Gear Up: Initial Operating Experience

Flying as first officer for the first time.

Gear Up JetSuite CJ3 Ground

Gear Up JetSuite CJ3 Ground

** JetSuite's CJ3s and Phenoms are known as
"Red Stripe" — not to be confused with the
beer — on air traffic control frequencies.**

Driving from Tampa, Florida, to KPBI for class at JetSuite’s Palm Beach base, Phil Smith and I are reunited for one last time. Indoc and sim partners for almost a month, we are both about to fly as first officers for the first time; each of us has been assigned to a “B” captain for our initial operating experience. It is about to start in earnest.

Capt. Fred Pollino and I are going to Dayton, Ohio; Phil is heading to Boston. It is a slow start for me but not for Phil. Fred and I airline to Dayton and check into a Holiday Inn Express. Phil sends me a photo of himself in the left seat of a CJ3 at Flight Level 450 taken earlier on the same day. Fred senses my frustration and takes me to our airplane. We practice removing and replacing the engine and pitot covers, preflighting the airplane and then engine starts. With no trip on for today, we are “released” and repair to a local Hooters where I mistakenly order a martini — not Hooters’ forte.

The next morning, we reposition to Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport for the next day’s trip. I am in the left seat for the 20-minute flight, most of which goes by in a surreal blur as Fred holds my hand. The landing is remarkably soft given my innocence. I will soon learn to love the trailing link gear.

Day three brings some real flying. We carry a family of five to Florida — Fred flies. A reposition leg to Miami’s Opa-Locka Executive is mine, and I do well enough with a ton of help that Fred tells me it is my leg to North Eleuthera in the Bahamas with clients on board. JetSuite is great about getting everybody experience. The company hires relatively high-time pilots — with an average of about 8,000 hours each — and expects everybody to be current and proficient. Every captain is generous with flight time.

Fred is a former air traffic controller, and I learn a lot from him, not just about the airplane but also about airspace. Returning to Florida from the Bahamas, he notes that Miami has us on radar and has acknowledged us but hasn’t given us a clearance. I fret about this, as there are thunderstorms about, but Fred reassures me. “He’s got us, but by delaying our clearance, we can maneuver at 16,500 feet, stay clear of the clouds and still enjoy the controller’s flight following.”

We land at KPBI at dusk, go through customs and prepare for a leg to JFK in New York. I am exhausted and am secretly pleased when flow delays into New York put us out of duty time and we agree to fly the JFK leg first thing in the morning. I sleep soundly, which is a good thing as we have a 4 a.m. show for a 5 a.m. trip to JFK.

It is my leg to Kennedy. We climb right up to Flight Level 450. Fred hears a “noise,” but I don’t. I don’t know the airplane anywhere near as well as he does. Concerned that there might be a pressurization problem, he has me don an oxygen mask. The noise dissipates as we climb, and after 20 minutes in the AFM, Fred makes the diagnosis. No harm, no foul. As the sun rises over the Atlantic, I marvel at our altitude, the sight and my good fortune. I have always dreamed of this, and here I am. We’re flying to Kennedy, no less.

Kennedy is advertising ILS to 4L, and we join the early morning parade. There is a crosswind of 10 knots that seems to be of no concern to Fred, to the tower controller or the airplane. It is easy to land. We taxi to Signature and wait for our passenger. I grew up in New York and have always had an emotional and admittedly grandiose connection to this pavement that launches airplanes to Beijing and Moscow. Now, I am here with the big boys.

Loaded up, we are just in front of an Air China 747-400 on the taxi out. We’re going to Bedford, Massachusetts, and a delay in our departure from New York means that we will have to hurry after landing to get back to White Plains, New York, in time to take a famous professional baseball player and his family to Baltimore. Now we are hustling, and Fred is essentially on his own as the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 has me befuddled.

