Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Off all things ironic....I left people behind

Almost by design my last flight was weight restricted.

Weather at the outstation was horrible...the approach was 60 knot quartering headwinds from 2000 AGL till 300 AGL. Visibility was 3/4 mile in rain. Ceiling 300 broken. Winds were just 13 knots on the ground. Huge difference. Windshear in effect.

The whole approach had our airspeed varying by 10-15knots plus and minus. Captain kept extra speed to compensate. A very demanding approach.

The flight to the outstation was just 2 1/2 hours block. The flight back was estimated at 3 1/2 hours block. Normal fuel load for the flight for VFR conditions at base is about 14,000 pounds. Due to weather in base we needed an alternate. Closest suitable alternate also had a little weather...thus a second alternate. Total fuel load required....18,000 pounds.

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Here are a few limitations of my plane:

Maximum Takeoff Weight: 75000

Max Ramp Weight: 75250

Max Landing Weight: 67000

Max Zero Fuel Weight: 62300

The empty weight of the plane I was in including the crew and our bags is 44,631 lbs. With the planned fuel load of 18,000 pounds brought the plane to 62,631lbs. That leaves 12,369 pounds to work with. There were 62 passengers waiting for the flight. Those 62 passengers are assumed to weight 189 pounds in winter. Total weight of the passengers is 11,718lbs. All the bags and cargo that would be loaded in the cargo compartment was 2332lbs. Total weight 76,681 lbs. Way too much.

The gate agents and ramp crew took much longer than expected to get us out. We blocked in on time. We didn't taxi out until 25 minutes past departure time. Only 53 people could be accommodated. Prior to taxiing out I saw we had a problem. The total estimated weight of the plane was 75,189 pounds. The distance to the runway was fairly short. We had to burn 189 pounds of fuel before we could take off.

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In order to burn that much fuel in a reasonable amount of time we taxied with both engines and the APU running. Additionally the Captain used slightly more thrust while holding the brakes during the taxi. It took about 6 minutes, but we reached the end of the runway weighing 74970 pounds. My leg.

The rain was still pouring. The wind still gusting as I advanced the thrust levers to takeoff. At VR I could "feel" the extra weight of the plane. It lifted off the ground much more slugglishly than I am used too. Away we went.

Because we left so late it was doubtful we would arrive anywhere close to ontime. The headwinds were around 130 knots on the nose. On the ground, as I put in the flight plan, I initially made a slight error when I input performance data.

The FMS wants to know the winds at the top of climb, cruise and top of descent. With this data it can estimate the arrival time and fuel burn. On a long flight the winds can vary widely. I normally pick a cruise number in the middle of the flight. The number I picked when I first put in the data was 60 knots. The FMS assumed 60 knots during the entire flight. Once I saw how much extra fuel we would have and how early we would be I rechecked the flight release. Once I put in a more accurate 120 knots....the numbers looked more realistic.

Being so heavy we could not fly any higher than FL360. ATC requested that we climb to FL380 for traffic. We rechecked our performance charts. Unable. Down to FL340 we went. About 30 minutes later we climbed back up to FL360.

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Southwest 737 (like they fly something else!) flying 1000 feet overheard

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Once at cruise I began checking the weather in base. It was VFR and expected to stay that way. With that knowledge I decided to fly at Mach .81 instead of .78. This would burn more fuel, but would also cut down on the flight time.

In addition to flying the plane, the Captain and I are in charge of keeping the cabin at a comfortable temperature. On the ERJ the Flight Attendant controls the temp with a dial in the cabin. For some reason Bombardier decided to have the cockpit crew control the cabin.

Most of the time we don't hear a peep from the Flight Attendants if we keep the temperature around 27 degrees. The problem is the system doesn't work well when the plane isn't full. For whatever reason the system overcompensates when there are fewer bodies back there. With less than 30 people I normally set 29 degrees knowing that it is much cooler than that back there.

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Nearing base the weather was still VFR. Of the 18000 pounds we fueled up with, 7200 pounds was still in the tanks when I began the initial descent from FL360. As I crossed the fence on approach the fuel was down to 6200 pounds and the plane weighed 63,000 pounds.

As I eased the plane down with a 5 knots headwind it all looked good. The mains kissed the runway and I smiled. Then the CRJ decided to screw me as the plane slightly rebounded. The ground and flight spoilers all popped up which forced the plane back to the ground. Damn technology!

Of the 9 people we left behind, 6 were accommodated on another airline while 3 took a later flight.

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