Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dog Days

If you had 'Summer 2010' in the When Will Gabe Cease Writing Asanine Blog Posts pool, congratulations, you're today's big winner. I always knew in the back of my mind when I started writing this thing that one day I'd get so busy with other things, namely, flying airplanes, that the blog would the first thing to get neglected. What I didn't realize was just how quickly I'd actually forget I had one. It's true; without the help of a few key readers, we'd actually be attending this blog's funeral today instead of sinking out teeth into another 8-10 paragraphs of nonsense. In many ways, we might have been better off at the cemetery. We're almost 1/3 done with August, and I'm finally getting around to publishing a post I started in mid-June. I don't know how much more a blog can be dead without actually being dead.

For people who still stumble towards this site, it's been some fairly routine time in the air with scant moments of terror or otherwise noteworthy events. I don't really have any great stories from a summer's worth of flying, and since I'm on salary I can no longer provide details of my sandwich consuming escapades. So in fairness to all parties-you, the disgruntled reader, me, the overworked and underpaid fledgling blogger, and of course this kid-let's recap the last few months and crank out another post and stave off the inevitable demise of this blog for at least another month. Everybody wins right? I won't make any promises, but check back in a few weeks and maybe I'll have something else here too.

It's 8:15 A.M. and I have $23,000 in my pocket. Mine? Nope-if it were, I'd already be downing mai tais and basking in the Caribbean sun. The money in question is designated for flight training, given to me from a few students, and ultimately headed to my company, who by some crazy distortion of a job description, has entrusted me to transport said funds to the bank. I'm a pilot, but days like today my Silver Tauras is transformed into one of these babies for the 4 mile drive to Bank of America. It's one of the many duties that hardly pertain to flying airplanes, but yet are essential in order for me to continue cashing paychecks. Other tasks include, but definitely not limited to, emptying trash, mopping floors, scrubbing down sinks, and making sure I don't forget my glass slippers on the way out of the midnight ball.

Even if my life were as simple as just flying airplanes; I'd still be overwhelmingly busy. As I totaled up my logbook last night, I came away with some staggering numbers: in the past four months I've flown 392 hours, more than doubling my time to where it sits today at 730 flight hours. It's been a grueling pace and has taken its toll in ways too numerous to count. I honestly will never know or understand how I've been able to survive it. Countless days have been spent entirely at the airport, often arriving before 7AM and leaving well after midnight, resting in between each flight or ground lesson with barely enough time to eat a meal standing up, on the run, or, in the case of a few days, in the airplane. Any sembalance of a normal existence is long gone from my life; I said a year ago that I all I wanted to do was fly airplanes. Wish granted-it's all I ever do. Plenty of sacrifices have been made, and there's probably an infinite amount that I've yet to make. The good news is that I still absolutely love to fly airplanes. The same joy I felt on my first lesson is still the prevailing factor in why I do what I do. Even on the worst of days, when the temperature probe reads 105 degrees inside the airplane and I'm getting tossed around the air like a ball of Papa John's dough and my student is doing everything he can to try to kill me, there is simply nothing I'd rather be doing than flying airplanes. I still consider myself impossibly lucky to be a pilot.

The bad news is that I've decided I hate writing about flying. It's also possible that I hate writing in general, but mostly I loathe trying to recreate the excitement and drama that comes with having a job as an instructor pilot. It would be far more interesting if I were to mount a video camera on the windshield aimed towards capturing my facial expressions If there's any billionaire television executives among my readership, please email me; we're sitting on a gold mine. Our first episode would feature me rolling my eyes in disgust as I sit through another excrutiatingly painful story about how great of a helicopter pilot my student claims to be while botching a routine maneuver. Later, during our debriefing session on the ground, a computer could record my brainwaves as I drift off towards thoughts of pizza and tacos instead of focusing on teaching him the Federal Aviation Regulations. And finally, as he boats to the other instructors in the office about how great his lesson went, I'll be just a few feet behind, making repeated throat-slash gestures, warning the other pilots NOT to fly with him. This would be entertaining TV.

