Archive for the airline pilot Category

Do Pilots and Flight Attendants Hook Up?

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew, pilot with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2020 by Chris Manno

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The simple answer is, yes … and no. Here’s the full story.

First crewlife is different from the average work life, for a couple reasons. First, when crews show up “at work,” the first thing they do is scatter to the four winds. No boss, no supervision, no oversight–gone. I always liked that aspect of my job as an airline pilot, especially as a captain: there’s no “boss”–except maybe me as captain–but rather, just a job to do. That job is flying, something we like to do.

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When we as crew are out on the road, most of the logistics that the biz or leisure traveler need to worry about are taken care of: transportation, hotels, airport access. So, in theory, there’s the potential for some social interaction.

In “the good old days,” pilots and flight attendants were “paired” for an entire sequence, meaning, the cockpit crew and the cabin crew were scheduled for the same flights and the same layovers, sometimes for the whole month.  If there was time an opportunity–say, the long Cabo layover, with open bar included in the hotel stay–there could be some partying going on.

We used to say on the Fokker, which had a crew consisting of two pilots and two flight attendants, that every trip was a double-date. In fact, on my F-100 captain checkout trip, I met a flight attendant who I dated for much of the next year.

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The F-100: “Every trip was a double-date.”

That ended when I met another flight attendant on another F-100 trip and in less than two weeks, we decided we should be married. And we have been married for the past twenty-five years. I detail this story, plus many other pretty extreme pilot and flight attendant connections, here.

But truth be told, we’re the exception to the rule. While there are many pilot and flight attendant couples, and many flight attendants married or committed to other flight attendants, and many pilots with the same connections with other pilots, several factors have made those connections less likely.

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First, the crewlife workday ain’t what it used to be: work hours are longer, layovers are shorter, and hotels are of lesser quality and the locations seldom in choice areas any more.

Plus, a few years back, the FAA instituted new crew rest requirements for pilots, but there are no such federally mandated rest requirements for flight attendants–a travesty in itself, but that’s another story. The end result has been that often, pilots and flight attendants stay at different hotels or even if they’re at the same property, the flight attendants are headed back to the airport after a shorter–typically inadequate–rest break.

Flight attendants are worn out from such brutal scheduling with too little rest. That kind of kills the social prospects of any layover situation. But there’s more.

Flight attendants tend to be outgoing, confident, adept at handling any situation, self-assured and practiced in the social arts from calming a passenger storm on board to leading their own lives with confidence and independence.

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Pilots tend more towards the nerdish, narrow-thinking, dogmatic way of seeing the world. It’s kind of the opposite pole of the typical flight attendant personality. Pilots land toward the control-freak end of the personality bell curve and many are insecure with a strong-minded, independent partner.

If a pilot can handle the typical flight attendant confidence and grace–and really, who wouldn’t?–the results can be a lifetime partnership:

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But then, there are also so epic train wrecks, and I detail them both, success and spectacular failure, in vivid, real-life case files in An Airline Pilot’s Life. Read it, and you’ll have a pretty clear picture of what exactly goes on between pilots and flight attendants.

From Amazon Books, Kindle ($5.19) or paperback ($17.99).

Just CLICK HERE.

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Freefall and Pictures

Posted in action-adventure, air travel, airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2020 by Chris Manno

Maybe you’ve heard of Amazon’s #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation, An Airline Pilot’s Life.  The true story starts with a step into nothingness 2,000 feet above the hard-packed clay of Southwest Virginia. Then, the parachute fails. Here’s the pic–and the story–plus a few more photos from this fast-selling new book.

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Last one into the jump plane, because I’m going to be the first one out. Then, all hell breaks loose.

From An Airline Pilot’s Life:

Chapter 1

Nothing but a furious blue sky above, laced on top with a wispy cirrus deck like a delicate veil. Below, the earth screamed up at nearly terminal velocity and the jump plane was nowhere to be seen. Fine.

“Hop and pop,” it’s called: fling yourself out the open aircraft door two thousand, maybe twenty-five hundred feet above the ground if the jump plane pilot’s feeling generous, then plunge. I only paid for two thousand feet, but I’d hoped for a bit more.

One fist on my helmet, drawn in as my ripcord hand goes for the handle, so as not to flip myself over from the imbalance. Grab, pull, wait.

Nada.

The rumply-fluttery sound of the main chute dragged out by the smaller drogue flapping upward in the slipstream, but no reassuring, nut-crunching harness tug of full deployment. Okay, arch your neck, look up.

Shit.

The sleeve’s still on the main chute and it’s wagging like a big streamer yards above my head. The sleeve covers, reefs, the main chute. Ain’t opening. I shake the risers like a stagecoach driver urging on a team of horses, trying to shake loose the sleeve, to let the main parachute blossom full and wide but no.

My frantic attempt to clear the streamer has eaten up precious time, too much time. I’d “cut away,” release my tangled main and go for my reserve chute, but I’ve spent too many valuable seconds trying to clear the tangled main. The reserve chute will need at least five hundred feet to blossom full enough to arrest my plunge. I can see cows below, coming into distinct focus, as the ground rises to meet me. That’s bad.

