Whenever I’m sitting on an airplane during takeoff, I close my eyes and put my head back.
Whenever I’m sitting on an airplane during particularly rough turbulence, I listen to Lauryn Hill on my iPhone.
Why? Because—even though I’m not particularly superstitious—I’m superstitious about crashing.
Which leads me to this week’s awesome guest …
A few months back, Tom Holt sent me an e-mail about an article I wrote. It was a nice, interesting, supportive little note—but what jumped off the page were the words, “I flew commercially for Delta …”
I’ve long wanted to ask a pilot 1,001 questions about the biz, and here’s my chance. Mainly, I wanted to know whether my fear is at all justifiable; whether there are risks involved with flight; whether there are things we (the souls in the seats) should know.
Hence, we bring you Tom Holt, Delta pilot from 1979 until 2005, and Quaz No. 154 …
JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Tom, you flew commercially for Delta for 30 years. I’ve flown professionally (as in, to get places) for about 20 years, and on about half of those trips I’ve convinced myself—usually during some rocky turbulence—that the plane was going to crash. How irrational does that make me? And, as a pilot, how many times have you truly thought, “Shit, we might be in real trouble here”?
TOM HOLT: Jeff, many people flying today share the same fears while the airplane is being bounced around like a beach ball at a Dodgers game. Let’s face it, as you’re trapped in a long aluminum tube you begin to wonder how this thing is staying in the air and will it continue to do so. I’ll get into it somewhat deeper when I answer your question about the fear of commercial flying. Next time try to imagine Mother Nature is just helping by rocking you to sleep. I’ve slept through some wild rides while riding as a passenger and when it’s over people just shake their heads. I can do this because I have complete trust in my fellow pilots and the airplane.
Regarding the second part of the question I can truly say I have only had a couple of experiences which have left me wondering if today was going to be my day. A comedian years ago told a joke about not being afraid if it is his day but what if it’s the captain’s day. I had one really “Oh shit” moment as an airline pilot. Nearing what proved later to be the end of my career with Delta I was flying a B-767ER from Shannon, Ireland back to Atlanta. The flight had approximately 235 “souls on board”—which included flight crew and passengers. This term may sound a tad gruesome but it is used in aviation during emergencies to provide ground personnel a number of folks they will be dealing with. It was a beautiful day for flying as we had a smooth ride, tail winds and a cloudless sky. When we fly commercially for more than eight hours we always have three pilots on board with one of us rotating to the back for rest periods and two on the flight deck. This allows for a fresh crewmember during the long trans-ocean flights. Take off and landing operations will see all three crewmembers on the flight deck.
One of my first officers was resting and the other one in the cockpit with me was having his meal. He had opted for the fish that day which played a part in the upcoming scenario. Normally when one pilot is eating the other will watch over the flight operation. There isn’t a tremendous amount of work to be done as the navigation is done with a combination of the autopilot and the FMS (Flight Management System). At some point here I began to smell something unfamiliar, which started me looking around the flight deck. We do get some “odd” smells at times which is natural with food combined with cabin pressure. At this point the FO (First Officer) is also experiencing an unexplained odor. Ah ha! It’s the fish lunch, isn’t it? We both began to examine the tray and are giving different parts of it the smell test when—BAM! Black and gray smoke starts rolling out of the top of the instrument panel. The odor instantaneously gives away the culprit. We have an electrical fire somewhere in the cockpit.
The danger of an electrical fire cannot be understated. We have had training in the simulator but when it’s for real you have to react quickly. The Swiss Air accident off the coast of Nova Scotia has been used to detail what can happen if you wait. The Swiss Air captain elected to stay at altitude to run the “Smoke and Fumes Elimination” checklist. They didn’t have time to get the aircraft on the ground as the fire burned through their flight control wires. These wires send signals from the control wheel (Yoke) to the panels that control movement of the airplane (ailerons, rudder, and elevator). When the wires burned through, the crew had no way to control the airplane and it crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia.
