Posted by: bkivey | 3 September 2011

On The Job Training

Riding on airplanes is, for the most part, a rather mundane affair. You get on, sit down for a while, and get off. If you fly enough, though, you’ll see your share of the unusual and sometimes disconcerting. With luck, the experience will make for a good story; without luck, you won’t be telling the story.

At one time I found myself on a commuter flight from Charlotte to Raleigh. The aircraft was a Beech 99, a small turboprop that seats a little over a dozen people. This was easily the smallest aircraft I’d been on for a commercial flight. The pilot was an older gentleman who looked to be in his 50’s. I prefer to fly with pilots that have some grey in their hair: it means they’ve been around for a while. The copilot was a very young man who appeared to be about 17, but under FAA rules he had to be at least 21, although I wouldn’t have bet on it.

The first thing I noticed on boarding was how small the cabin was. One of the passengers exclaimed “I could fly this thing!” I also noticed that you could see right into the cockpit and read the flight instruments and generally observe the operation of the aircraft. This would turn out not to be such a good thing.

The day was overcast and after takeoff it was a bumpy ride to altitude. It turned out that cruising altitude was right in the clouds, so finding little distraction in the grey surrounding us, I turned my attention to the cockpit. After a few minutes I saw the copilot turning his map this way and that, and it became apparent that he was lost. This went on for a little while until the pilot reached over, oriented the map, and tapped a spot on it. On seeing this a couple of thoughts occurred: I really, really hope the pilot doesn’t keel over, and I wonder if that woman really can fly this thing, because we may need her.

There was a fair crosswind at Raleigh, which made the landing a little more sporty than is common on larger aircraft. The gate was built as a roost for much larger birds, so we had to climb the stairs on the jetway to enter the terminal. When my girlfriend met me she asked where the plane was, because from the gate area no plane was visible. When I walked her over to the window and pointed down, she said “You flew on that?” I didn’t tell her about the OJT in the sky.

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