Thursday, October 8, 2015

To Hawaii in a 767

Yours truly in the captains seat of
a 767 bound for Hawaii. 
Normally flying commercially doesn't warrant a blog post but this trip did.

Last week my husband, daughter and I were waiting for our flight to Honolulu for a long awaited vacation. We were in line at the airport Starbucks for the obligatory coffee and struck up a conversation with the airline captain behind us in line (after having him go ahead of us in line). We guessed he was going to be piloting our flight to Hawaii and he was. My husband told him we were both pilots and I am working on my flight instructor certificate. Jeff also told him we both have time in American Airlines 737 simulators so we can help if needed! When the captain learned that he perked up and the discussion got more interesting.

I asked him what it was like flying over the Pacific and did they actually get to talk to anyone en-route. He said they talk to Oakland Center most of the way but the HF radios they use traditionally make communications very difficult. He said they were "testing" out a new satellite communications method and he loved it. We shared some pilot jokes and asked his opinion about the American Airlines flight that went out to Hawaii without the required equipment for an oceanic flight. He asked where we'd be sitting in the plane and guessed we'd be in the very back of the plane because pilots make no money... in this case we were flying on "Hawaii miles" so Jeff and I were in first class...  so we told him to look for us in Row 3 in case he needed any help up front. He got his coffee and went on his way and we figured that was it.

We boarded with first class and got comfortable as we watched the beginning of several hundred people file on to the plane. After a while I spotted the captain in the front of the cabin. He seemed to be looking for something. I waved hi. He brightened up and came over to our seats. "Would you two like to come up front? We've got about 20 minutes to wait." Would we? Of course!!

He led us up front with a "It's OK. They're with me", to the flight attendants. And there we were, in the cockpit of a 767. The captain invited me to sit in his seat. Jeff sat in the jump seat and we both chatted with the crew. Jeff talked mostly with the First Officer, a younger pilot who was very enthusiastic. I talked with the captain. We shared stories of training and flying. I told him about how I look forward to turbulence when I fly commercial because it made me feel like I'm actually flying instead of sitting in a noisy box for hours on end. We talked about how the turbulence people think is severe is actually moderate at most. I also learned this jet flies AT Va at their cruise altitudes. (From this discussion I researched Mach numbers and the "coffin corner" on the flight, interesting stuff.)

He told me about how he trained for instrument in a 150 and when he would be bouncing around in the heat with the hood on and almost getting sick. He talked about how he worked his way into the airlines, the sacrifices and joys of his path and how his favorite job was flying King Airs.  He said he didn't go the CFI route but he said that was a great way to build hours. They both said I could have a career in the airlines if I wanted it. That the pilot shortage was happening NOW and my age (45) just meant I would get to retirement sooner than most.

The equipment in the cockpit was a combination of modern and archaic. They had the same glass panel, FCMS, clearance printer, etc of the newer planes (like the 737-8 simulator we've experienced). It also had fully functional ADF and DME. I pointed out the ADF and asked when the last time they'd flown an ADF approach... they just laughed and quickly dialed in their favorite AM frequencies to listen to the radio. They proudly pointed out the satellite receiver - a typical looking aviation avionics "box" with buttons, etc. It looked a little odd in the mass of older buttons, knobs and displays in the lower portion of the console.

Before we knew it 20 minutes was up and it was time to get out of the way so they could finish getting ready to fly. The captain mentioned this was his leg so if the landing was bad it was on him. I winked and said.... "You know how it is with a pilot on board... we shouldn't judge, but.... " and he laughed.

The flight was mostly smooth but there was about an hour where the seatbelt sign was on and we were in constant light chop. The whole plane creaked and rattled and I felt like we were flying. Shortly before landing the captain came back and asked me how I liked the turbulence I ordered. I said it was good! Then he found a napkin and gave me his email address. He said to stay in touch! I said I would and offered to take him on my version of a Bay Tour the next time he's in the area on a longer layover.

When we came in to land, the captain didn't land like your standard airline pilot - pile-driving the plane into the runway. I could feel him trying to keep the plane off the runway and even the little bit of extra float it got right before touch down. When we got off the plane they were both heads down in the cockpit. I was sad we didn't get to say goodbye. However, as we waited for our daughter to get off the plane we saw the captain again. We thanked him again for the experience and I told him I thought his landing was great because he landed like a GA pilot. We shook his hand and he was off.

It was a real treat to meet this aviator and I hope that we do stay in touch. There's nothing so much fun as talking with people who share the same passion for flight!

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