Saturday, April 28, 2012

Gliding down

Lsat three day trip was b-o-r-i-n-g. I did the same trip earlier this month. The trip was worth 13 hours...over three days. The overnights were each 18 hours long. Eh.

The only interesting part was the last leg. Beautiful VFR day at my base. While on a right downwind at 7000 feet AGL I saw two planes on final for the runway we were assigned. I told my co-pilot I had the airport and traffic and he could call them both whenever.

As the second plane was directly abeam my right wing the approach controller cleared us for a visual approach, "speed 160 until 5 mile final" was the final instruction. I clicked off the autopilot and began a base turn while slowing.

We were on about a 5 miles from the runway as is when I started the base turn. I turned a bit early. We were about 4500 feet AGL. Normally I'd be around 2400 feet on an ILS approach. Hmmm.

Engines idled. I called for all the flaps and gear to be extended while holding 160 knots. Steep descent but smooth.

I never added power until around 400 feet AGL. Decent landing. Done.

My line for next month is sweet and sour. The sweet part is I have 10 days off in a row. The sour part is I have all 4 day trips. I hate 4 day trips. It was my own doing as I made some questionable choices during bidding. Eh.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Squeezing in

My last two day trip was easy.

Again one leg to the overnight.

When I signed into the computer a message popped up that my co-pilot was "restricted". Hmmm K.

This normally happens when the Captain is new to the plane. They are considered "baby" Captains until they get some time under their belt.

I was first to the plane. Cold and dark. I was happy about the cold part as it was fairly warm outside, but the ground crew connected the pre-conditioned air so the cabin was very comfy.

The rest of my crew arrived. The Captain was indeed new.

He just finished training and IOE on this plane. He had been a Captain on another fleet type. Several years ago he flew my current plane as a First Officer so he knew how everything normally worked.

I could tell he wasn't really wanting to fly (he had been off 9 days, when I'm off that long I want to "watch" the first leg as well) so I offered to fly the first leg.

The cabin was full of paying passengers. There was a company pilot wanting to go home...a really tall new First Officer.

I'm almost 6 foot tall and don't enjoy sitting in the jump seat of my plane...or any regional jet. The new First Officer was a good 6 foot 5. He squeezed himself into the seat. I felt bad for it was a 2 1/2 hour flight. He wanted to go home...and the jump seat was the only way to get there that night.

Up, up and away. Once at cruise I broke the silence and asked how long the First Officer had been with my airline. I was guessing about a year. I was way off...he was hired just 4 months ago. He was one of the most junior on the seniority list.

We all talked about the state of the industry, upgrade prospects and the normal flight deck topics.

I programmed the VNAV function of the FMS to have me level at 10,000 feet, 30 miles from the airport. My normal setting. The closer we got to the airport, the higher the required rate of descent.

Due to traffic enroute the required descent rate was higher than I felt comfortable doing. Normally I won't go higher than 3500 feet per minute (unless in an emergency) as it is just uncomfortable beyond that. When we finally got clearance to descend the VNAV was reading out a 5000 foot per minute rate to meet my 30 miles out at 10,000 feet. No thanks.

I just set 3500 feet per minute, idled the thrust levers and popped open the flight spoilers.

Told to expect runway 5R so that's what I briefed.

Dark, moonless night which made it a bit of a challenge to find the runway even on a VFR night.

We were approaching FROM the south. It would be a right turn to line up with 5R. I had the ILS frequency tuned in and waiting.

We were cleared to 2500. While descending at 3500 feet per minute with the spoilers out we were still indicating 290 knots...which is 40 knots too fast for below 10,000 feet.

I leveled off at 10,000 feet and bled off speed. Once at 220 knots I started the descent again. I could have started at 250 knots but I like having a buffer in case of gust or if I need to descend faster I have room.

I had the airport beacon in sight...we were cleared for the visual...and I thought I saw runway 5R...but it was on the wrong side of the airport. I was looking at 5L.

Autopilot was off...I was hand flying.

The jump seater hipped me to about where runway 5R was...finally saw I flew through centerline.

