Galveston palace more than another old building

Bishop’s Palace is the oldest and best-known building in Galveston, Texas. Currently open to the public, the 50+ room structure hosts much more than a boring, historical tour of some old house that requires a lot of imagination in order to visualize what life was like way back then. Instead, visitors are briefly transported back to the 19th century on a tour that includes an up close and personal view of the grandest moments of Victorian life.

Ranked among the top 100 homes in the United States, Bishop’s Palace cost $250,000 to build in 1893 (that would be about $6,250,000 today) and first served as home to the family of Walter Gresham, a former Confederate colonel and U.S. Congressman.

This home got its nickname as the “Bishop’s Palace” in the 1920’s, when the then-Diocese of Galveston purchased the house for $40,000 as a home for Bishop Christopher Byrne who always felt very humbled to live in such a “palace”.

Currently being operated as a museum and historic home by the City of Galveston, the building hosts bronze dragons and other sculptures, luxury materials and furnishings, and impressive fireplaces brought to Texas from around the world.


The interior spaces are grand with exotic materials like a pair of Sienna marble columns flanking the entrance hall. The first floor rooms have fourteen foot ceilings and an octagonal mahogany stairwell that is forty feet tall with stained glass on five sides, lit by a large octagonal skylight. A massive fireplace in the front parlor is made of Santo Domingo mahogany.

The Victorian castle-like home was cited by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America and was among the first to try out the then-new technology of a gas fireplace, electric lights, and running hot water.

The building is owned by the Galveston-Houston Catholic Archdioces, and is managed as a museum by the Galveston Historical Foundation. Tours of Bishop’s Palace are $10 and the facility is available for rental for weddings, receptions, and parties.

Photos: Chris Owen

Cockpit Chronicles: One long date with Hurricane Irene

Plunk, plunk, plunk, went the water as it dripped from the ceiling into a trash can behind me.

“I’d just as soon call it quits here and go to a hotel.” the captain said, looking at the latest weather report for Santo Domingo and the radar picture of hurricane Irene which was just northwest of our destination. All of Puerto Rico, where we were contemplating our decision, had just been through the hurricane and much of the island was without power. In our 200 square foot operations room at the San Juan airport, water was leaking all around the room.

Plunk, plunk, plunk.

We had just flown down from New York heading to Santo Domingo (SDQ) on what was supposed to be a turn-a one day trip, just down and back-but prior to beginning the approach, we were sent a message from our dispatch telling us to divert to San Juan.

Another flight just six minutes ahead of us had just touched down after breaking out of the clouds shortly before the minimum height required to see the runway. They said it was just heavy rain on the approach.

There were four surprised pilots in our cockpit at that moment; the captain and myself, along with the relief co-pilot and a check airman who was giving a line check to the captain. All of us were in agreement that we needed to go to San Juan. Dispatch could have had information that we just weren’t privy to at the moment. The same policy applies (at our company) if any pilot had said ‘go-around’ during the approach, the flying-pilot is required to climb away from the ground and ask questions later. In this case, dispatch is very much part of our team. In this case, we didn’t have time to discuss the particulars with our dispatcher. We had to trust that they had information about the airport, terminal, gate, runway, or some other operational need to get us back to San Juan.

After working our way around the tail end of the hurricane, we were now faced with turning back and flying through the same turbulent weather on our way to San Juan. Fortunately fuel wasn’t a concern, since we had more than four hours available for our 45-minute flight to our alternate airport.

The climb out was just as bumpy as the arrival. Most of the time we were in the clear, but the chop would still be an issue for our passengers, who were probably nervous after we discontinued the approach into Santo Domingo.Approaching San Juan, we were faced with two runways, one of which had ILS approach that was inoperative, and the other had no runway lights. Fortunately it was daylight, but seeing that runway in the heavy rain could be a challenge.

As we intercepted the glide slope at 2,500 feet, which is done by joining a radio beam that goes from the runway threshold out along the centerline at a three degree angle for more than 10 miles, the airplane began to descend on the autopilot. The glideslope then seemed to bump up, causing the airplane to climb when it was supposed to be descending. After it settled down, we were now high, and we weren’t likely going to be able to ‘capture’ the glideslope in a way that would be stable.

As I’ve detailed in a previous Cockpit Chronicles, an approach that is no longer stable must be discontinued. We have a ‘no-fault’ go-around policy at the airline which is designed to remove any chance a pilot would want to continue an approach that doesn’t look right. The captain made the right choice and elected to intercept it again after going around.

