Monday, February 25, 2013

You are a pilot, why don't you know everything about everything?

I met Steve when I was a junior in college.  When we met he was flying a Saab for a private company.  Shortly after we met, he was hired by a regional airline.  There is something about meeting a pilot...for some reason there is this instant trust that is formed (public trust).  Not to mention, the cool and macho factor.  Flight is  pretty amazing, and the man behind the yolk yoke has to be pretty cool.  Of course, they need to have their head on straight in order to do what they do.  This man *must* be an all around great guy....who knows everything about everything aviation related.

Ok, where am I going with this?  Well, recent aviation news was that a plane slid off a taxiway due to icy conditions (I believe).  As Steve was reading the article on the computer, I asked him "Steve, what would you do if that happened to you?" 

I don't know.

What do you mean, you don't know?  Would you be scared or nervous?

Joanna, I have never been in that situation.  I don't know how I would feel.

Typical. 

Never with a straight answer.  He barely thought of a feeling before he spewed such a dull answer. 

He is a pilot, for goodness sake...shouldn't he know everything about everything flight/aviation related?  Shouldn't he have an answer for each and every single question I ask?

**

Rewind to the first time Steve met my parents.  Of course, they knew his was a pilot.  I am assuming there was that instant trust/cool factor from the beginning, which is a definite plus when introducing him to my parents for the first time.  We drove down to their house, which is about a 3 hour drive.  I am sure my mom made dinner, and after dinner we had drinks (of course), and cigarettes (which is a thing of the past, since I am past that phase in my life...and also my uncle died of pancreatic cancer since he was a smoker, so that is always a lingering cloud in our conscious). 

My dad, Steve and I were standing on their back patio having a cigarette.  It was the fall, so the air was cool and crisp.  I really liked this guy, and so far so good with the evening.  I could tell my parents liked him.  My mom never pictured me with a blond, but the pilot factor must have won her over.  I don't know why, but I recall this conversation clear as day. 

"So, tell me, Steve" my father begin, in his thick Polish accent which was a bit intimidating to Steve, "this one flight, we were nearly touching down on the landing.  I could see the blades of grass, we were that close.  And all the sudden, the engines started to roar and up we went.  You know, I am not usually a nervous flier, but I tell you what...I grabbed the arm rests!  What was that?"

"Oh, a missed approach" Steve replied...

And so began the vast number of times where Steve hedges answers...never a straight answer...

So, why would this happen when we were so close?

Maybe there was a plane on the runway?  Maybe they were too fast?  I can't tell you for sure since I wasn't there...

**

My name is Joanna.  My husband is a pilot, and I am a nervous flier. 

You think I am funny, right?  Wrong.  Dead wrong.  It is bad enough that I take Ativan.  Thank the good Lord for Ativan!   Because before the Ativan, each and every flight was hell.  No joke.  I would jump at each and every single sound I heard.  I clearly recall one flight were I was convinced that we were taking off with only one engine.  I didn't hear them start up the second engine.  I was convinced!   And God help me if I was actually sitting next to Steve on a flight where I am anxious.  I would actually piss him off because I was all on edge and grabbing his hand every 10 seconds.  He didn't understand that if he wasn't nervous, than why should I be?  He doesn't get anxiety.  Yes, I was that bad.  Now with Avitan, I am F-I-N-E fine...thank goodness!

You know how it started?  It all started with whispers of things.  Things like when his good buddy was describing how his engine failed at cruising altitude.  His fuel wasn't contaminated, but that was the first time I heard of that term...one more thing to add to my pile of "shit I know behind the scenes, but I am not a pilot so I don't know that I am still safe."

And it continues with other stories about stick shakers going off over the Rockies.  Apparently this shook up his buddy so much that he actually thought about getting away from flying.  After I was educated on a stall, and how planes really *can* drop out of the sky, that just added more shit to my pile of behind the scenes pilot stuff.  See how this all built up?

