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.

initial operating experience

Here I am. Flying the line. Finally.

I have completed my IOE(initial operating experience) training, and I’m now in the shark infested waters of line flying.

I’m now a fully fledged reserve pilot, to be used and abused at the whim of crew scheduling. Which so far, has meant flying every day I’m scheduled. I’ve flown almost 60 hours now and I’m almost getting the hang of things. Almost.

I spent about 30 hours of flying with my IOE instructor. His job was to primarily not let me kill anyone, while not bending any airplane metal. Throughout that time he also taught me quite a bit about flying an airplane. He bridged the gap between the simulator and the real world. Meshing my training with real world experience and know how that is required to make everything come together.

I started like a blind folded child. I had all the training, and no clue how to use it or where to start. My first day felt like a dream. I had all the pieces of the puzzle, I just didn’t know how to put the puzzle together. That’s where my instructor came in. A captain that had been flying with the airline for over 20 years, he got paid extra to babysit me. Which is good, because I needed a little babysitting at first.

It felt like I never had enough time when I first started. We get to the airplane 45 minutes before we’re supposed to leave and before you know it passengers are loading, the doors are closing and I’m going a million miles an hour in my head. The wheels are spinning but we’re not going anywhere. It seems there will never be enough time to get everything done. Surely they know it is impossible to complete this much work in such a short amount of time. It can’t possibly be done by a human!

Day two comes around. Somehow I have found a few extra minutes of time and I’m completing work quicker. Pretty soon I have a lot of extra time. I stop rushing. I start enjoying the work. My sense of humor returns. Life is good again. I’m not stressed.

I’m still making mistakes though. That’s making me angry. I’m trying really hard not to get frustrated at myself or at my captain. It’s a very hard transition to go from being the ‘know it all’ to being the new guy. I don’t have all the answers anymore. I don’t have my confidence yet, I don’t know what to do sometimes. I hate this feeling of being lost.

Most of all I hate that I can’t land the damn plane. My first landing was bad. Children cried, women scorned, men cursed. Cities burned and the sky was blood red. It wasn’t pretty, I’ll admit it. In my defense it was my first landing ever in the plane. It’s not really fair to have 50 people on board to witness that mess. Luckily I haven’t had any landings as bad since. I’m hoping that I will never have landings that bad ever again.

Since I finished IOE the landings have been improving a lot. Which is good for me, and the general flying public.

Yesterday I left Corpus Christi Texas at 6 in the morning. It was my leg to fly and I chose to fly the aircraft manually to about 10 thousand feet. The air was clear and smooth and the sun was just cresting the top of some storm clouds off in the distance. It was calm and quiet, the scenery was incredible, and I was flying. These are the moments that make it all worth it.

I love my job. I love flying airplanes. They even pay me to do it.

Go beyond all the bureaucracy and drama, complaining and bickering, and you have the most amazing job in the world. I look forward to what the future brings to me every day.

second in command

On April 12th 2010, I began long term training for my first ever 121 airline. Ground school, simulator training, and soon to be aircraft training. I don’t know why, but it feels like I just got here yesterday. I’ve been here almost two months.

We began with basic indoctrination which included all sorts of company rules and regulations as well as government restrictions and policies. This was a little over a week long of everything I needed to know about how not to get fired. I learned how to fight a terrorist. I learned how to use an archaic computer system to read what must be the first form of e-mail. I learned a lot of new terms for harassing women and minorities.

After that we split into our aircraft specific classes. I had chosen the Embraer 145 along with 8 other new hires in my class. We were also joined by a few pilots that had been recalled from furlough. Eventually the recalled pilots would leave the class prior to the completion as they were awarded a different aircraft midway through.

This second portion of the ground training is considered systems training. We learn about each specific system of the aircraft and how they interact with each other and how to control them. Some systems are more complicated than others, some are innately difficult, others are insanely easy. Unfortunately the former outnumbers the latter. However after a while of studying and dissecting and interpreting, they all meshed together and became one.

