The Mercury Part 3 - Big Bear And Beyond
By Tony Vallillo (29 December 2009)
The trek through the terminal at LAX is a long one - all the better to obtain a little bit of exercise after sitting for nearly 6 hours. This is one terminal at AA that really hasn't changed all that much during the 31 years of my career. Oh, it has been redecorated a time or two, but the essential layout is the same. I am reminded of the trips I flew here in the first year of my employment, on the Boeing 707 and, occasionally, the 727. LAX was a glamorous destination in those days, at least to me, and it was quite a thrill to be walking through this terminal back then, in the suit of lights! Come to think of it, it still is!
We hop aboard the limo for the short ride to the hotel, which lies a few miles south of the airport. The layover hotels at LAX have been many and varied, depending upon the era, and the length of the layover. When I first started flying out here, in 1977, we stayed at the Miramar, at least for the long layovers. This was a really first class hotel in Santa Monica, close by the famous pier, and for me, being used to the officers quarters of various military installations around the world, it was a big step up in luxury! A few years later we changed hotels, and have done so with regularity ever since. Some of the properties have been as far away as Long Beach, or as close (for really short layovers) as Century Boulevard. Today's hotel is in the middle of the quality scale - a major chain of quasi-suites, and it will do nicely, especially considering that I have no intention of spending the day there!
The drive over to the hotel takes us along the south side of the airport, and there is a semi-historical building over there to which Pam directs my attention. One of the original hangars at Mines Field (the original name of what became LAX), it sits across from the FedEx cargo ramp. If you saw the movie Casablanca (and who hasn't?) you will recognize it, for it was used as the inspiration for the terminal building constructed on the Warner lot for the final climactic scene. Opinions apparently differ as to whether or not that finale was actually filmed at Mines Field, but the Wikipedia entry for the movie indicates that the only off-lot shooting took place at Van Nuys airport for a scene at the beginning of the film. Whether or not it was an actual shooting location, the building looks just like the one in the film, and it is easy to imagine Rick and Louis walking off into the fog from that exact place! There was certainly enough fog here this morning to create the same effect.
After leaving the airport itself, we turn south on I-405. This freeway attained fame of a sort not too long ago when it was used as the locale for an ingenious short video that was widely viewed on the web. You probably saw it - a crippled DC-10 lands on the evacuated lanes of the 405, touching down atop a lone auto driven by a hapless fellow whose eyes get really wide when he looks in his rearview mirror and sees a jumbo jet bearing down on him! The original video featured an American Airlines DC-10, but that was short-lived, and I imagine that the airline had a few words with the creators (!) who then changed the name on the fuselage, but not the trademark stripes! It was a perfect little tour-de-force of video virtuosity on the part of the creators, who apparently wanted to showcase their talents. I hope they succeeded - they certainly did a great job on this one!
After we check in at the hotel, I arrange for a set of wheels for my sojourn to Big Bear Lake. It is just the F/O and I now, for the cabin crew was all LAX based, and they are headed home for a day or two of R&R before they do it again later in the week. Pam, as it happens, has places of her own to visit on this trip, which is not at all uncommon when you are going to the same place week after week. I am thus on my own, a situation I have grown somewhat accustomed to over the years, since my relentless pursuit of sightseeing and tourism on layovers has always been a bit anachronistic in this latter day industry! (Even in Rome, quite a few of the regular crewmembers simply relax on the layovers, rather than try to take in every sight in town, as has always been my wont. It is often the first timers who are eager to wear out the shoe leather seeing the sights that they may not see again for awhile, and I have spent many a layover conducting my patented Nugget Tours, which take in all of the major sights in but a single afternoon! It is much easier to see the sights on a one time basis in the company of an experienced traveler, and I have always been enthusiastic about introducing the uninitiated to my favorite cities, like Rome.)
Wheels secured, I plan my journey with the rent-a-car map, being too penurious to spring for a few extra bucks for the GPS! After all, there are standards to uphold, even for just two more trips! The drive will not be a short one - it is around 112 miles each way. I-105 to I-805 to I-210, and then the drive up into the mountains on 330 and 18 to the lake. The first hour or so is through a never-ending suburban sprawl, uninspiring for the most part until I turn east on I-210, which runs fairly close to the San Bernardino Mountains. The visibility improves to excellent once inland a bit and the mountains look inviting. Soon enough I depart the freeways and begin the long, twisting climb up toward my destination. It takes almost as long to cover these last 20 or so miles (probably more like 30 as the road goes!) as it did to do the first 90 or so. The reward, however, is spectacular! I now understand why this area has long been a favorite destination for the denizens of this region, because the contrast between Big Bear Lake and its environs and the LA basin could not be more pronounced. The lake sits over 6700 feet above sea level, and the surrounding mountains are thousands of feet higher, creating a magnificent bowl surrounding the azure waters.