Wide turn as I overshot final. Back on centerline. Wet runway. Greased it on...which is typical when the runway is wet.

The jump seater unfolded himself. The passengers deplaned. My crew headed out to find the hotel van as none of us had been there before. We waited in the right spot. Nothing. I learned long ago to not wait too long. I called the hotel. "We already told you to take a taxi." was what I was told. I politely stated no one told me or my crew and advised we would find a cab. The cab was contracted through the hotel so we didn't have to pay out of pocket. The driver was clearly annoyed as it was a set fare. He drove like he was being chased by the cops. No tip for him.

Away we went. Long overnight.

The next day was easy. Three legs. I hoped to finish early as the last two legs are heavily over blocked. I used to fly that turn all the time in my old plane and would arrive 15-20 minutes early without trying. It wasn't too be.

At the outstation we were ready to go 10 minutes early...then it happened. We were waiting on a passengers bag who was connecting...from another airline. Bleh. Blocked out 5 minutes late. Arrived on time.

I was off for the weekend. We all flew over to see my dad. Almost drove. Eh. It was my daughters 47th and 48th flight. She did fine.

My next trip is a low 13 hour 3 day trip. Same one I did two weeks ago. Long boring overnights. Can't wait!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The hardest part of the job

The hardest part of my job isn't flying through bad weather or memorizing flows and immediate action's getting through jet bridge doors.

Before and after every flight I have to preflight the airplane. Well not technically manual states the Captain has to make sure someone does it...but 99% of it the's me.

At my hub I can use a key or combination to get out to the ramp and back up to the plane. I carry the key at all time. The combination hasn't changed in years. Easy.

At outstations and other hubs....not so easy.

Most airports have electronic/mechanical keypads that I have to enter a combination into for the door to unlock. Every single airport uses a different combination. Some are 3 digits...some are 5. Some are press and hold two buttons and then press a third button. Others I have to have the rampers let me up and down (mostly at airports that are also military bases).

For flights where I overnighted at the airport the gate agents are pretty good about telling me the code before I head to the plane. If not it's on our flight release.

When doing a turn I have to look the code up myself. Most of the time I am able to hold onto the code for the few minutes it takes to inspect the plane. Every now and then...I brain fart.

Most of the time for early morning flights I am the only person on the ramp. If I forget I get to yell up to the plane for my cabin crew or Captain to look up the code and let me in or just tell me the code.


My two day trip was easy...but long.

First flight left at 9PM Tuesday. Very short flight. My co-pilot rotated at 9:14PM and flared for landing at 9:42PM.

I slept in Wednesday. Long overnight.

Five leg day. First leg was mine. Full load of passengers. Same short flight. I rotated at 12:39PM and greased it on at 1:08PM.

Quick turn....with a plane swap 18 gates away.

Next flight was a  longish 2 hours. Full load of passengers. Dodged a bit of weather. Rain. I shot an ILS approach to about 800 feet then visual. Greased it on.

Captain took the next two. Two hour flight back....then another plane swap.

The last turn was very short. Captain flew it out. Wheels off the ground at 7:49PM and landed at 8:13PM.

I had the last leg. Just 3 passengers. Very light plane.

Wheels off at 9:01PM. Being light the plane climbed like a rocket.

Now a word. For reasons I can't explain it is much easier to land a plane when it's heavy than light. I'm thinking a heavy plane just settles onto the runway easier.

The hub wasn't very busy. Normally we land on the outboard runway so that's what I briefed. Turning final tower cleared us to land on the inboard. Beautiful VFR night. I clicked off the flight director and lined up with the inboard runway. Calm wind...clear skies...light plane. What could go wrong?

I was right on approach speed crossing over the fence. I began reducing power slowly. It looked good....then it happened. Thud.

The mains touched slightly but I had a bit too much back pressure so we went up again maybe a foot....then mains skipped a bit...touching then not touching...touching then not touching. Finally down. Much more firmly. Bounced it on.

Bleh. Tired. Five legs, 7 hours of flight time. Done.

We were early because of the light load and nice weather. I was in my car when we were supposed to be landing.

