Thursday, July 24, 2014

Always the last leg

Currently sitting in the middle seat in the back of a 757 headed west. On one side is my daughter and the other my wife. Headed to visit family. We were almost left behind as the flight filled up last night. This morning the non-rev gods were kind as the flight upgraded from a smaller aircraft. Seats for all!

My three day trip this week was rough. It was a productive trip at 18.5 hours. My sign in to sign out time for the trip was just 50 hours. The first overnight was 12 hours and the second 11 hours. I like productive trips but they sure are tiring. By comparison the average 4 day trip is worth 18.5 hours. Cramming 4 days of flying into 3.

I had a realization this week. The more senior I get the more senior my crews are. Senior in both age and seniority. This week my Captain was 59 and in the top 1% while my FA was in her 60's and also in the top 1%. Huge age and social gaps. We didn't talk much, which is fine. I pondered bidding "crappier" trips to fly with folks more my age.

Days 1 and 2 were easy enough. I slept in on day 2 as we had a 10AM van. Day 3 was on the east coast with a 5:20AM van. We all downed coffee on the way to the airport.

The first two legs were mine. Before each leg the flying pilot gives a takeoff briefing. The company requires certain items to be mentioned including abort criteria.

Some runways or airports require "80 knot" abort criteria while others have a V1 abort criteria. To keep it simple, if we can abort safely after 80 knots we will, if not then we give it all she's got and takeoff.

My briefing on day 3 included, "We are not runway limited so we will abort for anything caution or warning before 80 knots, after that only for engine fire, failure or if the aircraft is incapable of flight."

Blocked out a few minutes early. Small airport. One guy appeared to be running ground, clearance and tower. Morning rush as 4 different flights were leaving around the same time.

Brief delay on takeoff as we had to wait for him to give a clearance to another flight.

The Captain steered the aircraft onto the runway. It's common for the nose gear to be slightly turned after lining up. I can use my rudder pedals to help center the wheel on center line.

"My aircraft," I stated and pushed the thrust levers forward. We used a reduced takeoff power setting as it helps save fuel, engine wear and is a little quieter.

The 80 knot call was made and all was well. Around 90 knots I saw a status message pop up on the EICAS. It wasn't yellow (caution) or red (warning) so the Captain didn't state anything.

Up and away we went.

During climb out I noticed it was a fuel system message. A possible clog was noticed and the system rerouted the fuel to the engine. Nothing major but it would have to be checked out in base.

Normal flight. We sent a text message to the dispatcher to alert the mechanics of our issue.

Once in base a mechanic inspected the fuel system. It was fine for flight but an MEL was issued. Before each flight a mechanic would have to verify the fuel system.

We blasted off for the last turn. Moderate chop as we crossed a frontal system. After over 4,000 hours in the sky I'm more than used to turbulence. I sometimes have to remind myself that passengers might not be used to it. A PA was made explaining what was going on.

Headed to Madison, Wisconsin. I'd been there a few times. I assumed with winds out of the north I'd land on runway 36 since it was the longest. After I checked the NOTAMs I noticed runway 36 was closed. Instead I planned for runway 3.

The runway is 7200 feet long. Performance calculation showed needing just 4300 feet to safely land. Easy approach backed up with the GPS. Since we were a few minutes early I slowed the aircraft to taxi speed without thrust reversers. It's quieter this way and more comfortable or the passengers. The aircraft was slowed with 2000 feet to spare. We exited at the end.

We were a little worried that a local mechanic would not be waiting for us. Thankfully the station called out a contract mechanic.

After my post flight I headed into the terminal to snag some local Wisconsin cheese....and a cookie dough lollipop covered in chocolate for my daughter.

The mechanic had already grabbed the logbook when I returned. I set up the aircraft for the final leg.

We finished the before start checklist and were waiting on the return of the logbook. The mechanic returned to the flight deck and said he was almost done.

The circuit breakers for my aircraft are both overhead and behind our seats. During the before start checklist we verify that all circuit breakers are either in or collared (in case of an MEL). The MEL for the fuel issue did not require any to be collared. When we ran the checklist they were all in.