But, the one exact event that made me most fearful was en route from SAT, I think, to MDW.  I had joined Steve on an overnight. We were in a low point in our marriage, and I thought a little time together would do us good.  Since he was flying regional (50 seats) I knew I wouldn't be catching a ride on his flight since the boarding totals were not favorable for non-reving.  So, I bought a cheap ticket on another airline.  Well, on the decent into MDW, something happened...the blue light was on - sterile - below 10,000 feet.  I noticed that a man took his young child to the bathroom.  How dare you do that!  We are below 10,000 feet! Don't you know anything?!  As the two of them were walking back to their seat, which happened to be right in front of me, the plane dropped.  I mean DROPPED!  The man grabbed his son, and shuffled back into their seats.  The plane dropped so much that I actually braced myself, as did most everyone else on the plane.  Instantly, the engines started to roar, and we regained the altitude that we just lost, or so it seemed.  The passengers on the plane turned from rather quiet into quietly chatting about what just happened.  My heart was pumping hard for a good couple minutes after that. 

Keep in mind folks, this one event was what, I believe, made me a certified anxious flier.  After I finally got back to our house and reconnect with Steve, I told him what happened. 

...he had no answer for me.  Joanna, I don't know what it could have been.  He didn't give me ANY indication what what it could have been.

It wasn't until we were hanging with another pilot friend a couple days later that told me what happened.  Probably wind sheer.

Steve?  Why the hell didn't you tell me that in the first place?!  I was pissed. Here I thought this plane was going to plummet to the earth (ok, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration) and he had no explanation.  Thanks honey...good for nothing.  I would have been fine with the answer of "oh, the pilots were probably just trying to dodge a flock of birds."  Any sort of answer, even outrageous ones, would have satisfied me. 

**

Don't pilots know everything about everything aviation related?  Shouldn't Steve have the answer for everything?  Of course I think so!

And apparently all people in the public believes so too.  It could be anything from: asking a pilot where the baggage claim is.  Follow the signs...see, those words "baggage claim"  Yeah, follow that. To the random pax that asked Steve for his take on the movie FlightDo you really want to know how the real story of that flight ended...right before you take to the friendly skies? 

As I have been writing this post, I told Steve I was writing about him and what the subject matter was.  He added some insight that I should pass along...sometimes, he just doesn't want to talk about it.  And I get that, especially when it comes to me.

Let's go back to the stick shaker situation.  Not only did he have to explain what a stick shaker was, he also had to explain what a stall is.  I thought it was an engine stall...you know, like when when a car stalls because the engine just stopped.  And then he had to explain lift...and Bernoulli's principle.  And then, he had to talk about how you recover from a stall.  And then he had to explain what being above max altitude was....

See?  By bringing up "stick shaker" to me, it took about 20 minutes to explain.  20 minutes of Steve's life that he won't get back.  Maybe that is why he rarely talks about work with me...  So, I do see why he may remain brief with his answers and dialogue with us non-aviation folk.  But, when I ask a professional a question, I expect an answer...damn it! 

Now, get him with a group of pilots and boy does he talk!  Remember my post: Pilot Dork  All about Steve and aviation discussions with fellow pilots.  Yawn, yawn, yawn for me...this is where he CAN showcase that he knows everything about everything aviation related. I know it is in him!  Of course it is in him...it is in his blood.













8 comments:

  1. Joanna, you and I must be wired the same. I was never married to a pilot, but I've been an extremely nervous flyer since witnessing the AA FLT 191 crash here in Chicago. I (very foolishly) thought that if I learned more about airplanes it would help me to become a calmer passenger, so I signed up for an aviation ground school class. BIG MISTAKE. Complete ignorance would have been far better. Now I worry about wind shear, clogged pitot tubes, micro-burst, flat spins, stalls, insufficient fuel, ice on the wings (which then leads to Bernoulli and his little physics principle failing miserably), forgotten flaps, leaky hydraulic fluid, low oil pressure, sudden loss of power in one of the engines during takeoff, pilots getting food poisoning (or simply falling asleep) and on and on the list goes. Nowadays, in order to fly I need to be carried to my seat while very heavily sedated (general anesthesia works better for me than Ativan) blindfolded, ear plugs firmly placed in my ears, and wearing an industrial strength life jacket (in case of the much dreaded "unlikely event of a water landing"). That way I won't hear any scary noises, notice any type of fluid dripping, see ice building up on any of the control surfaces, hear any "stick shaking" (or even imagining I'm hearing one shaking), or any of the thousands of other terrifying scenarios that play over and over in my mind the moment my feet leave terra firma. Last but not least, I need to be seated close to the bathroom. VERY close. Oh, and BTW: after completing the ground school class the teacher took each of us on a short flight in a Piper Cub. It was the first time I had ever been in a small plane, and I felt like I was in an airborne Mini Cooper. The others enjoyed it, but I never opened by eyes.

