Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Day Off Produces This Little Gem...

The UN is just like any other bureaucratic organization.  They like their weekends off, so that is usually when I am off too, unless there is a requirement for VIP movement or a medevac.  I stay in a gated complex - called "Paradise" for some reason that totally escapes my sense of logic.  But I digress...

I have been back in to exercising.  Last year, I reached an all time high weight.  Not good for the over 40 crowd, so I decided to get back in to shape.  40 pounds later, I'm finally running without making my knees sore or getting shin splints. 

So today, my one day off per week that is "OFF" and not stand-by, I decided to get in a run.  I usually do circles around my complex.  Due to the nature of the roads here and the way people drive in DR Congo (think Mr. Magoo - only not as skilled), I find - er used to find - it safer to stay behind the gates. 

Well today during my run, what do I see slither out of the drainage grate?  A little snake they call Mamba here in Africa.  Nicknamed the two-step snake because, after a strike, two steps and you're dead.  It's a viper that certain scientific circles consider to be the world's deadliest snake. The guards quickly killed it, which was just fine with me.  I'm more of a dog person.

To quote Indiana Jones, "Snakes.  Why'd it have to be snakes?"
Anyway, not a fan.  I hate snakes.  All snakes.  Just sayin'.

Entebbe, Uganda

I thought I'd start out with something from right now.  There is so much to catch up on, I might as well start back with something fresh in my mind.

Yesterday I was in Entebbe, Uganda.  Why?  It's a logistics support base for The United Nations.  This year, I've been working as a mission support pilot for the UN in the MONUSCO mission - Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.  Entebbe is a place we fly to frequently, as many MONUSCO employees, contractors and NGO workers filter in to Africa via Entebbe.

Many people remember Entebbe from Operation Entebbe, back in 1976.  If you're not familiar click on the link and it will take you to a Wiki summary.  Basically, it was a hostage crisis that erupted from the hijacking of an Air France flight that originated in Tel Aviv.  The plane was taken to Benghazi Libya.  Afterwards,  Idi Amin gave refuge to the hijackers in Entebbe, Uganda.  After thorough planning, the Israeli Defense Force executed a near perfect rescue/assault that resulted in the loss of only four out of 260 hostages.  It destroyed the entire Ugandan Air Force and was a huge black eye for dictator extraordinaire Idi Amin.  Of course, this a brief summary - I encourage anyone interested to read up on it. 

Anyway, the old terminal/control where the raid took place is still standing and is close to where we park our aircraft when we spend the night in Entebbe.

Entebbe is an interesting place.  I will post more about it in the future.  

An-124 next to the old terminal and tower in Entebbe, Uganda 
Another interesting sight in Entebbe is the Ugandan Air Force Sukhoi 30 fighters.  We taxied behind one the other day.

Su-30 holding short of runway 17, Entebbe

Su-30 on takeoff roll, runway 17 Entebbe.

Friday, June 29, 2012


This blog has been undeservedly neglected.  I owe it to myself and family to have it rise from the ashes.  Well, that's a bit melodramatic

Although the blog has been quiet, the last few years have definitely not been.  The last time I posted, it was about the story of a job interview with the airline I was hired to fly for in Nigeria.  Due to their inability to pay my salary on time, I was forced to search for "greener" pastures.  Nothing is more frustrating than being 8,000 miles from home and your salary has not been paid.  What is the point of being there?

I'll get more in to that later.  First I have to talk about the summer of 2010, when the storm clouds that were brewing. That summer was filled with bouts of bliss, melancholy, opportunity and finally despair. 

First, the bliss.  I had purchased a motorcycle to save money on gas.  It was my daily driver for a while.  Not a big displacement bike, just a 750.  Initially, my wife was at odds with me purchasing a motorcycle.  She didn't even remember that I had a motorcycle license.  My hard headed nature won out and I bought the bike.  About a week after, I talked her in to going around the block with me on it.  Reluctantly, she accepted.

