|Perspectives: Don Eikenberry, UPS|
|Written by Don Eikenberry|
My name is Don Eikenberry and I live in Spokane, WA. I am currently qualified as a Boeing 757 and 767 captain for United Parcel Service. This is my story….
I can only remember that I thought planes were cool. When I think about my experience of being a kid and aviation, several things pop into mind. There was the doctor who went to my church who would take me up in his Cessna 182 on my birthdays. I couldn't even see over the dash but I remember how special that was and looked forward to it all year. Thank you Dr. Wayne Zook of Wenatchee, WA. There were the countless model planes I put together and then destroyed in fiery crashes in the back yard. There were the 10 mile bike rides out to Pangborn Memorial Airport on my way to watch planes in the summer. My precious grandparents taking me out to the airport after church on Sundays. In high school, I even got a job pumping gas at the airport. But most of all, it was the old Stearman crop dusters that would fly over my house early in the mornings, working the apple orchard that bordered my house. I would run out and watch those big beasts fly, very low, right over my head, and then the spray would fall down on my brain, and to this day, I have a genetic predisposition to loving everything about aviation.
I started taking flying lessons at the local flight school in 1978, when I was 17 years old. The Cessna 152's I flew are still there doing the same thing, at a flight school called Wings of Wenatchee. During the next three years, I received my advanced ratings up through CFI at the local FBO/flight school under FAR part 61. I also received a two year degree from the local community college while living at home. In 1981, I transferred to ERAU-Prescott where I finished up my bachelors degree in aviation and picked up my CFII. There weren't many jobs around and I never was the aggressive type that did a lot of networking. So I wandered around doing free lance instruction in a few places and convinced my dad he should help me buy a Cessna 150. In 1984, a buddy got a job doing Grand Canyon tours in Boulder City, NV. They needed another pilot and wanted a CFI around for the occasional student, and I got hired over the phone. I was quite excited to have my first real job. I flew six days a week and made $600 a month. The glamour ran out real fast and there weren't a lot of jobs around in those days, especially if you didn't have any multi time. For years, I had thought about becoming an air traffic controller and pursued it half heartedly. In 1985, I got the call that would have me leave my short career as a pro-pilot and enter the exciting and well paying job of being an air traffic controller. First, though, I had to get through the screening program in Oklahoma City.
We spent three months learning non-radar air traffic control procedures and in the end, had a few tests on which ones whole potential career rested. I was towards the top of my class but didn't score high enough to pass; only four in my class of 20 did. A few of us scored well enough to be offered jobs as air traffic assistants, though, and for lack of anything better to do, I took a job at LAX approach control. Air traffic assistants did the arrival ATIS, read IFR clearances to the VFR towers, and sorted and organized the departure strips that had important information for the controllers. I worked with the ATC computer and could enter and modify IFR flight plans. Most of the controllers weren't pilots and their advice to me was to get back into flying if I could, so I quit the FAA after a year and a half to spot fish. I flew out of Hawthorne, CA in a Cessna 150 looking for swordfish around Catalina Island. My training consisted of going up once with a guy who knew what a swordfish looked like. We flew around until we saw one and he said “that’s a swordfish”, that was it. I made pretty good money doing this for a few months but it was seasonal work. I had gotten to the point in about four years where I had 2000 total hours of single engine time but only about 50 hours of multi, not quite enough to get a twin job. I knew a guy back home who had an Apache twin that would buzz around with me if I paid for the gas. Soon, I had just enough multi time to get hired flying freight out of Scottsbluff, NE in an Aero Commander 500. I made $1500 a month and was logging twin time, just what I needed. It didn't take long and I had the magic 500 hours of multi time and got a bunch of interviews at various commuters (their called regionals, now). I took a job with SMB Stage Line flying Convair 640's. The pay was good and the Convair was a huge airplane next to a Metroliner. I made captain in a year and flew out of LAX and SFO to LAS on mail contracts. It was a great job, night flying but short nights, and I was getting great time in a big airplane. Unfortunately, the company lost the LAS mail contracts to America West and soon I was furloughed. I had over 1000 part 121 turbine, 400 PIC turbine, and a Convair type rating, in 1989. That was enough to get me interviews at Continental Airlines, World Airways, and UPS. Luckily, to my very complete surprise, I got the freight job in 1990.
I started as a Boeing 727 flight engineer and after four
years moved to the
I work about 12 days out of 28, that's Monday through Friday every other week plus a two day trip during one of my weeks off. I exceeded 100K a year in about the seventh or eighth year. I’m in my 15th year, now.
Last year I decided to leave the 727 after 14 years because they are being phased out. I decided to move to the 757/767 base in Ontario because it is closer to the left coast and UPS has a few 757/767 day trips out of my home town. The 757/767 training was interesting because the ground school was computer based. I liked it because there is nothing more boring than sitting through a ground school class for hours on end, and I’m kind of a computer guy, anyway. It was hard learning to fly the new plane, though. The 727 was an older “hands on” design. A real joy to fly…a pilot’s jet. The 757/767 is much more modern and automated. It’s a different approach to flying because the pilot really interfaces with the machine/computer to achieve an end result where as with the 727; you just flew it like an airplane. Once you get used to it, though, the 75 is less work to pilot. It’s just more efficient and easier to use the automation than to hand fly. The 757/767 will land itself, too, which is really a trip to see. Rarely do we use this feature, though, unless we can’t see the runway due to fog.
I’ve been around Jetcareers for a while. I remember when Iain was a teenager living in England and we had a vision about starting a site, something like what Jetcareers is today. My complaint about this site was it was just too slow, not enough traffic. At the time, I was active at Anet. When Johan starting charging to post and I got into some fights with a few guys who HATED airline pilots, that was enough for me. I became more interested in Jetcareers as it grew and now it’s my favorite place to hang out. Doug and the mods do a good job of keeping the forums as civil as can be expected. This has always been my main complaint with the advent of anonymous internet communication (internet forums). Doug has done a great job of telling his story and this site should be required reading for every newbie interested in the career.