After completing a final exam, systems class was done. We completed the oral exam portion of our check ride and then on to the simulator training.

It had been almost two months since I’d flown anything resembling an airplane, so I was excited to at least be able to pretend for a while. Pretend to fly a jet even.

In the simulator we got to do some pretty amazing stuff. Things that most pilots would otherwise never get to experience. Rapid decompression, cabin fire, instrumentation failures, engine failures, engine fires, flight control failures, hydraulic failures, electrical failures, landing gear failures, ‘insert random failure here’ failures. The list goes on and on. The first few days of the training never had a quiet moment. Every 5 seconds it seemed like something else had failed, was about to fail, or was in the process of failing. I even said during one session, it felt like I was doing more work reading and completing checklists than the guy that was just flying the airplane was.

After a few days of near complete hysteria in the simulator, I started to feel like I actually knew what I was doing. I never really had a perfect flight, but each session contained less and less mistakes and I began to feel more confident in myself and my knowledge.

A few days ago I took the check ride in the simulator. This was the first check ride I have ever taken that I wasn’t completely stressed out about. I don’t know why. This should have been one of the most difficult ones I’ve taken. Perhaps it was because I took half of this check ride almost two weeks prior to the practical portion? The oral portion was completed at the end of ground school. Maybe it was because it was in a simulator? However, I could screw the simulator up just as much as a real aircraft. I don’t really know.

The check ride was pretty much as advertised. I did however create some difficulty for myself that didn’t need to be there. During the initial portion of my single engine approach, I asked my check airman if he would like me to disconnect the autopilot. I was approaching the point where I needed to start hand flying the approach without the assistance of the autopilot. I knew this only because I knew that the single engine approach was to be hand flown. This began a back and forth discussion between the two of us as I was becoming established on the vertical guidance track to the runway. Not good.

When I finally clicked off the autopilot I was behind the aircraft. I had overshot the glide slope, which meant I was going to be high and fast. Trying to reconfigure the aircraft with gear and flaps, reduction of power to flight idle and slight over controlling induced some self induced oscillations. Affectionately known as S turns across a localizer and being on a roller coaster on the glide slope. This created some problems for me. In order to complete an approach the aircraft must be stabilized by a certain point prior to landing. I had passed that point, and those criteria were far from met. When I arrived at the decision point to land or go around, the choice was clear. If I tried to mend this approach and land, I might have been able to pull it off. There was a greater chance that I would make a mess of it, or crash.

I chose not to be a betting man on game day.

I demonstrated a single engine go-around. A maneuver that isn’t required for me to demonstrate proficiency in but I got to anyways. It was much better to do that than try and force the airplane onto the runway. I came back around for another try. This time I wasn’t distracted or unsure of how I would be flying the approach. That resulted in a much smoother, more stabilized, single engine landing.

That was the only hiccup of my simulator check ride. I felt confident with the rest of my flying, and was happy with the result despite my one mistake.

With the check ride out of the way, the only simulator training that remains is a LOFT scenario. LOFT or line oriented flight training, is designed to move away from the training environment of simulator flying and introduce what actual line flying will be like. The flight is designed to represent a flight from New York to Washington DC. I was scheduled to complete this earlier in the week, however as things go, the simulator broke.

So now I wait. Once the LOFT scenario is complete, I move on to the actual aircraft. Passengers -n- all.

sooner rather than later

When I wrote “soon to be airline pilot”, I really had no idea when or where that would actually happen. It was a distant almost non existent possibility that I would one day become an airline pilot. In a string of events that are as unlikely as they were incredibly lucky, I have landed myself in a training class.

