When we land, my wife, Cathy, greets the flight, smiling and laughing at seeing me in my uniform. Though it is late, she guides me to our favorite restaurant, where she has colluded with the proprietor to celebrate my first days as a real pilot. As I come back from the men’s room, where I changed my shirt, I see that there’s a balloon affixed to my chair.
After a weekend of tall tales by the Learjet pilot, I make my way back to KAVL on US Airways. On the turboprop from KCLT to KAVL, the flight attendant walks past 40 customers to my seat and gives me a bottle of water. This uniform is magic. Susan from the FBO picks me up and I tell her I am brand-new and in charge of preparing the airplane for today’s flight. I want everything to be perfect when Mike arrives and I tell her so. She smiles; she’s new on the job too. We have a bond, we new persons.
I have written down a catalog of my errors, misdeeds and indiscretions on the first few flights to discuss with Mike. Besides the obvious failure to catch the tower’s instruction to contact departure on the first trip, the failure to set bug speeds on the second, my assumption that KAVL is at sea level (it is at 2,000 feet), my inability to find the outer marker for the ILS at KAVL in the FMS and my general bewildered state of altered consciousness, I had done an admirable job, I think. At least I hadn’t fallen out of the airplane when opening the door, a fate that has befallen many a rookie Lear pilot. Mike smiles at all this. He is used to flying with Jason, whom he has mentored since his first solo, and now he’s stuck with this 65-year-old newbie.
We’re taking the owner’s son and his family back to St. Pete in the late summer afternoon. This means thunderstorms, and we are vigilant. Direct Taylor looks good and we’re rocking along at FL 400 when Jacksonville Center asks us to recycle our transponder. Sure enough, we’re not getting a reply/interrogation light. Mike knows, and I do not, how to switch to the other transponder, and we’re soon back in business. Will I ever make captain, I wonder?
On the LZARD arrival into the Tampa area, JAX gives us permission to deviate as necessary and to proceed to DADES when able. Mike dials in DADES and we don’t see much of anything on the radar. Why, I wonder, does JAX give us this deviating permission if there is nothing out there? Do they see something we don’t? Does somebody else see something? We don’t see anything but weak returns, but we get a rough ride. Mike disconnects the autopilot, we turn on the anti-ice and deice, and he cradles the yoke in his two hands like he was carrying a newborn puppy.
After a good 10 minutes we break out into that very weird smooth, quiet air. After the rain, it sounds as if the engines are deceased, but I see the instruments before me speaking of modest thrust and cool temperatures. We maneuver around for the downwind to 35R and I acknowledge the 10- to 15-knot crosswind. Mike says as much on final, and for a second the right wing dips into the wind. Mike straightens the airplane and we end up making the usual soft landing and customary turnoff.
Our charges have not been frightened by the turbulence, though we are solicitous about it. The young couple are aviators and the girls like the bumps. For me, it is the end of my first real spate of commercial flying. I couldn’t have asked for better legs, a more patient captain, nicer passengers or a greater thrill. Forty-four years after my first solo I have finally made it.
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