Category Archives: travel

Making Connections

We were invited to a GPB dinner on Tuesday evening to share our ideas on one of our favorite shows, On Second Thought.  The show is taking a new turn, as the previous host stepped down for a new and wonderful adventure.  One of the reporters said she was from a small town in North Carolina, and I said I was from a small town outside of Greensboro.  She said she was, too, and it turned out she is from Trinity, about 15 miles from my home.  Trinity has a small airport, Darr Field, which is where I had my first flying lesson that really ignited my passion for aviation.  It was a wonderful conversation and we talked about some of the things we love about North Carolina.  We left with sense of just how connected we all are and how small the world really is.

And then today I received an email today from a man whose grandfather owned our (my!) airplane before my dad bought it.  He talked about flying with his grandfather to a baseball game between Kansas City and the New York Yankees, and how he got to see Mickey Mantle play.  I told him how Daddy flew my brother to Baltimore to see the World Series, around 1970, and how they flew to Indianapolis to the Indy 500.  He told me that his grandfather purchased a Cessna 210 after he sold the Cessna 172, N7214A, which he had owned in a flying club with three other pilots.  I told him how I stripped all the paint off the plane so that Daddy had no choice but to paint it yellow and white, just like I wanted.  He told me he was a commercial pilot and flew crop dusters.  I told him that was what I always wanted to do.

I’m always amazed by connections and how small the world truly is.   But right now, I just want to call my dad.  I want to tell him about the email and I want to tease him about taking Robert to the World Series and the Indy 500 instead of me.  I want to hear him laugh about losing his airplane the day I had the flying lesson at Darr Field.

I just want to remember.

 

 

Opening Doors

It isn’t the same and I won’t pretend it is.  But last year has been on my mind, a lot lately.  Maybe it is because hurricane season is gearing up, but I’ve also heard some snarky comments like “if you think these families ought to be together, then why don’t you open your home.”  Little do they know that our home is always open to people who need a place to stay.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, it was easy to post on Facebook that anyone who might be evacuating could come to our home and stay.  I knew no one would come.  No one did.  Then came Irma and I knew I had to do something.  This could be bad but did I really want a bunch of strangers in our home?  I emailed my cousins first and they were all fine.

We started hearing how there were no hotels in Georgia.  This was not going to be good.

So up went the Facebook post.

Now let me add an important part of this story.  Bob and I were leaving on Thursday for  Maine for a weekend writing workshop.  We were spending the weekend with some of my favorite people and that meant my daughter was going to be in charge.  Totally in charge of everything.  I left her a credit card.

Our first guest came on Wednesday.  He is an attorney in Ohio and his wife is a dear friend of mine.  They have a home in Florida and he had to get home.  There were no flights and there were no hotels.  He arrived late Wednesday night, we ordered a pizza for him, and we sat up late getting to know our new friend.

We left on Thursday and on Friday I got a Facebook message from someone asking whether we still had room.  I said yes and gave him Jodi’s phone number.  In hindsight, I can see how people would question my sanity.  I had no idea who these  people were.  We had no mutual friends and we have still not figured out how they got my contact information.  They had two elderly cats, and his son had been killed in Afghanistan.  His son’s birthday would have been on Sunday.  They had been to one hotel on the way up but it had bedbugs, so they had spent the night in their car.  Then they found us, through someone who knew someone who knew someone…

I got a message from Afghanistan on Saturday of the writing workshop.  “Do you still have room? My friend’s sister and her family needs to evacuate.”  I called him and told him yes, we would make room, and I called his friend and gave him Jodi’s information.  She took it from there and I went back to my writing workshop.  They arrived a few hours later, the husband and wife, their son, their son’s friend from college, and two small dogs.

My daughter texted me later and said that her friend from South Georgia needed to come, also, with her two children.  That whole friendship deserves its own blog post and I’ll just leave it at that.  We ended up with 15 people in our home, from three continents.

We took a chance and opened our doors.  We’d do it again.

Remembering

“Four shirts, four pairs of pants, a snow machine suit, and I’m still cold.”  Thus began my journal, on this this day in 2000. I was in Fairbanks, Alaska, flying a 1946 McDonald Douglas DC-4 delivering fuel to remote villages.  This contract pilot stent may very well be the craziest thing I’ve ever done and sometimes I still can’t believe I actually did it.

Why was I in Alaska?  Money.  Insanity.  Opportunity.  Adventure.  I already had a class date with Netjets of February 8, 2000.  I had sold my flight school and would finally get the airline job I had coveted for 30 years, and I really had nothing to do.  A month in Alaska would help me cover the gap.

I got my DC-4 experience flying night freight for Custom Air Charter out of Hampton, GA.  Not many people want to fly 60 year old airplanes, at night, without radar and at fairly low altitudes. Bob McSwiggan’s attitude was that radar “only scares the pilots.”  He was the owner, and besides owning a freight airline he is a tap dancer!  But that’s a story for another day.  The photo is not the DC-4 that I flew, but you get the idea.  In Atlanta, I flew the Carvair conversion, which you can see here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FfOmlb4SAU.