At this point we had donned our oxygen masks and summoned the resting FO back to the flight deck. Communicating with the masks on is very difficult as you’re trying to push words out of your mouth while the mask is pumping pressurized O2 for you to breathe. The lunching FO had tossed the food tray on the floor (that fish didn’t look so great anyway) and while the two FOs began to go through the cumbersome checklist I took over flying the airplane. The first thing we needed to do was to get off our “track” and get away from other airplanes. A track is an electronic highway across the ocean and is used by several airplanes. We have a procedure to insure a safe escape from the track system. I sent out several “May Days” to send notice we had a problem and I gave a heads up to other aircraft of my intentions.
After clearing the tracks I began an emergency descent to 1,000 feet AGL (Above Ground Level). We are now 1,000 feet above the ocean and tearing butt for St. John’s, Labrador about 250 miles away. The smoke is still coming and the checklist has not found the culprit as it is designed to isolate different electrical systems until the offending one is located. My thoughts are wondering at what point I might have to make the decision to ditch the aircraft. As long as this bad boy is flying I’m heading for St. John’s which finally found us on radar. At least now someone knows where we are. The flight attendants are getting the cabin ready for a ditching and I cannot fathom how they felt looking at the ocean just below them and wondering if we will make a water landing. I was fortunate to be occupied flying the airplane.
Approximately 100 miles away from landing the smoke begins to dissipate as our checklist has hopefully lead us to the system causing the problem. Things were looking up so I pointed to the fish plate on the floor and asked my FO, “Are you going to eat that?”. We decide to maintain the emergency and leave the masks on as there was still some lingering smoke but 20 miles out we pick up the runway. “Yeah baby, we’re going to make it!” My concern now, on top of the smoke, is that we are 60,000 pounds overweight for the landing. Aircraft have a landing structural weight and exceeding that can cause damage if the landing is not done properly. We’re five miles from touchdown and—BAM! The smoke starts up, obscuring my vision but just as quickly it lessens and I have the runway again. The landing went perfectly (this where I pat myself on the back), the smoke had stopped and best of all the entire crowd in the back was going crazy. We took the masks off and taxied to the gate. Damn, it was finally over.
J.P.: I’m fascinated by life paths—so what’s yours? How did you become a pilot? When did you first realize it was something you wanted to do? What was your path from just some kid with a dream to sitting in the cockpit?
T.H.: My life began in a small town located on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley about 50 miles from Fresno, California. My mother went to a local doctor in Firebaugh, most likely because my parents couldn’t afford a visit to the hospital. I was born in one of the back rooms weighing in a healthy 10 pounds and two ounces and arrived home shortly after to be put in the care of my older sisters. I was the last of seven children and my birth so disgusted my oldest brother he left home and married his high school sweetheart. My mother returned to the fields the following day doing whatever work was available during the season.
The San Joaquin Valley is agrarian with thousands of acres of crops being planted and harvested each year. Children usually accompanied their parents after reaching the age of 5 or 6 as daycare was expensive and the families made little to begin with. I remember helping with the field work when I was not in school. Usually in the summer this came down to chopping cotton, picking cotton,and picking tomatoes. I believe I was 10 or 11, working in the summer with temps around 100 degrees every day, picking tomatoes. We got 25 cents for a full bucket. Fill it up and carry it to the end of the row and repeat. I would not eat tomatoes for several years because of the stench of sitting on rotten ones while harvesting the ripe ones. I decided at that very young age I was getting out of this type of life. Using education was going to be the key that would release me so I was determined to buckle down and do what was necessary. Education of their children was important to my parents as neither of them got past the eighth grade. They grew up during the depression in Oklahoma and had to drop schooling to help out at home. It was so important to them that we were not allowed to work even on weekends during school time. However, the summer meant you were fair game and expected to work with the understanding your wages went to the family.
I bring up living in an agricultural region only because there was an element of this daily lifestyle that helped to shape my future. Crop dusting! The politically correct version now is “Aerial Applicator,” but to me they were crop dusters. Most of these airplanes were surplus World War II Stearmans, which were bi-wing aircraft with huge radial engines used for training future pilots during the 1940’s. Eagle Field was located near where we grew up and my family actually lived in some of the housing that was converted for civilian use after the war ended. These airplanes were eventually auctioned off and became an everyday workhorse for the pilots who used them. Many are still being used today in the same area.