Please don't get the wrong idea: I am very fortunate to have the job I've got, and I especially enjoy the teaching aspect of it. There are, however, the occassional goons who sign up for our multi-engine training program and come in with a multitude of aviation experience, and thus, believe they are God's chosen gift to aviation. I've learned that it's the arrogant, cocky, and boastful pilots usually require my absolute full attention during their flights, as they prove to be among the weakest in terms of ability. My mantra from Day 1 as a student pilot was to be humble and teachable and soak up as much knowledge as I could from those willing to invest in me. The majority of my trainees are this way and it's a pleasure to bring them along in their aviation journey. But the others...make me almost not want to fly. Almost.

For now, I continue to plow ahead with my head down and focused on my goals. In a few months, I'll hit 1,000 hours, a milestone that most days still seems unbelievably far away. With my multi-engine experience, I should be in a decent position when the regional airlines start hiring again. While I don't want to get my hopes up, there are hints of an impending pilot shortage, talks of industry growth over the next few years, and a surprising optimism surrounding aviation that hasn't been around since well before I started flying. I reflect an awful lot, probably more than I should, but as I make the final rounds at the airport before heading home, emptying the trash and vacuuming the ground school classrooms, my prevailing feeling is just how happy I am to be established on the journey. And regardless of how it all turns out, vindication that I made a great decision.

One more random story from my life, and then we're done:

Sometime in May, we received notice of an upcoming meeting scheduled for early Friday morning. Begrudgingly we gathered at the airport and learned the bad news: our company had decided to close our downtown Atlanta location, meaning us flight instructors turned into professional movers, complete with U-Haul trucks, dollys, and standard issue moving clothes. It was possibly the last thing any of us instructor pilots wanted to do with our Friday. After spending the entire day hauling filing cabinets, desks, and even ferrying airplanes across the city to our newer location out in the suburbs, we were nearly finished as I grabbed two large glass picture frames in each hand, and proceeded to haul them across the hanger. A simple task, right? I reached the 3/4 mark point, and just as I looked down and noticed the sweat dripping down towards my right hand, one of the picture frames slipped from my grasp, and as I shuffled to try and prevent it from shattering on the ground, the other frame split open on my hand, gashing my thumb down the middle, spilling blood all over the freshly painted hangar floor. I was no longer a professional mover-I was now a professional idiot. My disdain for hospitals notwithstanding, I shrugged off the injury as needing only a Bandaid and I'd be good to go. After all I still had a flight to complete that night, and not even amputation would stop me from going. But in just a few minutes, it became clear the injury was more severe than I thought. By now the pool of blood on the floor was accumulating rapidly. Our Chief Pilot ran over and instructed another pilot to load me in his car and head for the ER immediately. What? Six hours later, I emerged victoriously from the Gwinnett County Medical Center, with 9 stitches and a bandage covering my entire right hand. I made my flight that night, but a few weeks later, when the injury hadn't healed properly, I earned a well-deserved week long vacation as my company implemented a forced rest period while the now-infected hand injury cleared up. Now, I've done some awfully crazy things so far in my career as a pilot. I've certainly flown through weather I shouldn't have, and without a doubt have been saved from a mid-air collision or two by mere seconds. Apparently neither of those things are as dangerous as helping your boss move a few boxes around. And so last month, when a few of the other instructors helped somebody move apartments, I was hardly surprised when a company memo surfaced, instructing me to sit this one out.


  1. Don't worry about the blog - you've got more important things to tend to like much-needed, infrequent rest! If writing isn't something you love, then giving it up isn't a bad choice at all. I will say that I think nearly all of your posts are very well-written and often hilarious, but to each their own. Best of luck as you keep racking up the hours!

    (And yes, a visit to Ohio and Stearman ride would be fun).

  2. oh Gabe, I hope you don't stop writing! I've missed your posts, and am glad you're back, at least for one more post :)