Joe Jett (cousin of Joan) thought he was going to defend this country in F-16 fighters. He grew up in an era where his parents conceived him about two-thirds of the way through Top Gun. He tried the military but had a slight twitch in his left eye—he was more than qualified to fly for civilian duty. But to fly a perfect killing machine, the standards were higher; only a hundred or so new pilots a year got the chance to do so. And Joe wasn't one of them. So he finished his four years working for Uncle Sam after having ended up a transport pilot, hauling frozen chipped beef at night between bases in really old propeller airplanes.
So when he became a full civilian pilot, he already had 3,500 hours of flight time. And as part of his last year in the military, he became a fully certified CFI—he knew he’d have a skill when he left the air force and he was able to begin finding clients even before he had fully left.
A couple of years into his life as a CFI, Joe realized that he was a fully self-supporting entrepreneur/"hired gun" although not as "Top" as he might have dreamed. But he had a nice life and a wide range of clients—mostly rich-ish guys who wanted to fly their own iron and who hired him for $80 an hour to show them the ropes or…whatever it is that pilots get shown.
He worked on average 30 paid hours a week for which he had to work an additional 15 hours, dealing with airplanes, maintenance duties, administration, booking his gigs, etc. He carried a fair amount of insurance—cost him almost $400 a month—and his life was very much at the whim of his oft-moody clients.
It's a Tuesday morning—a bit frosty at 7am when he goes to his client's plane, a Citabria tail-dragger, the classic and idea trainer kind of plane which is relatively very easy to fly, very forgiving, and has a very slow stall speed\—meaning that landings don't have to be exactly perfect to work. His Jet Fuel Coffee steams.
Frost was a big problem in this kind of airplane—it carried no de-icing system, and if wings ended up with poor aerodynamics from ice…bad things happened for the plane. The aieee splat kind.
This morning, things were particularly tense because there were morning clouds and the ambient temperature on the ground was 40 degrees. Freezing can start to happen at 35 degrees or so and the air cools about 2.5 degrees for every thousand vertical feet. Joe had planned to do maneuvers at 4,000 feet and things would be freezing up there. So if the clouds didn't clear, Joe didn't fly. Joe didn't get paid. Joe's client would be pissed. Joe was blamed for bad "wx" all the time.
Luckily, the skies cleared and Joe's bottle of glycol cleared the ice off the wings, along with a little help from Mother Nature. (Here comes the sun. Doo doo doo doo.)
Per their IFR filing, they were to be wu (wheels up) at 7:40 and, after the walk-around inspection, pre-flight checks, engine start and field taxi, they were at the Hold Short line when they were directed by the local tower to take off per their previously filed flight route.
This day they were taking off from KPAO, cutting across the Class B airspace of San Francisco airport, and were to land in KSAC, about 150 miles away. The flight should take about 75 minutes in total; they get a drink, take a whiz, turn around, and fly home.
This client, Devon Winger, was fairly advanced, having already gotten his VFR license with Joe. Now working on his IFR, Joe didn't generally have a whole lot to do other than check that Devon was doing things more or less correctly—and not peeking out from under the visual restriction hood that he had to wear for the flight. The hood reduced his ability to see out the windows, forcing him to rely solely on his instruments in navigating the flight.
They landed home at noon. Joe filled out Devon's log book, and he was able to bill four hours of time at $80. Nice morning's work. He now had nothing until 3pm when a brand new VFR student was to sit with him for two hours, go through the Private Pilot exam book, and answer trivia questions.
Joe explained OBS slewing, GPS, proper dialog when addressing The Tower, rules of taxiing across runway lines, proper procedures for when you smell smoke in the cabin (first rule: stop screaming like a 12-year-old girl at Bieber), and 50 other things. This new student scared Joe, frankly. His grandmama had just died and left him $40 million. He was in the process of buying a crazy-nice jet.
Crazy nice jet for a beginner—and way too much plane. In order to fly it himself, he had dedicated the next six months of his life to doing nothing but train. Which was great. But this was a plane that even Joe would struggle to get comfy in…a newbie would be a hazard. So as Joe drilled, he was hearing screaming children running from jet fuel fires as the unknown people he was protecting. The only thing that gave him at least some peace of mind was that the G280 required two pilots to fly it and Joe figured that the other pilot in the left seat would at least know what he was doing.
The last node on the day was a night flight with another client scheduled from 6–8 pm. A night flight carries its own restrictions and minimums. In order to "keep current" in a license to fly at night (that is, to fly passengers), a pilot has to fly a minimum number of hours at night in the preceding 90 days. And this day, "night" was defined as 6:22pm forward.
It was just done to keep current for the client (and for Joe) and to have some nice sightseeing and get comfier landing in the dark. The client was a kindly little old lady whose flying skills were as sharp as anyone he'd taught. He guessed she dug him but…he didn't…uh, go there.