I go back tonight for a 7:40PM departure. One leg to the overnight. Just three legs tomorrow.

Bidding closes soon for May. Finalizing my preferences.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Working on the Night Shift

Last trip ended fine. Musical captains because my line Captain had jury duty.

Enjoying my days off...kinda.

I drive an older model Prius (older being's a 2004). It's paid off...used to be the daily driver for my wife. She has a new fancy Prius now (she's a tree hugger, I could care less).

Anyway my brake light went would think it would be an easy fix. I have done super basic work on my cars for years. Well for the Gen 2 Prius 2004-2009...the brake lights are fancy LEDs. If the brake lights must replace the entire tail lamp. The whole thing. Not cheap. Best I could find was $125. I did the work myself. Saved $150 in labor cost versus going to the dealer. Took about an hour. What does this have to do with flying? Nothing. Just how I spent part of my days off.

My next trip was originally a 6AM start on Wednesday and a 5PM finish on Friday. I didn't like it.

I traded for a 1PM Wednesday start and a 9PM finish on Friday.  This way I could take my daughter to day care and my wife could go to work at her normal time on Wednesday. Fine.

Well a few days ago that trip looked not so great either. The trip was 14 legs worth 17 hours. Lots of ups and downs. There must be something better.

I ended up trading that trip for a a pair of two day trips. They are known as 2 day back to backs.

Now I go in at 8:15PM Tuesday night and finish at 10PM on Wednesday. I go back in at 7:30PM Thursday night and finish at 9PM Friday. I now get all day with my Daughter on Thursday while before I would be sitting in a hotel room. I do finish late Friday night....but eh.

I would love to have a line full of 2 day back to backs like this, but they are rare. It's more time at home but you  work more days on paper. I say on paper because even though Tuesday is a work day I don't go in until late at night. Same goes for Thursday. I'm working the night shift.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It just didn't feel right

I couldn't trade away my 13 hour 3 day trip.

Yesterday was spent with my daughter. My wife had to travel to testify for work. My mother in law was attempting a cross country flight as a non-rev. Busy day.

My daughter and I had a pretty good day. Took her to the dentist for the first time. My wife had a decent time testifying. My mother in law had a long day sitting in airports. Full flights meant she had to hope and wait for a seat. She got the LAST seat on the LAST flight to her home last night. Cut it very close.

This morning was supposed to start at 4:45AM for me. I packed last night. All I had to do was pack up my Ipad, phone and leave. I woke up at 4:35AM....because I'm weird like that.


Out the door at 5:01AM. Pulled into the employee lot at 5:30AM. Employee bus was running slow. I decided to get off at the first stop versus the second stop so I could sign in for my trip on time. Glad I did as the first stop was much closer to the departure gate.

I walked down the jet bridge at 5:45AM. Cold and dark plane.

Powered it up, did my pre-flight then headed back up to the terminal.

A man wearing a tie and a neon green safety vest was at the counter talking to the agent. He said "hello" to me. I replied, "Morning" and kept walking to an empty gate. I didn't know the man and thought he was just a manager.

I looked at my schedule and tried to print a copy. Printer broken. Bleh.

My Captain arrived at the gate and was talking to the man in the vest. I overheard the conversation as I walked by. The man was the FAA....he was THE MAN....and would be riding in the jump seat for the first turn. Nice way to start a day eh?

Only 12 passengers, but a few small issues. One of the flashlights for the cabin was missing was one of them. With the FAA over our shoulder the Captain was very deliberate in his actions and speech. I had done all of my preflight I just sat there and waited. Blocked out 5 minutes late. Not good considering airlines are graded on "kick off" flights (first flights of the day) and we only had 12 passengers. Eh.

Normal flight..very short. Just a 110 NM between the two airports.

Captain made a great landing. Short taxi to the gate. Normally he calls for me to shutdown the #1 engine during the taxi. Because it was a short taxi there wasn't time. After he parked the ground crew plugged in the ground power and the Captain shutdown the number 2 engine and then called for the parking checklist. "Do you want to shutdown the number 1 engine first?" I asked. The FAA observer laughed and said, "Good catch!". Done.