From that moment on, she was hooked.  We made a point every single evening to take the motorcycle out and enjoy the wonderful Kentucky summer.  The area we live in is filled with beautiful back-country roads.  There are lakes, creeks, hills, roads with tree canopies, fireflies, the Ohio River and so much more.  Each ride was magical.  It was a way to leave the days stresses behind.  It seems like the time not spent on the motorcycle or with the kids was full of melancholy.

There were flying jobs, but most paid too little to justify.  I love flying, but will not do it just for the sake of flying.  Nothing comes before my family and the whole point of flying is to provide for them.  I interviewed with a small airline in Cleveland, but was shocked to hear that their Captains made less money than I made at Comair.  Shameful.  I was offered a job with a freight operator flying Commanders, but it was from Blueash airport in Cincinnati, which is easily 40 miles from where I live.  An 80 mile round trip, 5 days a week just wasn't in the cards.  I also turned down a job flying a single engine cargo route.  The time off just wasn't adequate enough to justify it.  I didn't mind my non-flying job and they were good to me, but I just wasn't happy.

Of course, neither were about 50 million other Americans who were either unemployed or underemployed just as I was.  It was time to stop feeling sorry for myself and get serious.

I found out about the opportunity to return to flying overseas, with a good salary and rotation and went for it.  As I've already written, I got the job.  It didn't turn out to be the best job, due to their financial instability (go figure, an airline with cash flow issues) - but it did get me current again and gave me another year of experience.  So for that, I am thankful.  It was a great opportunity at the time.  Before the opportunity came to fruition, everything was almost lost.

I nearly lost my wife, my best friend, my one and only.  She almost bled to death internally and had to have an emergency hysterectomy.  She had not been feeling well for quite some time, but the doctors kept prescribing her with iron supplements and said she was fine.  One day, she nearly passed out.  We took her to the hospital, where she received a blood transfusion.  She was sent home only to have the same problem 3 days later.  Only this time, she was worse.

She was admitted to the hospital and had a hysterectomy the next morning.  It was a very close call.  He blood count was so low, that doctors were amazed she survived up to the surgery.  It was very scary for us.  I don't know what I would do without her.

Thankfully, her Mom and sister came out while this was happening.  It was a huge help to have them there and I will always be thankful to them for all of their help.  It made all the difference during that scary time.

After the surgery, her recovery was amazing.  She was back to work within three weeks and was well enough for me to start my new job.  So with that, I resigned from Staples, sold the motorcycle (it was the end of the Summer anyway) and started the next chapter.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Detroit Meltdown

Like I said, getting home is a story in and of itself. I picked up a taxi from CAE to the international terminal at Pearson. CAE is just on the other side of the aiport, so it's only a 10-15 minute taxi ride. It took a while for my taxi to pick me up and I was beginning to worry about missing my flight, which connected through Detroit.

When he picked me up, I had exactly one hour to departure and was extremely nervous about not getting to the gate on time. I asked the driver to get there as fast as he could. As we were heading down Derry Rd. on the West side of the airport, the driver suddenly slammed on the brakes. Out in front of him was a police officer, pointing at cars that had been caught speeding. Luckily he didn't point at my taxi. Apparently, that's how they pull you over. You Canadians are so civilized...wait...civilised.

I made it to the terminal 45 minutes prior to departure. I made it the gate 5 minutes prior to departure only to find that the flight was delayed by 90 minutes. No problem making it. The late departure would make me miss my departure to Cincinnati.

When I got to Detroit, I made my way to the gate area and found that there was one more flight departing to Cincinnati. It was sold out, but there was a Comair pilot flying on company business back to Cincinnati, so I approached him and asked if he'd take the jumpseat so I could get a seat in the cabin. He agreed and told the captain. The captain came down and asked told the gate agent there would be one more seat in the cabin. The gate agent had already closed the flight and wouldn't let me on board the aircraft. It's not good to argue when you travel on pass privileges, so I graciously (on the outside) bowed out and started looking for other options.

The only other option was to go through Ft. Wayne. I was ticketed and about to board when a family of non-revenue passengers with higher priority came and took all of the remaining seats. I was bumped. Faced with the prospect of a night in Detroit was not very appealing. Money was very tight and anxiety was building.