I’m a strong proponent of the traditional, old school, route to becoming a pilot. It has worked for me and many of my friends/mentorees, to include a guy who just got hired at Ameriflight with 1202 hours. It’s been only two years since he got his commercial and he’ll have a shot at the coveted PIC turbine in six months. Others mentorees are pilots and check airmen at the regional level, two I’ve recommended for jobs at UPS. The traditional route may take a year or so longer, but I believe you’ll be a more seasoned, well rounded pilot, by taking your time. I get really tired of seeing some of the “big academy” marketing schemes getting you to buy into a program that promises to make you an instant airline pilot in the shortest amount of time. My main concern is many newbie’s will only see these ads in Flying magazine and, not knowing there are other options to consider, put themselves into great personal debt. I’m glad to be part of an awesome website that educates folks about the good and the bad of the industry, and the good and bad of different training options. I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard, “thank goodness I found Jetcareers and learned the truth about the industry”.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT FLYING?
Hummm....there are so many things. I guess it's the way no flight is ever the same. Even though I fly between the same city pairs a lot, I don't get bored on the short flights we do in the 727. It's interesting how the controllers will do something different each day, you will land on a different runway, or make a different type of approach. Also, you learn new things from the different pilots you fly with and wonder, why didn't I think of that?
Update: I get bored out of my mind on these 757 trips. 5 hours a day at cruise altitude is mind numbing. I’ll be fine when we can get internet access on the jet (not holding my breath)
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST DISADVANTAGES TO CHOOSING A FLYING CAREER IN YOUR FIELD (AIRLINE, MILITARY)?
I'll call my field airline/night freight. The biggest disadvantage would be the fact that you live about half your life in hotels and sleep during the day. It's hard on the family life to be gone so much (why do you think I'm still single?) and pilots have a rather high divorce rate. Working at night all the time takes its toll, you have to shift between being a normal person on your week off and being a bat during the week you work. It may be true that a major airline pilot with some seniority only works about half the month. This sounds great, doesn't it? Guess what....during that time you are usually not at home and living out of a suitcase. The glamour wears off real quick.
Update: Since coming to the 757/767, I fly almost always during the day. The downside is the flight segments are much longer. See above.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY ON YOUR PATH TO BECOMING A PILOT IF YOU WOULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN?
I would get a degree in a non-aviation field. I like working with kids so it would have been cool to have a degree in child psychology, counseling, or education. I suggest that a person thinks of something else besides flying they would enjoy and get a degree that could lead to a full or part- time career in that field. Aviation can be a part-time job, sometimes by choice, and sometimes not by choice. It would be nice to have the education to pursue something else besides flying.
IN NO MORE THAN ONE OR TWO SENTENCES, GIVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE THAT YOU CAN GIVE TO AN ASPIRING PILOT:
Don't get married....hehe. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it....don't let anyone stop you.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS THAT YOU HAVE ENCOUNTERED AS A PILOT, AND IF POSSIBLE, HOW COULD AN ASPIRING PILOT AVOID THIS? (FINANCIAL, PERSONAL, TRAINING, ETC.)
Getting qualified for the job. It takes years of hard work and then there are no guarantees. Some guys hit the majors five years after college, others it takes 15, some never make it. An awful lot of luck is involved and it hardly seems fair when your luck is bad, but that's just the way it is. It's really not possible to take shortcuts or make yourself lucky. It just takes a lot of hard work and faith that your time will come.
Update: Industry turmoil has created a situation where there are very few of the best jobs, anymore. You are talking Southwest, JetBlue, Air Tran, America West, FedEx, and UPS as being among the few that are hiring. Some regionals are now considered “majors”, also, but don’t fly the larger equipment or have the larger pay. If you are entering this industry because someone told you you’ll make six figures in no time, you better think again. These jobs do exist, but they are few and far between. My hope is that one day the airline industry will turn about and many can have the kind of career I’ve enjoyed….but right now, it’s not happening. At the same time, the regionals are hiring a lot of pilots. These jobs don’t have the pay of the larger airlines, but the equipment, and I think the schedules, are on par.
A final word:
It took me seven years from end of college to a major airline. Some of you will say “but the flight school marketing guy told me I could make it waaaayy faster than that”.
We’ll…I must say I took some detours during my route up the ladder. Also, back in the day, there wasn’t the explosion of regional jobs there has been in recent history. Things have changed a lot. It’s easier to get on at a regional today and those jobs are more prevalent than years ago. At the same time, it’s MUCH harder to get a good job at a major than it used to be.
What the marketing guy is telling you is that you can be a jet airline pilot much more quickly than seven years from the end of college, and I think that is true. Especially assuming you don’t wavier early on in your career, like I did, or have other sorts of setbacks. But to say you’ll have a job with a major airline flying the larger equipment? I sure don’t think so.
I think it would take a guy much longer today to get one of the best jobs than what it did me. That’s because those great jobs are becoming fewer and fewer all the time. I heard a rumor that UPS has 1000 apps on file from RJ Captains that have over 1000 PIC turbine and have a recommendation from a UPS line pilot. If you are entering the career today, think of how many guys out there already are very well qualified and in line for the few great jobs that exist.
Do I say this to scare you away? Heck no, it wouldn’t have stopped me. I’d have been happy had I got no farther than flying for a regional or a corporate turboprop. That’s how much I loved flying. I just want to make sure it’s understood how things are in the industry, right now.
If you get into this field, you better love flying as much as I did when I was younger. If you do, you’ll have no regrets.