Sunday, November 30, 2014

Day Trip to Austin

A cold morning flight to ORD
My phone rang at 7:28 a.m. on Monday morning.  My day off after a weekend of call. My alarm had been set for 7:30, so I was wakened from a sound sleep.  It was Rob, ending his 4-day trip in Chicago.
Rob: "How quickly can you pack a bag and leave the house?"
Me, disoriented: "Do you need me to drive and pick you up?"
Rob: "No. I want you to go to the airport. When do you have to work next?"
Me: "tonight at 10 p.m."
Rob: "Shoot. Ok. Get ready to go.  Let me see if this will work.  I'll call you back."

By 8:10, I was pulling out of the driveway.  No coffee, no breakfast. Fortunately I had showered the night before!  The dogs were fed and let out, arrangements had been made to have them looked in on later in the day. I was on my way to the airport with no destination in mind. Of course I was guessing like mad as I dressed hurriedly.  Christmas shopping in Chicago? Clearly he had planned for it to be an overnight, but he'd texted back to assure me that he'd have me home in time to go on call. I cancelled my day's appointments as I drove, certain that all the things on my "to do" list could wait for another day and eager for whatever adventure was in store.

I had to fly American, which meant checking in at the ticket counter.  The agent asked if I was an employee since I was flying using an employee perk that allows you to travel at a reduced rate on other airlines.  I asked her to check me in for my flight out of Chicago since I'd get there with a very tight layover...or no layover if we needed de-icing time.  She asked where I was going and I said, "I don't know, it's a surprise."  And I handed her my phone with the flight confirmation number on it.  "Well, once I print your boarding pass, you're gonna know. "  I promised her I wouldn't look because I wanted to enjoy the suspense. She handed me the pass and I folded it quickly and tucked it into my purse.

We didn't end up needing to be de-iced, but we took off late anyway! Getting off the plane in Chicago took forever.  I tried not to be impatient with the older gentleman in front of me. But, I knew that every minute mattered. Rob was texting me furiously.  "Where are you?"

Once off, he and I ran to the connecting gate but came up short when we saw that the gate was closed...and it was still 12 minutes prior to departure.  Officially it closes as 10 'til.  The gate agent gave us grief but Rob was persuasive.  The rule is 10 minutes and we were there at 12 'til!  She opened the door grudgingly and the family that got on with us was just as thankful that we were able to talk her into letting us board.  Otherwise, our adventure would have ended abruptly.

Rob had bought me a Greek omelet for breakfast and we waited to take off before eating; so it was nearly 11:30 before we both had breakfast.  But this was the view from our "table".

And this, was my dining partner.
On the tray table, you can see that he has a flight plan spread out.  By this time, after his further emphasis that he'd have me back home by 10 p.m., because we had "confirmed" seats on the flight home, I'd guessed our destination.  And I was thrilled.  Confirmed seats while flying Non-Rev, just don't happen.  So, I knew we weren't flying commercially. We were flying to Austin, where Rob's good friend Ben lives, and we were flying his twin engine Aztec home.

I was seriously like a little kid on my first flight, taking pictures out the window.  The clouds were just so beautiful.

Our "visit" to Austin was brief. Had I been off, we'd have spent the night and flown home the next day.  But, Ben needed to get the plane home, and with the iffy weather, he needed an experienced IFR pilot. He picked us up at the airport and we headed straight across town to the Aztec. No time for sight-seeing.  No time for lunch.

Here we are pre-flighting the plane at Austin Executive Airport.

We were in the air by 4 p.m. with a 5 hour flight time that included one fuel stop.  Our plan was to fly at 19,000 feet which meant, since the cabin wasn't pressurized, we'd need oxygen.  Ben had the tubing and adapters in a small rubbermaid bin.  My fellow passenger, an employee of Ben's and I ended up having to buddy breathe for the entire flight once we ascended past 11,000 feet because he didn't have enough adapters.  Nothing like knowing you are mildly hypoxic to bring on all the textbook symptoms!  We had a timer set on my cell phone and switched off every ten minutes. I was sleepy, fidgety and nauseous about a minute into my "room air" time every cycle!

Here's my buddy-breather and I, still smiling because we didn't yet know about the O2 situation!
With our headsets on, we can hear all the radio comm.  Mine had a loose connection so Rob and Ben were fading in and out a bit.

There's our pilot on the left and our IFR conditions pilot on the right. 

Nothing beats a sunset at altitude

Just after nightfall, there was some talk about switching from the right to the left fuel tank.  Rob told Ben to switch to the left.  Ben's voice sounded urgent and there was some shifting around as he yanked on some lever, "I can't get it. It's stuck."
"Well, you HAVE to get it or you're gonna lose this right engine," said Rob.
Suddenly their voices cut out and I couldn't hear any further communication for a few minutes.  My heart was racing.  I was certain that they had keyed us out so we wouldn't be privy to the emergency that was unfolding.  I'll admit to having a "get it right with God" moment.  But, in short order, I could see that the commotion had ended. And then, amidst the static, I began to hear them both speaking again.  It was an inopportune time for my headset to freak out, not, as I had thought, a deliberate silencing by the flight crew!  "Emergency" over, I was free to continue enjoying the flight.

Do you know how cold it gets at 19,000 feet in the winter?  Damn cold. Long down coat and fleece blanket cold. Falling asleep and starving and oxygen deprived cold. Brrrr! Damn, I'm a whiny date, aren't I?

We made a fuel stop at Bolivar Airport in Missouri.
Fuel stop
And landed in Moline by 9 p.m. Tower reported "poor braking action" on the runway and they were indeed right.  The airport was covered in ice.  We had to call for help to get the airplane into the hangar!

After the excitement of the day, we all needed nourishment.  Village Inn.  It was just after 11 p.m. and my Belgian waffle had just arrived when I was called to the hospital.  Ah, well.  I left the flight crew to linger over their meal, took my waffle in a "to-go" box and went to work, happy to enjoy the slightly less adventurous task of baby catching.