The mechanic came back up and said he had finished his work. He handed over the logbook and disappeared. Weight and balance checks were done and the door was closed. The Captain looked at the logbook entry and noticed a mistake made by the mechanic. He'd have to return to fix it. Door reopened, mechanic called back and we blocked out 8 minutes late.

During pushback I tried to start the number one engine. I use my left hand to start while my right hand starts a clock (there are limitations on how long the starter can run). Nothing happened when I commanded the start. I thought maybe I had done something wrong so I tried again. rotation and the air to the packs didn't stop. Something was wrong.

I told the Captain who verified the aircraft was setup for start. He too tried and nothing happened. The mechanic may have forgotten to do something.

We were pulled back into the gate. We read through the steps the mechanic was supposed to perform. The very last step was to push the "start" circuit breakers back in. As we looked up they were out. When he had returned to the flight deck the first time he pulled them out. They were in when we ran the checklist. Once pushed back in the engine started normally. Issues always seem to pop up on the last leg.

Even leaving late we still arrived early.

I'm not headed out west to visit family. I'm off until next Thursday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Oldies but goodies

A little humor as I relax from a grueling trip....working on the write up...will be up later this week.

- A good simulator check ride is like a successful surgery on a dead body.

- Asking a pilot what he thinks about the FAA is like asking a tree what it thinks about dogs.

- An airline pilot is a confused soul who talks about women when flying, and about flying when he's with a woman.

- The only thing worse than a captain who never flew as a copilot, is a copilot who once was a captain.

- Experience is gained through making mistakes. Mistakes are caused by a lack of experience

- Hand-flying an ILS in a gusty crosswind is easier than adjusting the shower controls in a layover hotel.

- A smooth touchdown in a simulator is as exciting as kissing your sister.

- Most airline crew food tastes like warmed-over chicken because that's what it is.

- Everything is accomplished through teamwork until something goes wrong . . . . . then one pilot gets all the blame.

- Standard checklist practice requires pilots to read to each other procedures used every day, and recite from memory those which are only needed once every five years.

- A crew scheduler has to be the kind of person who wakes his wife at midnight to carry out the garbage, then sends her back to let the cat in.

- Unlike flight crew members, jet engines stop whining when the plane arrives at the gate.

- A dispatcher's desk has never run out of fuel.

- An FAA investigation is conducted by a few non-flying experts who take six months to itemize the mistakes made by a crew who had six seconds to react to the emergency.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Final Tally

A little more than 6 years after signing on the dotted flight training loan is paid off. It hasn't been easy.

Back in March 2006 I was sitting behind my desk playing Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004. I've never been a fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator X. I was trying to relax after sitting all day in a cubicle scanning log files for the software company I worked for.

My wife walked in the room and saw me a little unhappy. She asked what was up, even though she already knew the answer. I hated my job.

She asked what I really wanted to do. Out on the desk was a flying magazine opened to an ad for ALLATPs. I told her I wanted to fly for a living, but the cost were just too high. My wife looked at the ad and bluntly said, "Either go fly or shut up about it. I will help pay for the training."

It helped she has a really good job and that we live under our means. A few phones calls and emails later and we suddenly had a new debt of $57,990.

Because we had great credit the interest rate was a reasonable 5.75%. The payment was $482 for 15 years. We had no plans on paying that little for that long. We paid, on average, more than double.

I didn't add up all the interest (I was told there would be no math!), but a simple loan calculator showed that when I finished the loan I still paid $14,000 in interest. That's a really good used car. If I carried the loan out for the full 15 years the interest would have been more than double.

Was it worth it? Well everything in life has a value attached to it. For my family the price was worth it. I'm much happier now than I was then. We've traveled to places (often in First Class) that we likely never would have visited. We are able to visit family around the country whenever we want....and often at the last minute. For us it was a small price to pay. Working for an airline makes the world much smaller.

One could say we could have taken the roughly $71K and used that to pay for all the airline travel we've used. True...but what fun is it paying for airline tickets?


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Moving on up

With the mass exodus going on at the regional level my seniority is increasing rapidly.

I'm based in the most senior base at my airline. I've moved up 20 number in base in the last 3 months. That's 20 First Officers senior to me either upgrading to Captain, transferring out...or more likely....leaving the company.

