Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas -- An Interview with the World's Oldest ATP

Gang, listeners, children of all ages...

Thanks to some connections of mine with our Friendliest Aeronautical Agency, UCAP was able to land an interview with The Man, the Great Old Elf Himself -- yes, The World's Oldest ATP.

Strictly a FAR 125 driver, the Great Old Elf (GOE) continues to ply his trade in large measure because he avoided flying for any of the FAR 135 or FAR 121 carriers -- the passenger airlines. And his lengthy career has not been without its foibles, close encounters, close calls and near misses. Not for publication, he talked about dodging traffic along the Atlantic Seaboard, the TCAS system screaming near Heathrow, the almost unintelligible controllers over France -- "English isn't their first language, you know," he said -- and the unrelenting demands for vectors from the St. Louis TRACON. And he wouldn't touch issues of the missles over the Middle East or the interceptors over Russia. "Those folks are lucky I even wander into their airspace."

But he says he still loves his job and was heading back to Hangar I -- for "Igloo" -- to prep for his longest flight and duty day starting the evening of Dec. 24. He wanted our loyal UCAP listeners to be aware that they can sit and track his progress that night thanks to the cooperation of our trusted guardians of the sky at the North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD, at this link:


So with no further ado, let's get on with the interview.

UCAP: First thing, Santa, on behalf of all of us children who work on and listen to Uncontrolled Airspace, let me offer our deepest thanks for you taking time to talk with us.

Santa: No problem. You could say I'm a long-time listener, first-time Blogger. Glad to do it.

UCAP: So when did you first know you wanted to fly?

Santa: ...Man, it's been so long ago, it's sometimes hard to remember; but I can tell you that I was no bigger than knee high to an Elf -- I couldn't even reach the bottom of a sleigh.

UCAP: Did you have trouble finding an instructor?

Santa: Trouble finding an instructor? I had trouble finding somebody who'd even admit to the idea of flying! And trouble finding a sleigh that would work, a flight crew, you name it. The Wright Brothers thought they had it bad! And I'd already been flying for...well, for quite a while -- and I'll leave it at that.

UCAP: A lot of people credit you with coming up with the idea for your, well, unique propulsion system. What inspired that idea?

Santa: The inspiration was watching a bunch of reindeer trying to keep their feet warm! That's the whole key to what makes 'em work! They really hate having cold hooves -- that and they take themselves very lightly, if you know what I mean.

UCAP: Now that's an angle I'm sure none of us would've ever thought of.

Santa: Well, what really nudged them from just large, high, long leaps to actual cross-country flight was convincing them that between midnight Dec. 24 and midnight Dec. 25 that they risked permanent hoofbite -- that's frostbite to them -- if we stayed on the ground longer than the average round trip through the average chiminy.

UCAP: Then how to you ever get them to land?

Santa: Oh, leg warmers stuffed with pre-heat pads, wired to a big battery underneath the sleigh.

UCAP: So there's some real technology at work here.

Santa: Well, some technology, some psychology and a little physiology -- their little hooves are very sensitive to the cold. That's why we can turn in such a high number of cycles in such a short period of time. They're anxious to get back off the cold, cold ground. They even think that sand is just a gritty form of dry ice -- and they don't ask too many questions as long as they know that Mrs. Claus has plenty of alfalfa and clover waiting for them at the end of their duty day.

UCAP: That brings up a question a lot of us have had since childhood: How to you stay awake and alert through such a long duty day. I mean, in 24 hours you fly more cycles than a CRJ first officer at the bottom of a regional airlines seniority list.

Santa: That's partly a product of the environment. I mean, the cabin heat isn't very effective. I used to stuff hot coals into a covered skillet and put it on the floor just to keep my toes from freezing -- now we use those chemical warming pads they sell for sore muscles. But otherwise, the cold, crisp air keeps me going strong. That and these neat battery powered glove warmers this pink rabbit dropped off a few years ago -- even included a lifetime supply of batteries. Personally, I think he's in the battery business...

UCAP: Now when you started, air traffic conflicts must've been non-existent but...

Santa: You don't know the half of it; birds, everywhere we flew, birds, until a few hundred years ago when contraptions from some guy named daVinci kept popping up. But no one believed his stuff was practical and it pretty much died out within a few years.

UCAP: Traffic conflicts? In the Middle Ages?

Santa: Well, nothing like today, you know. It all started a few years after I dropped off some drawings in the stockings of those two bike mechanics in Dayton, Ohio. Been worse every year since!

UCAP: So today, NORAD tracks you, the FAA inspects you and the DoT checks your paperwork. That must be something of a hassle.

Santa: Sure, -- it might be if the guys they sent weren't so worried about getting lumps of coal in their stockings...that and what their wives would do if they found out that their hubby had a hand in grounding Santa! So they handle it very, well, nice. And I'll have to leave it at that.

UCAP: Has modern technology been any help to you?