There is an airport here, just beside the lake itself, and the flight in and out would be spectacular, albeit fraught with certain risks that I usually don't encounter in a 767. In light airplanes, density altitude can be a major concern, since piston engines give up a considerable percentage of their available power at higher altitudes unless they are turbocharged. A non-turbocharged single engine airplane could well be near or even above its performance ceiling at Big Bear on a hot day, a day on which the density altitude (pressure altitude corrected for temperature) might be close to 9000 feet, or even higher. A certain percentage of small plane pilots just can't seem to understand that although their Cherokee made it off Burbank airport just fine with four aboard, it will probably not be able to do that at Big Bear, at least not until dusk or later. Then too, the terrain for at least 20 miles around the lake is not amenable to forced landings, which are always a consideration when there is only one power plant. Once beyond the highest peaks, of course, it is all downhill, and there are a great many airports from which to choose from an altitude of over 9000 feet, which would be the minimum altitude (VFR) needed to clear even the lower terrain around the lake toward San Bernardino. All things considered, though, this is a great destination, provided that you have a turbocharged airplane at your disposal!
I spend the late afternoon and early evening driving all the way around the lake, enjoying the magnificent sunset and looking for an enticing place to eat. Alas, it is pretty much between seasons up here, with a good bit of snow still about, although not enough to do much skiing. Most of the area restaurants appear to be closed, and it is all I can do to find a Wendy's! I grab a quick meal-on-the-go and head back down the long and winding road to the big city. The view of the valley from more than a mile up is spectacular once I have crested the ring of mountains that guards the lake, and from there practically the entire run to Berdoo is made without touching the gas pedal! Once back on the freeway (which is what they call an expressway out here!) it is just a matter of getting off at the correct exits as I retrace my route back to the coast and our hotel. As I traverse this enormous valley I wonder why it took me until my very last trip to explore Big Bear. Of course I haven't had too many LAX layovers in the last few decades, and those few that I had were extremely short - just enough time for a bite to eat and a good night's sleep. Still, I'm glad I took advantage of this opportunity, for it has made my last transcontinental trip one to remember - a fitting finale indeed to my domestic career.
The original schedules when I first came aboard in 1977 had Flight One paired with Flight Two as the trip back home. This pairing has not existed for a number of years now, and indeed I already flew Flight Two several years ago on another sequence, a trip that did not involve Flight One on the front side. Today we are scheduled to return to New York on Flight 40, which departs at 11:00 Pacific Time and arrives in New York at 19:20. This is still a daylight trip the whole way at this time of year, since sunset will occur just about the time we are on final approach, which should make for a spectacular view out the window on landing. And it is a view I will be able to enjoy fully, since Pam will be doing all the actual work on this leg, including the takeoff and landing!
My wakeup call comes right on the dot at 8am, which is actually 11am tummy time. This is a remarkably civilized hour, and I enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before taking a few minutes to turn in the rental car and preparing for pickup. The van is waiting for us right at the appointed time and we are off through another morning fog, this one not as dense as yesterday's and already fast-disappearing. As we make our way through the terminal I contemplate for a moment the possibility of revisiting flight operations, which used to be on the ramp level and was famous for its numerous walls completely covered with pictures of pilots past. But Ops has apparently changed its location, and the fate of the hundreds of historical pictures is unclear to me at this point, so I deem it best to head for the airplane and get the flight plan at the gate.
The dispatcher has chosen route 34 for us this morning, and it looks to be a good one:
LOOP4 DAG, J100 LAS, HVE, KD63U, KD72A, FOD, J94 PMM, J70 LVZ, LENDY5 JFK
This route promises to be another visually spectacular one, starting with the departure. The LOOP4 is pretty much what its name implies, a wide sweeping half loop to the left and back over the LAX VOR, at which point the magenta line will head off to the northeast - a little north of Big Bear, as a matter of fact. After crossing the southern reaches of the Mojave Desert, our course proceeds to Las Vegas, then off to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, two sights I am eager to see, since I plan to visit them on the ground sometime after I retire. (At this point I have yet to do so, but it is on the short list!) Beyond the so-called Basin and Range country of Utah we will cross the Rockies a bit north of Denver and then on across the plains and north of Chicago to Pullman VOR, southwest of Grand Rapids. Detroit will slide by below as we cross Lakes Michigan and Erie, going feet dry again just northeast of Erie Pennsylvania. After slicing across the northeast corner of Pennsylvania to Wilkes Barre, we pick up the LENDY arrival into JFK.
