24 hour new networks, I'm spending my morning yelling at the TV while some of their "aviation experts" speculate on the fate of an airplane they know nothing about. I don't know enough details to speculate myself (turbulence? lightning? electrical failure? There are too many possible causes) but I will give my piece on how a fly-by-wire airplane is controlled, and specifically an Airbus system.

Disclaimer: I hold an A320 type rating. There are differences between A320 systems and A330 systems, and I'm not as knowledgeable about the latter. So if I make an assumption about A330 systems that is incorrect, please forgive me. And feel free to comment/correct.

Fly-by-wire is a term used to explain how the control surfaces of an airplane are moved (control surfaces mean the ailerons, rudder and elevators, the movable pieces of the airplane that are used to control it).

The first method of moving control surfaces was by cable. When the pilot moves the yoke or stick and the rudder pedals, this directly manipulates cables that displace the control surfaces. This is still used effectively on smaller airplanes such as a Cessna 172.

The bigger an airplane gets, the larger the control surfaces must be, and the more force must be exerted by pilots to move them. So hydraulic controls became popular. The amount of force on the cables is amplified by hydraulic actuators that move the control surfaces. This is the most-utilized method used in airliners today.

Fly-by-wire airplanes operate differently. Any deflection of the yoke/stick/rudder pedals by the pilots is detected by computer sensors. The sensors determine the amount of deflection, or movement, needed in the control surfaces (using data such as airplane altitude and airspeed) and send this information to hydraulic actuators which then move the ailerons, elevators and rudder.

The major difference between cable-controlled airplanes and fly-by-wire airplanes is the use of, and dependence on, computers to control the airplane's movement.

Now onto the A320...

The A320 has 7 flight control computers:
2 ELACs: Elevator Aileron Computer (normal elevator and horizontal stabilizer control, as well as aileron control)
3 SECs: Spoilers Elevator Computer (spoiler control as well as standby elevator and stabilizer control)
2 FACs: Flight Augmentation Computer (electrical rudder control)

So you see that there are multiple levels of control for most of the control surfaces. If one set of computers was to fail you'd still have some control over the airplane.

I'm going to quickly go over the "levels of control" with the A320. Airbus calls these "laws." I'm glossing over certain points to keep this entry from becoming a novella.

In normal flight the computers are in "normal law." In normal law the pilots use the control stick to move the airplane. The airplane's computers actually prevent the airplane from stalling/overspeeding or undergoing any other maneuvers that may cause excessive stress on the airframe.

If computers start to fail on the airplane, it reverts into "alternate law." In alternate law you can still have some of the protections (i.e. stall protection) that you had in normal law.

Direct law is the next lowest level of control. I skipped over how the A320 is controlled by load factor demand and bank angle. So I'll just say that in direct law you control the A320 just like how'd you control any other airplane with a stick. Pull back and the nose will start to rise, move the stick left and the airplane will start to roll left.

Below direct law is "manual backup." If you were to lose all electrical power in the A320 your only hope of controlling the airplane is mechanical backup. This, I believe, has only happened once outside of testing. You would have to lose both engine generators, the APU (auxiliary power unit, another generator), drain your batteries and be unable to operate the RAT (ram air turbine, which is deployed from the bottom of the airplane and can provide limited power).

Pitch control is only available to the pilots through use of pitch trim, using the horizontal stabilizer of the A320 (it's called the THS, trimmable horizontal stabilizer).

Lateral control is only possible through use of the rudder pedals, which do have some direct linkage to the rudder.

When undergoing simulator training for the A320 type rating I had to try to fly the airplane using mechanic backup. It is NOT easy. It was nearly impossible to maintain level flight. Mechanical backup's purpose is to provide the pilots a way to keep the airplane stable while they troubleshoot the failed electrical system and flight control computers. I can't imagine anyone trying to land the airplane using mechanical backup. You simply don't have enough fine control.

