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Winging It! With Dr. Paul

Jump Seat

It seems that all flight instructors, regardless of their real jobs (nobody actually makes a living teaching flying), always carry calling cards with their name, phone, airport, a suitable aeronautical symbol or two, and the letters "CFI" prominently displayed. You never know when an opportunity might present itself.

Last vacation found me Narita-bound aboard a JAL 747. When the hostess made her first rounds on reaching cruise altitude, I handed her a card, asked if I might have a look up front. She said she'd ask the Captain, then disappeared into the galley. Minutes later she reappeared with a gracious bow. "The Captain invites you", she smiled, "to visit the flight deck." You never get this opportunity on U. S. carriers, I realized. Lucky the Japanese are so accommodating. Grabbed my carry-on bag, abandoned Suk back in business class, and forward I fled.

The crew were like aviators everywhere, eager to share with other practitioners of their trade the most intimate secrets of their current ship. Hangar flying at Flight Level 340, I thought, is little different here from the grass patch my plane calls home. I was dazzled by performance charts and checklists, must have asked the right questions, was soon nodded into the jump seat by an amiable young flight engineer.

Tak had trained at JAL's base in Napa, and seemed happy to chat about his favorite California wines and preferred IFR routings. If he was anxious for me to keep this visit brief, he never betrayed it. When it came time for him to plot a position, I drew forth the appropriate J-airway chart from my bag, asked "Mind if I follow along?"

The rules and procedures of flight are pretty well standardized worldwide, and are codified by the International Civil Aviation Organization. But there are subtle differences between countries, and it soon became apparent that this flight was deviating ever so slightly from ICAO standards. "Why are you flying U.S. procedures?" I asked Tak. "Simple," he replied. "You won the war."

Time for a position report, and the comm channels came to life. Noting the jacks beside the jump seat, I retrieved a David Clark headset from my bag, asked "Mind if I plug in?"

The language of aviation turns out to be pretty universal after all. By the time the hostess came forward to inform me that dinner was served (the gentlest of all possible hints that my tour was drawing to a close), Tak had handed me his card, and it too said CFI. Company flying, he lamented, precluded his pursuing that avocation at present. Returning my charts and headset to their bag, I casually withdrew a pen and battered logbook, handed both to Tak. "Mind if I log some dual?"

You never know when an opportunity might present itself.

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this page last updated 14 June 2007
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