Watching these monsters work the fields was fascinating to me as a kid. My house was surrounded by fields of crops and some mornings you would awaken to a thunderous noise as those radial engines would be pulling their pilots skyward after making a pass. Within seconds I would be out the door and on my bike to watch the rest of the pilots’ workday. If they were in range of a bike ride I would stay until it was getting dark. Parents then would not worry about you as long as you were home by dark. I loved watching these beauties and started to think that maybe someday I could fly one. I believe this is where the first seed was planted, but—like all things that grow—that seed needed to be nurtured and cared for. I set out to do just that.
When the bug really hit I was 16 or 17. I recall riding my motorcycle (big upgrade over the bike) to visit a friend who also rode a cycle. His family owned a grocery store in Firebaugh and as I was waiting for him to finish his chores I went to the magazine rack. There was a “Flying” magazine on the shelf and I thought it would be worthwhile reading. Boy, was I ever right about that. There just happened to be an article detailing a pilot’s story starting from scratch and then receiving his private pilot’s license. I was hooked and nothing was going to stop me from accomplishing this goal.
Some of my friends laughed at me when we would talk about the future. I would always bring up the notion of learning to fly and, by golly, I was going to do it. I was a sort of nerdy kid who also just happened to be the most ungainly specimen of my class. I definitely was not athlete material but I was determined to make a go of this.
I graduated from high school in 1969 and for those who don’t remember we had this little skirmish going on with Vietnam. The draft started using a lottery system to determine who should be pulled into the army. My lottery number turned out to be 54, so yep I was going. The area we grew up in was rural and conservative and many of us felt an obligation to join and do our part. I was not against serving at the time but if I was going then I wanted to do it on my terms and not theirs. I applied and was accepted to Fresno State College, which is now California State University, Fresno. That name didn’t stick and it is still referred as Fresno State.
I graduated from college in 1973 with just the required amount of units needed. My junior and senior years were spent being a member of the USAF ROTC program on campus. These were testy times as the anti-war movement was going strong. We eventually quit wearing uniforms on campus so we wouldn’t stand out. However, the haircuts always gave us away. In June 1973, along with graduation, I was also commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the USAF. I awaited my orders to a pilot training base to begin UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training). It had been hard work at times as I had to work 20-to-30 hours a week along with completing my college courses but I manage to do it and stay out of the draft. The Vietnam War was declared over in January of my senior year. Boy, did we ROTC pukes celebrate.
I began pilot training at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas which is located on I-20 about 25 miles east of Midland, Texas. It was typical West Texas, which was basically scrub brush and a flat desert type terrain. It was the perfect place for young men (females had been approved for flight training in 1973) to learn to fly. As the joke went, “You’ll love it here. You get to fly airplanes and there is a girl waiting for you behind every tree.” We soon learned there were no trees.
I learned to fly basic jets in a T-37, which is a small primary trainer built by Cessna. The cockpit was a side-by-side arrangement which allowed the instructor the opportunity to grab your mask and shake it to get your attention. My good fortune took a sour turn when we arrived at the flight line to begin flight training. The instructor assigned to me was on leave and would not return for two weeks. My reward was a disgruntled instructor who did want to be assigned to Webb, instructing student pilots, or flying the Tweet (the nickname for T-37 aircraft).
This guy managed to “pink” me on my first seven rides. Basically he was saying I was flying unsatisfactorily and my career had entered a deadly tailspin. I finally told my flight commander about the situation and figured it was over for me. He went ballistic when he read my daily folder and immediately showed the instructor the door. The flight commander backed me and put me with another instructor who got my confidence back. I was behind for a while but I made it to the next step—T-38s.
The T-38 Talon is a tandem seat trainer built by Northrop. It is capable of supersonic flight and was the Air Force’s main trainer for formation flight. I finished this segment with no problems and was awarded my pilot wings in September of 1974. My aviation career was moving forward. I had come quite a long ways from picking tomatoes with my family.
