Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hot N Sweaty....but not in a good way

Day 2 of my 3 day trip was supposed to be super easy. Just 2 legs for a total of 3 1/2 hours of flight time. Yeah about that easy part.

The inbound plane was delayed. It left the gate 10 minutes late. Further delays were caused by an equipment restriction.

The APU on the aircraft was INOP. There mechanics followed a procedure which limited the aircraft speed and altitude. The max speed under the procedure was 220knots. The max altitude was FL230. a turboprop. Due to the slow speed the inbound was going to be 30 minutes late. They could have (and in my opinion should have) followed the procedure that allowed the plane to fly at max altitude and speed. Unfortunately they never consulted me.

While waiting in the gate area I played around on my netbook. On the trip I brought two computers, my 15 inch Macbook Pro and my 10.1 inch HP Mini 5101 netbook. I am still working on getting the netbook up to speed as far as being able to travel with it alone. I got more than a few looks when I went thru security with two computers.

Eventually the plane arrived. The ground crew connected the external power and PCA  (pre-conditioned air, needed especially since here was no APU!). After the passengers and crew were off we made our way on board.

With the PCA connected the cabin temp was down to a decent 79 degrees. This was of course without 70 warm bodies on board.

Passengers began boarding and after all were on board the temperature rose to 88 degrees. Not comfy, but there was a stream of cool air blowing from the vents via the PCA. Then it happened.

Without warning the ground crew pulled the PCA off. Immediately the Captain got up and went out to see why and have it reconnected. The ground crew had it reconnected within 4 minutes, but the damage was done, inside temp was 90 degrees. There was no way to cool is back down.

We coordinated with the ground crew to pull the air off again and prepare to start an engine. Everything was in place.

They pulled the air and within two minutes gave the signal to start the right engine (which powers the right pack which cools the cabin). As soon as the Captain hit the start button (opening the start valve), the pressure dropped. No rotation. We tried again. Dropped. The ground crew went to find another air cart. Temp still hovering at 90 degrees inside.

Second cart connected. Same issue, as soon as the start valve was opened (via the start button) the pressure would drop. The PCA was reconnected. Temp holding at 91 degrees.

Third cart connected, PCA pulled off. Same issue. Temp too high inside, time to deboard. 70 mildly sweaty passengers happily got off the plane and were happy to feel the 88 degree air OUTSIDE the plane.

The ground crew (we only had 2 of the 6 rampers as the rest were working other flights) left to handle another flight and source out a fourth air cart. I stood at the main door to cool down.  Ten minutes later they found another air cart. This one sourced from Southwest Airlines. Surely their cart could handle a CRJ. The Captain and I climbed into the 94 degree stuffy cockpit and ran the checklist while they connected the air cart. The PSI was reading a solid 50 on the ECS page. The other 3 carts never went higher than 38 PSI. Thankfully the engine started without issue. Problem? The cabin was showing 100 degrees!

I monitored the cooling of the cabin. If I just set the temp all the way down the pack would freeze and no air would come out. I put the right pack in manual mode and set the output at 6C (42F). The CRJ is an international plane built by Canadians and thus uses Celcius. I have converted everything to Farenheit thus far in this post. Once the pack was steady I headed back to the cabin to cool down. The cockpit gets very little air until the left pack gets pressure (via the left engine).

Once the cabin cooled to 80 degrees (about 15 minutes), we began reboarding. Amazingly most of the passengers were very understanding and pleasant. This after being delayed in a warm and balmy aircraft.

After they were all on board the cabin temp rose, but held at 82 degrees with cool air a flowin'. Time to go!

We pushed out 2 hours late. My leg. On taxi out the cockpit hung around 88 degrees. Ugh. Finally the left engine was started. Relief.

I wrote in big numbers "220" on my notepad and put it on my yoke. The number was to remind me the max speed is 220 knots. Even with that my mind worked in the normal mode.

During the climb I still called for "flaps up, speed 250". The Captain came back with "Max 220" and set the speed. This is why there are two of us in the cockpit.

The only good thing about having a max speed of 220? We climbed like a bat out of hell. I turned on the autopilot very early, around 8000 feet, as I was annoyed having to climb at a slow speed.

The plane leveled off at FL210 and that was it. It seemed like time stood still. I would look down at my MFD, see an airport, find it outside and the look elsewhere for a bit. A few minutes later I would repeat the same thing, the airport seemed to have not moved!

We were enroute to a base other than my own. I don't care for this other base. I joked with the Captain that I get Tourettes syndrome whenever I fly there.

I prepped myself for the arrival. Between the runway and the gate I have to use three different frequencies. One for ground, one for company and one for the ramp, which is controlled by another airline. Annoying.

Each controller along the way inquired as to why we were flying so slow. We told each one our max speed was 220 knots. Entering the terminal area we were vectored around quite a bit. The skies were very hazy. While on downwind we were advised to look for a 737 at our 1 o'clock and 4 miles. Then 1 o'clock and 3 miles. Then 2 miles. We never saw it. Finally just told to join the localizer. No problem.

The 737 was 2 miles ahead landing on the same runway. I never saw it until it touched down. My turn.

