Thursday, June 30, 2011

Earning the paycheck

Day 4 started normally. We were all in the hotel van at 5:40AM. First leg was the Captains'. Low clouds at 800 feet AGL required an approach. While enroute I bet him he couldn't make a particular taxiway. He made it. Never been a guy with 28,000 hours that he can't do something. Ha.

Four hour sit. I left the airport area to find food to save money and stretch my legs.

Next leg was mine. One leg and I was to commute home.

Normal takeoff. Full flight. I decided to climb to FL390 to clear some weather. Nice ride. But then things started happening.

Center controller gave us a new clearance to avoid weather near the destination airport. I pulled up the ATIS....Here is the METAR I saw about 30 minutes out.

292053Z 15009KT 10SM SCT080 BKN130 BKN200 33/04 A2997 RMK AO2 SLP050 T03280039

Not horrible.. they were landing south. Huge temperature/dew point spread....high pressure....good.

I turned on the weather RADAR. Sure enough there were several cells between my plane and the airport...with the weather moving toward the airport.

Given a clearance to descend. Captain had the cabin prepare for landing early. Moderate turbulence, ice, snow and then rain from FL280 to 17000 feet.

We were under virga at 15000 feet. Still being knocked around enough that it was hard too see the gauges. Due to microburst activity and wind shear only one runway was open. All departures were on a ground stop. We were being vectored for runway 26.

On final this was the weather that came over the ATIS:

292134Z 19015G21KT 10SM TS SCT080CB BKN130 BKN200 32/01 A2999 RMK AO2 TSB32RAB16E25 OCNL LTGCG VC S TS VC S MOV NE P0000

Landing runway 26. A decent crosswind but not horrible.

Number 3 in line for landing. Number 1 was a regional jet, reported a 40 knot loss and went around. Number 2 was a 737 who, upon hearing the 40 knot loss, also chose to go around. Then it was our turn.

The autopilot was guiding the plane down. I could see the runway looked good. But I made a promise to my wife that I would not make the news....and always come home.

I clicked off the autopilot and told my Captain I was going around. He gave me a look of disappointment. He wanted me to try it. No thanks.

Once over the approach end and climbing we hit the wind shear. Speed dropped 30 knots. I was quick with the thrust levers and had them in max climbing power to maintain speed.

Tower was busy keeping all three planes separated then back off to approach control.

All arriving traffic was stopped after my go around.

Moderate turbulence enough that I decided to hand fly versus let the autopilot be in control. Flight director was still being used.

"Ding!" The cabin called to advise a passenger was having trouble breathing. They were administering oxygen and would keep us advised.

Approach advised it would be "20-30 minutes" before the airport started taking arrivals. We only had 15 minutes of hold fuel. Time to divert.

We were given an initial heading and clearance. I turned to the heading while the Captain programmed the FMS.

Still hand flying and dealing with occasional wind shear and moderate turbulence.

"Ding" The passenger was now unconcious. The Captain advised approach. They stated our alternate was 25 minutes away while our destination was 8 minutes away. He could get us into our initial destination if we wanted to try. Winds were now 190@20G30. No wind shear detected. I agreed to try and turn back.

Things got very busy. I still had the ILS frequency tuned in. I switched to the NAV2 radio while the Captain setup the FMS.

The airport is surrounded by farm land. Just prior to the runway I could see a clear stream of calm blowing dust. About a mile before it was a near brown out due to blowing dust. The front was moving through.

Winds aloft were very high. I don't remember as my eyes were outside the entire time.  Turning final I told my Captain, "Keep an eye on me alright?"

I knew he would of course.

I called for flaps and gear quickly. Passed the FAF at 180 knots on glide slope. Engines were idled. Plane being tossed around.

Finally able to get the third setting of flaps in. passing 1900 feet AGL. One more flap setting left. My speed suddenly increased rapidly. Still hand flying I flew through it, staying on glide slope and had my left hand on the thrust levers waiting for the other side.

Once I saw and heard my speed drop off my left arm pushed the thrust levers forward.

Runway in sight for the entire approach. Finally at 700 feet the speed was low enough for the final flaps setting.

