What did 2008 bring?
January: The flight from hell. Which led to a poor excuse for an incident debriefing where I was told to "buck up, it wasn't that bad". Where I was accused of not knowing how to use the radar in the aircraft. The same radar that turned out to be not functioning properly. I was accused by the Director of Operations of not knowing basic weather. The same D.O. who ordered me to send a pilot on trip that was illegal due to basic weather for FAR 135 flights (something he should have known after all, he is the Director of Operations!).
February/March/April: Increasing uneasiness when flying. Distracted. Not wanting to go to work. Not wanting to fly. Unable to figure out why I can't just "get back in the saddle" like I've done other times? Increasing dissatisfaction with management as they make accusations then refuse to communicate.
May: A legitimate turn-down of a flight due to weather turns into an opportunity for the D.O. to write me up...twice. He heard what he wanted to hear and not what I was saying. My fault. I thought that if I made every effort to make the flight happen it would just what they'd been telling me for over a year. Not. This led to me being asked to "write up" my boss. After a long while, I utilized the proper company procedures as outlined in the General Operating Manual and Personnel Handbook for instances where improvement can be made and/or to point out deficiencies in the company. I listed the instances where the fixed wing pilots were feeling pressure, subtle though it may have been at times, but pressure nonetheless, to take flights that were deemed either marginal or illegal.
My reward for following company policy? I was flown to the Mothership and chastised for "writing up my boss". I was called "unprofessional" and it was wondered aloud how I ever got into the Lead Pilot position as I was obviously "not suited" for it. When I was asked if I had anything to say, I asked what it's called when the D.O. orders a pilot to order another pilot to take an illegal flight? I was met by mute faces and a change of subject. In an effort to "move forward" (company's new buzzword), I resigned as Lead Pilot, took my week off and updated my resume.
Back to work, plane comes out of maintenance, dirty and greasy. We have a PR event two days out so I kept the plane out of service for another 45 minutes to wash it...after I checked with Operations regarding any flights. This was the procedure I had cleared with the D.O. beforehand, asking if I could keep the plane out of service after maintenance to keep it clean. "Do what you need to do...that's fine with me" was the direct quote. I passed this around to the other pilots at the time then did just that. As we were finishing the wash, we got paged for a Long Range flight that would leave in 2 hours. No problem. Plane back to base, flight planning all done, now waiting for the "Go" call.
This is where life got ugly.
To make a long story short, I inadvertently raised the gear after I had landed and rolled out approximately 1000' at Travis AFB. Why I did it I didn't know. I've never done anything like that ever before nor will I ever do it again. It wasn't until a few months later that I found a root cause for the incident but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Two days after the incident, the company Safety Officer reviewed my statement and, after a long discussion with the Director of Operations, the Chief Pilot, the Head of the Air Medical group and HR, it was decided that I should be reinstated, given a check ride by the CP and put back to work. 10 minutes later, after a closed door session, I was informed that I was being terminated "due to all the problems they've had with me over the last 15 months".
Then UI benefits were denied and the appeal was set in place.
June: No bennies. No word from UI. Nervous breakdown. I lost it. I seriously thought I was headed for the funny farm. I regained some composure, enough to research what was going on with me and all I came up with was....PTSD.
July: Off to the counselor and therapy, which I could hardly afford but needed it. My diagnosis was correct. Now I get to relive the hell that was the flight over and over again. I tell my family what's been going on. It's nice to know there is some explanation for my behaviour and thoughts over the last 6 months. And here's the kicker. My gear up? According to my counselor, my mind wasn't on flying the plane. It was still reliving the incident from January and, coupled with my ADHD, I was distracted enough to do something out of my routine. This is not an excuse. It is an explanation. I have to have routine to deal with the ADHD. It's how I cope. It's how I survive. I once said at my martial arts school that I was "a creature of habit". This illicited a huge laugh from a couple of people who knew me well. Their response? "No kidding!"
Unfortunately, during the official NTSB/FAA investigation, I was led to believe this would be an "incident" as opposed to being an "accident". I was wrong.
August: Dealing with PTSD, ADHD, unemployment, very, very low self esteem, unable to make it through the week without breaking down, I consider up and leaving my family.
September: I get my appeal. I go to see the judge. My former employer sends the D.O. to fight for their side. He tries to bring up bravo sierra but the law judge shuts him down. I make my statement. The D.O. refutes it. The judge asks more questions. I state the D.O. cannot know what I did, when I did it or how I did it as he wasn't in the plane with me so for him to aver so adamantly that I did this on purpose and while in the air was ludicrous. In the end, I win.
October: Things are going a little better. I'm getting good leads on jobs. Unfortunately, gas prices are skyrocketing, foreclosures are accelerating and several financial institutions are showing signs of implosion. We are financially stable but for how long? And, my former employer appeals the appeal. I could lose all the money that was benefitted me through UI and might have to pay it back. I receive the NTSB report that states that it was an "inadvertent accident". Not incident like I was led to believe but accident. I now have an accident in my file which makes getting a job that much harder.
November: No word on the appeal of the appeal. The wife and I have our fourth or fifth knock-down-drag-out fight. I'm so wrapped up in my own problems I fail to see hers. We head off to Texas thanks to the kindness of my Mother and some good savings from my wife. We enjoy our time with family in Texas.
December: Start out like this. I apologize to my wife for not seeing her problems. My counselor asks me to sit in a plane. I haven't been in one (save the trip to Texas) in the left seat since May. That day...well...I have a bad day. The next day, I sit in the plane and feel....
No joy. No fear. No excitement. No anxiety. Nothing. Numb.
I think about this as I've sent out over 100 resumes, had 2 interviews, dealt with idiotic HR people who don't know what a pilot does, faxed a dozen resumes, entered my work history a dozen times on a dozen websites, look for work outside of aviation only to have people look at me and say, "you're not qualified to work at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe's, Raley's, Safeway, etc."
Oh go suck an egg!
The economy goes into a tailspin and most companies are waiting until the new administration is sworn in and the first (or second or third) quarter of 09 is over before they make a decision on hiring.
My bennies run out in July.
But there were some good things. I'll save those for tomorrow as I look into 2009....