Motorcycles, Airlines, and the Future

by Berck

It was 64°F here yesterday. I took the opportunity to put another 100 miles on the motorcycle. It’s doing fine, though I still need to replace the throttle cable and put the correct o-rings on the main primary jets inside the carburetors. I plan to do that once I get the new throttle cable, but the USPS seems to have lost it. It went “out for delivery” early last week, and has since disappeared. Additionally, I found out that it drips fuel if you forget to turn the fuel valve off. I accidentally left the fuel selector on while I was in Dallas, and yesterday I discovered a little puddle of gasoline underneath the overflow drain tubes for the carburetors with a steady drip from both of the tubes. The float valves are brand new, so they should be sealing just fine. The floats are clean and have no holes, so perhaps they’re slightly misadjusted. I carefully checked the float height, and they appeared to be right on, but maybe I’ll tweak them just a bit to see if I can make it seal better. I’ve never noticed it dripping before, so it may just be that the float valves don’t hold up to the pressure of the gas tank for an extended period of time. Fun system. Not really sure I want to spend forever messing with it though, when simply remembering to turn off the fuel valve will solve the problem.

It likes to die when coming to a stop, but only if I’ve been cruising for longer than ten minutes. It always restarts immediately after that, so I’m not sure what the problem is. Might be related to the float level setting. When the design regulates an engine idle mixture based on some brass bobs floating in fuel, weird things might be bound to happen after 37 years.

I just got a call from the USPS. My throttle cable is at the post office. They claim to have attempted to deliver it twice. I was assuredly home, and I think I even saw the mailman, but I’m not sure. In any case, they never left a note that they’d tried to deliver, nor did they send a message that the package was at the post office. Without the delivery confirmation number, the package would have simply disappeared. She told me to come pick it up, but I explained that was their job and they should give it to the carrier to deliver tomorrow. She agreed, amazingly.

So while it was spring yesterday, it’s winter today. It’s been snowing all night and morning. It’s only 25° out now, though, and the residual heat in the pavement is keeping the snow from sticking to the roads. There’s a few inches on the grass, but overall this has been a very warm and dry winter. Stupid climate change giving all the snow to the East.

The American Eagle interview has caused me a large level of anxiety. The exceedingly long lead-time before the interview meant that I had a very long time to get worried about it. My previous “failure” at Lynx (why the hell didn’t they want me? I aced that interview!) had me concerned that I wasn’t actually employable. Airline interviews are highly technical in nature, and one is generally supposed to study for them. Three weeks was more than enough time to prepare for an entire oral examination, though an interview is a lot different. There’s not so much nit-picky details about the aircraft (unless the interviewer knows the last plane you flew well), and you can’t be expected to know the specific regulations of the airline you’re applying at. It’s hard to know exactly what they might ask, fortunately folks on the internet will let you know what they were asked at their interview. Obviously, it’s a good idea to know the answer to anything they might have been asked, but there’s no rules about what they might ask. This makes studying for it a rather anxious endeavor.

I looked over the basic limitations and emergency procedures for the Dash-8. I re-familiarized myself with the federal regulations that the airlines operate under. I studied the key to the Jeppesen en-route, arrival and departure charts. Much more than that, I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t start studying until a week before the interview, but I might should have waited longer, because I was able to go through all of that in a day, and I wasn’t sure what to study next. I could keep delving into the regs, but I was worried I’d start focusing on esoteric stuff that I wouldn’t be asked.

On Sunday evening, I started packing. I fretted a lot about wrinkles in the cuffs of my shirt, polishing my shoes, etc. Joanna gave me a stupid-looking haircut and then I hacked off my beard, even the sideburns. I decided I looked pretty dumb and fat, so I tried not to look in the mirror. I decided not to take any study materials with me, except what was on my MacBook.

American Eagle had booked me positive space on an MD-80 from COS to DFW on Monday afternoon. I had to wait in line at security, something I haven’t done in a very long time. I was in an aisle seat at the back of the plane, and fortunately had the whole row to my seat. You don’t want to sit in the back of an MD-80 if you can help it. The big reason is that the engines are all mechanically controlled, thus not synchronized and are deafeningly loud. Additionally, if an engine blows, it’s likely to send little bits of shrapnel flying through the back of the cabin, and the folks sitting in the back next to the engines are going to be dead, or at the very least, shrapnel-impaled. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often. Still, I have an unnatural, inexplicably uneasiness riding around in MD-80’s. These days they’re old, they don’t have a wonderful maintenance record, and I just don’t like them. I don’t have a lot of terribly good reasons for this, but it’s the way it is. The elevators, for instance, are free and floating. They point in different directions until they get moving. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it looks broken. The first time I saw this from the cockpit of a CRJ on the MD-88 in front of me, I asked the Captain if we should tell them about it. He laughed at me.

