Open Ocean, No Comm, On Fire by George E. Nolly On a recent episode of …
During episode 245 of the Airline Pilot Guy podcast, a listener had posed the question “What’s in your flight bag?”, and the hosts gave their responses. That got me to thinking about what I used to carry in my “brain bag”, and it was pretty much the same as Captain Nick’s and Captain Jeff’s, with the exception of “a flashlight”, which in Captain Nick’s part of the world is called a “torch”. I didn’t carry A flashlight, I always carried TWO flashlights. I’ve been accused of having a flashlight fetish, and I suppose it’s an accurate description.
When I started Flight Engineer training in 1978, my instructor recommended to everyone in the class that we purchase Maglight flashlights. I opted for the large 4-cell model, since it was bright, durable, and had enough heft that it could be used as a club for cockpit defense. I liked the brand so much I bought another, smaller, Maglight, and carried that one also. Toward the end of my career I swapped out the small Maglight for a Surefire Executive E1E, which is about the size of my thumb and powerful enough to conduct a night-time exterior preflight inspection of the B777, including the tail!
Exactly 21 years after being hired by United I checked out as a B777 Captain. My IOE finished on October 16, 1999, the anniversary of my new-hire date. Naturally, I ended up on reserve. In early November I was sent to Washington Dulles to fly a night trip to Charles de Gaule Paris. While my First Officer, Relief First Officer and I were preparing the cockpit for engine start, an FAA Air Carrier Inspector entered the cockpit and announced he would be administering an enroute check ride. I was not completly surprised, since I had been warned by the old head 777 Captains that enroute checks to Paris occur a lot more frequently than enroute checks to Omaha. The guy wanted a vacation in the City of Lights.
No problem. I gave him our observer briefing and he checked our ATP certificates, medical certificates and currency of our publications, then he settled into the second observer seat, behind the First Officer. The Relief First Officer sat in the first observer seat, behind and between my seat and the First Officer, and we went about our business launching the flight. As we passed 18,000 feet, we turned on the cockpit speakers and removed our headsets. The Relief First Officer handed up our flight log, annotated with the times for our crew rest breaks, and went back to begin his crew rest in the first class seat designated for crew use.
As soon as the Relief First Officer left the cockpit, the FAA inspector reseated himself into the first observer seat, leaned forward and, rubbing his hands together, announced, “Okay, time for a quiz”.
Just before becoming a 777 Captain I had served seven years in the United Flight Training Center as an instructor and check airman, and had given a lot of enroute checks. I knew that the person administering the check cannot interfere with the crew, and a “quiz” is in no way part of an enroute check.
“Would you hold that thought,” I interrupted, “and show me your flashlight?”
He looked stunned. “Flashlight?”
“Yes,” I answered, “you are an Observer Member of the Crew, an OMC, and FAR part 121 requires all flight deck crewmembers to have an operative flashlight. Without a flashlight, it is illegal for you to remain on the flight deck. So, where is your flashlight?”
He took on the look of a deer in the headlights. And I have to admit I felt good making him squirm. “I, I don’t have one.”
“Well,” I offered, reaching into my flight bag for my small Maglight, “I’ll loan you my extra flashlight in exchange for our QUIZ.”
“Yes, sir. thank you very much, sir” he said as he took the flashlight I offered and retreated back to the second observer seat.
I didn’t hear another word from him the entire flight, except for his commendation that it was an excellent flight after we parked.
I have no idea what our “quiz” would have been about, but having a second flashlight, and an understanding of the enroute check process, saved me from finding out.