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AdventureFlying

Five Days in Sydney

June 6, 2017 — by Casey Allen0

Sometimes I work hard – day after day operating long flights with hardly enough time to rest, much less do anything else, in between. Other times though, my job feels like a vacation. This was definitely one of those times!

AdventureFlying

Epic Motor Thermal Florida

January 6, 2017 — by Ian Ritter

Some days,

we get up, drink our coffee

Open our hearts to the goodness of the universe, and the universe graciously delivers.  I didn’t know it, but I was going to have one of those days. 

I didn’t go paragliding with the intent of thermaling, if I had, there would have been a cozy jacket on my body so that I didn’t turn into a popsicle at higher altitudes.  Instead, my mission was to just fly, to cruise around the trees, swoop through canals, and enjoy the perfection of life under a canopy.  But the world had other plans.

As my wing caught the breeze, and my feet left the ground, I noticed the vultures gracefully circling to the south.  In the middle of them, was a bald eagle and he looked like he wanted some company.  As I neared the group, they were obviously out-climbing me (a sure sign of huge lift.)  The moment I was near them, I hit the column of rising air, well, it felt like it hit me.  My wing shot far behind me, the feeling of air across my legs changed and suddenly, I knew my day was about to be amazing.

From that point, it was non-stop lift.  At one point, I even got directly on top of a towering cumulus that was climbing like a home sick angle.

This rising air is here almost all the time, but so few people ever get to experience just how powerful it is.  Thermaling towering cumulus is like surfing big, beefy swells; sketchy to get into, but once you’re on it, the ride is unforgettable.  So on this day, as I rode the rising, invisible waves in the sky, shivering like crazy, but smiling the whole time through, I felt so lucky to experience a little slice of the world that so few know.

 

Flying

Flying Coffin: I hope I don’t die on this flight.

October 10, 2016 — by Ian Ritter

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“Hell Yeah!”

Was all I could say when my friend Greg asked if I wanted to go for a ride in one of the most famous aircraft ever built, the B-24 Liberator.  But shortly after my arrival at the airport, as I strapped into my green metal “seat,” which positioned my head about 2 feet from a gigantic turbo-supercharged, 1,200 horse power radial engine spinning a huge three-bladed prop, I thought to myself, “I hope I don’t die on this plane.”  A thought which motivated this blog, and a thought which I’m quite sure was said by every other person to sit in that seat.

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My Seat.

The liberator holds many records for being the most produced twin engine airplane, about 19,000 units.  This is an incredible feat of Engineering.  There are also a few other stats which are less likely to put a smile on your face and which brings me back to the original thought about dying while on this tiny piece of cold aluminum in primer-green.  Depending upon which statistic you take, the loss rate for some strategic bomber groups was around 45% or more.  That’s right, for every 100 men who flew, only 55 of them came home.  img_9924This is the thought that raced in my head, as Greg gently pushed all four long power levers up for takeoff power and my first flight in a B-24 began.

There was no way I was ever going to hear again.  My ear drums had just given up this whole, “hearing stuff” notion about the time those huge radials roared to life and we lumbered down the runway.  There was only sharp popping sounds in my right ear as I sat just below and aft of the flight deck facing the tail section of the plane, staring at a sign that said something about proper bomb loading.

The salvo switches have to be off. Duh.
The salvo switches have to be off. Duh.

More impressive than the sound of pop-rocks mixing with water in my ear, was the impact of the engines and props.  It was a concussive force that you could literally feel in your organs.  I will never forget it.  Slowly, very slowly we accelerated on runway 9L at Melbourne International Airport.  Greg pulled on the yoke, and up we went, again, very slowly.  “How in the hell did this thing fly with an engine out and lots of bombs?” I wondered.

Soon, we were in the air, around 1000ft above the ground and cruising down the East Coast of Florida headed towards Ft. Lauderdale Executive airport.  They opened the waist gunner window and I got up to take a peek around the airplane sometimes referred to as, “The Flying Coffin.”

I crawled to the nose gun and took a picture facing aft. Nice thumbs up!
I crawled to the nose gun and took a picture facing aft. Nice thumbs up!

As I walked down the bomb bay towards the .50 cal machine guns (of which there were usually 10 on a combat aircraft) I thought about how damn old I would have been compared to the crews of these planes.  I would have been about 10 years senior to many of the 19 and 20 year olds who bravely manned these stations.  They probably would have called me “Gramps” or “Old Guy.” At that point, I just resigned myself to the fact that there was going to be many humbling revelations in this flight and to enjoy them.

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Not me, but I was making the same face.

