Friday, December 28, 2007

Spirit of Ham

John and I jumped through another hoop yesterday: the Procedures Validation (PV). That was the last session in the FBT, which is a cockpit that doesn't move, yet all its instruments and computers work normally. The PV tests your ability to run flows and checklists, and to fly profiles. A “flow” is the way your hands move across and around the panels and consoles testing and setting instruments and switches. You've got to do it by memory. Checklists are read by one pilot and executed by one or both with verbal responses that have to be exact. Example: “Airspeed bugs, gross weight 220,000 lbs, flaps 5, 135, 140, 155, set.” And, “FMCs, runway 28 right, Shoreline one departure, Red Bluff transition, set.” And so on. 

“Profiles” are the procedures for flying takeoffs, climbs, descents, instrument approaches and missed approaches.

There's a ton of things to do and there is no tolerance for improvising your own ways. Anyway, John and I passed easily with a few “debrief items.” Sorry to disappoint you but my performance was not flawless. Tonight the pressure ramps up a notch as we begin preparation in a real simulator for the Maneuvers Validation next week. The MV will test our mettle at handling fires, failures, decompressions, etc.

The background to all this is a little noticed event here at the training academy a year or so ago. A very cherished photograph that had hung in the cafeteria for many years disappeared. It was a portrait of one of United's pioneer pilots, Captain Hamilton “Ham” Lee. Ham was an airmail pilot in the 1920s who got national attention when he was fired from the postal service for refusing to fly in the fog. He said he wasn't going to lay his life on the line for a postage stamp. 

Other pilots took his side and struck. The postal service gave in, rehired him and allowed station managers to cancel flights if the weather got too bad. Later Ham hired on with one of the first companies to fly people, Varney Airlines. Eventually this morphed into my airline of today. He retired the year I was born, 1949.

The picture you see here of Ham is not the one that hung in the cafeteria. I couldn't find that one on line. That portrait was huge, about 6 feet tall, and it depicted Ham in the cockpit of a DC-3. He was looking back over his right shoulder. His hat was crushed under his radio headphones.
I'll never forget that menacing little grin and that thin little
Captain Ham Lee
mustache. He looked like Clark Gable. He seemed to be saying, “Get your *&^% picture and get the &^$# out of my cockpit. I got an airline to run.”

Many of us would never sit in the cafeteria with our backs to Captain Lee. It was our way of honoring him and his kind. Luck had something to do with it for some guys. I was among those who would never sit with my back to him, especially on checkride day.

Now Ham is gone, stolen from us to whom he belonged. We don't have him there anymore staring out at us challenging us to be as good as he was. They took him, just like they took our pensions and 40% of our paychecks. They probably put him in a museum.

Some day museums will be full of airline pilot relics and families will walk through them and parents will point at pictures of guys like Ham and me and and tell the kids,

"Look. A pilot!" The kid will stare and the parent will say,

"That was back when real people flew airplanes."

I'll never stop sitting in the cafeteria facing that place on the wall where he was. He's still there for me.

I gotta go. Got an airline to run.


3 comments:

bradcockrell said...

Good read pop... informative and entertaining. Your blog is your sword! Keep swinging...

scockrell76 said...

Good stuff dad. While I am a huge proponent of Free Enterprise and its benefits, I agree with you 100% that what the management of United Airlines is doing is horrible. No way those guys deserve to pat themselves on the back with "FAT BONUSES" because they think they saved a airline. When in reality all they did was take money from the pockets of those that are the true heart and soul of the company and re-distribute that money to other parts of the company to in order to make the numbers work. I'm all for cutting costs and becoming more efficient. If that means you can streamline processes, procedures to save money do it. If it means that positions can be eliminated because of better efficiency then SO... BE... IT. But, when you act irresponsibly in a effort to deliver a short term fix, then my friend you have in essence fixed a leak in a damn with duct tape. Lets pray that someone up there at the top somewhere has a ounce of sense, and that someone will listen to them.

Enough of my rant. It's not my BLOG. Just sit back work hard and imagine the large amount of swine that will be delivered to your house on Tuesday. The egg is all bridled and saddled ready to go.

Esau Family Blog said...

This is so cool! I'm sending a link to Theron!