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]