I’d had no money for flying lessons, paying my own way through college, so that was way out of my budget. But skydiving was a fraction of the cost. Bought a used chute, took a few lessons—just get me into the sky and I’ll find my own way down.

Like right now. The voice of calm logic in my head annoys the panicked side of my brain with the salient fact that well, with a streamer, you won’t achieve terminal velocity because of the tangled chute’s drag, so you’ll only hit the packed dirt at ninety, maybe ninety-five miles an hour.

The mortal side of me, the soft pink flesh and blood humanism that doesn’t want to impact the dirt clod strewn pasture land at ninety miles an hour begins to perceive the red lip of terror, but there’s more to be done. I clutch my reserve chute tight with my left arm, then pull and toss away the reserve ripcord.

Both the relentlessly rational side of me and the human side feeling the growing alarm of near death unite in the methodical, careful last-ditch effort: grab the reserve with both hands and throw it downward as hard as you can. Hope and pray the reserve chute catches air and inflates on the way up rather than tangling with the snagged main chute flapping away above.

I give it a heave downward with all I’ve got. I mash my eyes shut, not wanting to see the results. I’ll know soon enough, whether the chutes tangled together and assured my death within seconds, or if I’d beat the odds and have the reserve chute blossom and displace tangled main. Or not.

The calm, unrelenting voice of reason, always there no matter what, had the last words: you really didn’t have jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

Way to go, dumbass.

Copyright 2020 Chris Manno All Rights Reserved

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The rest of the story? It’s all here:

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For paperback or Kindle, CLICK HERE.

And …. more pictures from the true story.

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USAF Pilot Training in Lubbock Texas. We had a blast–the stories are in the book–and here are the real-life people from the story: me on the left, The Coke standing next to me, and Animal Hauser above us both.

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The Wolfpack, above. That’s me with my flight suit unzipped, Chip leaning on my shoulder, and Animal Hauser leaning in front of me. Lot’s of adventures with this bunch, and the book puts you in the cockpit with us.

Then, I shipped off to Kadena Air Base on the Island of Okinawa as a tanker copilot for two years of flying all over the Pacific, Asia and the Indian Ocean. Below, that’s me and Widetrack, a guy I flew with and shared some pretty wild times–which are also in the book.

Me and Widetrack, waiting on the wing of our jet.

Me and Widetrack, waiting on the wing of our jet.

Those were the early years, my Air Force experience which led me to a career as an airline pilot, which is also covered, putting you in the cockpit of the world’s largest airline. Here’s a sneak peek:

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Animal, Chip, me, and The Coke. The story of our journey from USAF pilot training to captain’s stripes is epic, and the details are what comprises Amazon’s #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation.:

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Kindle ($5.19) or Paperback ($17.99) Just CLICK HERE.

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An Airline Pilot’s Life: Windshear Flashback.

Posted in air travel, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, aviation, wind shear with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2020 by Chris Manno

Not every airline adventure–or misadventure–made it into An Airline Pilot’s Life, if only for the sake of controlling the page count. You can read an excerpt from the book that puts you in the DC-10 cockpit for my first copilot landing at LaGuardia in this month’s Airways Magazine.

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Meanwhile, here’s an incident where we tangled with windshear on approach to Raleigh-Durham Airport and to be honest, I wasn’t sure we’d successfully escape. Read on:

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The weather at Raleigh was iffy, with thunderstorms moving from east to west, towering cumulus that ranged in height between twenty-five and thirty thousand feet. That, in the context of airline operations, was simply North Carolina in the summertime.

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The MD-80 cockpit felt crowded with three of us crammed into the small compartment in the pointy end. It wasn’t unusual to have a jumpseater but for some reason, the space that day seemed too small. But, the back of the jet was equally crammed with all 142 passenger seats full, so the extra pilot on the jumpseat, who was actually an FO I’d enjoyed flying with in the past, was a reality so he could join some buddies in Raleigh for a golf outing.

Enroute, my excellent, experienced, retired Air Force FO requested the Raleigh-Durham Airport weather. That flight segment always seemed quick to me, maybe because I was more accustomed to the longer Seattle or Boston legs out of DFW, so I was glad he’d gotten an early start on the weather.

“The airfield is clear,” he said, and handed me the weather that our onboard printer had spit out. I glanced at it with my non-engineer’s pilot eyes: Instinct mattered as much as data, to me. I looked for the big picture, the hidden details, like what signs are there foretelling what’s to come. Pressure falling rapidly, towering cumulus northeast. Yeah, the airfield’s clear—but. Something felt wrong.

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“Let’s plan flaps 28,” I said, which doesn’t sound extraordinary: the MD-80 standard approach configuration was 28 degrees of flaps because it saved fuel. I didn’t hold with that, personally, having flown the MD-80 for twenty-plus years myself. There were less times when 28 was actually required than not, and I liked having the power up on approach because of the added drag of 40 flaps because it made for better go-around response under normal circumstances.

But “what wasn’t there,” what the weather report didn’t explicitly state, gave me pause: flaps 40 meant flaps 15 for go-around, which was extra drag we wouldn’t need if there was a hint of wind shear. Flaps 28 was less drag on the approach and since it would be paired with flaps 11 on the go-around, if we were to fly a go-around, which was also an extra margin of performance we might be glad we had. Layers of thinking and prevention, that’s all part of the captain’s job.