Flying a DC-4 was romantic and exciting, but it was hard work and sometimes dirty work.  The radial engines leaked oil and sometimes quit unexpectedly, but I loved those R-2000 engines.  On the ground, you had to climb on the wing and put a stick in the fuel tanks to confirm the fuel levels. In the air, you had to keep your eyes on the gauges and periodically pump oil to the engines. The instruments in the cockpit were appropriate for the 1940s.  It was just plain fun.

I got a call from a pilot friend in December to fill in for one of the pilots for Brooks Fuel in Fairbanks.  There aren’t a lot of qualified DC-4 pilots and initially I said no.  He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse –  I would be guaranteed 8 hours a day flying time, a ridiculous hourly rate, a generous per diem, plus a place to stay.  Off I went.

The place they gave me was so dirty that I washed my feet in the sink after I took a shower.  I lived off chicken pot pies that I could heat in the microwave.  The high one day was a whopping -17 degrees and another was -20, but I saw spectacular displays of the Aurora Borealis and I went to places you won’t see on an Alaskan cruise.  Cruises won’t take you to Beaver, Kobuk, or Alakaket.  We flew kerosene, gasoline, and propane.  When we weren’t flying fuel, we’d fly snow machines to these same remote villages.

I learned a lot on that trip, and will now summarize a few of those lessons:

  1. There are no words to describe the beauty of the Northern Lights, especially when you are that far north and that far away from civilization.
  2. Boots certified to 40 below don’t really work that well past -10.
  3. Always take shower shoes. If you can’t eat in the kitchen, you really don’t want to put your bare feet in the shower, either.
  4. People who live in remote villages work on a different timetable than those of us who like cities.  They won’t accept fuel during lunch hour or on weekends, but they’ll take a snow machine whenever you can get it there.
  5. When you’re in a different place with a different culture, don’t expect to feel perfectly at home. It takes an effort and you need to respect them.  When a native decides to give you a baseball cap, accept it with kindness and treasure it.
  6. A 2300’runway, covered in snow with mountains on either side, is a challenge when empty, but even more when the aircraft weighs about 50,000 pounds.
  7. Appreciate your ground crew. They are the ones who get to the airport at 0400 to put heating blankets on the engines.  Without them, you wouldn’t fly.  You don’t like to get up that early and you know you don’t like being that cold.
  8. To expand on #7, appreciate everyone and everything around you. We’re all in this world together so let us work together to make it a better place.  Together, we can.
  9. Remember this. Whatever it is, you can do this.  Whatever your situation, it is not worse than -27 and no ladies restroom (actually, no restroom) in Anektuvuk Pass, Alaska.  It will get better.  You will get to warmer weather.
  10. Look at life as an adventure. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and experience life and to meet new people.  Maybe you’ll learn something and maybe you will gain a new perspective.

Finding these pages from my journal was a tremendous treat.  Sitting here warm and safe in our home in Macon, Georgia, I can’t believe I actually did it.  Am I the same person who took off that day for the trip of a lifetime?   Would I do it again?

I just don’t know.

Women in the Cockpit

I am a pilot.  I learned to fly to fly before I learned to drive.  I started to work when I was 13 years old and saved every penny I made to pay for my flying.  It was my dad’s airplane, but I had to pay for part of it.  That’s who he was – a “you don’t get something for nothing” kind of person.  By the time I was 16, I was holding down three jobs and was still an A student.  I wanted to fly in the military, but they didn’t allow women at that time.  So I stuck it out and worked hard.  I detoured my career, was successful enough to retire at 43, then pursue my passion.

I never asked for special treatment.  I never complained, when I was flying night freight, that some of the freight hangars didn’t have women’s restrooms.  I used the men’s room and never thought twice about it.  When we had to unload truck transmissions in Detroit, I used the pallet jack and moved the transmissions along with the guys.  I’ve climbed on the wing of a DC-4 to measure the fuel level in the main tanks, and I’ve pumped oil out to the engines during flight.  I’ve flown powerful people into Aspen, Colorado, where every approach requires precision and finesse.  I’ve flown into East Hampton, New York, and into Ocean Reef, Florida.  These are challenging runways, short and narrow, not runways that are two miles long.

Today, in the “Pilot Communications Network” was an email forwarded from Leonard Brunasso, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot who is now a check airman for Omni Air.  The email was titled “The Age of the 707/DC-8” and it begins, “Those were the good ole days.  Pilots back then were men…”  You can just guess how far it went downhill from there, as he went on to insult every category of people except for white male pilots. From what I can gather, taxpayers paid for Leonard’s flight training, as he was an Air Force pilot.  He refers to pilots “in the good ole days” as real men and refers to flight attendants as stewardesses who appreciated a little sexual harassment, and were “proud to be combatants in the sexual revolution.”  He went on to say these women didn’t have any “plastic or composites” in their pectoral regions.

