The military seems to have an acronym for everything. If you went to the doctor, better known to military pilots as the flight surgeon, and the doctor said that you were not in a physical condition suitable for flying you were then placed on DNIF status or Duty Not Including Flying. In the military if you can walk you can work so just because you have a cold or stuffy sinuses it doesn’t mean that you can go home and miss all the fun until you are fit to fly again. I can’t remember any time during my military career when I didn’t have at least one additional duty to perform in addition to my primary job as an aircraft commander, instructor or examiner. I worked in the safety office, the operations center and standardization along with several other un-titled jobs. At one point a squadron commander wanted me to get a crew together to go out and paint rocks. The point is that there are always other things to do when you can’t fly.
In the civilian world instead of additional duties you have life. I had a little over a week off between trips this time and never did make it out to the airport. The first couple of days I wasn’t worth much good to anybody since I was still in the time-zone fog generated by the last trip. Then a project in the back yard popped up on the to-do list. A picket fence with gate needed to be built around a new vegetable garden. Two days and four bags of concrete and that project was completed. The next day I was going to go to the airport.
Not so fast. My truck, which the day before had run just fine, was barely making enough power to get up our driveway. That’s not a good sign for a diesel F-350. I spent a day troubleshooting. Nothing I could find was causing the problem. These days if you don’t have a device that plugs into the vehicle’s computer the troubleshooting process is mainly looking at the engine and scratching your head. Oh for the days when you could open the hood of your vehicle and see around the engine and all the way down to the ground. There was an engine block symbol lit up on the dashboard display that led me to the owner’s manual. Yes, the truck had fuel in the tank and yes, the cap was on the fuel filler. That left three items on their list. One was the emissions system which I was neither qualified nor capable of checking. The other possibilities were that the fuel in the tank was bad or there was water in the fuel filter. The fuel tank had just been filled a couple of days prior, so water in the fuel was a possibility. I did more research and found the process for draining the fuel filter and checking the fluid that was drained. It didn’t look like any water was present in the drained fluid and an attempt to run the engine showed no change in the dismal performance. Time to call in the experts.
I limped the truck down to our friendly neighborhood mechanic and said to call when they came up with a solution. I got the call. It seems that there is an acknowledged but ignored problem with the wiring harness in the engine compartment. Since everything that goes on with the engine is passed to the computer, a problem with the wiring harness passing the information can manifest itself in all sorts of problems. In this case, three of the fuel injectors were not getting the word that they were supposed to be supplying fuel to the engine. A day and a half later I had a new set of wiring harnesses, a beautifully running truck and an emptier bank account. On the drive back home the engine ran great but I found a different problem. I didn’t have an operational cruise control. I hate it when that happens. The truck went back into the shop two days later so that they could try to find where all the necessary electrons are having their party rather than visiting the cruise control module. It took them about 2 hours to find a bad connection in one of the new wiring harnesses. The mechanic ‘adjusted’ the pins in the connector, but it back together and gave it a test drive. All fixed.
I couldn’t leave the truck in the shop for them to continue their work the day I that found the cruise control problem because the next day I had an appointment to get my latest FAA medical exam. Even though my position is First Officer (copilot), I hold a full type rating in the 747-400 and I often find myself sitting in the left seat acting as the captain while the ‘real’ captain takes his/her break. For that reason I am required to maintain a Class I FAA medical, renewed every six months. The exam doesn’t take long, you just can’t phone it in yet. Maybe someday we’ll have one of those Tricorders that Dr. McCoy had, but I doubt I’ll still be flying then. The AME that I use is a great guy. He’s an ex-AF flight surgeon and an outstanding photographer. The walls of his office are lined with aircraft photos he has taken. He is also the medical representative for the Reno Air Races and a member of the Reno Air Racing Association board of directors. My biggest concern with passing the medical exam is usually centered around the eye exam. Some day I’ll learn which of those lines near the bottom of the chart is the one that is the pass or fail point. I wear glasses for both near and far vision and probably should go get a new prescription since it has been two years since my last prescription was filled, but I am also a world-class procrastinator. I passed the eyesight part of the exam this time with just a little squinting and procrastination has again set in concerning the trip to the optometrist.
The rest of the time I have been home that hasn’t been filled with miscellaneous small projects and throwing the frisbee for the dogs has been spent trying to prepare for my airline’s annual recurrent training. April is the month that my training is due and I am scheduled to visit the training center in about two weeks, very shortly after my next trip. So far, my study emphasis has been on the systems part of the training.
Each year the training session reviews half of the systems on the aircraft and we are evaluated on our knowledge with a computer-generated multiple-choice test. This year we only have to cover: Warning Systems, the APU, Engines, Navigation, Flight Instruments, Autoflight, Pneumatics, Ice and Rain protection, Air Conditioning, Pressurization and Emergency Equipment. We have three manuals for our aircraft. Two are called the Aircraft Operating Manual (AOM), Volumes I and II and the third is the Cockpit Operating Manual (COM). Volume II of the AOM covers the mechanical systems of the aircraft. It is a 3″ thick binder of letter-sized pages, light reading for those cold, stormy nights. The COM covers emergency and abnormal operations. So far I have managed to read the AOM volume II chapters associated with the appropriate systems, their associated chapters in the COM and have waded through the online question bank. There is another question bank in booklet form with different questions that I am taking with me on my next trip. I’m also carrying volume one of the AOM to read through. that volume is only about 1.5″ thick. It contains expanded explanations of all our checklists, flow patterns and preflight inspections along with the approved methods for accomplishing flight maneuvers, such as instrument approaches, engine-out approaches, GPWS and traffic warning maneuvers.
My next trip has a 68-hour layover in Nagoya, Japan, so now I’ll have plenty to do on the layover. And here I was afraid I’d get bored…