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

Friday, June 25, 2010

Twenty turns about a star…

Right about now in 1990, I was sitting on my bed in some nondescript motel in Wichita, surrounded by manuals for the Swearingen (later Fairchild) SA226 Metroliner II and Air Midwest, the company who owned the several dozen I was training to fly, and I was probably trying to find a radio station that wasn't playing M.C. Hammer or C&C Music Factory.



I could - not - believe - I was there.


I had about 800 hours, only about 100 in multi-engine airplanes. I don't think I'd flown ten hours in actual instrument conditions or shot more than a handful of approaches to published minimums, and I had yet to "go missed" or divert to an alternate. Air Midwest's hiring minimums were 1500 total and 300 multi-engine, but they were known to make exceptions for college aviation degree holders. I was the one from my school that year.

I had yet to (legally) buy a beer. Yet I was about to spend six weeks preparing to take joint responsibility for 19 poor souls at a whack who'd discovered Air Midwest's de facto company motto, "It's Us, or the Bus," and found themselves crouching to strap their rear ends to something that looked like a sewer pipe and a cruise missile had taken a shine to each other - one of the few airplanes I know of that's significantly longer than its wingspan.

It had no autopilot. It had no autothrottle. It had no flight director. It was an ergonomic disaster set to the buzzing throb of two engines that idled at 70% of their maximum speed. It would supposedly fly on one engine - after the gear was up, although it often required the extra 200 rabid hamsterpower that water injection afforded it to stagger into the air in the first place. But good God, when it all worked, which it nearly always did, could it ever haul ass. 250 knots is the speed limit below 10,000 feet, and the Metroliner had a killjoy redline on its airspeed indicator at 248, but we all knew it was easily a 330-360 knot airplane - and it was built so brick-outhouse-like, it felt like it could punch a hole right through the middle of a Kansas thunderstorm and come out the other side wearing the same evil grin under its needle-nose, with those damned direct-drive Garretts still shrieking like banshees, seeming to tell the world what it could do if it had some eff-ing problem with airplane noise.

About a quarter of them didn't even have flight instruments on the right side of the cockpit, and we FO's had to look off of the Captain's Jepp charts, but we were still expected to "pull our weight" and fly half of the four to ten (yes, that's one-zero, TEN) legs a day on our schedule, flying cross-panel through the same weather-concentrated slice of troposphere they did. We were always in the goo, in the bumps, in the ice. The only weather we could out-climb was fog. The guys I flew with there were the best I've ever seen, and I owe so much of what I've learned about flying to them.

Soddamn Inssein invaded Kuwait that same summer, and struggling Air Midwest began its long, pitiful slide into extinction by selling its Brasilias, Slaabs, and Junkstreams - and furloughing me. But after a long 80 days, I was back, and later that next year reluctantly kissed my friend the Metro goodbye as our new owner, Mesa, force-fed us Beechcraft 1900C's faster than we could train for them. Apparently, Larry Risley preferred airplanes that cost more, weighed more, used more fuel, and broke down more often, but carried the same number of people (but with their bags - in the same plane!) in marginally better comfort.

I'd have gone back to the Metro before you could say "buzzkill."

A couple of long years later, that's just what I did. My old Metroliner ground school instructor, Ben Crawford, had long since gone to work for SkyWest, so I tracked him down and got an interview there. The pilots interviewing me seemed suspicious and asked me point-blank why I wanted to make a "lateral" career move. I couldn't help but laugh.

A few weeks later, SkyWest's Camielle Ence called to offer me a class date of February 9, 1994, which, of course, I didn't yet know was about ten months before my "camping trip" in Martinez Canyon which would give me the idea for my "Christmas in Kydex" post.

Camielle apologetically told me the class would be for their Metroliner III, but that a Brasilia slot would probably open to me within a year. Would I be ok with that?

"That's just fine, Camielle," I managed to choke out with my heart in my throat.

"I love Metros."

8 comments:

  1. Love love LOVE your entries and how much passion you have! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. THANK YOU! What a beautiful compliment!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I remember flying in a Metroliner III between Austin and San Antonio, TX way back when. It was a memorable flight for many reasons not the least of which was how small the plane was.

    I found a bunch of Metroliners being restored in San Marcos, TX. Here's a link to some pictures that I took of them:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rafaelmarquez/4737888740/in/photostream/

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think the Metroliner may become the DC-3 of the turboprops - they'll be flying one, somewhere, forever. You just can't beat them for reliability and efficiency.

    Thanks for commenting!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great reflection! Thanks for posting. With a degree in Aviation from Auburn (just a couple of years after you were studying in that hotel room) and having been away from flying for a number of years, it's great to connect with someone with as much candor and passion as you show.

    And, I agree on the Hammer and C&C Music Factory comment....more of a hairmetal guy myself...just don't hold it against me!

    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for that, Chris. Gee, that's two people that have used the word "passionate" about this post - yet I didn't really intend it as such when I wrote it. Could it be I love those Metros even more than I think I do? ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Love this Blog !! At the ripe old age of 18, back in 1982...I flagged in my First Metro Liner with about 10 minutes of How TO...lol. I could barely carry the chokes :) And of course wearing a skirt and knowing I was New (all others were Male) the Captain had to try to blow my skirt up ;) Getting my First Salute and watching that plane take off was the day I fell in Love with my Job :) And being 5'2" I was short enough to walk the plane and make sure everyone was buckled in and did Introductions of the Crew to the Passengers, and giving comments on weather etc... for the flight :) I have a Painting of a Metro that one of our Pilots painted for me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sorry it took so long to post your comment, Carla, and thanks for the feedback! The Metro will always hold a special place in my heart, and I'm sure I'll find more about them to write about in the future. Hope you'll drop by and check things out now and then!

    ReplyDelete

An aviation love story...

Twilight landing at LAX

Martinez Canyon Rescue