Aviation News

Entering the Pattern, by Nathan Carriker

by on Mar.09, 2010, under Articles, Aviation

With profuse thanks to my new friends at aviationnewsfoa.com, I’m all a-twitter(groan) to introduce myself to those who are, like me:

Actually, calling me a Friend of Aviation is like calling Saddam Hussein’s son Uday a Friend of Hedonism (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If I could only live and breathe flying, I’d be deprived. I live it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it, snort it, shoot it, deal it, ogle it, fondle it; if I could get enough of it together in one place I’d stop, drop, and roll around in it then walk around making people smell me.

I could brag that this lusty affair began in my childhood, but I honestly believe it goes far deeper. When my dad told me about my favorite uncle, whom I’ve never met—at least not in the workaday temporal sense—something went “CLICK” inside me and never stopped. B-24 flight engineer/turret gunner Sergeant Raymond “Rudy” Carriker was killed in action April 1, 1944.




Uncle Rudy wanted to be a pilot in the worst way, but lacked the education for an officer’s commission, so he got as close as he could, and the only man to survive their last mission remembered him as a tireless, paternal, tinkering custodian of their plane, Barfly. His baby brother, my dad, also wanted to be a pilot but, like so many have, he waited until the pressure built to an intolerable level before he ignored the bills and learned to fly anyway at age forty-five. “Carriker” is a mangled version of the medieval German title/name “Karcher,” which was, in those days, a guy who drove carts from village to village. So, while my life may not advance my family’s standing in the world one iota, no one can say I didn’t heed the call. Every time I raise my palm and call, “gear up,” I can almost hear Uncle Rudy, and so many Karchers before him cheer, “Go, kid.”

The crowd’s really been going wild this year. In what seems to be a never-ending pattern of me going “zig” when my company goes “zag,” I was just awarded a bid to return to flying the 757/767 internationally after a decade in its narrow-body domestic route system. Now, flying’s flying, don’t get me wrong; but ten years of layovers in places like El Paso, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Raleigh, well, you get the idea. Let’s just say I got a lot of writing done…a LOT of writing. About 200,000 words’ worth, to tell the truth.

I had been forced to fly in the international system for less than a year when I was very new, back in what airline people now call “the good old days” before 9/11. I know it sounds crazy on several levels that flying a 767 internationally could be involuntary, but most pilots avoid bidding “up” until they’re senior enough to have a schedule they can live with, and I was not yet off new-hire probation when they ran out of heroes, I mean volunteers, that year. In other words, the needs of the company had to prevail, and they were (almost) sure I’d do just fine. If I didn’t, they’d be ok; they’d just find someone else who would. No pressure.

I’d been hired as a flight engineer on the 727,  so that first time through 767 training, I hadn’t touched a control yoke in nearly a year. That last one was attached to bellcranks and pushrods with which I manually moved controls to an airplane that carried 30 people in only moderate discomfort for up to 90 minutes at 300 miles per hour.

I awoke from what seemed like another of my bizarre dreams to find myself over the Amazon jungle in a 200-ton behemoth with power-everything, auto-pilots and -throttles, and a cockpit full of CRTs I could double dribble in. It was great, but it didn’t take much coffee to stay eyes-bugged-out alert all night long, and being a “junior puke” on reserve kept me from my new family far too much, so I squeaked like a wheel and squealed like a pig until They finally let me step down a few pegs on that scary-tall ladder.

Just last month, after only ten years of domestic flying, two weeks of ground school, two weeks of simulator training (the subject of an earlier blog post) and a couple of days of international ground school, it was finally time for my Operational Experience, or OE, trip with an instructor pilot. Time to stop trying to drink from a fire hydrant and just step headlong into the stream.

This is the part where I think everyone expects me to digress into a long, for some tedious travelogue of what we did on that trip to Paris and the others since, and how and why we did them, but that’s where I’m hoping to carve my own little niche within the pack (ok, the den) of aviation writers.

My literary wings can’t get enough exercise just flapping about my trips from perch to perch, but neither is my artistic wingspan big enough to effortlessly toy with the zephyrs and thermals all day like the seagulls we all so admire. I’d like to consider myself more like, let’s say, a falcon: I fly for a purpose: I fly to survive. That said, I still enjoy the hell out of it and work at it every second to get as good as I can be, to live as well as I can live, by my craft.

My glare belies my pleasure, and my grin belies my purpose, so I write—and hope you’ll understand.

Enamored with aviation from his first memories, Nathan Carriker was taught to fly by his father, a professional educator and private pilot, from age eight.  He became a private pilot in high school, then worked as a flight instructor while still a student at his alma mater, the University of Central Missouri.  Upon graduation with a B.S. in Aviation Technology in 1990, he was hired by regional airline Air Midwest and spent the next three years as a First Officer on Swearingen Metroliner II and Beechcraft 1900C turboprop airliners.  He then followed another childhood dream to California, moving there to fly for SkyWest Airlines in 1994. An avid pilot even in his free time, Nathan was nearly killed in a light airplane accident later that year, sustaining a spinal cord injury that he was told would surely paralyze him for life.  He was treated at Loma Linda University Medical Center and returned to flying at SkyWest a year to the day later. 

Now a pilot in his tenth year with a major airline, Carriker is an ecstatically married father and stepfather of three.  When not flying or writing, he enjoys a boat with his family, pampering his “pet” machines, and growing and enjoying his collections of music, rum, tequila, and cigars.

Friends of Aviation are very pleased to introduce Nathan Carriker as an additional aviation writer for our blog.

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6 Comments for this entry

  • joe caneen

    Well written and enjoyable! Keep writing.

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  • Mozarker

    A pleasure to read. I especially treasure the accolade you gave to your Uncle Rudy. I was deprived of his brotherly love and companionship far too early in my life. In my days of exercising my Private Pilot’s ticket in SEL’s, when sitting alone in the cockpit, I many times reflected on how great it would have been to have him sitting in the right seat. In spirit, though, he was always there. As a compensation I did, however, enjoy many hours of flying with a person “sitting right seat” who -in an ironic reversal of roles- was a great companion.

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  • John M. White

    Great article for us aviation nuts.

    I interviewed a B24 pilot a while back and am putting together a number of podcasts that I will be publishing soon. Hard to believe he had less than 500 hours and was flying a 4 engine bomber over Southern Europe as PIC.

    The world has sure changed.

    Keep up the good work.

    JetAviator7 {John}
    Internet Publisher and ATP Pilot

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  • Karlene Petitt

    Nathan this is great! Now I know were inspiration for your novel was birthed. A wonderful story yours is, and well written too. Congratulations on proving the doctors wrong after your accident. One of my daughters had back surgery and she came out paralyzed. We were told that she probably would never walk again… but she is. I know you will get your novel published, and many more. Not only is your concept unique, but your determination to never give up will lift you to new levels. When times get tough, don’t look down….the perseverance gene is a key part of the genetic code of the aviator, remember that.

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  • Mozarker

    I spent 36 years as an “educator.” At a “family briefing” I asked the pompous doctor who told Nathan he’d never walk again, “How many lives do you think a teacher would ruin if he told a student he would NEVER learn a given subject?” It set him back on his heels. Medics are too prone to make such statements, eschewing the “never say never” dictum. False hope would be just as detrimental but they should put the words “probably,” “not likely,” “very difficult,” etc. in their vocabulary. A few iron-willed people thrive when told “never,” but it destroys what will remains in most people.

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  • Nick

    Thank you and glad you like it! Let us know if you have any ideas or suggestions to make it even more worthwhile for you to read it.

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