The winds were a little gusty. I was lined up for runway 10. This airport was launching planes off runway 32 which crossed my runway. The outbound planes would takeoff and turn left. A little unnerving seeing an airliner coming toward you.

The landing was uneventful. My second nice one in a row.

Clearing the runway the annoyance started. I called ground. Told to taxi toward the gate. Called company. Told the gate is open. Getting close to the gate I called the other airline which controlled the ramp, told to come in on the west line and hold behind another gate. We made it in. The flight was blocked for 1 hour 45 minutes. The flight took 2 hours 5 minutes. Mostly due to slow 220 knots.

I was hungry. We would be getting to the overnight at 10PM (at best) instead of 8PM. I needed food. I hurried around to a McDonalds. I didn't want was my only option. McNuggets in tow I hurried back to the plane. We had a whopping 7 passengers. Seven. Wow. I scarfed down my McNuggets as I assumed we were leaving soon.

Stomach full of grease and chicken parts a new problem arose. Center of gravity. With such a light load we had to move all the passengers to the front of the cabin to keep from being aft heavy. Even then the ground crew had to move bags from the aft cargo to the front cargo. We started an engine and pushed out an hour after blocking in. Why did I rush again?

Taxiing out was just as annoying as taxiing in. Lots of radio frequency switching. This time I tuned 5 different frequencies before we took off. The flight to the overnight was to a city just a few miles from the previous overnight. Again we were limited to 220 knots. We had a (thankfully) light headwind. The Captain made a beautiful approach and did the best job he could landing the very light plane. The landing weight was just 50,950 pounds. The lowest speed card onboard was 50,000 pounds. The next highest up was 54,000 pounds which is what we used. Even on speed, the plane floated for a bit before the Captain just had to set it down on the runway. Somehow this late at night both of the gates my airline uses were occupied! Did they not know we were coming? After waiting 5 minutes we pulled in, two hours late.

We all were tired. We were on duty for 8 hours instead of the scheduled 6. All the heat and problems had taken a toll on us. Thankfully the Hyatt has awesome beds. After calling my wife I hit the bed and slept wonderfully.

One problem with this job is sleeping in a different city every night. On the first overnight I woke up and had no idea where I was. I had a small panic attack. I had to use the GPS on my phone to figure out where I was. Kinda scary.

This morning I woke up nicely. The van time was set for 9:40AM for a 10:40AM departure. The breakfast at this hotel is very nice. One problem, they ran out of coffee. Coffee is a "no go" item with me. If I have no coffee...I won't go!

I ate breakfast with Peggy, (again my favorite flight attendant) while discussing my plans to head out of town for the weekend. She was worried about the coffee situation as well and checked on the coffee twice for me. Thankfully they brought coffee right before the van time.

The van...wasn't really a van. It was a Ford 500 sedan. This hotel only has one van. Another crew (from my airline) had a 9:50 van. For whatever reason they ordered the taxi for us (a 4 person crew) and gave the van to them (a 3 person crew). The other flight attendant joked about how tight the back seat would be since none of us are small in stature. I jokingly asked her if she was calling me fat.

We were all on board the plane (which arrived early) and ready to leave 40 minutes prior to departure. We actually pushed out 5 minutes early! My leg.

This plane had no MEL'd items. Nice. I was assigned one leg in bound, a 2 1/2 hour sit, then a quick 2 hour turn. I was set to be done at 5:05PM. My plan was to join my wife for a 6:20PM flight. Could be close. During the sit time I planned on driving home. Eating lunch then having my wife drive me back. This way she could later use my car to drive to the employee lot (saving on parking fees!) and meet me at the gate.

Since I had plans I flew a little faster than normal. Almost as though it were planned ATC gave us the runway closest too our gate.

The winds were blowing 040@16G24. Landing runway 2. Everything was kosher till about 10 feet when I chopped the power. A quick gust came pushing the plane up and left. I goosed the power and managed the smoothest landing in a while. Mostly due to the headwind I think.

We blocked in 12 minutes early. Twenty minutes after blocking in I was in my car headed home. Once home I checked my schedule. The turn was was downgraded to a smaller aircraft. I quickly called crew scheduling. There were no other First Officers on reserve available for the rest of the day. The contract states they must give me an assignment right away or release me. I checked before calling and there were no uncovered flights. I was released. Awesome!

My wife and I were free to leave early. Unfortunetly the first flight we tried was full. Well not really. There was one open cabin seat (for my wife) and the cockpit jumpseat. The flight was too long for me to want to sit in the jumpseat so we passed. Good thing we did as the next flight allowed us to snag seats in First Class where I am now. The plane has onboard Internet. Nice!


  1. Thank you for such a big post, really enjoyed reading it. I guess you should write more often while u are flying as a passenger, hehehe...

    Just curious.. What is the relationship between having an inoperative APU and max FL & speed? Does it have anything to do with safety?

    My guess was, in case of an unexpected engine flameout, with no APU, it would be difficult to restart engine at high altitude due to comparatively thin air... and the max speed limitation is due to the assigned lower altitude... is this anything near it? :)

  2. I'm not aware of any aircraft that use Fahrenheit units. The Boeings, American made, also use Celsius all cab air temp gauges.


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