Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Debris Found from AirAsia 8501

Floating debris has been found near the site of where the aircraft was last seen on radar. The water has been reported as a relatively shallow 10-30 meters which should aid in the recovery of the flight recorders.

Recovery of the flight data recorder should give a comprehensive picture of what happened to the aircraft and whether the problem was weather related. Reports also describe the debris field as relatively tight possibly indicating the aircraft was intact on impact as opposed to an inflight breakup.

Monday, December 29, 2014

AirAsia 8501

AirAsia 8501, an Airbus A320 aircraft with 162 souls on board disappeared Sunday morning over the Java Sea while enroute from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore in heavy weather. As of yet there has been no wreckage found nor any signals from the aircraft's emergency locator beacon. The last transmission from the aircraft was a request for a left course deviation and a climb from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet with weather avoidance given as the reason.

The climb request was denied by air traffic control due to traffic conflicts. There were heavy thunderstorms in the area which are normally associated with the tropical weather in the region. Radar contact was lost with the aircraft several minutes after the denied request.

While it is too early and not enough is known about the fate of the aircraft, a few clarifications about flight near thunderstorms may be helpful.

Don't Mess with Mother Nature

Thunderstorms are dangerous things and can grow to heights above which all commercial planes are unable to climb. Flight through a thunderstorm is also extremely hazardous as the gusts, rain, and turbulence inside can easily bring down any aircraft flying today, including fighters. You simply do not penetrate a thunderstorm.

It may then seem unconscionable that air traffic control (ATC) denied the climb request. What must be remembered though is that the function of air traffic control is not weather avoidance but rather traffic separation. Weather avoidance is the primary duty of the pilot. Most ATC radars are not even equipped to show weather data.

Should a situation arise where a turn away from a large cell needs to be made immediately and ATC denies the request, pilots always retain what is called emergency authority to keep their aircraft free of hazards. In such a case, turning the aircraft away from a storm is always the safest course and should be done while advising ATC of your actions.

The best course of action is to plan your weather avoidance actions as early as possible. Airborne radar has a useable range out to several hundred miles to search for holes in the weather. Should there be no apparent safe passage through the weather, a turnback or diversion to another airport is always possible. As I said earlier, you don't fool around with thunderstorms.

Springtime and summer are the worst seasons for thunderstorms in North America and at times I've seen solid lines of storms stretching from Texas to the Great Lakes. Flying around these storms can take you hundreds of miles off course, even into Mexico or Canada to avoid them.

Stay Out of the Shadows

One of the shortfalls of airborne radar is that it can't see "through" especially thick storms to let you know what is on the other side. The danger is flying towards what you believe is a "hole" in a line of weather only to find a larger cell behind the first one that wasn't apparent. The area behind a thick cell might look clear but isn't. For this reason, pilots are warned to never fly into or towards a radar "shadow" or area behind a strong return.

Modern digital radars now display warning icons on the screen when a shadow is apparent but in the recent past the antenna had to be pointed at the ground to discern shadows. If there were no "ground returns" or reflections from the ground behind the cell, you knew it was a shadow.

Life Inside a Storm

Ok, so what happens if you really screw up and end up inside a thunderstorm? Nothing good. For starters, the ride is going to be really rough. The severe turbulence found inside a thunderstorm means that everything that is not locked, bolted or strapped down is going to fly. This includes carts, lap children and most likely all the luggage in the overhead bins as the doors will pop open. So there will be injuries and chaos.

The structure of the aircraft may also be in peril. A simple rudder reversal on an Airbus taking off from JFK back in 2001 caused the whole vertical stabilizer (tail) to break off. Forces inside a thunderstorm will be stronger and may cause engines to depart the wing and wings to depart the aircraft. Never good.

But let's assume the engines and wings stay on the aircraft. The next danger is the huge amount of rain that the engines will swallow. Jet engines have a fire burning in the hot section and if enough water gets poured into the engine, the fire will be put out. We call this a flameout. And like trying to restart a campfire in the rain, it won't easily relight.

So now you're a glider in severe turbulence looking for a place to land in heavy rain and wind with limited instruments. This situation is generally one pilots wish to avoid so we are well incentivized to stay out of thunderstorms.

So What Happened?

Getting back to the fate of AirAsia 8501, the Java Sea where the aircraft was last seen on radar is nowhere as large an area as the Indian Ocean where the Malaysian 777 disappeared. Also, the aircraft was in radar contact which really narrows the potential search area.

