Did I get to the part where we fly the airplane yet? Seriously, did I? We did fly the airplane this rotation. Twice, even. And if you think the blog took a long time getting there, try real life.
Just as hotel keys get deprogrammed when you're wearing the least clothing, the client is ready to fly when you are the maximum number of minutes from being conveniently ready. If you really want to fly, do laundry at a laundromat. You'll be required to go to work right now as soon as the clothes are all wet and soapy. (And then sent to another base for a week while your clothes rot). In this case I wasn't doing laundry. I believe I'd already tried that trick. I was out for a walk about as far from the hotel as I could get and still be in civilization. My coworker came to pick me up. We stopped fro my flight bag and then off to the airport to get things going.
We took the tarps off the airplane, the flimsy polyethylene sheets so stiffened by the cold that they handled like stiff canvas. Fuel tanks were still full, so no leaks, and the oil levels were good. I jumped inside and closed the door, then flicked on the master and all the lights while my coworker gave me a thumbs up on all the exterior lights being operational. Everything else looked good inside, and the clients were arriving, so I went back outside and finished up unplugging cords and putting away tarps.
As soon as the engine heaters are unplugged, the engines start to cool, and you've seen what happens when we try to start cold engines, so we board right away. "I'll start up while you brief," I say as I jump in the left seat. Technically these guys are crewmembers not passengers so they don't need a briefing every time they board. I keep it to once per rotation, so they are at least apprised of any configuration changes and seasonal issues. Today, for example, there are parkas up the back behind the electronics rack, the first aid kit and fire extinguisher in the cockpit, and extra winter survival gear in the nose.
My coworker is an experienced pilot but he hasn't flown passengers commercially. He laughs as he climbs in the right seat, "I haven't given a passenger briefing since my commercial flight test." Both engines start easily and everything warms up okay. I fuss with the checklists, conscious that I haven't flown yet this month. The left throttle is really twitchy, you hardly move it at all for a big change, and the right propeller lever has very little resistance. It's sort of the opposite of the left propeller lever being sticky. It's exactly a friction setting issue, because everything else is correct, but perhaps there's something crooked in there making the tension uneven. These aren't no-go items, just things to say "hmm" about and pass on to maintenance in case they presage something more momentous.
I call taxiing and backtrack for take off. With checks complete, brakes released, airplane rolling straight, gauges green, keep it straight, airspeed alive, rotate. Positive rate, beautiful cold weather performance, insufficient runway remaining, gear up. Engines turning, tweak the propeller lever that is nudging rpms into the red, keep straight, set climb power and make a slow left turn on course.
There is forecast to be mist tomorrow morning, so we're alert to the possibility of it forming early. There is some present, but we conclude that it is not a threat, and that we will be able to see if it starts to spread to where we do care, even after dark.
The point of there being two pilots here today is so that my new coworker can find his way around this cockpit at night. So as the sun goes down I show him where all the lighting controls are and hand over control. He flies the airplane as you would expect a professional pilot to do, with no trouble at all. He gets an opportunity to observe how hard it is to tell you're rolling as you do a flat turn with no lights on the horizon, but there's only one dark quadrant in this area. There are a lot of farms in the area and some towns, plus whatever it is the military have going on over there, so lots of light.
What do the military have going on over there? There's a weird glow from the direction of the restricted area. We turn around and go the other way for a while, but when we turn back it's more pronounced. There's something on fire. We hope it's just an unoccupied farm building, but it's a little freaky. We don't think the military are hiding dangerous superweapons around here, but maybe that just means they are really good at hiding their dangerous superweapons. And then after another pass we figure it out.
It's the moon rising on the horizon, and its light is interacting with cloud and mist. The shape and variable opacity of the cloud made a a very convincing exploding secret missile base.
Plus, someone just forwarded me this:
STL approach: "United XXX best forward speed to the marker, you're number one."
United XXX (male): "Roger, balls to the wall."
STL approach: "American XXXX, you're number two behind a 737, follow him, cleared visual, best forward speed."
American XXXX (female): "Well I can't do 'balls to the wall' but I can go 'wide open'."
Unknown Pilot (male): "Is American hiring?"