September 30, 2013

Plane Speak at Angel MedFlight

By Angel MedFlight Contributor

At Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance and Aviation West Charters there is no shortage of experts to call on. We are proud to have the best in the fields of medicine, aviation, insurance law and case management. Often it's just fun to pick their brains and hear the knowledge come pouring out in the forms of stories. Aviation West Charters Director of Flight Operations Brandon Kearns stopped by the business development offices recently and the conversation turned to favorite commercial aircraft.

I happened to be telling Kearns about my first airplane ride as a little tyke going from San Francisco to Orange County, Calif., on an Air California 737. Immediately, Kearns' eyes lit up as he talked glowingly about the Boeing 737, calling it the most reliable commercial aircraft ever made. "They're everywhere,” Kearns said. "You can't go anywhere in the world without seeing a 737. They're like taxi cabs."

Kearns says the 737's dispatch reliability is hard to top. "It's always been an economical, reliable airplane. The airlines love it. I have friends who have flown it and they talk about how forgiving it is. It's easy to fly, it's like flying a truck. You point it, it goes."

Our conversation turned to the history of commercial jet travel and Kearns talked of the late 1950s and 1960s as commercial aviation's "romantic era." He pointed to the late 50s when the jet engine revolutionized airplane travel and how it opened up different markets because of longer-range aircraft traveling at higher speeds. 

"I had the luxury of talking to guys that taught me how to fly that were P-51 and P-38 pilots from World War II," says Kearns. "They came back and flew the DC-3, then flew the Constellation and the DC-6. And then 1957-58 rolls around and they're flying 707's."

Commercial flight was much different decades ago than it is today. Kearns recalls a conversation he had with one of his former instructors, Jack O'Neill. "Things are so structured and regimented now in terms of how we fly and there are so many airplanes out there. Jack was one of the first 747 captains for American Airlines. He was a P-38 Lightning pilot in the European theater of World War II. Nothing fazed the guy." Kearns goes on, remembering what O'Neill told him. Imitating his former instructor's voice, Kearns says O'Neill would tell him, "Ya know…Literally, I'd flight plan with the navigator so that -- we'd fly over my house!"

Kearns tilts his head back and recalls the FAA examiner who did several of his check rides back in the day. "Capt. Willard Van Wormer. He started at around 19-years-old as a flight engineer on the old Lockheed Constellation back in the late 1950s."  Automation has largely phased out the role of the flight engineer, but Kearns describes how years ago, the flight engineer would sit behind the pilot and co-pilot with a huge panel of switches and gauges.

"Before automation," Kearns says, "you had to have a guy who moved fuel, moved hydraulics, moved switches. Now everything's based on a computer. You say to a computer 'I want this,' the computer goes, 'change this, do this, do this.'  That's what the flight engineer used to do. He used to move all the switches, he used to control the systems." Kearns says the flight engineer was like a big machine operator. The captain pointed the airplane, flew it with the co-pilot, but the flight engineer was the one who handled all the aircraft systems. Looking at a photo of an old 747-200's flight engineer panel shows the enormity of responsibilities this crew member had on the flight deck.

But as the years have passed, it no longer takes two dozen switches, knobs and gauges to handle fuel, auxiliary power, pressurization, air conditioning and the complex electrical systems of an airliner.

At Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance, nothing's more enjoyable than being able to sit down with many of our experts and listen to their knowledge flow. Whether it's a flight paramedic, a logistics manager, creative developer, flight coordinator -- or in this case the flight operations director, while working at Angel MedFlight, you can truly learn something new every day. 

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