Friday, January 14, 2011

My Baby Is Getting A Facelift

That may be an alarming post title for some people. You must remember that "My Baby" is a Hawker Beechjet 400A! Real babies are way too cute to need cosmetic surgery...

We dropped off the airplane to the fine folks at Oxford Aviation in Maine just before Thanksgiving for a new paint job and interior. Believe me...these improvements were needed! Oxford has been working on my airplane night and day for the past two months to get it ready for a new life. We are supposed to pick it up next week, but I'm not holding my breath. After the paint gets finished and has time to cure (in Maine winter temperatures, mind you), time will still be needed for installation of the new interior, which is being built at the same time in a different part of the shop.

In addition to the beautiful paint job seen above, we are getting new carpet, new sidewalls (no more ultra suede!), and the seats are being reupholstered in a beautiful tan leather. Even the pilots' seats up front are getting redone and having new wool placed on top. We truly do have the best seats in the house! The airplane was in sore need of some loving attention, and I have been begging for a new paint and interior for years! Unfortunately, I'm the only girl on the airplane and therefore the only one who cares about the aesthetics of something flying through the sky at 550 MPH! My Baby will be turning fifteen years old this year and still has the original paint and interior. An upgrade like this major makeover inside and out will be a very welcome sight indeed.

And I thought I loved this airplane before!

I miss My Baby and can't wait to get her back. I must say that the time home, without the constant threat of being called for work at any hour of the day or night, has been a nice treat.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The FlightSafety Experience

Every year, I get to visit Wichita to complete my Recurrent Training at FlightSafety International. For the first time since I've been coming here for training, four years to be exact, I didn't have a gigantic checkride looming at the end of the week! And you know what? I still learned lots and had a blast!

Wichita itself is a neat place to be. So much aviation history lives here, and three major aircraft manufacturers still make airplanes in the town of 300,000 residents. Cessna and Bombardier are located on the western side of town near the main Intercontinental Airport. After landing on my commercial flight, I traveled to the far east of the city in a tiny rental car. My FlightSafety center is located right next to the Hawker Beechcraft Factory, where new airplanes roll off the assembly line every week (back in the hey-day, anyway. It has certainly slowed down the past few years). Just three miles north of the training center on Webb Road was our hotel for the week, Marriott Courtyard. Wichita is a cute has all of the amenities of a big city but still has a lovely small-town feel. People are really friendly, but I think they have to be warm to survive the winters here!

The training fun began Monday morning at 9:00 AM when we met our flight instructor, Nancy Kitchens, in Briefing Room 17. This same sweet lady was my flight instructor when I did my initial training four years ago to become a Captain. I LOVE her. Nancy is such a neat person and knows so much about the Beechjet. The woman just finished her Doctorate, despite working over fifty hours each week as an instructor! She was as excited to see me as I was to see her. Once we got caught up with our lives, Terry and I began our pre-flight discussions with Nancy to brief what was to come during our simulator session.

Soon we were in the simulator for our first flight. Terry sat in the left seat for two hours before we swapped seats for my turn. During this flight I did stalls, steep turns, unusual attitudes, and several emergencies that had to be dealt with pretty quickly to prevent the airplane from bucking around like a wild bronco! It's a neat chance to "practice" things that hopefully never happen in real life. I am so grateful for the opportunity to experience things in a simulator so I know how to best handle it in case it really happens. I found it hard to get out of the simulator because my legs were made of jelly after holding the rudder during so many engine failures!

After a debriefing and a quick run for lunch, it was now time for the longest part of the day. I love school scenarios and always have, but it's tough being a brain sponge in class for four hours after such a physically-demanding day in the simulator! Luckily, we had an awesome ground instructor, Doug Vollmer, who has been teaching this class for twenty-one years. I've had him a few times during my last four visits. He is one of the best!  Doug has a story for every system and has a great way of making everything applicable to his students. It was a nice reminder of how some systems can easily kill me! Other systems are redundant, and we only have the Chinese airplane designers to thank for that!  By 8:00 PM, we were done with class and headed back to the hotel.

Wake up...repeat...three days in a row.

Our last day brought a different flight instructor because Nancy was so popular and was double-booked. The program manager himself, Randy Siebert, stepped in to finish our last exciting day in the sim. And in ground school on our final night, we had to take a systems test before we were allowed to leave. I got 100% and was tickled to be done for another year! I love coming here, even if we have blizzards and negative temperatures most of the time. Who goes outside? All the fun is inside with simulators trying to kill me!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Family Affair To Warm The Soul

It's snowing.

At least, I think that's what this fluffy white stuff falling from the sky is called in these parts.  Don't be alarmed...we aren't getting frozen precipitation in The Valley of the Sun. I just arrived in Wichita, Kansas for three days of attempted murder by flight instructors in a full-motion Beechjet simulator. They really will be trying to kill me as they throw emergency after emergency at me so I can practice in case I need the recovery skills in real life. I am here to survive Recurrent Training at FlightSafety, and to enjoy the balmy weather until Thursday morning. No, really. The high on Wednesday is seventeen degrees. I don't want to talk about it. To warm myself, without buying the Haagen-Dazs ice cream downstairs in the hotel lobby, I shall share some moments from yesterday's dinner with family at our house.

As an odd side note, If I could make a living putting together table settings, I would probably try.

It was rather a last-minute decision to have family over. But I'm so glad we did it! Everyone arrived by five, some bringing drinks of blood orange soda and others contributing caprese salad as a first course. I made pot roast, Pioneer Woman's Creamy Mashed Potatoes, brown gravy, and roasted carrots. I also baked an entire bag of Texas Rhodes Rolls, which were a crowd favorite. Later, for dessert, we have Ghirardelli caramel brownies with ice cream and homemade Ghirardelli hot fudge. I hope your mouth is watering by now, because the food all lived up to the saliva lost! We purposely bought comfortable dining chairs so people would be fine sitting at the table for extended periods of time. What can I say? We like to eat!

After we put some babies down for the night, we all returned to the table for a game called "Say Anything." John gave it to me for my birthday, and we couldn't stop playing for three hours! It's such a rare treat to get to play board games!

I'm so glad we were able to have family over for some grub at such short notice. I am headed back to real work soon, and I wanted one last shindig before the grindstone becomes a reality once again. It didn't hurt that lots of chocolate and laughs were involved to make the evening so enjoyable!

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