All told, this should take us a mere four hours and forty three minutes, according to the computer - a far cry from the original record set on the Flight Two inaugural by Captain Macatee over 50 years ago, but still very respectable! Fuel-wise, the actual fuel burn for the flight is 45,106 pounds, with just shy of 14,000 pounds extra for reserve and alternate, and yet another 7000 pounds or so that the dispatcher has added based upon his long-held knowledge of the route, for a total release fuel of 66,572. The fuel required at brake release for takeoff is 63,987. The flight time of 4:43 is relatively short compared to the schedule block time of 5:20, so we have a cost index for the FMS of 12, which tells the computer to put fuel savings ahead of time considerations. That results in a cruise speed schedule that starts out at Mach .78 and progressively slows to mimic long range cruise - we will be cruising at .76 as we approach top-of-descent.
The weather here is 1200 scattered with visibility of 4 miles in haze. Enroute should be mostly clear and smooth, with just a single indication of potential turbulence west of FOD. JFK will be beautiful - the forecast calls for 25,000 scattered and winds out of the west at around 10 knots. The alternate, chosen largely as a formality, is BWI, and their weather will be pretty much the same as it will be at JFK. All in all, it looks like another great day for sightseeing!
Since it is Pam's turn to fly today, I will again do the walkaround inspection, and it will turn out to be my last on anything larger than a Cessna. For over 31 years I have been performing this ritual, and I take some extra time today to savor the last one. I am, for a few moments, brought back in time to the regulated era, when my suit-of-lights had only three stripes, and I circumambulated the airplane before every takeoff, often in weather conditions much less delightful than this morning's 61 degrees. After 15 minutes or so savoring the sights sounds and smells of the intimate parts of a 767 and finding nothing amiss, I head back, somewhat reluctantly, to the flight deck. Another major milestone has come and gone, and there are only a few left now. But there is no time for maudlin sentimentality, because we have a job to do and it will require all of my attention, which is just as well.
Three minutes before eleven o'clock we release the brakes and call for pushback. Once in the alley, we find ourselves face-to-face with an MD-80 inbound to the very gate we just vacated! Gates, like airplanes, are too valuable to sit around idle, and they are utilized to the max, especially here at LAX, where several of them are hors-de-combat due to facility maintenance. Once the little Doug scoots by and parks we push up the power and start over the runway 24L, on the other side of the airport. This will take awhile, but that will allow the cabin crew, who are LAX based once again and whom we just met a few minutes ago, to do their briefings at a normal pace.
After a few minutes wait for several airplanes ahead of us to get airborne, we are cleared into position on 24L. The sea fog clings to the other end of the airport, hiding from our view the low bluffs off the end of the runway. This is no concern of ours, since we will be airborne long before then. And, of course, our takeoff performance is calculated with the bluffs in mind, so we are assured of clearing them even were an engine to fail at rotation. Confident in all of this preparation, I acknowledge our takeoff clearance and Pam calls for the autothrottles. In less than a minute our 294,000 plus pounds accelerates to 136 knots and the nose comes up. In another second or so the ship bids the ground good bye and we are up and away for the right coast.
The LOOP departure has an at-or-below 3000 foot restriction a few miles off the end of the runway, at the SMO 150 radial, but this is not difficult to comply with and we don't even have to level off. After a few minutes of flying what is essentially runway heading, SOCAL departure control clears us for the sweeping left turn back to the VOR. By the time we are headed east we are out of 10,000 feet and out comes my camera, the better to memorialize my final departure from the left coast! The day is beautiful, if not crystal clear, and we get a great view of downtown and the Hollywood/Bel-Aire area, as well as the San Fernando Valley and Johnny Carson's favorite spot - "Beautiful Downtown Burbank"! We are heading toward DAG, the Daggett VOR, which lies north of Twenty Nine Palms, our inbound route yesterday. As SOCAL hands us off to Los Angeles Center for the last time in my career, I take a moment to thank them and all of their predecessors over the last 31 years for the outstanding service, a brief ritual that I will repeat with every last center contact as we head east.
