Better than most; worst than a few.
“That’s all I got to say about that…”
Better than most; worst than a few.
“That’s all I got to say about that…”
While postponed by the Covid restrictions, I was eventually able to schedule a slot at Baker’s School of Aeronautics. Steve and I braved airline travel to Nashville, TN, was able to visit with our good friends there and I began class to prepare for my A&P knowledge, oral and practical tests.
The 3 ways to take the tests are similar to pilot testing-have military equivalent, go through a 2 year school or show 30 months of training with an A&P supervising your work. I was able to document the 30 months to the FSDO and was signed off to proceed to the testing.
The first week at Baker’s is preparing for the 3 knowledge tests. First Airframes, then General and finally Powerplants. It’s done in this order because PP is typically the most difficult and passing the first two allows an applicant to continue to the Oral and Practical and get an A license and come back for the P license. There is a question bank and a practice test. Passing the practice test determines if you proceed to the actual test or need more training. I passed all 3 tests on the first try, finished the last one Saturday morning and had Sunday off (to watch the Navy-Army Game).
I mentioned the 3 ways to get to the testing and I was fortunate to come together with other more “mature” applicants with experimental backgrounds. The second week brought two more individuals to our study group. The study group was key because we needed to practice for the Oral part of the exam. With experimental experience, I had more experience than I thought but still learned a LOT from the discussion with the group. We also had a ringer in the person of Heidi! She was actually working as a mechanic and clarified finer points. But I get ahead of the story because all the Oral practice is done after hours.
The 2nd week at Baker’s is preparation for the Orals and Practicals. After a brief introduction, we are taken to the workshop and shown some of the more common projects then released to attempt them or work on the Orals. I was told my exam would be on Saturday but was moved up to Friday when a position opened up.
I was nervous on whatever came next that I wasn’t working on. In the workshop, I felt I should be working on the Orals; at night, I wanted to retry something from the workshop. Of our group of 5, 2 went on Thursday, 2 on Friday and one on Saturday. We all passed but Heidi had the worst test the examiners had ever given.
The reason the A&P rating is the hardest I’ve every taken is because the test is long, randomly generated and very difficult to study for everything. There are 44 sections; the FAA generates 7 questions for each section. The examiner asks any 4, you have to get 3 correct to go to the next section. If not, you have to answer the remaining 3 or you fail the Orals. I passed the Orals and began the Practicals, also randomly generated. The whole process started at 6 am and I finished at 12:45.
We have one last loose end to tie. Our AirCam is located near Chicago and needs to come west.
We complete basic maintenance on the AirCam over the first two days in IL. We are ready to go but weather puts us on hold. We spend a few days sightseeing in Chicago.
We prefer to fly early morning before any turbulence develops. When we finally have the weather to launch, we say goodbye and thank you to our Oshkosh friends and take off.
We fly generally toward the southwest and are rarely over 500’ above the ground. It is amazing to see all the details of life going on below, feel the uplifts as the ground begins to heat and even wave to people below!
On our second day we encounter a storm line that forced us back to the north. We land in Beatrice, NE which became a highlight of the trip. The KBIE airport manager chatted at us when we called in, offered a courtesy car, local restaurant knowledge, hotel critiques and since it was still early in the day, suggested we visit Homestead National Monument just a few miles down the road.
Homestead NM is not a very big monument. The part we visited was on about 10 acres of land and was part of the first homestead. There are 3 miles of trails and the museum is a 2 story building that you can walk through, reading everything, in about an hour. We were there for over 5. The history is interesting but the Park Ranger/curator/historian made a huge difference in our visit. There is a bank of computers that are connected to ALL the BLM homesteading records, military records, Ancestry.com and US census reports and we typed name after name into the search engines. Steve learned several interesting facts about his family’s relatives.
The next morning we continue southwest. The AirCam flies at about 70 mph. We plan to fly 2 legs each day and each leg is about 300 miles. We sometimes fly a little less depending on the winds, weather and fuel available at the airports. The plane can stay up a little longer than the 4 hours in our plan but after morning tea, I can’t; however, it’s usually a coin flip as to who starts the fueling and who gets to sprint to the bathroom!
We tackled an interesting technical dilemma when landing near Lake Powell. We had made reservations at the nearby lodge. Our directions were to call from the airport/parking lot (U07-Bullfrog Basin) and the shuttle would be along in about 15 minutes. From about 20 miles out and when we landed, we had NO cell phone coverage. The parking lot had vehicles and one other plane tied down but no people. Our solution–we used our DeLorme InReach to text Steve’s brother in CA the phone number to the lodge in UT. He called and asked for our shuttle. Twenty minutes later we were checking into our room.
Flying 500’ above the desert in Monument Valley was awesome. The AirCam has amazing visibility from the canopy.
We finally get stopped by a huge wind event but are able to land at North Las Vegas. Inbound to the airport, our plan is to tie down the plane, get a rental car and be home by midnight. That changed to “let’s just relax and spend the night in Vegas” which became “Wait! The Eagles are playing tonight and we can get opening night tickets!” Needless to say we spent the night in Vegas and drove home much later the next morning.
I ride JetBlue to FL then the American Airlines flight to St. Croix. I’m back on island to fly for Seaborne for another week. First I need to complete annual training and another check ride.
Oddly (for a pilot), I love check rides. Don’t take that wrong, I study like crazy, obsess over small points that will never be on the check ride, have anxiety and don’t sleep well, but when I finally get in the plane, I feel awesome. This time the check ride is 2.5 hours. The only maneuver we don’t perform is the high rate of descent which is fun in the Twin Otter but not really a maneuver you need much since we rarely fly over 4000 feet. I pass and I get a day off then fly the line for 5 days. Great fun.
When I am not flying, I reacquainted myself with some friends over tacos and at Castaways, catch a movie, go to the Seaside Markets Wine Night, see my lizard friends and the beautiful flowers that are every where.
It was great to be flying again but I knew I was missing out on the boat transit back to FL. Steve buddy-boated (kind of) with another Seawind then made the jump across the Gulf Stream. When I finished my flying week, the boat was already back to FL and I did not get to make one last trip to Nassau.
Like all things in life, one choice means that you miss out on some other things. So “make good choices”!
Steve and I are no longer employees.
In our 29 year history, he’s always had a job and I’ve sometimes had a job in addition to “mom”. We just finished our last two week commitment to Seaborne Airlines and soon he will join me on Always to begin the next chapter of our adventures.
It will be a unique experience. We have friends dropping aboard; after that, we have no time constraints other than those imposed by tide and weather. The boat is self-sufficient for water and power. Other than a diesel, LP and grocery top off, we can avoid marinas and crowds for quite awhile.
I’m looking forward to sleeping until I’m not tired, swimming in the clear ocean when I’m hot, hopefully fresh fish on occasion, time to read and write, and listening to Steve play guitar. And I’m excited to see what Steve does when he doesn’t have to do anything!
I’d be lying if I said “I’ll miss Seaborne”. I WILL miss the pilots and flying the Twin Otter, a great platform and perfect for the task. I met some very special people on both islands and look forward to coming back on Always for the promised sails. I will not miss the lack of management and support that allows the seaplane bases to deteriorate. I hope the promised improvements come soon for all that remain.
I’m glad we postponed our other plans for a year to experience St Croix and fly the Twin Otter. I appreciate being so welcomed and hope our paths cross again many times!