Once at the waist gunner position, I realized I could easily fall out of the damn thing.  Not like, if I tripped and fell, No, I mean like the bottom of the window was below my waist and that if at any point I stumbled, I would simply fall out of the damn window.  After mentally reminding myself to not fall out of the plane, I grabbed a .50 caliber machine gun, whose barrel was pointed aft, due to the wind rushing over its barrel and tried to move it around.  It was very, very difficult to say the least.  130mph wind blazing down the gun meant that I had to exert a great deal of effort to even move the gun around and aim.  Again, I imagined the men who actually had to do this.  They were flying around 27,000ft in an un-pressurized plane, at a temperature somewhere in the -20f throug

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Look at how low the window is.

h -50f range, breathing off of an oxygen mask all while getting shot by other planes, hit by flak, and trying to return fire themselves.  I just lowered my head in reverence and reminded myself to not fall out.

On this flight, we were lucky enough to have a fighter escort and were joined by a lone P-51 Mustang.  This plane is considered one of the best flying planes ever built and I was thrilled to see one swing by for a closer look.

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Through the rest of the flight, I crawled around the plane in various stations and was continually stunned by how raw and unforgiving every mission must have been.  As a pilot myself, I hoped I would be able to get a glimmer of an understanding as to what it must have been like to fly one of these planes.  After my flight that day, I knew I would never be able to understand what it was like to fly one of these beasts, unless I had been there, over the skies of Germany myself.

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Greg and a very nice guy whose name escapes me.

The whole experience was humbling, especially having heard my grandfather talk about the bomber formations he saw when he was on the ground that, “seemed to go on forever.”  It put a lot of things in perspective.  I was extremely grateful for the experience and came away from it with many emotions, but most of all, there was a sense of reverence and admiration for the people involved with these airplanes.  They accomplished so much despite incredible and devastating hardships.  It made me realize how much is possible.  And I also no longer complain to myself when I have to do a pre-flight inspection on a jet when it’s -20 and blowing snow in Montreal or in the Dakotas, cause, well, I don’t wanna be a whiny bitch.  If they could manage to do 20 missions over Europe, I can at least have the dignity to do a thorough pre-flight inspection.

South bound.
South bound.

Joking aside, if you get a chance to hop a ride in one of these planes, you need to do it.  Also, there are two books I’ve read about the missions these men flew. “ The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24 Over Germany” and also “A Higher Call.”   Both were incredible and inspirational reads.

Special thanks, to my friend Greg who spends a great deal of his time helping keep this B-24 as well as B-17 and a Corsair flying so that others can experience them!  Hope you enjoyed it, go find one of these and get a ride!

He is nicer than he looks and is a 747 pilot by day.
Here is Greg! He is nicer than he looks and is a 747 pilot when not flying war birds.

 

 

Flying

Approach to Dominica

August 27, 2016 — by Casey Allen0

I made this post about Dominica back in 2011 on my aviation blog. Given my recent visit to the island, I thought my former perspective worth sharing. Here is a re-creation the post:

Time: 0815

Position: Approaching Dominica from the west, descending through 15,000 feet MSL.

The Captain and I, along with 2 Flight Attendants and 36 passengers in the back have just started our descent into the small island of Dominica, which is in the Lesser Antilles, smashed between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. If Tortola is the high-class sailing island where Richard Branson hangars his jet, Dominica is the rainforest-covered island where reptiles thought to have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years can still be spotted. Tortola is Jimmy Buffett, Dominica is the Jurassic Park theme song.

This is also my first time in Dominica, and as we descend further and the island comes into better view, I can’t help but wonder what 36 people are doing flying to this prehistoric-looking place. My current theory is that they are all geologists, botanists, biologists, some kind of “ist” coming to study the lush landscape. There are usually even fewer passengers occupying our 64 seat aircraft, but yesterday the flights were all canceled due to weather, so today we are making a special rescue run to accommodate the “ists.” Airlines don’t usually cancel flights for weather unless it’s pretty extreme, but in Dominica the clouds have to be above the mountaintops to land.

IMG_9903The approach goes something like this: descend towards the northeast side of the island, aim for the highest mountain until a small valley presents itself right in the middle of the island. Hook a right into the valley as the passengers become increasingly concerned they are about to fly into a mountain. Follow the valley southbound and look for the Brachiosaurus head poking through the tree canopy. Passing him it’s flaps 30, landing gear down and swing left to line up with the runway on final. Dodge the occasional Pterodactyl gliding past and touch down on the runway 9 numbers. Be quick on the reverse thrust to avoid an unscheduled swimming excursion and it’s a wrap. Video tutorial attached.

Flying

The First, First Officer

August 19, 2016 — by Casey Allen

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IMG_9825On August 15, 2011 I (along with Ian) took my first airline job. Almost immediately I felt as though I had been thrust into an unfamiliar world. I already knew how to fly a plane – I had been a licenced pilot for eight years. But the entirety of the “airline world” with its complex and sometimes daunting operations was a complete mystery to me. I remember walking through the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in my uniform after completing my first ever training cycle and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the details. The airlines do an excellent job preparing their new-hires to safely operate an airliner. But there is almost no information exchanged in preparation for how to survive in your new “airline life.” In December of 2011 I was based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, still feeling very new and struggling to adapt and learn the intricacies of my job. I was learning that one large piece of being an airline pilot was waiting around – sometimes in airports or airplanes, other times in crashpads or temporary housing. In my down time I decided to create a blog to document my life as a new First Officer. I wanted to give other new airline pilots some insight into how it felt to be a severely junior pilot at a regional airline. Throughout the years as I gained more experience I often wrote about how both my perspective on and my situation in the airlines changed, and in turn how my lifestyle adapted.

