Sunday, 20 February 2011

It's back! The revival of the blog!

Well how do I start this update after such a long period of time?  Maybe with an apology for anyone who still reads this and wondered where the next episode of my life in words was.

Well here is my apology Mum! (I think there may be one or two more that read this but I haven't exactly given my avid readers much to keep them gasping for more now have I)

So the reason for such a belated update has nothing to do with me becoming bored of writing and everything to do with a sheer mountain of workload that has been piled upon me since my upgrade.  I have had a whirlwind time of it recently (Well the past 4 months anyway) and will try to explain all.

My upgrade training to become a Captain was certainly something I will remember forever.  It came just at the time when Ramadan was ending, and is marked with a festival called Idul Fitri I believe.  This is basically Christmas Day for Islamic folk and hence is celebrated beyond anything I have experienced in Indonesia before.  I think I counted 3 separate weekends in total, with 3 different 'class' of people arriving from all over Java to make Pangandaran, our training base, their own party central.  By the end of it there were people sleeping in trucks, on the beach, by the side of the road and even one guy I saw up a tree! (No comment!)

It's hard to describe in words just how busy the place was, but to try, I expect it would be tantamount to attempting an escape from the Wembley area after England had just won the world cup at home and the tubes, busses and taxies had gone on strike - you simply couldn't move!

Add to this the fact that not one of the people there seemed to sleep - ever - and you can imagine how much stress we were placed under to try and make it as Captains.  I was awoken constantly by fireworks, motorbikes, car horns, kids, cattle, frogs, a man with a megaphone and everybody else in my 'hotel'.  (In quote marks as the grand Hawaii hotel is not quite what you would class as a hotel, more a shack with a lock on each door)  Not an ideal situation with respect to the amount sleep required to absorb the volume of information that was due to come.

So groundschool began and we were paired with the new Co-Pilots, expected of course to know everything they didn't.  Hmm.  I came through the classes without any problems and then finally got my hands on the controls again, this time from the seat I prefer.  ( I know this bit was short, but did you really want an explanation of how we had to sit through numerous powerpoint slides and videos from days gone by?!)

So, things as ever in my company were not going to be straight forward and the flight portion of the training was to be no exception.  We had been advised that a large number of people were expecting to be taken up for a joyride around the peninsular and this had to happen over the weekend that we were starting our air-work.  Without too much fuss, but a little bemused by this late information, off we went to the beach landing strip, given a run down of what actions we would have to perform to get the engine running, take off, fly for 10 minutes and then land back on the said beach strip with a plane full of passengers!  Brilliant.

Not technically my first flight in the left seat at this stage, but certainly one whereby I was being tested on my Captaincy and I was expected to perform flawlessly.  It went well and 8 more joyrides later I was becoming really quite comfortable with the whole engine start thing!  No problem.  10 minute sectors certainly forced you to concentrate and trying to complete all actions and checklists in this time frame meant getting up to speed and very comfortable with the aircraft very quickly indeed.

It may sound a bit odd that I needed to get used to the aircraft again as I had been flying it for 850 hours over 9 months already, but the perception, controls, view and space on this side are all different and feel quite alien to start with.

After the joyride weekend had run its course we were then put into some more serious situations and paired with the new Co-Pilots.  They knew absolutely nothing and so the workload on each of us was dramatically higher than anything we had been used to before. Simple things that were automatic to us were quite a challenge to the new folk and we were responsible for ensuring that no limits were exceeded, the flight went according to plan and emergencies were dealt with correctly and safely.  Phew.

My co-pilot, to his defence, was quite able and picked up a lot of stuff quickly and so it made my job of managing the situation a lot more tenable.  The flights were of course fraught with problems such as engine fires, doors opening during take off with eerie frequency and a total loss of electrical systems amongst others, but the sheer fact I am able to write this delayed update means that of course I got us down in one piece!

I could tell you a whole lot more about these three weeks but I fear this may be a long post given the time since my last one!  Suffice to say is that we all passed and a good and thoroughly well deserved drink at the beach bar ended the period very nicely.