After landing in Baltimore with its three-quarter-mile visibility and low ceilings, we turn around to White Plains. Once we’ve landed, I help clean the airplane and try to look like I know what I’m doing. The airplane is headed to Nassau in the Bahamas with another crew. It works even harder than we do.

A car service takes us from White Plains to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Even though it is the peak of afternoon rush hour, our driver takes us into New York City and back out via the George Washington Bridge. Our protestations go unheeded, as we don’t speak Korean and the driver doesn’t speak English. The trip — a distance of 33 miles — takes close to two hours.

Day five features a bouncy trip from KTEB to New Haven, Connecticut, to pick up a passenger bound for Baltimore. The KTEB to KHVN has me busy; it is rough, and heading/altitude and speed instructions come blisteringly fast. There is a big crosswind at New Haven, but again, I am lucky.

Our passenger is delightful and asks for a Coke Zero, which we don’t have. Fred makes a note of this in the JetSuite computer program that we update after each flight. Two months later, I see her name on the manifest again and persuade an FBO attendant in Syracuse, New York, to take me to a grocery store to get Coke Zero. When we get to New Haven later that night, our passenger is thrilled.

I am a little high on the approach to Baltimore and kick off the autopilot. It is easier for me to hand-fly than to input the correct heading and altitude commands. Fred reminds me that the aim is to use the automation but not to lose stick and rudder skills. After landing, we both race to catch a flight home.

A week later, Fred and I meet up in Palm Beach again. This time I will be in his hair for nine days. “Sixty hours from now, you will call me and say this is easy,” Fred reassures me. Getting from here to there will be interesting.

We launch for Muncie, Indiana, and then take folks to Louisville, Kentucky. From there, we fly into a setting sun to Denver’s Centennial Airport. These are all my legs. I have a hard time picking out the airport in Colorado, but Fred’s been here many times. The FBO has free liquor, and I am tempted. It has been a long day. Instead, we opt for the free dinner at the DoubleTree. I look longingly at the Fleming’s Steakhouse next door. Tomorrow we head west then east.

The takeoff from Centennial is arresting because of the beauty of the Rockies; though it is only October, snow tops most peaks. After climbing to Flight Level 430, we settle in for the morning trip to Oakland, California. The weather is gorgeous. The United States is huge, even at 410 knots.

We pick up a family of four and head to Charlottesville, Virginia, a remarkable trip in a CJ3 that is possible only with a modest tailwind. Our company policy is to land with 600 pounds of fuel. Most captains, I now know, think 1,000 pounds is prudent in most instances. The airplane holds 4,710 pounds. Jets are different because you can get to an alternate a lot quicker than in the Cheyenne that I am used to.

As night settles around us, we cruise over St. Louis at Flight Level 450. I spent six great years down there; I can see KSUS, my old airport. The tailwinds have materialized, and our MFD suggests that we’ll be fat, more than 1,000 pounds, upon landing. We are on time and safely in by 10 p.m. We have tomorrow off and plan to take the same passengers back to Oakland on Sunday. Fred sends a message to the chief pilots and check airmen. I am signed off to fly the line.

The University of Virginia is playing Georgia Tech, and it is homecoming weekend. We are quartered in a hotel that caters to the visiting team. Fred and I are on standby until 5:30 p.m., so we spend a pleasant day enjoying the college scene. It is almost enough to make you want to go back to college. We go to bed early though we don’t leave for Oakland until 4 p.m. tomorrow.

The next day while waiting for our passengers, we chat with other crews who are doing the same thing. A pilot for PlaneSense has his Pilatus parked next to our CJ3. I ask him to say hello to Chris Loprinze, the amazing chief pilot at PlaneSense who was instrumental in getting me an interview for a job there. I never made it to the interview, as I had taken the offer from JetSuite. After contemplating all this, the pilot looks carefully at the big blue turboprop and the sleek white Citation with the red stripe and says, “Well, I guess it sure worked out for you.”

I should say it has.

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