joi, 10 februarie 2011

The Pilot's Log Book

The pilot's log book. Perhaps no other endeavor or job requires an individual to track such oddities.

Not only do pilots have to log every flight from departure location to destination, but also account for the time it took us to get there...right down to the navigator's arse in accuracy--or .1 hours (six minutes for you non-math types).

We must also explain in our log books what exactly we were doing to contribute to that Orville and Wilbur Wright moment. Were we acting, and I do use that word loosely, as First Pilot--actively controlling the aircraft (to include auto pilot operation)--or really acting, as the Copilot who just occupies a front row seat with a set of controls, but isn't controlling the aircraft (usually the non-flying pilot works the radios/checklists and handles communication to Air Traffic Controllers). With multiple destinations the pilots will normally swap duties after each leg of the trip to allow the other pilot the chance to miss radio calls or blame mysterious crosswinds for bumpy landings.

Instructor pilots must log the time they provide instruction to a student pilot. Evaluator pilots who give pilots their annual check rides must also log that evaluator time in their log book. Both of these qualifications provide pilots with valuable log entries that represent their expertise and experience in flying.

Our log books entries must also reflect the conditions experienced during every flight. Any part of the flight that took place during night conditions is recorded. Ever wonder why newspapers and newscasts show the official sunset and sunrise times? For us pilots. The same occurs for flying in clouds or other external conditions requiring pilots to primarily reference flight instruments in order to maintain aircraft attitude. Gotta log that time too.

I always fill out my log book immediately after engine shutdown. Since I have to fill out a similar form in the aircraft maintenance log, I use this time to make sure my log book reflects the same information.

My first entry in my log book describes my maiden voyage as "pre-flight, taxi, run-up, 4-basics, shutdown". The date is July 6, 1984 and I was in high school at the time. This introductory flight in Eugene, Oregon, lasted a whole .9 hours (54 minutes) and I'm sure my flight instructor moved the stick (or "yoke" as we call it) the entire time as I just hung on for dear life.

Most of the time I put the name of the other pilot I flew with in the "remarks" section of my log book. This gives me the opportunity to go back and double-check the fight records that the Air Force keeps on all it's pilots. It's also good to look back and remember all the guys and gals I've flown with over the years. The only time I didn't list the other pilots in my log book was when I was an instructor pilot at the C-130 schoolhouse. During those sorties, I could have 3 student pilots flying with me on one flight, all rotating into the other seat between takeoffs and landings. Without their grade books in my hand, they were called "hey, you're next in the seat. Get ready."

May 2, 1998. A flight from Aviano Air Base in Italy to Lajes Field, in the Azores, a small island in the middle of the Atlantic. Remarks say "tail swap", indicating we were swapping this Hercules with another C-130. The flight lasted 7.1 hours and additional remarks describe that night's dinner; "swordfish at the Pescador Restaurant". That was great swordfish. Highly recommend it.

The "Remarks" section also provides a glimpse into my flights that didn't go quite as planned and were cut short due to emergencies. A C-130 flight in 1996 that lasted only 18 minutes because of a "prop over speed on take-off". Just long enough to fly a radar approach and run the After Take-off, Prop Malfunction, Engine Shutdown Procedure (ESP), Descent, and Before Landing checklists. Other short flights that were the result of in-flight problems include "ESP #4 for RPM" (translation: Engine Shutdown Procedure for #4 propeller outside of allowable RPM limits), "fuel leak", "wheel well overheat", "ESP #2 for high oil temp", "decoupled prop", along with a dozen other aircraft problems.

A March 29, 1998 log entry only says "NASTY WX!" in the Remarks section. This C-130 flight originated at Minneapolis-St Paul Int'l Airport (MSP) and we were doing a local test flight in the northern section of Minnesota. I decided to cut the mission short and return early to MSP due to approaching thunderstorms. However, the thunderstorms were building up in several directions and air traffic controllers were stacking aircraft into holding patterns. I had a great navigator on-board and with his eyes on the radar scope we were able to skirt around these storms with his vectors. We were the first aircraft to get by the storms and actually land at MSP that afternoon.

There's my July 23, 1999 flight to the Cold Lake Airshow. Great trip!

Then there's good ol' Shreveport, Louisiana, on May 23, 2001. I'm instructing a brand new student copilot who's flying the C-130 on his 3rd flight ever. #1 prop decides to hang-up during our touch-n-go landing just as we're about to get back into the air and slip the surly bonds of Earth. Ugh.

I'm riding the controls with the student pilot like every instructor pilot should, but this aircraft immediately wants to kick my arse when 3 engines spooled up correctly towards full-power while the lone bad apple (#1 engine) doesn't want to play anymore. Perfect. Had a great instructor flight engineer who quickly spotted the offending engine and helped confirm and shut it down with the copilot while I did everything in my power to keep the C-130 on the runway using the rudder pedals, ailerons, brakes, and the power of cursing. There was a moment there when I thought for sure we'd be departing the runway. However, everyone performed exactly as our training had taught us, including the brand new copilot. Our number of takeoffs equalled our number of landings.

Log entries that are bare on specifics and listed as "local" flights to keep the real destinations unknown are either special forces missions or rapid-response flights for higher headquarters. Both of which don't need reminders written about in my log book in order for this pilot to remember them and where we were operating at.

Most pilots look to their log books for only the total hours they've accumulated over the years. When I approached 3,000 hours I thought is was a good milestone. However, as the flying hours have continued since then, I now look at my log book as a source of many great stories with many great people. We've travelled all over the world and seen great places, mostly on Uncle Sam's dime. Yes, there have been some interesting and perhaps stressful moments along the way, but the success of the missions and being able to take part in so many operations makes up for all the days sweat flowed from my David Clark covered head.

Take a look at your log book and see where life's journey has taken you. It may be a photo or scrap book, archives from a blog, or even letters from long ago...but all a memory book to you, logging your journey through life.