We started a long enroute descent straight into runway 05L. We’d briefed the approach as an ILS, my preference, even though the weather was currently VFR. I always prefer the precision approach and the missed approach, myself. That way, if we request the ILS, there’s no ambiguity about what we’ll do on the missed approach. So many pilots brief “Missed approach will be with the tower” which is really no brief at all. More importantly—and I often have to correct this—if you’re cleared to fly the ILS, you’re expected to fly the published missed approach, not “go with the tower.”

Ahead to the east of the field, the sky darkened to a bruised blue and clouds stacked well into the stratosphere. We had a good radar paint ahead which showed just enough mileage between us and the storms to execute the missed approach if needed. The winds seemed steady off the nose, maybe even increasing slightly, which foretold the approaching gust front from the storms east of the field.

We never saw it coming: below a thousand feet, in clear air, with the runway in sight, we lost over twenty knots of airspeed instantly and began to sink. In a heartbeat, the WAGS (Windshear Alert And Guidance System) sprang to life, commanding a pitch-up and calling out “Windshear! Windshear!”

I kicked off the autothrottles and I was already hand-flying, so I aimed the nose towards fifteen degrees of pitch and firewalled the throttles. Still, we continued to sink, even at maximum thrust from both engines.

“Fifteen degrees,” my FO called out to cue me, “We’re still sinking, airspeed minus ten.”

I caught the five-hundred foot marker on the radio altimeter tape out of the corner of my eye. Shit. And we were still sinking.

We’d been ambushed: an outflow boundary from a thunderhead behind us had tossed us a huge tidal wave of tailwind. Slowly, gradually, we regained flying speed and crept skyward at barely two-hundred feet per minute. We cleaned up, executed the missed approach and as we did, we requested clearance direct to Norfolk. We cruised the twenty minutes to Norfolk in relative quiet.

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“You just never know,” I told my FO as we taxied in to a gate at Norfolk. He just nodded. We’d done everything correctly, but: you just never know. You’re vulnerable on approach, dirty, slow and low and I was just glad for my instinctive bias towards flaps 28, just based on a hunch.

The jumpseater actually deplaned in Norfolk—said he’d rent a car and drive back to Raleigh, even though we’d be returning there ourselves after refueling. About half of the passengers deplaned too, because I guess they’d all had enough flying for the day, especially with the closeup look at the dirt a few miles from the Raleigh runway.

Procedures, instinct and luck—a little bad luck and a lot of good—and we made it to Raleigh a few hours after the storm had passed. Sometimes, it’s just that way.

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Get the full story–read the true story that is Amazon’s #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation:

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From Amazon Books–just CLICK HERE.

Kindle ($5.19) — Paperback ($17.99)

 

“The Best Of” Airline Cartoons

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, flight attendant, flight crew, passenger with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2020 by Chris Manno

Are you a pilot, flight attendant or passenger missing the good old air travel world that is only now creeping back from the screeching halt of demand that’s grounded most flights? Looking forward to getting back into the sky? Well, here’s a cartoon glimpse at what we’re all missing. Enjoy.

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Nowadays, people seem to judge others more than ever, questioning why anyone’s flying–ignoring the fact that they are too. And it even looks different today.

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The airport itself is open, but the concessions are mostly a ghost town.

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Crewmembers can expect enhanced security screening.

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Boarding is much less crowded.

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Inflight, it’s much the same as ever.

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The pandemic is a factor, but there are differences.

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After your flight, please remember:

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And know that your crew is waiting to welcome you back aboard.

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Want to get a firsthand, behind the scenes look at crew life? Here’s your chance to live the airline crew life:

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It’s Amazon Books’ #1 new release in Commercial Aviation: an insider, firsthand story of flying from years as an Air Force pilot, then into the cockpits of the world’s largest airline for over three decades of flying, most as captain, around the country and the world. You’ll live the cockpit experience firsthand, fly the trips, the aircraft, the approaches and more.

Get your copy from Amazon Books in Kindle or paperback format.

Just CLICK HERE.

 

 

MD-80 Flashback

Posted in airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airlines, airport, aviation, crewlife, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight training, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2020 by Chris Manno

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I flew the American Airlines’ MD-80s for over 20 years and more than 10,000 pilot hours. She was the mainstay of our fleet for a long time and generally speaking, it was a decent jet to fly.

My first actual flight as copilot is recorded in detail below. This is an excerpt from my true-life story, An Airline Pilot’s Life, which is holding at Amazon’s #1 New Release in commercial aviation. In this book I take you along in the cockpits of American Airlines’ DC-10s, MD-80s, F-100s and Boeing 737s. Every training program, every aircraft shakedown flight, and more, including my years as an instructor/evaluator pilot. How do the jet’s controls feel? What are the maneuvering characteristics? How is the engine response? Get firsthand, first-person answers.

Here’s a sample, letting you sit in the copilot’s seat on my first landing in the MD-80, with 142 passengers on board:

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“Localizer capture,” said Charles Clack, a Check Airman, from the left seat. Ahead, the lights of the Los Angeles basin sprawled like diamonds scattered across the blanket of night as we sank lower on our approach to Long Beach Airport.

