Monday, July 21, 2008

Crew meals

Yesterday I talked about passenger catering so today I'll talk about our crew catering (shown here at left). This has got to be a huge expense for any private airline. In some of the bigger cities, the delivery charges for just bringing out the food can be significant. The food, on the whole, is very well prepared and presented. It is also usually more exotic than what I get at home. Fruit cups often include mango or kiwi. Desserts, my downfall, are usually freshly baked (my personal favorite: lemon squares). The one side dish we get that I don't understand: toast. Pretty hard to reheat toast....

Yesterday morning we left late enough to get breakfast at the hotel. We had our lunch delivered to the airport where we spent the night - a ski resort in California. Our first leg was pretty short, just a reposition so we stored our meals in a closet until we had time to eat them. Then a cross country flight, where well packed meals that fit easily on your lap are much appreciated. Eating makes those five hour legs go by more quickly.... Unfortunately for us, we got the wrong meals by mistake. They were obviously made for a crew that had already departed, but because ours hadn't been delivered yet, they were the only ones there. My partner enjoyed a roast beef sandwich, while I ate the PB&J. I love PB&J, and it got me thinking: what other countries enjoy these customarily american sandwiches?

And one more picture - just in case you've never seen a picture of what ski runs look like when it's NOT winter. Looks like green trails running down the side of the mountain. I went to Vail once in the summer and there was still plenty to do. They still had a couple of the lifts running so people could hike down the ski runs. All the workers in orange that you see here were eager to get us going because they were trying to repave the ramp. We taxied out to the end of the runway and tried to call on the Oakland Center frequency to get our clearance (there was no tower). No one could hear us on the radio over the mountains, so we had to taxi BACK to the ramp and call for our clearance to takeoff where we knew they could hear us. Another one of those "inconveniences" we have to deal with on this job. I'm not complaining. I am still on a honeymoon working here!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Calories in, calories out

Ok, so I talked about the need for exercise on the road. It's of all the food I seem to consume at work. I know, I know, it's all willpower, of which I have none. Private airlines are able to cater food to the airplane for the passengers, and they also do this for the pilots, since it keeps us satisfied and safe (who wants a hungry, tired, grumpy pilot?). A lot of times, this food is awesome! At the very least, it is way more food than I should be eating on any given day. Hence all the exercise I have to do on the road. Yesterday I ran along Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, where the fog was so thick it felt like rain. It was fun!

Anyway, let's cover the passenger catering first. It is delivered to the FBO by a caterer, which may be on site, at a nearby restaurant, etc. Since there is no flight attendant on our airplane (no stove or refrigerator either), we are limited to what we can provide "self serve." Yes, we do get people ordering filet mignon or some such, and we have to run into the FBO and heat it up in the microwave based on the passenger's estimated departure time. If they are late, often their food gets cold...

But most people order some pretty standard stuff: a cheese and cracker, fruit, sandwich, veggie, or dessert tray. Some all order all of the above, and I'm left staring at all this leftover delicious food.... Anyway, enough about my tapeworm (as my co-pilot calls it). Most pilots will give this leftover food to the ramp crews at the destination if the passengers leave it behind (thank goodness!).

Our passengers yesterday, for example, ordered simple sandwiches, a salad, cookies, and a quart of fresh ice tea. The caterers pack it up nicely with condiments and tableware, and we put it all in a drawer that we reserve for just such a thing. Sometimes all the food doesn't fit here, and we have to get creative storing it.

They did leave behind the cookies, btw, so I had two oatmeal raisin cookies for dinner....

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Baggage compartment

Another thing I really like about the Citation X is the baggage compartment. I know, it's a strange think to like. No one says, "I really like my car's trunk." However, if you had come from the Beechjet, like I did, you would appreciate this statement. In the BE40, there was just a small compartment that you had to contort yourself near to get the bags in the luggage compartment which was angled back into the tail underneath the engine nacelle (mount). You could always tell a Beechjet pilot because invariably, the pilot would back up and stand right under the engine and get a smudge of dirty oil across his or her shoulder that would never wash out. They also usually had back problems.

