Published 12:21 pm Saturday, June 27, 2015
by James Howell
The airline continues to expand; a new “bid” is announced to cover expected positions in the different pilot bases.
We have pilot bases in Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles (two sub bases) and Guam for Air Micronesia. Each base has different aircraft types and each move has at least a one year commitment to benefit from a company paid move. There are other restrictions as well, but for the most part pilots get to go where their seniority will take them.
I am successful at bidding an upgrade to first officer (copilot) status in Dallas. I and my family are thrilled. It means moving to a new airplane, the DC-9, and it’s very unusual in this business to advance this soon. I’ve only been here a year; expansion makes everybody happy.
I go through the ground school, initial flight and procedures training, and my wife and I make a house-hunting trip to Dallas. We settle on a new house being built on a tract in the town of Plano, Texas, a little north of Dallas proper. It’s scheduled completion fits our prospective move time and we can get the kids enrolled in school. The housing market is expanding in the Dallas area; things seem to be fitting into a doable time frame.
We pack up the household stuff for yet another cross country transfer. This time we’ve added a travel trailer and a dog. The southwestern desert is no longer daunting. A stop and stay over in Phoenix with relatives breaks the trip into shorter segments.
Somewhere between El Paso and Midland, weather becomes a factor. A cold front is moving south and is forecast to move through west Texas. Clouds form to the north and a few dust devils appear in the openness on either side of the road. Almost even with Midland, I have my first encounter with a “blue norther” in open territory. The winds hit with a vengeance and were it not for judicious use of trailer brakes, we would have been pushed sideways off the pavement into the shallow ditches. The trailer’s broad side catches the wind and we almost jackknife. It is a wild ride for a few moments.
The wind gusts subside into a steady, colder, wind that is easier to deal with. My wife has fared well in the smaller car following us. The dog barely moves around in her bed on the back seat. Basset Hounds are not quick to excite; by the time she gets around to responding, the fun is over.
We arrive at our new house, not too much the worse for wear. It’s nice to be in a place of our own again. There are new neighbors to meet, new places to explore, and a new workplace for me.
The DC 9 is a short, spunky aircraft, with high flap speeds that make it super maneuverable. It’s like flying a fighter aircraft for performance. All flights on our schedule are short; the longest seems to be a one hour and fifteen minute leg to El Paso. Although I’m fully qualified, I’m set up for familiarization flights with more experienced pilots. Line operations are very different from just getting in the aircraft, flying around, landing and leaving. There’s a whole different set of variables and it’s a world of difference from what I’ve been doing for the last year.
I admit that on my first line flight, my body went to Midland and back, but I think my brain never left the ramp in Dallas. This aircraft operation is fast. I’m going to have to improve my speed significantly. My line instructor pilot just laughs the laugh of one who has seen it all before, and I’m left with the attitude that I might make it after all.
The airports served are long-time customers of the airline. I become really familiar with Midland, Lubbock, Amarillo, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston and much of Oklahoma. I’m already familiar with Albuquerque and Denver. I see sunrises and sunsets from all those places. I see dust storms and blowing mud (yes, blowing mud) in Midland. Getting “snowed in” in Amarillo is not unusual.
The smaller station employees become friends and routine trips are a chance to visit. Baggage handlers, contract maintenance workers, cabin cleaners and FAA tower air traffic controllers become part of my airline experience. When fog closes down operations in Lubbock, we, along with flight attendants, take sandwich trays up to the tower to visit. It’s a part of the terminal and creates a good rapport with our co-workers.
This new workplace promises to create long term memories; our new neighborhood promises to do the same. This small town of 16,000 people feels like home.
JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.