Pilots wanted: low pay, long hours.
- By Patricia Trenner
- Air & Space magazine, September 1997
(Page 4 of 6)
As if on cue, an ominous whine is heard from the north, below the tree line, and an A-10 Warthog tears down like a hawk diving on a rabbit. Then another, 300 feet tops, and another, four in all, executing a snappy right break over the taxiway and scaring the tourists. Mankedick, pulling away in the Dodge, leans out and shouts to Sissy Johnson, "When the calls start coming in, we don't know anything about it."
Late in the afternoon, when there are no customers and no Mankedick in sight, Ossman demonstrates Chair Luge: Position yourself in the office chair on rollers at the top of the ramp, assume as much of a luge position as possible, push off, and hope to gain enough momentum to make it down the ramp and roll out onto the pavement.
Tacked to a bulletin board in the booth is a snapshot of another diversion. The photographer captured a final approach that gained him membership in the First Taxiway Club, which comprises those who set up a minimum-speed approach to Runway 2 with full flaps and lots of throttle and make the first turnoff, some 300 feet down the runway. Management does not endorse the practice.
Around 6 p.m. deer come out to feed in the grass on either side of the runway and regard the aircraft with mild curiosity. At dusk, Sissy Johnson takes down the flag, locks up the booth, and hikes up the steep hill to the monument to tell visitors the park is closing. Today was a so-so day: nine Waco flights, fourteen 207 flights, and twenty-eight 172 flights.
That evening everyone meets at Dare Devil's for pizza and beer. Tracy Johnson and Biplane Scott are excitedly discussing the New Year's bash that the fabulously wealthy and airplane-obsessed Kermit Weeks is planning at his new museum in Florida. "It's a black-tie ball," says Johnson, "or period costumes. Isn't that great?"
Talk turns to the concept of pay-for-training, which is gaining popularity among employers at a time when pilot wannabes vastly outnumber pilot slots. Rather than following the traditional practice of getting hired by a regional airline and trained in its aircraft, pilots pay for the privilege of flying as copilot, logging that much-needed time but paying for the training that used to be free. "People who have money can do this and people who don't, can't," says Turner. "They're busting their butt to get ahead and are losing out. It comes to the point where if you want a job with a commuter airline, you go to Flight Safety," a training facility in Florida. "They send your resume out. Once you accept a job you pay Flight Safety $10,000, learn how to fly the airplane, and now you have a $15,000 job that you paid $10,000 for. You didn't make a whole lot of money off that deal. Then again, it is kind of a jump start on your career."
At nine the next morning three tours are waiting and there's only one pilot on hand. When Mankedick arrives, he slaps a wooden "9" over the "10" in the "Open at 10" sign. Summer has officially begun.
Ten weeks later, Mankedick reports that business has been down 20 percent from last year. "We lost two pilots: one love affair gone bad, one new job offer," he says. "Right now, the guys are preoccupied with job opportunities, falling in love, falling out of love." Tracy Johnson has left town after a relationship with Biplane Scott went sour, and Mankedick has decreed that "no one falls in love the rest of the summer." Darwin Ford and his smile left to fly Grand Canyon tours in single- and twin-engine Cessnas.