J.P.: Here are two back-to-back questions, intentionally linked. 1. Tell me why people shouldn’t be afraid of commercial flying. 2. Tell me why people should be afraid of commercial flying?
First, I get asked this question frequently from people who want to understand why flying is considered the safest mode of transportation we have available to us. The first thing you should look at is the experience of the pilots. I was an Air Force pilot for five years before starting my airline career. At Delta, as with other major carriers, we had pilots who came from military backgrounds. Other pilots who joined with a civilian background also had many years experience flying for smaller airlines, corporate, or other types of commercial flying. My point is not make one form of experience favorable but to state that most pilots are highly experienced when they start flying for an airline.
This experience enables a pilot to successfully complete initial training on different types of aircraft. Training can be difficult but an invested pilot will learn to fly the airplane correctly and safely. When I was flying a an FO I also learned from my captains and how they handled different situations. Some things I kept and some I discarded.
The best way to sum up the pilot part of the “Is it safe?” equation is to rely on the experience and the training they undergo. A new part of pilot training is CRM (Crew Resource Management). This is simplified by stating the crew acts as one with the captain taking input from each of his crew members. This was put into place to prevent a rouge or cowboy pilot from doing his own thing and leaving common sense behind. When I first started captains were not questioned about their actions. Now each crewmember is expected to speak up if there is a problem. Captains still have the final authority for actions but at least now they are willing to listen to others.
Now that we taken care of the pilot portion of safety let’s look at the aircraft itself. The next time you encounter turbulence look outside the window (if you can stand it) and you will probably see the wing flexing up and down. The range of motion can be 5 to 10 feet depending on the aircraft. These planes have to be incredibly strong to be able to take that much punishment. There’s usually not much positive about airplane crashes but many of our safety devices today were added after a crash in the past.
Think about how many takeoffs and landings are made each day. The only time we question the safeness of air travel is during the reporting of a crash. Knowing what I know of the background of aviation, I will take it every time. I’m in more danger trying to drive I-285 to get to the airport.
As for the second part of the question … frankly, I don’t believe anyone should have a fear of flying any major airline—and this includes regional or commuter airlines. I’ve done this too long to have a fear of it. If there is one factor it would have to be weather conditions that can cause unfavorable flying conditions. With advanced weather detection by ground and airborne radar systems these can be easily avoided.
J.P.: I remember being a kid, and flying was special. You would dress nicely. You’d get a hot meal. It just felt … classy. Now I wear baggy shorts, I get a bag of peanuts and I have to pay $5 extra for a gross blue blanket. What the hell has happened?
T.H.: I can explain the change in air travel in just one word—deregulation. Years ago airlines had set routes which allowed them to also have set prices. Competition on many routes was not allowed, giving the airline control over schedules and fares. Around 1978 deregulation of the airline industry was adopted. This opened up routes to competition from different airlines. Discount carriers popped up giving fliers the basics without the frill. If a major airline wants to stay in business it has to follow suit and the first things to go are food and other niceties such as blankets and pillows.
People’s Express Airlines started much of the discount flying, offering unheard of prices from New York City to Florida. Their fares were cheaper than riding on a bus, thus they became known as the Greyhound Crowd to other airlines. Major airlines had to match their fares but it soon became apparent the majors’ coasts were much higher. The flying public didn’t care and only wanted the cheapest fare. Flyers now pay for food, drinks, baggage, blankets and pillows. The next charge will be for the lavs. “Get your book of five lav visits for just $10. Please see me at the gate.”
J.P.: Do you recall the first time you actually flew a plane? That first-ever moment when you’re in charge, it’s all on you? What does that feel like?
T.H.: One thing a pilot never forgets is their first solo. My first time alone came on a sunny clear day at the Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). I had flown with my instructor to Madera, California just north of Fresno where I somewhat made a couple of landings and touch and gos. I thought it was going well but my instructor, out of the blue, said ”Let’s go home.” He sounded POd for sure and I thought it was a waste of time and money for me (a struggling college student). We landed at FAT and as we taxied back he said pull over here. I stopped. He looked at me and smiled and said, “See you back at the office. Don’t break anything.” I made three landings and it was a great feeling being up there by myself.
