I am on-call 24/7 for my job. The phone could ring at any time, day or night, to inspire me to drop everything and run away to the airport to join the circus. And my phone has rung at any time, day or night. I once only had a thirty-minute warning to get myself to the airport and be ready for takeoff. Luckily, I always keep a bag mostly packed and ready to go, just for moments like that. Other times, when they are too busy to leave town or decide to take one of our other airplanes, the call to work never comes. It would be waaaaaay too considerate to let me know that I don't need to worry about leaving town at any given moment. Instead, I wait for my phone to ring all week, not knowing that they've decided to leave me behind while they go gallivanting in the great blue skies in a different airplane. Consequently, I have very little control (read: none) over my work schedule. Though it is a rare occurrence, I can't do a thing about it when they go five weeks without wanting to leave in this awesome Beechjet. At times, it's tempting to call them up to remind them that I exist, and the airplane is aching to get back up in the air. "Hey. It's me. Wanna go fly?" Words like that just can't be said to a Chief Executive Officer without some sort of backlash, you know?
Enter glorious day when I got the call to go to work. I was up at 4:00 AM yesterday morning to get ready for a trip to Houston Intercontinental Airport. Both passengers arrived on time (first time ever, perhaps), and we were wheels-up just before 6:00 AM to the east. The flight went well with a nice 60-knot tailwind to hurry us along. We landed at the biggest and busiest airport in Houston just two and a half hours later. Welcome to Sweatville.
It might not be common knowledge, but I actually lived in downtown Houston during the summer before I graduated from the University of North Dakota. As an intern for Continental, I worked in the Safety Department for three wonderful months. Walking to work was possible because I rented a room from a Continental Express Captain and his wife just four blocks away from the skyscraper in which I worked all day gathering data card information recorded during flights and compiling them into presentations for company officials. It was a fun gig, but the best part came every weekend when I got to jump seat on any domestic flight offered by Continental. I sat in the jump seat in the cockpit behind and between the two pilots and watch their every move. It gave me precious opportunity to see how their worlds operate, and also a chance to pick their brains about their likes and dislikes of the job. Never mind that I got to observe some pretty sweet airplanes being flown at the same time! It was a great summer indeed. Perhaps the most beneficial information I gathered from my free service to Continental was that airline piloting wasn't for me. Griping about flying just didn't seem like something of which I would ever be capable, and I certainly wanted to show pictures of my husband and kids to people when asked instead of my girlfriends (usually while wearing wedding rings) and motorcycles. It just didn't seem like the lifestyle for me. I wanted something more personal flying with the same people constantly. Spoiler Alert: I really like long-term emotional connections with other human beings! Not even talking to my passengers, other than a few boring calls to the cabin via the intercom, just didn't seem like the best option for me.
So I left that summer wanting to become a corporate pilot instead. I knew I would probably have to donate some time to the airline life, just to attain the hours necessary to become desirable by a corporate flight department. Little did I know that I would later be able to skip the entire airline step completely and just start flying private airplanes for neat people.
And here I am. Six years later. Flying my dream job. It was fun to return to Intercontinental Airport yesterday and reminisce so many memories of my great internship there. It wasn't humid, yet, so it was actually quite tolerable to be outside. That is far from the case during the summer months, as I learned the hard way. I could never live in Houston.
Anyhoo, after we landed and I got the passengers sent on their way, we grabbed a crew car to eat some lunch. Zio's Italian was selected, and I had a healthy pasta dish with a delicious salad. After arriving back at Atlantic Aviation, Terry slept for a few hours while I patiently waited. Big Boss's departing words were that we could ferry the airplane (fly it without passengers) to an airport on the other side of Houston to pick him up later that day. Since I have a dear friend very close to that other airport, I was hoping to get there right away. Terry took a nap instead, and I have decided that I need to be more aggressive about what I want to do. I lost three hours that I could have spent with my Mentor, Charlie, seeing his new Challenger 604. I still got to see him and enjoyed it, but we didn't have time to run to Hobby Airport to see his new baby. I got to show him mine, however, with its new paint and interior. He was impressed, and it was fun to speak to my mentor in person rather than over the phone.
Once Terry finally woke up, we flew to Ellington Airport on the south side of Houston. This is a former military-only airport where NASA trains all of its astronauts! It's home to the largest swimming pool in the world, where they can simulate space-walking in 20-foot depths. I also saw a huge C-130 Guppy, which is used to transport all sorts of space stuff for NASA. And next to that was the NASA T-38 fleet! It was wonderful to be in a location that carried so much aviation history. Charlie arrived shortly after I landed, and we spent an hour chatting before I got a call from Big Boss that they had just pulled in. Four hours early, mind you. So much for a twenty-minute warning! I greeted them at the door and got them boarded while I awakened Terry from yet another nap. Considering they were very early, I was surprised to see them. But I will always take early arrivals from passengers. It's the six-hours-late thing that kind of gets scary after a while.
From Ellington, we were on our way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I love the South...so many neat accents and always interesting food ("What IS that on my plate?"). I arranged to have the crew car used by my passengers since we would only be there for a few hours. Terry and I borrowed the other crew car to grab a quick dinner while they were gone. The FBO recommended a close restaurant, and I always enjoy trying a local eatery. I got a steak which looked way bigger than eight ounces when it arrived. Terry got the Seafood Feast, which was a whole lot of food from the ocean to devour. It made me nervous for the next flight, but luckily all went well.
Exactly two hours after we landed in Baton Rouge, my passengers returned and announced that we were heading home! I actually hoped for something else, as I had been up since four and was so tired. Slurring is never a good sign, right? But we were able to make the long trip home without stopping, thanks to the winds cooperating. Having only two passengers in back also helped so that we could load more fuel for the trip. Just over three hours later, we touched down at home in Phoenix. I pulled into my driveway to surprise my husband just after 11:00 PM. What a long, fun day! And Hubby even told me he was glad to have me home.
Phoenix - Houston Intercontinental - Houston Ellington - Baton Rouge - Phoenix