Just as I thought a good day had turned bad, a couple approached me. The husband said, "Sounds like you need to be in Cincinnati tonight." I nodded and indicated that I had been bumped from my last flight option. I introduced myself and we all got to chatting. We got to know each other a bit and found that we lived within 10 miles of one another. Their son was a pilot with Delta and they too had been bumped from the Cincinnati flight. They too wanted to be home that night, but didn't feel like driving. They said if I drove, they'd pay for the rental car.

They said that since I was a pilot, they figured I could drive a car safely too. Umm...ok. I'm in. They had no luck finding a rental car, but I was able to get a one way rental from Enterprise for a very reasonable rate. Withing 30 minutes, we were on our way to Cincinnati which is about 250 miles away.

It was a very enjoyable drive. The husband is a petro-chemical engineer with Ashland and the wife a physician. I stopped and bought burgers for everyone along the way and we had a nice time. I appreciated their generosity and hope to be able to do the same for someone else in their time of need. We made it back to Northern Kentucky by 9 p.m., I dropped them off at their lovely home and met my wife at Enterprise. Pure serendipity.

It was a good ending to a long weekend and a very long day. Storm clouds were on the horizon.

Fast Forward

I have a lot of holes to fill and have been remiss about posting. Although mindful of the personal importance of keeping up with writing, several challenges and obstacles had taken my heart out of it.

I used to have a link to some of my favorite aviation blogs through Blogrolling, but they have ceased operation and all links were lost. I've added a few. If you have an aviation related blog and would like me to add it to Great Gig In The Sky, please let me know.

In twenty five years, I want to have something to look back on that can be shared with my children and grandchildren.

Back to blogging. It's going to be out of sequence for a while, but I will try to fill the gaps as time goes by.

Where am I now? West Africa. Abuja, Nigeria to be exact. Abuja is the capitol city of Nigeria, created the 1970's from scratch as a master planned government city along the same lines as Brasilia, Brazil.

Today is presidential election day. Nigerian law dictates that election days are strictly enforced non-movement days. The night before from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., there is a curfew. Everyone is to be off the streets except for essential personnel. Coming back from the airport last night at 10 p.m., we had a police escort and encountered several road blocks where citizens were being questioned for their reason for being out past curfew. Election day non-movement is from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. People are only allowed outside of their home to vote at their local polling station. Needless to say, I am sitting in the Sheraton with plenty of time to kill. Time to blog.

Last August I was invited to interview with my new airline in Toronto. The interview was to include a face to face and simulator assessment. Having been out of an aircraft for almost 10 months, I was rusty and feeling more than a little nervous. I needed this job.

Luckily, the guy that interviewed me is a caliber guy. He made me feel relaxed from the beginning and my nerves settle by the time the simulator was open. I had the earliest flight of the interviewees and took the first slot. Might as well get it over with, right?

It was a straight forward assessment. We began with a standard take off where I climbed to 10,000 feet. He then had me demonstrate some steep turns. A steep turn consists of a 45 degree banked turn, usually 180 degrees in one direction and then 180 degrees back to the original heading. ATP standards are +/- 100 feet and +/- 10 knots. My first one was a disaster, so I asked for another. The second one was within ATP standards and he said he was satisfied.

Next we returned to the airport for a standard ILS approach. It was down to minimums and required a missed approach. After the missed, did a hand flown VOR approach to a landing. He re-positioned me for a low visibility takeoff and gave me a V1 cut (engine failure at the most critical phase of takeoff). The V1 cut worked out fine. It was due to severe engine damage. I did the emergency items for it, stayed on single engine and did a hand flown, single engine ILS to a full stop. One last normal takeoff, he failed the flaps and I did a visual approach with flaps zero back to 31L at JFK.

Whew! It was over. He said, "Good job. We'll see you in a few weeks for training and then in Lagos, but the official word will come from our office in London." It sounded like I was hired, but not hired. He saw the confused look on my face and said, "I'm the one that makes the decision. You just have to get the confirmation from the London office." That made me feel a lot better.

