Archive for the airline novel Category

Let Me Put YOU in the Airliner Cockpit.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline novel, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , on May 12, 2017 by Chris Manno

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Ever thought about a day as an airline captain? Want to fill in the blanks regarding what goes on in the captain’s head once the cockpit door is closed? Here’s your own personal captain’s vision through my eyes.

First off, The Cloak of Invisibility: I just want to make it through the airport terminal unnoticed. I try to stay clearheaded, unhassled. All I want to do is A) find the jet on the gate (not delayed or worse) and B) See the route of flight and planned fuel load. Ain’t my first rodeo–I can get a pretty good feel for weather, winds, fuel and time.

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I can (and do) upload the flight plan data to both my phone and my iPad. If you see me at the gate scrolling through my phone rather than re-booking you (I can’t do that, I don’t have the ticket agent super-powers nor access to the computer reservation system, but I know you’ll ask anyway) I’m determining the planned fuel over destination and if I feel that the total is adequate, I’ll electronically accept the fuel load with a tap on my phone screen. If not, another tap speed-dials Flight Dispatch and I’ll have fuel added to our jet.

The good folks at Dispatch are always super helpful and as captain, just like with Crew Schedule, the ramp crew and Aircraft Maintenance, it’s so very important to invest in courtesy and gratitude in all interactions. They all work behind the scenes for us and the smart captain wants his support team happy. The least you can do is be self-effacing and respectful: “Hi, this is Chris, captain on 228 to Seattle … thank you very much.” It’s how you should treat people who work for you. Never argue with anyone: you’re the captain, so you’ve already won. It costs you nothing to be supportive and appreciative. See why I want to stay unhassled?

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Okay, we all have our weaknesses. One of mine might be the 7-Eleven dog. Don’t judge, and even if you do, realize I in the pointy end won’t be dealing with hunger pangs somewhere over Idaho on our nearly four hour cruise to Seattle. You?

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I try to stay out of everyone’s hair once I’m in the cockpit. I show up, stow my gear (hate it when FOs have extra bags and crap piled everywhere–especially behind my seat) and fire up the dual GFMS systems, letting the inertial reference gizmos negotiate WTF we are with the satellite widgets while I set the instrument panel and display lights, the comm panel audio switches on my side, and plug in my headset; adjust the seat height, crank in full lumbar support, take out any thigh pad adjustment.

Next, the iPad: type in the flight number and it reaches into cyberspace to upload the flight plan and take-off performance plan. Save those–and verify the fuel load actually in the tanks matches what you need. If not, another speed dial to dispatch.

The WSI iPad weather display sets up the same way–just type in the flight number and it draws the line on the map, puts in the waypoints, adds the radar animation, turbulence display, and significant weather warnings. In flight, the cockpit WIFI will keep the map updated with the most current weather radar and warnings.

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By now the #1 flight attendant (or the #3, depending on who’s not busy) will poke a head into the cockpit. Introduce yourself, tell them to let you know if they need anything. They’re probably in the middle of boarding, so leave them to that.

When the First Officer starts playing with an iPhone, you can bet there’s nothing else to be done on the right side. So, perfect time to check the route. The clearance has auto-uploaded from the FAA to our comm display as well as to our route in our nav system. Now, you read each point off the Flight Management Computer screen and the FO crosschecks against the iPad uploaded flight plan. That’s it–you’re ready to fly.

When you notice cargo door warning lights winking out, you know the ground crew is about done. Boarding noises taper off about the same time. Like the monkey said when his tail got caught in the fan, “It won’t be long now.” Reach up and flip on the seatbelt sign. When you do, 9 out of 10 FOs will start reading the “Before Starting Checklist.” Good. Take your time. You’re not paid to rush and in fact, you’re paid to not rush, right? Sometimes you have to remind others of that.

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An agent will step into the cockpit, tell you how many “souls on board,” plus a count of live animals (if any, you immediately say, “That’s me.”) in the cargo compartment, followed by, “Okay to close the door?” The answer is twofold: “Heck yeah” and “thanks.”

