Flight Lessons 5: People

Book Notes

Eddie sez:

At long last . . .

After twenty years as an Air Force pilot I was hired to fly a Canadair Challenger 604 for a major computer company. It was my first job as a civilian pilot but not my first flying what many call VVIPs, Very Very Important Persons. Through it all, I learned how to fly airplanes, how to instruct, and how to lead men and women in large and small flight departments. I also thought I knew the art of what has become known as Crew Resource Management, or CRM. But I was wrong.

CRM in a military environment is different. If the commander of the operation buys into CRM, everybody buys into it or is shown the door. I suppose the same would be true with a very large airline. But when dealing with a smaller, civilian flight department, things get complicated. You want to get along and the feelings of the person in charge are not enforced by a rigid command structure. You end up with pilots that can ignore rules they don’t agree with or do things situationally. You fly so as to get along with whomever is in the other pilot’s seat.

Even pilots who think they have fully embraced CRM may be deluding themselves to thinking their particular version of CRM is good enough, or better than what the next pilot believes. But there is a secret to better CRM. My only regret is it took me another twenty years to discover that secret.

The twenty years presented in this volume contain the stories on my journey of discovery. The 324 pages include four lessons covering Crew Resource Management. I hope they entertain as well as teach how to recognize good and bad CRM and how to fix what might be broken. I think it is a unique perspective on the subject.

The book is available in print and e-book form at: Amazon. The print version is available now, the eBook available for preorder, it will be released October 1, 2020.

Here is a sneak peak . . .

Last revision:

2020-09-18

Cover story:

2020-09-19

Prelude: A New Life

images

Photo: Santorini sunset, October 8, 2000 (Eddie photo)
Click photo for a larger image

The Summer of 2000

When I’m on the road, I normally switch from tourist mode to pilot mode the moment I get the next flight plan in my hands. The photography, gastronomy, and mixology objectives effortlessly transform to weather, fuel, aircraft, and air traffic control. But the switch requires the flight plan and I didn’t have it yet. Gary took the faxed copy from the hotel clerk and immediately stashed it in his brown leather brief case. It was like a military top secret.

“Where is he?” I asked.

I was standing on the tarmac, having just completed the external preflight. Helen Fuhrman looked down the airstairs from her perch in the galley to me, and then she shifted her gaze to above my head. “See those shipping containers along the fence?” I spotted the containers. “There is some smoke coming from behind the last one.”

I looked at the container and then my watch. I would have no choice but to confront him. Lieutenant Colonel Gary Storm, United States Army (Retired) took over the flight department just before I arrived. I left my United States Air Force lieutenant colonel rank behind after 20 years in uniform. When I got hired by Q-Tron Computers out of Hanscom Field, Bedford, Massachusetts, I thought I had won the lottery. Q-Tron was a big name in personal computing and the industry became what it is because Q-Tron was able to break the monopoly of the “big box” makers. Q-Tron used three state-of-the-art Canadair Challenger 604 business jets to visit plants and customers throughout the world. My starting pay was about what an Air Force Four-Star general made. When I interviewed, the chief pilot had all the markings of the best boss I would ever work for. But in the two months from when I signed the contract to when I finished aircraft initial training, the old boss retired, and I found myself working for Gary Storm. After my first two trips with Q-Tron, I was recommended for immediate upgrade to an international captain. Gary said he would be the judge of my fate and that’s how we ended up flying to Santorini, a beautiful Greek Island in the Aegean Sea just 118 nautical miles southwest of Athens. In the week since we left Boston, I had come to know Gary all too well.

I made my way to the shipping container, trying to be as conspicuous as possible. I adjusted my ground track to allow Gary to catch a glimpse of me as soon as possible, and I was careful to make it appear I wasn’t looking directly at him. That would give him the chance to snuff out the cigarette so he could maintain the illusion that he wasn’t a smoker, something Q-Tron would frown upon. The fact he wreaked of tar and nicotine didn’t seem to faze his self-delusion.

“What the hell do you want?” he asked when I came within a few paces. “I already told you we don’t start the APU until fifteen minutes prior.”

Gary was in his late fifties, had the weather-beaten face of a life-long smoker, and stood just over five-foot-six. I was forty-three, six-foot-even, and more of a youngster when compared to my boss. He went absolutely ballistic the first time I fired up the APU on time, even when we were caught behind the power curve when our passengers showed up early. I had resigned myself to the routine. “I was hoping to see the flight plan so I could pull the charts.”

He reached into his brief case and pulled the envelope that must have been delivered to him by the hotel, hours earlier. “Here,” he said.

I reversed course back to the airplane and started to read. Our flight plan from Santorini Airport (LGSR) to Athens, Greece (LGAV) required a turn west on a Standard Instrument Departure (SID) to join the arrival flow using a Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR). The routing added 15 minutes to our flight time but was the most expeditious way to travel a short distance into a very busy international airport. You have to get in line. I pulled out the low altitude en route charts, the SID, and the six possible STARs into Athens. I filed everything away in the right seat of the cockpit, knowing things would go more smoothly if Gary flew while I negotiated with the Greek air traffic controllers. I positioned the checklist on top of the throttles, wanting to get everything ready for when Gary finally gave me permission to start the APU. Our company rulebook said we had to be ready for the passengers 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, but Gary said that would waste jet fuel. The fact our passengers routinely showed up 15 minutes early didn’t deter him at all. I studied the STAR again, trying to memorize the names so I could more easily understand the controllers.

