Sunday, October 29, 2017



An Essay

As I dim the cockpit lights and raise my seat to gain a better view of the Pacific Ocean below, I'm quickly reminded that as an airline pilot I've seen more water than a sailor. More than my grandpa, even, who once served as a helmsman of a submarine during World War II.  

But just like his submarine, my Boeing 767 has a rudder and a yoke, a bulkhead and a galley. We talk of ship, hull, forward and aft. A U.S. flag is painted on either side of the jet, by its tail, one of them backwards, emulating the view of a ship's flag blowing in the wind.

I am a first officer, and sitting to my left is my revered captain whom I sometimes call Skipper. My neatly pressed white uniform shirt and my black double-breasted jacket with three gold bars can easily be mistaken for a naval officer's uniform, the same my grandpa wore when he retired as Commander. It was Juan Trippe, Pan Am founder and former naval aviator, who first had the idea of such uniforms for airline pilots.

My grandpa and I would have shared the same lingo though 30,000 feet separated us (and a few decades). I'm scheduled to leave the fleet in February to become a captain on the B-737. My life is measured in nautical miles flown. Air traffic controllers assign me speeds in knots during an approach into an airport

I have crossed the Pacific and the Atlantic many times and have seen the high seas from behind the window of a metal tube. And aren't clouds water, too, but in a different form?

Today on this Tokyo-Seattle line, the flight is scheduled for 9 hours and 9 minutes, that's gate-to-gate. The sun is fast setting behind us and we are impacting the night at Mach .80, or 80 percent of the speed of sound. 

We will be treated to a sunrise at 37,000 feet before we reach the West Coast and make our descent into fog-soaked Seattle. Most of our journey will be "feet wet," or over water. We will cross the International Date Line and jump back in time, essentially landing eight hours before we took off.

I take a look at my watch and smile. I'm embarrassed to say I don't even own a pilot's watch — not a Breitling, not an IWC, not even a GMT-Master. But because my profession is so steeped in nautical heritage, mine is the logical choice. After all, I realize, a pilot is a sailor on jet engines. And if my grandpa were still alive today, he would have certainly approved of my Rolex Submariner.