Quick turn. The FAA observer walked with me on my post flight. He didn't ask any questions....he just watched me. Fine.

My turn. I just did my job the way I do everyday. It's much easier to fly right everyday than to slack off and put on a show when being observed.

Only odd thing that happened was the flight director on the Captain's side went out during my approach. We were VFR so it wasn't an issue. It was odd though.

Once back at the gate in the hub The FAA observer said we did a great job and left. We then had 34 minutes to shutdown this plane and walk 12 gates to the next plane and depart.

First Dunkin. I was tired and wanted coffee. I already had a 16 ouncer from home. Still needed a little kick.

Just 35 passengers for the next flight. My leg.

It was a normal flight for the most part. Just a 2 hour flight.

Winds at the out station on the ATIS were reported as 310@14G20 landing runway 5. A direct 90 degree crosswind. Fine.

Visual approach. Everything felt fine as I descended through 1000 feet. Around 500 feet I noticed I had to add more power than I was used to. I began to correct for the crosswind descending through 50 feet.

I noticed I needed a lot more rudder and aileron and I was eating up runway much faster than I expected.

"Watch your wingtip" said my Captain.  I was about 20 feet above the ground.

It just didn't feel right.

I pushed the thrust levers up and calmly stated, "I'm going around."

Up and away we went. Tower came back with the wind.....270@15G20. I had a 16 knot quartering tailwind during my approach. That's why I was eating up runway. That's why the power setting wasn't normal. That's why I needed more aileron and rudder. That's why I went around.

Cleared for a visual to runway 23. I turned 60 degrees to the right to make a teardrop approach.

The Captain loaded up the GPS to 23 as a backup.

The winds kicked up a bit to 260@18G24. A little gusty but it felt much better during the approach. On short final tower came on, "New ATIS Uniform current active runway is 23".

Normal landing.

I made a short PA explaining the go around.

Pilots get paid to make accurate decisions and to conduct a safe flight from point A to point B. Most flights are easy and routine. Today was a little different. Only my 3rd time to go around in almost 5 years at my airline (excluding the sim). My first time going around I was over 1000 feet AGL. The second time was about 2500 AGL. This time I was just at 20 feet....about 3 seconds from landing.

Time to find something to do.....17 hour overnight.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bad Fast Food...and no ID

Interesting last trip.

Three day...17 hour trip.

I met the Captain at the gate. Older guy...seemed laid back.

Every pilot has their hangups. This guys hang up was the use of the autopilot on all departures. He has been violated in the past due to deviations from flight path during a departure. I didn't ask further but I bet it was on a RNAV departure.

RNAV departures are becoming more and more common, especially at big airports. RNAV departures have very specific flight paths unlike RADAR or radial  departures. As long as the FMS is loaded correctly and the flying pilot pays attention and understands RNAV departures...nothing can go wrong.

I say paying attention because some RNAV departures have 90 degree turns. The flight director will direct a very tight turn during a 90 degree turn. If the autopilot is on it will fly a very tight turn. The problem is some pilots see the tight turn commanded by the flight director and (when hand flying) will fly a shallow turn for passenger comfort. This shallow turn can cause a flight path deviation and possible seperation conflict with other aircraft.

Much more common deviations with RNAV departures occur when the incorrect departure is loaded. Sometimes its due to a last minute departure change, more likely it's due to the wrong runway being loaded.

Some RNAV departures are runway specific. I covered this in a previous post. So I won't rehash it here.

I told the Captain I'd turn the autopilot at the minmum engagement height during RNAV departures. Normally I don't, but if that's all he wanted...fine.

I took the first leg out. Three leg day. Seven hours and forty five minutes of flying on day one.

Normal flight. Decent landing. He took the next two.

Long day. Got to the hotel at 11:50PM. Van set for 11AM the next day.

Decent hotel. Been there once before.

I slept decently. Decent free breakfast.

While getting ready to leave I looked at my ID lanyard on the counter nd mentally said "don't forget that". I have never left it behind in my 4 1/2 years at my airline....well never behind in a hotel. At home maybe twice...but I always had time to go turn around and still be on time.

