The cockpit is feeling very spacious today. It may be the early morning light that is filtering through the windows or it could be the open flight deck door and empty 70 seats behind it. Either way, as we taxi out from the Maintenance Hangar in Dayton it feels like we are in a plane bigger than we actually are. Big plane or not, we are exceedingly light. With just two of us on board and less than 1/3 of a full load of fuel the plane bounces along the taxiway way more than usual.
10 hours earlier I was on this very plane, commuting back into base to start sitting reserve the following morning. The plane and crew were scheduled to return to Charlotte and then head on to Huntsville, Alabama for the night but due to the First Officer being fatigued (he’d started at 6 in the morning) the flights were canceled and the crew sent to a hotel. At 5am, just before a ready reserve crew was about to take the plane to Huntsville to get it back on schedule a mechanic noticed fluid dripping from the right landing gear.
Another airplane was quickly brought out (something only possible on Saturdays due to a reduction in flying) and the crew eventually headed on their way to Huntsville. Meanwhile the original plane was brought back to the hangar and put up on jacks while mechanics worked to replace a leaky seal. By 8am it was back in service and my phone was ringing at home calling me in to ferry the plane down to Charlotte.
On the taxi out the FO and I scramble to get the checklists done and the plane prepped for departure. Normally this is a simple task but due to several reasons we just received an entirely new checklist and this is the first leg that either the FO or I have flown with the new procedures. They are similar enough to the old ones to confuse you as to what you are supposed to be doing, but similar enough that most of the phraseology is the same. This is leads to moments of hesitation and long pauses while one of us would try to figure out what we were supposed to be actually doing when a certain checklist item comes up. Fortunately the company provided us with cheat sheets showing pretty pictures of the instrumentation with arrows from point to point that we can follow to make sure we are getting everything.
The original plan was to give us a month or so to get familiar with the new procedures before actually implementing but an Airworthiness Directive from the manufacturer (basically a change in maintenance procedures or a modification to parts on the plane) pushed the implementation date up. With no passengers on board and nobody taxiing behind us, I eventually decide to just set the parking brake so I can concentrate on the new procedures. Everything gets done finally and we start taxiing again and are cleared for takeoff at the end of the runway.
Once in the air most of the procedures are the same as the old ones so things rapidly start to feel more comfortable. It’s a clear morning but there is a layer of haze covering parts of the ground. The sun is reflecting on the lakes and rivers and ponds across the area, turning the water a highly reflective silver color. The air is smooth and with nobody on board the plane wants to fly. I pitch the nose up to about 20 degrees above the horizon and watch the altitude tape rapidly slide downward. 350 miles downrange a whole new list of landing, after landing and shutdown procedures await us, but for now I’m just flying the plane and for that, I’m grateful.