More speed fluctuations due to wind. My Captain was steadily calling out my speeds, "+10, +5, on speed, watch it, -5, on speed"

Crossing the end of the runway he said "+10, long runway."

I began using right rudder to align the nose with the runway while adding in left aileron. It took me 3500 feet but I was finally happy with everything and eased it down. I still had 8500 feet of runway left.

Once on the ground I had to use full left aileron to keep the plane on the runway. The Captain grabbed the tiller and thrust reversers.

Finally slowed down.

Tower said, "Good job, paramedics standing by at your gate. Taxi at your discretion."

No other planes landed after us for over 20 minutes. I would later find out why.

Once clear of the runway I took a breath and it all hit me. Suddenly all the stress went streaming to my lower back. For about 10 seconds I felt as though I couldn't move. Exhaled.

The paramedics were indeed waiting for us. Passenger was awake and able to walk off. Several passengers praised my flight attendant and the Captain who were standing in the flight deck door area. My Captain quickly stated that he was only on the radios and that it was the First Officer who landed the plane. Attaboy.

My Captain said I did a great job and that he wouldn't have let most of the FO's he flys with even try it. I did my post flight. No damage to the plane.

On my way up the jet bridge the outbound Captain approached and asked it I was the Captain (don't know why he didn't notice my 3 stripes). I said no and he kept walking. Nice.

The Captains discussed the weather. The outbound Captain was a recent upgrade and very cautious.

I saw the outbound FO and he asked if I knew that the winds were now gusting to 63 knots.

Here is the METAR after we landed:

292153Z 19021G63KT 6SM DU SCT080 BKN130 BKN200 31/01 A3002 RMK AO2 PK WND 20063/2149 TSB32E47RAB16E25 PRESRR SLP071 P0000 T03060011

I stated we were told the wind was gusting to 30 when we landed. Max demonstrated crosswind is 25 knots.

We talked a bit before he headed down to the plane.

I was now wondering about my commute home. Surely it would cancel. To my surprise it was only 30 minutes late. Even better the gate agent put me in first class. Nice.

In theory I am off for 7 days. I say theory because I picked up extra flying this weekend. The airline is VERY short on First Officers and is offering premium pay to pick up extra flying.

At the time it looked good...a 2 day trip worth 11 hours and commuteable on both ends  Problem...the morning flight up is now oversold. I'll worry about that tomorrow.



  1. Some days, you will be horribly overpaid. Some days, you will be horribly underpaid. Most days, you will be paid about what you're worth. At the end of your career, if all goes well, it will all balance out.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Geek.  Happy holiday weekend, working or not.  I rarely comment, but know that you ARE read!  At first, I was going to question the safety wisdom of flying performance bets, save the informal nickle type; the practice does not sound great. After reading the rest of your post, it is perfectly clear that you and this Capt. are a good, professional team and easily in command of your CRM assets.  With two GAs ahead of you, 40 kts and 30 as I recall, your diversion call seemed like a no-brainer.  As you note, it is never that simple and when there is one problem, another is sure to follow.  With the medical issue on your plate, I can just imagine the brief, but intense brain storming session in your small office. I salute your Capt. for allowing you, as PF, to make the calls and continue flying the airplane.  His support in a difficult situation obviously gave you more real world "Captain like" experience than could fify hours of sim time or classroom games. The weather was real and the souls were real.  Good job, guys and thank you!  I say again, there are damn good reasons to have TWO experienced drivers up front.  When the simple and ordinary goes to hell, a safe (and legal) outcome does require two brains and four of everything else.  I hope that you made it home to the kids OK.  -C.

  3. Redundant, but I'm just checking in today.  Thanks for the great posts and reporting.  You tell it like it is and from behind that thin curtain, you tell the truth. In the end, you are doing what you want to do, managing to support your family and having a little (OK, a lot!) of fun.  There are many inconveniences, but you seem to trudge through them with a smile.  I know why...  It is those two little girls.  More power - and better commuting - to you, Sir.  -C.

  4. It must have been a tense few minutes... I got tired just reading it.  Sounds like you guys did a great job!

  5. Where are you.  Did you fly off the edge of the map?  -C.


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