Rarely am I offended, but having been subjected to blatant sexual harassment and abuse in the cockpit, I have a few things to say to Leonard.  I am beyond angry.  I am furious.  I am sad.  I am, unfortunately, flooded with memories of clowns just like this guy who didn’t think I belonged.  The ones who objectified women.

I’ve taught over 1000 people to fly and I have an impeccable record.  I’ve shared my love of aviation with literally thousands of people.  During nursing school, I would instruct in the wee hours of the morning and then go to the hospital in Charlotte for clinicals, then I’d go to the airport and fly afterwards.  And I kept my grades up while I was doing it.  I am as proud of my RN as I am my ATP and CFI.

I learned instrument flying with nothing more than needle, ball, and airspeed.  I’ve made the decision to go or not, when flying fuel to some of the most remote villages in Alaska in a DC-4.  I’ve manually calculated how much fuel to take on, and looked at prog charts to see whether it was even safe to go.  I didn’t have dispatch to calculate weight and balance for me, tell me how the weather was, and determine whether I’d be released to fly or not.  I made those decisions, on my own.

I worked my way into the cockpit with my skills and abilities to fly.  I’ve been pinched, grabbed in inappropriate places, and even been physically assaulted by other pilots.  I’ve been asked whether I ever felt guilty taking a job away from some poor man trying to feed his family and when I’ve adjusted the temperature in the cockpit, I’ve been asked if I was having hot flashes.  I knew when someone was having fun and when the line was being crossed.

When I first became a flight instructor, there were only about 4000 women in the US with commercial pilot certificates.  I was one of the youngest, since I was only 18.  Today, 40 years later with my Airline Transport Pilot certificate, I am one of only about 8000.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve got more than 45 years in the cockpit plus I’ve earned a PhD, started 3 or 4 successful businesses, and have tried to be the best person I can be.  I’m happily married to a retired Delta pilot who recognizes and appreciates my brains and my talent.

I want to say all kinds of ugly things to Leonard, but it would do no good.  I just hope that someday, this brand of pilots is replaced by kinder, more respectful human beings, by people who don’t care whether you are male or female, provided you can competently perform your duties in the cockpit or in the cabin.

Honestly, I just wish people would accept other people for who they are.  Be kind.  And stop spreading messages that promote hate.  Can’t we all just get along and treat everyone as human beings?

Detesting Dulles Airport

Let me begin by saying my favorite approach is the river visual into Reagan airport, to runway 19 .  From the cockpit, flying down the Potomac with monuments on either side is nothing short of exhilarating. As a passenger, I don’t get the same view, but I do enjoy the views of the city. Given the choice, I will choose to fly into DCA over IAD, any day of the week.
I just finished a very productive trip to the DC area and I was elected Treasurer of The Equality Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to decrease the digital divide in Nepal and also improve the education opportunities in this beautiful and fascinating country. While on this trip, I was also able to spend time with two of my former students. It was a productive and rewarding trip.
I flew home from Washington Dulles at 0600. The bag-drop line was long but not unbearable, as some people did not know to use the kiosk to get their boarding pass. It wasn’t awful, though, but it was a precursor to the extremely long security line. There were only three scanners available and the TSA agent who checked me was a little too vigorous and overly intrusive in her pat-down.  I”m not even sure why I needed a pat-down since I was wearing the same clothes I had worn on the flight up.  I’m all for security but I’ve had mammograms with less touching.
I made it to the gate and encountered one of the most unpleasant gate agents in my 50+ years of flying on commercial airliners. This man either woke up on the wrong side of the bed or is just a really unhappy person. Rarely have I encountered a gate agent who is just rude to everyone. I generally try to avoid the gate agents, because I know they are busy and they deal with a lot of people, and I don’t want to create any additional stress. This guy seemed to go out of his way to be hateful and even chased a lady who did not say thank you, screaming, “You’re WELCOME!”  From his actions, she clearly wasn’t.
On the flip side was our pilot. He was Captain Personality!  He walked through the cabin, smiling, shaking hands, and speaking to each passenger prior to takeoff. He actually made a second trip back and told me he wished he had been able to fly with my husband prior to his retirement from Delta. Nice. Yes. My husband is the nicest guy in the world and he loved every minute of his Delta Air Lines career. Our captain’s uniform was clean and pressed and he exuded professionalism.  I love to see people smiling and loving their jobs.
Customer service is important and it is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. Employees may not realize that what they say and do reflects on the organization as a whole.  This wonderful captain’s commitment to excellence was very powerful and outweighed the unpleasantness of the gate agent. Hopefully someone at Delta will give the gate agent some additional customer service training and will help him see his job in a different light.