Thursday, July 9, 2009

All because the other airplanes were broken

Last week I thought I lost my 80 gigabyte Zune forever. Negative. Someone found it and gave it to the manager of a Starbucks. She called me last week and I met her yesterday and got it back. The idea of buying a cheap label maker and putting my name, phone number and employee number on stuff appears to have been a great one.

I was happily updating my charts while listening to a podcast from TWIT (no relation to twitter!) when my phone rang. I was assigned a 9:55AM departure to a city not currently served by my airline. Another airline servicing my mainline partner couldn't fly the turn due to broken airplanes. Nice. Something different again. I flew a turn last week for the same airline due to broken airplanes.

The 9:55AM departure was totally a WAG (Wild Ass Guess) by the airline. I was originally called at 9:00AM. There was no way they could transfer all of the passengers and luggage between the two airlines in time. I still grabbed my stuff, a coffee, and headed to the gate.

I was the first to arrive. I walked into the cabin door and saw a large section of the cabin ceiling hanging down in the back with two mechanics working on wiring. Apparently the emergency lighting system wasn't working correctly.

I assumed it would be a quick repair. I unlocked the cockpit door and saw paperwork for another flight. "Hmmm am I standing in the correct plane?" After a quick walk up to the gate area I checked the computer and indeed I was on the correct plane.

Once the preflight was done I took my seat and waited. I knew better than to unpack my stuff as the flight could still be cancelled or be moved to another plane. The Captain arrived a few minutes later along with the flight attendants. There was external air and power connected....but the cabin was still 82 degrees with the cockpit a warmer 86 degrees. The Captain fired up the APU.

Over the next hour we waited. Another First Officer shot me a text message asking if I could look at his laptop. I was supposed to look at it in the crew room....but of course I was assigned a flight. He came down to the plane and I gave it a once over and gave him my recommendation.

I flew with this Captain about a month ago. After I finished with the First Officers computer I took a look a the Captains computer. He has a top of the line laptop, but it runs like crap because of Windows Vista. I told him all about Windows 7 and how to get it now for free (RC1) and how to pre-order a copy for $49.

Around 11AM I started getting hungry. MacDonald's served up two grilled snack wraps and a fruit & yogurt parfait. Lowest fat/calorie food in the gate area.

On the way back to the gate I noticed the flight number/destination changed on the LCD screen. I checked the computer, yep a plane swap....glad no one told the crew.

I broke word to the crew and we all made our way to a gate 18 gates away.

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Totally random picture of the FMS database screen. I "rotate" the databases before a flight to clear out all previous flight plan information. The database is yellow when it's not valid.

At 11:50AM we finally pushed out of the gate. Yeah...9:55AM. Ha!

The flight was scheduled to be 1 hour 10 minutes long. On climb out the Captain mentioned a city we were flying over that he enjoyed flying to in the past. This would come back to haunt us.

The Captain took the leg down and flew fast. The weather was VFR and we were assigned a visual approach. He brought it in fast and stable. No power was added until we reached 500 feet. I've done a few of these and label them space shuttle approaches as they are done at idle power most of the way down. They have to be planned well in order to meet stabilized approach criteria and to be slow enough to put the flaps out.

I have never flown into this airport prior. The Captain had, but many years ago. Prior to landing we discussed the taxiways needed to get from the runway to the gate. Once clearing the runway I contacted ground and repeated back the taxi instructions. The route was the one we discussed. Somehow we still made a wrong turn. Thankfully the airport wasn't busy and the ground controller redirected us. We parked at the gate just 53 minutes after leaving base, 17 minutes earlier than block. After the post flight I used the computer at the gate to check our schedules. At that point in time the Captain and I only had the return leg to base. Yes!

Twenty five minutes after pulling into the gate,  we were being pushed back out of the gate. My leg. The departure was a little tricky. I took off from runway 22. We were assigned a left turn to head 350. Of course the shortest turn would be a right turn to 350. I set the heading bug to 030 in order to get a left turn indication upon arming heading mode. Once the turn was started I asked the Captain to set 350. In addition to the turn I had to keep within 3 DME of the airport VOR to keep from intruding on airspace from a neighboring airport. At 400 feet I called for heading mode and began my turn while pitching up for the climb out. All turned out fine.

After clearing 10,000 feet I reduced the deck angle and climbed out at 310 knots. After leveling off at cruise altitude I sent in our ETA via the ACARS. Once this is done the printer will spit out the gate assignment, connecting gates for passengers and most importantly the crew assignments.