“Go-around, leave the flaps at 5, positive rate, gear up.” The captain called out while flying the go-around manually.

“Tower, one-five three-eight is going around,” I told the tower as we climbed through 2,500 feet.

A go-around is a busy moment. And just as you’re going through the litany of calls and performing the actions required, ATC becomes interested in just why you’re going around.

“Roger fifteen thirty-eight, can you turn left to 360 degrees?” they ask, assuming we’re going around because of the weather.

The heading looked fine to me, and I glanced at the captain who was flying. “Sure.” He said busily performing the missed approach.

By this point, the 226 passengers on board were justifiably nervous. But neither go-around was caused by the weather conditions immediately in front of us, and at this point, we were too busy to give them an update or explanation for our second go-around of the flight.

Coming back for the second time, the captain elected to hand-fly the airplane in case another ‘bump’ of the glideslope occurred. With 100 feet to go before arriving at our decision altitude, the runway came into view. The relief pilot didn’t wait for the captain to call for the windshield wipers and reached up between us to turn them on. With all the fuel on board, we were heavy, and since the runway was likely covered in water, it was important to touch down early and stop quickly. The captain did just that, and as we turned around at the end of the runway to back-taxi to the exit taxiway, I felt spent.

On Cockpit Chronicles, I probably incorrectly give the impression that every flight is easy and routine. That’s the case far more often than not, but there are days where you earn every penny. Before we left on this trip, the captain had been talking about retiring as early as next week, and I have to think this flight made the decision easier.

Plunk, plunk, plunk.

“Captain, do you have an estimate on when you can go? I need to tell the passengers something,” the gate agent said while standing in the doorway of the office.

“Let me talk it over with these guys and I’ll let you know,” said the captain while motioning to his two first officers.

The agent closed the door and went back to the gate.

Our view of Hurricane Irene as it left the Dominican Republic

We talked about the weather in Santo Domingo and what the radar was depicting. SDQ was reporting good ceilings and visibility. The hurricane was a few hundred miles west of the airport, but we’d likely have a similar bumpy ride back. The radar depiction (shown above) looked far uglier than what was outside.

We talked to dispatch over the phone and they said planes were getting in to SDQ. Staying in San Juan would have been difficult anyway as there were likely no hotels available anyway, and the agent told us the power was out in much of the city.

“I’m good to go,” I said, while the relief pilot agreed enthusiastically.

“Ok, I’ll pull up the paperwork,” the captain replied.

Two passengers elected to stay in San Juan probably because of the long and eventful flight getting here and the ominous lightning off in the distance, and I can’t blame them if they were scared. But this was going to be an exceedingly safe flight as far as I was concerned.

The rest of the passengers were boarded again and we pushed back two and a half hours after we arrived. It was my turn to fly and while there were clouds along the route of flight, the ride wasn’t too bumpy. I was relieved to see the lights from the Santo Domingo airport nearly ten miles out.

The outbound passengers were glad to see us, and seemingly happy to get off the island after experiencing the effects of hurricane Irene. Little did they know the same hurricane would be arriving in New York just four days later.

Three pilots are on all flights that are scheduled to exceed 8 hours, and while ours was originally supposed to go over by just five minutes, I was glad to have the relief pilot on board after clocking in a challenging ten hours. The three of us all slept during our breaks in the back (the check airman, deciding that the captain had passed his check ride, elected to go back to New York on a direct flight from San Juan.)

While on my fifty-five minute break, I slipped into a deep dream-something that rarely happens during my crew rest period. But this time I dreamt about an oversized female dispatcher staring at a computer screen while picking up a phone.

And I think her name was Irene.

A postscript:

Unfortunately this isn’t my last rendezvous with hurricane Irene. I was scheduled to fly to Rome Saturday night but that trip from JFK has obviously been cancelled. So now I get to have a closer look at the hurricane, this time while on the ground in New York.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Tourist Dollars to Pay for Warplanes in Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic will use a $20 entry tax charged to foreign visitors to pay for 8 turbo-prop Super Tucano combat planes. Lawmakers in Santo Domingo have been working on a plan to fund their air force’s expansion for almost two years. However, it was not until this week that the plan was approved. The overall cost of the order is $93.7 million. Last year, 3 million tourists came to the Dominican Republic. Similar numbers in the coming year will mean $60 million in revenue from the entry tax.

The Super Tucano is used by many Caribbean and South American nations. It is used extensively in Brazil to patrol the Amazon rain forest and to train combat pilots.