The biggest thing I have to worry about with going to the baggage compartment in the X is, I'm afraid, hearing protection. Balling up little earplugs and sticking them in your ears is such a pain! You gotta put em in to walk back there, take em out to walk over to talk to people around you, and most importantly have a convenient place to store them (they are always dropping out of my pocket). However, being deaf would be much more inconvenient. Problem solved with some earplugs I can wear around my neck. Tension on the neckpiece keeps them deep enough in my ear to block the noise coming from the APU (the small engine to power the aircraft systems previously discussed). Pilots' hearing is checked periodically throughout the year. If you can't hear radio calls or little symptomatic signals from the airplane's systems, you won't make a very good pilot.

The trick to this compartment is this tri-fold ladder. I'm just tall enough to grab the top of the ladder and unfold it down. I am also just small enough to be able to completely crawl into the baggage compartment and move bags around in order to stack them in the best way possible. Some folks can bring a lot of bags! There is even a cut out up there so that you can stand golfclub bags upright. And a hanging bar, if anyone brings a garment bag. We also keep various covers for the airplane back there, along with extra water bottles and a toolbox with parts for any maintenance issues we experience on the road (we pilots don't/can't perform any maintenance on the airplane).
The pictures you see here are of me unloading the life raft that is usually stored in the baggage compartment and inaccessible during flight. However, if we are doing an overwater route, this raft is moved into the cabin, just in case. We were flying over water yesterday, from Michigan to Wisconsin, but the baggage compartment had to be empty because of a maintenance issue. The baggage compartment is pressurized using air directed from the cabin. However, since the pressurization system wasn't working as advertised, we couldn't fly to our maintenance base pressurized so we flew over below 10,000 ft (a safe altitude for human life). Our maintenance manual for the airplane says if the baggage compartment is unpressurized, it also must be empty, hence moving the raft into the cabin. It was also good training for me, to see how unwieldly, in fact, a 65 pound life raft can be!

Hotel Amenities

You're probably wondering why I have a picture of a toilet on my pilot's blog. Well, this is about "life on the road" and a big portion of our job is spent traveling to and from and staying in all types of hotels. They can run the gamut from luxurious to barely habitable. Luckily my employer does send us to nicer hotels, and the "barely habitable" ones" are only selected where there are no other rooms in town and the only other alternative is sleeping in the airplane.
There are a few things you would expect to be in any hotel room; a bed, a bathroom, a tv, etc. Additionally, most of the hotels we stay at will give us internet, and as previously mentioned, a fitness room, spa level toiletries. There are so many things that can go wrong in a hotel; for instance, I have learned that before I start unpacking, I make sure that I completely check the room for cleanliness. It's one thing to walk into a room that's already assigned to someone else (awkward!) or obviously hasn't been visited by housekeeping, but it's frustrating to have unpacked, removed and hung up your uniform, only to find a mess in the bathroom. The front desk will usually offer another room, but who wants to pack up again and move??
Then there are the times where there is a mass of school kids traveling to a hockey game or something that are so loud you can't get any sleep. Or maybe the person next to you just likes the late night Letterman show on REALLY LOUD. I carry earplugs for such situations, like last night when I could hear all the freeway traffic.
So to answer why I have pictures of a toilet. I haven't see these kinds of toilets since left Japan. There called Toto toilets and they make available sprays of water to help in cleanliness. There is also, a nice perk here in Michigan, a heated seat feature.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

It occurred to me that the picture of the rope "chocks" didn't make it into the previous post. I also thought that I should take a picture of the usual chocks so you'd understand the difference.

Today's trips took us from NJ to Houston, where it was unbelievably hot. The funny thing was, the FBO people there said, "you should have seen it last week."

The really nice thing about flying the Citation X is having an APU (auxiliary power unit) which can run the air conditioning before the engines are started. Unfortunately, we can't always stay in the airplane. We have to get out to greet and board the passengers and load their bags in the back. Rain, sleet or snow.

There are a very few FBOs that have canopies we can park under, but they're pretty rare.

The picture shown here is in Louisiana, where showers moved in over the field while we were waiting for our next passengers. Sometimes I wonder why I bother styling my hair in the morning when I know it'll be flat within the hour!