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The ground crew will call you eventually, once everything’s buttoned up downstairs. You release the brakes and tell the Crew Chief to stand-by, then call for the “Just Prior to Engine Start” checklist. Blessedly quiet, it is, with the cockpit door sealed shut and just the ground crew’s voice in the interphone. The FO will call for pushback clearance and when he gets it, you pass it to the ground crew: “Brakes released, cleared to push.”

Then we’re underway, creeping backwards. “Cleared to start the ground guy says once we are clear. The FO kills the packs–we need the air to turn the CFM-56 engines. You notice that in back? “Turn number two” you give the order.

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Engine number one follows once the brakes are parked and ground crew has cleared the area. They give you a salute which you return. Then it’s time to taxi. Love that part: two fists full of thrust and tons of jet fuel, turned loose with complete authority and freedom to fly.

Taxi-out is a methodical, orderly set of hurdles: you need the printout of the current weight, match that with the planned and the actual, confirm everything matches up.

Eyeballs out, while in motion, because there are other megaton jets in the aluminum conga line, ahead of you, behind you, and crossing your nose. Heads up.

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All final checks done, know and say out loud for the FO the field elevation, the minimum safe altitude, the initial assigned altitude, and your emergency return plan (usually, a left downwind because I can see left turns best from the left seat, right?) and the N1 one target RPM.

When you finally roll onto the runway, there’s a moment of peace: all we have to do now is fly. Don’t tell the airline, but that’s what we love to do anyway. Cleared for takeoff, exterior lights on, hack the elapsed time display, release the brakes.

Let’s rock.

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Voodoo Rush:Get A Signed Advance Copy

Posted in action-adventure, airline novel, Chris Manno, Voodoo Rush, novel, action novel, novel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Guns, flying, Voodoo, and wild action that stretches from the Big Easy to the Caribbean.

Scheduled for release October 25th by White Bird Publications of Austin, Texas, at bookstores and Amazon.com.

But you can get an advanced copy, signed, and shipped securely here:

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$19.95 + $6.95 shipping (US only) and handling.

JetHead, the Novel: Chapter 3

Posted in air travel, airline novel, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, Uncategorized on May 7, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Chapters 1 and 2 are posted below. Here’s chapter 3:

Beaver held up the waxy paper message. “Want me to pass this back to Dixie?”

“Hell no,” Taylor snapped, a little more stridently than he meant to. “She’d poke your eyes out for that.”

No sense stirring up a hornets nest, at least not right now. They still had another two hours to fly. Keep things peaceful, then ease the bad news to the rest of the crew. He glanced down at the message. Fuck.

Monument Valley slid below the nose, a furious brick-red in the late noon sun, creased with ice-blue Lake Powell meandering south and west. This was a peaceful, rugged expanse, sacred, really, for a thousand years as Valley of the Gods. Taylor never tired of this place, the view, and the privilege of gliding eight miles above it, especially in what was an exceptionally glassy-smooth blue sky. He looked forward to the day that he and Darling Bride would drive their way across this stretch, maybe to the north rim of The Big Ditch. Road trip, the busman’s holiday. No airports, no security hassles or frantic crowds or chaotic boarding–just the two of them, at meandering, roadway speed rather than eight tenths of the speed of sound. No schedule, no demands–they even brought their own Keurig when they did their backroad safaris. The cabin chime killed the dream. He grabbed the handset from the pedestal console.

“Front desk.”

“Mark?” That was Barry’s voice from the cabin.

“Yup.”

“Have you heard anything from DFW?”

Taylor let that hang in the air, but it was no use. “‘Fraid so, Barry,” he answered after a moment. Tornadoes, baseball-sized hail, airport closed. Northeast of Dallas, the report said. He lived well southwest of the airport, so at least there wasn’t that worry.

