Twelve months ago, I sat at my computer and drafted an article entitled “So Hard to Say Goodbye.” It signaled my departure from full-time skydiving and jump piloting, and my entrance into the “real world” by taking a job flying for Seaborne Airlines in the Virgin Islands as an actual honest to goodness airline pilot. When I posted on Facebook that I was going to be leaving, an airline pilot buddy of mine, and ex-jump pilot himself gave me a very small piece of advice. “CYA my friend. Cover Your Ass!” I didn’t have a fucking clue what he meant then, but I think I have a pretty good handle on it now.
If truth be told, the life that I’ve lived over the last year has not been brutal. I spent the first few months dealing with training, check-rides, and a simulator in Toronto which sucked ass, but once I started flying as just another line pilot, it’s been a pretty laid-back work schedule. Since coming to work here I’ve earned my ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) license. I found a place to live in a gated community within walking distance to a beautiful beach that’s almost always empty. I can swim right outside my door. I can scuba dive right outside my door. I can run and ride my bike around beautiful views all day in weather that’s almost always 85 and sunny. A bottle of 80 proof rum costs about 10 bucks. I work a maximum of 17 days a month, and some of those are half days. I’ve had more weekends off in this last year than in all my years of skydiving combined, and I don’t spend more than an hour straight in the plane, ever. So what do I think of this new life I’ve carved out for myself? Eh.
If I’m being honest, working for a commercial airline has its downsides for sure. In skydiving, everyone is looking out for everyone else, making sure that safety is everyone’s responsibility, making sure that everyone’s shit is straight. In the airline world, you have to cover your ass and watch it pretty much every step of the way, or someone is going to leave footprints up your back trying to get theirs. The rules and regulations set forth by the fucking FAA that govern this world are so intense, so convoluted, and so vague that even doing what you think you should could get you fucked! Early starts, late finishes, checklists upon checklists upon memory items upon…I have to walk the aisle of an Otter with seats in it, which will never seem right to me. I have to give the “This aircraft has six emergency exits. Two in the cockpit, two in row two, the door with you entered through, and the door across from it. Each seat has a life jacket below it. To use this jacket…”speech. Sheesh! I thought taking big people on tandems sucked, but you oughta try and stuff some of these fat fucks in an Otter seat—and telling a Cruzan woman that she can’t take her hand bag in the cabin almost gets me killed daily!
I know what you’re thinking though. “All right dumb ass, who knew a real job could suck,” right? As a good friend of mine is known to say, “If you hadn’t eaten it, it wouldn’t have made you sick…The job part’s a job, but how’s the flying?” Well now, the flying is a different story.
The routes that I fly are from St. Croix; St. Thomas; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, over some of the most beautiful islands and beaches surrounded by crystal clear water as far as the eye can see. It can be an absolutely breathtaking way to start the day, or end it when it’s nice out. On a clear night, with the moon and stars out, you almost expect to see the Death Star floating in front of you ‘cause you’d swear to Christ you were in outer space. I’ve seen whales breaching near St. Thomas, sunrises over San Juan, water spouts off St. Croix, and leatherback turtles EVERYWHERE! It can be awe inspiring to say the least!
When it’s shit on the other hand, and you’re in solid rain for 20 miles in the dark, knowing that the nearest island is 30 miles away and you’re hand flying a Twin Otter with “older” navigational equipment 1,500’ above jet black water that is 13,000-feet deep in places, it can be less than enjoyable. On clear days, if I take the amazing view out of the equation and go strictly on the flying, it’s boring to the nth degree in comparison to flying jumpers! Beautiful or not, everything in this type of flying is routine and comes at the steady pace of molasses—not to mention that a Twin Otter used for going anywhere but up and down is slow as shit! Then again, a good crosswind over the mountain in St. Thomas has been known to bring grown men to tears, especially knowing it was considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world not long ago.
There’s no up quick and down like a bat out of hell. No 7,000’-per-minute descent while you race the sun to try and break the DZ record of 40 loads in a day. Nobody flashes you a nice set of titties for extra altitude. They make me wear shoes and a button-up shirt to fly. A pink tutu would never be considered appropriate under any circumstances, and there will never, ever be a reason for a MONSTER fly-by. But…
There’s almost no such thing as a weather hold, and even when there is, I STILL GET PAID! When winter rolls around, I don’t have to choose between moving around for work or starving. I HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE!! I don’t have to wash the aircraft, or wax it, or tie it down, or move it, or even think about it once I’ve walked away.
So what’s my opinion on the whole after a year away from the sport I love? All in all I’m glad I made the choice to come out here, in part because the experience has been overall pretty great, and given me a chance to take on a completely new challenge. I’ve learned things I never would have otherwise, and I still have the opportunity to continue moving upward toward Captain, larger aircraft, etc. What makes the decision even easier to cope with is knowing that no matter how things go here in the real world, the skydiving world will always be there, and I’ll always have a place to come back to if I decide I don’t want to grow up after all! I could wake up tomorrow, think “fuck this bullshit!” make a few phone calls and either be strapping on a tandem rig or firing up a jump plane within a month.
Let’s face it, running away is always easier when you know you can come home again!
[Editor’s note: This is a reprint from 2012, back when The Fuckin’ Pilot thought he had escaped our dirty skydiver clutches. Of course he’s come back home again.] [team_member image_url=”123875″ name=”The Fuckin’ Pilot” role=”Monthly Columnist”]About the author: The Fuckin’ Pilot has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving. [/team_member] [products_mixed layout=”listing” orderby=”ID” order=”asc” ids=”26630,121868″ title=”Get more like this!”]