It takes just 120 miles or so to reach 37,000 feet, our cruising altitude. After completing the checklists and welcoming the passengers aboard, we can relax a bit and enjoy the spectacular views. Aside from some smog in the eastern LA basin over toward San Bernardino and the San Gorgonio pass, the skies are now crystal clear. As we vault the San Bernardino Mountains we can see Edwards Air Force Base and Rodgers Dry Lake in the distance off to the north. These desert sands were witness to the first intentional sonic boom back when Chuck Yeager, the original high priest of the Right Stuff, flew the X-1 to the sound barrier and beyond. I remind Pam that there was once a resort of sorts just off the end of the main runway at Edwards, which was known as Muroc AFB in those days. This resort was known to the test pilots as the Happy Bottom Riding Club, and was run by one of the most colorful aviatrixes ever to slip the surly bonds - Pancho Barnes. Pancho, who was a race pilot and movie stunt pilot in the 1930's, befriended just about all of the original "right stuff" test pilots of the 1940's, and every major breakthrough in flight test was celebrated at her club, the remains of which (it burned down in the 1950's) still remain, the site of an annual celebration in her honor.
In a very real sense, Pam is an heir to Pancho and all of the other female early-birds of the 1920's and 30's. Women, of course, took to the skies almost as soon as the men did, and pretty well matched them feat for feat, including flying all of the combat aircraft of WWII as the WASP's. Not in combat itself, perhaps, but in ferry, instructional and test flying dangerous enough to claim the lives of many of the sisterhood. A grateful nation said "Thank You" and then more or less sent them back to the kitchen - not a single female was hired as an airline or military pilot until the 1970's, when Emily Howell Warner became the first woman to fly a commercial airliner in the USA, for Frontier Airlines. American Airlines hired Bonnie Tiburzi shortly thereafter, who was and is a great pilot and a wonderful person. She was joined by several other women before I was hired and many hundreds more later on. Bonnie retired early a few years ago, to pursue other challenges, and she is still missed at AA! But her sisters fly on, and have become captains, check pilots and chief pilots, as well as Union representatives. Pam's lineage is long and distinguished!
As we fly over a small airport in the desert southeast of Edwards, known somewhat incongruously as Apple Valley, we are crossing the path of the delivery flight in my Thorp SkySkooter from Oregon to Connecticut. The trip was a leisurely one, given the not-quite-blistering speed of 100 knots that the Skooter is capable of when pressed! It took 8 days to cover the 4000 or so miles of the "long 'way round" route I chose, and we stopped for fuel at that little airport at Apple Valley. I never did find out if they grow apples down there, but the people were quite friendly, and the food was good!
Beyond Apple Valley we look down on a desert landscape, with the meager trickle of the Mojave River meandering through it. Victorville sits in the middle of this rather sparse landscape, along with George AFB and, just to the north of it, a strange looking site that resembles an airport laid out by Salvador Dali. The "runway" is not straight, but expands from one end to the other, and there are strange bunkers and buildings at each end, along with what appear to be structures of some sort in the middle of it. A search of the internet after the flight reveals that this is a Lockheed test facility, used to determine and measure the radar cross section of test articles, from models up to full sized airplanes. It is amusing to read some of the internet scuttlebutt about this site, which according to some accounts has something to do with UFO's and extraterrestrials! I'm fairly confident that nothing could be farther from the truth!
Cruising serenely at our assigned 37,000 feet, we head across another impressive desert toward Sin City itself, Las Vegas. What goes on there stays there, so they say, but in any event we are too high to see much of what is going on at the moment! It lacks a few minutes of high noon, so I imagine that what is going on there is mostly golf, but in truth the casinos are patronized around the clock, at least by the hard core! After a fine view of the entire area from McCarran airport to Nellis AFB we leave glitter gulch behind and, after passing Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, we head for an even more awe-inspiring sight - Zion National Park.
The centerpiece of the park is the magnificent Zion Canyon, which although much smaller than the Grand Canyon a hundred or so miles to the south is perhaps more visually impressive. That's because unlike the Grand Canyon, where you look upon it from its rim, its highest point (unless you possess a true death wish and take the mule-back journey down into it, along a narrow trail barely wide enough for the mule to traverse!), you explore the Zion Canyon from its floor. All canyons are more impressive from within, and Zion is said to be no exception. Unfortunately, we look upon it not from its rim, but from around 6 miles higher than that! Even so, it is a marvelous sight, and I resolve to visit it at ground level some day.