Once again, this was all referenced from my A320 training and my A320 manuals. I don't know enough about the A330 to say whether all (or any) of this applies to the A330, but I'm going on the assumption that Airbus wouldn't have totally redesigned their fly-by-wire system for another airplane.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pay your dues...

It's coming out in the media, through the coverage of the Colgan 3407 crash, just how little regional airline pilots make. This isn't a surprise to any of us who fly the line, we've been through the same thing.

The First Officer aboard the Colgan Dash 8 made just over $16,000 last year. She was commuting from the Seattle area because she lived with her parents. Many of us have additional housing at our base, but this can get very expensive. They're called crashpads. It's usually set up in a house, with several bunk beds in each room. They're intended to be used only a few nights a month, if you have a trip that starts early in the morning or ends late at night. While I only paid about $250/month for my crashpad in Ft. Lauderdale, I paid $400/month for the one in San Juan. This was on top of the $800/month in rent I was paying for my house back home in Port Orange.

Most of the alumni from Embry-Riddle (including myself) graduated with tens of thousands of dollars worth of student loans that we used to finance our flight training. And we go to our first job and make, what, $20-30/hr? And yet, we are all professionals. We don't give less than 100% at our jobs because we don't make as much as we know we should. Our number one priority is the safety of our passengers, who trust us to be our absolute best.

Here you can look up the pay scales of all the regional airlines.

When you hear "oh this pilot is making $25/hr, that's a lot of money!" what you have to remember is that we don't get paid for 40 hrs/week like a normal full-time employee. We're paid from block out to block in, i.e. from when the airplane pushes back from the gate to when you pull into the gate at the end of the flight. All the time we're at the airport in between flights, even if it's 4 or 5 hours, we're not getting paid*. The average airline pilot pulls between 75-85 hours a month. So basically that $25/hr comes back down to more like $12.50/hr. That doesn't sound fair for someone's who's responsible for the safety of 50 (sometimes more) passengers, does it?

So maybe some good will come out of this. At least the optimist in me thinks so. However, the more realistic expectation is that this issue will, once again, go nowhere.

GirlsWithWings said it best: "So, regional airline pay front page news again. At least until some star decides to buy/adopt/birth another child."

Here's a great bit on "Wal-mart in the cockpit" by av8rdan a fellow blogger

*Cape Air does actually pay you for all your "duty time," when you show up in the morning until when you leave. But they also pay less/hour, so it's a trade off.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A bit of discussion on tailplane icing and Colgan 3407

I was alerted by TheGimliGlider through Twitter today of this great video on tailplane icing. Watch

I remember, actually, seeing this video a couple years ago, whether it was at Embry-Riddle or during my CAL internship. And it's definitely worth a watch, especially if you're a pilot.

What I came away with is a definite feeling that the Captain and First Officer on Colgan 3407 felt that they were experiencing a tailplane stall. This, I believe, is evidenced by the CA's response to the stall by increasing back pressure against the stick-shaker and stick-pusher, which is a warning system used to prevent and correct a stall situation.

The FO's first response was to bring up the flaps and prompt the CA to see if he wished for landing gear retraction. This is part of the recovery procedure for tailplane icing, as the configuration change (specifically the lowering of flaps) usually causes the tailplane stall to finally occur.

According to the previous video, tailplane icing is evidenced by extreme nose-down pressure. Perhaps the CA mistook the stick-pusher for this control pressure? I'm still not sure as to why he ignored the stick-shaker in the first place, but due to the icing already observed by the crew (as stated in the CVR) it was a sensible assumption to believe that they were encountering a tailplane stall.

This brings me to the use of autopilot during the flight. I've spoken to a few Dash8 pilots, and all of them said that autopilot should never be used during icing conditions. This is reaffirmed by the video. AP prevents you from noticing the increased use of trim (since when activated, the AP assumes this function as well) and the lightened forward control pressure.

It's always said that an accident never has just one cause, it's a result of a chain of errors and events that ultimately lead up to the accident. As pilots we're charged with breaking this chain of errors, which could have started with us, or started with an airline policy or culture.