This was fun but the greatest first solo for me was in the T-37 at Webb AFB. As you recall I was struggling and wasn’t sure I was going to complete the program. I was so discouraged I had decided to quit or SIE (Self Induced Elimination). I remember sitting on my bed in my quarters crying because my dream was about to end. Getting my wings was the world to me but I was failing—failing me and failing my family. This went on for a few minutes and then I told myself, “The hell with them. I won’t quit so if they want me gone it will be on them.”
I didn’t quit and wasn’t washed out. My instructor returned and taught me how to fly. A few days later a similar scenario played out. We did four or five touch and gos and then we parked away from the runway. He opened the canopy, secured his seat straps and then looked at me, smiled and crawled out. After my first take off I was laughing and screaming so hard I couldn’t talk straight. Complete joy that few have felt but I was flying this bad-ass jet by myself. When I completed my three landings I taxied back to parking to be met by my fellow classmates. I was the last in the class to solo and they were all pulling for me. We went directly to the dunk tank where I was thrown it to celebrate my solo. Oh, and the beer that night at the club tasted so sweet. I was on my way.
J.P.: Can you give me a blow-by-blow recollection of your scariest moment in a cockpit?
T.H.: Our morning started out with a 0400 wake up. The mission tasked for our crew today would be a “bladder bird” setup to support US Army helicopter operations. After completing UPT I was assigned to fly a C-130 aircraft also known as the Hercules or, affectionately, the Herk. This aircraft is still being used by not only our own USAF but several other air forces. It is also flown by the US Navy and US Marine squadrons. It is powered by four turbo jet engines which supply power to the four propeller assemblies. This system is called a turbo prop airplane—which will play a part of the upcoming scenario.
Just two days before our squadron, planes had ferried units of the Army’s Red Horse battalion whose job was the creation of a tent city almost overnight. This exercise we were participating in was named “Team Spirit” and included units from the USAF, the US Army and the ROK (Republic of Korea) Rangers. Our base of operations would be Kwang Ju air base located about 150 miles south of Seoul.
It was springtime and the temperatures were still chilly but on the positive side the weather was going to be clear skies. We moved from our tents to a massive mess tent for a cold egg and bacon breakfast. Most of us didn’t care for the tent living but we tried to keep complaints to a minimum. You have to realize that South Korea is always at a state of wartime readiness and these exercises are important for training. As her chief ally we knew full well we would launch from our home base of Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Japan. Our squadron would be called upon to fly troops, equipment and supplies in support of our own troops along side the ROK troops. We were also there to evacuate “special weapons” if the need arose.
At approximately 0600 hours we took off for our first mission, which was to fly fuel to waiting Army helicopters. This is why we were called a bladder bird as our setup included a huge rubber bladder holding more than 2,000 gallons of jet fuel. Tied down in the cargo section, this made our airplane a flying gas station. We did not do air-to-air fueling so this setup had us landing, which allowed us to pump fuel to the helicopters. The Army crews would hover in close to us, take on their fuel, and then leave so the next one could refuel. The neat part of this mission was the fact we landed on an interstate highway. In South Korea interstate highways are used for emergency airfields, The pavement is marked as any runway would be and most of these ran straight for a couple of miles. Can you imagine blocking I-285 here in Atlanta for a couple of hours to land airplanes?
After refueling all of the copters that came to us we took off and headed back to Kwang Ju, which is about a one-hour flight. On this day I was part of a five-man crew which included the aircraft commander, co-pilot (me), navigator, flight engineer and loadmaster. Also on board with us was a young airman photographer assigned to document our operation with film.
We entered the pattern for a standard overhead approach and landing. This type of approach is used when the visibility is unrestricted, which it was that day. Flying this type of “visual” approach means we look out for conflicting traffic and they should do the same with us. The first part of this approach was flown directly over the runway at 1,500 feet AGL (Above Ground Level). Halfway down the runway we entered a tight right turn which is called the crosswind. As the aircraft commander was flying this leg I was working the radios and doing the checklists. I reported to tower we were in the “pitch.” Naval aviators call it the “break,” but it means the same thing to tower controllers—we were turning to start the approach.