So while weather may have played a part in the disappearance, it is just too early to know.

As it happens, I've flown on AirAsia. I put my family on an AirAsia flight from Bangkok to Phuket on a vacation a few years back. I found the airline to be modern, professional and a delightful experience.

While our prayers go out to the families who have loved ones on the aircraft, we hope to know more in the near future.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Bad Day at Work

As I mentioned in a recent post, an old pilot saying cautions that it's better to die than to look bad. What you see here comes under the heading of looking bad. Hit another airplane while taxiing and you are probably set up for one of the worst days of your professional career. And most of the pain will be self inflicted.

Of course there will be pain inflicted by your chief pilot, your crew and passengers and probably also the FAA, but you will be the one leading the charge to your own auto-da-fé. For in the piloting world, there is simply no excuse for taxiing your airplane into another solid object. And you know this.

I still recall a flight instructor from my distant past making the point that there is really no such thing as a taxi accident. There are only "taxi-on-purposes" for while you are on the ground, you really only have one job: don't hit anything. And stay on the pavement. Okay, two.

And there are lots of things out there that are going to try to get in your way. There are baggage carts, tugs, provisioning trucks, jetways, and of course other airplanes. Most tug drivers are reincarnated kamikaze pilots as they will gladly cut in front of a taxiing airliner with hardly a glance.

Some things such as light poles aren't even trying to get in your way but occasionally make you aware of their presence. One was recently clipped off in Denver, but one of the more memorable events I recall was an encounter between a C-5 military transport and a misplaced light pole on a new taxiway in Oklahoma.

Yes you read that correctly. The contractor who painted the lines on the taxiway was different than the contractor who installed the lighting, and neglected to measure the distance between the centerline of the taxiway and the pole. The first poor schmuck to taxi into the area, while solidly on centerline where he was supposed to be, hit the pole. The pilot of course was blamed and summarily shot.

I myself recently had a close encounter while parking a jet. As you pull up to the parking spot, you will see the jetway pass by your left field of view but you must watch and obey the marshaller, the guy with the wands. This particular time, I noticed the jetway go past but he kept motioning me forward. It turns out he was parking me on a painted spot designated for a larger airplane. Had I kept going forward, my left engine would have contacted the jetway. Luckily I stopped before we bent any metal. Trust no one.

Another good one was when an AWACS aircraft, a Boeing 707, was found to have some damage on its wingtip upon return from an overseas deployment. A worldwide search finally found some matching damage on a hangar at Yokota AB outside Tokyo.

A buddy of mine back in the 312th Airlift Squadron had an even closer encounter while taxiing his C-5 out of parking on Okinawa. In what might be described as either extraordinarily good or bad luck, his wingtip just barely grazed the nose of another parked C-5 resulting in only a paint transfer. That was some fancy driving. He was let off lightly with only the loss of one or two fingers as punishment.

It's Not That Hard

You may now be thinking that pilots are either extremely careless or that taxiing is harder than it looks. While neither of these is particularly true, taxiing is one of those human endeavors which while deceptively easy, can brook no error. None.

Think of it like parallel parking where there can be absolutely no contact between your car and other cars nor can your tires hit the curb. There will be a point where you think you're probably ok but not really sure so you back another inch and feel the slight lurch as your bumper hits the car behind. You could've gotten out of the car to walk back and look but you didn't.

That is the temptation when your wing looks really close to something but you can't really tell. The problem is there are no bumpers or curb feelers on airplanes. Any contact means probably tens of thousands of dollars of repairs, cancelled flights and headaches.

Unless your wing is obviously clear of other objects, it isn't. Humans are just bad judges of distance between two far objects. And while other pilots may wish to take chances while passing, you'll want to protect yourself from the careless. I learned this lesson on one of my very first trips as a captain.

A Close Encounter

Way back in the mists of time, a very young and green captain operating one of his first left seat trips from San Francisco to Phoenix happened to have an older and wisened pilot in his jumpseat. This fellow was an American but was flying for an overseas airline at the time. Upon landing in Phoenix, we were taxiing into our gate when there appeared a plane heading the opposite direction.

That plane had been given instructions to wait for us to turn into our gate and then to pass behind us to the outer taxiway. This guy however didn't want to wait and kept coming hoping to squeeze around us. It was at this point I heard my jumpseater say, "Captain, set your brake."

