Adventures in De-icing (2008)
Have you ever worked for a multi-billionaire penny pincher? I have. Here's one of the rare moments where he agreed we spent his money wisely.
Why does it cost so much?
It is said that a pro never stops paying attention and I suppose that is true. But I like to focus my attention and sitting in the FBO, knowing I had nothing to do for another two hours, my attention was devoted to rereading "A Few Great Captains: The Men and Events That Shaped the Development of U.S. Air Power" by DeWitt Copp. It seemed like a better use of my time than the football game all the other pilots were watching at the big screen.
It always struck me as odd, this life. We flew the boss, an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to the games. He went to the game while we waited in the FBO so he could leave as soon as possible once the game was done. BJ, the other pilot and the chief pilot of our three pilot operation, always watched the game in case our boss asked what we thought of the game. In three years he had never asked. But still, BJ watched every game. The temperature was in the twenties and our penny pinching billionaire had standing orders to avoid hangaring our Gulfstream V unless absolutely necessary. But it didn't matter, there were no hangars available today in Pittsburgh. So we left the airplane after purging the water system and putting anything that would freeze into a cooler, just in case.
I heard cheering from the main TV room, even through the closed door of the conference room I had absconded for myself. I was just getting to the part in the Air Force's history where Lieutenant Colonel Frank Andrews was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. It was getting good. But it would take at least an hour to get the airplane's water system put back together and it would only be fair that I do that, since BJ was glued to the game. I could continue my reading on the airplane.
I put on my thick parka and left my warm cocoon for the main room of the FBO, where I found BJ in the back row of a packed house. The Steelers had just intercepted and the tide of the game was changing. More cheers.
"Whoa!" I said as I neared BJ.
"Yeah," he said, "they may pull this out."
"No," I said. "How long has it been snowing like that?"
"The entire game," BJ said. "That's good for us, Miami doesn't do well in a blizzard."
"Neither do Gulfstreams," I said.
From the warmth of the FBO window I could barely make out our frozen bird. Even with the reduced visibility, it was obvious we were in trouble. I put on my gloves and hat, cinched up my jacket, and plodded through the snow. The plows were keeping up with the downfall over the ramp, but each airplane was surrounded by about two feet of the stuff. I goose stepped my way through the wall of white stuff and put my hand on the wings. The bottom layer was ice, the thick stuff that super glues itself to aluminum. The next layer was the crunchy stuff, followed by snow in the chiffon cake category, then by another layer of the crunchy stuff. More than a foot from wing to atmosphere.
"Ya think maybe that'll just blow off by the time we get to vee one," I heard from behind me. BJ was wearing the grin he saved for when he thought he was being especially witty.
"Maybe we can pull up behind one of those airliners and he can blow it off for us," I said.
"Your engineering degree pays off again," he said. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"Because you aren't a graduate of the USAF safety school," I said. "We are trained to do things as safe as possible."
It took the deice truck thirty minutes just to get the ice off the airplane so we could gain access. After an hour we had everything ready to go for the boss, who showed up to a orange airplane dripping from nose to tail but clear of contamination. Once we fired up we needed another bout of deicing and then some of that green stuff, the anti-ice fluid. An hour later we were home.
A week later we were both called into the boss's office. Our only heads up was about how we were wasting his money. The last time I faced his wrath was because I had purchased two donuts for him when he specifically told me one. In a flight department of three pilots, I was number three. BJ, our chief pilot, would do all the talking.
"Look at this," the boss said, handing the bill I had signed for in Pittsburgh. Well, to be more correct, I signed a blank bill for them to fill out once the deicing was complete. I knew the numbers would be high, but I had no idea how high. "Fifteen thousand dollars!" the boss continued. "I've never seen a deice bill this high!"
"It seems about right," BJ said. "That was about as much snow and ice as I've ever seen on an airplane."
"About right?" the boss said.
"Yes, sir," BJ said. "It took them most of the hour to get all the ice off the airplane. But even then we needed one more treatment before we could take off."
The boss sat back in his chair, defeated. He looked at me and I meekly nodded. Finally he looked back to BJ. "Why does it cost so much to deice a Gulfstream Five?"
"Well," BJ said, "It's cheaper than buying a new Gulfstream Five."
The boss thought for a moment. "Well I guess it is at that," he finally said. "Good job."