My wife recently asked me if this is how I felt. Yeah, it pretty much described my physical state when she asked. I was amazed to see that it had been a month since my last post. Time flies.
My brief hiatus from writing started with a 4-day recovery period at the end of a 12-day Asia trip. I finished that trip in the middle of October. About the time I started feeling like I was on the right time zone I had my annual FAA flight physical – the company requires a Class I for type-rated first officers(FO). The longer legs (over 8 hours) are augmented with an extra FO. When the captain takes his break that leaves two FOs in the seat with the one in the left seat acting as the captain. No extra pay, but the added responsibility for the safety of the flight until the captain returns to the flight deck.
I successfully passed the physical and moved on to the next major item on my to-do list - the annual inspection of my Swift. I was lucky weather-wise and the temperatures stayed in the 50-degree (F) range for that week so working in my unheated hangar wasn’t a major hardship. I worked steadily each day, probably six hours a day of hard labor, and finished a 100-hour inspection in a week. My IA friend then satisfied his curiosity about the plane’s condition, checked the fuel injection pressures and completed the required paperwork. A couple of days of projects at home, a fly-out day to my favorite breakfast spot and it was time to go back to work.
Next up was a 12-day Europe trip that included 8 Atlantic crossings. Most long-haul pilots seem to think that crossing multiple time zones going east is harder on your body that an equally long trip to the west. For me, it seems to be exponentially harder on my body. We would arrive in Europe in late morning and my layovers usually consisted of a 4-5 hour nap followed by dinner and then an attempt at another 8 hours of sleep overnight. I was pretty much a basket case by the time the trip was finished.
That trip took almost a week for me to feel human again. Then it was time to cram for my annual recurrent training session. I had been trying to ignore it sitting there on my schedule, but the time had come to try to assure that I didn’t become a topic for conversation around the instructor’s lunch table. It was a wonderful 3-day stint at the airline’s training facility.
Day one was taken up by a few required briefings and a computer-generated 50-question test on aircraft systems. Each year they pick ten systems for review and the computer picks random questions from the master question bank – just like the FAA exams except that we don’t have the question bank to study. Day two was a 4-hour session in the simulator called a Maneuver Validation. This is when we refresh our memories on how to do the maneuvers that we rarely see flying our normal trips – engine failures (in several different phases of flight), non-precision approaches, windshear and TCAS encounters and revalidation of our CAT II/III ILS approach certification. Day three was the Line-Oriented Evaluation (LOE) or check ride. We plan a normal line flight and then operate it as we would flying the line We handle minor and major abnormal occurrences as they appear, coordinating our actions with the instructor acting as our ATC controller, the Lead Flight Attendant and the company dispatcher. This year the scenario was a flight from the U.S. east coast to Europe on the North Atlantic Track System (NATS). Of course, we never made it. The crew for the LOE included a "seat support" captain since I was paired with another FO for the training sessions. The other FO started in the right seat and I was in the jumpseat. We eventually made it to cruise altitude and were on our way to the track entry point. The captain decided that he wanted to take the first break, so he got out of the seat and left the simulator. That put me in the left seat acting as the captain. Of course, it didn’t take long for the nice calm flight to turn extremely busy. The Lead Flight Attendant called up and said the captain was having a heart attack, they had two doctors on board and they recommended to get on the ground as fast as possible. And that’s how we ended up in (simulated) Bangor, Maine. And, no, the captain didn’t make it – but the two of us remaining in the cockpit each moved up a number – the harsh realities of the seniority system.
This period was marked by two notable events – my last FAA Class I medical exam and my last check ride with the airline. Those two items successfully accomplished have removed a large amount of stress from my life. I’m now home for almost three weeks until my next trip and by then will have just under two months until my retirement date. Definitely mixed emotions there.