I searched for a touch pad and an electronic checklist. Nick pointed out the takeoff placard on the lower instrument panel that displayed the appropriate items. That would do. I began the takeoff roll, hopping rather than rotating off the ground. A more subtle application of back pressure would have helped the airplane accelerate. I forgot about the floats.
I climbed the airplane all the way to Flight Level 004 over the water. Nick contacted the Navy base and received clearance to transit its airspace en route to Little Palm Island. As we neared our destination I studied the increasing chop on the water. I queried Nick about our arrival strategy. In my old career, the effect of the wind was a challenge only until touchdown. In my new career, the wind was a challenge all the way to the gate.
Nick indicated that his strategy was always evolving with the dynamics of the situation. On this particular day, he directed me to circle north of the island while he pointed out an approach and touchdown path toward the dock. I managed to touch down with minimal rookie mistakes.
The next part of the arrival was to dock the airplane with no damage, or worse, embarrassment. If you’re a boater, you know that a stone-cold, harbor face is essential. As we approached nearer the island, Nick determined that the best plan was to complete a U-turn, timing the momentum after engine shutdown to parallel the dock with the starboard float. We would face out, away from the island, to allow a quick exit. This required me to step out on the float in order to retrieve the appropriate line from the dockmaster. Despite my participation, the docking went smoothly.
Once secured, I assisted with bag loading. Nick positioned the luggage in the aft seats with the deftness of a professional grocery bagger. The passengers arrived smiling. A safety briefing was given as they climbed aboard.
Nick untied the lines from the dock while I held the wing strut. He slid into the left seat and started the airplane. I hopped onto the float in time for the prop wash to close the copilot’s door before I could climb in. Unrattled, I reopened the door and jumped into the right seat. We departed in a flurry of noise and salt spray. Our arrival back at Key West was uneventful.
I completed my copilot duties by escorting our passengers and their bags to the main terminal, where they were to depart back to New York. Mission accomplished.
The new job was great. But I had participated only in the fun part. Nick explained that he was on the phone an average of two hours a day. He and Julie arrange the charters, schedule the maintenance, answer the e-mails and write the checks. Nick professes that the $50 hourly rate that the business pays him is not to fly but to manage the company. I’ve watched him in action. I agree.
In any case, do I still consider the experience an airline pilot fantasy? Absolutely. Will I be saying goodbye to the 777? Well … probably not just yet. But Nick and Julie are adding an amphib 172 to the fleet for seaplane instruction. I’ve been asked to be a flight instructor. Hmm …
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