Technically, I should have made that callout, being the pilot flying, as soon as our flight director system captured the navigational signal leading us to the runway. But that was why there was a Check Airman in the captain’s seat supervising my first landing—with 142 unknowing passengers aboard—in the MD-80.

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As is typically the case, I discovered the real aircraft flew better and different from the simulator, which had been my total experience “flying” the MD-80 up to that point. I had the jet trimmed up nicely and the winds were mild so she flew a steady, true course with little correction from me.

But the most important, exciting and rewarding point for me was, I was the pilot flying. That felt good, after almost two years sitting sideways at the DC-10 engineer’s panel. That had been an easy, decent gig, but this is what I was here for.

Fully configured with full flaps, the MD-80 autothrottles kept the EPR (Engine Pressure Ratio, pronounced “EEP-er”) fairly high, which was good: she flew more stable at a higher power setting with more drag. The MD-80 Operating Manual recommended flaps 28 for routine use because it saved fuel due to the reduced drag compared to flaps 40. But I learned from experience that the jet flew a better, tighter approach at the higher power setting and really, how much extra fuel was being burned from the final approach fix to touchdown anyway?

Fully configured with gear and flaps, I simply flew the long silver jet down the guy wire Major Wingo had told me about, from our vector altitude all the way to touchdown on the comparatively short Long Beach runway. The landing was firm but decent, although the nosewheel came down harder than I’d anticipated.

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“I should have reminded you about that,” Charles said later in the hotel van. “With flaps forty, the nose is heavy; so you have to ease it down.”

Still, nothing could dampen my elation at having flown my first takeoff and landing in a passenger jet at a major airline. With a full load of passengers on board. That was it—I was really an airline pilot at last. Cross another item off the dream come true list, I said to myself silently.

The first officer upgrade at the Schoolhouse had been a breeze for a couple reasons. First, the McDonnell-Douglas systems logic and flight guidance processes were much the same as those on the DC-10. I already understood “CLMP,” “IAS,” “VS” and all of the flight guidance modes and what they’d do because I’d been monitoring the DC-10 pilots’ processes and procedures for a couple years.

And, I was paired with Brian, a very smart, capable captain-upgrade pilot for the entire ground school and simulator programs. He was a Chicago-based pilot, quiet, serious, and very capable. He offered easygoing help and coaching, just as he’d do with his copilots up at O’Hare and I learned a lot from him. He’d be an excellent captain, I could already tell, and in fact, he became a Check Airman himself eventually.

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The MD-80 itself was a study in design contradictions. When Douglas Aircraft stretched the old DC-9 by adding two fuselage extensions, one forward of the wing root and one aft, they didn’t enlarge or beef up the wing at all. By contrast, when Boeing extended the 737 series, they’d enlarged and improved the wing. The MD-80 simply had higher wing loading, which is not an optimal situation from a pilot’s view. The lift was adequate, but certainly not ample, reducing the stall margin. While Boeing’s philosophy was “make new,” Douglas seemed to be simply “make do.”

The ailerons were unpowered, relying on the exact same sluggish flying tabs the old KC-135 tankers had. She was lethargic and clumsy in the roll axis and the actual control wheels in the cockpit were cartoonishly large to give pilots more leverage against the lethargic ailerons. To boost roll response at slower speeds, the wing spoilers were metered to the ailerons, which was a mixed blessing: they didn’t raise the left wing to reinforce a right turn; rather, they dropped the right wing with drag. In an engine failure situation, the last thing you needed was spoiler drag added to engine thrust loss in any maneuver. That was Douglas doing “make do,” as they had done with so many hastily added components on the DC-10.

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The instrument panel was chaotic, as if they’d just thrown in all the indicators and instruments they could think of and then slammed the door. That left the pilots to constantly sort out useful information and block out distracting nuisance warnings. Douglas made a stab at lightening the scan load on the pilots with an elaborate array of aural warnings, a voice known as “Bitching Betty” to pilots. They just weren’t sensitive enough to be useful, like yelling “landing gear” in certain situations where landing gear wasn’t needed, which gradually desensitized a pilot to the point where you’d reflexively screen out the distraction, which was good, but also the warning, which was bad.

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The most unbelievable bit of cockpit clumsiness was the HSI, or “Horizontal Situation Indicator,” the primary compass-driven course and heading indicator before each pilot. Mine on the copilot’s side was placed off-center and mostly behind the bulky control yoke. It was actually angled slightly to make it more visible to the captain, because his instrument display was also obstructed by his control yoke, an incredibly clumsy arrangement.

The ultimate design goofiness was the standby compass, which on most aircraft was located right above the glareshield between the pilots. Douglas engineers must have had a field day designing the MD-80 whiskey compass, locating it on the aft cockpit bulkhead above the copilot’s right shoulder. To use it, you had to flip up a folding mirror on the glareshield itself, aim and find the compass behind both pilots’ backs, then try to fly while referencing the compass in the tiny mirror.

The fuselage was long and thin, earning the jet the nickname “the Long Beach sewer pipe” because it had been built in Long Beach at the McDonnell-Douglas plant. Flight attendants called it the “Barbie Dream Jet” because it was almost toy-like compared to the other American Airlines narrow body jet, the 727.