I had a sudden case of tourettes syndrome. We were assigned another turn. Not just any turn, but to the city the Captain mentioned during the first leg. Seems as my airline needed to use the CRJ700 for the turn versus a smaller plane that normally flies that route. Ugh.

While on downwind for base at 11,000 feet I put the TCAS in "below" mode to see all aircraft 7600 feet below us. In normal mode TCAS shows aircraft 2600 +/- our altitude (don't quote me on these numbers....but I am pretty close if not dead on). We were assigned to descend to 4000 feet. I saw no aircraft anywhere around the airport. Already slowed to 210 knots I deployed the flight spoilers and called for flaps 1 and then flaps 8. I figured the controller was going to give us a shorter approach if I got down quickly. Sure enough that's what happened.

I wanted to try a different approach technique. Normally I start reducing power at 50 feet and begin my flare. This time I would wait till 30 feet to begin the flare. This would reduce the total distance required to stop. Of course if I didn't flare correctly it could result in a "firm" landing.

When I heard "50" from the ground RADAR, I reduced the power, but left the pitch as is, nose down. "Forty" came by, no change. At "30" feet I began the flare and continued reducing power. I pulled up more firmly than normal due to the later flaring starting point. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Captain begin to tense up. At 20 feet the flare was almost done being arrested. By 10 feet we were barely descending. I greased it on just a smidge past the 1000 foot markings, nice. With such a long runway and given that we would have to taxi toward the end regardless, I didn't delpoy the thrust reversers right away. Nearing the high-speed exit I popped them open and applied the brakes. At 60 knots the Captain took over.

After pulling into the gate, the passengers and flight attendants left and new set walked on. Thirty-four minutes after parking at the gate, we were being pushed out again.

I took this leg as well. Straight-line distance between base and the outstation is 117 miles. Our flight plan was scheduled for 146 miles. Yeah....close. At 2:52PM I rotated the nose into the air. Just 23 minutes later I set them plane back down on a runway.

We only flew 36 passengers down. We thought for sure we would be full coming back. Why else use a CRJ700?

The Captain sent our ETA to the outstation 20 minutes out. As we pulled into the ramp there was no one waiting for us. Hmm. I called them on the company frequency. They said they were on the way. Meanwhile another plane flying for my mainline partner was at a gate waiting to leave. We were supposed to park next to that plane. Well from the looks of the ramp crew they were going to get the other plane out before we would be pulled in.

After waiting for 10 minutes we finally pulled into the gate. Just 29 passengers walked on board. Hmmm okay....I don't sell the tickets, I just fly the planes. I can only assume they ran out of crews or planes for the normal equipment that flies that route.

While walking back up the stairs to the jet bridge I snapped a photo of a military helicopter flying overhead (the outstation is a military base).

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During the post flight I told the ramp crew to not bother connecting the external air as the Captain and I thought we would be in and out quickly. In fact we taxied out just 22 minutes after pulling in. On taxi out we noticed we were just 250 pounds above min takeoff. As a precaution we taxied out on one engine with the APU shutdown. Normally in hot weather we leave the APU running for passenger comfort. With just 29 passengers on board, the cabin would not heat fast enough for them to even notice. There was still air conditioning, just not at a high rate.

We lined up for takeoff with 100 pounds of fuel to spare. Phew.

The flight back was interesting. When I copied down the clearance at the outstation I heard, wrote down and read back that we were to climb to 13,000 and expect 17,000 ten minutes after departure. I was told "read back correct". During climb out I checked in as "699 2,800 climbing to 13,000" and was told "radar contact". As we climbed through 12,400 we were told to check out altitude and descend to 12,000. I set 12,000 and the Captain quickly descended back down. I advised the controller that we were told 13,000 during out clearance on the ground and that I checked in that we were climbing to 13,000. He had no response. Once we reached 12,000 he immediately handed us off to the next center. We think he knew both he and the clearance delivery person made a mistake in either reading the clearance to me or verifying that what I said was indeed correct. I made sure during my explanation to him that I spoke clearly and that it was all on tape in case something happens later.

The Captain and I both discussed the situation and submitted an ASAP report about the incident. We were in class E airspace at the time and there was no other plane within 10 miles. The likely situation was the controller must have aircraft as 12,000 feet before handing it off to the neighboring ATC center.

Finally back in base I was released from duty at 4:38PM. Long day as I started duty at 6AM and had been awake since 5AM.

I snapped this photo early in the morning....pretty neat.

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  1. Where can you get an upgrade from vista to windows 7 for $49?? I want it! haha

  2. I think you have till tomorrow to get it from Best Buy or any computer software store. I bought mine from Amazon


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