Thursday, July 24

Tanker / Bench Warmer - Chick

In the previous post, I mentioned the start of a new column called Tanker Chick. Due to lack of inspiration that column has been slow to launch. So instead of waiting another month for “the big one” (as we like to say in the biz) we’ll call this week’s contribution Bench Warmer Chick—for obvious reasons.

People like to irritate me. I’ve recollected numerous occasions on the blog before. During such confrontations I pretend to act unscathed and rebound quickly. Kind of like the time I crashed my bicycle; I got up, brushed the gravel from my skinned knee, and clenched my jaw every time I needed to inhale. The tactic holds true for less violent situations.

“Oh! All those fires in California, you must be flying your fanny off,” some say.

Rebound. Brush. Clench.

“yeah, california does have a mess of activity but it’s not burning where i am.” I say. We cannot swarm to wildfires as we did soccer balls during the second grade. Dispatch is a complicated, illogical process, and something that many aerial firefighters will never understand.

What I can say—with a respectable level of energy—is that “‘bench warming’ sucks.”

“Well, at least you get paid to wait,” they say. What I get paid for, while biding time, is not the waiting itself but managing a fine line of sanity.

A common phrase heard over and over on air-bases: days of absolute boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror. That’s fairly accurate, except for the terror part. What frustrates me most is the waste of resource. For example, I could buy one of those expensive industrial food mixers the size of a small bath tub and never use it. The mixer becomes a conversation piece producing nothing more than dents on the linoleum.

Years ago, I had a regional bigwig tell me that my airplane and I might as well be cardboard cut-outs. Meaning we wouldn’t be utilized. Because he said it arrogantly, I ignored him. But with little more than ten fire hours in three weeks, I can no longer squelch his voice. Moral plummets.

Sunday, July 6

Don't Be Doubtin'

Months ago I wrote a piece entitled "What Not to Say to An Aviatrix." In effort to delay sounding too feminist, I chose not to post it. But delay longer I cannot, as I heard a voice bellow out that list’s top offender yet again.

"Hey, you flyin' that thing?" a man shouted in a thick southern drawl. Shock laced his speech—as it has for the many before him.

Allow me to set the stage. I was standing near my airplane performing some sort of pilot duty: preflight inspection, fueling, connecting my helmet and GPS in the cockpit, whatever. The question might be moderately intelligent if I were scuffling around a larger aircraft, requiring a greater number of crewmen, like the P2-V. But a single seat airtanker? If I am the only person in sight I am either flying it, or vandalizing it.

Yesterday's little outburst was textbook example but not my favorite. The most drastic demonstration of such genius transpired in Arkansas. I landed a Dromader—also a single seat airtanker—and taxied to the fuel pump. There, stood a fellow on the other side of the fence. Upon shutting the engine down, flopping open the window and climbing onto the wing, I heard my favorite sentence pluck each nerve in my neck. “You flyin’ that?”

Looking back, I wish I had said something sharper. As it was, only my tone conveyed slight irritation. I wanted to rip him apart with wit and sarcasm. Instead, I answered with a blasé, “Yep.”

Out of the dozen times or so I’ve been asked this ridiculous question, not once has it come from the lips of a woman. Nor have I, during my involvement with aviation, uttered that sentence to another pilot—man or woman.

Scottsdale airport, Arizona, I participated in a static display for the public with an Air Tractor 802 (single seat). A very knowledgeable state fire official accompanied me. He was not an aviator; but the eye contact initiating every airplane question started with him. Since he was a friend of mine I made a game of it, entertaining myself by silently watching him stutter through his own presumptions.

An observer might think the initiation of conversation flattering. But it’s not. It is infuriating. I hate the inquirer’s implied doubt. And I envy my male counterparts in that they rarely have to explain themselves—for them, their capability is assumed.

For the fellow who can’t keep his curiosity quiet, be subtle. There are other ways to find out if the woman on the ramp flies “that thing.” Ask about cruise speeds, or takeoff distance, or gallons per hour, or horse power. Then listen to the answers; your aviatrix will have no choice but to shed her disguise.