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The problem with the increased fuselage length was that Douglas hadn’t enlarged the rudder at all on the stretched MD-80, so the rudder itself was fairly useless for heading changes or turn coordination. All it seemed to do was torque the fuselage and have little effect on the aircraft’s azimuth. Eventually, an MD-80 pilot learned to ignore the rudder pedals in the air, unless it was needed to control yaw during a thrust loss on either engine.

The aspect of having the engines mounted along the aircraft centerline was a good deal compared to wing mounted engines which incur more asymmetrical yaw in an engine failure and I appreciated that. The engines were so far back that you couldn’t hear an engine failure in the cockpit, so there were actually warning lights to alert pilots of a failure.

The JT8D engine response was forceful and the engines themselves were the Pratt and Whitney equivalent of the gutsy General Electric TF-33 fanjets we had on the EC-135 J at Hickam. Minus the roll heaviness and disregarding the cockpit design mess, I wasn’t about to let anything dampen my enthusiasm for line flying as a pilot at a major airline.

I’d waited long enough to bid first officer that I could actually hold a set schedule rather than an “on call” reserve pilot schedule. At my seniority range, the trips weren’t very good, but they were trips just the same.

My first month I held a schedule of early two day Buffalo trips. Still, I was undaunted—I had a schedule! A regular airline pilot trip.

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Read more: fly the DC-10, the F-100 and more.

Get your copy of An Airline Pilot’s Life in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon Books HERE.  Makes a great Father’s Day gift!

Want a signed copy (US only)? Click Here.

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An Airline Pilot’s Life Now Available In Paperback & Kindle.

Posted in air travel, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, aviation, crewlife, flight attendant, flight crew, flight training, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2020 by Chris Manno

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This is the true story that is Amazon’s #1 new release in Commercial Aviation, now available in paperback! Now you can live the pilot’s life yourself, from early years flying gas-powered, control line aircraft, to soloing in a Cessna 152, to USAF pilot training and soloing a supersonic T-38, to many years as an Air Force pilot in the Pacific, to American Airlines and a decades-long airline pilot career around the world, most of it as captain.

You’re in the pilot’s seat, living every step of the journey, hands-on, first person; the unvarnished truth that is the reality of a pilot’s life.

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Critics have called this “the real thing,” “an extraordinary adventure,” and “the closest most of us will ever get to flying a jetliner.” It’s all here, from the flying the DC-10 to captain upgrade to the MD-80 left seat, to instructor/evaluator, pilot union elected officer, to the Fokker-100 and eventually, the 737-800.

Live the dream yourself, every approach, every tight spot, every behind-the-scenes adventure in a vivid, fast-paced real life story.

Get your copy from Amazon books–just CLICK HERE.

Then, let your first-person adventure begin.

From Goodreads: “Reading this book, one learns what goes into the making of an airline pilot, as well as what is in the heart and soul of an airline pilot. I highly recommend it on both counts.”

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Fly Along On My First Solo

Posted in air travel, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airlines with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2020 by Chris Manno

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If you’re a pilot, there’s really not another moment that surpasses a first solo. Many other pilot milestones come after, but though some may equal the momentous experience, I’ve never found any that actually surpasses my first solo, and that includes even supersonic solo flight, solo formation, aerobatics, or any of the other big events like checking out as an airline captain.

Here’s an excerpt from my new book, “An Airline Pilot’s Life,” (Amazon’s #1 New Release in commercial aviation) that will allow you to ride with me on my initial solo in a Cessna-152 after I’d had just over eight hours of flight instruction.

The book is on an introductory price of only $3.99. This Part One of the story is over 300 pages long, spanning my early flying experience, detailing my passage through USAF pilot training then six years of military flying throughout the Pacific and Asia.

Part Two covers my decades as an airline pilot, starting as a flight engineer at the world’s largest airline and continuing through years as a pilot on the MD-80, DC-10, F-100 and 737. Join me in the cockpit as both first officer and then nearly three decades as a captain. Part Two will be released in both Kindle and paperback formats in May.

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Here, then, is a sample, a chapter that focuses on my first solo. The setting is at the Bedford Flying Services flight school at Roanoke, Virginia’s Woodrum Field. As an Air Force ROTC cadet selected for USAF pilot training after graduation from the Virginia Military Institute, I was enrolled in the USAF Flight Instruction Program. The program was equal parts flight instruction and screening for the Air Force. There was a basic syllabus designed to get a cadet ready to solo in minimum time and as importantly, see who had the aptitude (or didn’t) to become an Air Force pilot before arriving at a pilot training base.

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After a few hours of flight instruction from Pat, I was handed off to another flight instructor, a younger guy that the other Flight Instruction Program cadets had warned me about.

Bob was a former enlisted guy, a boom operator on a KC-135 crew. He seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, having had five years of “yessir-ing” officers on his assigned flight crew, pilots and navigators, but now we who’d soon be officers would have to answer to him. I think he may have resented the fact that he was helping us along the Air Force pilot path he’d never had an opportunity to travel.

