Last week, I flew the Boss up to Atlanta in the helicopter, where he met up with some other friends who'd arrived by their company King Air and they all went to a Bon Jovi concert at the Philips Arena. Bossman paid for tickets for me and the King Air pilot, although they weren't on the ground floor, right in front of the stage like his. Let's just say that at any time I expected oxygen masks to drop down. Oh well. We still had a great time. Bon Jovi puts on a terrific show. And it's funny - as much into music as I am...and as long as I've been listening to Bon Jovi...I only new about one-third of the songs. Maybe half.
Interestingly, the Philips Arena had a clever anti-alcohol-abuse policy: Beers were $6.75 apiece! Cass (the King Air pilot) and I each had two. Any more than that and we were going to have to hit the ATM, and that would have just been silly.
We had barely gotten back home from Atlanta when I was in the cockpit of the very same King Air, playing "copilot" this time on a flight up to Louisville, Kentucky for the running of some famous horserace (I think it had something to do with a hat). Bossman sometimes borrows the plane, and he doesn't like flying in airplanes with just one pilot up front. So he requested that I join them on the trip. If nothing else, I could act as a second set of eyes in what was sure to be a very congested area.
It was. Atlantic Aviation, the operator for general aviation aircraft at the field said they had 300 airplanes on the ground at the time of the race, and they "handled" a total of 800 airplanes that day (some came and quickly departed without sticking around like we did, and then came back later for their passengers).
And here we are, just arrived in Louisville. Check out all the planes lined up along each side of a taxiway they were using for parking. This was one of many such taxiways crowded with corporate airplanes.
Here's another view, looking the opposite way as the ground service guy tugs "our" King Air into its parking spot. That's Cass making sure they didn't ram our plane into anything.
We went up the day prior to the race. Walking out to the plane, Cass graciously asked, "Okay, how do you want to do this?"
"Uhh, do what?"
"Do you want to handle the radios? Checklists? How much work do you want to do?" he expanded.
"Ohhhhh," I said, finally understanding. "Umm, nothing. I want to do nothing."
Look, here's the deal. Cass has been flying that King Air for something like thirteen years. Same company, same airplane. Single-pilot...as in "by himself." He's a one-man-show. Now suddenly a "copilot" was thrust upon him - one with whom he'd never flown before.
Airliners are flown by more than one pilot. It is supposed to be "safer." It splits up the workload, and adds a double-checker to make sure nothing gets missed. But airline pilots undergo intensive standardization and proficiency training in the specific duties of each position. Thus, even if two airline pilots have never flown together before, they each know what to expect of each other, what their responsibilities are, and how to conduct the flight while functioning as a team. It works.
But a Beechcraft King Air requires only one pilot. And truthfully, for a large plane it is not that complicated to operate, contrary to what you might otherwise expect. Many corporations are happy to fly with the minimum crew of one pilot. If that pilot is experience and competent, then he is perfectly capable of safely transporting the airplane and its passengers hither and yon. It's done all the time, every day of the year.
So what was I expected to do? Jump in and immediately start flying as a crew in a single-pilot plane? If anything, I would be more of a distraction. Cass would have to double-check everything I did to make sure it was correct. So it would not lessen his workload in the least, and it could very well add to it. That certainly wouldn't enhance safety. As a "good copilot," I promised not to touch, adjust or move any control or switch on my own.
I would merely be on the lookout for other planes. I did volunteer to do whatever he asked. If he wanted a radio frequency changed, I could do that. If he wanted something looked up in a reference book or database, I could do that. If he wanted a Coke from the back, I could do that too. And in fact, he did ask me to do a couple of tasks along the way (not the Coke thing though, thankfully).
When we got to Louisville, the Boss asked Cass if I was a good copilot? Cass and I exchanged a knowing look: Yes, I was; I hadn't touched anything. The Boss pressed, "Did he handle the radios for you?" - meaning, did I do all of the communicating with air traffic control? I changed the subject without answering directly.
After the Kentucky Derby was over, there was a mad scramble at the airport. Everybody wanted to leave at the same time. We fired-up the engines and joined a conga-line of airplanes that were snaking their way toward the departure runway. It was like rush-hour at JFK Airport. Only, the line wasn't moving much. ATC (Air Traffic Control) did the best they could, but were overwhelmed by the sheer number of airplanes. We spent nearly one-and-a-half hours in a traffic jam on the taxiway. Some hapless pilots spent more time than that. Wasteful? Oh yes!
See all those airplanes directly in front of us? They're not moving. See all of those business jets parked to the left and the right? They're all in the process of loading their passengers and starting their engines and will very soon be trying to muscle into the line. Notice how it's still light out? The sun is still up at this point.
The flight home was at night by the time we took off. The skies were clear and empty and smooth as glass. Flying at night is wonderful...magical! Cass and I kept ourselves amused and awake as we worked our way back south to Alabama. Toward the end of our two days together (nearly five hours of that in the cockpit), we'd gotten to a point at which we actually could have acted as a flight crew. Cass is a really great guy and a great pilot. In fact, if and when we fly together again I'll...nah, I'll just sit there like I did last time.
Now Bossman is making noises like he'd like to have a King Air of his own in addition to the helicopter. Now that would be sweet! I love flying helicopters, but you sure can't sit back and relax and let the thing fly on autopilot at 27,000 feet while you have someone hand you a sammich and a Coke from the back. Like you can in a King Air.
I do believe I could get used to flying something like that!