Bryce Canyon is next on the flight plan and it is equally impressive. This entire part of the world was once an ocean floor, and these rocks that the latter day waters have so creatively eroded were once the sediments on that floor, complete with marine fossils embedded thousands of feet below what would eventually be the surface of the uplifted land. At Bryce, the winds and waters have carved an incredible landscape of multicolored stalagmites, a kind of open-air giant's cavern that somehow had the top removed! I'll have to stretch that Zion trip to include this area as well.
Beyond Bryce the National Parks rush by like ties on a railroad track. Capitol Reef National Park centers on a geological fault known as a monocline, a tectonic fold in the earth's crust that looks like a huge dry riverbed. Canyonlands National Park looks from the air like a smaller version of Grand Canyon, and in a sense it is, having been cut by the same Colorado River upstream from its bigger brother. From this point we will be more or less following the Colorado, until it cuts off to the north between Glenwood Springs and Eagle.
As we take in these awesome sights, the intercom bell sounds the dinner chime, and another pair of first class meals makes an appearance on our laps! Talk about a restaurant with a view! As we savor the cuisine the canyon country gives way to the mountains of western Colorado, as we parallel Interstate 70 past Grand Junction (GJT) and the colorfully named towns of Rifle and Parachute. We are entering ski country, and a parade of world class ski resorts passes in review off to the right - Avon, Vail, Breckenridge, to name but a few. As I mentioned in part two of this series, I have always preferred to remain at the base of the mountain, and if I ever get out here again that will still be the case! However, I have no aversion to riding the gondola to the top of the hill, as I have done many times at resorts as far apart as British Columbia and Santiago Chile! A view from any vantage point above the ground will always be my favorite, be it from an airplane or from the top of a mountain that I didn't have to climb or descend under my own steam!
As I savor the dessert course of my last domestic crew meal we cross the dramatic escarpment of the Front Range of the Rockies, a little north of Denver, which we can see off to the right. From here our course continues to arc northeastward, crossing Nebraska and Iowa on the way to Northbrook VOR (OBK) just north of Chicago. From there we will turn eastward toward Erie Pennsylvania. This somewhat circuitous routing has been selected to take maximum advantage of the winds up here at 37,000 feet.
It was during WWII that the oceans were first flown on a regular basis, and it quickly became obvious to the more thoughtful of those pilots and navigators (the first of whom, by the way, were borrowed from the airlines) that the shortest time between two points is often not a straight line (or perhaps more correctly not a great circle line!). Strong high and low pressure weather systems lurked almost continuously in the North Atlantic and the pinwheel spin of the airflow around these systems might result in a constant and strong headwind if a direct flight path was chosen. Counter-intuitive though it first must have seemed, it was usually better to detour around the weather systems in the direction of the prevailing winds, so as to take advantage of the tailwinds that could be harnessed. The resulting often S-shaped flight path might well be up to a third longer in distance than the great circle route but would be shorter in time, often by an hour or more!
This became known as "pressure pattern flying" and the introduction of the radio altimeter (known today as the radar altimeter) made it possible for a navigator to always know the sea level barometric pressure at the airplane's exact position. With this information at hand, the crew simply flew a constant pressure line (along a particular isobar on the weather depiction chart, one that had been roughly chosen during the flight planning process), correcting their heading as necessary to remain on the line. It was even possible to utilize this system as a means of navigation, based upon the assumption that a certain isobar would lie over the destination at the desired time. You could actually fly that isobar and, if the forecasts were accurate, come very close to the destination - certainly close enough for land based means of navigation to become effective. This system was used well into the 1950's, albeit only rarely as a primary means of navigation. The principal benefit was and is a shorter flight time.
In time the present NAT track system evolved, and the burden of calculating the least-time route was lifted from the aircrew and taken up by the planners at the Oceanic Centers at Gander and Shannon. Today's NAT tracks are calculated each day using essentially the same philosophy as the pressure pattern flyers used. And we do very much the same thing on long domestic flights as well. No doubt a high pressure area lies to the south of our track, and the dispatcher has selected the preplanned route that best fits into the upper level wind patterns. Computers, of course, do all of this quickly and accurately.