Santa: Let me tell you, if it weren't for some of those modern boxes under my seat, the kids in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and -- the worst -- New York area would've stopped getting anything on Christmas day decades ago. I mean, Jeez! How many movements do those airline guys think they can squeeze into one space in 24 hours? If it weren't for getting priority handling from ATC, I'd never get west of New Jersey!

UCAP: If those areas are the worst, where are the easiest areas?

Santa: Bedford Falls. Seems like there's never any traffic over Bedford Falls -- or over downtown D.C., the past few years. It's like the airspace doesn't know aviation exists there...never tried to figure out why, though. Just count it as a blessing and move on as fast as I can. And after D.C., my time-to-climb numbers and cruise speeds all get better because I get to offload a lot of coal in that airspace. ...I think you know why...

UCAP: What's your ground support like?

Santa: Fortunately, I've got the best ground support an old elf could ever wish for. They know the machine inside out -- and they fit into every nook and cranny, inside out. But you can't rush 'em or they get, well, a little short with the Mrs. And Mrs. Claus! She's absolutely top notch in the dispatch department, checking the manifest, working out the international clearances and remitting the ridiculously high overflight fees they demand for handling in Europe, the U.K. and Canada. I tell you, whoever came up with those schedules has gotta be a product of the Washington think tanks. Cost too much, the billing forms are complicated, we have to satisfy dozens of bureaucrats -- and the service is far inferior to what we get over the States. And for handling by the U.S. ATC, we just pay a simple excise tax on the alfalfa and clover bales. Couldn't be easier or simpler. And the controllers themselves couldn't be nice or better -- well, maybe except a couple of TRACONs...but that's a story for another day.

UCAP: So your elves and The Mrs. handle all the ground chores, the reindeer handle the propulsion engineering. What's the toughest job in your operation?

Santa: Oh, the guy who handles the sanitary engineering job. No Ramp Rat servicing the lav holding tanks of a 747 or A380 ever had to put up with the (expletive deleted) that my guy has to handle...Ooops! Sorry! I can't say (expletive deleted) here can I...Sorry! Cut out that part, will you?

UCAP: Not to worry; our producer, Jack, will take care of any (expletive deleted) that shows up.

Santa: That's a relief! Now, where was I...Oh, yeah. The sanitation job. Let me leave it this way: you try riding behind nine flighty, overworked reindeer for 24 hours straight and see if you don't need help with the sanitation problem. But I've got a couple of IA's working on a field-approval fix to that problem that is a Green solution and will reduce our carbon hoofprint.

UCAP: Uh, OOOKay...

UCAP: Ever think about upgrading your hardware to something more modern?

Santa: Well, every few years we'll get a visit from some of the marketing guys with the factories in Savannah, Seattle, Toulouse and Wichita. Those Wichita guys are really persistent. But so far none of these geniuses has been able to show me anything with equal capabilities -- nothing that can compete with the STOL performance, full-hay payload, top speed, alfalfa efficiency and maintenance simplicity. You know, sometimes the older designs just can't be improved upon. But they keep trying.

UCAP: How about recreational flying the rest of the year?

Santa: Well, I wouldn't want this to get out, but I've got my eye on one of those new LSA things -- in fact, I think the Mrs. may surprise me with one this year...I've only been hinting about it since last year's Sebring show. We went ingognito and kicked a few tires, got a couple of demo rides... but I don't want her to know I suspect; no sense spoiling the surprise, you know.

UCAP: So do you have any advice or encouragement for our listeners who are still trying to find their way into aviation?

Santa: Sure! Just take a look at me! If a height-challenged elf from the wrong side of the North Pole can learn to fly and land a job as great as this one, anyone with a little drive and a bit of alfalfa can make a go of becoming a pilot -- even those really tall guys over 5-6!

UCAP: Just one last question, please, Santa.

Santa: Make it quick! I've got a slot reservation into JFK and I can't afford to miss it.

UCAP: What's you favorite part of being the world's oldest ATP? The flying? The giving? The sights you see?

Santa: Well, those are all important elements and I love all of 'em. But my real favorite is hearing from my littlest fans and knowing that they never tire of leaving out my favorite snack.

UCAP: Oh, you mean the milk and cookies?

Santa: Naw, not the milk and cookies. The cases of Leinnies they ship north to the house for when I get home! I don't have to worry about getting out to the store for another 51 weeks! And the job security is excellent! Who else are they gonna get who would take on all the work it takes doing the post-flight maintenance after a 24-hour duty day and a few billion flight cycles and chiminy squeezes -- not to mention flying behind nine little (expletive deleted) making machines? Oops! Sorry...did it again...

UCAP: This has been a real treat, Santa! Thanks again!

Santa: Sure...now, before I go, I hope you, Jack and Jeb weren't really counting on anything this year...I've had some pretty ugly reports from the folks at the TSA, you know...and they want me to, to... Well, I can't actually talk about that. And besides -- I don't know anything about anatomy.

So let's leave it at this before we launch:

Merry Christmas to All! And to all, a good flight!



Post a Comment

<< Home