Saturday, May 16, 2009

Worked too hard for one leg

I only had one leg today. Simple hour flight. Of course when things are simple...they never are.

At 9:20AM I left for the airport. I had to sign in at 10:25AM. I left a little early as I had to stop and get cash for tip money (no matter how little I earn, hotel van drivers earn less...I always tip!).

I signed in at 10:15AM and grabbed breakfast. The plane was already at the gate. It arrived earlier and had a maintenance issue. The altimeters were reading off by 150 feet between the Captain and First Officer. The issue was supposedly resolved.

After eating I made my way to the plane. The flight attendants were already on board. I did the preflight and began setting up the plane. Since I am flying more this month I am able to set up the plane without even thinking about it. It's all routine. My hands and fingers move without me thinking about it. Worry not...checklist are always used.

The Captain arrived and stated the gate agent would be bringing down the flight release. No biggie, I used the PDC (Pre Departure Clearance) to setup the route. We had 9500 pounds of fuel on board which is 3500 more than needed for the flight in VFR conditions. Of course today was IFR so I assumed the extra fuel was for alternates.

While waiting I heard a few knocks on my side of the plane. I looked down to see the fueler with a thumbs up. Hmmm...most of the time they do this when something isn't right. I gave him a thumbs up as I knew we had enough fuel. My brain began running through scenarios....why was he concerned?

The Captain and I both reviewed the logbook. There were no open issues. Something wasn't right.

The flight release came down and then we saw the issue. The flight release showed the plane had a MEL on the pressure refueling system. The refueling panel display was labeled inoperative. Our logbook showed that the issue was fixed. We can't leave if the flight release shows an MEL (or doesn't show an MEL) that isn't valid. We quickly began contacting the airline and a mechanic to fix the issue. While waiting...another incident happened.

We were already delayed by 15 minutes. Suddenly I hear a commotion behind me. A passenger pushed his way off the plane (we were still at the gate). He stated he had a bad "vibe" about this flight and wanted to get off. Because he got off, the rampers would now have to go retrieve his bag. Another delay.

All said and done we left 55 minutes late. The Captain let me take it out. It was raining in base so we used full takeoff thrust (versus a reduced power setting called Flex thrust) for takeoff. With a takeoff weight of just 62000 pounds we reach V1 in about 3500 feet.

I hand flew as we climbed at 3000 feet per minute. Passing through 225 knots I pulled the thrust levers back into the climb detent and called for the climb checklist.

Being so late I made a high speed climb. The ride was mostly smooth. Weather at the outstation was reported as thunderstorms and rain. Enroute we noticed our altimeters were off by more than 130 feet. Mine was showing correct (as I was the flying pilot) while the Captain and the standby altimeter were showing 150 feet higher. The problem had apparently not been corrected.

About 20 minutes out I setup the plane for the ILS approach. I briefed the Captain on the descent. There was a small cell between us and the airport that I had to work around before being vectored for the ILS. As we passed through 8000 feet we both had the airport in sight. There was considerable rainfall outside the outer marker but we could easily make it in with a visual approach.

I miss pure visual approaches. Being able to fly in on my own terms is rare in the busy airspace I normally fly into.

I called for flaps 1 then 8 and began a base turn. Turning final I called for flaps 20 and gear down. The approach was looking great.

Passing through 800 feet I was at flaps 45 and looking good. The airport is a former military base and thus has a very wide (200 feet) and long (13500 feet) runway.

I began my flare at 50 feet. The width of the runway got to me and I pulled to power to idle at 10 feet and made just an average landing when it could have been stellar . The wide runway made it seem that I was higher than I really was.

Being a long runway I used very little reverse thrust and let drag slow us down. The terminal was at the other end of the airport anyway.

After parking the plane (35 minutes late!)  the Captain wrote up the altimeter issue again. I checked later and the return flight to base left 3 hours after we arrived as they waited for a resolution to the altimeter issue.

Tomorrow I have three legs. Hopefully all goes well.

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