As we flash across the Great Plains at a groundspeed of around 530 knots, the sun is hastening along its path in the opposite direction and is now in a race with us to get below the horizon before we land at JFK! Eastbound flights are always like this - both the dawn and the sunset are accelerated like a time-lapse movie sequence. Out ahead we can begin to make out the slight darkening along the horizon that is the precursor of the terminator. No, not the Governor of California, but the line of demarcation between day and night. On the moon this line is razor sharp, but fortunately here on earth we have a broad diffuse zone hundreds of miles long where the evening twilight reigns. By the time we reach Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania the shadows on the ground are growing long.
The Lendy arrival begins at LVZ, and this is also a good time to make a final check of the JFK weather. It turns out to be a delightful day in New York, with west winds and scattered clouds and the temperature a mild 60 degrees. Runway 22L looks like the runway of choice, and the ATIS is calling for the ILS 22L, which is a bit of a surprise since the preferred noise-abatement approach is the VOR/DME due to its slightly offset approach course. We hit LVZ 5 minutes ahead of the flight plan estimate and receive clearance to start down. Pam has programmed the FMC with the vertical constraints of the arrival, and soon enough the VNAV engages and starts us on the downward slide toward the Big Apple. I give the passengers the good news about our early arrival and the beautiful weather and advise the cabin crew of our estimated landing time. This is something of a guess, of course, since we will be flying a good bit beyond JFK in the process of landing on 22L, but it is an educated guess based upon long experience.
The very low cost index number we put into the FMC at LAX would have us descending at 250 knots from shortly after top of descent. Normally we do not actually do this, since loafing along at such an absurdly low speed (for a 767, at any rate!) might well jam the gears of the entire ATC system. But today, lo and behold, ATC itself soon constrains us to 250 knots, tipping its hand that the skies over Gotham might be a bit busy this early evening! So we comply, and the FMC is forced to do an electronic scramble to recalculate the descent so as to cross LENDY at FL190. But OTTO wasn't born yesterday (actually this particular Otto was born around 1985 and has way more flying hours than I do, having been at it roughly 12 hours a day for all of these 23 years!) and he handles the curve-ball with the ease of a Derek Jeter in a clutch situation! LENDY and FL190 arrive just about simultaneously and we head over toward the LGA VOR. By now, the Big Apple is clearly visible, laid out from end to end in all of its not inconsiderable glory. Approach turns us just short of the Hudson and we fly south, parallel to Manhattan, which stands out like a city of gold in the early sunset. And wonder of wonders - we are still well above 10,000 feet and I am thus free to capture this Kodak moment to share with you!
After we pass south of JFK we are vectored around to the east, and given clearance to descend to 3000 feet. As we turn back toward the west to begin the approach, we are presented with one of the most spectacular sunsets that I have ever encountered in over 38 years of flying. Even better than the one on the way back from Paris earlier in the week. There have been many occasions when I have been tempted to overlook the discipline of the sterile cockpit procedure and take a picture below 10,000 feet, but this is the greatest temptation of them all. What I would not give for a picture of this moment! But I've made it this far in compliance with the FAR's (Federal Aviation Regulations), or at least the ones I am aware of, and the time to start violating them intentionally will be after I put down the flight bag for the last time, not before.
Pam calls for flaps and gear, and hand flies the airplane down the glide path. Despite the distraction of that unbelievable sunset she greases it on perfectly, and we turn off at the Juliet semi-high speed. As we hold in position awaiting clearance to cross runway 22R I am finally able to get a picture of the post-sunset western sky; but as you can see, it's all over but the shouting. As I taxi the jet to the gate I realize that the sunset we just enjoyed was, in a sense, a metaphor for this final week of my airline career. The best has, indeed, been saved for last!
After the passengers depart, I thank Pam for seeing to it that this old dog got his day on the Mercury without embarrassment! As we part, I remind her that a few short days hence she will get my number! Actually, every pilot on the list will get my number, for they will all advance by one on the first of April. (Actually, most of them will advance by nearly one hundred numbers, since I am not alone in declaring my intent to retire at the end of the month!) That puts a smile on her face; one of many as it turns out, for Pam is a pilot out of much the same mold as I - always smiling when aloft. Some things, fortunately, never change.
And now, at long last, it is down to one. Not Flight One, but the last one - the Final Argosy, the Fini flight. I'll see you in operations the day after tomorrow!