Thomas the Tank Engine in "Just Say No to Drones"

It was a bright and sunny day on the island of Sodor and all the trains were running on time expect for one. Thomas the Tank Engine sat with his big engine running idle and burning fuel at Sodor Station waiting on a return call from crew scheduling.

"What is it this time?" Asked the gate agent.

Usually she was nice and friendly with a big smile but today she looked cross and her smile was an angry frown. "We have a schedule to keep and now your passengers will be late for their connections."

"I don't what to tell you." Said Thomas. Attempting a reassuring smile. "I've called crew scheduling to see where my conductor is and now all I can do is wait for them to call back. They are short staffed as usual and probably having a hard time finding someone who is on call."

This news didn't turn her frown around at all. If anything, Thomas noticed maybe the frown got even frownier. "Why do you need a conductor anyway?" She asked. "Can't you drive yourself - autonomously?"

Autonomously wasn't a word he was used to. "If you're suggesting that I can drive without a conductor." Thomas asked. "Than yes I can. I can drive even better than the conductor. I can drive for longer periods of time. I don't need to take breaks. I'm not even governed by the same rest requirements the conductor needs."

"Then why do we have to wait for one?" Asked the gate agent. "If you can do all these things by yourself."

"Because of regulations." Answered Thomas. "Because of regulations."

"Well." Said the gate agent. "I guess we wait."

Thomas sat with his big engine idling and thought about how silly it was that he had to wait for a conductor to drive him seeing as he was perfectly capable of doing the job just fine without him. He thought that maybe just one little trip around the island of Sodor without a conductor at the wheel wouldn't hurt anyone. Maybe he could take one trip on his own and prove to Sir Topham Hatt that a conductor wasn't needed. This would save lots of money and he knew the bosses liked to save money.

"Peep Peep." Thomas said with his horn. "Peep Peep." He said again.

Normally the peeping was something the conductor did signaling to the gate agent it was time to board but there was no conductor on board and he did it all by himself.

thomas-the-tank-engine-steve-liptrot "Off to a good start." Thought Thomas. "Off to a very good start."

And like that... the passengers began boarding the train.

"I just need you to sign the manifest." Said the gate agent to Thomas when the boarding was complete.

"Well I don't know how I can do that?" Answered Thomas. "I'm not sure how I can sign anything really. Maybe you can sign it for me? Just this one time."

"Okay Thomas." Said the gate agent as she signed Thomas the Tank Engine on the manifest and closed the door to the passenger compartment. "Have a nice drive."

"What a lovely day for a train ride." Thought Thomas as he began his first ever solo trip around the island. He had been on this track so many times but it never felt like this before. He felt like he was king of the world and even began humming to himself. He must have been lost in his own thoughts because he didn't hear the weather report come over the radio. Had he been listening he would have heard that there was a big storm ahead and all the trains were diverting to another track.

The sky grew dark and Thomas started getting knocked around by downdrafts. "I'm not sure what to do." Thought Thomas. "I've never had to make a decision like this before. I wonder what the conductor would do?"

But there was no conductor on board and Thomas had no choice but to keep going straight towards the storm.

The train began shaking violently but it wasn't the passengers screaming in the back that scared him. It was that he was the only train on the track. Driving alone in a storm was something he had never done before and he had never felt so alone.

Soon, Thomas heard a voice come over the radio. It was the conductor assigned to his trip. "Thomas! What are you doing out there alone?" The conductor yelled. "The storm is even worse ahead and you quickly need to turn around."

"Okay conductor. I will do that. Tell me how?" Said Thomas.

"I will turn the tracks ahead and you will be on your way to the roundhouse. Unhook you cars behind you and you will be able to turn around and then push your passengers to safety."

"Thank you, Conductor." Said Thomas. "Thank you. I guess I should never have driven the train alone. I will not do that again."

"It's okay Thomas. Just get back to the station and unload your passengers." The conductor said. "We will talk about this later."

For the whole drive home Thomas was behind the train pushing his passengers back to Sodor station. He had no choice but to look into the compartment and see all the scared people looking back at him. He knew he had done something wrong and knew now that he wasn't smarter than the humans. He guessed that is why they need so much rest so they can keep their brains and bodies sharp and alert so they could make the tough descisions that trains can't make on their own. "Even though the conductor costs more money," He thought. "I hope the regulations don't change and make me drive alone again anytime soon."

Yes, Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane

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In Florida, before man made global climate change, we had hurricane drills in grade school. We'd learn where the best place to hide was and how to skin, cook and eat alligator. This was before the internet... and apparently before satellite radar. Didn't they have advanced warning in the 80's? Did we learn nothing from the Seminoles who we took the land from?

