Typing from a hotel room, I look back on the past six months of my budding aviation career.
You’re going to ask: so how do you like it? And my response will typically be this— I am humbled by my job. I was so lucky to be hired fresh out of school, with a mere 252.6 hours. A classmate of mine referred me to this small company, flying Caravans to small, midwestern cities under the Essential Air Service program. Yes, I fly people. No, I don’t fly boxes. It’s not glamorous. I’m Second in Command on an airplane that doesn’t even require a copilot; I trudge through deicing fluid in my Cole Haan boots after completing a walkaround; and half the time our groundspeed isn’t much better than Vref on jets. Our show times can be as early as 03:50, despite TSA not even being open.
But, for the love of Gaga, I’m gaining the absolute best experience. I have a taste of what working at an air carrier is like, and I’m finding my own style of flying. After flying with a multitude of captains, some very good and some very bad, I pick and choose what I like from each of them— I’m savoring their ingredients of a good flight in order to develop my own flavor of flying.
I could have chosen to get my Certified Flight Instructor rating in order to build hours, but this opportunity was too good to pass up. While I think I will get my CFI at some point in the future, I’d much rather do what I’m doing now than do stalls and steep turns with students trying to kill me. And I fly into Chicago O’Hare International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world— a feat that not many of my peers can parallel.
My friends who fly bigger and shinier things make jokes at my expense all the time— Your gear doesn’t even come up! What’s that spinny thing on the front? Do you drive a lawn mower? Of course, they mean it in jest, and everyone has to pay their dues somehow. But don’t worry— I’ll just slow down and have them vectored off the final approach. The Cessna Caravan, or as I affectionately call her, “Miss Van,” is an extremely capable airplane that will do anything you ask of her. Except, erm, go fast.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the elephant in the room— how is it being gay on the job? I don’t (and mostly can’t) hide my identity. Let’s be honest— I sashay through the airport to the gate with my Jackie-O sunglasses and big scarf. I proudly wear a rainbow pin on my lanyard and my National Gay Pilots Association wings on either my tie or sweater. Half the time, gate agents at other airlines think I’m a flight attendant until I whip off my cardigan and flaunt my three silver stripes that stand for “Kick Your Ass.” But as far as interacting in the flight deck, I haven’t had a problem yet. And I won’t. For the most part, my life outside of work is no one’s business (not that I have a love life, but that’s for a different post). As long as I show up and do my job— and I do it well, I might add— then there will be no problems. If you happen to hear a Weber on the radio, wishing ATC a “fabulous day,” then you have been graced with my rainbow contrail in the skies.
How do you fly for free? Perhaps you’ve seen my gallivanting across the country over the past few months. That’s my favorite perk of the job. We’re involved with CASS: Cockpit Access Security System, which is essentially a database of participating airlines. It’s a “Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” kind of deal. Many pilots use CASS as a way to commute to work— I just happen to use it to travel. Domestically, assuming there are seats in the back or an open jumpseat up front, I am able to fly for free on airlines with whom we have reciprocal agreements— and, in return, they can fly us to Decatur, Illinois, for whatever god awful reason they need.
I’m living in St. Louis for the time being. My contract with this company isn’t up until August 2016, so I’ll be around The Lou until then or a bit after. I have a darling apartment that I stay in, sometimes. I’m on assignment now in Mason City, Iowa for two weeks— which makes me cringe when I pay my rent for a place that I won’t see for half a month. And it doesn’t make it better to come home to a cold, dark apartment. But I refuse to live in a “crash pad” with 15 other pilots— nothing against them, it’s just that 1. Boys stink and 2. I need my space.
For now, this is exactly where I need to be. It might be rainy, we could be delayed for asinine reasons, but 9 times out of 10, I walk to the airplane and think Oh. My. God. They’re paying me to do this— not much, but they are. And that’s the best feeling to have.