I did.

The other plane passed uneventfully, though how close was anyone's guess. My guest explained that had he hit us, there would be no question as to who had hit whom as the flight data recorder would show my parking brake as set. It's a lesson I've never forgotten.

Friday, December 19, 2014

This Job Can Kill You!

Elsewhere in the news this week I found an article in the Telegraph which breathlessly states that about an hour in a cockpit at altitude will expose a pilot to the equivalent UV radiation he would get from lying on a tanning bed for 20 minutes.

So here's to tanning. It didn't seem to hurt George Hamilton's career much and the ladies seem to like the look, so there's that.

Well there's always something that's going to kill you, isn't there? If it's not melanoma from sun exposure, it'll probably be some other exotic cancer which will be the result of increased radiation experienced in the upper reaches of the atmosphere where there's less protection. Or perhaps years of breathing the ozone prevalent in the stratosphere will take you out. I thought that stuff was going away, though.

I've always thought that my largest risks for extinction came from a combination of driving to the airport, walking to my crash pad in the hood, or most likely decades of eating airport and hotel food. I'm well into the heart attack years and several times a year I hear about some poor schmuck at the airline waking up dead from a bad ticker. One guy recently went out in his commuter hotel in the ghetto, poor bastard.

It's almost enough to make one want to drive over to the gym. Luckily, cooler heads usually prevail.

I operate on the theory that God only issues so many heartbeats, and only a fool would run through them more quickly than necessary. The joke goes that I want to go out like old Joe, peacefully asleep and not screaming in panic like his passengers.

If by now you've noticed a certain macabre insouciance in this essay, that's because it's intentionally there. It also was a great opportunity to use the word insouciance which doesn't happen every day. Who said the French never gave us anything but stinky cheese?

Better to Die than to Look Bad

The piloting profession can kill you and not just through the deleterious effects of the lifestyle. I've personally known perhaps four pilots who have died in airplane crashes over the years, both military and civilian. It's accepted as an occupational hazard.

It's also the source of much of the romance and lore that surrounds aviation. The enduring image of the intrepid aviator sporting oil spattered goggles, leather helmet and silk scarf (used to wipe the goggles) flying off in his Sopwith Camel to do battle with the Hun was more than just the inspiration for Snoopy comics. There was a very real and good chance that he wasn't coming back.

Pilots are proud and supposed to be unflappable under pressure. Displaying a lack of composure to other pilots in particular is always to be avoided. One old aphorism from the fighter world advises that it's better to die than to sound bad on the radio.

And it's not that pilot's don't get scared. They do. Letting it take control though is the most unforgivable of sins. Viet Nam F-4 pilots would start their day with the routine of "Get up, throw up, go up" and they weren't throwing up because the food was bad.

The cocky bravado found just under the surface of all pilots is part defense mechanism but also part of a necessary self confidence. For when the poop really hits the prop, which still happens with routine regularity, no one is going to save your little pink backside except you. You're on your own.

Airplane catch on fire? Get it down now or die. Lose pressurization? You've got six seconds to get the mask on or it's nap time. For everybody. Even one of the newest most magnificent super jumbo Airbus A380s nearly fell apart recently almost killing 440 passengers and 29 crew. Skillful piloting and good decisions saved the day.

I'm always amused when passengers getting off the airplane call up to the cockpit and shout "thanks for the safe flight" or something similar. As if they weren't on the airplane I'd have been much more careless. Here's a little secret: I fly with care primarily to keep myself safely away from the deadly embrace of terra firma, at least until it's time to land. But also to stay out of the chief pilot's office.

We make jokes about the guys who "bought the farm". Even the bar at Randolph AFB where I went through pilot instructor training was named the "Augur Inn", a reference to crashing. Somewhere in the pilot psych, survivors subconsciously believe that they've lasted this long because they were doing it right, and the guys that didn't, weren't. This is sometimes silly because some crashes are completely out of the control of the pilots.

This bothers us. We don't like to believe that we are the subject of a random fate over which we have no control. Fate can cause bad things to happen, but through strength of will, expertise and yes, luck we hope to prevail. I'm borrowing a riff here from Ernest Gann's Fate is the Hunter, one of the best books ever written about flying. The thrill is in the hunt itself.

But in the end something is going to get you, and who wants to look at an untanned corpse at the viewing?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Would You Get on a Plane With No Pilots?