His attitude was both aloof and condescending, especially compared to Pat’s easy-going instructor attitude. But for me, I had enough faith in the two Cessna-152s and my ability to fly them or as accurately, let them fly as they’d been designed, that I wasn’t going to let his attitude be an obstacle. Besides, for an FIP cadet who’d endured over three years at VMI, his caustic attitude was barely amateur level by comparison.

He was sarcastic in the plane and seemed to set up each maneuver as a test, then scoff if it didn’t work out perfectly, which often it did not. I had less than ten hours flying time, so chances were good, given my inexperience and his obstructive attitude, that my maneuvers would be somewhat rough. I didn’t let it bother me, although one of my classmates was having a very difficult time with Bob.

Bob actually let one nose high stall accelerate into what I realized afterward was a spin. We were nose low, corkscrewing toward the ground and that, I found out later, was definitely not in any part of the flight syllabus.

But if his intent was to have me lock up, or to panic, it didn’t work. The lesson of my skydiving streamer still held full sway: panic is never, ever an option, period. I fell back on Pat’s offhand remark and just pulled the power back, since we were in a dive, and let the plane right itself and eventually, return lift to the airfoil so we could fly again.

Maybe that was Bob’s backhanded way to build my confidence, which it did. I knew I’d be fine in those planes come what may when I was solo. Most of all, as I’d learned from skydiving, I could trust myself to keep a cool head

Or maybe it was his way of weeding me out, tripping me up, undermining my confidence or worse, the Air Force’s confidence in me. It didn’t work. I had more faith than ever in the two little planes and my ability to shepherd them around the bumpy skies of Roanoke.

On a late fall afternoon Bob and I went up in 11-Juliet. He sat next to me, elbow to elbow, taciturn as always. He’d shadowed my preflight walkaround, seemingly bored. I did all of the preflight radio clearances and we taxied out, lined up on runway 23 and took off.

We flew directly to the practice area and immediately worked through all of our maneuvers and a stall recovery series. I really felt it was unfair, two against one: me and Juliet against Bob, and he didn’t stand a chance. Whatever he demanded, we could do. Stall, falling off on the left wing? Give her slack, let the nose fall, tap the rudder, level the wings, feed in power—not too much, climb back to the original altitude.

Compass figure eight? Watch us. Slight back pressure and a touch of rudder, let the compass and Juliet swing her nose at a thirty degree bank left to right, in her own time; remember where you started, track back with the nose just above the horizon, now reverse course, smoothly. No rush; let her fly. Claim the peaceful time lag as your own little slice of calmness.

“I’ve got it,” Bob said abruptly, then aimed us toward a field a couple thousand feet below and just north of Interstate-81. I had an inkling of what might be coming next. Fine, I decided. Bring it on. It’s still two against one.

Bob pulled the throttle completely back and the engine fluttered to idle, the prop practically feathered.

“The engine just died,” Bob said, sounding annoyed. “Land.”

I set up a long, lazy downwind. I searched, then spied a smoke stack near the western edge of the practice area, all the while easing Juliet lower, trying to keep a clean, power-off airspeed to stretch our powerless flight. Smoke showed wind out of the west, so we’d land into the wind.

I eased a wide turn to the left, into the wind. I slowed, gradually fed out landing flaps. And waited. How far would he take this, I wondered, as we slipped below five hundred feet. But I also didn’t worry: I’ll land it in the field, I don’t care—that’ll be your ass, Bob, not mine.

At about three hundred feet, Bob pushed the throttle back in and the engine buzzed back to life. We climbed, and I retracted the landing flaps.

We entered the landing traffic pattern for runway 23 at Woodrum Field. I taxied us clear after a routine landing.

We taxied back towards the departure end, but at midfield, Bob spoke again.

“Pull over here.”

I swung us off the taxiway and pulled into an apron abeam the flight school. I let the engine idle. He popped open his door.

“You ready?” he asked.

Sweet Jesus. Ready? Ready? I was born for this.

“Yes.”

He nodded. “Do a couple patterns, touch and goes, then park it back at Bedford Flying Service.”

I nodded. He strapped down his seatbelt, then left, clicking the door shut securely, walked away and didn’t look back.

I nosed 11-Juliet forward, back onto the taxiway. I paused at the departure end and ran through the magneto check fairly mechanically. We’d been flying for an hour, the magnetos, the ignition, the airframe, me—we were all ready. This wasn’t about manuals and numbers and specs—this was about flight.

In that golden instant I had the rare sense that this was momentous not just for what it was, a first solo flight, but for what it meant. There are unique, lifetime flying moments that matter more than anything in a pilot’s life. Few they are, and I somehow intuitively knew the truth: whether you went on to fly supersonic, aerobatics or formation in an Air Force jet solo, or commanded an Air Force flight crew on trans-Pacific missions or succeeded in airline captain upgrade and took on worldwide jet flight with hundreds of souls in your hands—nothing would outdo this first solo. Nothing. Equal maybe, add to the legacy, but never surpass this moment. I knew that, even as a twenty-one year old strapped to a beautiful little Cessna, I knew that.

And I made a point of savoring the reality, burning it into my memory as a golden moment, even back then. I knew it belonged equally to the tough guys like Clark King who punched me into reality, to Buck who held me strictly accountable for my life, to Coach Wade who led with tough but caring leadership, to Major Sullivan, who found me a way forward from disaster.

