Thursday Now, and Chaos Reins.


It’s only Thursday in the sense of a time-segment before days off: could be any named day of the week. But in the flight crew world, the calendar slips days like gears, the only important condition being that the drive train works, turns, moves: flies.

And it’s Thursday in the sense of past-mid work week tired; thousands of miles gone like pages turned, but the final chapter yet to be written, never mind the epilogue: you’re responsible for how the story turns out; lots of folks will be reading over your shoulder, commenting eventually. On time? Bumpy ride?

Nobody reads between the lines anyway–fuel burn, altitude, routing, navigation; pay no attention to the man behind that curtain. Just as well, though, because surgery is easier for the surgeon if the patient is completely out of the conscious realm. Leave the driving to us.

The day, like the trip, has broken in half and the better part of the light and heat slipped over the horizon, fickle as tomorrow, leaving dusk like a sigh that slowly dies, restless, then dark.

Freak! Coward. Regardless, gone is the day and with it, distance and depth, at least ahead and below. Still in hand, though, the reins of chaos: 50,000 pounds of thrust and 3,000 psi of hydraulics moving ailerons and rudders on demand. The sea is dark and the reins tight and make no mistake: we’re cruising the fire in the dark.

We’re on the downside of a northern arc when the eastbound fireflies cross our nose; below, mostly, having just left the west coast headed east. We’re lighter, waypoints beyond and a few thousand feet above their path, surfing the jetstream east. The burst of wingtip strobes, pinpoints, then the permanent geometry of running lights–green passes nearest on the starboard wingtip slicing along eastbound; the captain’s side, the red tip, harder to spot but like ships running through the fog, you know which way they’re headed by the configuration of lights.

And in their cockpit, a temple of dark silence like yours, someone’s manning the fires, someone’s got the reins, both beat back the chaos only inches away of a -50 degrees freeze-dry you in seconds outside air temp too cold to even form ice; the 500 mile per hour gale that would shred the conglomeration of bodies and bones and stuff and wires and metal over three states if the reins slip loose; the air half again as thin as the top of Everest, turning you blue before you could lose consciousness a heartbeat later.

Steady, a steady hand, a steady head watching the geometry of time, distance and altitude shrink–hold the reins, adjust accordingly. It’s a step-down of epic proportions, energy paid out, energy dissipated on a gradual, bone-saving scale. Got to serve the numbers to keep the geometry safe, flat and eventually, at a complete stop. And it’s only Thursday, pace yourself: another attempt at hotel sleep, food; watering like any draft horse needs because there’s another flight day tomorrow.

Cheat sheet: you know the ballet, but it doesn’t hurt have a thumbnail sketch. The orchestra strikes a chord an octave lower each measure, carefully slower, hold it, to the final note. Rest.

Taxi in, Thursday nearly done. Folks are now where they’d planned to be, never mind the reins, the chaos, the fireflies, the jetstream. That’s your world. That’s the flight crew world, where tomorrow at last the clock strikes Friday–and home.

This week, on Jethead Live:

We go one-on-one with airline analyst

Holly Hegeman

concerning the future of air travel . . .

Wednesday!

Don’t miss

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19 Responses to “Thursday Now, and Chaos Reins.”

  1. Poetry in Motion. I was thinking that I hadn’t heard from my boy in a long time and, viola, there he is. Very good blog and I hope all is well.

    • I was thinking the same about you, amigo–you haven’t been on FB for a while. Was getting worried. All’s well, I hope?

    • I agree with Brian. I was waiting for a post like this. You know I’m a sucker for this stuff! 🙂

      Thank you and enjoy your weekend with the family.

      • I’m with you on aesthetics; I thought maybe I could sneak in an ephemeral piece since we’ve had tons of stick and rudder stuff (did you catch Mike’s intro on “JetHead Live?”) and coming up on Wednesday, a podcast with airline analyst Holly Hegeman.

        Gotta stop and watch the sunset along the way . . .

  2. Beautiful, evocative post, Chris. Happy weekend. Kathy

    • You too: mine is a mix of rain, dissertation, band auditions for a new bass player (think we found him today) plus a session of Adults Behaving Badly with the usual suspects downtown tonight.

  3. Excellent……Chris………..!!!!

    Maybe it’s fitting that you and F/O…..who put all the Mathematics………hydraulics……….smarts……..cheat sheets…….to use……..get the best view in the world!!!!!!!!!!!

    and you may be surprised that more folks than you may think, in the back……..those souls on board….are very aware of the ballet you perform…..for them!!
    Thanks again,
    MissTWA…

  4. They are always good, sir. This one was even better and thank you. Did I hear “dissertation” in the background? I understand the work and offer much encouragement. It will be done on time, but only at the last instant. It is a part of the process and a rule to be respected. Once it is finished, I hope that yo u will share enough hints that the interested can find it. Nice post!! -Craig

    • Yup, TDD, or “The Dreaded Dissertation” is taking on a life of its own which is the mark of a worthy research project: I’d finish the work even if it wasn’t for a PhD, to me it’s that interesting. I estimate completion being around 500 pages; well past 300 now.

      I’ll sure post a link on that final day when the finished results are published . . .

  5. Excellent illustrations – and enjoyed the beautiful narrative. Is it just your personality or does flying mold thought this way? It does sound like a surgeon. Well written – flowed like the wind and the stars across the sky. Safe landing and smooth return trip.

  6. Beautiful stuff, made me feel as though I were with you.
    Godspeed.

  7. Leslie Storie-Pugh Says:

    Good evening- It was with the greatest pleasure that I read your blog posting above. I am so pleased to have discovered your site (through Airline Pilot Chatter) and now look forward to catching up on all of your previous posts and receiving your future ones.

    LS-P
    France

  8. A look into someone else’s life is always a thought-provoking experience. I have a few questions to ask…

    Where is a pilot/flight crew usually lodged? Does the job work like a regular 9-5 one on short destinations- that you fly in the morning, set the passengers down, refuel, return in the evening, and go home at night?

    What if it’s an international flight? How do you deal with the changes in time? where are you lodged- in a hotel near the airport and your plane- or rather, in the airport’s own hostel (if it has one?)

    I look forward to your prompt reply- Thanks!

    • There are both types of flying schedules, turnarounds where you land, then turn around and fly back to your point of origin, and some where you remain overnight. Sometime you’ll do a turnaround, then another leg to remain overnight.

      Where we stay varies city to city and month to month.

      • Home’s still the best after all, I suppose.

      • It is in my book. Some pilots who don’t live in the same city as their crew base prefer 3 or even 4 day trips to minimize commuting.

        I prefer to fly in the early afternoon and get home around 8 or 9 in the evening, thereby missing rush hour both ways. But some actually bid the buttcrack-of-dawn take-off times, or even the all-night turn-arounds.

        Somebody has to do that stuff–thankfully, not me.

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