Coming around the turn we heard a ROK F-5 pilot call initial which meant he was flying overhead the runway. At this time we were rolling wings level to position ourselves on the downwind which would have us flying southbound for a short time. Our runway was now off our right wing and as I glanced at it I could tell our positioning was good. We heard the ROK pilot call the pitch and I was thinking he best slow down to stay behind us.
I turned my attention to completing the checklist. While doing these checks pilots are calling out items and then looking in the direction to see if a switch or button is in the right position. I had just turned my head from the left to face forward again when a slight shadow came into my peripheral vision on the right. I started to turn to the right to check out what I was seeing.
Slow motion now engulfed my world. I couldn’t believe it but the only thing I could see out my right window was our right wing and fuselage bottom of an F-5. The F-5 is a single seat fighter which is very similar to a T-38. I have seen this picture many times before while doing echelon turns during pilot training. I could see rivets, panels and streaks of hydraulic fluid on the bottom of this guy’s jet. As I said it all seemed in slow motion as the belly of his fighter was headed for my window.
It was time to get back to regular speed and I yelled “Break Left! Break Left!” while simultaneously grabbing the control wheel and pulling like a sucker. The F-5 was belly up to us and had no idea we were there. My AC also pulled the yoke and turned to the left. At this point I waited for the collision because I didn’t think there was any chance for us. Ah, grasshopper, you forget we were in a Herk which has quick control response while doing aggressive maneuvers.
We finished our circle and set up for our landing. We were all a bit shaken but the amazing thing is only I and the young airman saw the F-5. That poor kid said he didn’t ever want to fly again. I think his first stop after getting off was the BX for some new underwear.
After shutting down and getting off the airplane we were met by some of our squadron mates who came running up. They told us they saw the F-5 merge with us and just waited for the fireball. The tower controller also saw it and dispatched the fire trucks knowing we were doomed. When we pulled away from the fighter there was disbelief we had survived.
As it turned out the ROK pilot was grounded and lost his wings. He stated he saw we were a “Propeller” airplane and assumed we would fly at 1,000 feet AGL so his plan was to keep his speed up, fly over the top of us and land before we did. As I stated earlier we are a turbo prop aircraft hence we always fly at jet altitudes when in the pattern.
Luck can cause changes in one’s life. It can be bad luck or good luck. If I had still been looking to the left would we have had time to escape? Most likely not. It was also good luck the AC trusted me enough to start the left turn and not fight me for the controls. Good luck was with our young airman that day also. The BX had just received a new shipment of underwear.
J.P.: You flew the team charter for the Atlanta Braves when you were with Delta. What do you recall from the experience? And how did you land that gig?
T.H.: I was lucky enough to fly the Braves to St. Louis for their playoff game. The last game of the regular season would determine where the Braves would play. Chipper Jones made an error that allowed the Rockies to win the game. I immediately placed a bid into our system requesting a charter. This was all based on seniority but I knew this flight would be coming. I received it and flew the team to St. Louis. Our call sign was Tomahawk One. I had a great time chatting with Bobby Cox and Pat Corrales before the flight. The three of us came from the Fresno area and we talked about how our lives had changed after leaving.
We didn’t get to stay as the aircraft was needed for other flights so we flew it back to Atlanta. Unfortunately the Braves lost the playoff series with the Cardinals.
J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
T.H.: The greatest moment of my career had to be receiving my wings in the Air Force. Unlike several of my classmates I was not a natural at flying. The students who were good athletes made damn good pilots and their training came with ease. I had to work harder to accomplish the same maneuvers, and where they could use a natural sense about flying I was more mechanical. At Webb I knew in the beginning if the Chinese restaurant ever moved from the north end of the runway I was in trouble. I used it as a point to start my turn for landing. The nice thing is experience quickly makes up for some deficiencies. At the end of the program I felt I was doing as well as any of my classmates. Pinning those wings on my chest was the proudest point of my career. My mother and father were there to see it and I know they were extremely proud.