But it also belonged to me and I’d damn well own it, every God-given second. Cleared for take-off I took a deep breath. This is mine, I resolved. I don’t deserve it, but no less than anyone else who’d attained it, nor any more than those who hadn’t. But I can own it, do it justice.

I had a weighty premonition that once I left the earth solo, nothing would ever be the same again.

When the sturdy little engine reached takeoff power, I released the brakes. We rolled into the headwind, she steadied, then Cessna 9811 Juliet and I rose into the sky, alone.

We climbed to pattern altitude as I’d done a dozen times before and I allowed myself a glance to my right, to the empty seat, and a real peace and jubilation warmed me from the inside out. This was how it was meant to be. Airplanes just fly better solo, I realized, because flying was all about the aircraft, you, and flight. That’s what mattered and everything else was just giving the devil his due for the privilege of flight, of piloting.

And I was right—I was never the same after that. This was what my life was meant to be. And in that moment—at long last—it was mine. And there was no way, not so long as I breathed, that I’d ever let it go.

________________________________________________________

To get your copy of Part One on Amazon Kindle and

live the adventure yourself, CLICK HERE.

solo receipt

Free Sample: An Airline Pilot’s Story

Posted in airline pilot, aviation, pilot with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2020 by Chris Manno

Hundreds of new Kindle readers a day are enjoying this true story, the Amazon #1 aviation new release:

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Here’s a free sample, along with some actual photos of the places , people and jet in the story. Enjoy this sample, then get your copy of Part 1: An Airline Pilot’s Story from amazon HERE.

Here’s the scene: me and my aircraft commander Widetrack (see picture below) find ourselves roped into a “mission spare” status for a buttcrack of dawn mission of tankers and BUFFs (Big Ugly Fat F*ckers) launching out of Andersen AFB, Guam. What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything. Live it yourself:

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The next day, upon release from alert after crew changeover, we were immediately assigned to crew rest for an early morning refueling mission. Crew rest, of course, called for us to drink as much as possible right up to the eight hour cutoff for alcohol, while the ongoing alert crew planned our mission.

“Don’t worry,” Widetrack promised me, “I finagled us the number five tanker position. We’re just the spare.”

That meant we’d start up and taxi out with the four primary tankers, but we’d only launch if one of them had a no-go mechanical problem at the last minute. The two BUFFs (B-52: Big Ugly Fat Fuckers) would launch first, then after the primary tankers launched, we’d taxi back in, shut down, then go back to sleep off our hangovers.

So on our “crew rest” we replayed the beer-filled maintenance van on the beach deal, and Casey, the then-off duty alert controller, met me on Terragi Beach for a private, beer-lubricated day of beach fun and other interpersonal activities.

It was well after midnight by the time we’d paid our proper respects to General Shaky, returned the van, and hit the sack. The room spun, my skin felt tight and scorched from the sun—Casey’d gotten herself fried—and the air conditioner gurgled and clanked every time I fell asleep, waking me. But, I told myself, no worries: we were just the spare. I’d be back in the sack by eight o’clock.

I dragged myself through the buttcrack-of-dawn showtime, crew briefing and preflight, then slouched in my cockpit seat. Widetrack slumped in his and no one, including Stinkfinger and Flintstone said a word—it was too damn early and we were all still suspended in the nauseating grey netherworld between half-drunk and well-hungover.

Flintstone hadn’t even bothered getting a jug of coffee, the fat, lazy bastard. All he’d managed was a couple gallons of room temperature tap water since we were just the spare. He’d figured he’d just end up dumping out the coffee anyway, which I kind of craved as a result.

Me and Widetrack, waiting on the wing of our jet.

Me and Widetrack, killing time on the wing of our jet.

After engine start, we lumbered out behind the two B-52s and the other four tankers. I was only vaguely aware of where they were all headed, having ignored most of the briefing. Something about the BUFFs doing a low level bombing route, then popping up for max fuel offload then blah-blah-blah. My head pounded, my mouth felt like sandpaper, so I just didn’t care.

That is, until mission frequency crackled to life and the command post ordered, “Launch the spare.”

What the hell?

“Confirm,” the command post snapped. “Trade 19, launch.”

That was us. Shit.

“He didn’t get water,” Stinkfinger grumbled, pointing at the tanker on the runway.

I squinted at the squatty tanker, engines bellowing, but no telltale black cloud from the water injection. Fuck, he’s got a boost pump failure.

“Try it again,” Widetrack barked on the mission frequency, a bold and prohibited move on his part, but I hoped that might prod the other crew to cycle the boost pumps a few more times.

No dice.

“Trade 19 now mission primary,” Stinkfinger groaned over the mission frequency.

As if in a bad dream, I acknowledged the tower’s take-off clearance among the muttered curses in the cockpit from my three fellow crewmembers.

We ran through the final takeoff checklist items while I silently prayed that our water injection system would fail so we could abort as well. But no dice; the water injection system kicked in, then Widetrack released the brakes and we began to inch forward.

We rolled most of the long runway, into a glowing pink sunrise, then wobbled into the air and past the cliff at the far end, over the Pacific.