Another day on the road

In my hurry to get breakfast at the hotel this morning (we had a relatively late 8:18am show to make up for our previous pre-dawn shows), I posted the pictures from yesterday onto the blog with no text. Sorry, redo....

So, we started the day in New Jersey where the ramp was crowded with airplanes. I think this is an awe-inspiring sight. We had to taxi over to another FBO (sometimes our passengers prefer one over the other) where we saw this poor little (beaver, groundhog?) trying to escape off the ramp. I can't imagine his or her disorientation created by very large, very metallic, very LOUD creatures moving around him. Occasionally you will see an animal, stray dog or fox, loping down a taxiway. Some airports have warnings saying "deer in vicinity of airport" so many pilots will "buzz" over the runway before coming in to land. Hitting a deer with an airplane can be catastrophic (if you've seen the damage to a car, imagine an airplane). If there are personnel working at the airport we let them know and they'll chase the "intruders" away.

We flew up to Ontario, Canada, where we spent a few hours awaiting passengers attending a meeting. Its beautiful up there in the spring and summer, but I can imagine the winter is wicked. The Captain noticed that instead of using wood or rubber chocks (usually triangular blocks placed around the gear to prevent the airplane from rolling while parked (we don't leave the parking brake set when we leave the airplane because the line crew may need to move it when we're not around to unlock the door), they used fat lengths of rope. My theory is that the typical chocks would freeze and break in the winter months and they had just gotten used to using the rope all year round. Any other theories?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Workouts, part II

I wrote previously about trying to get good running routes on the road. Since I run only other day (or try to), the other days I try to do some other form of aerobic conditioning with some weight training. Luckily, most hotels that we stay at have some kind of fitness center. The quality varies, from a barely usable 1980s era stair stepper, to the high tech ellipticals or the equivalent with a tv screen right in the console! If I'm lucky, there will be free weights or machines.
However, some days we have to be at the airport at 6, 5, or even 4 in the morning. As you can probably imagine, getting up at 3am is hard enough, much less getting up in time to workout. I had to do that at the start of this tour, but there was good news. I was flying to SWF, or Newburg, NY, where my friend Kim (a GWW and recently commissioned in the Air National Guard) was drilling with her new unit. We were only able to spend a few minutes together, as she had to get back to work and I had to get the airplane ready to fly to TEB (yes, ending up back at the trails through the Meadowlands (I call them a swamp...). But pictured the C5s at Kim's unit, seen on final approach into the airport as I was airlining to my airplane.
Our airplane had a maintenance issue, so we were done after our flight to TEB, Teterboro, NJ. They did have a nice workout room, so I had to force myself to go workout in the evening. I am much more of a morning person. But again, we had a 4am show, so I knew I couldn't work out in the morning. Same thing today. Ended up in TEB late in the day, so I switched to running.
One can work out on the road, but you have to stay disciplined. It is SO easy to just go back to the room and veg. With all the food we can get on the road, though. I would soon outgrow my uniform!

Monday, July 14, 2008


Ever visit an airport and see the name of the airport painted in big white letters on the ground ? Maybe a colorful "starburst" looking design? That, my friends, is a compass rose. These are part of a larger program of navigational aids for pilots. My local chapter (Lake Erie) of the 99s painted the compass rose at Geauga County Airport (7G8) a couple of days ago. The rest of this posting includes excerpts from an article written by Ellen Nobles-Harris and published in 99NEWS Magazine March/April 2002.

Next time you go flying, look down at the airport and the surrounding buildings. You may notice markings pointing to the airport and will probably see the airport name painted on the field. This program of identifying airports to pilots was started as the National Air Marking Program. This program was the first U.S. government program conceived, planned and directed by a woman with an all-woman staff. The program was a part of the Bureau of Air Commerce.

In 1933, Phoebe F. Omlie was appointed Special Assistant for Air Intelligence of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics - NACA (forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - NASA.) The following year Phoebe convinced the chief of the Airport Marking and Mapping Section of the Bureau of Air Commerce to institute a program where each state would participate and better identify its towns and cities from the air.

Under the program, a state was divided into sections of 20 square miles. Where possible, a marker with the name of the nearest town was painted on the roof of the most prominent building at each 15-mile interval. If the towns were far apart, white painted ground markers, such as rocks and bricks, were used.

