Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Flying Lunchbox

lit·er·al·ly /'li-t&-r&-lE, 'li-tr&-lE, 'li-t&r-lE/ (adverb)
1 a: according with the letter of the scriptures b: adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression c: free from exaggeration or embellishment d: characterized by a concern mainly with facts
2: of, relating to, or expressed in letters
3: reproduced word for word : exact, verbatim

I'm planning to use the word literally several times in this entry, so I wanted to get the definition out of the way so you'd know I'm not whistlin' Dixie.
You'll recall I had an on-the-job training phase a few weeks go, something they call the Initial Operating Experience, or IOE. That first one was on the CRJ, or Canadair Regional Jet. It's a nice plane... a 50 seater, spacious, modern, quiet. As of this morning, I have completed IOE on another aircraft, and it's something entirely different.

The Embraer EMB Brasilia 120 is a tiny turboprop airplane which seats 30, and is inside literally smaller than a school bus. One of the criteria they screened us for at that initial interview way back in July was a height of 5'8'' or less, and that's because the cabin clearance is exactly that. Now it's a matter of public record, and also a complete fact, that I am 5'8''... my passport says so. But lets say, completely for the sake of argument, that I was actually an inch taller than that, and had scrunched down a little when they measured us at the interview. That would then make my head brush the ceiling. But I would never do anything like that, so that's not a concern.

At a premium also is horizontal space. The flight deck door is actually in the aisle at the first row of seats. There is literally nowhere to stand when greeting passengers. You can either stand inside the cockpit with your head kinked under the door jamb, or press yourself into into seat 1B with your head bent against the first overhead bin. The passengers mash you into whatever you're already mashed against, because it's an industry-wide policy that if you're a weightlifter, football player, or wrestler, they book you on the EMB. And when you close the cabin door, it fits so tightly into the plane that your right shoulder presses against it when you're in the jumpseat. The galley, which is in the back, is so miniscule that you're pressed against the lavatory door while preparing drinks. And ironically, this is the only aircraft we fly with a lav door that folds inward, so when the plane hits turbulence, you fall in. It is 'fat guy in a little coat' on aircraft scale.
And this thing is loud. The turboprops look small next to jet engines, but in flight they each sound like nine demons howling, "BAAAAAAAAAAAA!" the whole time. And each loose cabin panel (and no, there are officially none of those) chimes in with its own distinctive teeth-shattering buzz. If you don't wear hearing protection while in the jumpseat, you can literally suffer hearing loss.
That said, this plane is fun. It sideslips; the balance is arranged so that it seems to turn from the middle, which makes for a more fun ride the further back you sit. Aside from the impromptu bathroom visits, even trying to stand upright anywhere past row 6 is a day at AstroWorld. Instead of a long and blasting takeoff like in a heavier jet, this thing hops into the air after about seventeen feet. You almost expect to see Thomas The Tank Engine's face on the thing after you deplane.
So far, I like it. Of course, in six months when I need a hearing aid and a spine brace, that could be different. Stay tuned.


Blogger Tracy Salas said...

Phil, Great blog. I spent 6 months working as a PSA on the ground for a different regional airline handling UAX flights....I'd know that cabin interior anywhere!

1:22 PM  

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