I was handed the information that I was to be based back in Medan, my choice of base, and so packed up my stuff to begin my life as a Captain.

I flew back from Jakarta with an aircraft that had been evacuated prior to the volcano mentioned in my previous post and managed to log a substantial amount of night time as a result which I was pleased with; this stuff is very hard to come by!

The hard work I'm afraid to say only began on my arrival back to base.  As a newly minted Captain I am under the scrutiny and watchful eye of a Training Captain.  He would be my Co-Pilot and strangely would go through all sorts of schizophrenic behaviours during the 10 flights I had with him!  One minute he was the most co-operative person on the planet, then he not only forgot how to fly but also started suggesting all sorts of crazy ideas to try and get us killed…!  This of course was by design and so the onus was on me to manage these different co-pilots and still keep my head on the job at hand.

It went well and at the end of that very tiring and mentally draining week he informed me that I had met his standard and was cleared to fly on the line.  Great!

As a new Captain you are eased into the role by flying morning flights with experienced guys in the seat you once occupied.  This is supposed to give you a chance to fly in good conditions with a guy who is capable and easy to manage, if possible this tends to be people with lots of hours, experience and almost being considered for upgrade themselves.

I on the other hand had a mixed bag of people given the fact that the base had only really started recovering from the evacuation.  I had one arrogant guy who thought he knew everything and was quite happy to try and tell me what to do, one who treated me like I was some sort of aviation god and one, who I really enjoyed flying with, who had just the right balance of respect for my responsibility for the flight and personal authority when it came to making his own suggestions and decisions.  It seemed like my schizophrenic pilot from before had morphed into a whole load of people!  Now I understood the training.

Lucky me, I also got the worst of the weather!  So much for easy flights to start me off with.  I had to really exercise my Captains hat for real and made command decisions that both I and my co-pilot agreed was the correct course of action.  I didn't die, kill anyone or cause any flight safety issues as a result of my actions and so a big pat on the back was awarded (By myself, to myself, in private and without telling anyone - except the internet community now!).  But seriously, the responsibility brings a whole new level to your flying and I was relishing it.

So there I was, happy, enjoying my flying and certainly enjoying the pay increase that came with the job.  I could finally start to eat away at those strangling credit cards that helped me get here!  Then a position came up in the base that I felt would be a nice addition to my time in Medan and also add another string to my CV bow.  This was to become the deputy Base Manager.

Oh how I was not prepared for the following few months and hence the main reason why I have simply not had the chance to pen anything to my beloved blog!

Here we go!

To sum it up, I was keen on helping out with the base operations position and thought it would be a good way of improving the quality of life where I would now be living permanently.  The position of deputy base manager was available but was offered to someone else initially.  Oh well, I would be happy just plodding along with my new role as Captain and would go from there.  Two days into the job the other guy decided that it wasn't for him and so by the sheer fact that nobody else was even interested in the position, I was offered it!  Second choice, but whatever.

So the first thing was to try and fix the food situation, then I would get onto scheduling and see what other small things I could improve on.  That was until the base manager had to leave for personal reasons and there I was, suddenly sitting in the big chair and trying to run the base without any information or assistance.  From day one (Which was only 1 week into my deputy role) I was dealing with disciplinary procedures, aircraft maintenance, scheduling congestion, holiday requests, housing nightmares and a whole bunch of other tasks.  Oh, I still had to fly as well.

I managed to get a break off over Christmas and this was very much overdue.    I've missed home more than I thought and so it was good on so many levels to get back.  The 13 hour stopover in Doha was not exactly pleasing though.  It was nice to get back and see everyone, but the cold did really hit me when I arrived off the plane at Heathrow!

After my all too brief 'holiday' home it was time to head back to Indo and then it was all supposed to be back to normal with a base manager and me doing deputy work.  Not so!  I was once again left on my own to run the show as the other guy had to head back home again!

So for 3 1/2 months I have been doing the best part of 14 hour days mixed with office and flying duties.  Lets see how long that lasts!

Ok, I will leave the blog update there as I want to write a new one for the most recent news!  I am now a Training Captain…  Drum Roll!