Safety is everyone's highest priority. The tragic events of Colgan 3407 remind us that we always have to be on our toes, we constantly have to educate ourselves and must consistently be on the lookout for that chain rattling at our cockpit door.
I'm going to try to update more often now. At least there's been a lot of material in the news and in my personal life.

Today is the hearing on Colgan 3407. I've read the CVR transcript, it's pretty terrifying that the airplane did what it was supposed to do and yet we still had a crash. There's really no excuse for pilot error anymore, not with the sort of training we're given nowadays. I'm not in safety (though it's what I'm going to get my Master's in when I start that in a few weeks) but I know from experience that you're asking for trouble if you have a left-seat to left-seat upgrade between two different aircraft types. The accident would most likely have turned out differently if the captain had responded correctly to the stick shaker. 6.7 seconds of stick shaker is outrageous.

If I had flown the Dash 8 I could give better commentary, but from what my friends who are flying the Q400 tell me, you NEVER have the autopilot on during icing conditions. NEVER. And I think we're looking at, once again, a crew fairly new to the airplane using the AP to compensate for the workload they had.

The FO also had complained that she was sick and exhausted. She commuted from the Seattle area to the east coast for the trip, on a red eye. Now that's personal choice, but it's not smart. When I was based in SJU, my trips usually started at 0500. I commuted from MCO on a flight that arrived in SJU at 1500 the day before. This killed one of my days off, but the only other flight I could take arrived at 2100 that night, and I didn't want to risk being exhausted the next morning. You have to make sacrifices and realize your own physical limits.

As for calling in's a problem in the airline world. Personally, I get one or two sinus infections every year. I have a deviated septum and when I get a sinus infection it tends to last for 2-3 weeks. You can't call in sick for 2 weeks when you're flying the line, so at a point, you have to just decide to grin and bear it (usually at the point when I can survive without dayquil). You're not 100% but crew schedulers aren't airline pilots and don't understand that you need a few more days off.

It's funny how obvious, common sense things get a bit convoluted when they get mixed in with airline procedures.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back to our regularly scheduled programming...

As usually happens in my life, EVERYTHING HAPPENED AT ONCE last month.

David found out his base was changing - so we had to figure out where, when and how he was getting up there.

As soon as we found out where and when (Hagerstown, MD) and May 1st, I started to look for jobs.

Unfortunately, this meant everything else in life had to kind of stop. So my CFII went on hold (even though I should have had it done in 2 weeks, but I underestimated the tediousness of the CFII) for a few weeks. Ok, a month. Don't judge me!

Went to Sun n Fun for two days, saw some amazing airplanes and a few amazing people. I didn't really take pictures because my point n shoot is not suited for airshows. Dad and I went on Friday and stayed for some of the night airshow. My favorite airshow performance is always the twilight Aeroshell show. I have a love for the T-6 Texan that's unrivaled by any other airplane, and I love the combination of the roar of the Pratts with that calm stillness of twilight. Oh, and whoever came up with the idea of lighting up their exhaust? Genius.

David and I were lucky enough to run into a lot of our friends from Embry-Riddle on Saturday, so we had company. The 99s have a great house on premises with A/C and a bathroom, so I usually base myself out of there for Sun n Fun. Met some very nice ladies, as always! We attended the ERAU Alumni luncheon and I was lucky enough to win a pair of Vidalo HD sunglasses! They were a special pair with Elaine Larsen's signature embroidered on the case. Elaine is the driver of a jet dragster sponsored by Embry-Riddle, and she's just a wonderful person. Her husband is her crew chief and is so supportive! It's great.

So that's my Sun n Fun summary.

I just got back from a few days in Maryland, as David and I took the Autotrain (which is always worth the money) up north. We looked for apartments, which was harder than we thought, but we should have a place soon. David's just waiting until I get a job offer. I interviewed with a flight school at KHGR last week and am waiting to hear back from them. So in the meantime I came back to Florida to complete my CFII (zzzzz) and get some more personal things taken care of. Which I should probably get around to doing :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Finding the motivation...or is it confidence?