Or how about one with only one pilot? Sooner or later, you may not have the choice. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, (subscription required) it was revealed that NASA has commissioned a study to be conducted by Rockwell Collins to explore the feasibility of single pilot airliners:

Facing potential shortages of airline pilots and dramatic advances in automation, industry and government researchers have begun the most serious look yet at the idea of enabling jetliners to be flown by a single pilot. 
All large commercial jets for passenger and cargo service world-wide now fly with at least two pilots in the cockpit. A new study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Rockwell Collins Inc. will focus on the provocative idea that co-pilots could remain on the ground, remotely assisting solo aviators on the flight deck during the busiest parts of flights, said John Borghese, Rockwell’s vice president of its Advanced Technology Center.

Actually, it wouldn't be quite fair to call the remaining human being on a single place airliner a pilot at all, for his required skill set would almost certainly not include the "stick and rudder" skills of today's pilots. The remaining person would be a systems manager, overseeing the computers which would do the actual flying.

There are actually very good reasons why you would not want a very bored and very rusty pilot just sitting up in the cockpit waiting for something to go wrong so he could grab the controls to save the day.

For starters, humans are uniquely unqualified and unsuited to sit around to watch and monitor machines. Most humans have an attention span of perhaps 20 minutes before the mind starts to wander. This type of arrangement is quite nearly the reverse of the ideal human-machine interface.

If you'd like to try this out for yourself, simply sit in the laundry room and watch your clothes washer closely to make sure it doesn't skip a cycle. It's not likely to happen, but if it does and you miss it, you and all your passengers die. No falling asleep! (Washers are probably slightly more reliable than current aircraft automation, but the analogy holds.)

Secondly, piloting, or "stick and rudder" skills take years to acquire and need to be maintained with routine practice. Neither of these conditions will be available in the cockpits of the future. Heck, they are hardly even available today! We are currently coasting on a slowly draining reservoir of pilot skills attained in the years before automation became pervasive.

Children of the Magenta Line

Pilots entering the profession today get rudimentary training before graduating to their first commuter airline job which will be in a glass cockpit with automation. These "children of the magenta line" (a reference to the electronic magenta line on the course display) will never develop the piloting skills their forbears recognized as their stock and trade.

This concept of in-flight computer system operators was demonstrated succinctly last year by the crash in San Francisco of an Asiana 777 on a clear and calm day. The "pilots" aboard that aircraft had many thousands of hours of flight time safely operating jumbo aircraft across the ocean with many hundreds of passengers. Unfortunately, they didn't know how to actually "fly" the plane when they needed to and they'd been doing it that way for years.

The big mistake made by the managers at Asiana was of getting ahead of the current state of the art. The automation deployed on the current generation of commercial aircraft is good, but it was never designed to be all encompassing. That is, on occasion a pilot may actually still be needed to fly the airplane the way the Wright brothers did.

Crossing the Bridge Safely

Now please don't misunderstand me. I am no Luddite arguing against the eventual denouement of my profession. The piloting profession as it been constituted since Kitty Hawk is in decline and no amount of feather-bedding will change that. And this is most likely a good thing.

Commercial air travel is now safer than it has ever been and has levels of safety which are probably rivalled only by the elevator. Automation has played a large part in this. But like the elevator, the nature of commercial aviation is going to change and drastically so.

The question is not where the profession is headed, but rather how to safely get there. As automation becomes more robust, the need for piloting skills will diminish on a gradual level. The challenge will be how to bridge this ebbing of piloting skills with the gradual increase in the capabilities of automation until such time that pilots are not needed nor desired. 

The proposed study by Rockwell Collins is much less ambitious in its objectives seeking only to explore the feasibility of single pilot operations while a second pilot would be at the ready on the ground to assist if needed:

Under the concept the researchers are studying, aviators on the ground could be assigned to assist solo cockpit pilots on multiple flights, virtually co-piloting during the busiest times through crowded airspace, approach-and-landing maneuvers, or if something goes wrong. “It’s a reasonably new area” to study how the notion may apply to large jets, according to Parimal Kopardekar, the program’s manager based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in northern California. When pilots need a midair rest or bathroom break, those on the ground even may “need to baby-sit the vehicle,” he said. 
Such a dramatic shift won’t happen any time soon, and there is virtual consensus that reduced crews for passenger planes won’t be considered until they are introduced first in the cargo arena. That is unlikely to gain traction much before the end of the next decade, according to experts and airline officials. 
Jets today are designed to have two pilots behind the controls, and retrofitting existing aircraft “may be too expensive and may be too difficult” to obtain regulatory approval, according to NASA’s Mr. Kopardekar. Industry officials say all-new aircraft would be needed with cockpits designed from the start with a single pilot in mind.

