Dummy Air: Stupid Is As Stupid Does.
The DC-10 flight engineer was the first to reach the aircraft for pre-flight on a cold, damp Boston morning. Yeah, must be nice to be the captain and First Officer, still in Flight Ops, warm, drinking coffee, chatting with the flight attendants. “Hey, we sent the engineer out to warm up the jet,” they’d say, “he’s supposed to have coffee ready when we get on.”
Same gate, every week, right? Up the steep stairs from the ramp to the jetbridge. Inside, power up the jet. Start the auxiliary power unit for conditioned air to take the chill off of the cabin. Set up the Flight Engineer’s panel, pre-flight the cockpit. Then back outside, flashlight in hand, for the walk-around inspection of the aircraft exterior.
A pause under the tail, slightly aft and to the starboard side–there. No matter what the ramp temperature, in that one spot the air is a balmy seventy-five degrees: that’s where the APU exhaust reaches the ground. Warm jet engine air which strangely, always had the slightest smell of pastries. Wintertime in Chicago or Boston, you’d always see DC-10 engineers spending a significant part of their exterior walk-around in that one spot.
Schlep back up the stairs, punch in the door cipher code; inside to the mid-cabin door. Hmmmmm, waiting till the last minute, I guess the crew is. They’re the ones who will be frantic as 250 people pile aboard and they’re not ready.
Back in the cockpit, set up the nest: pubs out and ready, audio hookup; final cockpit prep. Done.
Where is everyone?
Oh NO: wrong airplane!!! It’s been on this gate every morning all month–but not today!
Frantically re-pack all the engineer pubs and tools. Power the airplane down, beat a hasty exit. Try not to tumble down the steep jetbridge stairs hauling the forty pound flight bag and an equally heavy suitcase. Scurry over to the correct jet–duh, they’re loading cargo on this one, stupid–park the two bags under the nose where you and they can’t be seen from the cockpit.
Quick exterior walk-around, then bound up the inclined steps, into the jetbridge. Squeeze by the boarding passengers, slip into the cockpit. Stow bags ever so quietly. Unpack engineer stuff casually, even though your heart’s still pounding from the Chinese fire drill between jets.
Up front, no one says a word. First Officer is staring off into space. The captain, a very distinguished gentleman of few words, taps his fingers idly on the control yoke.
I breathe a sigh of relief. Pulled it off. All’s well that ends well.
Not so fast.
“Well,” says Bob in the left seat, casting a sly grin my way. “Are there any other jets on the ramp you’d like to pre-flight?”
Busted. Never did make that mistake again. Well, thankfully I was only a flight engineer for a year.
But fast forward now to my early days as captain, flying with one of my favorite First Officers who had earned the nickname “Deuce,” and now I’ll explain for the not-so-faint-of-heart how he earned that sobriquet. If you’re easily grossed out, consider ourselves done here–onto to more erudite reading; see you next post.
Okay, you still here? Good.
Well anyway, as with flight attendants and felons, there are no “ex-Marines.” Once Semper Fi, always Semper Fi. That’s why in the ex-military frat I come from, Marines are great to fly with. They just never stop being hard-charging and fearless, which is a quality to be admired on the flight deck.
If we’re picking teams for flights or fights, I’ll go with a Marine pilot first choice any day.
“Deuce” won his nickname from a particular talent he had–are you following yet? Stay with me: “deuce” is the number “2.” Is this beginning to make sense?
Anyway, as is the Marine way, Deuce liked to establish his virility and prowess through what George Costanza referred to as “feats of manly strength.” In Deuce’s case that had to do with a certain bodily function.
The MD80 lav is like a barely sophisticated outhouse. The one item that differentiates it from your average porta-potty is the “splash pan.” That is, a flimsy metal plate on the bottom that opens like a trap door under any, uh, weight of any kind, depositing stuff into the swirling blue pool of degerm.
I know, “eww.” Anyway, my ex-Marine compadre claimed as his feat of strength that he could propel his nastiness hard enough to audibly knock the metal splash plate against the housing. The distinct metallic “whack” was his signature, and from the cockpit, there was no mistaking it.
For him, it was like a carnival game, with his own unique sledge hammer ringing the bell every time.
What can I say? Flying is a serious business, so it’s cool to have a little comic relief between crises. Again, Marines are the best for that. Duece “saved up” daily so he could whack the splash pan audibly, for me in the cockpit and of course, for everyone in First Class. Who da’ man? Deuce.
And yeah, after a month of flying with the Deuce, I did consider challenging him–but only for an instant.
Gave up that idea real fast. Anyway, fast-forward to the 737, my new, twenty-first century jet. New lav, with a Teflon base and suction that if you were a fat guy sitting on the can in First Class and flushed, you’d get sucked into coach in an instant. No more swirling cesspool stinking up the forward end of the jet. But no more carnival-game splash pan.
I flew with Deuce on the 737. Great reunion–glad you’re on the fleet! Good to fly with you again. But what about that lav? No splash pan.
Deuce shrugged, older and wiser. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “I had to stop doing the deal on the MD-80 anyway.”
He shrugged and looked away. “Gave myself roids.” Pause. “Huge roids.”
Nuff said. Semper Fi. And like the goofy engineer story, stupid is as stupid does.
See you next week.