11:45 PM - Thursday, Dec. 01, 2005
I'm Done With Training and Now Just A Regular Old F/O!
It’s been so long since I’ve written some folks might think I finally keeled (or crashed?!). Unfortunately, on the day of my first flight in the CRJ-200, I did get really sick. A nasty head cold that caused serious discomfort in my ears on the last descent into ATL. But prior to that all went very well.
After a fitful night’s sleep I awoke at 0345 for my first trip on IOE, or Initial Operating Experience. It’s a normal trip in the eyes of the passengers (poor souls!) but it’s designed to have a new F/O fly with a training captain, or a new captain fly with another instructor pilot. There is an awful lot to learn once we emerge wide-eyed from ground school and the sim, and the learning curve is steep. In some ways it’s even tougher than the original training was. The flying part is easy, but it’s the operations stuff and all the paperwork that hangs up the new hires. So, IOE is supposed to help us transition from Sim World to the Real World without too much pain.
My first trip was with a nice fellow named Chris. I took the 0430 hotel shuttle from the Red Roof to the airport so that I’d be there an hour early. We’re supposed to duty-in for work in ATL 1 hour before departure (45 minutes at outstations). But since it’s all new and scary, I wanted to be there early and get a jump on things. Unfortunately it was so early that not even the lights were on in the crew lounge! And Chris didn’t show up until the normal duty-in time, so I sat there for an hour in the dark (couldn’t find the light switch) feeling dumb in my shiny, obviously newly purchased uniform. Strangely though, I wasn’t nervous. I knew that I could fly this plane just fine, and chances are good that I’d be paired with a patient captain who’d show me the ropes and forgive my rookie errors. Thankfully, Chris was just the guy. He did the preflight inspection and some of the paperwork to save me time (the F/O works her butt off in this plane on the ground), and he also did most of the radio calls in the ATL ramp (you either get the calls right the first time or the controllers “punish” you by making you sit there past your scheduled push-back time. (Because if we get the plane to the destination early we make more money).
So, we handled all of the ATL stuff well, and Chris flew the first leg. We went to Newport News (PHF) for the first trip, and I was thrilled to see my buddy Scott, the Blackhawk instructor pilot and fellow classmate, walk out to hop a ride back to ATL with us in the jumpseat! He was there for my first landing and it was fun to have him along. The flight went well and I was delighted to grease it on the runway, smooth, in the touchdown zone and exactly on the centerline. (Beginner’s luck?)
The rest of the day went well, to Lexington and back, despite the copious amounts of mucus flowing from my nose. My flight bag was growing more and more full of disgustingly used tissues! And by the fourth descent back into ATL my ears were killing me. I knew I was coming down with a cold but was embarrassed and told Chris that it was probably just allergies. But I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish the 3-day trip and might as well get off in ATL and call crew scheduling. I was mortified to have to call in sick on my very first day of work, but I learned a hard lesson while at the PanAm Academy in Florida. Flying with a head cold can not only ruin a girl’s eardrum, but it can destroy her flying career. And I worked too hard over the last few months to have it all come to a screeching halt on my first day!
Thankfully scheduling was very understanding and took me off the schedule for the next few days. I took the bus back to The Roof, crawled into bed, and there I remained for the next 2 days. Eventually I decided to flood my system with non-drowsy cold meds, pack the car with stuff I wouldn’t be needing over the coming weeks and make the long 9-hour drive back to RIC to be sick in my own bed with my sweetie there to cater to my every whim.
My next trip came a few days too soon and I was still concerned about my ears and the head cold. But uncomfortable though it was, it wasn’t painful and it got better as the trip went on. My new captain was a petite little woman by the name of Amy. And I was really eager to be an all-woman crew (chances were good that we’d have a woman flight attendant). We were scheduled to fly about 19 hours in the next 3 days, and I was nervous about being able to keep up. She was far less easy-going than Chris was, and she demanded much more of me. I always get a bit intimidated around female supervisors, and this was no exception. Our first day was a bit flat and all-business, though I was hoping we’d hit it off and have lots to talk about in cruise flight and at dinner. The second day she did warm up a bit and we enjoyed a leisurely meal in a little Italian joint in Meridian, Mississippi. We’d flown through a miserable cold front and nasty cells. The turbulence was heavy and the lightning prevalent. It was funny to watch the faces on the passengers as they deplaned, realizing that it was the likes of us little ladies that navigated them safely through the weather and to their destination, only slightly behind schedule. By the third day we were getting tired and I was frustrated with my ability to keep up with grounds ops in ATL. My flying was great, my landings were great, and I even handled the 35-knot gusting cross-wind into Wichita well. But as the day wore on and the legs ticked by, I was loosing steam.