It is an open secret that Fred Smith, FedEx founder and CEO has at the top of his bucket list the firing of at least half, if not all his pilots. And there is little doubt that the first single piloted commercial aircraft will be a freighter. Other than that, it is highly unlikely that there will be any single piloted commercial aircraft for at least the next few decades.

Boeing's latest generation technology, the 787 Dreamliner and the forthcoming 737 Max aircraft have all been designed for two pilots as have the latest offerings from Airbus. Given the average technology cycle of about 20 years between major upgrades, only the aircraft introduced to replace these new generation aircraft are likely to be designed for single pilot operations. So while the change may take a few decades, most experts view it as inevitable.

Also necessary for this change will be a wholesale cultural shift in public opinion towards automation. This shift is already underway. A century ago, it might have been unthinkable for any man on the street to consider getting on a train that didn't have an engineer. Now we routinely board completely automated trains taking us to our airline gates.

Likewise, luxury cars are already coming equipped with automatic lane-keeping alert and sudden stop warning systems. Google's driverless cars are already combing the countryside, recording all they see for Google maps. When cars which can parallel park themselves become ubiquitous, a skill many drivers never master, highly automated aircraft overseen by a systems engineer will not seem so far fetched.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Aviation Adventures of Flat Mae

Checking which gate we're going to!

Hi there. My name is Flat Mae, and I'm a two dimensional projection of a REAL seven year old girl. I look just like her. Well almost. She's actually a bit bigger but I'm just as smart. Real Mae has to go to school, but I get to go everywhere!

As it turns out, I have an auntie and uncle who are real live airline pilots! My auntie flies for Gigantor Consolidated Airways and took me on a trip to Germany last week on a 777. Gosh, that's a BIG plane. That was a lot of fun.

This week my uncle who works for Air Eponymous Airlines, took me along for his trip all around the states. Boy, that was a lot of fun too! Here's how my trip with my uncle went!

Well first of all, we had a really good deal and didn't have to fly up to Chicago Sunday night to stay in his stinky old crash pad. That's because his trip had a late morning start and he got to sleep at home and fly up Monday morning in time to check in. It's the little things that count he said.

Well we flew up and checked in and then walked over to our gate. My but Chicago has a big airport and even has another one that's even bigger! They even have an airplane inside the airport which seems really weird. The sign says they found it at the bottom of a lake or something.

Walking to our gate

Today we're flying two flights to Orange County after first stopping in Denver. I do so love oranges. This is going to be great!

We get to our gate and there's no airplane! My uncle says it's ok because it hasn't arrived yet and we're early. I hope he's right because I am so excited!

It eventually shows up and we get started on all our preflight checks. We meet our copilot whose name is Chris. He seems nice. There sure are a lot of buttons up there. I hope they know what they all do!

The takeoff was the most fun ever. We got going really fast and then just wooshed up into the air! All the houses got really small and I could even see cars driving around on the street and people walking around from way up high. We eventually go so high that I couldn't see any people any more. The next thing I know, we're inside a CLOUD! They're all white inside, just like the outside.

It was fun looking out the window. You can see everything. I waved at all the other airplanes going by but they went so fast I don't think they saw me.

We landed in Denver but they unloaded and loaded the plane so fast we didn't even have a chance to get off! And then just like that we're taking off again to Orange County.

Well we landed in Orange County and there were more pilots there waiting to take our airplane somewhere else. Bye, plane!

Now we have to wait for the hotel van to pick us up. The hotel is very nice and we have our own room. We meet Chris for dinner and order the seared ahi salad for dinner with a nice glass of Merlot. Yuck. Who can drink that stuff?

After dinner we relax a little bit and then it's time to brush our teeth, set two alarms and hit the sack. This part is a little bit tricky. The schedule that we printed out says our flight leaves at 0915 tomorrow morning but that is in central time zone. That makes it 0715 here in California. Our van time is an hour before that and we have to get up an hour before van time. I have to wash my hair and put on makeup. Just kidding...I don't wear makeup, silly.  So that makes the alarm time 0515. Ughh!

