Repost: From the Right Seat

10 Years ago…

It was one of those days when nothing was working in my favor. Have you experienced one of those days when you feel more like a spectator and things appear beyond your control? When you want to protest or butt in and say that is not what I want to do or how I want to do it? Or realize just a tad bit late that was the wrong thing to do? I was determined to not let the day’s somberness pull me down. After all every cloud has a silver lining.

So when Mike offered the greatest show in the world, I jumped at the chance to ride right seat in the Baron down the Hudson river corridor southbound past the Alpine Tower, GW Bridge, Intrepid, The Clock, Circle the Statue of Liberty, VZ bridge, and back home to DC at night. New York city was resplendent as always with lights turned on all over the city. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building stood majestic as always lit up to brighten anyone’s day. If seeing New York from 1100ft during the day was awe inspiring, seeing it in all its glory at night left us breathless. It was one of the coldest days of the season, but the air was clear and crisp in the night sky. With very light traffic flying the corridor that time of the night, we flew in complete contentment enjoying the splendor of the New York skyline at night.

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Repost: Thanksgiving

“What are you doing tomorrow,” I asked, preoccupied with other thoughts.

“What? ” said Nathan.

“What did you say,” asked Nathan asked again.

“Oh… why don’t you come to celebrate Thanksgiving at my place? Amelia and I would be happy to have you over.” I said enthusiastically.

“Are you sure?” asked Nathan, hesitantly.

“Of course ,” I said. “You know Amelia, the more the merrier. Sri, Chung, Bob, several of Amelia’s coworkers will be there. I have invited several of my old coworkers too.” I said warmly.

“But, Frisco,’ said Nathan. “Are you sure…” as his voice drifted off. Hesitant to voice all that worried him. He eyed me, with a sad look.

One that I missed.

How could I have known what Nathan knew that day, what haunted him, and  what bothered him that day. I was too carefree, my mind on Amelia, who had just accepted my proposal. I was oblivious to everything else. It was the fall of 2003, when several of us gathered together to give thanks. It was one of those last days of happiness we would experience in a long time. Maybe it was already late. I was lax in noting. I was preoccupied with Amelia.

I missed the most important cue in my life about Nathan. That was the day I should have paid attention.

I could have saved him.

Repost: September

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

I was in the deep throes of slumber, when I was rudely awakened by my very persistent alarm clock. It can’t be 4:00 a.m. already, I thought sleepily, as I pulled the comforter tightly around me, reaching over to hit the snooze button, without opening my eyes. I must have set it wrong. It definitely had to be wrong. Hadn’t I just barely gone to bed?

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

The alarm screeched again, more persistent than ever.

Okay you bugger, stop barking, I swore getting out of bed and leaning over the damn clock to put an end to its misery and just for added credence checked my phone to verify it indeed was past 4:00 a.m.

Yawning, I sleepily pulled on a sweatshirt and made it to the bathroom. I had 30 minutes to be ready before my ride arrived to whisk me to my job. This was going to be a long day. The first leg of my trip was a short hop to LAX, we would pick up our next batch of passengers for the longer haul to JFK.

I turned on the coffee machine, while brushing my teeth and wondered if I should spend an extra day in New York. I was at the end of my current rotation and not scheduled to fly the next couple of days. Flights on reserve were few and far in between, considering the long list of pilots on reserve. On the other hand, I could work on my motorcycle, change the oil and rev it up for my upcoming trip with Alan. It wasn’t long after I joined Galt Airlines as First Officer that I had run into Alan Sheppard. He too was a First Officer at Galt and a motorcycle aficionado. Every opportunity we got, we stole away in our bikes hitting the Pacific Coast Freeway or one of the Highways east: 41 or 46 or 58.

RING. RING. RING. RING.

The phone rang, waking me from my reverie.

“Just checking you’re up dude,” Tim, my ride, spoke lazily. “I will be there in 15 minutes. Don’t keep me waiting, I still have to swing by Eliza’s.” he spoke.

“How come? I thought we agreed that I would be the last one you would pick up,” I said annoyed to lose my extra 10 minutes.

“Well, things changed.” he laughed.

“Yeah, I bet Eliza likely sweet talked you into it. What did she offer?” I asked.

“Dude, nothing. It just worked out best for the route. I’ll see you soon.” he said as he hung up.

I ran through my morning ablutions almost in automation still wondering about New York. Should I pack an additional pair of clothes or not, I pondered when I got the buzzer from the front desk “Your ride is here.”

Quickly grabbing my backpack, cap and blazer I headed for the elevators. New York can wait. Maybe another time.

We pulled into the terminal building by 5:00 am. I checked in the pilot lounge and signed in. Perusing my schedule, I saw I was flying with Captain Bill Atwater. Bill was always fun. He could tell a story well and he knew many a story. After a brief stint in the army, doing a rotation in Nam, Bill had returned home and pursued a career in the Airline industry. He had a solid 30 years of service, well respected and admired by many budding pilots, including myself. The day although long, was at least not going to be boring!