On our last push-back from the gate in ATL Amy told me, “Engine Start Check List to the Line, Turn Two.” Which meant I was to push a bunch of buttons in preparation to start the right-hand engine. It was dark outside, and we had only the APU (a mini third engine used for electricity, engine starting and air conditioning) running all of the electrics/heating in the plane. It was the only source of power at that point. Its Off button sits precariously close to the Engine Ignition button and looks identical (except the label). So I reached up to start the engine and accidentally shut off the APU. The plane immediately went silent and all the lights extinguished. Our pax were now sitting back there in the dark, and since the tug driver had pushed us back we were now blocking the alley way and unable to communicate with Ramp Control. Amy was pissed, to say the least, and I was humiliated. We eventually reestablished power, re-ran the checklists and told the passengers over a PA that it was a small glitch, we apologized for the inconvenience and promised to have them on their way soon. And the rest of the flight we sat in silence, only talking when operationally necessary. Personally, I thought it was an honest error and one that had probably happened a few times to her as an IOE instructor.
Wrong. I was the only one ever (in years of instructing) that had inadvertently killed all electrical and hydraulic power to the entire aircraft while there were pax on board, in the dark. Ever. Absolute mortification. But despite the 2 mostly silent legs out and back to ATL, during the debriefing she told me that I reminded her a lot of herself. And that I’m awfully hard on myself, and though that brings about change sometimes I just need to forgive myself and move on. Roger that. I’m slow, but I am learning that lesson over time (and I’m much better than I used to be!).
The next trip was another 3-day with a young cocky guy by the name of Ian and his flirty flight attendant Nicole. The first day wiped me out (another 5-leg day) and by the time we got to the hotel at Meridian, MS I was ready to hit the sack. So, I disappointed them and took on the role of “slam clicker” (slam the hotel door, click the lock) and skipped dinner. The second day dawned with bad weather all over the place, and as a result of getting so behind in our schedules they canceled 2 of our 4 legs. Not until after we’d spent 5 hours killing time waiting for our inbound flights. Eventually we hopped aboard the aircraft and headed to Des Moines, Iowa for the night. By then the 3 of us were “gelling” and having a good time teasing each other and playing around. When we got to the airport, we talked the hotel van driver into dropping us by the local convenience store to get some beer, and then we headed back to my room. Until 5:00 in the morning! Obviously adhering to the “8 hours from bottle to throttle” rule with the alcohol but we didn’t get much sleep.
Our morning came early as we departed for Atlanta yet again. It was mostly clear and the mean cold front from the night before was by then well east of us. We managed to stay on schedule and head off to Houston more or less on time. The descent over the city was beautiful and I took lots of photos. The flight back to ATL from HOU was also nice, and since we had about 2 hours to cruise in boredom at altitude, Ian and I messed around with my digital camera. I’ve included some of the photos on my .Mac website.
Amazingly I was able to hop a flight home to RIC the following morning (after hanging out with Ian for a few hours at Spondivits, the local bar across from the Red Roof). I hauled my stuff over to my new crash pad, a little mini kid's bed in the basement of Walt’s grungy ATL Crash Pad House. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers and the price is sure right!
So, I’m officially released from training to “fly the line” just like all the other F/O’s. I love the plane, have flown with some great folks, think the company is a huge improvement over my last place of employment and am enjoying Atlanta. Jeanne landed a great job down here recently and we’ll be spending the Christmas holidays with a moving van and a new house full of boxes! It appears that the RIC house will sell and close quickly, and we’ll spend a month or two in an apartment in ATL to figure out where we’d like to live.
I’ll endeavor to update this website from time to time, and will continue to post pictures on my .Mac website as well.
Happy Holidays and do stay in touch, eh?