Monday, May 18, 2009

On time! Time to buy a lottery ticket

The day started at 4:30AM. I woke up before my alarm clock like normal.

By 5AM the crew was in the van and on the way to the airport. The airport was surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning. We boarded up a full 70 people and rolled out of the gate ON TIME.

The Captain I flew with is really nice guy that I enjoy flying with. He's been at the company for 21 years. Flying has never been a love of his, it's just something he is good at.

He offers the first two legs to me and I accept. The tower is just now opening up so I give a call for our clearance. The woman in the tower sounds really young. She has been here for at least a year as I am used to hearing her voice. Within a few minutes we were lined up with runway 13 and he gave the controls to me.

The runway is "only" 7000 feet long. I put in a "flex" power setting which reduces engine wear and fuel usage but still guarantees all performance requirements. Just past the 4000 foot mark I heard "V1 rotate" and I began lifting the nose into the sky.

One of the nice things about early morning flights is being able to watch the sunrise faster than normal. We were headed east at 500MPH so within a few minutes the sun went from on the horizon to well above it.

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The weather was VFR (what a change!) and before long we were on a downwind for runway 36. The downwind started 210 knots at 11,000 feet above the runway. Approach advised if we could get down quick we could be vectored inside of a 777. I enjoy a challenge and break from the norm.

I was already at flaps 8. I called for flaps 20 and then hit the "Speed" button to begin descending at 210 knots to our next assigned altitude of 4000 feet. Once the descent began I fully deployed the flight spoilers as the "range to altitude" bar showed the plane leveling off well past the final approach fix. With the fight spoilers fully extended and flaps 20 we were descending at 4500 feet per minute. The nose was pointed down at a decently steep angle. Who needs Six Flags?

Passing through 5000 feet we were cleared to turn left heading 090 and descend to 3000 feet, which is the final approach fix altitude for the ILS approach. After the plane finished the turn we were given a visual approach clearance. I stowed the flight spoilers, switched to green needles, armed approach mode, and disconnected the autopilot.

I turned left to line up with the runway and continued the descent. Off to my left and about 5 miles was my house. It would be neat to have my wife monitoring the radios and watch/film one of these dive and drive approaches.

The plane crossed the threshold on speed and I touched down just past the 1000 foot markings. During my approach breif I told the Captain I wouldn't be using reverse thrust as we had to taxi toward the end anyway. By not using reverse thrust it makes for a much nicer landing and roll out. The passengers aren't thrown forward against their seat belts.

We pulled into the gate 15 minutes EARLY! We didn't even try to be early. Nice.

The next flight left an hour after arrival. Thankfully we kept the same plane. There were only 14 passengers going out this time (but 70 coming back, so the airline couldn't send a smaller plane).

There were reports of moderate turbulence above FL300. The dispatcher filed us for FL270, which is really low. I reviewed the flight release and saw we would land with just the FAA required fuel, which is about 2200 pounds. I feel more comfortable landing with 3000 pounds. A "go around" takes at least 1800-2300 pounds of fuel. We were headed to a smaller airport with a good amount of general aviation traffic. If a Cessna didn't clear the runway in time or anything else seemingly benign happened we could be put into a bad position. With only 14 people on board our takeoff weight was 56,000 pounds. We could easily climb up to FL410 and save fuel.

The takeoff to the outstation was fun. Even with a flex takeoff power setting we rocketed off the runway and passed through 10,000 feet within 3 minutes. After getting reports from controllers and seeing beautiful clear skies ahead, we climbed to FL390. The ride was smooth until we began our descent when we ran into continuous light chop, but nothing bad.

In an attempt to save fuel I planned for a 4.0 degree descent into the airport area. This allowed a near flight idle descent while keeping the speed up around 300 knots.

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The initial descent from FL390 began at a slow 700 feet per minute. We were given descend to FL340 with a PD (pilots discretion) to FL290.

We were vectored for a near straight in approach to runway 5. As is typical with a light weight plane (just 52000 pounds) I was planning a slightly tricky landing. The speed cards we use had settings for every 1000 pounds from 54,000 to 75,000. Between 50,000 and 53,999 we use the 54,000 pound card. This means being slightly faster (only 1 or 2 knots....but it makes a difference) than the actual weight. I learned early on not to carry any extra speed when landing light.

Crossing the fence I was at 128 knots (VRef was 124). I slightly reduced the thrust and began the flare at 50 feet. The landing was pretty decent for being so light.

After pulling into the gate I looked at the fuel gauge. Instead of landing with 2200 pounds we had 3800 pounds. By climbing high and descending steeply we saved 1600 pounds of fuel. Of course I won't see any of this money on my next paycheck, but it still feels good.

A company ERJ landed a few minutes after us. We were again 20 minutes early. For some reason the station boarded them up before boarding us. Instead of leaving on time....or even early...we left 2 minutes late. I didn't let it phase me as I knew we were ready on time.

This was the Captains leg. We were again filed for a low altitude, but quickly climbed up (after flying through some rain clouds that came out of no where!) to FL360. As was becoming common place we arrived 20 minutes early and with much more fuel than planned. For the first time in a while all my flights for the day were on time for departure and EARLY for arrival. I should buy a lottery ticket!

Today I have airport standby. When I walked into the crewroom I passed a Captain I knew who gave me the heads up that his First Officer has not signed in yet. He was flying the first flight out at 6:45AM. Instead going to sleep I waited around and kept checking in on the flight to see if he signed in. He did, right at the last second.

After sleeping for 2 1/2 hours I made my way to the terminal for coffee and a bagel. I don't think I will be flying today. Wouldn't mind though, it's a beautiful clear sky.


  1. Hi, I am a dispatcher at United. I also saw something that I needed to address in this post. Often, pilots see a burn figure and then mentally add a missed approach into that number for their "comfort" fuel. This is often the case with the mainline guys. But, one look at the FARs will show that a missed approach should already be in the burn for the flight:

    Sec. 121.647 Factors for computing fuel required.

    Each person computing fuel required for the purposes of this subpart
    shall consider the following:
    (a) Wind and other weather conditions forecast.
    (b) Anticipated traffic delays.
    (c) One instrument approach and possible missed approach at
    (d) Any other conditions that may delay landing of the aircraft.

    Part (c) includes a missed approach as part of the fuel load, though it is to be considered, not a requirement. Is this a consideration at all airports for you, or just hubs? For me, most captains add the company max of 2.0 over the cleared fuel (fuel at brake release on takeoff roll).

  2. As a Dispatcher for a contract company in Canada I also find some of the comments above to be interesting. If you had concerns with the planned landing fuel, why wouldn't you quickly contact your Dispatch department and have them re-run your plan with either increased fuel, or with your higher planned altitude so you had the burn numbers in your back pocket? What if there were higher winds at higher altitudes that you weren't aware of that the Dispatcher had already looked over? What if ATC had not given you the higher altitude that you requested? Isn't the whole idea of having a Dispatch department to have someone to work with through those sort of issues...they have the training and LEGAL responsibility for your flight as well as the PIC.

    I also want to tell you how much I enjoy the frequency and lengths you go to when it comes to posting on your blog, I enjoy having a good read through them.


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