I was walking down Commonwealth Avenue near the law school earlier this week when I heard a familiar sound; a deep and steady rumbling that seemed to shake the air. The noise slowly grew louder, and I started looking up in anticipation of the only thing that could make that sort of racket: an MV-22 Osprey taking off. Sure enough, a gunmetal grey Osprey flew over at low altitude as it transitioned into forward flight from somewhere on the Cambridge side of the river.
I wasn’t the only one looking up—other pedestrians were staring at the unusual aircraft passing overhead. I realized this sort of thing was pretty rare in Boston. Every once in a while you see Army and Coast Guard helicopters flying along the Charles, but generally military aircraft are not a common sight.
Just a couple years ago, that sound was a part of my workday. Just outside the doors of my workspace in a hangar in Hawaii, the roar of turboshaft engines and spinning rotors was a constant. Quiet was the exception for a squadron that worked round-the-clock to maintain its fleet of aircraft. A bit of nostalgia washed over me. While I didn’t fly Ospreys (or plopters, as everyone who doesn’t fly them affectionately calls them), seeing a Marine airframe flying low over the city brought back happy memories of my days flying the beloved CH-53 heavy lift helicopter.
There is lots to miss about flying. Plenty of work goes into planning and preparing for every flight, but the ritual of getting my gear on, walking out to the aircraft, and taking off for a mission never lost its magic. In fact, it actually got to be more fun as the years went on and my experience grew.
One of my favorite types of flights was a functional check flight, or FCF. After spending years of training in flight school and as a co-pilot and eventually an Aircraft Commander, I was qualified as a functional check pilot, or FCP. My job as an FCP was to take aircraft that had undergone maintenance and ensure that they were in working order before putting them back into the rotation for training missions.
The job was high stakes. Marines could spend hundreds of back-breaking hours working on these aircraft to get them into a mission capable status, and the operations department was relying on the birds to be ready to support a full flight schedule. Completing an FCF and returning an “up” aircraft to maintenance control was vital to the squadron’s ability to keep up with mission requirements.
Because of the unpredictable nature of check flights, they could only be flown between the hours of sunrise and sunset, and we took advantage of every moment in that window. After major maintenance, it could take the days to complete an FCF checklist. I loved being on the flight schedule for those days.
It might sound boring, but we could spend hours repeating the same ten or twelve checklist items to make sure everything was in working order. A small detachment of avionicsmen, airframers, and flightliners would troubleshoot issues while we repeated the steps until we were within acceptable parameters and we could move on. It was slow, methodical work. But it was also teamwork, and work we took seriously to make sure we were handing off safe aircraft to the next crew.
I’m not sure why all of that came rushing back to mind when I saw that aircraft flying low over Boston, but it did. I think part of the reason I look back on those days on the FCF schedule so favorably is because it was from a time in my life where I had reached a level of professional competence that made me an asset to my organization; I knew my job, and I knew it well. It was a difficult decision to walk away from a field of work that I had dedicated years of my life to studying and training for and throw myself into something entirely new here at law school. Like anything else in life, it will take a while (and probably a few mistakes) to get to that professional level of requisite knowledge and experience where I can feel like an integral part of an organization. I have to keep that in mind as I chip away at the various law school rites of passage like tech checks and memos and exams and transition back into the working world after graduation. But one day all of this work that has been put in will lead to a moment where it all clicks—and suddenly, you’re flying.