“Passengers are saying there’s been some severe weather.” Damned inflight Internet–passengers knew any bad news instantaneously. Used to be, they asked for ball game scores in flight. Now, you make a PA with scores and instantly the flight attendants are on the interphone, saying, shut up, the passengers are watching the game live.

“Yeah, Barry. We’re kinda screwed.”

They went way back, Barry, Taylor and Missuz Taylor, having flown together often “back in the day.” Once Barry had asked The Missuz, “Would it rock Mark’s world if he found out I’m gay?” She’d just laughed–as if anyone didn’t know. They were both fond of Barry, one of the best friends a person could hope to have.

“I was afraid of that.” Airport closed? Cancelled return flight. Shipwrecked in Seattle. “Is Bill on reserve?” Meaning, the copilot.

“Bob,” Taylor said, although over beers he’d have told Barry, The Beaver. Bill, Bob, typical pilot names, flight attendants saw pilots mostly as carbon copies. The interchangeable pilot man, Taylor always said: dress alike, talk alike, boring as hell, mostly. “Yeah, he’s on reserve.”

“So is Kelly,” Barry said. “But this is going to cost the rest of us.”

Barry understood. The Seattle turn was a big, eight-and-a-half hour bite at the ninety hour total most crew flew every month. With delays and overfly, that made for a ten day month. Now, they’d get minimum pay for today–five hours–and minimum for tomorrow. So ten hours in two days instead of eight and a half, maybe nine, in one? The month was getting longer, and who knew what Crew Tracking would cook up for them tomorrow, given the wreck the schedule would be in after all the cancellations. Reserve crews, like Kelly and The Beav, were just along for the ride. But for lineholders, particularly turnaround holders, this sucked.

Taylor was the type who went to his car after a trip and immediately upon getting in, never thought about the job at all, until it was time to go again. He knew many pilots whose identity was inextricably linked to his title–one guy’s wife referred to him as “Captain Mason” in casual conversation–but that wasn’t him. So maybe; no, definitely, he’d be missing essential layover survival gear in the Rollaboard he’d seldom opened.

Many; most of his seniority peers were flying the heavy metal to Europe, Asia and South America. But that was its own kind of beating, with at least one all-night leg, two for Deep South to Buenos Aires and the like. That aged a pilot fast but worse, it meant fourteen to sixteen days away from home. For Taylor, it was all about home and family, and maybe not getting older any faster than he already was. “You don’t use power tools after a trip,” one old squadron bud explained to him the mind-numbing jet lag that went with the body clock flip flop.

A goddam layover. He began to think of all the important stuff he should have put into his overnight bag, meant to put in and would now wish he had. But leaving the airport, all thoughts of the job vanished.

“It’s Kelly’s birthday,” Barry said. “Twenty-four. Guess she’ll have to celebrate it in Seattle.”

“Could be so much worse. Think Des Moines.”

Barry laughed. “I’m not saying a word to Dixie. That’s your job.”

Get your head back in the game, Taylor admonished himself. A glance at a fuel flow gauge showed what a half hour burn would be; double it, divide into time remaining, see how that matches the planned arrival fuel–or doesn’t. It’s a living algorithm playing in his head the entire flight. A good visual sweep will land experienced eyes on exactly what’s wrong, too. You just have to keep looking, letting the fuel algorithm and the visual sweep run in the background.

“I can ask for direct Coaldale,” Beaver suggested, holding the hand mic at the ready. We’ll never get that, Taylor knew from experience, not mid-afternoon with Area 51 and the Nellis military airspace hot with restricted activity. Beaver just didn’t have the big picture yet, and the air traffic controller would wonder why we were even wasting our time and his asking.

“Sure,” Taylor said. Why not? Let him learn. When he was an FO, Taylor hated overbearing captains. No harm in Beav asking, plus, as a captain it’s smart to only say “no” when absolutely necessary. In fact, he seldom said “no” but rather, “I’m not comfortable with that or “that’s probably not a good idea.” Like the old guys he flew FO for did and the subtle hint was enough to steer the crew without being heavy-handed. Give the FO some breathing room.

