Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dry Spell is over

Before yesterday I had not flown in 19 days. I had only flown 7 hours this month.

While sitting airport standby I checked the flights around 5PM and everything looked covered. I then thought about what to eat for dinner. The airport has a pretty vast selection of fast food and restaurants. For some odd reason I tend to eat the same thing for an entire month. Wednesday was no different. There was a new mexican food restaurant that opened a few weeks ago. I have already been there 3 times this month. Wednesday made four.

After getting my dinner I made my way back over to my hang out in the airport and enjoyed some amazing mexican (not Tex-mex!) food. Literally as I took my last bite my phone was "unknown". "Unknown" is always crew scheduling. The agent let me know I had an overnight up to the north east. Nice.

I checked my schedule and saw I was flying with the second most senior Captain on my plane. When I first flew with him I was apprehensive as there is a train of thought that the more senior the Captain the more difficult he is to get along with. Back then I had maybe 100 hours in the CRJ with around 660 hours total time. By comparison this Captain has over 27,000 hours. Yeah. To my surprise he is one of the nicest persons I have ever met. I enjoyed that first flight and every flight since. I then checked the flight attendants. I knew both of them and they were also a blast to fly with. I was looking forward to this trip.

After packing up my stuff I headed to the crew room. I grabbed my suitcase, kitbag and a set of ear plugs before heading out to the plane. I met the crew at the gate. They were all in great spirits. Flying with a crew that all get along makes even the worst trip better.

I had not done a pre-flight on my plane in 19 days so I wanted to get there early and really take my time. After stowing my bags I headed out with my pre-flight card to inspect the plane. I normally don't carry my pre-flight card, but I felt I needed it.

Once done, I settled into my seat and built my "nest". I arrange my side of the cockpit the same way every time as to always know where things are.

The Captain offered to take the leg out. I was glad and joked about not having flown in so long.

The flight out was nice. We pushed out 30 minutes late due to connecting passengers arriving late. We were the last flight out of Fargo to our destination. If the passengers missed the flight they would be spending the night in Fargo.

Muscle memory really comes into play when flying. While going through my flows I never missed a beat. My hands and arms knew which buttons to hit and when. Flows are always backed up with a checklist. Didn't miss a thing.

The overnight was nice. I really like the beds in the Marriott. I slept very nicely. The total time from arrival to departure was a nice 11 hours. After waking up this morning I checked my schedule. Once I am out flying I am their chess piece until the last day of my reserve stint (in this case Monday). They could (and have) added on all kinds of flying to my schedule. When I looked there was nothing. Good.

We met up downstairs for the van ride back to the airport. We took an early van in order to have time to get some food before the flight. The one thing I don't like about Marriott's is they have no affordable food and offer nothing for free. Some of the lower end hotels offer nicer beds AND a free breakfast. Eh.

It's an unwritten rule that Captains buy a meal for the crew once a month. I've had a few Captains do this during my time here. Today the Captain bought us all lunch at the airport before out flight. Did I say I really like this guy?

As we taxied out of the ramp area we noticed the left pack surging. The left pack provides air to the cockpit only. The right pack provides air for the cabin. We tried turning it off and on. No luck. We figured maybe it was an APU issue as it was providing air for the packs. I fired up the right engine and shut the APU down. The problem seemed to go away.

The Captain lined up on runway 28 and gave me the controls. I smoothly increased the thrust and slid the levers into the takeoff detent. As we passed 135 knots I pulled the nose into the air. Passing through 7000 feet the surging from the pack became worse. The plane was pressurizing correctly so no immediate action was needed. After passing 10000 feet the Captain began troubleshooting. After a few minutes he realized there was an issue with the temperature controller.

The ECS (Environmental Control System) on the CRJ is similar in function to an automatic climate control system in many cars. We select a temperature and the computers decide the best way to get there. Most of the time it works fine. Today the one for the cockpit was not.

After placing the system in manual mode for the cockpit the surging stopped. We now had to control the temperature ourselves. One thing that surprised me early on is how cold the air coming out of the air vents really is.

In the cabin of a plane are several warm bodies...all around 98 degrees or so. All those bodies give off a lot of heat. In order to cool the cabin the system of course puts out cold air (in the range of -10 to 26 degrees celsius). In order to WARM the cabin the system puts out less cool air...but still cool air. The warmer temperature is normally attained from all those bodies giving off heat.

The rest of the flight was fine. I enjoyed the view I had not seen in quite some time.



The above photos were taken at FL380. My checklist can be seen stuffed into its normal spot between the windshield and the dashboard. The lower photo shows a Delta 757 passing overhead.

The weather over most of the United States today hot and clear. We saw the airport over 60 miles away. Company regulations don't allow us to ask for or accept a visual approach if we are more than 35 miles away. As we were about 15 miles out they cleared us for the visual. The winds were 190/20G29. The runway we were assigned was runway 17. No big deal.

I clicked off the autopilot around 5000 feet and turned toward the runway. I was holding the plane steady at 210 knots as thats the last speed we were assigned. The plane ahead was a good 5 miles ahead. Descending through 3000 feet I began slowing and asked for flaps to be extended. First flaps 1, then 8, then 20. I was now slowing to 170 knots and was about 1600 feet AGL. Just prior to 1200 feet AGL I called for "gear down".

Descending through 900 feet I called for flaps 30 and slowed to 150 knots. Then the final flap setting of flaps 45. At 500 feet I was right on appraoch speed. The winds were gusting pretty good and I had to work a little to keep the plane tracking down the runway. As the wind increased and decreased in speed I made small adjustments to power. Jets respond much differently to power inputs as opposed to propeller driven planes. When I increase power in the CRJ there is a 2-5 second time period before the engines actually produce the power. In a propellor driver plane the adjusting the throttles brings an immediate change in power. Thus I must think about where the plane is now and where it will be 5 seconds from now and adjust the thrust levers accordingly.

As we passed over the threshold and I heard the 50 foot call out. I began reducing power and applying rudder pressure to straighten out the nose. At the same time I was arresting the descent. At 20 feet I had just a little power in and was passing over the 1000 foot markings. When I heard the 10 foot call I closed the power and pulled back on the yoke just slightly. Then the damn gust came in and ballooned the plane up a bit. A little more wrist work and I made an average landing. After having been 19 days...average was fine with me.

The headwind helped quite a bit to slow down. I popped open the thrust reversers but didn't apply full power as we were quickly slowing down anyway.

Once back at the gate I made my call to crew scheduling. There were no further flight assignments and I was released for the day. I am off until tomorrow at 2PM when I go back in for airport standby.

It was great to fly again.


  1. WELCOME back to the skies!

  2. Hey! Great blog....I love your story! I've been a FA for 16 years at a major US airline. I have a good friend who was in computers and made the switch to aviation, I actually just did an interview with him for my blog,, which I'll be posting sometime in the next week.

    He also has a very supportive wife, that is so great!! I love when people follow their dreams, that is what life is all about: )


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