Recently I started a new job at what is now my third airline. I am no longer the industry newbie that I was back in 2011. In the creation of this website, I decided it was time to leave The First, First Officer blog behind. Below is the final post from that blog, which is incidentally a narrative of my last flight at my second airline. If you’d like to check out any of my other writings from 2011 – 2016, here is a link to The First, First Officer.

-Casey

Last Flight

IMG_1422Time: 1730 local
Location: Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

The crew and I have just arrived at the gate from our overnight in Montreal. Today is a special day, one I’ve been looking forward to for a few months – my last flight with JungleJet Airlines!

We arrived to Montreal late last night, after 0100. I wanted to make the most of my last trip so I slept fast and was up at 0700 to go explore. It’s feeling like spring in Montreal, and even the morning temperature was a mild 8 degrees Celsius. I walked uptown to a park that overlooks the city before getting on the metro to meet a friend for breakfast. As we chatted at the restaurant I felt the same feeling I’ve been experiencing the last few weeks: apprehension. I’m excited to be moving on and furthering my career, but my fondness for JungleJet has engendered a bit of sadness to be leaving. It’s the first job I truly enjoyed showing up to work for – leaving feels bittersweet.

At the gate in Montreal the agent advises us that Newark is in a ground stop and our expected departure time isn’t for another 3 hours. I think to myself that it’s kind of a fitting end to being based in Newark! We board the plane and radio the tower to verify the delay. There’s a line of weather just west of New York and it’s blocking arrivals and departures at all 3 of the major NY airports. The controller says an update will come out on the hour. Normally I would be irritated and anxious to get going so I can make my commute, but today I am content to wait a bit longer.

1800. Air traffic control issues the update that the ground stop is cancelled. Clearance gives us a wheels up time at 1830, so we board quickly and and start towards the runway. Things change fast in the NY airspace system and sometimes luck is on your side.

IMG_04661830. Positive rate, gear up. We lift off from runway 24L with a light load of 32 people. The sun has just set on our right, but with altitude the sky brightens and turns a deep orange color as the light is filtered through the shade of stratus clouds. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever tire of these picturesque scenes I am treated to so often.

1845. In cruise the captain and I enjoy easy conversation – something I have truly taken pleasure in throughout my time at JungleJet. Meeting interesting people, both in the cockpit and on overnights, has been an unforeseen benefit of this job. The flight deck becomes host to many interesting conversations – sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes deeply personal, and pretty much everything in between.

1910. I call for the In Range checklist as we descend through 18,000 feet. We reset the altimeters to the local setting and I give an arrival briefing for runway 22L at Newark. The storms have all moved east now and the field is reporting calm winds and VFR conditions. The airspace is relatively quiet and the controller clears us direct to Teterboro airport for the visual approach. The lights of New York City are easy to spot arriving from any direction. I move my gaze a bit closer, finding both the Teterboro and Newark airports before disconnecting the autopilot to hand fly the approach. A few minutes later the controller asks us to slow to 180 knots and I call for Flaps 9 as I bank right to line up with the runway.

1920. The mains touch down on 22L and I click the thrust levers back to deploy the reversers. Leaving the runway I run the after landing flow, thinking how natural these movements have become. After so many hours a plane starts to feel like an extension of your own body. All the levers and buttons are right where you expect them to be.

1935. After the engine shutdown checklist is run I take one more look around the cockpit before gathering my bag, saying goodbye to the crew, and leaving the JungleJet for the last time. I then unceremoniously scramble over to terminal C and catch the last flight back home. Making it home takes precedence, even over nostalgia.

IMG_9739Epilogue

I created this blog (The First, First Officer) in 2011 when I was hired at my first airline job. There were a number of aviation blogs I followed at the time, but none of them were written from the perspective of a beginner in the industry. The bottom of the seniority list as a new-hire First Officer is a scary place to be, and I thought it of value to document the experiences I was having seen through this beginners lens. I know I’m not always the most diligent at updating this blog, but I do hope at least to some extent it has served as a source of both entertainment and information, for any interested reader, but especially for the new First Officer on the very bottom of the seniority list wondering what they’re in for. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in the airline industry for almost 5 years. I can still clearly remember my first days in San Juan flying the ATR – new experiences pouring in at an overwhelming rate. For me, it’s time now to once again be that FO at the very bottom – learning a new aircraft, a new pilot contract, and new routes and destinations. It’s both daunting and exciting, but like most of life, it is best experienced when savored for its uniqueness.