page last modified 18Feb'16

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My Aviation Career!

(Due to my current job I have to be vague in some areas so I don't endorse or publicly criticize.)
Remember these, are only my opinions, not facts.

My first flights as a (student) pilot were circa 1991-2. I lost the first little logbook unfortunately, so I don't have the exact dates. During college I attempted to go to a small Part 61 flight school and they basically stole about $4,000 from me. The training was woefully incomplete, and in retrospect I should have sued the instructor and company, but, water under the bridge a long time ago. I then went to a university with a 141 flight school, was able to select a great instructor, started from scratch, and the difference in instruction was huge. I was looking for a flying job after September 11, and there were none, so I got my CFI and II in 2002-03. As an instructor I was determined to be professional and fully prepare my students, not just take their money. This history plays a bit part in my current job.

CFI checkride
This was my initial CFI ride in a PA-28R Arrow (which I passed on the first attempt).

I worked briefly as a freelance instructor, then at a very busy FBO / Part 61 school. I loved the regular flying, but 90+% of my students were (pre-private) student pilots. Most of them were pre-solo. It got tiring fairly quickly because you have the same students that come out once every two weeks, and never progress. Still, I went to school to be a teacher, and teaching people to fly was great. Whenever my primary employment allowed it, I always did part time instruction on the side.

Shorts 3-30 in IMT Shorts 3-60 Shorts 3-60
Regional cargo airline, First Officer and Captain 2003-2006, flying Shorts 3-30 and 3-60 aircraft.
I flew for the scheduled service operation. (There was also a big, but operationally separate charter department.) The aircraft on the left is 938MA, it is a Shorts 3-30 (note the twin tail). I was a first officer on this aircraft out of Iron Mountain Michigan for most of '03-'04. This flying was for DHL/ Airborne Express. We carried the containers that would fit in the DC-9. IMT-CWA-MKE-CWA. We met up with that DC-9 in MKE, offloaded the cans, and were able to get about 6.5 hours of sleep before meeting back up and flying the opposite in the morning. 14 hours on duty, then ten hours off, having already slept. It was prety nice! (Also IMT was beautiful.)
The two aircraft on the right are among the ones I flew as a captain out of Indianapolis in 2004-2006. The IND routes varied, but was IND-IKV-SLN-IND when I left. It was a loose load of mostly heavy boxes, took us several hours each night just of loading and unloading time. Show time was sometime around 6pm, got back around 4am each morning... if everything went right... and it usually didn't (but the work for the customer was almost always accomplished without problem). It averaged somewhere around 12.5 hours of duty, but since there was no sort to wait for, it was about 11 hours of work, some of it pretty hard work. (Loading and unloading.) It was a UPS-John Deere contract for a really cool program. My understanding was that if a part was ordered by close of business one day, the part would be at the dealer before the open of business the very next morning. Very important sometimes for agriculture. This flying was in Shorts 3-60 (note the single, tall tail). The 3-60 was a tiny bit faster, but I was in time building mode so speed was irrelevant to me. Better engines (still PT-6s) and less drag gave it maybe 180 knots instead of 170. The 3-30 had better ground handling, especially on takeoff (prop wash over the tail). Neither handled much ice well. If I remember correctly, the min icing speed was 150 knots, and it doesn't take much ice (on an airframe where ice sticky to everything) to lose 20-30 knots, and after that you were descending to maintain airspeed. (That was the source of one of two times I thought I might die in an airplane. The other was a horrible thunderstorm, also in a Shorts 3-30.) The 3-60 seemed much more prone to trying to weathervane in high winds on the ground. Flying them up north we dealt with ice and reduced traction on the ground on a regular basis. I got to see the northern lights frequently. The Shorts (we had) had no autopilot, so the 2000+ hours I have in the aircraft were all hand flown hours by one of the crewmen. Didn't even notice it after a while, it was as thoughtless as walking... and made me a better pilot in the end. I liked flying the Shorts. I loved flying at night.

2006-2008. Captain of a corporate King Air B100 (with the extra noisy Garrett engines), we did about 50% of our flying as 135 charter. Some charter flights had an SIC, normally only board meetings had an SIC for the corporate flying (insurance). When the aircraft was sold I was offered a jet slot at the managing 135 company, but I opted for Trans States instead since they had a domicile (at the time) in my home airport.

