Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Day at the Office

(original post 12-22-2009)

Sometimes I get irked by people who have this idea in their head that pilots work 12 days a month, simply pushing a few buttons while their aircraft flies them around, and then they collect their huge checks in the mail. I decided to actually log a day in my life as a "part 135" cargo pilot in order to quell and/or rectify that myth. Granted, I also work as a ground courier for the same customer I fly for, but that is not uncommon for a hungry cargo pilot to help cover the bills. The following is a log of one of my five days that I work every week.

4:50 am: Alarm sounds. Hit snooze a couple times. 5 hours sleep.

5:00 am: Realize you spent the night at someone else's house so you didn't pack breakfast or lunch the night before. Damnit. Check the weather. Moderate to severe turbulence from the surface to 24,000 ft. Winds aloft 100+ kts. Moderate ice and possible supercooled large droplet threat up from 7,000 to 20,000. Minimum cruising altitude Eastbound over Elkins is 8,000. Wind shear. Destination visibilities forecast to be right at approach minimums. Cloud layers forecast to be right at minimums. But, hey, what's the the point of checking the weather, you're just gonna have to fly anyways right? (tongue pressed against cheek).

5:40 am: Arrive at bank ops center. Count and calculate weight for bank work. Load van with 1500 lbs of bank work.

6:30 am: Arrive at airport. Preflight. Load up work and depart for Martinsburg, WV.

8:30 am: Preceding aircraft declares braking action nil at Martinsburg due to surface icing conditions, legally shutting down the airport to all commercial operators (thats me). Shit. Divert to Winchester Regional Airport in VA. Glide slope is out of service (of course) and weather is legal to shoot the approach but below minimums (cloud layer reported 100 ft). I get to "minimum descent altitude" on the approach with no runway in sight. Shit. Divert again to Manassas Regional Airport in VA. Weather is right at minimums. Shoot the approach and make it to the runway (phew!).

9:20 am: Back and forth on the phone with couriers from Manassas (who were not there but should have been), couriers from Martinsburg, and the bank itself (through airline operations of course). Check the weather every 10 min for Winchester and/or Martinsburg to come up above minimums for two and a half hours.

11:45 am: Weather is finally up. Fly to Winchester to wait for courier. Drop off bank work and pick up a package for Charleston. More back and forth with various people on the phone. Fly back to Manassas for a hefty layover.

1:30 pm: Arrive in Manassas. See an old friend you haven't seen in ages and BS for 30 min. Realize you haven't eaten in 16 hours. Get some shitty fast food. Feel slightly nauseous from crappy food and lack of sleep.

2:30 pm: Try to get a nap but get interrupted by phone calls from a family member, a colleague, air operations, and two couriers.

4:30 pm: First courier shows up. Start loading. Outside air temp drops back below freezing.

6:30 pm: Last courier shows up in Manassas. Finish loading and depart for Martinsburg.

7:15 pm: Arrive Martinsburg. Surface winds gusting 30 knots (35 MPH). Load up more bankwork (2300 lbs at this point). Unscheduled fuel-up for high winds.

7:30 pm: Fly directly into 80 knot headwind. Moderate turbulence and strong mountain wave updrafts and downdrafts the entire flight. Disconnect autopilot to hand fly entire leg. Check weather at Charleston. Surface winds gusting to 40 knots. Aircraft Flight Manual states the C208 should not be flown or taxied at/above 40 knots (not a limitation). Consider alternates. Check pilot reports. Wait for new weather report to come out. Continue to Charleston. Experience wind shear of minus 20 knots to plus 30 knots on two-mile final approach at 300 ft above ground level (scary).

9:15 pm: Unload plane and wait for second courier to finish off-loading. Finish post flight and paperwork.

10:00 pm: Arrive at home residence. Eat a slice of toast and a bowl of cereal for dinner. Check the weather for the following day... pick routes, altitudes, and file flight plans. Fall asleep within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow.

This is what I do every day. If someone out there reads this and can come to a better appreciation for the pilots that fly them and/or their stuff around, I'll have done my job. In my opinion, pilots are some of the safest, most hard-working, professional, dedicated people in the workforce in this great country. So when you see us in the airport, please don't treat us like we're your taxi cab driver. Your taxi cab driver didn't go through years of college, all-consuming training, studying accident analyses, safety meetings, etc.

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