I've almost completed my CFII (certified flight instructor - instrument - this allows me to give instrument rating instruction, which a normal CFI does not allow you to do) but have reached a weird impasse. I haven't flown in 3 weeks. I need to take my written exam, which isn't hard, but for some reason I can't get motivated to study. I'm not motivated to finish the rating itself, even though I'm very near completion. I'm starting to think the culprit isn't my lack of motivation, it's my lack of self-confidence.

I've never been that confident of a pilot. I've spent very little time flying solo, just because I've done the minimum required to get my flight ratings and typically can't afford just to take a plane out by myself. But as a result of this I also don't have a lot of confidence in my ability as a pilot. I know I'm not alone in this, but it seems the only solution is just to fly more.

When I flew for Spirit I gained a lot of self-confidence, knowing that I had the ability to not just fly the A320 series but also be GOOD at flying it. I had lots of compliments from captains that I was one of the better First Officers they had flown with. But you don't really fly the A319s/321s, you mostly just manage them. Very little of the work in that airplane is hand-flying. It's mostly working the autopilot. I was very good at that, but really, you could probably get any intelligent person pretty competent in the A320 series. I knew deep down that my "stick and rudder" skills were suffering behind the controls of a jet. And I was very, very rusty.

David says that you don't become a bad pilot. That you start out bad or you don't, and good pilots just get rusty. I trust his opinion as an experience CFI that I don't suck. But it's hard to cognitively realize that AND put it into practice.

While I keep saying "I'm not crazy about being a flight instructor" I don't mean that I think flight instructing is beneath me or that I shouldn't have to go through it. I know how important it is. I've seen how a few hundred hours of flight instructing turned David from a good pilot to a GREAT pilot. I want that experience, I want the self-confidence that comes with that.


Hopefully The Move (yes, capitalized) will fix some problems. David is moving back up north for the summer season and as soon as I can find employment up there I'm going, as well. I'd prefer to find something involving flight instruction (so my CFI/CFII isn't a waste) but I'm looking for traffic watch, aerial surveying or even plane detailing. Anything having to do with airplanes, really.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ramp checks

"Hi there, we're with the FAA!"

The most dreaded words in existance.

I will, up front, say that I have had no true negative experiences with the FAA. At most they've been nuisances. Like ramp checks! You'll have one, at some point. It's inevitable, like the one time you don't check for traffic before taking the runway, someone's going to land on top of you.

Ramp checks do serve a useful purpose. They allow the FAA to do random spot checks of pilots and aircraft to ensure that everyone's playing by the right rules. Deep down inside, I'm happy about these checks and balances that result in safer flying for everyone.

Still doesn't stop your stomach from dropping down to your feet, though.

I was ramp checked once before, in Nassau, while I was flying for Spirit. No big deal, we had everything in order and then managed to convince him to sit in the back and check over the flight attendants manuals instead of taking the jumpseat. I'm pretty meticulous about my logbook and licenses anyways, so there's really nothing I usually have to worry about.

Here's a little bit about Ramp Checks 101:

The first thing the FAA is going to check is your personal information. Your license(s) and medical need to be in order, since these have to be on your person at all times. Your logbook only has to be "accessible," which means at home, not in Antarctica.

Next they'll move on to the airplane. This is why, ladies and gents, ARROW is such an important acronym. I'll be the first to admit that if I'm flying the same plane over and over again on a regular basis, I may not check ARROW every time. I'm horrible, I know. I learned my lesson today, youbetcha. Because nothing feels worse than "oh, wow, I hope that's in there."

ARROW = all the documents that must be on an airplane every single flight: airworthiness certificate, registration, the aircraft's operating handbook and the weight and balance. The other R comes from your restricted radiotelephone operator's license, which you have to have if you're flying international. I have one, but wasn't requested to provide it.