Why would we learn how to ride out a storm in school? We were either tougher then or the storms were less severe? Maybe by launching the satellites to better forecast the storms we upset the balance of nature making them more severe? Mother nature said, "I'll show you! You can have all of that down there but the attic is mine."

band of brothers

Or maybe the storms are scarier because I am older with more responsibilities, a house to maintain and a family to care for? When the winds were beginning to whip the trees around and the rain was coming down sideways, I wished I was the college kids next door who were undoubtedly drinking warm beer and celebrating no school. Warm beer? No, this was before the power went out... they haven't had a working refrigerator for many months now. Ah to be that carefree again. We'd have to serve the toddler his yogurt on ice. "Your breakfast, sir. May I draw your bath?"

I admit, I was hesitant of the storms severity as it approached. The news seemed to be getting carried away with their predictions and getting way to excited about the potential doom and destruction. I have a hard time believing emotional journalists. Maybe they've cried wolf too many times or I remember the days when TV news warned you before the editorials.

We did buy supplies for the house and gas for the generator and cleared the yard of potential projectiles. And then we hunkered down as the first bands of wind hit.

Rain and wind and the power went out and we all slept on the first knowing that if a tree fell it would take out the upper reaches of the house first. Over the sound of the generator I listened to the storm while the family slept. All night I was awake assuming the worst and waiting for a tree to crash into us. Again, adulthood? Years ago, I may have relished the adventure and maybe even hoped for a free skylight until the landlord came to fix the damage?

All in all, our damage was minimal. A leak in the kitchen that I thought I had fixed and a little water in the basement and no power. It could have been much worse and luckily we didn't have to cook up any alligator.

Folks, It will Be Yet Another Hour Before We Depart.

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Some days I actually do work. But it’s not the work you would assume. It’s not fighting nasty storms or battling windshear down the final approach to an icy runway. It’s interacting with the passengers and assuring them that at some point we will arrive at our destination.

I like that part of the job. To my flight attendant friends I say this. “Yes, I know. When things get tough I get to close the bullet proof cockpit door. Your job is way harder than ours!”

So, I only work a little bit but it is the part of the job I really enjoy and the reason why I’ve never really been drawn to the world of cargo flying. They say “Boxes don’t complain” but it’s these types of fires I enjoy putting out.

Our 12:30 flight boarded on time yesterday and we began our taxi although I had a hunch we’d be delayed. Nothing official yet, I just had a hunch. We were off to Washington’s Reagan airport and both Baltimore and Washington Dulles bound flights had been issued a delay. Our destination was between the two. Either some weird weather or a weather force field was erected over the nation’s capital?

Seconds before reaching the end of the runway for departure they told us what we were expecting, “Update in an hour.”

We rode it out in the holding pad near the runway and as the hour wait ended they said, “Update in another hour.”

And back to the gate we go. At the conclusion of that hour we were told once again, “Update in an hour.”

I mingled with the passengers and did my best to explain the weather pattern to those who were interested and how it affected arrivals and the effect it would have on their connections. I went into the stages of thunderstorm development and described condensation nuclei.

A passenger told me I looked like a good pilot but I assured her it was the crispness of my uniform that fooled her. “Don’t look at my shoes” I suggested.

After five hours it was time to go. The update in an hour became a departure time and we boarded for Washington. Naturally, after beginning our taxi we were given a reroute to avoid the weather that was now in our way. This was the same weather that had closed the airport.

A reroute means more fuel which means another delay.

The new route doubled the distance between here and there. What was to be a 300 mile flight became a 650 mile trip.

Portland to Washington via Pittsburgh.

I told the passengers. “Well, thanks for your patience on the ground through our five hour delay and now the extra minutes we will need to get more gas. By the way, our one hour flight will now take two.” The sound of a crying baby penetrated the walls of the bullet proof cockpit door.

As I made the announcement about the new delay I figured the passenger was rethinking her compliment. Maybe next time there is a weather delay I will get my shoes shined.

Alert the pitcrew, we're coming for more fuel

5:30 am show in DC for a 6:15am flight to Kansas City and then Milwaukee for a 3.5 hour sit in the airport before our trip back to DC. And then, back to Milwaukee for the night. During the 3 and a half hour sit, I rested under a CNN airport news network TV reporting on overworked and underpaid regional pilots. I sat  listening to experts compare the experience level of Sully on the Hudson and "commuter pilots." (I've been a commuter pilot for 10 years and have stayed here while watching friends go off to the major airlines with the "experienced pilots" only to get furloughed as those major airlines give more flying to us... the regionals. When hired in 1999, my "Region" was PA. Now it's the U.S.)

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