Chapter One - FEDs are People Too!
As I approach the end of my career, after thirty-eight years of professional flying starting in Kotzebue in 1973, I find myself spending a certain amount of time looking back and recalling the highs and lows. I suppose that’s a fairly unneeded statement, given that you’re reading the Chronicles. And I suppose to some extent at least, it is a normal part of the aging process. Although I have known several people who never look back, even as far as yesterday, and they seem to be quite happy with that.
For with today’s technology, it’s certainly easier than ever to reconnect with your past if that is what you choose to do. The old technology…represented by Kodak Instamatics or something like that, meant it took a little more effort to document the most meaningful moments of your lives pre-1980. But being lazy, and at that point, certainly never expecting to live much beyond thirty (given the death rate in my chosen profession in those days) I never even bothered to take pictures. With anything other than my memory.
So these days I close my eyes and draw on my memory banks which are (thankfully) still mostly functional and accurate. For as much as anything else; as much as the beauty of the land, it is the people of my younger Alaskan life that I remember most vividly. Quite unsurprisingly, among them are dozens and dozens of pilots. And among those pilots are a handful of F.A.A. Inspectors.
Now, as some of you may remember, just about my favorite cartoonist (next to Charles Shultz of “Peanuts” fame, of course) is Gary Larson who did the “Far Side” stuff. And we all remember the “pilot” cartoons. The two guys in the cockpit, one giving a P.A. to the passengers, apologizing for the turbulence as the other “rocks the boat” with the controls and laughs; and my personal favorite, which shows the two pilots staring out the windshield. Amidst the clouds above them, they see a goat standing there. I still believe a trip through Anaktuvuk Pass had to be the inspiration for that one.
Howsumever…another “Far Side” cartoon sticks in my mind that I think might be apropos to the telling of this story. It’s along the line of comedian Bill Engval’s famous “He-e-e-re’s your (Stupid!) SIGN” tagline.
The cartoon depicts God in His workshop with a huge globe (earth) on the table in front of Him. In His right hand, He is holding (and shaking) above the globe, what looks like one of those big Parmesan cheese shakers you’d find on the table in a Pizza Hut. Tiny black specks are falling from the shaker onto the globe and the caption reads “Hmmmm. This should make it interesting”. The shaker is labeled… “Idiots and Nitwits”!
IN my 57 years on the globe, I have come to the realization that worldwide, about 10% of the population apparently came from outta’ that shaker. But the upside is that for you or me, the odds are nine-to-one against either of us being one of them! (Although on any given day I know several people might not be too sure about me.) Thus, among the hundreds of pilots and F.A.A. inspectors with whom I have shared the aviation world, I have encountered some of that 10% and of course, they have encountered me on my 10% days as well. We all have them.
As the chapter title states, FEDs are people too. So this story is about “one of those days”, and involves a couple of life-long friends who were FEDs, now retired. Actually there was a third FED involved, but I can’t remember the guy, so he must be one of those that was “in and out” in a short time span. I just hope Morey Sheen and Lefty Derringle (the FEDs in this story) can laugh about it now as much as I do. (And did when it happened!)
You see…Morey especially wasn't exactly known for his sense of humor or flexible thinking back in those days. He was definitely what you’d call a stickler for the rules which of course made this event soooo much more enjoyable for me and Little D. On the other hand, you’d be hard pressed any time to find a more laid-back ops inspector than Lefty. For while Lefty could crack down on an errant pilot just as hard and as quickly as would any other inspector, he was willing to first listen to the pilot’s explanation of why he had “sinned” against the FARs.
If your reason for violating a rule, (as long as it wasn’t pre-planned) was the safest thing to do in a set of honestly unforeseen circumstances, Lefty and a few other guys would let you skate with no more than a stern admonition that you learn from the experience. No paper. No L.O.I.s, and No B.S.
But with Morey…you never knew. I mean…this is a guy who, years after this event, gave me a three-point-eight…3.8! hour ATP checkride in a Navajo Chieftan! And I already held a single-engine ATP license! And during the checkride (you’ll never believe this I know, but I swear on Gramma CloudDancer’s grave he did it….) during the checkride as I am trying to do a VOR approach, circle-to-land at Fairbanks International (with one simulated shut down); Morey leans over toward me and says loudly in a fake terrified voice “Captain!...CAPTAIN!”
More than mildly irritated, I respond “WHAT? Fer’ crissake Morey! What do you want NOW?” as I struggle to hold my radial and get to minimums but not bust ‘em. So he continues in the same seemingly fearful voice (a really…really bad acting job) “There’s a guy! Back in row two. He’s…he’s got a knife and…oh…my GOD! He’s STABBING HIMSELF IN THE STOMACH WITH IT! WHAT should we DO!?!”
I’ll now pause for a moment, as many of you might want to actually go back and re-READ the last couple of paragraphs and wonder if I’m pulling your leg or not. Trust me. I’m not. Go ahead….I’ll just wait right here…..
Back? Okay. Let’s move on!
Well…at this point I think we were about three hours deep into this checkride and this wasn’t the first “off the wall” thing Morey had pulled out of his….hip pocket (for lack of a better word) in an attempt to add realistic “confusion” to what might otherwise just be a regular boring old emergency. And to his credit, had I ever been able to foresee some of the many unbelievably outrageous mid-air flusterclucks that would be thrown at me in my most recent decade as an Airbus Captain; I might not have been nearly so irritated at the time.
As it was, at that moment, I just thought Morey was being a loony-tune and gave serious thought to ripping off my large, heavy plastic milky-white instrument hood and pummeling him with it! Yet even I could figure out that despite my practically flawless performance up to this point, to do so might negatively influence my overall pass-fail prospects.
So, gritting my teeth and mustering what self-control I had left, I growled something like “O.K. Morey. Look. I’m going to notify approach control and make sure they have both the troopers and an ambulance standing by for our arrival. AND...I hereby deputize you as my second-in-command to go back there and smack him around a little bit.” It was the best that I could come up with on short notice, and it seemed to satisfy him. I passed the ride.
But now, the more I think about it; I wonder if that checkride might not have been some small amount of retribution for a time years earlier, when Little D and I…o.k., mostly me…gave Morey a rough time after he had been infected with…