I shakily got out of my seat in the sim and headed back to the lounge area where the other guys were waiting their turn. They were all anxious to hear the gouge so they'd know what to expect in their ride. That's the downside of going first. You don't know what to expect. I spent about 20 minutes telling them all about it, wondering which of them I'd be seeing in Africa. Then it was time to get to Pearson airport so I could get back home.

That's another story in and of itself...

The outside of the Sheraton Hotel in Abuja. It's a large hotel with resort
style amenities like a steakhouse, Italian restaurant, casino, large pool area,
tennis, conference facilities and spa facilities.

This is the view from outside of my room.
Each tower is pyramid shaped with an open atrium.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Long delays between posts

Although this blog was created purely for personal reasons, I feel fortunate to have made many friends through it and am honored that it has many followers.

Life has been very hectic and that is the reason for the delays. Lots to say, stories to share, promise to be back very soon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Long Time Coming

Well, the title says it all. This post has been a long time coming. The last year or so has been difficult at times but, as always, persistence pays off.

To summarize the last eighteen months, there have been highs and lows (seemingly more lows) travels abroad, job changes, job searches, interviews, job offers and finally employment that is suitable for the needs of my family.

Yemen was an interesting country to spend time in. I have many photos and experiences to share from my time there. Flying in Yemen made me a stronger pilot. Spending five months straight in Yemen nearly made me lose my mind. The main contract was canceled and I was offered a local contract with no rotation home. Due to scheduling for a required proficiency check, I was forced to remain away from home for five months to the day. Being away from my family for that amount of time was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. The negative impact it had on my family was inexcusable and never again will I let a contract employer stand between my family and I.

There were many positive experiences in Yemen. I made life long friendship connections with the guys I flew with. I've never had the honor of serving in the military, but I can say the camaraderie that develops between men in a situation that only you as a group can relate to/understand must be comparable. I can tell my family and friends in the US about the experiences, but only the guys I worked with truly understand what it was like.

I left for Yemen on a twelve month contract. Based on the pay, it was a good opportunity. When the airline canceled the contract between my employer in the United Kingdom and themselves six months early, it left myself and the others between a rock and a hard place. The job market was still VERY tight. Few of us could afford to stop working and go home. The airline knew that and offered us all "local" contracts at a much lower pay rate and zero rotation. Most of us had no choice and took it with the intention of leaving as soon as possible.

By the end of 2009, I could no longer stand to be away from home and decided to leave. There were a few opportunities around the corner. It was time to leave and be back with my family. I needed them and they needed me. After a wonderful homecoming, the opportunities on the horizon had dissolved. Hiring in the US was still stagnant and there was no where else to turn.

Due to the economy and the declining state of the industry, finding employment in my previous profession was impossible. With a resume heavy with flying for the last few years and the absolute desire to stick with it, finding employment was difficult. I was constantly told I was over qualified or that my eventual return to aviation meant poor return on investment for prospective employers.

After doing some temporary work, I was fortunate enough to find employment with Staples, Inc. working in a call center. It was a good work environment, the pay was livable, there were benefits and the company was glad to have my talent for the time being. They encouraged me to continue seeking employment in aviation while always encouraging me to grow within the company as well. I have nothing but positive things to say about Staples and what a caliber company it is. Thank you, Staples.

I interviewed at a few airlines while working for Staples, but just couldn't justify starting over at another airline and making my family suffer through first year pay all over again. It just wouldn't be fair to them. They have been through enough the past few years. I was also offered a job with a cargo/freight carrier that operates point to point delivery all over the country. The pay was better, but the schedule would keep me away from home too much.

The answer was there. I just hadn't found it yet. I continued working for Staples in to the summer, enjoying the time being home with my family. I purchased a motorcycle that my wife and I enjoyed immensely. There's nothing like a relaxing ride on a cool, Kentucky summer evening under the dense tree canopy of summer, sharing the cool breeze with millions of fireflies. I see a Goldwing in our future.

This was the beginning of an eventful summer, filled with promise, despair and ultimately a renewed lease on life.