What does this mean for tourists headed to resorts like Punta Cana or to Santo Domingo? Their wallets will be $20 lighter. As far as having any qualms about funding the military, don’t worry, unless you like your cocaine. The government has been struggling with drug smugglers who use the D.R. as a stopping off point on the way to more lucrative destinations in the US. The new planes will probably be used for anti-smuggling purposes and to patrol the border with Haiti.

[Via Dominican Today]

Cockpit Chronicles: How pilots choose their schedules

Today’s flight was a turn (out and back in the same day) from Boston to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. The airplane was a 767, which is always nice to fly. We’re able to fly either the 757 or the 767 using the same procedures and training. I think most pilots prefer flying the 767 versus the 757. It’s something we don’t see as often and it handles differently — a little like going from a Honda’s power steering (the 757) to a Cadillac (the 767).

We had some snow pass through Boston a few hours before departure but the airplane was already de-iced and ready to go by the time we arrived. Since the flight time was over 8 hours for the day, we had a relief co-pilot (FB) on board. Tom was the FB, which meant he would typically do the walk around inspection while I did the interior preflight. I stayed nice and warm while loading the FMS (flight computer that stored our flight plan and works similar to a GPS) and checking the equipment.

The flight down to Santo Domingo went without a hitch. We talked a bit about what trips everyone would be flying in March. For most pilots, there are two dates around the middle of the month that are almost like Christmas. The first is the day our bid sheets come out and the second is the day we get our schedule for the next month. A bid sheet is a print out of every possible schedule we can fly. It shows the trips and the days you’ll be flying them. You simply arrange your preferences in the order you want to fly them and hope someone more senior doesn’t pick the schedule that you’re hoping for.

For those pilots flying the 757 and the 767 internationally from Boston, there are 27 different schedules we can choose that fly four different kinds of trips:

  • Turns (one-day trips) – to Saint Thomas, Santo Domingo or Aruba. These high time trips give you the most days off.
  • A three-day Barbados – not much flight time, which means you’ll fly more days in a month, but the full day on the beach on the second day makes up for that.
  • The two-day London – a high time trip that most pilots prefer.
  • The three-day Panama City and Caracas – that departs very early the first day and gets back after midnight on the third day.

These trips change every couple of months, which is why the bid sheet is eagerly awaited every month. Even though there aren’t many different destinations to choose from, I can’t remember a time when we’ve had so many quality trips. I’d be thrilled to hold any of the first three trips above. The Panama City and Caracas layovers tend to go junior, meaning the pilots with the least amount of seniority usually fly there. Even after 15 years at the company, I’m relatively ‘junior’ on the list, with 4/5ths of the other co-pilots above me. The first six pilots usually choose the London flights, and the Caribbean turns where you’re home every night are usually the next most popular.

If you’re at the bottom 20%, you’re likely to find yourself on reserve, which is like being ‘on call.’ If someone calls in sick, the company will call you to fly. Usually you find out what you’ll be doing the day before. Reserve pilots usually fly less often than a scheduled pilot would and they get paid a flat 90% of a full schedule.

I’ve been lucky enough to hold a line for the last six months straight, but I was awarded a reserve schedule for next month. Hopefully I’ll get called out for a NY or Miami based trip (they often run short of pilots there) to someplace we don’t fly to from Boston.

We go to training every nine months, and I’m scheduled to go down for five days of training next month. Of course I’ll be writing about that.

As we approached Santo Domingo today, we had our usual challenge in understanding the controllers there. The tower controller was especially difficult to understand. Since the runway is closed for repairs, we’re landing on what was formerly the taxiway. Because of this, we had to turn around on the runway to taxi back to the gate. After our runway “U-turn” we were looking straight at a Cessna Caravan a few hundred feet off the ground heading toward us. The Caravan pilot obviously saw us, and I’m sure he just continued his approach until it became completely obvious that the controller’s plan wasn’t going to work. He went around and lined up again for landing a few minutes later.

Maybe I’ll bid around flying to Santo Domingo for a while. With just a little more seniority I should be able to reliably hold the Panama City/Caracas trips. And once you get a schedule, you are free to trade around, which is how I’ve been able to fly to London and Barbados on occasion.

With your seniority number deciding what trips you fly, what base you fly from, when your vacation occurs and, most importantly, when you will upgrade to captain, you can imagine just how important this number is to pilots. It’s so important, in fact, that it can even hold up an airline’s merger plans.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston.