Sunday, February 25, 2007

the events of a previous post related from the newbie's perspective...

“Why are we going so slow?”

The question is rhetorical. There is no gear or flap hanging off the wings, nor is there any speed-robbing ice covering our airframe. I pretend not to have heard Sully’s question.

“What?” I reply hoping to buy myself some time to fumble around for an answer for my new boss. Considering this is the fastest I’ve ever flown while commanding an aircraft I don’t really have a good answer. The question bounces around my brain like a grain of hail in a thunderstorm picking up more and more and more ice until it finally flies out of the cloud under the inertia of its own weight.

“Why are we going so slow?”

The hail dribbles out miserably…

“Uhh, sorry...old habits.”

I grab a handful of power levers and advance them precisely one metric micron. We are presently a mile over the earth’s surface hurtling towards our destination airport at a frightening rate. “Going… so…. slow,” echoes in my head as the miles go by. Slow!?

It’s all relative.

Hitherto, I have made quite a humble living residing in the bottom half of the velocity spectrum known as the speed of sound. I was quite comfortable there but today I am pushed into the deep end of the scale. A stranger in a strange land! I ease the power up yet another smidgen; the action is devoid of resolve and not entirely unlike nudging away a foul smelling pair of old shoes. We tear through the air propelled by the round apparatus attached on either side of our airplane. Having flown only propeller-driven aircraft to date, it is a curious circumstance for me to reconcile…these two contained mini stars- collections of fire and fuel combining in mania which are able to propel us to speeds faster than I’ve been able to fly at before.

This plane has precisely double the number the engines of the ones I’ve previously flown, carries twice the fuel and flies at twice the altitude my previous one frequented …strangely, the paycheque here hasn’t doubled (a work in progress). When is the last time you doubled your threshold for anything? Was able to jump twice as high? Type twice as fast? Eat twice as much? See twice as far? It’s a big bite that’s doesn’t go down so easily. Imagine having your shoe size double overnight, then going to a dance competition, then having an examiner watch over your shoulder waiting for you to stumble so that he can amputate your feet when you mess up. Enjoy your new shoes.

Well…that may be a bit melodramatic but on this flight there is presently a Transport Canada inspector seated approximately one license-tearing-arm’s length away from me observing as I fling us through the air. He could, conceivably, revoke my flying privileges if I did manage to botch this flight up enough. And this flight is not an entirely benign proposition- since departing there have been simulated engine failures, emergency procedures and a gamut of other exercises that make pilots awake in the night drenched in cold sweats. These are required maneuvers because it is my first flight after obtaining a jet type rating. Thankfully, mostly due to Sulako’s help in the other seat, the flight has been quite enjoyable. As the non-flying crew member he is the one required to do most of the grunt work during these scenarios. He tunes the radios, coordinates with ATC, runs the emergency checklists, and briefs me on everything so the only thing I am left with is steering the ship. Engine failures be damned, it’s not everyday you get to strap on a jet, bore holes in the sky and make all sorts of noise plainly to see if you can do it.

And the truth is…I’m loving every minute of it.

I’ve spent the past two weeks piling on layers of systems knowledge into my meager brain; motive flow bypass valves, thrust reverser isolation solenoids, low pressure sensing switches, current limiter values and lions and tigers and bears oh my. My cranium sags under the weight of its new occupants like wet laundry on a clothes line. They say these courses are akin to trying to drink from a firehose and my experience hasn’t been too far off. You spend five, ten-hour days hoovering up systems information, then you spend the remaining six days living in the full motion simulator doing your best to keep yourself alive as the instructors assail you with malfunction after malfunction. In all honesty I didn’t find the sim to be terribly challenging. It’s a matter of your brain firing synapses in order to move a variety of muscles a varying amount so as to manipulate the needles on the dials move a corresponding value; a largely clinical and detached experience. Flying the real plane, though, is several magnitudes more…visceral. The truth is I feel like this jet is an appendage of my body. A seven tonne, kerosene-powered, multi-million dollar aluminum phalange that happens to propel us to the edges of the stratosphere, mind you, but an extension of the body all the same. I don’t so much conceive to put more feet on the face of the altimeter by way of increasing the pitch angle to facilitate an increase in magnitude of the lift vector so much as- think it. Think up. Whoosh! Pinch me. I haven’t touched the autopilot because having too good a time and couldn’t bear to be so far removed from the actual experience. With this much power at one’s fingertips one cannot help but smile. I’m stirred from my little reverie when Sulako’s voice crackles through my headset.

“Why are we going so slow?”

The old adage is that “it all looks the same out the front”. Whether flying a small Cessna or a Boeing or the Concorde (RIP) the reductionist in me can’t help but reconcile that it is just a matter of numbers on a dial. I open the taps up a bit more and the numbers on the dials respond accordingly. We accelerate and the airplane doesn’t seem to care. Nary a shudder or thud as evidence of our speed. All it does, unfortunately, is get us back to base and on the ground…sooner. It’s only on the ground, after the hand shakes and congratulations I reconcile that this is what all the work, sweat and study to get to this point has been all about. And I don’t mean me getting to fly high and fast in a jet; I mean the decades of development and technological progress simply to get people where they’re going…sooner. But when given the means to travel faster all I wanted to do was slow down and relish every minute. Roses are hard to smell when you’re covering ten miles a minute.

“Why are we going so slow?”

In a lot of ways, these days we’re going too fast.


Anonymous said...

Congrats Kitsch. Sulako is a gentle lion with a sharp claw when something needs to be removed or reshaped. You got one sweet trainer there.

medic_9 said...

You have the same talent for writing as Sully does. A definate way with words.


Aviatrix said...

Hey, welome to the blogosphere. I wish I were in your seat.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Sulako has stepped up in my opinion... gotta love someone that gets his FO to do his blog entries...

Kitsch: The plane is secured Captain... The passengers are taken care of, the paperwork's done, it's 3a.m.... anything I need to do before I crawl myself back to my bed and pass out reading schematics while waiting for your next whim to strike?

Sulako: Yeah, update the Blog and be back here at 5 a.m. if you wouldn't mind? I'm going to have a diet soda and finish this pedicure.

Sulako said...

Lol anonymous, you clearly have some insight into how things really are. Just not at this particular operation.

A few minor corrections:

First of all, writing on my blog isn't a chore. I have done this nearly every day for the past bunch of months because I really enjoy it, and because it lets me share the details of my days with my mom, who lives far away.

Secondly, Kitsch asked to be added to the blog, and I thought it was an awesome idea.

Thirdly, umm, I'm not secure enough in my masculinity to get a pedicure.

And last but not least, Kitsch isn't an F/o, he's a co-captain. Just like all our pilots.

We run our flight department pretty differently than most, and I am really happy with how it's turning out.

We have a really limited amount of "I command you to do this chore" and a lot more of "Hey, which stuff would you prefer to handle".

Anyway, I'm glad you enjoy the blog :)

Anonymous said...

And for the record Sulako would never touch a Diet Coke. It's Red Rain all the way. And it isn't a pedicure, it's leg waxing.

Aluwings said...

Interesting idea to have the same flight described from both viewpoints. Great story-telling.