Next they're going to check around the airplane, make sure no parts are falling off, and making sure you have all the instruments required for the operation you were performing/are going to perform. The requirements differ if you're operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) during the day or at night, or Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). This is another thing that I don't think most of us check every time we go flying if we've been in the same plane recently. And we really should!

The most important thing you need to remember is to be nice! Nothing will get you a ramp check that is more like a *ahem* very private physical if you're rude to the FAA. Smile, answer their questions, and besides that, shut the heck up. Most people tend to ramble when their nervous. As a pilot you learn to NEVER DO THIS. Next thing you know you're talking about the different types of Class E airspace and VFR cloud clearances. After all, they're not doing this (hopefully) because of some sadistic desire to see you sweat. They're trying to keep everyone safe.

AOPA has written a nice article on what the FAA can and cannot check, as well as the actions both you and they can take: "Pilot Information Center: Ramp Checks"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Options!! Or "how do I avoid eating ramen until I make Captain?"

OK, so we see that the airline industry isn't doing any better. I just applied for acceptance to Embry-Riddle's Master's program. I figure I can get a few scholarships (that Summa Cum Laude will come in handy for something finally) and fund the rest with (yet more) loans. Supposedly it's easier to get financial aid for graduate degrees than undergrad right now.

I'm planning on getting a Master's in Aeronautical Science with an Aviation Safety specialty. I wanted to get the degree in straight "safety science" but that's only offered at the Prescott, AZ campus, not online.

The point of the graduate degree is this: with a B.S. in aeronautical science, I can do one thing: fly an airplane. No one's exactly looking for a "aeronautical scientist." But with a master's in aviation safety, I can get a cool job with, for instance, the NTSB. I have this strange obsession with figuring out airplane accidents. I will sit and watch "Seconds from Disaster" over and over and over again.

Overall this seems like a good idea. Except that it worries me that, still, my only marketable talents involve aviation. A lot of other pilots I've talked to have a 2nd job. Some own a flight school back home. Others are involved in something completely unrelated to aviation. Carpenters, electricians, things like that.

So now I'm wondering, should I learn a non-aviation marketable skill as well? David and I are planning on owning our own crafts/hobby shop in the future. Airplane models, trains, stuff like that. He's amazingly knowledgeable about all of it and I enjoy building models, too. We may have a chance in a few years to buy an acquaintance's business, if we have the capital. But at our current rate of barely making enough to feed ourselves and pay off our student loan debt, I don't know if we'll have it.

On my days off, when I was working, I was bored silly. You have to understand that, as an airline pilot, you work weird schedules. Usually I was 4 days on, 4 days off. Dave works 3/3. And you have weird days off. Sometimes you have weekends off but usually your days off are in the middle of the week. I felt much more productive when I had something to do on those days off. Make a little extra money, you know?

So any suggestions?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's QOL?

Job search update:

I've gotten my application into another airline, we'll see how this goes. It's a place I would be THRILLED to work at. I'm very impressed by their management style and their appreciation of their employees. I'd be taking a very considerable pay cut to go there, but I think it's worth it.

It comes down to QOL: Quality of Life.

I wish I could express to people still in flight school the important of choosing a job that will give you good QOL. Since my experience is with Embry-Riddle, this is who I'll use as an example.

When I was at ERAU, the emphasis at the school was on "flying big iron." Get out there, fly the jet. There are a huge number of aviation jobs out there. Flight instructing, banner towing, fire watch, charter flying in turbo-props, regional jet jockeying, et cetera. But it seemed that, upon leaving ERAU, "Thou must get a jet job."

There's nothing wrong with this. But, what I try to emphasize to people, is that you are NOT a failure if your first job out of flight instructing is flying propeller-driven aircraft. You are not crazy if this was your goal in the first place.

We fly because we LOVE TO FLY. No, I don't want to drive a 172 the rest of my life. I want to fly new and exciting airplane. Heck, I ADORE the A320 series. I love that jet. But I will be overjoyed to go fly a Cessna 402!! It's a great airplane. No, it's not pressurized, so I would not be cruising at FL390. But there's something about flying at 1,000 feet AGL at 180 kts over Cape Cod with the humpback whales beneath that excites me. It's romantic.

