Ed. Note: We’re pleased to welcome Kevin Garrison back as a twice-a-month opinion contributor to AVweb, reviving his popular column.
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I retired from the airline world eons ago, but the weary yet happy feeling I get after a flight has not changed with time.
After a three-hour trip to and from a grass field pancake breakfast, I remembered that feeling of being “flying tired” as I moved my creaky bones out of my little taildragger over to the fridge for a beer and then flumped my aging butt into my T-hangar’s recliner.
Uttering the same “oomph!” that I used to murmur as I sank into pilot lounge seats at places like Paris and Shreveport, I sipped my brew and watched the arrival of a young pilot named Stan. He was wearing an airline pilot shirt with two-stripe epaulets for some reason, even though his job title was “Dog-Ass Flight Instructor.”
I can relate to his weary and depressed-looking approach. I had spent more than a bit of time being the local airport’s dog-ass flight instructor when I was younger and still slip the surly with the occasional clueless student aeronaut.
He grabbed a diet soda from my hangar fridge and, uninvited, sat in the lawn chair next to my recliner. Then, his interrogation began.
“How much flying time do you have?” he asked.
I don’t know, I said. I stopped keeping track years ago after reaching around twenty-two thousand hours. Why do you ask?
“Because I am tired of trying to build my hours up to get an ATP and an airline job. It isn’t fair that they think I need all that time. After all, I have a degree in aviation from Southwestern Crowley County Tech, and I have been a professional pilot for almost a year!”
I tried to relate to his anger but got snippy instead. Wow, the major airlines haven’t hired you for a whole year. And with a degree in “chock-ology,” too? What kind of world are we living in is what I want to know.
“Smart ass,” he said.
Nice faux airline shirt, I said. Did you get it from Toys backward R Us, or did your mom order it from Amazon?
“Hey,” he said. “My flight school makes us instructors wear this uniform. I know it looks a little dorky to you, but it is the only shirt I own with a collar.”
Having worn what was basically a steamship captain uniform for my entire airline career, I had to ease up on the kid a little. We have all worn silly clothing for our jobs. Ask any Hooter’s waitress.
I had to remind him that he was in luck. Depending on who you ask, there is still a pilot shortage, and most airlines are hiring pilots at low experience levels. The fifteen or sixteen hundred hours they want now for civilian pilot hires was around thirty-five hundred hours when I got hired.
Thirty-five hundred hours including late-night Twin-Beech bad weather fear fests as I flew alone with large bags of canceled checks. Hours and hours spent circling football games and hauling banners. Time spent away from home leading fire bombers through forest fires. Not to mention the other hours flying in holding patterns and gliding down ILS approaches with students.
He looked beat and in no mood to listen to me pontificate. I could tell him I had been exactly where he was today (without the idiotic shirt). I could say to him that he should enjoy the process of paying his dues with scut flying jobs because he would later remember them as some of the best times of his life, but he was locked in the misery of flying 172s and dreaming of 787s.
The hours he still needed to him seemed like an insurmountable pile of poo. To me, it seems like a little over a year of really concentrated professional flying that would give him the experience to make hard, informed decisions when he later found himself over a stormy ocean at night with three hundred people depending on him for their safety.
I wanted to advise him to find hours anywhere he could, just like I did back in the ancient days of disco, but I couldn’t.
The poor kid had fallen asleep in my hangar lawn chair. I quietly left him to rest and dream of cashing big paychecks after flying large jets into misty and beautiful foreign airports.