I was in the top 26%, now I'm in the top 20%. The difference is huge.

Just a few months ago I was getting close to what I wanted scheduling wise. I'm still not getting exactly what I want...but it's getting closer.

Next month I'm headed to Norway (any tips ???? ). I get 3 weeks of paid vacation a year. Weeks are valued at roughly 20 hours. If I get awarded trips worth less than 20 hours....I get the remaining balance put into a bank for later use.

For August I requested CDOs again. The CDO (Continuous Duty Overnight) I was awarded is one of the better trips. I depart at 9PM, arrive at 9:50PM, hotel until 5:10AM, depart at 6AM and arrive back in base at 6:50AM. The flight is way over blocked as it's a 90 NM flight.

Being CDOs I'm only "burning" 8 hours of vacation time. The remaining can be used later to get more time off.

This month of flying has been interesting. The more senior I get....the more senior crews I fly with. My last trip was flown with a very senior Captain that is 64 years old....and it showed.

I truly have no desire to fly to age 65.

In geek related news I'm no longer driving a 2004 Prius. I'm now driving a 2010 Prius. We sold the 2004 Prius and leased a Nissan Leaf for my wife. It was an amazing deal. With the state incentives and money from the 2004 Prius (it has long since been paid off) the Leaf is nearly free. I'm driving the 2010 Prius until my BMW I3 arrives. It finished production this weekend...hopefully here before I head to Norway.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Even hotter

Currently on day 2 of a 4 day. Good old La Quinta overnight.

It's a 5-2-4-3 trip. I don't care for 5 leg days but the trip is worth 22 hours (4 hours more than average) I kept the trip versus trading it away.

The first day was long. Two turns to the same outstation then a long flight to the overnight.

My report time was 11:40AM. Since I live very close to the airport I left home at 11:00AM and walked down the jetbridge at 11:35AM.

The first aircraft had a MEL'd (not working) left pack. The left pack supplies conditioned air to the flight deck. Outside temperature was 94 degrees.

The preconditioned air was attached and actually cool. With window shades on the front windows the flight deck was bearable. The flight was blocked for just 50 minutes.

Boarding started. I fired up the APU and turned on the right pack for the cabin. There is an interconnect that allows some cool air from the cabin to enter the pipes for the flight deck. It helped a bit.

Everything was setup 25 minutes prior to departure. The Captain arrived 15 minutes to departure. I hope to never be that kind of Captain.

I picked the first leg. As soon as we pushed out the flight deck started warming up. All the avionics and the big windows meant lots of hot air.  It started to get uncomfortable and a little distracting being hot. Of course a few years ago I worked and taught in hot aircraft all the time without an issue.

Climbing out the flight deck was at 36 degrees Celsius....97 degrees Fahrenheit.  The air out of the vents was cool, but no match for the warm air from the avionics fans and heat coming through the windows.

Quick flight and done. Once parked the window shades went back up and the PCA was attached. It felt great to do my post flight as it was only 91 degrees outside.

Warm flight back. The equipment coordinator sent a message to the FMS asking if we wanted to keep the same aircraft for the next turn (scheduled for a 40 minute turn). Most of the time I love keeping the same aircraft. Not yesterday. I replied with;"Noooooooooooooo. Flight deck is 97 degrees."

On landing another hot issue, inboard brake indicator spiked to the top of the caution range. It didn't set off a hot brake master caution, but it was abnormal. We called a mechanic.

We swapped. That aircraft was put out of service to be repaired.

The next aircraft had no MEL's. Same flight plan to and from.

Once back we had a two hour sit.

I enjoyed a dinner of fresh veggies I brought from home.

Long flight to the overnight. Fairly late at night. The approach controller was doing triple duty as approach controller, tower and ground. Once we picked up the airport he cleared us to land and taxi in.

On short final I heard and felt a whack...bird strike. Pretty good one as my left window was covered in blood.

Post flight found no feathers or blood elsewhere. Poor guy.

Long overnight as I don't leave the hotel until 5:30PM. Just two legs today.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Talking Hot! Hot! Hot!