I headed over to the airplane to begin the pre-flight checks. As first officer, it was my duty to do the outside walk around and inspect the flight. Entering the cockpit, I saw Bill already there going over the details of the flight.

“Morning, John. Looks like it is going to be an easy, breezy flight. I see you are also on the schedule for the next flight leg to the east coast.” Bill greeted me.

“Captain,” I responded. “Good to see.”

“Everything look good on the outside?” he queried.

“Everything looks fine. Charlie mentioned that we have an old friend jump seating.” I said.

“Did he? Did he say who?” Captain appeared pre-occupied pouring over the flight schedule.

“No, he’s keeping it a surprise. Anything bothering you,” I asked.

“We might have a problem with extra baggage.” Bill responded absentmindedly.

“Okay, shall I talk to Charlie?”  I asked.

“Not just yet. We’ll…”

“William Turner Atwater!” bellowed a voice.

“Teddy! Is it really you?” laughed Bill, getting up and hauling Teddy into a warm embrace. Theodore Edward Graham was another legend at the airline. “So you are the surprise. Well. Well. John, do you know Teddy?”

“I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but of course I have heard about him. Who hasn’t?” I responded.

“He and I were together at Nam and fought side by side. We quit the army around the same time and chose a career in aviation. Thirty years. And it comes to an end soon. I heard you are retiring soon, Teddy.” Bill said looking at Teddy.

“Yep. In fact today is my last day. I jump seat with you to LAX, pick up the flight to DCA. My last flight.” He answered.

“Are you planning to retire in the Capital?” questioned Bill.

“No, just have to take care of some business out east, and then I will move permanently to Lancaster, CA. I still own a home there. Millie and I will settle down there. How much longer do you have?” Teddy asked.

“I retire at the end of the year. Good to hear that you are still going to be in California. Jill and I plan to retire in San Luis Obispo, so we will be practically neighbors.” Bill responded enthusiastically.

“Captain, ready to load the passengers?” asked Nina, our chief stewardess, peeking into the cockpit.

“Yes, better get them in, before they start a strike,” joked the Captain.

Thirty minutes later with the herds loaded, weight and balance resolved, we finally closed the airplane doors and taxied in line to depart from Runway 28L.

I like these early morning departures. Daylight was barely breaking through. There was some early morning fog hugging the coastline. The lights of San Francisco were like beacons suspended in space. Off to the right was the Bay Bridge glistening in silver. Even this early in the morning, I could see traffic beginning to increase. And to the right, glinting golden with the streaks of dawn was the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, connecting Marin County to Downtown San Francisco. Wisps of white fog floated. We climbed steadily and headed towards Point Reyes, before turning to intercept the 281 radial to Woodside.

I always enjoyed flying the Golden Gate Arrival during evening twilight or dusk as well. It is breathtaking, or sometimes, as is often possible, when the fog rolls in and the Golden Gate remains suspended in space, resplendent in the evening glow. Seeing the Golden Gate any time of the day or night means coming home. The setting sun over the Pacific, the crisp sunny skies with fog looming over the valley, are a comforting sight. I love flying from my home town of San Francisco, CA.

The trip to LAX was a mere one hour and 2 minutes. Within minutes we were headed direct to Avenal VORTAC and cruising in level flight. Arriving at Avenal we will execute the arrival procedure into LAX.

After a brief stint as a charter pilot, I had jumped at a chance to fly First Officer at Galt Airlines. The housing boom had propelled the Silicon Valley to great heights. I was what was known as a reserve pilot: always on call. The past two years, I had grabbed any and all flights that I could get. Over the last two years, I had flown this route many times.  I could literally fly that route blind folded.

I could hear the bantering between Bill and Teddy as they joked about bygone days. I wished the flight were longer. One did not get the opportunity to fly with not one but two legends in the same cockpit. Bill flew the plane with expert precision and finesse.

We had arrived at Avenal and were already working through our before landing checklist, when a call from our dispatch office buzzed in. Seconds later, we had communication with the Air Traffic Control.

Neither of us knew that moment, how irrevocably, all our lives were going to be changed.

Repost: Down the Deschutes River

Crater Lake was formed as result of the collapse of the volcano, Mount Mazama many, many years ago. Mount Mazama belongs to the Cascade range and was built over a long period  of almost 400, 000 years. The caldera that Crater Lake is composed of, is supposed to have been created almost 6,000 or 8,000 years ago.

craterlake

I had the distinct pleasure of both flying this route as well as driving it from Northern California. Believe me, each experience has it’s own advantage. For example, seeing Crater Lake from the air provides the most stunning views of the bluest of blue waters. On the other hand, driving up to Crater National Park and trekking down the slope of the Mount Mazama to the water’s edge provides views of deep, blue , clear water, and sheer cliffs surrounding the lake of such immeasurable beauty, it is hard to make a  choice.