I arrived in DFW not-dead, and waited half an hour for the hotel van to pick me up. I stayed where American Eagle told me to, in the Candlewood Suites. They offered me a “discounted” rate of $73, which is more than I think I’ve ever paid for a hotel in my life. I could have tried to stay with a friend in Dallas or found a cheaper hotel, but Eagle had arranged for this one to provide transportation to their headquarters, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it if I stayed where they told me to.

The hotel was nice, at least, and I spent a few hours on the internet. I looked up the answer to a few questions that I figured they might ask that I hadn’t previously thought of, and called Kajuri. I hadn’t given her any notice, because I wasn’t sure that I should do anything the night before the interview. But both Jonah and Sydney thought that I should call her, so I did. She’s got her own dental practice these days, and she and her husband came and took me to dinner. We had a nice time catching up at a middle eastern place.

I climbed into bed around 10:30pm, and read for a bit. I eventually got to sleep, by some miracle, some time after 11:30. I woke up at 4:30am, though, and never went back to sleep before finally get up at 6am.

The shuttle from the hotel was scheduled to leave at 7:30. It left at 7:40, which made me rather anxious. The other interviewees left on a 7:00am shuttle, because they’re more paranoid than me. I just wanted to be sitting in their lobby no longer than necessary.

It turns out there was only 3 other people interviewing with me. Usually they try to have more like 8, from what I’ve read. There were 2 people who’d interviewed the day before there for the 2nd day medical exam. They didn’t want to tell us how many people they’d started with. Probably a good idea. Two of the people interviewing with me were Piedmont Dash-8 drivers. One of them, a girl, had been furloughed not long before I was furloughed from Mesa. The other guy had was still actively working for Piedmont, but he was pretty sure he was going to get furloughed before long. The third guy at the interview had never worked for the airlines, though he was an experienced flight instructor. I was surprised he’d gotten the interview, but I found out from him later that he knows a chief pilot for American who was able to personally secure the interview for him.

They started by telling us a bit about the company and how the interviews would work. We sat in a waiting room while we took turns going to various parts of the interview. I started out with the technical portion. This turned out to be good because it was probably my strongest section of the interview, so it put me in a cautiously confident mood for the rest of the interview. I was asked just a few questions about the Dash 8, and then a lot of very detailed questions about how to read Jeppesen charts. It seemed like a strange focus for the interview, but it was good that I’d studied it. I didn’t know the answer to one of his questions about the chart. I also answered wrongly to a regulation question (for some reason I stated the width of a federal airway was 7 miles, the answer is 8). I knew I’d answered wrong immediately by his response, though he concealed it well. It was only because I’ve given these sorts of oral exams before that I was able to detect just a slight difference in the way he repeated my answer and move on to the next thing. I got a few nit-picky questions correctly, including one that he rather quietly said, “Wow. No one’s ever gotten that one right before. You’re a smart guy.” I may have acted a bit exuberantly when he admitted that, because generally they’re not supposed to admit whether I get the answers right or wrong.

So I left the technical interview convinced that I’d done well. Additionally, they liked my electronic logbook printouts, though they did want to see the paper versions with the signatures, so it was good that I’d brought those along as well. I nearly didn’t. After a very short wait back in the holding area, I was summoned to the HR portion of the interview. Here they collected the endless photocopies of documents that I’d brought, while comparing each one to the originals. I was asked a few HR-type questions, and wrote my answers down on some paperwork. He didn’t seem concerned about my speeding tickets, since I’d disclosed most of them, and had brought a driving record like I was supposed to. He allowed me to pencil in the 2 that were missing from my original application, so no one would think I was trying to hide anything later. He asked for a brief explanation of my failed checkride. Eventually, he sent me back to the holding area where I paced around for a little bit before the guy who runs the simulator evaluations came in to brief me on the sim.

He explained how it was going to work, gave me a profile and approach plate to study and left for 15 minutes. When he came back, I asked him to clarify that he would be acting as my non-flying pilot and making standard non-flying pilot callouts. He said that he would be.

The aircraft being simulated was a brand new Baron, which is a twin piston engined light aircraft with a glass cockpit. I’ve never flown anything like it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to know anything about the aircraft for the evaluation except that I had to fly the approach at 120 knots.