“Unable,” the air traffic controller snapped as soon as the Beaver requested the shortcut. Taylor yawned, feigned indifference.

“Well I don’t know why,” Taylor lied, “we can’t go over the top of their restricted airspace at 40,000 feet.” But he did know, he’d punched through the top of military airspace in afterburner, just screwing around. Nose up to the vertical, let ‘er fly. That’d get you up through 50,000 feet, asshole puckered about flameouts on the tail slide. The sky went to real dark blue, that high up.
Beautiful, it was.

“You wanna go back?” Taylor asked, changing the subject. A good halfway point, although on a normal turn, they’d be almost halfway home. Now, halfway to god knows where. Stop being such a pussy, he told himself.

“I’m good,” Beav piped up immediately. Seriously? Everything has to be about big balls, hacking the mission, never have to take a leak? Your urologist, Taylor figured, will be waiting for you in a few years, billing for the cumulative damage. If you don’t die of deep vein thrombosis first. The airline lost a few every year from that, sitting on their ass for too many long flight hours.

Beav made a dramatic grab for his quick-don O2 mask.

“It’ll be a minute,” Taylor said. “They’ll have to set this up.” A cart, someone to wait in the cockpit–bathroom monitor–to open the door afterward. God help Beav if Dixie was roped into babysitting him during Taylor’s absence. Please, sweet baby Jesus, let me get out of here without him briefing me–

“I’ve got the radios, the aircraft, autopilot-autothrottle on …”

Too late. The cabin chime.

“Taylor,” he stated, hoping maybe the call would silence the Beav.

“Feeding main tanks,” Beaver continued. When did you become such an assbag, Taylor asked himself. You get on the van, go to the hotel ….

“We’re ready, Mav.” That was Dixie being cute with a Top Gun reference. You check in, shuck the polyester, drag on some Levis …

“Going direct Wilson Creek,” Beav continued his recitation.

Fuck. He’s probably going to want to go have a beer wherever they’re shipwrecked tonight. How did the Skipper do it, always having Gilligan dogging his heels? He flashed back to his own DC-10 engineer days, turning on all the fuel boost pumps, announcing to the grizzled old captain hunched in the left seat, “All pumps on, stepping back.” A hand wave, probably annoyed. He finally got it.

“And the cabin pressure is good,” Beav confirmed. I just want to piss, Taylor thought silently. We really don’t need a change of command ceremony for that.

He slid his seat back along the rails. “Awright. Want anything from the back?” Coffee? A Valium? Anything to calm you down? “Smiling Jack” Jackson, a DC-10 captain from back in his FO days used to ask, “Can I get you a tissue, a sanitary napkin?” And Taylor would laugh. He didn’t think Beav would get it.

“Be right back.” Taylor stepped out of the cockpit, and Holly slipped in to take his place.

——–

Bob smelled her before he saw her out of the corner of his eye, slipping past Lurch as he stepped out of the cockpit. She smelled good: hair stuff? Cologne? Whatever it was, she smelled amazingly good. And she seemed not to even notice him.

“What a view,” she annunciated each word, staring out the forward cockpit windows.

Could he take off the oxygen mask? Regs said when a pilot was alone on the flight deck, above 25,000 feet–

“Where are we,” she breathed, still rapt, her eyes looking down on the rugged sunlit stonescape of northern Idaho.

Lurch was in the can, so who’d know? He whipped off the mask. “The Green River is the only River in the west that flows north,” the words stuttered out of his mouth and he immediately wanted them back. Idiot! What a stupid thing to say!

She turned to him, amused. “What?”

“So,” he tried to recover. “You’re Based in New York?” Stupid! Stupid! Of course, it says so right on the crew list.

“Yeah,” she answered, turning back to the grand view slipping silently under the nose. Dixie’s voice whispered in his head, “Is your wife a flight attendant?” As they’d all met, then boarded, she’d asked that.

Holly sat down behind the empty captain’s seat. “And you guys are Dallas.”