EMB-145 cockpit EMB-145 cockpit EMB-145 in IAD
First Officer for Trans States Airlines, 2008.
Trans States had about 50 EMB-145 aircraft while I was there. I've flown probably every aircraft in that fleet. The pic on the right I believe I was flying at the time, out of Dulles. The pic on the left is me in Denver flying a United route. I mostly did United, but did about 10% each of my flying for US Air and American. I loved whenever I was in the cockpit, but any time I was at work and not in the cockpit I didn't like it. The pay was horrible. After being furloughed I pumped gas at the same airport. I made more putting gas in them than flying in the right seat. Sad. It's an experience that is unique though. I wouldn't trade having done it, but wouldn't go back. I was given the mandatory recall at my current job, and there's no way that would happen.

N257CB in Marsh Harbour N257CB in Montreal
2008-2010 Beechjet pilot, based in Richmond, VA. (Same employer as the King Air B100. That's Why you always leave on good terms!)
Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, on Monday (left), Montreal, Canada, on a Wednesday/Thursday overnight (right), (unfortunately every week is not this interesting!). Typed as PIC, my present employer keeps me current. The Beechjet is fun for me to fly, but I have never flown an aircraft that isn't fun to fly. Heavy controls, I distinctly remember roasting in the cockpit on hot days.

2008-2010 King Air "Wage Pilot" (flew about once a week, no office work, essentially a part-timer). I flew for Governors Tim Kaine and Bob McDonnell. Flying there was roughly split between flying the governors, Virginia colleges, and State Police / Dept of Corrections. The prisoner trips were usually interesting as well. I did some flying of congressmen, senators, other politicians, but this was actually done on charter flights, not Virginia state aircraft.

2010-Current; FAA Inspector, Operations.
I am currently a GA Ops Inspector. As of late 2013 I became a Principal (POI), so I do less on demand work and more work for the operators for which I have been assigned. The hardest part of the job is also the most interesting, it's that there are literally hundreds of very different job tasks for an Ops Inspector in a GA office. There's a lot of types of work, from field work to paperwork. The paperwork includes waivers, authorizations, MELs, GOMs, checklists, etc., and a lot of internal paperwork. Field work includes checkrides, accident investigations, airshows, surveillance of operators, and so forth. The checkrides include medical flight tests, 709 reexaminations, initial flight instructor, air carrier and 141 currency, etc. They keep me current through quarterly flying in Single Engine (Cessna), "Light Twin" (PA-44, gives us the ability to do piston twin checks), King Air C90 (Turboprop checks), and my fairly unique one is Beechjet. I support other offices with Beechjet checks when I can.

For me, the job itself is fantastic. Some of the work is really interesting, but, honestly, some of it is horribly boring. Reviewing a 600 page manual feels like it kills you a little. On the bright side, I think I learn something just about every day. I may not have ever wanted to know it, but you learn a lot it this job, far more than any other job I've worked.

To come full circle, in my current job, I get to do a lot of work with initial CFI applicants. If you read the top of this page, it will make sense that I feel I can help protect students, from instructors that can't (or much more likely won't), do the work required to safely and professionally provide flight training. A brand new flight student takes their instructor at face value as an expert. They don't have the ability to determine if they are not. Given my initial experiences, this is very satisfying, both when I get applicants that have clearly diligently prepared (and I am proud to give them a new CFI certificate), and when I get applicants that clearly haven't prepared (and I get to give them a notice of disapproval). I also reexamine instructors after issues (like accidents).

As I have a fairly varied aviation career, here are my thoughts on the different types of flying.
Each and every one has unique good points and bad points.

Flight Instructing:
Even having gone to school to be a teacher, this got tedious in some ways very quickly. At a professional school with more varied instruction being given it might help with that. For me, this could not be a career. The instructing itself was often very rewarding. Though this job is on-demand with ups and downs, the income was fairly stable, and you were unlikely to suddenly lose your job.