At the time that the program was established, few pilots were flying on established airways or had the benefit of radios. With the aid of markers, even the most inexperienced pilots could determine where they were.

The program was funded as a system of state grants from the Works Progress Administration. Not only was this the first appropriation of funds specifically set up to aid private pilots, but it was also hoped that the program would provide jobs for the unemployed and would establish valuable permanent airway aids. By the middle of 1936, 30 states were actively involved in the program, with approvals given for 16,000 markers at a cost of about one million dollars.

In 1935, Phoebe chose five leading women pilots as field representatives for the program; Louise Thaden, Helen Richey, Blanche Noyes, Nancy Harkness and Helen McCloskey. At the time, these women were very well known in aviation.

Phoebe continued as head of the program until it was well on its way to being a success. She then returned to her duties at NACA. But then came the war. After the bombing at Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. Government determined that marked airports along the east and west coast were obvious targets for enemy identification and attack. Consequently, Blanche Noyes, who had set about the work of marking some 13,000 sites, went about the work of blacking out those very markings she and her team of women pilots had diligently created.

In a Christian Science Monitor magazine article in 1943, Blanche remarked, "Once in a while I get a little jittery wondering if some particularly zealous airplane spotter might mistake me for an enemy ship and shoot me down and ask questions later, for of course I'm flying constantly over restricted areas. Too, one small mistake in my clearance papers might cause me to make a `sudden' landing, for if is my experience that the Ground Observers Corps is certainly doing a crack job as far as aircraft spotting is concerned!"

After World War II, Blanche Noyes was in charge of the air marking division of the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Blanche believed that it was critical to not only replace the airport markings that were removed during the war for security reasons, but also to add even more navigational aids. And thus the work began all over again.

Today, Ninety-Nines carry on the tradition and fulfill the need for airmarkings by volunteering their time to paint the airport names, compass rose symbols and other identifications on airports. Some of the letters in the airport name can be 50 feet tall. And, Ninety-Nines airmark airports based on need, which many times takes them far from their local areas. When Ninety-Nine members in Alaska did airmarkings last year, some members traveled up to 300 air miles to meet at the designated airport.

Funding for the airmarking program no longer comes from the national government. After Blanche Noyes's husband was killed in the crash of his Beachcraft Staggerwing, Blanche devoted her energies to the Air Marking Program as a way of overcoming her grief. She became one of its most ardent supporters, so much so that when the federal funds for the program ran out, she flew all over the country to gain financial support from local chambers of commerce and civic groups.

Our chapters are still doing this. For example, the Anchorage (Alaska) Municipal Airport Advisory Commission asked the Alaska Chapter to mark a reporting point. A bright yellow theater which had been a reporting point for years was converted to a school and painted gray, making it a tough one to spot. With support from the FAA and local aviation businesses, they were able to educate the school district on why they wanted to paint a name on the roof. They had to work with the contractor who had installed a new roof so that the warranty would not be voided. The paint recommended cost $1,600. The paint was funded by Merrill Field businesses. This effort received some wonderful coverage from two local TV stations.

And the airmarking efforts of The Ninety-Nines involves more than putting names on rooftops. For example: The Colorado Chapter painted the numbers and aiming points on a new 7,000 foot runway. Many chapters have painted compass roses at airports to be used for swinging airplane compasses.

Since The Ninety-Nines is a charitable organization, we normally ask the airport or local or state government to supply the paint. Some airport businesses will also supply the paint. Normally the chapter will provide rollers and tools and the women and men to do the marking and painting.

So the next time you're flying, look down and imagine flying your biplane over those small towns in the late 1930s and how comforting it must have been to see that runway with your destination's name clearly painted on it. For that you could thank early members of The Ninety-Nines for leading the way in the airmarking efforts of the 20th century. If you would like further information on airmarking, please contact our Airmarking Chair.