I headed downstairs at 10:50AM. As I left the room I looked back and thought "I should go back and check. Nah I got everything."

I chit chatted with the van driver. He remembered me from the last time I was here in February. The reason is because I look just like his nephew. Poor nephew! Ha.

Away we went to the airport. We were dropped off at 11:15AM for a 11:55AM departure.

As I approached the TSA checkpoint I noticed that they had a "flight deck only" line. Nice. I reached for my ID around my wasn't there. I left it in the hotel.

Mild panic.

The Captain quickly called the hotel as we both walked up to the ticket counter.  We discussed the situation and my Captain headed to the plane to get it ready. Between the ticket agent, the local TSA and my Captain I was able to be cleared through the checkpoint. The hotel stated they couldn't get a hold of the driver but had retrieved my ID.

I saw the inbound crew while walking to the gate. They were aware of my situation and would ask the driver to quickly get to the hotel and back. I had just 30 minutes till departure.

Wouldn't you know it...we were boarded up and ready 10 minutes prior. The hotel stated the van driver STILL wasn't back. I asked the agent if they had another turn today. Sure enough they had a 6PM departure back to my base. At worst that crew could drop off my ID in the crew lounge. It would mean an annoying rest of the day or morning the next day as I would be without my ID. I use my ID and attached keys to get to secure parts of the airport, open jet bridge doors and more.

Go time. We pushed back without my ID.

The tug disconnected and I started the left engine. Then it happened. A switch fell off the overhead panel. It just fell off.

We tried to reattach the switch. It wouldn't stay on. Problem.

The switch that fell off is used for power plant control. The engine in question was already running....but if we had a problem in flight it would be an issue. Delayed. Engines shutdown. Announcement made to the passengers. The ground crew just sat there waiting for us to leave.

We went through the required phone calls and paperwork. The ground crew called and asked what the issue was. Once we left they had a 4 hour break.

Twenty minutes later we were good to go. I started the engine again and then it happened. A ramper began waving his ID and pointing to me. My ID had arrived!

They passed the ID to my cabin crew through the service door. Glad the plane broke!

Rest of the day was normal if not long. Another 7 hours and 40 minutes of flight.

The flight to the overnight was my leg. Before we left the hub my Captain bought a fast food  value meal.

During the flight he stated the burger was bad. It was made with too many condiments and was leaking so much he couldn't eat it. He planned on returning it the next day. I thought he was kidding.

The overnight airport is fairly small and located in a valley.There were large mountains on either side of the airport and rising terrain all around.

My airline has special procedures for the airport concerning single engine go arounds due to terrain clearance. During my approach briefing (which was much more extensive due to it being night time and high terrain) I briefed what I would do in case of an engine failure in case of go around. The chances were slim, but I wanted to be prepared.

I could make out the mountains even at night. As I descended into the area my MFD filled with red dots indicating the terrain was at or above my altitude.

The ILS was inop at the airport so we flew the GPS approach that I briefed. Smooth air..nice landing. Done.

I was a little shocked to see the fast food bag as we got into the hotel van.

Eighteen hour overnight. Yup eighteen hours. Nice hotel. Great breakfast. Small town.

I was more than ready to leave the next day. Van time was 4 PM. The fast food bag was still in tow....and smelled.

As we taxied out the flight deck smelled like old fast food. We left 10 minutes early and were planned to arrive 30 minutes early.

Normal flight. I was quiet as I was ready to be done. That overnight was too long to have just one leg back.

The Captain indeed landed 30 minutes early. gate. It was the evening rush. We waited for 20 minutes for a gate to open. My Captain mentioned that we would be parking 25 gates away from the fast food place and maybe it wasn't worth the hassle. I replied, "Well you brought it this far, might as well."

I'm not sure if he returned it as I left as soon as I finished my post flight.

I go back to work on Tuesday. Just two days off between trips. My next trip as of now is a low 13 hour 3 day trip. Two crazy long (17 hour + ) overnights in small towns. I might trade the trip away.