A Week in the Life: On a Rotation with a Charter Management Pilot

Kimbell Fenske is a recent new-hire flying as First Officer on a Hawker 800 for a nationwide Charter Management company. Kimbell began flying in 1988 as a CFI. He built his flight time flying checks at night in Beech Barons and Cessna Caravans before being hired by a Major Airline (cargo) in 1998. Kimbell flew night cargo in Boeing 727s as a Flight Engineer and First Officer in domestic and international operations. Like many pilots Kimbell faced a furlough due to downsizing in 2009 and was forced to find work during a down cycle. He was hired by a charter management company in July 2010 and shares his story of a recent rotation. His new position offers an 8on-6off schedule, travel benefits, competitive salary, health care, and a 401k retirement. A Week in the Life: On a Rotation with a Charter Management Pilot By: Kimbell Fenske Wednesday (Day 1): Airline to the aircraft then fly KTEB-KPWK My workweek begins on a Wednesday and ends on a Wednesday, so right up until the night before I have no idea where I might be going.  To me there is something adventurous about that, however having to pack for Barrow, AK and Grand Bahamas and everyplace in between makes for a pretty tight suitcase. [caption id="attachment_118" align="alignright" width="300" caption="View from Hawker 800 Cockpit"]View from Hawker 800 Cockpit[/caption] The Blackberry (BB) buzzes at 5:31pm on Tuesday.  Looks like I’m airlining to Newark, NJ in the morning for a trip up to Chicago that night.  The airline tickets I get are ‘positive space’ and scheduling, of course, always wants to get you out on the earliest flight possible, Ughh!  Showing up at the terminal at 5:30am for a 7am flight is not too bad considering as I walk through the doors I’m hearing the final boarding call on a flight departing at 5:30am! TSA and security are always a pain.  Customs too.  These are little people with huge sticks as I say.  Smile and grin and put your toothpaste (3oz MAX) in a zip lock baggie along with other ‘liquids’ in the plastic bin and they seem to not bother you.  Talk back to them, well, you might just miss your flight.  I know they have a tough job but it’s the little inconsistencies from airport to airport that drive me nuts.  Doing it now for a while has gotten me good at it so things are generally not a problem.  I could travel in my uniform, as some do, for a little more latitude through security.  For me though I prefer to travel as inconspicuous as possible.  It cuts down on the obligatory pilot-passenger idle chit-chat I’ve found.  Once safely through security it’s on to the gate. With what airlines are charging these days for checked baggage, more and more people are bringing their roller bags on board; of course not before attempting to cram as much as they can into the 14”x22” allowable bag.  With the limited space available in the overhead bins, the airline makes repeated requests for passengers with smaller bags to “please put them under the seat in front of you.”  I hear the request at least four times during the boarding process landing in deaf ears it seems.  Only a handful of passengers actually comprehend the very simple request they’re being asked to do which is why it’s always, always a good idea to never ever be the last to board!  Last headache I need at this point is to have to check my bag to Newark and then never see it ever again! Teterboro: the Mecca of corporate aviation with five FBO’s all on an airfield slightly bigger than Venice, Florida.  There must have been 100 airplanes there if I saw 10!  It was my first time here so I was very much interested in the departure procedures, considering Teterboro’s location.  I tell the captain that ‘gate hold’ advised me of a possible 1 hour delay.  Not exactly what he wanted to hear as we were already pushing the 14hr window.  Passengers arrived late, of course, yet somehow we were told to start and not to expect any delay at all.  Go figure. Our flight had us going to KPWK, Chicago Executive, just north of O’Hare.  Beautiful night.  Chicago approach brought us in low across Lake Michigan for the left base to Rwy 16. “Report the airport in sight for the visual”, approach says. Again never having been to this airfield, the Captain either, I was a little unfamiliar of its location.  Compounded too with the lights of Chicago made it a little tricky to find. “Call the airport or I’ll have to swing you for the ILS”, approach needles. All we see are lights, and were looking for lights within the lights!  We had the localizer tuned, of course, and we knew we were close.  We even had the FAF on the punched into the FMS. “I see the beacon….I think…no, wait a minute…” I stammer to the captain. “Tell him we have the airport,” the Captain says. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been here before.  Can’t see the runway, but you know you can join the LOC and just follow it in. You’re bound to see it, right?  Like trying to find the milk for your cereal on a large breakfast buffet.  You know it’s there, right next to the cereal, but you’re just not seeing it. “Airport in sight” I tell Approach. “Cleared for the visual, contact tower, good night”. Crap.  Visions of us not seeing the runway now and sailing into O’Hare’s airspace somehow seemed very real to me.  “Where the heck is it?”  We joined the LOC inside the FAF and called the tower. “Follow the Cessna on short final, cleared to land,” tower replies. I’d be happy if I just had the Cessna in sight!  After what seemed like an eternity, the airport comes into view: big as day with the Cessna pulling off mid-field.  We land and taxi in, silently shaking our heads in unison. Thursday (Day 2): KPWK-KERI-KFMY At breakfast the next morning, and yes I did find the milk, we are notified of our next trip.  Repo to Erie, PA to fly two people and a cat to Fort Myers, Page Field.  Cool. We hop on over to Erie and pick up our passengers.  The man is pushing mid-90’s and the woman in her late 60’s I’m guessing.  I ask of the woman if the gentleman is her father. “NO!  He’s my companion thank you very much,” Oops. After a little “note-to-self” moment I load them up with the cat, and we take them safely and uneventfully to Fort Myers.  The daughter, who is there to meet the passengers, asks of my Capt, “Was my mother a royal pain?” Somehow I think I would have burst out laughing, but totally un-nerved by the question he replies, “No…a little particular perhaps.” Good answer. Friday (Day 3): KFMY-KOPF-MDSD Enroute to Santo DomingoSanta Domingo appears the next afternoon on the horizon.  I had to Google MDSD on my BB when the trip arrived.  Another first!  Apparently we have a famous DJ on board coming down to do a gig for some of the locals.  We stay at an all inclusive resort (pretty cool) for the night and then fly him and a friend to Denver via Miami.  Did I mention customs was a pain?  I have to admit not all unfriendly custom personnel live in Miami, but all the ones I’ve met do.  Customs requires everything off the airplane, even catering.  Smile and grin and move along to the beat of their drum.  Cross them once with paperwork out of order and you’re liable to find them checking your orifices for Cuban cigars! Saturday (Day 4): MDSD-KMIA-KAPA We get our passengers to Denver and during post flight I notice hydraulic fluid leaking from the nose strut.  Maintenance is notified and unfortunately can’t get to it until tomorrow.  So much for our trip to Yankton, SD. It’s a shame; I really wanted to see the burial site of Wild Bill Hickok’s assassin. Sunday (Day 5): Aircraft in Maintenance. Crew at Hotel Monday (Day 6): Aircraft in Maintenance. Crew at Hotel Tuesday (Day 7): Airline home one day early then next 7 days off! Our rotation ended suddenly for us on Tuesday the 16th after two days in Denver as there was a conflict with scheduling somehow.  I learned very early in my career not to ask too many questions, especially when it meant going home a day early.  My ‘positive space’ arrives on the BB the night before, and before I know it I’m packing to go home. In addition to being a corporate pilot, Kimbell Fenske is the designer of the popular and affordable excel based logbook program The Pilots Logbook. For more information on The Pilots Logbook visit www.thepilotslogbook.com.