How did she mean that? Dallas crews were known to be arrogant, not very popular in the crew world. Or maybe, she was just letting him off the hook, following his lame conversational lead. Damn she smelled good. Why didn’t his wife smell like that, the question formed itself and immediately, daggers of duty and guilt began to take form over his head. “Well if your first wife isn’t,” Dixie’s echo in his head continued, “Your second wife will be!”

“I’m on reserve,” she offered. “Had birthday plans in the city tonight, but …”

He nodded. “I’m on reserve too. Can’t make any plans either.”

“Well if we’re really laying over in Seattle,” she chirped, “You can help me celebrate my birthday.”

“Okay,” he answered too quickly, he knew. So lame. And what was is it, this huge contrast between flight attendants and what–military wives? Couldn’t military or more accurately, ex-military wives like his be so lively and stylish and at ease in all situations and oh god, the daggers of guilt again suspended over his head by the merest thread.

She looked at him, as if seeing him for the first time. Then she turned back to the rugged tapestry scrolling by below, taking on the slanted shadows of late afternoon.

“Okay,” she echoed, but idly, it seemed to him. He’d have to make an impression somehow, maybe in Seattle. “I’ve never laid over downtown in Seattle.”

He hadn’t either. “I have,” the words spilled out of his mouth. Well, in the military he’d stayed at McChord AFB in Tacoma. They rented a car and drove around Seattle.

“Good,” she said, still staring out the window where the view seemed to stretch to the very curve of the Earth. “You can play tour guide.”

———

Taylor stepped out of the cockpit, pushing the door securely closed as as Holly stepped in. Dixie stood in the galley, hands on hips. “Let me guess.”

He held up a hand. “If you don’t say it, maybe it won’t be true.”

No crew connections, according to the message. Dead in the water in Seattle.

The jet rumbled through a washboard of turbulence, the floor swayed. Dixie poured a cup of coffee, black, without spilling a drop. Taylor wondered if she could pour on the ground, without the deck pitching as it did in flight.

“We did this turn yesterday,” Dixie said, handing him the coffee. “Got home two hours late.”

He laughed. “At least you got home. Now you get to chaperone Holly at Chucky Cheese in Seattle.”

“Not a chance in hell,” she said without a nanosecond of hesitation. “Flying high time, I don’t think I’ve gotten more than five hours of sleep in six months. I’ll be slam-clicking as soon as I can.”

“Don’t look at me,” Taylor said. “They’re on their own.”

Slam click: step into your hotel room, slam the door behind you, click the lock. Dixie, maybe. Taylor, should be. But they both knew that was a lie.

Next: Chapter 4–coming soon.

JetHead, The Novel: Chapter 2.

Posted in air travel, airline novel, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Have you read Chapter 1? Scroll down and you’ll find it. Here’s Chapter 2.

Chapter 2: Lurch and The Beaver

The spool-up growl of the big Snecma engines building to takeoff power still gave him a shot of adrenalin: such engineering marvels, spinning at thousands upon thousands of RPMs, a thousand degrees, flawlessly, for hours. Lurch toggled the TOGA button on the autothrottles then rode them with a loose hand on top, right up to the N1 setting he’d grudgingly briefed. Digital readouts blossomed and counted up, then held at 91.4, just as planned, then a shove in the pants, forward, turned loose.

“Thrust set, 91.4,” Bob announced confidently. That was required, so Lurch would just have to deal with it. He didn’t seem to like much talk in the cockpit, but Bob took solace in the stream of useful procedural information he could provide regardless. After all, the airline had crammed his head full of fifty thousand little BBs of information in ground school and he was determined to show that all the little brass pellets hadn’t yet–at least while he was on probation–dribbled out of his ears to scatter across the cockpit floor like mercury.

He loved the gathering rush of power and speed, the slight rudder walk as the towering tail slab bit the air and Lurch tapped it a notch left to make the nose wheel clear the kerthumping runway centerline lights. Lurch was a pro, no doubt about it. He’d handled even the worst combination of snow and winds and shit weather with a calm, quiet ease. But what a grouch.