Summer operations are in full effect.

My airline prefers flight crews to utilize PCA (preconditioned air) and GPU (Ground Power Units) while at the gate to reduce fuel consumption. PCA and GPU hoses are connected from the jetbridge to the aircraft. Most of the time the air coming out of the PCA hose is nice and cold and the power coming from the GPU is nice and clean. Most of the time.

There are a few gates that are notoriously shooting out bad air and power. We complain, they "get fixed"...and we complain more.

Last week I arrived about an hour early to the aircraft. The outside temp was 31 degrees Celsius. When I walked in the boarding door I was hit with a wall of hot air. After opening the flight deck door I looked at he environmental screen to see the cabin was 38 degrees Celsius and the flight deck was 39 degrees Celsius. The PCA was attached but not blowing out cool air.

After going through the bare minimum required by my airline for checking the flight deck before starting the APU, I fired it up. Once the APU stabilized I turned on both "packs". The term "packs" are aviation slang for the ACMs...which are Air Cycle Machines....which are more or less air conditioners.

I called operations to have the PCA disconnected as it wasn't helping. The reason the interior was warmer than the exterior was due to a confined metal tube. The flight deck was warmer due to all the avionics, screens and windows.

The cool air felt great. It took a solid 30 minutes to cool the cabin to a tolerable 26 degrees. If I had waited until 35 minutes prior to departure (normal time for arriving at the aircraft) the flight would have been delayed as it would have been too warm for boarding. The cabin must be fairly cool before boarding as loading up 50 warm bodies into a confined space raises the temperature quickly.

Besides warm cabins I also have to consider aircraft performance. Jet engines don't perform as well when it's hot. Takeoff distances are longer, climb rates are slower and even the landing distance must be looked at carefully. Landing distance you ask? Let me explain.

My little RJ operates in and out of mostly smaller airports. Smaller airports have shorter runways. Shorter runways mean more brake usage. More brake usage means hotter brakes. Hot brakes are a no go.

Before each takeoff I verify the brake temperatures are in the safe range. They must be in this range to ensure we can have an aborted takeoff and stop safely as well as making sure they won't catch on fire.

Last week I landed on a runway that was just 6000 feet long. The outside temp was 33 degrees. To avoid overheating the brakes I relied heavily on the thrust reversers to slow the aircraft versus the brakes. On most landings I don't use thrust reverse as the brakes do just fine.

Even with the thrust reversers the brakes got a little too warm. While parked at the gate we had the PCA hoses placed near the brakes to help cool them down.

Summer has just begun.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

What a difference a month makes

I saw my wife and daughter every day in June. Quite a feat for an airline pilot.

This was of course due to my schedule. I did Continuous Duty Overnights meaning I had one flight out and one flight back with a few hours in a hotel in between. I was tired every now and then but it was nice to see them.

My daughter was a little thrown off as she was to me being gone whenever I put on my uniform.

This month I will be gone more as I have three 4 day trip sequences and one 3 day trip sequence.

I loathe 4 day trips especially inefficient 4 day trips.

Here are my trips:

4 day trip starting on July 2 - Starts 11:30AM Wednesday and finishes at 4PM Saturday worth 18 hours.

4 day trip starting on July 9 - Starts at 12:40PM Wednesday and finishes at 8PM Saturday worth 22 hours.

3 day trip starting on Jul 21 - Starts at 12PM Monday and finishes at 2PM Wednesday worth 18 hours.

4 day trip starting on July 3 - Starts at 7:15AM Thursday and finishes Sunday worth 21 hours.

I consider anything under 21 hours on a 4 day inefficient. My one 3 day trip is equal to an entire 4 day trip. I would rather fly than sit in hotel rooms.

I wanted 3 day trips weekends on in July, but couldn't hold them. There weren't many lines built that way. I'm still bidding in the top 25% in base.

My wife is a little happy with me being gone a little more as she had her own routine while I was on a trip. Since I was home everyday it through her off. With me being gone she can keep the house a little more organized.

Beyond that everything is status quo. We did get a new car over the weekend. A Nissan Leaf for the wife. My electric car (BMW I3) is still on order. The Geek in me can't wait.