I'm Turning Myself In

by Capt. Ken Kahn

The Seaboard schedules and working conditions were such that it was often impossible to stay awake throughout long flights. We often started tired. Most pilots thought it was wiser to take a nap when possible over the ocean than try to stay awake all those hours and then be exhausted for the landing, the most demanding phase of the flight. Those who tried to stay awake failed and dozed off anyway. One such pilot was Capt. NP (nervous pilot). He had had a long career, including combat in World War II. Somewhere along the way, however, he became afraid. He was afraid of the DC-8 and of everything that could go wrong. He spent hours analyzing emergency procedures and dreaming up improbable scenarios in which the emergency procedures would exacerbate the problem. He worried obsessively about the weather. On one ocean crossing, he had me write down so many weather reports that I ran out of room on the flight documents and I had to use paper towels. His worrying did not prevent him from exercising poor judgment on a number of occasions.

One trip with Capt. NP was particularly exhausting. We had long delays and an engine failure on takeoff. When we were finally crossing the Atlantic, late at night, even NP was nodding off in spite of his best efforts. Suddenly, he slammed his first on the glareshield and exclaimed, "This is not good!" The ensuing conversation went something like this:

KK.  (sleepily, as I lay sprawled back in my seat) What's the matter, NP?

NP.  This is dangerous, we have to do something about this.

KK.  Yeah, NP, it's really bad. I keep hoping the rules will change.

NP.  I know what to do. I'm going to turn us all in to the FAA for sleeping in the cockpit.

KK.  (instantly awake, as was the F/E) I don't think that's a good idea, NP.

NP.  Why not?

KK.  The FAA will say, "Nobody else seems to have a problem. There's something wrong with you; we're suspending your licenses."

NP.  Well, maybe you're right.

That did not stop NP from marching into the office of Carl Hirschberg, the Vice-President of Flight Operations, and announcing,

"Carl, I'm turning myself in for sleeping in the cockpit and I'm turning Kahn and the F/E in too."

Capt. H. calmed NP down and sent him home. Carl was not the sort to pass up a chance to zing me. The next time he saw me, he needled me about it, laughing as he did.

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