“Gear up,” Lurch growled from the left seat, holding his right hand out, palm up, the signal for the command. Dammit–Bob had missed his “positive rate” call out, mandatory, confirming that the jet was climbing. And Lurch hadn’t waited for it.

The blessed instant of flight was an illusion, like his first flat spin in an Air Force jet: not that the jet spun but rather, the view did. Heart thumping, he’d been ready, at twenty-thousand feet in the clunky Tweet jet trainer, sucking on an oxygen hose with a mask mashed to his face, cinched up tight in the ejection seat. “You ready?” Death Ray had asked with a droll foreboding, from the right seat. “Yeah,” he’d answered, in a tone that said ‘fuck you, I’d sooner die than show fear in front of you.’ And he’d meant it.

Then Death Ray pulled the nose up, bled off the airspeed and stomped the rudder which induced a flat spin like a plate whirling atop a stick for a juggler, the wingtips sailing round and round and the jet flat plunging from 20,000 feet down to ten, straight down. Anticlimactic, it was; as if they in the cockpit stood still and the Earth and sky and view rotated around them. A moment of elation, not fear; “ain’t nuthin’ to this aviation shit” he’d echo with his flight buds in the bar that night.

So it was with takeoff: Lurch eased the yoke back and the Earth just fell away. Then, he set the pitch to freeze the airspeed and the Boeing rose, following the nose up to about twenty degrees, climbing and accelerating.

Frequencies were changed, tower handed them off to departure, the low sector first, as the litany of cleanup went step by step on the flight deck.

“Clean machine,” Bob said, verifying the wink-out of the green leading edge light, plus the two flap needles flush on zero. He resisted the urge, in deference to Lurch, to say the cabin was pressurizing, the fuel feeding from the center tank. Just tell me what’s wrong, the sourpuss had said, and if nothing is, nothing needs to be said. So he thought it to himself and left it at that.

Passing ten thousand feet, Lurch punched the flight attendant chime letting the cabin crew know they were no longer in “sterile cockpit.” Within a heartbeat, the crew interphone chime rang over Bob’s head.

“It’s for you,” Lurch said, never looking away from the sky ahead, still hand-flying the jet.

Bob grabbed the handset. “This is Bob–”

“Look, Bucko,” that would be Dixie, “Am I gonna have to teach you how to run the air?”

He didn’t know what to say. Dixie’d been flying since he’d been in high school, maybe before. When Lurch had introduced her–they seemed to go way back–she’d laughed and said, “I’m not bringing you a crew meal–I’m just going to take you up to my room and breast feed you.”

He didn’t look that young, at least in his own mind. But Dixie, Lurch and about half the crew force looked to be his parents’ age. Except that one in the back, Kerry? She was a newhire, like him. More his age.

“So turn up the air, Bucko,” brought him back to the problem at hand. He sighed, ready for the abuse that “twenty questions,” now required, would bring down on his head. Seemed like flight attendants couldn’t discuss the temperature with a clear statement of what they wanted. You had to drag it out of them. Did “turn it up” mean hotter or colder?

“Do you want it–”

She cut him off. “Look, I’m going to yank these goddam pantyhose off and put ’em over your head and see how well you breathe.”

Ah, she wants the cabin cooled down. “Okay, I’ll cool it a–”

“No,” she butted in, “You’ll give me full cold and I’ll say when.”

Yes ma’am, he wanted to say but decided not to tangle with the number one flight attendant, especially being acid-tongued Dixie. Why couldn’t sweet, young, blonde Kerry; no, Kelly was her name–why couldn’t she be number one?

“Okay,” he answered, reaching up to twist both cabin temp knobs to the cold side. “Here it comes.” She’d already hung up.

He adjusted the temperature rotary knob to display the cabin temp in both locations.

“Says it’s putting out seventy five degree–”

Lurch raised a hand, still looking ahead. “How long you been married?”

