Waltz in Blue: Last Dance with the Old Girl.
She was my first. And it’s true: in flying, like many other areas of life, you always remember your first.
It was a long time ago when we were both a lot younger, newer to the airlines. I’d read about her even before that, though. She was the sleek new model–long lines, long legs.
I looked down on her at first, at least from where I was, flying the DC-10. There was no mistaking her distinctive tail and shark-like profile.
I sat sideways on the DC-10, The Plumber, for a little more than a year and I saw her around–knew someday we’d get together. I wouldn’t be a flight engineer forever, and she was the “first date” for a new First Officer.
That’s the first “first” I shared with her: my first flight as a First Officer. For me, that was a long awaited milestone. By then, I’d been flying jets for nine years, seven of them in the Air Force.
But finally, after a couple years flying sideways as flight engineer, and six weeks of transition training, hours upon hours in full motion simulators, this was the baptism of fire: take-off with a full boat–130 plus crew–fly to Long Beach, land.
What a view, finally, from a front seat! All the way across the country, thinking about that landing in Long Beach. First time for me in a Super-80, and with a full boat. We worked it out; she made me look good, touching down firmly but in Long Beach, with a fairly short runway, that was the right thing to do.
And that, as I said at the time, was a dream come true. We did a lot of miles together, saw most of the country and a lot of Mexico, too. Good times, some of them on days I’d rather have been at home. But we hung out together on more than one Christmas, many holidays, even a birthday or two over the years.
All told, I guess I accumulated a couple thousand hours in that right seat. Learned a lot about “big picture” airline life on my own, but most of the important flying lessons, like how to land on a slick runway, in near zero visibility, how to pick through a line of storms, wrestling with crosswinds and treacherous icing and a thousand little ‘gotchas” I learned hand in hand with the 80.
Then a couple years off to fly the big brother–the DC-10–all over the globe. But I took with me the early lessons I learned on the smaller, thinner “Long Beach Sewer Pipe” and put them to work on a grand scale on the wide body jet where often, I was glad I’d figured out how to accomplish the mission on the 80 first.
Which brings me to the second first: the Big Kahuna.
Captain’s wings. I can see plain as day still my first landing in the left seat at Raleigh-Durham, thinking similar thoughts from the first “first” in Long Beach years before, landing the MD-80 for the first time: that was a dream come true, too.
Now that’s where 19 more years have passed. Day, night, good weather and bad–you name it. The airline records show over 11,000 captain hours in this one spot.
And actually, the other seat, too, wearing yet another set of wings:
Instructor and evaluator. Helping others make their airline pilot dreams come true and as importantly, keeping the dream alive by ensuring the quality of of training in jets and sims for a couple years.
We’ve seen a lot of miles together in the air. Carried thousands of passengers safely over the years. And we’ve crossed the country enough times to span the distance to the moon, enjoying the view most of the way.
Which brings us to the present. And more significantly, this week.
It’s the Last Dance with the MD-80 for me. It’s been a good twenty-plus years and many thousands of hours in the air.
But . . .
There’s a new girl in town. In fact, we get a new one every month, and that rate is actually going to pick up in the new year.
She’s state-of-the-art, more powerful, lifts more and cruises both higher and faster. She’s actually replacing the faithful old MD-80 which one by one, month by month and actually two by two, heads to the desert to park for good.
So this week, instead of another first, it’s going to be our last. Three more days and maybe another few thousand miles together.
Then when I put you on the deck this week, it’ll be for the last time. That’s going to be a little sad in many ways, but that’s the way it goes, right? People want to fly on newer jets and even beyond the fact that I can’t blame ’em is the reality that I do too.
In fact, I’ve already started learning the 737-800 systems, although my formal classes start in mid-month. Lots of new numbers, systems and procedures to learn.
And the new Boeing will be just a transition relationship for me. In a couple years, I’ll throw her over for the 777.
That’s the way it goes. Will always have a soft spot for the old girl; she was always faithful and a great dance partner. It’s going to be hard to park her for the last time Friday, but whenever we pass in the sky–and I know we will–we’ll share a good thought, a good memory just the same.