I was watching “The Hunt for Red October” for the umpteenth time today. There’s a scene where Alec Baldwin gets winched down from a helicopter to a submarine in the middle of the north Atlantic on a windy day. The first officer of the sub has to stand in the conning tower and attempt to hook his line. He’s asked if he’s ever done this before and replies, “Once, on a calm day off Hawaii.”
So this got me thinking about one’s normal duties at work, and the unusual days where you have to do something tricky or uncommon. I’m especially interested in jobs that are perceived as difficult in the first place - say, a neurosurgeon. What’s a hard day for a neurosurgeon vs. a normal day at the office?
Please share your stories of the time you had to do something difficult and unusual at work.
I fly airplanes for a living, formerly airline and now charter. When the weather is good the job is mostly straightforward, but then there are the occasional equipment problems. Those have been mostly benign for me. The most unusual thing I’ve had to do as a professional pilot was a “power back” operation, and I’ve done it exactly once.
A power back is moving the airplane backwards using a jet’s thrust reversers, or what’s called “beta” on a turboprop (using the propeller controls to change the pitch such that the thrust is directed forward). Obviously, the sight lines are a problem. But the real trick is that in many aircraft you can’t use the brakes because it would make the plane to tip over and sit on the tail.
So one day when I was an airline guy in a big turboprop we had a plane at a remote gate and there was no tug available. Normally, the tug would be used to push the plane back and we’d start engines and taxi normally. The captain I was paired with said no problem, get us some marshallers to walk the wings and give hand signals and we’ll power it back.
At which point I diplomatically said, “We’re going to f***ing do WHAT?!”
He assured me he’d done it before and all I had to do was monitor the engine instruments and look out the window. And sure enough he did it perfectly. Meanwhile, I sat with my feet well away from the brakes. This was actually a normal procedure for a while at some airlines back in the day, but it’s a mostly lost skill now. Very few people I would have trusted with this, but that captain was excellent.