Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's that time of year

It's getting cold. I don't like cold. I was raised in the southern part of the United States and thus in a warm climate. Anything below 60 degrees is cold. Don't judge.

After digging out my long sleeve work shirt, long johns and gloves, I left for work yesterday.

Tuesday was a day off for me. I picked up a 2 1/2 hour turn on overtime. I used to not pick up such small amounts, but I would like  a little gambling money for a cruise my family is taking next month.

The plane had been parked at the gate for an hour or so. It was "cold and dark" when I walked into the cockpit. Thankfully the GPU was plugged in and working as indicated by a green "Avail" light on the overhead panel. After making sure various switches (such as the landing gear handle, flap switch and others) were in the right positions, I turned on the battery master and then checked the electric synopotic page to double check that the external power was indeed connected and was supplying power appropriately. With a push of a button the plane and cockpit came to life.

It was cold Tuesday. Outside temp hovered in the low 40's with light rain. The temp was just inside of a limitation requiring cowl anti-ice to be used.

During the taxi out the Captain turned on the left cowl anti-ice and shutdown the APU. The rain was very light and not sticking to the ground, so we were able to use a single engine. If the rain had been heavier and thus contaminating the runway we would have had to use two engines.

Before long we were rolling down the runway. Captains leg. Passing 136 knots I called for V1. Away we went.

We entered the clouds and the temperature began to drop. As long as we are flying faster than 235 knots we only need cowl anti-ice. Reason being ice doesn't tend to adhere to the wings at speeds faster than 235 knots.

Cowl Anti Ice works by using hot bleed air from the engines back to front of each engine to melt/prevent ice inside the cowls.

When the Cowl Anti Ice is active it reduces the available thrust as there is a higher demand for bleed air. It's very noticeable during a climb, not so during cruise and very noticeable during the descent.

There were reports of rime icing between 16,000 and FL200. We never noticed ice formation. The windshields on my plane are heated (for ice as well we to protect the glass from cracking). In order to check for ice I simply check the the condition of the windshield wipers as they are not heated.

Being overtime for both the Captain and I, we wanted to make as much money as possible. I am paid "block or better" meaning the scheduled flight time or actual, whichever is greater.

On the flight out we had a 65 knot tailwind. Even flying at just Mach .75 we were 10 minutes early. This was due to the tailwind and the leg being over blocked.

During my leg back we left 5 minutes early. I climbed at the planned 290 knots. Leveling off at FL240 (normally FL300 but turbulence was moderate above FL260) I planned to fly at Mach .75 which equated to about 310 knots indicated. The 65 knot tailwind was now a headwind. As soon as we leveled off ATC slowed us down to 250 knots. This was great for us as we hoped to make a few extra bucks by arriving after scheduled arrival time.

On the arrival are various speed and altitude restrictions. I have flown this arrival more so than any other. But it's been a while since I've flown it during the winter.

We were in the clouds from FL210 down to 11,000 feet. With the cold temps and the slow speeds on the arrival, the cowl's were on. I used the flight spoilers a bit (thrust levers were idled) in order to meet two of the restrictions. Normally I am able to simply idle the engines and meet the speed and altitude restrictions.

Descending out of 10,000 feet I can normally dial in 1700 feet per minute down and hold 250 knots. Not so with the cowls on. The STAR required 210 knots. Anything more than 1000 feet per minute was exceeding 210 knots. I needed drag.

Initially I called for flaps 8. I put the plane in descent mode at 210 knots. This was only giving me 1300 feet per minute. Descent mode can be a little wonky. The plane will pitch up and down to meet whatever speed is set. There is a little more to it than that, but that is the basic operation.

I could "see" what the controllers plan was on the TCAS. There was a plane 5 miles ahead at 5000 feet that was just turned for a base turn. I had 4000 feet to knock off and somewhat quickly. Out went the flight spoilers. Not fully...just partially.

Then came a call to reduce speed to 180 knots. It's go down OR slow down. Not both.

I put the plane back vertical descent mode at 500 feet per minute and called for flaps 20. Once slowed to 180 knots I increased the descent rate.

Passing through 6000 feet ATC turned us toward the airport on a base turn.

"Airport in sight, " I advised and the Captain passed it on to the approach controller. "Cleared for the visual,".

The ILS was dialed in. By 1400 feet I was at flaps 45 and slowing to approach speed. Still light rain and near freezing temps.

When it's not cold, 60% N1 will hold approach speed almost regardless of landing weight. With the cowls still on, that was too much power.

Everything worked out to a decent landing. A passengers even stuck his head into the cockpit door during deboarding to thank us for the nice landing.

The planned block time was 2 hours 25 minutes. I flew 2 hours 20 minutes. Eh..I got paid for 5 minutes I didn't really work. Kinda.

As many know I don't get paid my hourly wage during the pre-flight or post flight. The only time I get paid when the cabin door is closed AND the parking brake has been released. In all I was at work for 3 hours and 55 minutes and was paid for 2 hours 25 minutes. Still not bad. More money than I would have if I stayed at home.

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