“Gear up,” Widetrack said. I reached for the gear handle and raised it.

Nada.

“It’s not coming up,” I said.

“Well, cycle the handle,” Widetrack said.

I put the gear handle down, waited a heartbeat, then raised it again. Still nothing.

“Fuck me,” Widetrack muttered, lowering the nose slightly to preserve airspeed with the huge landing gear trucks dragging in the slipstream.

Fuck all of us, I decided. With the gear down we’d never make the formation, much less the mission.

“One-ten, water,” Stinkfinger whined.

“Tell the Command Post we’re an air abort,” Widetrack said.

Stinkfinger relayed our status to the Command Post while I coordinated a cruise clearance with Departure Control. No one else spoke, because we all knew we were still screwed: with our mission fuel load, we’d be too heavy to land for hours.

I began to calculate the fuel burn, then the max landing weight. Sonofabitch.

“Three goddam hours at ten thousand,” I relayed the bad news to Widetrack. Flintstone cursed roundly, Stinkfinger whined.

“Request a cruise clearance at five thousand,” Widetrack ordered. “Nothing to hit out here anyway.”

That would help. Maybe only two hours. Flintstone and Stinkfinger unstrapped and went back into the cargo compartment to forage in a survival kit for something to eat while Widetrack and I scoured the manuals for a technical solution to our landing gear failure to retract. There was none.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Widetrack said as I eyed the fuel dump valve switch. “And so does the Command Post.”

I sighed. He was right: they knew exactly how much fuel we’d launched with and even as we spoke, some asshole with a calculator in the command center was figuring out just how long we’d have to fly in order to burn off fuel to be below the max landing weight.

Sure, in an actual emergency, no one would question fuel dumping. But our only emergency was an ever-worsening hangover, although I began to get the impression that only three of us were actually suffering. Stinkfinger had avoided the beach beer binge both days and actually seemed to be enjoying everyone else’s discomfort. Just one more reason for me to despise his whiny ass.

AF pics 2

Seems like I spent a lot of time hanging out on the wing which was much cooler than the cockpit in the South Pacific heat.

Sawdust bars, or what the Air Force called “survival concentrate,” which was densely packed, dried cornflake cubes the size of a soap bar, was all the survival kit offered. I gnawed silently, washing the sawdust down with tepid tap water, and made a promise to myself that I’d cram some sort of survival food into my flight bag going forward.

I’d usually grab a can of Coke before leaving Base Ops for the jet, and I had a special place just aft of the crew entry door wear the insulation could be peeled back and I’d stow the can next to the external skin where at altitude it would chill just shy of freezing within an hour of takeoff. But I hadn’t bothered, being the spare. How I wished for that cold drink as we cruised over the Marianas Islands and the impossibly blue South Pacific at five thousand feet and three hundred knots.

After landing I spent the rest of the morning sleeping, then hung out at the Officer’s Club pool the rest of the day. Though tropically hot and sticky, regular dips in the pool counteracted the heat and on and off catnapping restored my strength from the early showtime.

“Have you heard anything about the plane,” I asked Widetrack who snoozed on the beach chair next to mine.

“Nope,” he said. “And who cares anyway?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it made sense: the tankers were old and creaky and in the tropical climate, cranky from the heat, humidity, and corrosive salt air. I had heard that one of the BUFFs had also been unable to raise the landing gear so the entire mission was a bust. Copyright 2020 Chris Manno All Rights Reserved.

Read the story: paperback coming soon, Kindle today.

A2PL new cvr F - Amazon blurb

 

 

Here’s Your Chance to Fly With These Guys

Posted in air traveler, airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog with tags , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2020 by Chris Manno

Fly with these guys, I dare you. I did–in fact, that’s me, fourth from the left, standing. The “official” USAF photographer had taken the required group photo, then we as The Wolfpack reverted to our original, crude, f*ck this nonsense attitude.

Wolfpack T38 group 001 (3)

The details and the people above–including Coke, Beldar, Ruff, Animal, Pulsar, Kirb, Dorf, Landshark, and more fly in vivid detail on these pages:

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In this first Kindle installment, you’ll start flying in a Cessna and end up solo and supersonic in a T-38. Then, it’s off to the Pacific in two different USAF squadrons as a pilot. You’ll live Amazon’s #1 rated aviation new release in full detail: the missions, the pilots, the adventures, squadron life and more.

Then, in May, part two will be pushed to your Kindle and you’ll step into the cockpit of the world’s largest airline, as copilot and quickly, as a captain for decades of airline flying in a multitude of jets.

The paperback will be released in May, but why wait? Climb aboard now and let’s fly.

Order your Kindle copy from Amazon for only $9.99 HERE.

What are you waiting for? Strap in, and let’s fly.

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“An Airline Pilot’s Life” is Amazon’s #1 Aviation New Release!

Posted in air travel, airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog with tags , , , , on March 11, 2020 by Chris Manno

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Reserve your Kindle copy by pre-ordering here.

Your copy will be sent to your device in two parts, the first half delivered on March 21, the final half on June 2. Simply set your Kindle device preferences to receive updates and you’ll receive the entire Kindle book for $9.99 (paperback will be $19.99).

A2PL new cvr F - Amazon blurb

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