Monday, October 03, 2005

I did my Citation 550 ride on August 5th, and since then I have about 50 hours in the airplane. The little man in my head is telling me it's time to write a little bit about the corporate lifestyle I am currently in, so here goes...

I fly for a small-medium (a few hundred employees) company in a large city. The company has several business directions and owns quite a few interests throughout Canada and the US. We also just got our 704 Operating Certificate, so that means we will be doing the occasional charter. We don't want the plane to become too busy though, as it's main purpose is to be available for the directors when they need it.

I fly with 3 other people - two "professional" pilots and one of the company directors is also a pilot who is type rated on the 550. My official position is as an F/o, though I did a left-seat ride and when I fly (every other leg), it's from the left seat. There has been no discussion of when I may officially go captain, and I'm fine with that. I am enjoying learning about jet world, and I'm in no real rush to sign my name to all the flight plans Wink

When I am not flying, I work in the company's main office, helping with the truly humungous amounts of paperwork that running a 604/704 operation requires. I had no idea of the level of work that went into an operation such as this, and even with only 2 aircraft, the three of us are pretty swamped.

The contract I signed stated that I put in 40 hours a week of work, either at the office or in the airplane and I generally put in at least that. I normally get weekends off, and if I fly over a weekend, I get days off in lieu afterwards. The pay is really good, and I have full benefits, which is one of the really nice things about working for a semi-large company.

The interior of the main 550, a Citation II by another name, is pretty nice, and we have this cool grey ultrasuede interior that I really like, along with a flushing potty in the very back (in it's own little room) and a refreshment center up front that holds a couple of dozen pop cans, coffee, tea and munchies along with those tiny little liquor bottles that go for liike $3 each that they sell at the Liquor Store. We also have a few portable DVD players for the people in the back if they wanna watch movies. I'm agitating for a 42" plasma screen along with an Xbox, but I think I may have to bide my time on that one Smile We have 6 seats in the back, and a divan up front with 2 seatbelts, so we have a total of 8 approved seats. There's no seatbelt on the potty, which is probably a good thing when I think about it - the pax would be lonely in the little potty room, and perhaps subject to the butt of jokes from other pax. Heh heh, I said "butt". Anyway...We have an increased gross weight mod on the airplane, so that means we can fill the tanks (5008 lbs) and put 6 people in the back, or take 4 hour's hours worth of fuel and fill the seats.

Once we are airborne at cruising altitude, we burn around a thousand pounds per hour. We cruise at FL350 - 410 generally. She really sucks gas down lower, so we are fairly unhappy if ATC makes us descend to get outta the way of faster traffic. Yeah, I fly a slowtation, and we see 360kts on a good day, though the book says we should see 375 - 380. I keep suggesting we run the engines at 108% or so, but so far I don't appear to be converting anyone.

Up front, we have analog instruments, though we have a digital TAWS (terrain avoidance thingy, the thing that yells "sink rate!" and more) / Moving Map system, and we also have a digital satellite weather receiver which lets us look at Metars, TAFS, etc while in the air, along with, umm, satellite radar. It's kinda like being able to bring up AWWS or that US weather site that lets you loop the radar echoes while airborne and it has already proved to be a very useful tool. The director-pilot enjoys gadgets so we also have a satellite phone, and XM satellite radio for passing the time during the longer flights, along with a couple of hand-held GPS's and walkie talkies, etc.

We have dual flight directors, dual rad alt, and dual big-ass attitude indicators along with a couple of backup ones, for a total of 4 AI's in the cockpit. Those of you who fly 320's or G-IV's are rolling your eyes right now, but the last plane I flew didn't have an autopilot, so I'm pretty pleased with the whole situation. We run a KLN90b GPS, but we are adding a full FMS onto the center console between our seats as the director-pilot prefers a keyboard to twirling knobs. And who am I to deny him? Smile The radar is a Bendix color radar, nothing special, but it works really well which is a nice change from my previous job. We don't have TCAS, but I'm guessing that will be added before too long.

The 550 is an incredibly stable plane to fly, and it is forgiving like most Cessnas are. It has a nice fat Cessna wing, and the ol' girl seems to be genuinely happy to be in the air. Depending on weight, our V1/Vr is somewhere between 98 and 113, and our Vref speed is in the same ballpark.

Aight, that's about it for the plane. Now about the lifestyle.

A day or two before the flight:

All of our flights are planned in advance. We have all sorts of cool computer programs on our laptops, from flight planning to charts to FBO lists etc. A day or two before the flight, I will call our destination and check about for the various FBO's listed in ACCU-QUIK. We are pretty concerned about fuel prices, and we generally choose our FBO's based on that alone. It's crazy, but I have seen 40 cents per litre price differences from one FBO to the one right next to it, so we check AvFuel, AvCard, Colt Fuel and MultiService for fuel prices before we decide what's what. Once I choose the FBO (assuming there is a choice - lots of places have just one) then I call and arrange transportation (if the pax need it), hotels and catering. We go to the US a lot, so my next call is usually to Customs to give them a heads-up, then I fax them an arrival report (Form 178) with our sundry details, and confirm it with a second phone call. Customs is one thing I do NOT wanna screw up, so I'm pretty thorough about it.
Next I call and get us slot times in and out of any airports that might be busy. Then I call our home base and ask them to have the aircraft pulled from our hangar and set up with a GPU about 90 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart. Then I go on the laptop and use flightstar to plan the flight. It downloads the predicted winds from the 'net and tells me what the most efficient route is, so I click the mouse a few times, edit a few details and print it out. That covers all my bases for pre-flight stuff.

