Friday, May 1, 2009

Rocking and Rolling....

After getting back to base this morning I had a short break until my next flight to the north east. I headed to my plane to see a Captain I flew with last year. This Captain would be deadheading on my flight.  The Captain I am flying with is "interesting". I talk with the deadheading Captain about my Captain for a bit. We both have stories. All pilots have stories.

I greeted the flight attendants and headed into the cockpit. The whole plane is warm and muggy inside. I get the plane set up and fire up the APU as the external air cart hose is twisted and not putting out much cool air. Sometimes the ramp crew takes time to roll it out...most of the time they just attach it and leaves the twist and kinks.

My Captain arrives and we go about verifying the route and such. I had the plane set up for me to fly (I flew to the overnight and the other Captain I flew with flew in to base). The new Captain stated he wanted to fly. He's the Captain...fine.

With the advent of RNAV SIDS, aircraft are able to fly an exact route with much less error. Using conventional navigational aids (VORs and such), the airways are 8 miles wide. There is an allowable area of error (but still be on the right airway) 4 miles on each side of the airway. With RNAV (which uses GPS in additional to other navigational aids) the accuracy can be as small as .3 miles.

Many times we will fly through the exact same air as another aircraft. Most of the time it's a non-event. I have been rocked and rolled when unknowingly flying behind a heavy aircraft wake. This is especially surprising on a clear VFR day. It makes for a "WTF was that" moment.

Today on our departure I noticed two other aircraft on our routing. We were at FL 330. There was another plane at FL 350 and another at FL410. We eventually passed them all as the aircraft at FL 350 was an ERJ....which has a much lower MMO. We cruised by at Mach .82.

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Way up ahead

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Getting closer

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Buh Bye

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A view of the TCAS screen.

There is a lot of weather through the middle of the United States today. We did our best to avoid it, and thought we were in the clear...and then it happened.

We were getting light chop to moderate chop for a while at FL370. I advised the Flight Attendants and told them I would call them if I think it would get worse. They had finished their service and I told them to sit down. Less than two minutes later we had a sudden drop of 500-700 feet followed by a roll to the right. The autopilot held on for a few seconds before clicking off. The Captain already had his hands on the yoke and fought for a good 20 seconds to keep the plane wings level as our altitude varied between 36,300 to 36.900 feet. Finally the bumps were reduced and I re-engaged the autopilot.

After settling down I called back to the cabin. No injuries but there were several vomit bags full. The rear flight attendant didn't make it all the way to her seat and was in the air for a little bit. Not injured though.

I made a PA about what happened and that I we would do our best to avoid that situation again (even though we had no idea the last one would occur). For the rest of the flight we turned left and right avoiding big cells. The turbulence continued but nothing more than moderate chop.

Below is a turbulence map for today. Bumps all over the place.


I'm now in my hotel room. I haven't been to this hotel in over a year. Last time I was here the crew was allowed access to the top floor where free snacks and alcohol were served in the afternoon. We have  a 17 hour layover and could all use a cocktail. Well this service is Sunday thru Thursday. Boooooo. Instead I figured I would go look for a slot machine. I am in search of one for my house (I love to gamble). The state I am in sells them and I have visited a few websites of companies that sell them. Wouldn't you know one of the stores is close to the OTHER overnight hotel my company uses. The hotel I have stayed at 10+ times in the last few months. There are none near me now. Nice.

It's a nice day outside though. Think I will go for a walk. Maybe a cocktail.

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