(January 2012) It has been a long first day as a first officer. We’re in Asheville (KAVL), North Carolina, about to airline back to Tampa, Florida, via Charlotte, North Carolina. My captain at Elite Air, Mike Bronisz, is on the phone with dispatch. I watch as the corners of his mouth turn up and his eyes take on a certain glow. He gesticulates with his free hand: thumb up. “We’re deadheading the Lear back to St. Pete,” he says. Oh, boy. We’ve already flown from St. Pete (KPIE) to Lakeland (KLAL), Florida, and picked up passengers to bring to Asheville, and this gift from dispatch means we’ll be home in time for dinner. Not to mention that we get to fly back empty, a good thing for an FO on his first day.
I scurry to file a flight plan, and Mike orders up 150 gallons of jet-A. I’m starting to get the hang of the flight management system and the calculations for bug speeds, so I am proud to attend to these matters. Just like that we’re taking our private Lear 31 back home.
Talk about gypsies in the palace. With free bottled water (cold) from the very kind folks at the FBO, an empty airplane and the sense of already having worked a bit today, I am giddy with anticipation. I’m better on the radios now than I was this morning on my first two flights. We taxi out.
Mike asks me, “Have you ever been on a max performance takeoff in a Lear before?”
“No,” I say, wondering what that will feel like.
Our clearance is to 10,000 feet, almost 8,000 above the runway on which we’re lining up and waiting. I finish the lineup checklist. Mike brings up the power but stands on the brakes. At 95 percent N1 fan speed, he cuts us loose. I am uncertain as to what happens next. I can’t read the vertical speed indicator. Next thing I know, Mike is coming back on the power and I’m checking in with departure level at 10,000.
We step-climb to FL 400 and head toward the Taylor VOR. We deviate slightly to the east by looking out the window. The radar didn’t look that bad, but there was a thunderstorm with pretty impressive overhang and Mike was definite about steering clear of it. For the first time today, we’ve got a minute to catch up. Mike is a patient teacher, a very good thing since this is my first go as a jet pilot and my first time in a two-person cockpit. It isn’t the aviation so much that has me confused; it is the speed at which things happen and the call-outs expected between two pilots.
Mike points out some obvious things that I had done out of sequence due to lack of familiarity. For instance, when departing KPIE that morning, he called for the after-takeoff checklist. In my desire to be the good FO, I missed the handoff to the departure frequency. Mike pointed out that there isn’t anything critical on that part of the checklist — it can be done later, after altitude, speed and direction have been nailed. I was beginning to see that priority-setting was a crucial part of flying a Learjet.