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Repost: From Palms to Pines

Fly 'n Things

“A first time racer’s personal account”

“You have to go down to 350 feet for the flyby,” I reminded gently. “I am not going any lower“, pat came the response while Grace stayed steady at 400 feet. “We’ll be disqualified if we are not at or below 200 feet for the flyby,” I said a trifle forcefully.

craterlake

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Repost: Destination Airventure

As we lifted off from the runway, looking out of the window a few hundred feet above the ground, the sight below was quite breathtaking, with aircraft, canopied tents, and people scattered around the airport. It was the busiest time of the year for the people of Oshkosh. I wished I had taken this flight in the middle of the week rather than the last day of Airventure 2009. The crowds were thinning as the end of the convention approached. Still, the sight was impressive from under the wings of the Ford Tri-Motor as we looped around Lake Winnebago over the Seaplane base and back again.

A year has gone by and it is that time of the year again, and the destination foremost in all pilots’ minds is Oshkosh, WI. The Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) annual Fly-In Convention hosted each year in the last week of July is fast approaching. Year after year, aviation enthusiasts from all over the world return to Oshkosh to enjoy and share in one week of unfettered joy and celebration of aviation.

There are many ways to get to Oshkosh: flying, ride sharing, driving or commercial flight. Flying into Oshkosh airport (OSH) is an adventure in itself, and requires careful planning and preparation. The EAA website has a rich source of information to help plan your trip. Getting there is half the fun, where to stay is another important issue. Many easily accessible accommodations go quickly. Most people start planning at least six months to a year in advance. There are many choices for boarding such as dormitory style rooms, hotels, bed and breakfasts, renting a local house or room or camping. If you fly in you can camp near your aircraft. If you drive in or fly commercially, there is ample camping space available. If like me you are a last-minute planner, unable to commit well in advance for a week or weekend in Oshkosh, there is always room at Camp Scholler.

Continue to read here.

Words on Wednesdays: Edge of Space

This week brought back memories of my trip to Mojave one warm summer day, eons ago, back in 2004. In a historic first commercial space flight, Mike Melville, aboard SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnight, made it to the edge of space to experience the brief moment of weightlessness.

This week also brought back my many planned but unsuccessful trips to Florida to watch a launch. Back in 2010 when NASA announced the end of Space Shuttle Flights, I remember the unsuccessful trip of waiting in Florida for Discovery’s last flight. I never got to see the launch.

Then there was the time, I made it to KSC one fine morning to watch the launch of Orion. After hours of waiting, the mission was scrubbed and launched the next day which of course I missed.

On July 11th, VSS Unity, a SpaceShipTwo category, rocket powered crewed spaceplane with 6 people on board including Richard Branson, made the successful trip to the edge of space and successfully returned.

Ten days later, Jeff Bezos along with two two history-making passengers: 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk, the oldest person to fly in space, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student who is the youngest ever to fly in space blasted off to the edge of space aboard New Shepard and successfully returned to earth.

Seems eons ago that SpaceShipOne paved the way to commercial space flight, but the last ten days and the two trips definitely are key milestones that will usher in the next era of commercial space flight that will open the door for many to reach the edge of space: go where very few men and women have gone!

Repost: Partial Panel

1001, 1002, 1003… stop left turn and level off. Didn’t quite work as planned, I thought. I overshot again. Try one more time 1001, 1002. Stop right turn and level off. Almost there, just a little bit correction to the left this time. I wondered what the Center folk were thinking with my zigzagging attempts of flying along the airway.

“You need to watch the compass when your course matches and try to fly that heading,” suggested Michelle, “What are the compass rules?” she queried, as we racked our brains to remember all the nice acronyms that our instructors had rammed down our throats. “ANDS,” she remembered triumphantly. “Accelerate North, Decelerate South.” I interjected. “And of course UNOS, Undershoot North, Overshoot South”.

Napa Valley

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Repost: Half Moon Bay

Quaint fishing village. Art Galleries. Shops. and so much more.

Even the name sounds quaint… like a town out of a story book!

Half Moon Bay (HAF) is a delightful town in the North Coast of California. Less than 30nm by car from the San Francisco, it is easily accessible by car or airplane. More fun by the latter.

Pacific Coast Freeway or Cabrillo Freeway as it is known in these parts meanders as it winds its way south through Monterrey, Carmel and the Big Sur Coast, continuing south through beautiful Central Coast, San Simeon, Cambria, Morro Beach, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and further south to San Diego and beyond. It is the most driven road out west for it’s pristine beauty. Most tourists stop over on their way south at the famous Lone Pine Tree golf course and the town of Carmel as they make their way south along the scenic Pacific Coast. Art Galleries abound. Quaint local restaurants and shops grace the streets.

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Repost: BFR – It can be fun!

Current Again!

It has been 4  months and 8 days since my last flight. The first time ever that I let such a long gap between my flights happen. It is good to be back in the air and  in control!

Over the last decade I have had a total of 5 flight reviews. Each had it’s unique flavor to it. For, each CFI has his or her own style. Each different, yet a good experience. While some might consider it a waste of time or wish to go through with it quickly and at minimum cost, I have always enjoyed a detailed flight review. After all safety begins with the pilot and I always want to be sure I am staying sharp and safe.

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