I completed and submitted an application on a whim. I made a bet with myself, or more so a deal. I had plans laid to quit my job and go back to school. I was already accepted and had financial aid lined up to attend Boise State college back home in Idaho. I was a little apprehensive about giving up my dream job that I had worked so hard for, but I was getting burned out and frustrated. I had been running in circles flight instructing. I don’t want to say that I’ve experienced all there is to ever see in the flight instruction world, but I was ready for a change. I had been instructing for 3 years, and had worked nearly every aspect allowable at the company. I had the privilege of teaching many different students, from different countries, in different airplanes with different procedures. I pretty much did it all.

I am very grateful for the experience I gained as a flight instructor, and especially the growth I made on a personal level. I did a lot of growing up there, and I left a completely different person in some ways. I did some pretty crazy, pretty stupid things, but I’ve learned a lot about myself.

After filling out and submitting the application, I pretty much never expected to even hear back from the company. The industry was pretty much at a stand still, and I was sure that it would be months, if not years, before anybody started hiring again.

Well I was wrong.

The day after I submitted my application the company announced thy would be hiring. A lot. I couldn’t believe it. Not only were they hiring, but they want to hire for the rest of the year. For a moment, I got excited. Then I remembered how excited I got when I got hired by multiple airlines and cargo operators in 2008. I tried to stay grounded this time. I was excited still, but I didn’t let it consume me. I tried to stay positive, yet reserved.

I waited a few weeks, and the time ate away at my confidence. I felt qualified and ready for this job, but I started doubting myself. I doubted the quality of my resume in the desperate economy. My positive outlook and upbeat attitude starting to fade and erode. I started thinking more and more about college, and how it wouldn’t be bad for me to go back to school. As much as you try to not think about the possibilities, you can’t help but daydream how your life will change with such decisions and opportunities.

That is at least, until I got the phone call.

Do you remember Christmas morning as a kid? That adrenaline rush that started in your chest, and flowed to your fingers and toes? The pure feeling of joy and fulfillment? It was like that. Multiplied by a bajillion.

I couldn’t feel anything.

Well, here I am. Doing it. Living it. I’m finally here.

Next week we start aircraft specific systems class, where I will learn the ins-and-outs of every nut, bolt and rivet. So far we’ve learned all about company procedures and policies, all the boring stuff. Or as I refer to, the many different ways to lose my job. Lots of phrased that include “must do XXXX” and “shall never do XXXX”. Those precious gems of information will hopefully keep me employed long into the future.

The first flight I ever logged was on July 5th, 2003.
I soloed an aircraft for the first time on August 12th, 2003.
I first flew as the instructor pilot on May 3rd, 2007.
I flew one thousand, eight hundred and fifty one hours as instructor.
I first flew a regional jet on _________________.

So begins the next chapter.


A little less than 5 years ago I took a big step outside my comfort zone. Like so many other students of aviation, I moved a few thousand miles away from home to pursue a dream. A dream I had fostered longer than I can remember of being a pilot. In those nearly 5 years I have transformed from a student of aviation, to a teacher. As an individual I have grown countless milestones.

This chapter in my life comes to a close, and a new opportunity awaits me.

I have been hired by an airline and have been assigned a start date. Of the few times previous that I have interviewed and ‘hired,’ never have I made it this far in the exodus. I have officially provided my supervisor a letter of resignation.

These past few months have been a roller coaster of emotion and fear coupled with excitement. The unknown and waiting during the application process, followed by the stress and pressure of the interview process, followed by more waiting and anticipation waiting to hear from the company. I have finally heard the official word. The emotion has turned towards a nervous excitement. I will miss some things, but look forward to not dealing with other certainties. I’m apprehensive of what awaits me, yet eager to get started.

For what feels like forever I have been where I am, and I find myself facing the same issues of transplantation as when I first came to Florida. Where will I be? Will I like it? Will I succeed? Will I make friends? Will I be able to pay my bills? What if…?

In a little over a week I will be starting my trek across the country again. This time by car. I have a little over 2200 miles to drive to where my parents live. I look forward to the drive, and I will be joined on the trip by my Dad.

Soon you will hear of the trials and tribulations of a teacher turned student yet again. Lets hope I can practice what I have for so long preached.