The day of the flight:

I check the weather when I get up, and file a flight plan. I arrive about an hour in advance. The plane is sitting outside of our home base FBO, looking pretty. I let the people know our fuel order from whatever the flight plan software says, which they cheerfully fill. I hop inside the plane and fire up the avionics, then take our coffee and hot water containers inside to get 'em filled up inside the FBO. Load them into the plane, then get some ice to put on the pop / beer / wine we carry on board, along with our ice bucket in case they want their drinks on the rocks. If we have catering, I put it onboard. If we don't, I usually bring muffins for a morning flight anyway. I throw on a couple of newspapers, some coffee creamers, and we are good to go. I check the interior and make sure everything is in order. I check the logbook to make sure maintenance has signed off the plane as airworthy since our last flight. Then I squeeze up front and get our clearance. I put it into the GPS and run through our before-start checklist. Once that's all done, I head inside and wait for our pax.

They show up, and we fire up. I love this plane's start sequence - we hit the "start" button for either engine, then watch it light up. At around 10% rpm, the throttle goes from cut-off to idle, and that's that. In the MU-2, it took at least 5 people, each pressing buttons and pulling levers at the same time, to successfully start the engine, so this is a non-event.

We take off, and I hand-fly to 28,000'. Above FL280 you aren't allowed to hand-fly (RVSM rules), so I respect that and engage the autopilot. The plane climbs pretty well until the around FL300, then it goes down to around 500fpm at 180kias. The thing I notice most about jets is the absolute lack of vibration. I was used to watching various screws in the control panel slowly working themselves loose in the MU-2, so this is an entire world away. It's also pretty quiet up front; for the first time in my career I get to wear the little tiny headsets, and they are noise-cancelling to boot, so I guess I'll actually get to hear sounds after I'm 50 or so, which was in doubt before Wink

We cruise along to our destination, and I tell the GPS to lemme know when it's time to descend so we don't end up over the field at 35,000'. There is a little more prior planning involved than in a 172, so I really have to keep that in mind.

Once we are below 28,000', the autopilot comes off and I enjoy the stability that the 550 provides, while following the command bars in the flight director all the way down to our destination.

We descend at either limiting airspeed, which for us is 262kias or mach 0.705. Below 10,000' we go back to 250 kias which makes the tower happy Smile A typical approach speed for us is 170knots until a few miles final, then slowly coming back to Vref at 50' over the numbers of the runway. The sultry voice of our TAWS yells "50 feet" around then, so I pull the throttles back to idle and we settle into ground effect, then land.

Once down, we pop the thrust reversers and speed brakes, trying not to use the actual brakes as much as possible. We taxi in and shut down, making a note of the fuel burned and fuel left so we can plan for the next leg. We stop and meet customs, then let the pax off so they can do whatever it is they do that makes them so very financially successful.

The next leg is the same thing, whether it is home or to a new place: Call ahead for fuel prices, arrange the FBO, pax transportation / hotel / catering (along with my own if it's a layover), contact Customs, get slot times (as required) and make sure the commissary is full of snacks and booze and the plane is clean.

Most of my fights are home - destination - home, so that makes it pretty easy. I do a fair amount of layovers now, but that's fine. I'm away from the g/f a fair amount during the week anyway, and I might as well be in a hotel eating someone else's food and stealing hotel shampoo (a cruel irony considering I'm bald) than sitting at home on the same couch and watching the same local news.

The people I fly with are all nice, and they treat me like a human being. It's really strange to be considered a professional rather than an operating cost, and I am profoundly grateful I have come into this situation. We all know that flying is fun, but it's also a job and we have to have lives away from the airplane. My last employer cheerfully consumed all my time and drank deeply from the river of my soul in exchange for a job, while my current employer knows that there is a balance between work and play. This job is a lot of work, but I really enjoy it and I do it cheerfully as they respect me and that goes a hell of a long way in my books.

I am coming up on 5,000 hours now, and I am done building time. I fly around 30 hours per month now, and that's fine by me. I will be staying at this job until I either get fired or AC calls.

Aight, that's it. I hope that gave you a tiny glimpse into what it's like in corporate world. I'm sitting in a hotel right now writing this, and it's time to search out a restaurant for supper. We are back home tomorrow, then off for a daytrip to the US on Wednesday, then to some place where they mostly speak French on Thursday, then a three-day trip to the US next week. See you up in the skies!