Part of my duties of preparing the aircraft for flight, is an external pre-flight of the aircraft. I basically just walk around the plane and make sure there aren’t big chunks missing, puddles forming, and ensure it’s ready and safe for flight. I have a fancy neon green jumper that I get to wear. This ensures that no crazed ramp worker runs me over, and I believe in enhances my overall appeal.

Most of the time there is nothing too exciting about the pre-flight. I found a puddle of hydraulic fluid under one of the main landing gear once. Turned out to be a strut leak, and we had to get a different aircraft. Another time I had to close a panel that was left open, really exciting stuff.

Yesterday I found a box outside the aircraft on the baggage loader. On the outside of it was labeled ‘Perishable human tissue’ and ‘Kidney’. Now this isn’t very far out of the ordinary for airlines. Transporting human tissue, organs, blood, whichever, not too uncommon. However this was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to do this.

Normally a flight will be chartered for the purpose of transporting human organs, I guess they couldn’t get a charter lined up in time, or we were the only flight available at the time. Either way it was pretty cool to know that we were going to be helping somebody out.

Once I finished my pre-flight, I returned to the cockpit to finish the rest of my work before we depart. When I got the clearance for our flight, it was appended to the bottom that we were to be a ‘LifeGuard’ flight. This basically gives us a high priority over other traffic. The kidney we were transporting was probably going for a transplant or the packaging it was in had a time limit before it would ‘expire’.

So for the nearly 1 hour flight, I was ‘LifeGuard’. It might have been insignificant to anyone else, but to me it was an immense feeling of service.

the life of a co pilot

It’s the little things. How you talk on the radio, using airspeed or vertical speed or flight level change to climb, the way you program the flight management, where you write the clearance. It’s the little things you do as the ‘co pilot’ that can aggravate captains.

I’ve found that none seem to have any issue with me. I’ve been far from perfect. I’ve felt more like a student pilot in last 3 months than ever before. I’m an infant in a big world. I’m bright-eyed-bushy-tailed and I feel dumb as a new puppy. I hate being new at things. I hate not being proficient and efficient.

It’s frustrating at times, yet I know it’s a learning curve that will slowly start to fade. However most of what frustrates me isn’t myself, it’s trying to appease the other crew member. Trying to adapt to the ‘right’ way and decipher what is good advice and what is not.

I’ve flown with super relaxed guys that are quiet and reserved, won’t interfere unless something catches fire. They help where they think I need it, and otherwise they just let me fly. These are the guys that are a pleasure to fly with. You don’t feel any pressure to perform or to be perfect, and when you do make a mistake(and I do) they don’t set YOU on fire for it.

There are the guys in the middle that don’t really tell you how to fly, yet they often give you ‘advice’. “Ya know, if you did it this way, I would like it better.” It’s like that moment in Office Space where he wants her to wear more flair. “So I should do it that way?” “Well if you want to do it that way, it would be better. You want to be better right?”

Except it’s not better. It’s just different. Or maybe I just think it’s different and not better. What do I know anyways? What I’ve learned about aviation is everyone has their way. Every single thing you can do with an airplane you can do a million ways. 99% of those different ways are just as efficient and effective. Unfortunately they only teach you one way. Who’s to say it’s the right way, or the best way, but it’s the way they teach you. Yet everyone has their opinion on what is better, so they feel obligated to ‘teach’ me.

Now I’m the kind of guy who wants to know the million different ways so I can choose which is my favorite or preferred, and I’m still figuring out ‘my way’. Yet it still creates this stigma that I can’t do it ‘right’. Everyone is always telling me to do it differently, and I don’t know if that’s because they don’t like the way I do things or because they know I’m new. It has quickly become the most frustrating part of my job.

Then there are the ‘other’ captains. The ones that flat out tell you to do it this way, or don’t do that. My favorite is when I’m flying and they change something and don’t tell me what. Like I get to just figure it out on my own what they changed, and why. Or they will correct my work, or just plain DO my work. Nothing makes you feel like less of an efficient worker than when somebody does your work for you. Did he think I wasn’t capable of doing it myself? Did he think I would do it wrong? Was he being nice and helping me get my stuff done? I wish he wouldn’t do that, I still need to get practice with this stuff!

I got nearly an hour long lecture on why I shouldn’t try to tell the captain where to taxi. It wasn’t my job to set the tone of the cockpit, it was merely my job to shut up and run checklists. Apparently. I was told that captains know where to taxi and they don’t need any help. Granted I wasn’t trying to imply he didn’t know where to taxi. I confirmed our route and made sure he know which way it was. I have lots of work during the taxi that sometimes requires my head to be inside while he’s driving around the airport. Guess where the most doled out violations are given? During taxi. We both get nailed with a runway incursion or deviation because he made a wrong turn. In my short time here I’ve already stopped one guy from taxiing on a closed taxi-way, a crew from crossing a hold short line while on the jump seat, and one guy from getting completely lost.

Regardless of these first world issues, I’ve been enjoying the new job and the benefits. I have traveled a ton the last few months and been able to see friends that I don’t get to see often enough. It has allowed me to make a long distance relationship feel like it isn’t long distance. It allowed me to be with my mom on her birthday for the first time in many years. I have more days off now than I’ve ever had before. I’m getting use to having days off in the middle of the week.