I had never been so excited in my life to receive a call from crew support. The dreaded crew support incoming call has a reputation amongst line pilots of being the bearer of bad news amongst reserve pilots; in the sense that off time ended and work was to begin. After nearly a month and a half of ground school, simulator training, and on the job training (IOE), I was finally a qualified captain ready to be released into the stream of steady line operations. The assignment was a quick turn from Houston to Corpus Christi and back; a route I knew well from my Cessna days while traveling back and forth to that area for work in my previous career as a network engineer. The only thing different about that day was there was a lot of precipitation and storms in the area on a warm December day due to frontal activity that the warm south wanted nothing of.
A good friend of mine told me to save the release for my first flight as a captain, and I went through a lot of hoops to get it printed since our releases are now all digital. As soon as I laid eyes on it – I realized the first mistake. To my dismay, were filed at 8000ft and 300 knots. Although a typo on account of our dispatcher (intending for 18000ft), I called dispatch to get this corrected and get a new alternate that was closer to Corpus Christi in order to avoid bumping passengers due to weight restrictions with a lot of extra fuel. It almost felt like ferry flying again in the sense that I was the one looking at weather in the area and pulling up TAFs and METARs to brief myself on what was going on around south and southeast Texas. Although I did do this as a first officer, it almost felt like I was looking through a new set of eyes when briefing the flight.
Shortly before taxi, it started pouring rain on the ramp. Although rain isn’t a no-go item for taxi, the rain has its own trance that makes every pilot perk up in their seat and pay close attention to everything going around them. The flight to Corpus Christi was pretty uneventful except for my firm landing. I had greased on landings in the CRJ 700 for a long time, but yet my first landing as a captain was far from a greaser – but definitely acceptable. After the landing, I told my first officer that I set the bar low for him to beat my landing, which is a game I often like to play to challenge the crew to do their best at flying.
After boarding the next load of passengers, we pushed back and got ready to depart back to Houston. Storms had been building right over the coast and the strong winds were blowing them inland toward Corpus Christi, and by the time we taxied out to the runway there was a cell consisting of what the tower called “moderate to heavy precipitation” about halfway down the 7500ft runway. Both myself and the first officer agreed that it was definitely a cell, and neither of us could see to the other side. I remember times as a first officer taking off in heavy rain and being on the edge of my seat, clutching the armrests with white knuckles while the captain powered that heavy bird into the sky. My line of thinking was that I wouldn’t take off in a Super Cub in it, so why would I take off in the jet? When asking for the first officer’s opinion, he declined to give any advice or opinion and just looked over and said it’s up to me; subtly hinting that he was OK with it. I made my first captain’s decision that the pay increase was meant to cover, and declined to takeoff. 5 minutes later, the storm had dissipated and we took off uneventfully and landed safely in Houston a short time after.
As a self-proclaimed scholar of human factors and airmanship study, I try to self-debrief every action and decision I made as if I’m in the audience hearing a story about the event. I hesitate to Monday-morning quarterback the actions of those who escaped unscathed by an abnormal event, and in this situation, I was more than satisfied with the flight overall. After all, what is 5 minutes in the grand scheme of things? I am the captain now, and sure as heck ready to use the well-trained team and my experiences throughout 3800 hours of some of the toughest flying decision-wise all over the world to make the best decision.