When I look back now at my time flying aircraft for a living, I see a patchwork quilt of a career. No regrets though, I enjoyed every minute of it and hope that has come through in the writing of this column. It has been 17 years since the editor/publisher of FTN asked me to write regularly about what we do for a living. The title ‘From the Flightdeck’ was his idea and it is still a good one. I hope they keep it after I have gone. Because it is that time again. Time for me to move on.
We should not be sad. On the contrary, we should be pleased. My departure as a regular columnist for Flight Training News comes through choice, mine. I have no wish to outlast my sell by-date and end up as the crusty curmudgeon who won’t take a hint. In a comparable way to my retirement from the cockpit, I want to get out while the going is good.
While I am still competent and compos mentis. I remember the thrill of my first Cessna 150 flight at Sherburn-in-Elmet as if it were yesterday. I also recall my last flight into Miami International as commander of a Boeing 757. In the intervening 45 years there were maybe only 17,000 flying hours, but fourteen different sets of SOPs.
All those different company colour schemes do make for a rainbow patchwork quilt, but it was well sewn together. It might have been possible for me to join a national carrier in the early days, but then I would not have enjoyed the same variety of interesting flying experiences. For those I am thankful. Throughout my time, there were few occasions when I was up there wishing I was down here, but some flights do come to mind.
Like the time I was asked to sit right-hand seat in the Beech 18 Southern Comfort while my mate Ken flew the display from the left. It was Barton Airshow, Manchester, July 1996. The only airworthy Mosquito, RR299, had just crashed, killing both occupants. People we knew. The airshow organisers had decided the show must go on, and so we flew. Not a joyful experience.
Another time in a military jet at night, I became disoriented while flying an oval shaped holding pattern in cloud. I had spent too long looking at the map on my knee, the next thing I knew, I was upside down and descending rapidly. Yikes! Fortunately, my training kicked in, I recovered control of the jet and climbed back to the hold. The radar controller did not notice, but I was left with a strong somatogyral illusion, only relieved by flying with my head on one side to
make the horizon feel okay.
…in a military jet at night, I became disoriented while flying an oval shaped holding pattern in cloud. I had spent too long looking at the map on my knee, the next thing I knew, I was upside down and descending rapidly
Flying a B767 cargo ship out of Sabiha Gokcen (Istanbul), just after take-off, when the pilot flying raised the nose too high. Way too high. To the point we so nearly stalled. I immediately took control and reduced the pitch attitude, not a moment too soon. It was a narrow escape and we were lucky to avoid the stick-shaker.
A VFR ferry flight in a Cessna 172 having left Barton Aerodrome in Manchester in poor weather, heading for Tilstock in Shropshire. I ended up going round in circles to stay out of cloud in the low-level corridor below the Manchester Control Zone – not a good feeling. I admitted defeat and returned to Barton – flying phase ‘cup of tea.’
During my time in New Zealand flying B757 freighters, I had some close calls. On take-off as I rotated the aircraft, nosegear just off the runway, the other pilot leaned forward and grabbed the landing gear lever… My shout of “NOT YET!” was probably heard back in the hangar. The experience left me trembling. If he could make such a tyro mistake with all those thousands of hours, what else was he capable of?
My last flight with Air2000 as a B757 captain when we did not load enough fuel from Malaga to Gatwick – ugh. The flightplan was for an empty aircraft (missing twenty tonnes of pax and bags) we failed to notice the error. Fortunately, I was able to demonstrate all the tricks I had learned about saving gas on that short flight. We made Gatwick with just enough reserves to be legal, but it was close.
Making an approach in appalling weather, at night with a Boeing 737 into Marseille. One of the hardest flying tasks I ever had and one where I definitely wished I was on the ground safely tucked up in bed.
Flying as Training Captain in the right-hand seat with an incompetent Captain under training in the left. We flew to Geneva and back from Liverpool. I was so relieved when we got the jet on the stand at the end of the two sectors – as Right Hand Seat (RHS) pilot I did not have steering control on the ground which made me extremely nervous. Our first attempted take-off from Liverpool was aborted due to a config warning (speedbrake not in the down detent).
You know the old story about ‘the turbulence being so extreme, the pilots were not able to see the instruments properly?’ I always thought that was baloney – it is not
Accidentally flying into the top of a Cumulonimbus (CB) in a Boeing 737-800 fitted with a new weather radar. Guess what? The new weather radar was not as good as the old one. This was the worst turbulence I have ever experienced and the engineers met the aircraft on arrival to check the airframe. You know the old story about ‘the turbulence being so extreme, the pilots were not able to see the instruments properly?’ I always thought that was baloney – it is not.
An engine failure in the Boeing 757 got my full attention. The phenomenal banging noises from the right wing as the engine surged were unlike anything I have heard before or since. But even then (while silently wishing I was somewhere else) there was humour. The senior cabin crew member thought we were playing around so she opened the flightdeck door and questioned in a loud voice, “Exactly what the F*** is going on in here?!”, which only briefly interrupted our running of the QRH checklist for ‘Engine Limit, Surge or Stall.’ We all laughed heartily about it later and she saw the funny side too.
I had a couple of flights with ‘rough running’ single engined aeroplanes, when I half expected the motor to quit without further warning. Luck was with me on both occasions and I made the airfield/runway in one piece, keeping the shiny side up. Some of these events have been the subject of my flying stories, while others are still to be written. One thing is certain, I have never been bored throughout all the flights it has been my privilege to operate.
Which brings me back to now and my decision to retire from writing this column. It is time for a replacement to take over. A current aviator who can provide up-to-date information on an industry which is the subject of continuous technological advances. For all my experience, I cannot claim to be current anymore. My recency has lapsed and with it a disconnection from the game.
My grateful thanks are due to those nice folk at Flight Training News and to all of you who have been kind enough to read my stuff. It has been my sincere pleasure to share my flying adventures.
James McBride ©JUL 23 Sarasota, FL.
Publisher’s note. Regular readers will be pleased to know that James doesn’t escape quite that easily; we hope he will continue to make occasional contributions with opinion pieces in FTN. In the meantime, more of James’ writing can be found at www.flightsofpassion.com. His four books are available online:
• The Flightdeck Survival Manual
• From the Flightdeck
• Aircrew Stories Vol 1
• Flightdeck Prose & Cons
James also has a YouTube channel, search for
‘Captain James McBride’
It’s been our absolute pleasure to have James onboard and, as our readers can confirm, he has chosen to leave through the forward exit while he is still at the top of his game. Stay shiny side up James.
Jeremy M Pratt.
Image James McBride Instagram @captjamesmcbride