The alarm comes way too early! We get ready and head down to the lobby.

The kitchen hasn't opened yet but they do have some yummy muffins for us. I like this hotel. They have neat model ships everywhere and a Christmas tree in the lobby.

Well we get to the airplane and my uncle tells me I have to do the walkaround today. He tells me that we have to inspect the airplane to make sure it will fly. I sure hope it does fly.

We look at the engines and the tires. They look ok to me. I guess.

Next we have to go into the wheel well. It's very dirty in there. I don't think I'd like to have to do that every day.

My uncle says I'd only have to do it for about 12 years. I'm only seven. That's forever!

Ok, we got that done and get started. We're flying back to Denver today but it's supposed to be bumpy. My uncle says that there are mountain waves we have to cross. I don't know if I like the sound of that but he tells me it'll be fine.

Well, it's not fine. It's not fine at all. It's great! We go up and then we go down and then we go up again. This is fun!

My uncle doesn't look like he's having fun. He keeps talking to a man on the radio and the stewardesses in the back telling them to sit down. The wings look like they're flapping like a bird's. No one wants to have fun anymore.

We land back in Denver and this time we get to stay for a little while. We have to give this plane to other pilots and wait a few hours. I hope there's something good to eat here. The muffin wasn't much.

Denver is a really big airport and they even have a plane inside here too.

I'm beginning to see a pattern.

We hang out in the pilot lounge for a little while and watch some TV. Then we go and get a bowl of chile. It's six bucks. That's crazy!

My uncle spends time on the telephone talking to a car mechanic back where he lives. He says my cousins are too rough on their car and now it needs brakes. And a timing belt. And a power steering pump. And new motor mounts. He doesn't seem happy.

Soon enough we have to go to a new gate and get a new plane. I don't have to go into that nasty wheel well but he lets me drive the pushback tug.

That is tons of fun and I didn't even hit any other airplanes!

Ok, we're off. This time to Detroit.

By the time we get to Detroit, it's dark. And a lot colder than California. Lucky for us the hotel van comes right away. This hotel is not as nice as the one in California but it's still ok. 

We meet Chris for dinner and have the open face turkey sandwich. My uncle has been really wanting a turkey sandwich since all the ones from Thanksgiving were accidentally left on Grandma's kitchen table when he drove home. It's yummy.

After trying to read but falling asleep we set two alarms again only this time it's even earlier. Our schedule says we leave at 0505 which means we should get up at 0305. That's three in the morning! But it's still tricky as Detroit is in eastern time so we set the alarm for 0405.

The kitchen is also closed here when we leave the hotel but they have a bag with a pastry and an apple for us. It's still dark when we get up and even still dark when we take off, this time for Baltimore. The sun doesn't even begin to rise until we start to descend.

It's pretty when it starts to come up though.

We only had 40 people on the first leg but now in Baltimore they're filling us up to over 140 people. We're flying back to Detroit and then to Chicago and we'll be done.

Detroit looks just like we left it a few hours earlier but some ice clung to the wings as we came through the clouds so a truck has to squirt us with stuff to melt the ice. 

We sure don't want to waste any time now because we all want to get home. Chris has only an hour before his commuter flight leaves for Cleveland, and Steve, one of the flight attendants, is running for a plane to Florida.

It all goes pretty smoothly and we land on time even with 80 or so knots of headwind. I don't even know what a knot of wind is but it sounds important.

More pilots meet us to take our plane back to California and we're free to go. Our commuter flight doesn't leave for three hours so we go to the lounge to do some online training. Boy is that boring!
Maybe the real Mae has a better deal.

After getting up so early, it is tough to stay awake while learning about new checklists.

The apple didn't last very long and we're hungry but we have to decide where to eat. There are so many good choices here in Chicago!

There's McDonalds which is ok but also Potbelly's. Their sandwiches are great but the line is out the door. We decide to wait in line at Potbelly's and it was great.

Soon enough though it's time to go. We go to our gate and luckily there are seats available on our plane. We get to go home!

We get on board and settle in for the ride. Our only concern now is that the Kindle doesn't die. We forgot to charge it last night.

A short hour and 20 minutes later and we are back home. Since I'm actually a princess, I get princess parking and my chariot (actually a pickup truck) is waiting for us.

It's been a fun trip but boy am I tired! My uncle says it still beats working for a living, though. I'm not so sure.