A work day that can last 14 hours is long–but can be very fulfilling
Over seven hours of flying time today and I’m about worn out.
A United 777 captain would smile at this because he routinely logs legs this long and much longer–while making more per hour than I make the entire day, maybe even two days. But should you have the gumption to ask that captain how many landings he made, how many minutes of those seven hours or more his hands were on the controls maneuvering the airplane, how much of the cargo he loaded and unloaded, or how many times did he personally add fuel and oil to his plane–his answers in contrast to mine would make him blush. He may have hand flown the craft a half of an hour maximum…probably less. He would tell you he had to make one landing maximum–again maybe less because his first officer may have been flying this leg. Load or unload cargo? Not happening–his own two bags would be the most he’d be handling. And flight crew in the airlines do not add fuel and oil to their planes, they have a large team of people handling all of these duties.
Pilots like myself on the other hand, can do this seven or more hours of flying in a day while flying legs less than fifteen minutes long and load/unload thousands of pounds of freight and bags throughout the long, hot summer day. This while completing thirty-two demanding landings with over half of those off-airport landing in the mud, gravel or grass–all while battling rain, fog and wind from sunrise until tying the plane down at sunset.
Completely worn out, that’s pretty much how I feel after a half a day’s work (In the Navy we would say a “half day” is 12 hours. Correct?). We can legally work a 14 hour duty day and do fairly often…but not every day, most are on average around 13 hours during our peak part of the flying season. Show up not later than 0545, preflight and run-up complete by 0610 then flying the first load into North Haven with a 0615 departure time. This continues throughout the day but with possibly worsening weather and more demanding missions until sunset. We fly people, freight, animals, construction equipment, rocks, trees, bees, motorcycles, groceries, hazardous materials…basically whatever it takes to make life work. It’s physical work…intermixed with some of the most rewarding flying one could ever ask for.
Sure you can make more money in the airlines. Sure you can fly some of the most advanced equipment around at ridiculously fast speeds–but the real joy for me comes from handflying the plane while threading the needle through the tall pines and landing on a dirt or gravel strip with winds gusting to “Oh my God!”
You see, I need that hands on stimulation of actually flying the plane rather than pushing buttons and twisting knobs to tell the autopilot how to fly the plane. I need to feel the pulse of the machine as we fly at 500 feet above the picturesque coastal towns of Maine zipping along at 140 miles per hour under an overcast cloud layer with wisps of fog rolling by my wingtips like white cotton balls–all the while starting at the sun rising slowly in the east, painting a picture that would melt the most hardened soul.
These impressions in my mind are all I will have when I pass from this life to the next. I won’t be taking my plane, I won’t be taking my truck, I won’t be taking any of my physical possessions. I, like you, will only leave with my memories. Did I make the most of it? Did I treat people fairly? Did I strive to do the right things and make the right choices when no one was around? These are the important considerations, these are the things that will matter when the end comes. Enjoy each day and live life to the fullest while doing so honorably.
However, there is one thing equally important as those items listed above; take the time to enjoy each and every day while making those memories–our memories are all we truly own when it is all said and done.