Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Entering the Pattern!


With profuse thanks to my new friends at aviationnewsfoa.com, I’m all a-twitter (groan) to announce that I'm now a guest blogger for those who are, like myself:

I wrote the following post to introduce myself to their membership, but I was so happy with the way it came out, I just had to post it here as well. Those who think they know me best may even find a surprise or two, so, as always, comments are most welcome - particularly from those with a different surname!

Actually, calling me a Friend of Aviation is like calling Saddam Hussein’s son Uday a Friend of Hedonism (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If I could only live and breathe flying, I’d be deprived. I live it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it, snort it, shoot it, deal it, ogle it, fondle it; if I could get enough of it together in one place I’d stop, drop, and roll around in it then walk around making people smell me.

I could brag that this lusty affair began in my childhood, but I honestly believe it goes far deeper. When my dad told me about my favorite uncle, whom I’ve never met—at least not in the workaday temporal sense—something went “CLICK” inside me and never stopped. B-24 flight engineer/turret gunner Sergeant Raymond “Rudy” Carriker was killed in action April 1, 1944.

Uncle Rudy wanted to be a pilot in the worst way, but lacked the education for an officer’s commission, so he got as close as he could, and the only man to survive their last mission remembered him as a tireless, paternal, tinkering custodian of their plane, Barfly. His baby brother, my dad, also wanted to be a pilot but, like so many have, he waited until the pressure built to an intolerable level before he ignored the bills and learned to fly anyway at age forty-five. “Carriker” is a mangled version of the medieval German title/name “Karcher,” which was, in those days, a guy who drove carts from village to village. So, while my life may not advance my family’s standing in the world one iota, no one can say I didn’t heed the call. Every time I raise my palm and call, “gear up,” I can almost hear Uncle Rudy, and so many Karchers before him cheer, “Go, kid.”

The crowd’s really been going wild this year. In what seems to be a never-ending pattern of me going “zig” when my company goes “zag,” I was just awarded a bid to return to flying the 757/767 internationally after a decade in its narrow-body domestic route system. Now, flying’s flying, don’t get me wrong; but ten years of layovers in places like El Paso, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Raleigh, well, you get the idea. Let’s just say I got a lot of writing done…a LOT of writing. About 200,000 words’ worth, to tell the truth.

I had been forced to fly in the international system for less than a year when I was very new, back in what airline people now call “the good old days” before 9/11. I know it sounds crazy on several levels that flying a 767 internationally could be involuntary, but most pilots avoid bidding “up” until they’re senior enough to have a schedule they can live with, and I was not yet off new-hire probation when they ran out of heroes, I mean volunteers, that year. In other words, the needs of the company had to prevail, and they were (almost) sure I’d do just fine. If I didn’t, they’d be ok; they’d just find someone else who would. No pressure.

I’d been hired as a flight engineer on the 727, so that first time through 767 training, I hadn’t touched a control yoke in nearly a year. That last one was attached to bellcranks and pushrods with which I manually moved controls to an airplane that carried 30 people in only moderate discomfort for up to 90 minutes at 300 miles per hour.

I awoke from what seemed like another of my bizarre dreams to find myself over the Amazon jungle in a 200-ton behemoth with power-everything, auto-pilots and -throttles, and a cockpit full of CRTs I could double dribble in. It was great, but it didn’t take much coffee to stay eyes-bugged-out alert all night long, and being a “junior puke” on reserve kept me from my new family far too much, so I squeaked like a wheel and squealed like a pig until They finally let me step down a few pegs on that scary-tall ladder.

Just last month, after only ten years of domestic flying, two weeks of ground school, two weeks of simulator training (the subject of an earlier blog post) and a couple of days of international ground school, it was finally time for my Operational Experience, or OE, trip with an instructor pilot. Time to stop trying to drink from a fire hydrant and just step headlong into the stream

This is the part where I think everyone expects me to digress into a long, for some tedious travelogue of what we did on that trip to Paris and the others since, and how and why we did them, but that’s where I’m hoping to carve my own little niche within the pack (ok, the den) of aviation writers.

My literary wings can’t get enough exercise just flapping about my trips from perch to perch, but neither is my artistic wingspan big enough to effortlessly toy with the zephyrs and thermals all day like the seagulls we all so admire. I’d like to consider myself more like, let’s say, a falcon: I fly for a purpose: I fly to survive. That said, I still enjoy the hell out of it and work at it every second to get as good as I can be, to live as well as I can live, by my craft.

My glare belies my pleasure, and my grin belies my purpose, so I write—and hope you’ll understand.

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