Shortly after takeoff, I was waiting for him to call positive rate so that I could tell him to retract the gear. A couple hundred feet later, I was totally distracted by trying to figure out the instrument display and the flight director which seemed to be pretty lame. That’s when he asked me, “Was the last aircraft you flew not a retract?” Oh, CRAP. “I, uh, thought you were going to call positive rate?” “Nope, that’s you!” This is totally backwards from every airline I’ve ever flown on, so I was a bit surprised. I wondered if that was enough to fail, but tried to forget it and press on. At 1,000 feet, he called acceleration altitude, and I asked for, “flaps up, climb check”. He ran a checklist and I moved on.

I managed the level-off at 2,000ft very well, within about 10 feet, thanks to the flight director. He had me turn left to intercept a radial and track it to the VOR. About 3 miles prior to the VOR, he told me that he was going to pause the sim and give me holding instructions. I copied the instructions, drew out the hold on the approach plate, thought about it, double-checked it, then briefed him on how I’d fly the hold. He unpaused the sim, and I flew the entry. Fortunately, it was a direct entry, the easiest. He gave me a descent while I was turning inbound, and I remembered to ask for a “descent” checklist, which is not a normal airline thing. Before I even crossed the fix back inbound, he gave me vectors for the ILS to 17R in Memphis. I briefed the approach, and flew it with the flight director. At around 500ft, he told me to go around, maintain 2,000ft and runway heading. I pushed the power up, mumbled something about flaps up, eventually got the gear up this time and asked for a checklist. The flight director switched to roll mode, and because I wasn’t holding enough rudder, I drifted left of course about 35 degrees before I realized what has happening. Fortunately, I caught it and corrected, and he seemed okay with that, but who knows. He paused the sim, set me up for another approach, this time raw data to a landing. I did okay, though made the rookie mistake of looking up too early after breaking out of the clouds, but managed to not get too absurdly far off. He said I did a good job, and he’d recommend me for the sim. If he hadn’t said that, I would have been sure that I’d blown it. Apparently, interview standards are not quite airline checkride standards. Which, given the fact that I’m flying something I’ve never flown before and never gotten a chance to practice with, makes sense.

Shortly after getting back to the waiting room, the instructor guy pointed out that the Piedmont guy’s bags were gone, which meant he’d been sent home. As I was processing this information, one of the recruiters came and and called my name with a very small piece of paper. I immediately figured they were sending me home as well, but it turned out to just be a $5 coupon for lunch. The American cafeteria had a lot of choices, but I settled on the salad bar. It was sold by the ounce, so I loaded up trying to make sure to get my $5 worth. With a soda as well as my salad, the total came to just over $7, whoops. So I had to give them a couple bucks, but not a big deal. I didn’t even finish the salad, because then I realized that they were probably going to give me lunch before they sent me home so I wouldn’t talk about how mean they were.

I got back to the waiting room, and for a long time was the only one there. Then the other guy came in, and we talked about lunch. He’d done the salad thing too, but had managed worse than me and topped $8. The girl from Piedmont came in after her sim, and seemed in pretty good spirits. Shortly after she got back, they called her out again. 2 minutes later she was back and said, “Well, I’m going home…. Good luck to you guys!” We tried to commiserate with her and I was a bit on edge as she left. When she was gone, both recruiters walked in. We looked at each other to see who was going to get sent home next.

“The elimination process is over, you guys made it,” they told us. Whew. They collected a lot more paperwork, fingerprints, and called the Admiral hotel to get us rooms and send a van to pick us up.

We got back to the hotel just before 4pm. I was exhausted, but decided not to sleep for fear that would keep me from sleeping that night. I met Daniel, the other guy who got through, in the hotel for dinner. It was a pretty mediocre meal, but we were both pretty excited and talked about what the future might hold.

I couldn’t sleep anyway, and woke up just before my 6:30am alarm. The morning was spent with a pretty intense hearing test and two drug tests, along with some more paperwork. They gave us an official “conditional offer letter”. I had to redo my fingerprints, because the FBI had rejected the set transmitted the day before. That done, we went back to the airport. We had a lot of time to kill before the flight, and grabbed lunch at the TGI Friday’s, and exchanged phone numbers before Daniel headed for his flight. Mine left a few hours later.

As it was explained, the Captain’s Review Board looks over everyone’s files before giving them the final nod to allow them to work for Eagle. Some people have indicated on the internet that they’ve been rejected by the captain’s board with no real explanation. So while I’m cautiously optimistic, I’m not going to count my chickens just yet.

I had more, but it’s no longer morning, and Jonah is home…

Leave a Reply