Cockpit Chronicles: Captain Steve Jobs

How a pilot handles the controls, or their ‘stick and rudder’ skills so to speak, is a small part of what makes a great aviator. Recently, on a flight from New York to Zurich, I watched some decision making that typifies the traits of a great captain.

As Captain Bredow (rhymes with ‘Play-Doh’) and I crossed over Nova Scotia on our way out over the Atlantic, we began to enter an area of light to moderate turbulence. Moncton center told us that some flights ahead had climbed to 37,000 feet in an attempt to get out of the rough ride.

We were established at our ‘crossing altitude’ or the flight level that we’d be maintaining for the next three hours or so while over the non-radar controlled North Atlantic. Climbing to 37,000 would mean that we’d have to descend again shortly to our assigned flight level for the crossing.

I could tell the captain’s gears were turning.
“Looking at the forecasted winds, it seems like the strongest part of the jet stream is at 33,000 feet. Climbing to 37,000 would just put us in the edge of those 180 knot winds. That’s where the bumps are coming from,” said Captain Bredow as I reached for the flight plan to look at the forecasted winds.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

I’ve flown with Dave many times and I’ve culled his best ideas to use when I upgrade to the left seat in the near future. I’ve recounted a few of our flights together on this blog (See “A Gallon Saved” and “FOQA kept these pilots out of trouble in Panama“) and I’ve learned much of what it takes to be a good captain from him.

Dave engages his co-pilots enough to make them think about their own decisions and how they could improve the ride, the efficiency or on-time performance.

Captain Dave deep in thought

Operationally, he has a way of seeing things clearly, with ideas that are outside the box and yet make so much sense; he’s the aviation equivalent of Steve Jobs. He’ll say something that goes against conventional wisdom, like “there’s far less chance of blowing something over while taxiing on one engine than two.” I tell other copilots that when he says something like this, just start the stopwatch on the airplane clock and within fifteen minutes, you’ll be agreeing with him.

After explaining that a pilot accomplishing a single-engine taxi is actually more careful than a heavy fisted captain on two engines who is confident that the jet blast behind him is weaker since less power is needed when operating on two engines. Sure enough, Dave always uses less thrust on one engine than many pilots on two when breaking away for their initial taxi.

Back to the bumps. Attempting to avoid the rough ride we were getting that night by getting out of the weaker winds and descending into the stronger winds of the jet stream left me a little skeptical. But his reasoning was sound.

“Sure, let’s give it a try,” I said skeptically, and with ATC concurrence, we descended from 35,000 feet to 33,000. Moments later, Dave clicked off the seatbelt sign.

And then we listened for the next hour as airplane after airplane tried to climb above the jet stream and complained about their ride. Occasionally, I’d mention over the frequency that the ride was smooth at FL330, but we didn’t get any takers.

Our airline is continually striving to innovate, and so I can’t help think that Dave’s talents are being wasted in the cockpit. At the very least, he should be a check airman, imparting some of his best practices on others who can choose to do with them as they please. Given 15 minutes, he’ll have them all convinced of the logic behind his technique.

He’s not afraid to speak his mind and the clarity of his thought is such that he’s capable of bringing some innovative ideas to our flight department. I’ll do my part to make sure they know what they may be missing.

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.

Bob Crandall thinks out loud, on topics you wouldn’t expect from a former airline president

As much as American Airlines employees loved to hate Bob Crandall, their outspoken President and Chairman in the ’80s and ’90s, many are now longing for the leadership he provided not just to AA, but the entire industry. At the time, he was the Steve Jobs of the airline world.

Credited with developing the first frequent flyer program in the airline industry and pioneering modern reservations systems using SABRE, Crandall changed the business forever.

Not one to turn away from the spotlight since his retirement in 1998, he has recently started a personal blog on economic and social issues called Bob Crandall Thinks…

His common sense approaches try to be apolitical in tone, although the titles of his posts, such as Myopia and its Consequence and Morons… or Something Better? are your first indication that he’s not worried about offending anyone. He says Americans are unable to grasp the realities of our economic situation and offers some insightful suggestions on how we can fix a number of problems such as Medicare, education, job creation and taxes.

If I didn’t know any better, Mr. Crandall appears to either be running for office or trying to influence some of our leaders. Judging from the comments on his blog, he appears to be resonating with most people. Read each of his posts and see if it doesn’t make sense to you. I think you’ll be surprised at refreshing approach to problems this former airline head has to say.

Is it time for Crandall to make a Steve Jobs type of return to the airline he loved so much?

Virgin’s Richard Branson likes Apple so much, he wants to merge …maybe

The word is out – Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson loves him some Apple – he even named Steve Jobs as his “favorite entrepreneur.”

Sir Richard Branson expressed his admiration for Apple and its founder Steve Jobs, joking that he’d consider merging his Virgin empire with the tech giant, reported TechRadar earlier today.

The publication reported that Branson told TechRadar that the iPad 2 was on his wishlist and that “[Steve Jobs is] the entrepreneur in the world I most admire and I think [Apple] is the brand I most admire.

“Everything he does is real class and if he wants to rename his company Virgin Apple I’d be happy to merge! It’s a great brand and a great company and may he get well soon.

Branson also mentioned his company’s new magazine for the iPad, Project, and spoke highly of its success.

Personally, the idea of a merger between one of our favorite tech brands (Apple) and one of our favorite travel brands (Virgin) makes an attractive prospect, however flippant Branson may have been with his remarks.

[Flickr via Binder.donedat]