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.

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