“Put those away,” I heard from behind me. Gary lowered himself into his seat. “We are going direct, no need to waste any time on such a short distance.”

“There is no way Athens is going to allow that,” I said. Gary started to speak but Helen interrupted.

“They’re here,” she said. I looked up to see the black limousine approach. I opened the checklist but heard the APU starting. Gary’s hands were ablaze with motion and I struggled to keep up. I heard the limo’s door open downstairs and the sounds of Mr. Samuel Therianos, his wife, and their bodyguard greeting Helen. Except for the last-minute rush, it was all very normal in the life of a business jet crew. Subtracting from what little normal we had that morning, Mr. Therianos, the Q-Tron Chief Executive Officer, stopped at the cockpit.

“Lydia would like to sit in the jump seat for takeoff,” he said. “Would that be okay?”

“Of course, Mr. Therianos,” Gary said. “Eddie, set up the jump seat and a headset for Mrs. Therianos.”

I got out of my seat, greeted Mrs. Therianos, and pulled the jump seat into position. I gave her a quick lesson on how to get out of the jump seat in an emergency and how to use the jump seat interphone panel. As I returned to my seat, I heard the right engine spool up.

“I’ll close the door,” Helen said.

I looked down to the blank FMS, the Flight Management System, and was grateful to see the Inertial Navigation System had just a minute to go before completing its alignment, but less happy to realize not a single line of the flight plan had been entered. I considered my typing chores but opted to catch up on the engine start checklist first.

“Get me my taxi clearance,” Gary said. “Let’s go.”

“I’m not ready,” I said. “I need a few minutes.”

“Santorini ground,” Gary said while keying the radio, “Bravo Zulu 604 ready for taxi.”

In a sign that Murphy must have been Greek, ground control cleared us to taxi and Gary released the brakes and we started to move at Gary speed. There is an old Air Force saying that you should never taxi faster than the wing commander could walk. Gary wasn’t an Air Force pilot. I got the critical items on the taxi checklist and returned to the waiting FMS. The Challenger 604 can fly without it, but navigation becomes a problem.

“Call tower,” Gary said. “Get me my takeoff clearance.”

I looked to my left and saw that he was serious. We were moving at about 30 knots and would be at the end of the runway in seconds. I knew that Gary’s first reaction to not getting his way was a string of “F-bombs.” I wasn’t a stranger to the F-word, but had never heard it called the “F-bomb” before showing up at Q-Tron. In the week since I started flying with Gary, I became acquainted with the F-word in all its derivations. Gary would use the word as a noun, verb, adverb, and adjective; sometimes all in one sentence. Mrs. Therianos crossed her legs, getting my attention and giving me an idea.

I extended my legs and applied the wheel brakes. I brought the airplane to a stop and locked my knees, placing my hands above them to emphasize the point. “Gary,” I said over the interphone in my calmest voice. “I am not ready. I will not be ready for another five minutes. I need five minutes.”

Gary looked at me, mouth open. I could see the F-parade was queuing up but also that he had given Mrs. Therianos a sideways glance. “Okay, Eddie,” he said. “You take all the time you need.”

I pulled out the flight plan and started to type. While I typed, tower offered our air traffic control clearance, which I accepted. Mercifully, it matched what our dispatchers had filed and included the STAR I had clipped to my yoke. I added the STAR to the FMS, looked up to our navigation displays and saw that life was sane again. I relaxed my legs. “Your airplane, Gary.” I then let tower know we were ready for takeoff and in less than two minutes we were airborne.

Mrs. Therianos thanked us for the jump seat and retreated to the cabin. I was bracing myself for Gary’s wrath, but he just gave me a sneer and said, “get me direct the airport.”

“Gary, that’s not going to happen,” I said.

Gary keyed his microphone and made the request himself. The air traffic controllers said something that could have been the Greek version of the F-bomb and ended with “maintain assigned course.”

Gary released a tirade of the American version of the F-bomb, but without keying his microphone. I acknowledged the instruction and busied myself with the checklist. While it would be true to say Gary’s behavior was a surprise, it would be stretching things to say I was unfamiliar with this kind of conduct. During my twenty years as an Air Force pilot, I had flown with more than a few general officers with similar dispositions. I knew the best course of action was to keep one step ahead of the child in the left seat and prompt them to make the right decisions at the right times.

I programmed the FMS for the instrument approach and got the navigation radios set up. As long as the course needle was centered or Gary’s flight director was aligned for the task at hand, he kept quiet and flew the airplane. Once we were on the ground, he directed his ire towards whomever he decided was in the way. Athens isn’t a particularly dangerous city, but it always pays to be polite when a visitor. Once secured in his hotel room, Gary normally kept to himself. That meant Helen and I became a crew of two.

