As I have been sitting at my parents home in Buffalo, NY like most of the time during my week off every four weeks, I have been anxiously waiting to hear a final decision from management as to where I am going to have to move. It seems like we are down to either Midland or Amarillo in Texas or San Francisco in California. If I have a say, I would much rather move back to California. It is getting pretty stressful because I thought that I was finally settling down. This makes me realize how fast it can all be taken away from me regardless of all the effort I have put in. It seems like the success of a pilot in this industry is equally based on talent as it is on luck. I did get a call a few days ago but it was concerning a immediate special assignment. At least it was a pretty interesting couple of days. As we are expanding operations with the Brasilia fleet, Ameriflight recently acquired one that had been sitting for about two years, on the ramp of a maintenance facility, in Springfield Missouri. The next morning, I was flown down there, where I met with one of our check airman who was in charge of the task. We were there to test fly the airplane and officially take delivery of the aircraft. The airplane had been stripped down to nothing more than the basic structure. The engines had been rebuilt, the systems were updated and checked and beside the noticeable paint job from another airline, it looked like a safe and reliable E120. After a day of delays, like anyone could expect considering the amount of paperwork that such project requires, we eventually sat in the cockpit during day two, and after some ground checks and an aborted takeoff for some warnings indicator illuminating, we finally lifted off, taking the empty bird into the clear and smooth afternoon skies. Unfortunately, after some slow flight maneuvers, we experienced some vibrations shortly after trying to retract the landing gears. We decided to return to the airfield, where the team assessed the situation and quickly figured out the problem. Quickly, we got airborne again and ran the airplane thru its pace with airborne checks of all the systems, stalls, steep turns and various type of approaches. This airplane felt like it was a new one. The maintenance facility had done a pretty impressive job and we accepted the airplane. With this crucial step completed, we could wrap up the mission the next morning by flying it to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a brand new Ameriflight paintjob. It took us about four hours to take the bird down south and barely after touching down on the hot runway, we got a cab ride back to the main airport in the city where I caught a flight back to Buffalo, where again I would wait to be sent on my next assignment.
I am enjoying my week off and finally can relax. This schedule is definitely grueling. Working every day, or should I say every night for three weeks straight is to say the least tiring. It is obvious that we deserve our time off on the fourth week. Anyway, because of the regulations of PART 135 that limits our flight time to 120 hours every calendar month and the fact that we log more than 25 hours per seven days on our runs, we need to make sure that we stay within the maximum allowed. Unfortunately my time home quickly got interrupted by an unexpected phone call by my assistant chief pilot. Within a few minutes he let me know that DHL is cancelling our Bradley run that we operate on the Brasilia, meaning that we don’t have the immediate need for one of the two first officers that the Cincinnati base has. In theory, because I have seniority, I would be the one to stay, but they decided, in a somewhat arbitrary manner, that since I don’t have a family per say with wife and kids, that it would be easier for me to pack my stuff again and move across the country. It came as quite a shock. But, it seems like my options are pretty limited. And because I am a decent guy, I agreed on the principle. For now, I have no idea where they want to relocate me, which is actually the hardest part. I like things set in stone, and kind of thought that when I was approached with the situation, I would have been given at least more information, if not a final destination. As it stands, as I am writing theses words, I could either end up in San Francisco or somewhere in Texas. I guess I should just view this as another adventure.
I have spent so far more than 700 hours in a cockpit as part of the crew and never really had a major problem that required an immediate diversion. Well, now I can cross that on my bucket list. As I type those words, I am sitting in an hotel, safely, in Iowa instead of Nebraska. As we were leveling off at 16000 feet on our one hour hop from cedar rapid to Omaha during the usual Sunday afternoon trip, a sudden and quick pop sound was heard. I was just looking at the newspaper but my attention was now captured and I shifted my eyes from the article I was reading to my captain to see if him too had heard it and perhaps had an answer to the obvious question, what the heck was that ? He didn’t even need to say anything as his facial expression was saying plenty. He too had no clue. But soon, as we were looking forward, facing the sun light shinning straight into the cockpit, we noticed the now obvious modification of the windshield on the captain side. Airplanes windshields are made of thermally or chemically toughened glass and contain usually two panes. The outside pane was completely shattered from top to bottom. We first thought that it was a bird impact but at this altitude and because of the lack of visible blood and guts, we came to the conclusion that it was most likely a structural failure. After all, with the high number of pressurization cycle this run requires, any part of the airplane can get tired. After pulling out the quick response handbook from the center console and going through the couple of items on it, my captain transferred the controls of the plane to me as he could not see anything and he took the communications with ATC over. He advised them that we needed to divert to the closest suitable airport. Being about 50 miles away from Des Moines and still at 16000 feet high, It seemed like an appropriate choice and we got vectored for a straight in to their longest runway. I slowed down the airplane to avoid overstressing the windshield more and It was a good thing that we were not higher because with high altitude comes higher cabin pressure which could have required us to make an emergency descent in order to avoid blowing the inside pane of the window. After about 15 minutes, I was flaring slowly above runway 31 at DSM, and softly touched down with the main landing gear and even more with the nose wheel to avoid potentially creating more damages. It was my first real incident and I realize how important it is to stay focus and calm. Even though there was no immediate danger at any time, it was interesting to see how a situation is approached in the real world, instead of in the simulator. We followed the steps that we are trained to do, including assessing, troubleshooting and adapting quickly with the situation and finally deciding on the best course of actions to assure the safety of the flight crew and airplane. For having a very limited experience flying for an airline, I already see the purpose of the high quality training that I did at Flight Safety International even if it was just to deal with a shattered windshield.