He thought about that. Oh. A “yes dear” moment. But up here, we’re pilots, not compliant hubbys, running state-of-the-art airliners with limits and procedures and know how.  Bob wasn’t buying it.

“Seven years,” Bob answered. “But the cabin temp is–”

“Whatever she says it is,” Lurch finished the sentence for him, turning to offer a rare, if wry smile, though his eyes remained inscrutable behind a pair of sunglasses. Not Aviators like Bob’s, he noted. Lurch didn’t seem to get into the airline pilot persona.

“Look,” Lurch offered, “They’re all back there running around, working, swathed in polyester, sweating. Who cares what a temp probe located God knows where says? Just do it.”

Bob shrugged. “Sure.”

“Did you fly the MD-80?” Lurch asked. Bob nodded. “Well, those packs go full cold at takeoff power. Not the Boeing. The pilots coming off the 80 always goose the heat out of habit, and always get a call like you just did. If the temp was okay on the ground, it’ll be okay in the air.” He reached up and moved the cockpit–“control cabin,” as only Boeing called it–temp controller a quarter turn to the left. “And the last thing I want on climbout is heat in the cockpit, too.”

Bob nodded, filing that away. The ground school instructor had warned them that if the temp control valve got frozen on the ground, it might remain stuck in the air. But he was gradually learning that there was a great disparity between ground school book knowledge and practical application in flight.

That was all new. The Air Force was all about reciting technical and procedural knowledge from various manuals. You were only better than the next guy if you could say more, memorize more, and show those above you what you knew.

“Guess I’m still in the Air Force squadron mode,” Bob said. “Standardization, orals.”

Lurch punched the “Command A” button.  “Autopilot’s on. Yeah, it takes awhile to move beyond that. But we’re not like that. Especially on this fleet.”

Air traffic control directed them to a new frequency, and the new controller cleared them to their final cruising altitude. Lurch set the altitude and confirmed it verbally with Bob.

“Three nine zero.” Lurch pointed to the altitude set window. “Thirty-nine,” Bob repeated. A wispy cirrus layer slipped under the nose, creating a flickering sun dog. As they climbed, the ground shrank into a carpet of browns and greens, then the higher they went, a tapestry of land and woods veined with spindly roads.

“The Air Force needs all that,” Lurch said. “Very new people flying and fixing complicated aircraft and missions. But the average pilot here has nothing but flight experience, and tons of it.”

Bob had to agree with that. “And even better,” Lurch continued, “We’re not fighting each other for promotion.”

That had been one of the prime reasons Bob had been glad to leave the Air Force. Promotion was one part proven skill, two parts politics and sucking up. In the airline pilot world, promotion was all about seniority, longevity which, by nature normally meant an assload of flight time.

“Takes time,” Lurch offered charitably. “But you’ll learn to ease up.”

Easy for you to say, Bob thought to himself. You’re half retired as it is, flying only turns to either coast, home every night. GOOMSOM, the acronym was scrawled in the kitbag room: “Get Out Of My Seat, Old Man.” Meaning, for old guys like Lurch, retire. Bob allowed himself an inward smile.

Yeah, he was junior and he knew it. Still puppyish about the thrill of flying, and nothing but flying, since he’d left the political ass-kissing contest of Air Force squadron life.

He didn’t even mind being on reserve, though so many of the older guys griped about it. Life was good, whatever he got called to fly by Crew Sked was better than just sitting in the always crowded and usually smelly crash pad. Even this turn with Lurch, as he’d nicknamed him. He’d have a great yarn to spin back at the crash pad and–

The printer hummed and immediately, Lurch had a hand on the printed message and tore it down and off. The old guy stared at it for a moment.

“Fuck.” He handed the message to Bob, who read and then reread the short message.

“Fuck,” Lurch muttered again. Bob laid the flimsy paper on the Comm pedestal. Wow. Things were about to get crazy.

[Note: Chapter 3 is done and will be posted soon]

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