Passenger Airline:
Keep in mind I only flew as an FO, on an Embraer. Stronger unions at stronger companies can take care of their pilots better. I felt that though I was left out to dry by company several critical times, that overall I was taken care of as well as company could manage, and as well as can be honestly expected. All of that said... The good is obvious. You fly nice aircraft. You feel cool in uniform in airport terminals. You get flight attendants added to the crew, and (meant completely respectfully), they make life more interesting. You (on almost all) and your family (on airline brand names you fly for) get flight benefits. These can be stressful to use, but can be used to travel in first class seats on trans-atlantic flights, for example. Once you get further into your career you can do international flying, in very impressive aircraft, and make a lot of money. Some of the bad can be less obvious. The pay starts out horribly. You keep hearing about a pilot shortage in aviation. This keeps getting pushed hard by flight schools and regional airlines, both of which have significant financial stake in there being a surplus of pilots who are just finishing their professional training. When 10,000 airline pilots were on furlough, ads were still all over the place pushing a pilot shortage. The true shortage is of pilots that can commute or move to a different city somewhere else in the country, and still live off of $20k per year. This has been looking up very recently, partially due to the new ATP rules. As the regionals cancel flights, it becomes financially beneficial for them to pay more. Additional bad- you know how annoying it is every time you travel on a ticket? A pilot for a passenger airline deals with almost all of that, and sometimes more. Imagine this true story- it's day six on an extended trip. You just got to ORD and your flight back to domicile cancels. You try to deadhead back on another airline, and it cancels too. You call crew scheduling and they tell you "we show you off duty in Chicago" (not my domicile). Now I get to find and pay for my own room in a city that has thousands of other stranded passengers, and try to use my standby privileges to get home space available, when those same thousands stranded of passengers have paid for tickets. About a day later a gate agent had mercy on us and did something she probably could have gotten in trouble for and positive spaced my flight attendant and I, bumping paid passengers. There are long, sometimes very long, waits is airport terminals. Deadheading sucks, but at least you get some pay for it. Also, for the most part you only get paid for time the aircraft is moving (to keep it simple). Just remember... there's a reason that people fly on private aircraft... to skip everything involving the airlines. If you choose to work in this field, you must be able to accept all of the related irritations. To put it simply, any time I was sitting in the cockpit, even at the gate, I loved my job. Any time I was having anything to do with work and not sitting in the cockpit, I hated my job. Maintenance, in my experience, always dealt with the problems immediately... by adding a 13th MEL sticker to the can. By the book, the aircraft were safe and legal, but that doesn't help with being annoying or seeming unprofessional. Job security is always a problem, the worst in the industry. You are prone to furlough in your initial years, and always prone to buyouts or mergers. If you are out of a job, you start back at the bottom. Flashiest and seemingly coolest job in the industry... but with the highest cost to quality of life (again, in my experience).

Cargo airline:
Flying at night, for me, a plus. I remember saying many times on the loose load run: "I want freight that walks itself on and off." True, but... freight pilots don't have to deal with 90% of the annoyance that passenger airline pilots have to deal with. *Charter* freight (next section) pretty much sucked. Scheduled freight was pretty nice. All the VORs and ATC freqs were already known. All the radials. All the contingencies for weather, etc., etc. You flew with a buddy (hopefully) that you knew well, and worked together to get the job done. We did have jumpseat agreements here, which is nice, but rare for most smaller cargo operators (especially once the electronic tracking systems came out maybe ten years ago). Keeping it vague, I left because of maintenance issues; this is chronic problem in this area of aviation. Cargo flying is reliable, though you may be forced to move (depending on which type of cargo operation you work for), the jobs are pretty much as stable as a flying job can get (second only to government).

Charter (Cargo):
No way (for me), not ever again. I did this for a short period of time, and was sometimes voluntold at other times. For political reasons, let's just look at a stereotype, not my specific experiences. Generally speaking, you are flying an older aircraft (that's why it's in cargo service), for an air carrier that has specific requirements for maintenance. With difficulties getting (135 capable) maintenance in the middle of the night at XYZ county airport, many things... just don't get fixed (remember, hypothetical stereotype, for legal/ political reasons). This is contrary to the regs, and often common sense self-preservation, but it happens. Speed and on time performance (not safety or legality) seems priority. You are going to nearly infinite destinations you've possibly never been to before. It seemed that most things went at night (one factory finishes, take it to another factory for the next day). It seemed you were always doing a night, non-precision, circling approach, to minimums, into a mountainous airport that I've never been to before. In a busted plane. For peanuts. No thanks, I'll do line service again instead.