“How do the other pilots manage?” I asked that night at dinner. “I don’t think I can put up with this much longer.”

“You aren’t alone,” she said. “Gary has gotten worse since he took over. The other pilots just put up with it in front of him and grumble about it behind his back. I’ve never seen any of them confront him like you did today.”

Helen was part of the original cadre at Q-Tron, having stood the flight department up with its first airplane and first three pilots. She was the least talkative of our three flight attendants and that counted as a plus. I let the conversation drop until she saw fit to restart it.

“There is a definite seniority system in this flight department, just like an airline,” she said. “Length of service means everything. Nobody ever questioned the old boss. Now that he’s retired, nobody ever questioned Gary. Until now.”

The Q-Tron flight department had a good reputation and when I interviewed, everyone seemed to be on the same team. The old chief pilot was an Air Force veteran and the atmosphere appeared to be, in a word, collegial. I had only met four of the nine pilots, but they talked about great trips, well-maintained airplanes, and a no-nonsense leader. But all that was before Gary’s reign as the chief pilot.

The rest of the week included overnights in Munich and London. We delayed our APU start each morning, but the passengers obliged us by being late each time. A week before, I was in the left seat when we crossed the Atlantic going east and kept my mouth shut as Gary ignored all our rules about oceanic plotting procedures. But going west I was in the right seat and resolved to do everything by the book.

The book, for the Q-Tron flight department, was written by Bravo Zulu Aviation, a management company based in White Plains, New York. BZA had more than 200 clients, including Q-Tron. They wrote our Flight Operations Manual, supervised all our training, handled our licensing, provided our dispatchers, and did everything an airline would do when managing a fleet of aircraft. BZA rules were our rules. More importantly, BZA rules made sense.

“Put that away,” Gary said as I started to plot our oceanic route. “Can’t you see the FMS does that automatically?”

“Plotting is a check of the FMS,” I said. “Flying domestically, you have radar controllers doing the check. Oceanic it is up to us.”

“Suit yourself,” he said. “I thought you Air Force pilots had more sense than that. But don’t you think for a moment we are paying for that chart.”

The atmosphere in the cockpit had turned icy ever since our Santorini debacle. While crossing the pond going east Gary relaxed noticeably after our first leg from Bedford, Massachusetts to Shannon, Ireland. He talked about how we military pilots were a cut above our civilian counterparts and that since we were both lieutenant colonels – he used that in the present tense – we had something in common. But every little thing became a confrontation after Santorini.

“I don’t know why you insist on wasting the company’s money,” he said as I turned the radar to its standby position. I looked around the cockpit for clues but came up empty.

“You are going to have to help me out here, Gary,” I said. “How am I wasting money?”

“The damned radar!” he said. “You know the weather is good so you should leave it off!”

“The manual says we should never fly with the radar in the off position to protect the radar plate from turbulence when it isn’t powered,” I said.

More F-bombs flew but Gary eventually satisfied himself by reaching cross cockpit to switch the radar off. I left the radar alone. Gary kept quiet as I busied myself with my right seat chores until I switched the radios from Shanwick to Gander Radio. The name “Shanwick” is a kludging together of Shannon, Ireland and Prestwick, Scotland. Gander is based in Newfoundland. The switch from one oceanic control area to the other is a ritual made at 30 degrees west longitude; it had been that way for many years before my first North Atlantic crossing in 1980. The High Frequency radios are noisy and a nuisance to monitor. Our radios included a Selective Calling (SELCAL) feature which listened to the static for us and allowed the controller to call us specifically using one of 10,920 combinations of four tones made to sound like two. Our radios listened for the tones and alerted us when being called. The system usually worked but had to be tested.

“Request SELCAL check,” I said to Gander Radio. In less than 30 seconds the tones came up, the crew alerting system reported “SELCAL,” and our cockpit chimed. “SELCAL received,” I said.

“You already did that,” Gary said.

“That was with Shanwick,” I said.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “You already proved it works.”

“I proved the radio works,” I said. “But I also have to prove the connectivity between transmitters. It says so in the regulation. Besides, it’s in the BZA manual.”

More F-bombs. “You got an answer for everything,” he said. “To think, you were an Air Force colonel!”

Gary kept to himself until after we landed and shut down in front of our hangar at Bedford. Helen opened the door and our passengers said goodbye as they left. Gary collected his gear and got out of the seat, but not before leaving me with one more thing to consider. “I don’t think you have what it takes to fly for Q-Tron,” he said. “I’m going to call BZA to see if they can find you someplace else that can deal with a crybaby like you. You better get your resume updated but don’t use me for a reference. Anybody calls me about you and they are going to get an earful.”

After I finished with the cockpit, I got up to see Helen stacking the last dish into a plastic bin. “Need help?” I asked.

“Take this, please,” she said. I carried the bin and followed her to the hangar kitchen. Another flight attendant greeted her with the news we had missed while we were gone.

“Three pilots just quit,” she said. “They gave a month’s notice.”


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