What you have to find out for yourself is what will bring you quality of life. I know a lot of people who love flying for a regional. They spend their days off jumpseating all over the world, and it works for them. I couldn't be happier that they've all found a place for themselves where they love their flying.

Other people might love the corporate life. Or the charter/135 life. Or maybe, like our much-loved "lifer" CFIs at ERAU, bringing the love of flying to their students is what makes them happiest. Maybe your calling is flying cancelled checks and body parts in the middle of the night. What I'm saying is, "do what you love." Do what is going to keep your love of flying burning.

QOL isn't about money. Flying, for those that truly love it, is never about the money. QOL, to me, is about the airplane, the destinations, the duty schedule. Feeling appreciated by your passengers (or boxes if you're a freight dawg!) or your management and flying with good people.

The airlines aren't the "end all be all." Find your niche. Find what floats your boat (or gives you lift, rather). Don't let yourself become bitter - if you find yourself losing your passion for flight, it's time to find a new job.

Stay true to your reason for flying, and make your own QOL!!

"Within all of us is a varying amount of space lint and star dust, the residue from our creation. Most are too busy to notice it, and it is stronger in some than others. It is strongest in those of us who fly and is responsible for an unconscious, subtle desire to slip into some wings and try for the elusive boundaries of our origin." (K.O. Eckland, "Footprints On Clouds")

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I've been really bad....

I'm trying to resurrect this blog again. It's been a few months. Maybe I should rename it "Confessions of a Bitter Airline Pilot." Basically I've avoided writing because I've been so bitter. Getting furloughed, just as I was really starting to get into the groove of airline life, just as I had hit that point when you fly a new airplane that you "get" it, was tremendously hard on me.

It was really bad for a while...I'm living at home with my parents, and I think that if I hadn't been here I would've had a hard time avoiding drinking myself silly.

I actually did ok there for a while. For the first month or two I was absorbed with supporting my boyfriend as he was in new hire training with Cape Air in Massachusetts. But one day it just hit me. I was flying home from visiting David in Cape Cod, and left the day before he started IOE. The landing in TPA was something I would've loved...beautiful clear night, unrestricted vis, light xwind. And it just hit me as we touched down how much I desperately missed flying the bus, how much I missed the lifestyle. How much I hated having to put my liquids in a plastic bag and not being able to use the crew line. The loss of being able to chat up a flight crew without them thinking I was crazy. The pride I had being a 25 year old woman sitting in the cockpit of a jet with 150 pax behind me. I felt so empowered...and then all of a sudden, here I was, a 25 year old woman with no job prospects and no self-worth.

I don't think I felt better until around the holidays. David's the one who saved me, who got me out of this stupor I was in. I was working on my CFI so that I could flight instruct, and passed my checkride on Dec. 19th. I felt much better, had a bit of my self-esteem back.

Unfortunately, it's now a month later and I'm still unemployed. I'm trying to get my CFII but I'm having a difficult time staying motivated. I planned to have it done by now so I could be working. But I've applied to flight schools in Tampa and Ft. Myers/Naples, and no one's hiring. Most have a surplus of instructors. Same goes at Embry-Riddle. There's rumors they'll have to furlough, too. And what does a furloughed CFI do for work? McDonald's?

Everyone knows that your job plan changes every 5 minutes, but here's mine:
Keep trying to get a flying job, whether it's instructing or survey or banner towing.
I'm applying to Cape Air, but I'm below their minimums. Hopefully I'll still get an interview.
But if that doesn't happen, in May, I'll move up to either Maryland or Massachusetts with David, depending on if he's based in HYA or BWI. If it's HYA I'll try and CFI up there and work at Cape Air Ops or be a ramper, if it's BWI I'm sure I can get a ticket agent job at BWI.

All my hopes and dreams rest on Cape Air now...I'm such a Cape Air fangirl now, I want to work there so bad!!!