Charter (Passenger):
Tie (with Corporate), in my opinion, for the best pilot jobs. You go to a lot of places with a lot of different passengers you usually won't know. It varies, of course, from business trips to vacations. When you're lucky you get a multi-day vacation with food, car, hotel, etc., all paid for, plus, you get PAID to fly in the best seat, on a corporate jet. You meet celebrities occasionally. You get to see more of the country than you would with and scheduled service airline. It is a bit of work, because you are usually going somewhere you haven't been before, and everything involved with flying, transportation, hotel, food, etc., all has to be figured out from scratch. This *can be* one of the best jobs in aviation. You will never fly a large airliner. Maintenance was way better than cargo, equivalent but very different than passenger airline, but not as good as corporate or government. Compared to a passenger airline, charter aircraft usually carry fewer items MEL'ed, but getting broken items fixed is more problematic (for several reasons). If you just have to fly something with 200 seats, well, this will not cut it for you. It is a reasonably stable job.

Ties in my opinion for the best pilot job, but this can obviously vary by company and the people you work with. Like charter, you must resign yourself that you will almost certainly never fly a Boeing or an Airbus. On the good side, you go to a handful of business destinations with occasional variety- sort of the opposite of charter. You get to know most of your passengers quite well. You can hopefully build a good, mutually respectful, professional relationship that helps everyone do a better job for each other. You usually know your favorite restaurant in your overnight location. You know the channels on the TV. You know where it's safe to go for a walk. Etc. You may get to know the hotel cook/ chef well enough that you can call down to the kitchen and tell them you're there, and they already know how you like your dinner (and that you give him an appropriate tip, if appropriate). Most trips are known at least several days in advance unless there's an emergency. The aircraft are usually nice, given the scale of the company, and maintenance is usually top-notch, similar but not quite as good as government. This flying is as stable as the company you fly for; utilities are fairly safe, but I still had the aircraft sold out from under me.

Government (State):
Almost identical to Corporate; we operated Part 91. The difference was that office hours were required to fill out a 40 hour week, and that with the exception of some governor trips, the flying was usually weekday, business hours. Almost everything was known days in advance. I felt that I was always treated well. Maintenance was perfect. The flying was often interesting and somewhat high-profile. Job stability was as high as can be hoped for, for a pilot.

Government (FAA Ops Inspector):
Well, first things first, you aren't a "pilot" anymore. You will never again be as proficient in aircraft as you were the day you were hired. You have a couple of hundred job tasks, and at any one time you will be proficient at maybe twenty things. That is obviously counter-instinctive to a good pilot, and causes tremendous stress. As a POI that does (like most) actually really care about his operators and airmen, and wants to do the best job I can, it is incredibly stressful. Literally, this can be as stressful as being in a permanent airline training environment (the receiving end of the training stress). That's just my job, in my office. Others' experiences differ. In my office everyone works very well together, and we are all on friendly terms. (I would consider us all to be very good friends.) Helps a lot when you get frustrated. Another point that I really like, is that I learn something maybe every day. You will learn more in this job than probably any other aviation job, and probably more than all of your other aviation jobs combined (true for me). I remember another point like this, it was when I had my private, and started my instrument, and realized just how much I didn't know about aviation. The same has been true since about one week into working for the FAA, and still is. I keep finding entire parts to the regulations I never knew existed before. To me, that's a huge plus for this job. it is a LOT of work though. The job, meaning the employment overall, is great. It's a government job, so you occasionally just have to clench your jaw and do some things regardless of your opinion, but overall the job couldn't be better. Best aviation *job* I've ever had. Among the worst aviation *work* I've ever had (600 page GOM review, for example), with some distinctly exciting / interesting exceptions (airshows, accidents, some checkrides, for example). If you can handle no longer being a professional "pilot", and an occasional dose of "This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen!", this job is a very good one, with the highest possible job security that still occasionally gets you behind the controls of an airplane, and you pretty much never have to deal with maintenance problems (your applicants do).

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