Wednesday, February 26, 2014


On day 2 of a 4 day.

This is a 5-4-2-3 trip. I prefer having the trips front loaded with legs than do 5 legs on day 4. Don't get me wrong I despise 5 leg days, but I'd rather get them over with right away than kill myself on day 4 and go home exhausted.

That's one big difference between regional and mainline...the number of legs per day.

Takeoff and landings are the most stressful and incident prone phases of flight. Since, for the most part, regional pilots fly more legs per day, they have a higher chance of being involved in an incident.

I'm back with my line crew that I flew with the first week of the month.

The Captain took the first leg which was a longish 2 1/2 hour flight. I grabbed a veggie sub for the trip.

High winds at the outstation gusting to 37 knots but it was just 20 degrees off center line so not an issue for landing.

Descending into the area there was a Cessna 172 15 miles southwest headed for the same airport....just one runway. We were 35 miles away.

Initially we were going to follow the Cessna. I picked it up on TCAS and saw we were obviously travelling much faster and the distance was closing.

I'm paid by the minute. I'm okay with delayed vectors as an airline is no more important than a 172. The approach controller felt otherwise and vectored the 172 to approach from the southwest and enter a left downwind for runway 35. We were cleared straight in.

In and done. While taxiing to the ramp I saw the 172 on final. It seemed to take forever given the high headwind.

The next two legs were mine. The first was uneventful. The second though was actual "work".

Once in base we had a aircraft swap. I checked the RADAR and was surprised to see convective activity to the south. The weatherman said all the convective weather would be east of the airport. Bleh.

The flight was blocked for just 35 minutes. That's block time....from door close to door open. Most days its "over blocked". Quick flight.....most days.

Headed south we were cleared to deviate for weather. The approach controller at the out station appeared new as they gave very drawn out and repetitive clearances.

Below is the flight track. Normal routing is straight south to the airport.

RADAR on aircraft is very different than the RADAR seen on TV...and below from Flightaware. RADAR on aircraft gives a slice of the weather. The RADAR on aircraft sees horizontally  and through a somewhat narrow field. RADAR on TV can see a full 360 degrees and multiple sources can be combined for a great picture of the situation.

Headed south I didn't like the look of the cell north of the airport. The weather was moving north east. Rather than try and go east and possibly get caught up in the weather I decided to fly west.



We had enough fuel to fly around for an hour and still return to our departure airport.

Once on a westbound heading we were handed off to a military approach controller as we were nearing their airspace.

I used my eyes outside and the onboard RADAR to fly around the weather.

Weather at the out station was decent. Winds were 12 knots out of the north but variable ceilings between 400 feet and 600 feet.

There was no ILS to the north, just a RNAV GPS approach. The MDA was 1000 feet MSL which is 400 feet AGL.

Back with the seemingly new approach controller and level at 4000 feet. We were headed to an Initial fix but not an initial approach fix.

Between the initial fix and the Final Approach fix we could go down to 2000. We were given a quick vector and told to maintain 4000 until established. I saw this coming and began slowing and configuring early. Once established I quickly descended to 2000 feet from 4000 feet. There were 5 miles between the initial and FAF.

Leveled at 2000 with about 1 mile to spare.

At the FAF I descended to MDA. Once level the Captain called nothing...we were still in the clouds.

I went over the go around profile in my head. With the weather we had a modified missed approach clearance of heading 090 and 4000 feet.  Just before the Visual Descent Point I heard, "Runway in sight 12 O'clock."

I looked up and saw the misty covered runway lights.

With a press of my right thumb I disconnected the autopilot and followed the PAPI down to the runway....just one issue.

I raised my seat to make sure I'd have a good view to see the runway lights.

Since my seat was so high it changd my sight picture. I flared high...and then floated a bit more than I wanted. In and done.

The 35 minute planned flight ended up being an hour and 10 minutes. We were of course late. Luck was on our side as there were just 3 passengers going back. Fourteen minutes after the boarding door opened it was being closed.

Given the weather our takeoff alternate was the same as our destination. We did have two other alternates as well.

Mostly uneventful flight. With the weather we were given vectors and put in line of flights headed to the hub. Arrived on time somehow.

Aircraft  swap again.

The next aircraft arrived 14 minutes late with a mechanical issue. The left fuel tank gauge stopped working.....just showing dashes.

The mechanic was called. When the fueler arrived he came up and advised he couldn't fuel the aircraft as the refueling panel also showed dashes.

Hilarity soon ensued.

The Mechanic wanted to MEL the gauge. It's legal. There is a defined procedure for estimating the amount of fuel in the tank using fuel burn and time. The fueler stated he couldn't fuel unless he had a known quantity that was already in the tanks. Ninety-nine percent of the time the left and right wing tanks are within 100 pounds of each other. Not good enough for the fueler.

The Mechanic told us he told the fueler to defuel the plane and then overwing fuel with a known quantity.

The Mechanic went away to start paperwork.

The Fueler just sat there in his tuck for reasons unknown.

About 25 minutes later operations stated we were good to go and to electronically transmit fuel on board. Apparently no one was communicating.

The new solution was to "stick" the tanks and measure the fuel. Under the wings are Magnetic Leveling Indicating sticks. The "sticks" have magnetic floats. The sticks can be unlocked and dropped to measure the fuel in each wing. I get to do this about once a year.

As soon as I unlocked, verified and relocked the inboard stick the fueler walked over stating the panel was working again. Yes I laid hands on the aircraft and healed it. Ok so the fuel sensor was giggled into place by my hand.

Fueling started, the gauge was still MEL'd and things were going well....until the gauge stopped working again. Thankfully we had all the required fuel on board and most of the ferry fuel. Ferry fuel is extra fuel to be used to later flights. Ferry fuel is taken when it's cheaper to tanker it than pay for it at the next airport.

On taxi out the gauge started working again. We still complied with the MEL and periodically calculated fuel on board given the fuel burn. The gauge worked all the way to the out station.

We left an hour late...and arrived an hour late.

The Captain left a note for the morning crew...the exact amount of fuel in each tank.

Today is "just" 4 legs.

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