Photo Essay: A Day in the Life of a Freight Dog

Ever wondered what a typical work day is like for a cargo pilot?

Are you considering becoming a cargo pilot, at least for a while?

Click one of the two links below for a realistic, unvarnished look . . .

Photo-Essay 1:

A typical Part 135 on-demand cargo flight from ORL (Orlando Executive) to OPF (Miami Opa-Locka) and back in a Cessna 210 Centurion.

Photo-Essay 2:

A typical Part 135 on-demand cargo flight from ORL (Orlando Executive) to BWI (Baltimore-Washington International) and back in a Beech Baron.

We call ourselves "freight dogs." We are cargo pilots. We fly airplanes that were built, in many cases, before we were born. We fly in all kinds of weather. And we do it alone. Without high-tech automation. It involves long days and long nights.

It's not for everybody. Many airline pilots have voiced their reluctance to do single-pilot IFR because they consider it too dangerous. Some former airline pilots, in fact, have come to work for Flight Express and said that it was the hardest, most demanding flying they've ever done. It's not glamorous, that's for sure. There is no computerized, air-conditioned flight deck. No flight attendant brings you coffee. You don't get to wear a dark blue uniform with gold stripes. You have to weigh and load the cargo yourself.

Most only do this for as long as it takes to get the experience necessary to get hired by an airline . . . and not a day longer! Who can blame them? Some would even say you have to be crazy or stupid to want this job. I suppose I'm both. I've been doing it for more than a decade. It's a strange way to make a living.

We are old-fashioned stick-and-rudder pilots who remember how to use a magnetic compass, a countdown timer and a manual E6B "whiz wheel." (I have the one my late father used in the 1960s.) If we have to, we can shoot a circling NDB down to minimums at night in icing conditions and then land in a gusty 17-knot crosswind on a slick runway. And guess what? Sometimes we have to. In short, we're nuts.

A 747 captain hit the mandatory retirement age, so the old joke goes, and decided to get a job with Flight Express just to make a few bucks and to have something to do. He had just finished obtaining a weather update prior to his first Part 135 IFR-PIC flight and the Flight Service specialist asked him, "is there anything else I can do for you today, sir?"

"Yes," the former captain replied, "I'd like to go ahead and declare an emergency at this time."

"Declare an emergency?!" The specialist was baffled. "But you haven't even taken off yet!"

"Son," the pilot replied, "I'm down to one engine, one flight crewmember, one set of vacuum gyros, one set of pitot-static instruments and one source of electrical power. I've got no autopilot, no flight director and no weather radar. In my business, that's what we call an emergency!"

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