Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When I flew on the MU-2 based out of Thunder Bay, I flew with 4 captains.

The main one I was paired with was a workaholic. Again, a good chunk of the captain's compensation was tied to mileage, and in his case it was more than 50% of his pay. This was the main driving force in his life. Thanks to him, I flew 55,000 more miles from April - December 2003 than any of the other f/o's flew from Jan - December 2003. I learned a lot from him about the airplane and I am grateful, but I owe him a kick in the groin for constantly calling MEDCOM at all hours of the day and begging for trips, then dragging me along with him. He was constantly scheming ways to snag other crew's trips also, so you can imagine how uncomfortable it was to sit with a bunch of other crews in the Thunder Bay lunchroom in between flights. He was a good pilot and again I learned a lot from him, but he also really pissed me off toward the end of my employment with Thunder. A little background: Lisa is younger than I am. This captain would rag on me about the age difference, and told me it went against his moral beliefs. He was single at the time. Then about a year into our flying together, he met a girl and fell in love. I was happy for him, in part because I hoped that his having a girlfriend would mellow him out a little bit, and maybe he'd be a little less obsessive about getting trips. I asked about her, and I got this "Her age difference is the same as your's and Lisa. I used to think that was a bad thing, but I guess it isn't." I didn't really speak to him again after that, it just made me furious that his moral code was so very flexible. I mean, I have caught a lot of flak for my relationship over the years and I don't mind that - nobody ever said true love was easy or uncomplicated. But to condemn me and then later to do the same thing when it's in his own interest, that made me really angry. Anyway, he left for Westjet a while back, and presumably he's still there, urging the captains to set the throttles a little higher, so maybe they can do just one extra leg before the end of their duty day.

The second one was a newfie captain, who was a lot of fun. He had the right attitude about work - we worked hard and did a good job, but it wasn't all-consuming. Actually now that I think about it, I came the closest to crashing in the MU-2 during a flight with him. It wasn't his fault though, let me explain: We were on a charter to Ogoki Post, taking some electrical contracter there to do work on a substation. Ogoki Post is a short gravel runway. We were heading in, and talking to some scheduled traffic that had departed - they said the runway was in pretty rough shape and to use caution, and that some road graders were working on the runway so we should do a low pass to get them to clear off before we landed. We buzzed over the runway and saw the graders moving up and down the runway, presumably levelling some of the gravel hills and valleys. They saw us buzz the runway, and moved off to the side.

The newfie was in the left seat and I was in the right, and everything was fine, right up until we touched down.

The freakin' graders had spread at least 6 inches of fresh gravel along the entire runway, which is not condusive to good airplane health. The nosewheel dug into the gravel and we were out of control immediately, yawing 40 degrees each side with the rudder pedals hammering our feet with scary force. He fought with it for maybe a couple of seconds, as the end of the 3,000' runway came closer and closer, then he called for a go-around and pushed the throttles to the firewall. We were headed for the trees at the side of the runway by this time, but he heaved the controls back into his lap and the nose lifted and we cleared the trees by a very small margin indeed. We levelled off and looked in the back to our passenger, asking him if he'd like us to try again. Whitefaced, he didn't hesitate "No, no, NO! I'm fine. I can do that later. Let's go home. Now." So we went back to Thunder Bay, and dropped our passenger off, then asked our mechanics to do a thorough check of the landing gear just in case it suffered damage during our gravel adventure. "Lord Tunderin' We almost had a bad one, you should check the gear. Sweet Marciful Chroist, I had full rudder deflection each way at about 50 times per second." Okay, my written newfie accent sucks, but that was the jist of it. The MU-2 is built like a Sherman tank, and it turned out to be okay, with only minor damage done the the pilot's seat upholstery after that flight. I enjoyed flying with the newfie captain and wish him well. He got snapped up by Canjet a while back and I lost touch with him, but I hope he's healthy and happy.

The third Captain was a man of faith. He was always polite and nice to me, and genuinely cared about the work we were doing. He also cared about the status of us, his crew. If myself or one of the medics was sick or tired, he'd call it a day earlier than he had to, just to accomodate us. Thunder was a decent operator, but they also worked us really hard, and whenever he did that, he took a chance that he'd be called on the carpet by the boss for 'slacking' or something, but he still put himself in harm's way for us, and I give him a lot of respect. That being said, it was really fun to watch the battle of good vs. evil constantly going on within him. During long flights, the medic(s) and us would chat about a great many subjects. Believe it or not, from time to time the topics would be about raunchy stuff, and I could actually watch the emotions run across his face when he wanted to say something but then realized it wouldn't be in keeping with what his religious beliefs deemed to be appropriate conversation.

One thing I remember from a flight with him: We were eyeballing a long line of particularly nasty thunderstorms between us and where we wanted to go. He said "What do you think, should we pick our way through them?" Our plane at the time had crap radar, this old monochrome unit that didn't work well at all and resulted in at least one lightning strike on an aircraft before the bosses agreed to swap it out. The radar showed nothing, though we could clearly see lightning, purple clouds and anvil heads. I said "Well, you might know where you're going when you die, but I don't know where I'm going, so let's put it off a little while yet. Let's go around them." He laughed and laughed, and we went around the line.

The final Captain I flew with was a gruff, crusty old bugger. The first time I flew with him, I placed my lunch behind my seat. He picked it up and threw it into the back of the airplane, saying "First Officer, please don't clutter up my cockpit with your crap". Shortly after that, we were flying through the night and I was falling asleep, so I said "I'm falling asleep, so let's talk about stuff". He looked at me and said "You know what I hate? First Officers who talk too much." Keep in mind that this was my flying leg, and none of our MU-2's had autopilots. He ran the airplane like an autocracy, immediately deplaning at each desination for a cigarette (he was a chain-smoker) and leaving me to organize refuelling, patient transfer, and all the other tiny little tasks that require attention during a long day of medevac flying. It went on like this for a few months until one day we were departing Winnipeg and it was my flying leg. There was a wicked crosswind or something and on departure I had the ball in my turn coordinator maybe 1/2 a ball out of centre for a few seconds. He yelled "Fly the plane correctly. Are you capable of centering the ball or not?" I performed the departure and we levelled off for cruise. I told him "Look, this airplane is hard enough to fly. When you treat me this way, all I can think about is how badly I want to run you through the propellor, and I need my brain power to fly the airplane." He was silent for a moment, then burst out laughing. "Okay". And from that day forth he treated me with respect. He later left Thunder to fly for another medevac company for a whole lot more money, and as I write this there's a good chance he's in the air, taking a person who's having a bad day to a facility where they can receive some care.


smurfjet said...

"Look, this airplane is hard enough to fly. When you treat me this way, all I can think about is how badly I want to run you through the propellor, and I need my brain power to fly the airplane."

Dude, thats so sweeet :D

Aviatrix said...

What Smurfjet said. I'm going to write that down and memorize it for later use.