You can see by the pictures that a compass rose is huge and requires coordinated team work. A compass rose usually requires two days to lay out the pattern and paint it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Girls With Wings and Touching History

Just in case you missed the announcement in the last newsletter, we have a special promotion for Full Flight Crewmembers (Support Crewmembers: upgrade your membership!). GWW Flight Crewmembers will be sent a free copy of this book with any order from the online GWW store (current and new Flight Crew). Email for limited offer details. If you are not receiving the newsletter, please add to your address book.

Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies over America on 9/11, a recent book out by GWW Lynn, is a definite success. See her schedule of upcoming speaking events.

Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies over America on 9/11

Finally . . . the complete story. Simon & Schuster presents the gripping, inspiring minute-by-minute account of the heroic battle in the skies on 9/11.

The story of the astonishing drama that played out in the skies and in the military installations and air traffic control towers on 9/11 has never before been pieced together and portrayed in a vivid moment-to-moment drama.

In this riveting book, commercial pilot Lynn Spencer brilliantly brings that drama to pulse-quickening life. She went on a quest to interview the vast number of people caught on the front lines in an unprecedented air war in which thousands of commercial pilots with flights in the air, air traffic controllers, military commanders, and jet fighter pilots snapped into stirring action. Calling on their exceptional preparedness and unflinching readiness to put their lives on the line, they improvised a defense against a shocking threat the nature and extent of which they could have no comprehension as the events unfolded.

Her sources include hundreds of key players, from Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers to the FAA's command chief, to the general in command of air defense for the United States, the controllers who tracked the hijacked flights, and the fighter pilot, who, with no weapons loaded on his jet, unquestioningly accepted an order to take down United 93 with his own plane.

Lynn Spencer has crafted a powerful and vital account of the unknown story of the pivotal day in American life.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The First Women's Aviation Day in Hungary 2008

Several months ago I started getting emails from a woman in Hungary wanting to promote women in aviation in her own country. I complimented Irina on her ambitious goals and wished her the best of luck. Well, I am happy to say that she has come through with flying colors! I just wish I could make it...

Here is her invitation:

Hi Lynda,

We would like to invite You and Your girlfrinds, who love aviation to the First Women's Aviation Day Hungary 2008

Patner - Organizatiorrs : Pannon Air Service & Diamond Aircraft Com

Date and Time: 26 th. July 2008 ( Saturday ) from 10.00-a.m to 27 th. July 2008 ( Sunday )
till 16.00- h.m
Place of Event : Aero Hotel Jakabszállás :
Booking of the rooms at the hotel's reception

The main page of the event :

Our Honoured Guests : Dr.Peggy Chabrian President
Mag.Markus Scharinger Sales Director

Come and visit us, we invite all the ladies who like aviation !

Best Regard

Irina & Attila Sinkó Aviatrix

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Run like the wind

I was kind of struggling for a topic to post on the blog. No significant weather or maintenance issues, and I've been sworn to secrecy about my passengers...
My flight training partner, who you met in a previous post, suggested I talk about eating right and exercising while traveling. First, the exercising, especially with my being 39, is really important to staying alert and feeling good on a pilot's crazy schedule. (Have you seen the picture of the 41 year old olympic swimmer?? Shown at left courtesy a NYT article - I've subtitled it "My hero!")
We might have to show up at the airport at 4 am one day and then fly until 4 am the next. Most hotels we stay at have fitness centers, which I try to visit every other day. The other days I try to run.
I'll stop at the front desk to ask for recommendations, and every once in a while get lucky and get to run along a wooded trail or river path. Sometimes I have to run around an outlet mall or industrial park. Not very scenic, but listening to NPR on my player helps.
Sometimes the hotel clerk is clearly NOT a runner. For example, day before yesterday the clerk said I could take a left and then a right, and I'd find a park. Ok, discovering said park, but a swingset in an open lot does not do me any good! I ended up doing my 6 miles around the city blocks. This morning I ran around trails around a marsh in New Jersey. The actual trail was nice, but the sight of the murky muck and the smell was not so.
I also try to leave word at the front desk about where I'm going and when I should be back, just in case...
More later. Have a great day!