The lowest point of my career was the day I received a letter from Delta explaining that my next pension check from them would be “zero.” I, along with several other senior captains, retired early to protect our pensions from the fast-approaching bankruptcy of Delta. My pension along with what I had saved would get us through and sadly Delta felt it necessary to get rid of that nasty pension. I gave them 27 years of safe flying—no hurt passengers and no bent metal and this was my reward. Another win for corporate America.
J.P.: Why did you stop flying? What caused your career to end?
T.H.: After losing the annuity part of my pension I had to return to work to make up for it. Heck, if I had known I still needed to work I would have stayed at Delta. I flew in China for three years but by then I was tired of the commute and living without my wife being there. I would still like to fly but age is now a factor. If companies have to spend 20k to 40k to train a pilot most would prefer a younger one. Dang, that’s how some guys choose a new wife. Anyone out there need an older experienced pilot?
• In the movie Flight, a drunk Denzel Washington prevents a major catastrophe by inverting the airplane. Not sure if you saw the plane–but is such a maneuver physically possible with a large commercial jet?: Denzel is one hell of an actor and I love his movies. That being said I don’t believe even he could keep a commercial jet flying inverted for more than a couple of seconds.
• Celine Dion calls—she’ll pay $5 million next year for you to be her official pilot. However, you have to fly 355 days a year, 9 hours per day, dress in a pink tutu and have her refer to you only as “Leon Spinks III.” You in?: For 5 million? Heck yeah I’m in. If my wife found out I had turned it down I would be a dead man anyway. At that salary I would consider myself to be a washed up infield journeyman.
• Five best airplane-related films of all time?: 1. Flight of the Phoenix (original); 2. Top Gun; 3. Airport; 4. Memphis Belle; 5. Airplane.
• Fill in the blank: “If you’re concerned about safety, I would advise not flying _________ Airline.”: Any airline with “Stan” in it’s name.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): hiking, Adrien Brody, Fruity Pebbles, Madonna, Santa Barbara, scuba diving, Lamar Odom, Tom Glavine, matzoh, egg salad, Menudo, the number 18: Santa Barbara, Menudo, Adrien Brody, hiking, Tom Glavine, matzoh, No. 18, scuba diving, Lamar Odom; Madonna.
• Why do passengers clap at the end of an uneventful flight?: Most likely they clap because they are tired of being cooped up in an airplane for hours on end. I haven’t had too many of these but if the weather is hairy and you get them safely on the ground then the applause comes.
• You were in the Air Force. Were you more Maverick or Goose?: I was definitely Goose. My personality is being laid back and I consider myself to be a type B.
• Rank in order of flying danger: Lightning, snow, hail, fierce wind, repeated Michael Bolton songs being played by God.: 1. Hail (can be ingested into the engines and knock them out) 2. lightning (not so much striking the airplane as I have had three or four lighting strikes in my career. Lightning is dangerous due to the storms they are generated from.) 3. Snow ( In the air it’s not a problem. Causes havoc on the ground and big delays) 4. Fierce wind (the most common danger is a windshear during takeoff and landing.) 5. repeated Michael Bolton songs anywhere. In listing weather features, the most dangerous for pilots is freezing rain. It can freeze on the wing causing the airfoil to change which will decrease the lift a wing can generate. If a pilot comes on the PA and says they have to de-ice don’t complain. Remember—no lift=no flying
• Five all-time favorite Braves: 1. Dale Murphy; 2. John Smoltz; 3. Greg Maddux; 4. David Justice; 5. Mark Lemke
• We come back 500 years from now, is everyone flying their cars?: I believe in 500 years we will be teleporting everywhere; either that or we’ll be back to horses and wagons. I firmly believe we will see automated airplanes which will take off and land vertically (safer and uses less space) and fly you around with just computers controlling the aircraft. Look at all the drones flying now. Maybe in the next 50 to 75 years. An old joke among pilots is that future airplanes will fly along with one pilot and one dog. The pilot will be there to monitor things and the dog will be there to bite the hell out of him if he tries to touch anything.