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    1. You post about witnessing the crash, as a side, is one of my most read blog posts.

      I could only imagine what you go through on flights.

      Oh, and I would totally have my eyes close in a Piper as well!!

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  2. My guess is that your husband has to "talk shop" all. The. Time. While at work and doesn't want to at home which is understandable. BUT, your curiosity and anxiety about flying should be enough reason(IMHO) to take the time to occasionally answer your questions. The way I read your post, Steve totally comes off like a jerk whenever you try to ask him the smallest aviation-related question. You are his wife and he should respect you enough to at least TRY to give you a possible explanation to aviation scenarios even if he could give a flip. I'm know beyond a shadow of a doubt as a pilot wife myself, that you do things that you don't want to, he should reciprocate. Especially, on something as minor as this. Sorry to be a nosy Nancy about this. I really, really enjoy your blog! I just could not stay quiet on this matter anymore!

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    1. Yes, there are times when Steve is short with his answers. Yes, sometimes it pisses me off. But, really more often than not, he does. Of course, these examples have extra emphasis on them since they are the topics of my post.

      Take last winter when there was crazy turbulence all the time. He had a flight that was over 1 hour longer than normal since they had to go slow for the turbulance. I asked "why do you have to go slow?" and his response was "why do you go slow over a speed bump?"

      He was short and brief...didn't really answer the question, but I got EXACTLY what the point was. This is a typical scenerio in our dialogue - he will try to answer my questions in a way that I can relate.

      No, you aren't nosey...I like any and all comments on my blog! Well, aside from spam :)

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  3. Hi Joanna! I just read "Pilot Dork" and almost pee'd my pants from laughing so hard! I'm an engineer and we suffer from a major dorkness factor as well. At least pilots are considered sexy. :-) Engineers, on the other hand, with our pocket protectors and nerdy glasses tend to be totally ignored by members of the opposite sex. The national "Engineering Week" here in the US is frequently referred to as "Geek Week". I have a nephew who is studying electrical engineering and we love to talk shop whenever we get together! My sister (his Mom) just rolls her eyes and refers to this sort of bonding as "geekazoid behavior".
    Thanks for writing such a great blog!!

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    1. I have to laugh about the pilot = sexy comment. I will give you that Steve and his buddy have that sexy factor. But, for as many pilots that are, there are that many that aren't.

      Thanks for your kind words!

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  4. I loved this one Joanna...and I can relate to it as well. Except that every time I try to give detailed answers to my wife's questions about aviation she gets this glazed look on her face that says "oh please make it stop!" My answers have gotten shorter and shorter. My favorite though, is the cross-eyed look she gets when they screw up something about aviation on TV or the movies. "I don't want to hear it, thank you!"

    I had to laugh out loud at your comment about "Follow the signs" Why on Earth people will ask me where the bathroom is in some far away place I visit once a year is beyond comprehension. Especially since they're usually standing under a sign with the answer!

    Keep up the good work. You posts are a hoot:)

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    1. Yes! If Steve ever really does go into crazy detail (which is usually after a couple glasses of wine and he is all talkative) it really does fly over my head and I get that glazed look as well. Too funny!

      They ask because you are in uniform...public trust...and you *must* know everything about everything LOL

      Thanks for the kind words!

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