Saturday, July 05, 2008


I spent last night in Bangor again, and had the opportunity to walk down from the hotel to the waterfront to watch the fireworks display. I don't always get to see fireworks, because I'm usually working. Meaning not only on the road, but actually flying. You can actually see fireworks from altitude, but not the way you might think. If you're several miles in the air and the fireworks only a thousand feet up, you have to look down to see them (it's not like you're flying through them). So you can just look down and see bursts of color on the ground. Cool, but not as impressive as watching a fireworks display from the ground.
Happy Independence Day!
p.s. Wikipedia has a great article on the names of the different bursts. Name your favorite.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Lost baggage

Well, it finally happened. After ten years of flying for regional and fractional airlines, the commercial airline that brought me to the airplane for this week's tour neglected to send my suitcase all the way along with me. I know it's safer to carry all of your suitcases on the plane with you, but it gets so tiring lugging that thing around and maneuvering it down the aisle. So usually I just check it. I had to change airlines on my commute from Cleveland to Monterey, so I should have known it would get lost in the shuffle.

Since we had to fly the airplane to Pendleton, OR, there wasn't a way to get my bag other than have it, my suitcase, travel to Bangor, ME (on the redeye, no less), so it could meet up with me the next day. I spent a night in the hotel without all of my gear. Makes you wonder why you pack so much stuff when you can see what you can do without. OK, maybe for just a night. I didn't have my workout clothes with me, and I try to work out every day, that includes on the road. Plus two days in the same shirt is hard on the other pilot (or at least his olefactory glands).

I couldn't work out this morning either (couldn't being a relative word), because we had a 4AM show at the airport FBO to sit standby. I couldn't get up any earlier than 2:45. Seriously. Sometimes you just have to concede to human's propensity for sleep. I don't know how long we'll be sitting here, but since there is no wireless (usually standard in most FBOs) the time is going to go a lot more slowly....

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The July Girls With Wings eZine is out!

Just in case you aren't yet subscribed to the eZine, we just wanted to let you know about some of the great stories in there...

For example, congratulations are in order for GWW Kim, who received her commission as a Second Lieutenant (2LT) in the USAF Air National Guard last week. She will soon be attending flight schools in Mississippi and Texas for over a year and will be returning to the New York Air Guard's 137th Airlift Squadron, 105th Airlift Wing, flying the C-5A "Galaxy." She will be updating her bio soon to let others know how they might follow in her footsteps. We are so proud of you, Kim.
I was honored to administer her oath to the State of New York. I had to drive roundtrip from Cleveland to Knoxville to do it (this 8 hour trip that really took 10 each way, what with construction and rain, not that I'm complaining...), but was honored to have been invited to attend the ceremonies. Kim has been an active, visible, and dedicated volunteer with Girls With Wings from the start. She found the website while she was just looking in to flight lessons, and we GWWs shared in her quest to find out all of her options and opportunities. The Air Guard is looking for fewer and fewer pilots, so her acceptance into officer school and flight school is a reflection of her great qualities, intelligence, maturity and personality just to name a few.
Her parents, seen pinning on her 2LT rank at left, were understandably proud. Her daughter was just one of a handful of women in her training class. I spoke to the captain in charge of her training, and she said Kim had a "steep learning curve," going from a straight civilian to an officer in just six weeks. We both think Kim is destined for great things. I hope that you will drop her a line to wish her well and stay tuned to the website for updates on her training in the T-6A Texan and T-1 Jayhawk.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lynda and Brenda

I was so lucky my first tour to end up at KVNY (Van Nuys, CA) on my first tour. The airport is just a few minutes away from the home of the first ever Girls With Wings Scholarship Winner: Brenda!
The 2008 Scholarship will be announced next month. We are always looking for donations - we seek to encourage more new pilots: the only requirement is that the applicant cannot have yet received her private pilot's license.
Wherever I go, I try to keep in mind who's in the local area. Unfortunately, at my job we never know where we're going too far in advance and it's always subject to change. Once we get to our intended destination there's no telling how long we'll be there. If we are the back up for another trip, we might have to do a "quick turn," grabbing fuel, supplies, and our clearance and go! That's why I love this kind of flying. I got bored with the scheduled commercial airlines. Going the same places, everyday, at the same time... The only difficult part of this job is getting everyone I know to understand I am completely unable to answer the question, "Where are you flying to tomorrow?"