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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Rest and fire clouds

The past three days were very welcomed indeed.
After completing the 75-hour cross-country phase of the course, I raced to Baltimore to catch the last flight home to Boston and made it home utterly shattered around 1 a.m. where the soothing presence of my wife and heavenly sleep awaited.
Jen and I had a chance to spend some time together and we took Emily bowling on Thursday evening, when I got to show off my hitherto undiscovered talents as a bowler. Scenes from Kingpin rushed through my mind...
Being home was a nice change of pace after about two weeks of constant uncertainty about my schedule and what state, city or bed I'd get to sleep in.
The cross-countries were fun but tough, especially on a newly-married couple. While we knew it'd be hard to see each other, Jen and I attempted to make plans to get together on a couple of occasions, only to have my schedule, dictated by our dispathers, foil them with invariable consistency.
Those 75 hours of cross-country flying were, however, very beneficial. I flew in icing conditions, logged a lot more IMC time than I'd expected, flew over the cold Smoky mountains and in Florida's warm and performance-hindering weather, dealt with the gear issue after a very long day of flying, caught a leak in the exhaust manifold before dispatch had a chance to send us back out in that plane and flew from the right seat.
Dealing with dispatch was also a big lesson. While mostly pleasant and easy, some of our experiences with them forced us to be more assertive and act as pilot in command rather than submissive students. Flying on a schedule was also a new and very educational experience.
The cross-country phase of the training is also designed to allow students to practice CRM, or cockpit crew management, where one pilot flies the aircraft while the other works the radios, navigates and handles checklists. I admit that before launching into the cross-countries, I was more excited about the flying part than the monitoring role. But after 75 hours of it, I realize the benefits of CRM and of being equally dedicated to the pilot monitoring duties as to flying the aircraft.
I flew most of the cross-countries with a fellow student, Ron. Inevitably, we fell into a CRM groove and developed a good system. A few days ago, however, dispatch sent him off to Atlanta while I was told to overnight in Jacksonville, Florida. The next morning, I was assigned to fly to Atlanta with another student and wondered how it would be to fly with a new pilot. I was surprised when everything happened the same way as it did with Ron. Within minutes, the new guy and I fell into a groove and both legs that day were completely uneventful and as smooth as if we'd flown together for weeks.
In the past two weeks I've also seen parts of the country I'd never been too: Knoxville, TN, Jacksonville, FL, Wilmington, NC, Jasper, AL, Atlanta and Trenton, NJ. While most stop-overs didn't give me a chance to see the cities, our trip to Alabama gave us a few hours to sit around the backwater airport and talk with great people including a couple of former Navy pilots who showed off their skills in two awesome Pitts and a local examiner who also flies as a Captain for FedEx. I'll post pictures from that day soon.
Three days at home wasn't quite enough, but it sure was a nice break and the perfect way to recharge my batteries. I boarded the AirTran flight back to the D.C. area today with my heart just a little heavy and my stomach gripped by sadness. But with my single- and multi-engine commercial checkrides coming up this week and CFI school the following week I'll be home soon.
As we approached BWI, I looked outside at the darkening sky and shimmering lights on the ground. A muted flash of light suddenly caught my eye off our left wing. As I turned my eyes in that direction, I noticed lightening inside a large isolated cumulonimbus. The flash was followed by another one in a different part of the cloud, and then another and so on. The strikes varied in intensity but some were strong enough to light up the entire cloud with a strange yellowish light making it seem like it was on fire. It was quite an enthralling sight.
Even after so much flying in the past two weeks, the perspective on the world from up there is unrivaled.


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