I'm home! After 96 hours and 56 minutes...I'm home. The time spent away from home on this 5 day trip is more than I get on per diem for an entire month doing airport standby. On top of that I flew 18 hours which is almost as much as I flew in the entire month of April. Nice.
I am tired, but want to write about today before I write about the other 4 days.
The hotel bed was the best of the trip. When I woke up this morning I realized that, over the course of the 5 day trip, I stayed overnight in just two cities. I stayed in 4 different hotels though. Many cities have a "short" layover hotel (close to the airport) and a "long" layover hotel (closer to activities/food/entertainment). The first night was as short layover. The second was a long. The third was a long. The fourth was longish...but didn't qualify for the long layover hotel. Fine. I was happy.
I woke up this morning and walked next door to a Denny's. I haven't been there in years. I had the $3.99 Grand Slam special and coffee....just $6. This is only a little more than McDonald's but way more filling.
Our van time was noon. The inbound plane was running 40 minutes late. The time between my first flight and second flight? Forty minutes.
The Captain on this trip is a really nice guy. Some First Officer complain about him, but I have had nothing but great times with him. We talked the whole way up to the overnight. He decided he would fly to the overnight, then I would fly to base and the following leg to an outstation. He would then fly the last leg. I prefer this versus trading every leg. If I trade every leg, one guy always lands in base while the other guy always lands at out stations. The front flight attendant , Peggy, was awesome. I have flown with her many times. Each time I see her I always think she is really junior. She is an older lady who is actually quite senior. I always think she is junior because she is extremely nice and caring. Most senior flight attendants are not so nice. Peggy goes above and beyond to make sure I am taken care of all the time. I can't stress enough how important flight attendants are. A good flight attendant makes sure the passengers are safe. A great flight attendant makes sure the passengers are safe, happy, comfortable and goes above and beyond when things are normal. When things are not normal a great flight attendant is a lifesaver....literally. I have yet to have a flight with Peggy where the passengers didn't leave happy. No matter how late we were.
My leg back was finally a mostly smooth flight. No more turbulence! We flew at FL380 for most of the flight. On our arrival into base there was moderate turbulence and chop reported all the way from FL410 to FL180. Nice. I delayed the descent until the last minute in order to dive down at 3500 feet per minute to avoid as much turbulence as possible. It kinda worked.
The landing in base was interesting. We were following a 737 who was 4 miles ahead. The spacing looked fine. Five miles is normal. Four can work. Well the 737 slowed to approach speed way early. I had to quickly slow down as well. Everything worked out. My landing was flattish. I thought it looked good, but with a light 11 knot direct crosswind, I must have put the right wing down a little too early. Oh well.
I was starving. After my post flight inspection, I ran inside and bought a "healthy" bacon hamburger. The meat was extra lean and the bacon was turkey bacon. Pretty tasty.
Thirty minutes after pulling into the gate, we were being pushed back out. We lost Peggy (she dropped the rest of the trip) and had a new front flight attendant. Thankfully this lady was almost as awesome as Peggy. This new flight attendant was hoping to make a 7:10PM flight to Boston to visit family. We were pushing out of the gate at 3:55PM. The flight each way is 1 hr...add in a 30 minute turn it looks impossible for her to make the flight. The Captain and I were determined to get her on that flight.
We pushed out 2 minutes after a plane a few gates down pushed. That 2 minutes would end up costing us 10 minutes later. When we reached the runway the other plane took off, then the tower started letting other planes take off besides us. The airport I am based at is quite large. There are 2 to 4 taxiway hold short lines per runway. Just because we are next, doesn't mean we are going next as there could be three other planes waiting NEXT to us.
Eventually we took off. As we reached 11,000 feet we were told it would be a bit for a higher altitude. There were towering cumulonimbus clouds all around. I felt like I was in a Seminole again as I dodged the build ups and avoided the bumps. ATC would give us a heading to follow and we would wiggle around build ups. It was fun for about 5 seconds. Then the annoying turns and twist got annoying.
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After about 5 minutes we were finally allowed to climb up.
Normally we climb at 290 knots above 10,000 feet. I climbed at 320 knots to make up time. Somewhere around 28,000 feet a single chime went off and the master caution light was flashing in my face. I looked down at ED1 and saw AFT CARGO DOOR in amber. I looked over at the Captain...he glanced at the caution, then ED2 and went back into looking outside. Hmmm okay. A moment later a PROX SYSTEM 1 FAULT status message appeared on ED2. Again the Captain wasn't concerned. Hmm okay. After leveling off at FL320 I grabbed my "red" book and looked up the checklist. Turns out no action was required. With a master caution, no immediate action is ever required. The Captain explained that he had seen this before. If there had truly been a problem we would have seen the cabin pressure rise (on ED2) followed by him taking the controls as we donned oxygen mask as we dove down to a lower altitude.
He went on to explain quite a bit more about cabin pressure and differential. I learned quite a bit. I have had a lot of interesting plane discussions with this and other Captains. I never stop learning and I love it. The caution could have been caused by a handle being slightly out of place on the aft cargo door or simply a glitch. During the descent...the light went out.
Fifty-two minutes after taking off, the wheels greased onto the runway. Much better than my last landing. This outstation has a crazy long 13,000X200 foot runway. The airport is a former military base, thus the long runway. Throughout the day there are only 30 commercial flights at this airport. With a long runway and a very unbusy airport...smooth landings are easy. The winds were gusting out of the east giving me a 14 knot quartering crosswind. The touchdown was very smooth. Nice. The 200 foot wide runway makes a CRJ700 feel really small.
Twenty-one minutes after pulling into the gate we were turning out for the runway. The time was 5:45PM. We only had 20 people on board giving us a takeoff weight of just 58,000 pounds. By comparison the flight to the outstation was 71,000 pounds. The plane feels very different at a low weight.
The Captain took off and we blasted into the sky. He kept the speed up as much as possible the entire flight. The builds up were still in the area of our base. There was a huge mushroom shaped cloud right over the airport
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We were turning downwind at 11,000 feet just 37 minutes after taking off!
The approach controller was working hard to get all the planes in line. He squeezed us behind a MD80. The spacing looked a little tight. As we passed 1100 feet AGL we were just 2 1/2 miles behind him. Tower came on and asked if we would like to land on a parallel runway. We accepted. Good thing. The MD80 just cleared the runway while we were 300 feet AGL.
Just 45 minutes after taking off, we touched the runway. At 6:41PM the cabin door was opened and the 20 passengers left the plane. I just checked the Boston flight, my flight attendant made it!
I am off for one whole day. Starting Wednesday I am on reserve for another 6 consecutive days. I am betting I will get morning airport standby for most of those days. Fun.
For now...it's beer time. Oh yeah I am now using Twitter to have mini-updates throughout the day. Just click on the Geek on the go! link in the upper left hand corner.