Friday, July 31, 2009

Something is wrong when it's dark outside when I arrive...and leave

So I had afternoon airport standby yesterday. At 5:30PM I was called for a 6:45PM flight. I was slightly happy as it was to a city I haven't been to yet.

The flight went fine. Captains leg. Nothing too exciting. Lots of weather to go above and around.

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I never get tired of sunsets...taken at FL390

This is another hotel (still working on a blog about hotels...haven't forgot about your question Ajin) that crews brag about. I will say it was nice. My room was the furthest one from the front desk. At least a 3 minute walk after leaving the elevator. Eh.

I woke up at 5AM for a 5:50AM van. I was filling up my plate with food from the breakfast buffet at 5:35AM. The rain steadily falling outside made me happy I carry not one...but two umbrellas. One is stashed in my flight kit and I have another in my computer bag. I don't like getting wet.

Five Fifty AM came around and we were all being whisked away to the airport. Just 3 minutes later we were all walking into the airport terminal.

The departure was set for 6:35AM. For some reason there were no gate agents at the gate at 6:02AM when we arrived. . My crew and I just waited at the gate for them to arrive. We have no access to the jet bridge. For some reason small town airports have the most high tech/complicated jet bridge access systems when compared to large hubs.

At my hub I carry a key that can open the door to any jet bridge my airline owns. The same key works for many jet bridges my airline operates around the country. Small town airports way Jose!

I finally saw one of the agents on the other side of  the jet bridge door at 6:09AM. She was having problems getting the door to open. Apparently her access card wasn't allowing her access. Turns out this tiny airport is super secure. The gate agents only have access to the door between the gate and the jet bridge. The rampers only have access between the ramp and the office area under the gate. The lady trying to open the door had ramper privileges.

While she was trying to open the door, passengers took turns coming up to the podium to ask questions. The flight attendant behind the counter was very polite and told each one she wasn't a gate agent and could only answer basic questions. I use the same wording when I get caught behind a gate podium. Just like gate agents have no idea the inner workings of the CRJ (for the most part), flight crews (for the most part) have no idea the inner workings of reservations/ticketing/seating assignments. Finally at 6:12AM we were walking down the jet bridge.

The rain had thankfully stopped long enough for me to do my preflight inspection. This was the same plane we brought in last night so unless something was damaged overnight, it should have been fine and it was.

Even with the late access to the plane we had 66 passengers seated and ready to go at 6:30AM...5 minutes prior to departure.

The Captain who I am flying with (who also sits afternoon standby on the same days as I do) came from the training department. I had one session with him in the CRJ cockpit mockup (AKA the paper tiger) when I was first hired. He is very nice and knows quite a bit about the CRJ. More than I do for sure. Each time I fly with him he sets the assumed outside temperature for Flex Thrust to the maximum value dictated by the performance charts. Most of the Captains I fly with will pick a number right in the middle of the actual outside temp and the max value. Forty-two degrees is a normal assumed temperature used with most guys. This value saves engine wear, but still gives more than enough power to takeoff and climb out. It's more of a psychologically safe number as we know we have much more power than required, yet still saving fuel.

The performance charts we reference list data for each authorized runway at the airport in use and with different scenarios (Engine ECS, APU ECS, Anti-ice etc). This morning we would be taking off from a 7000 foot runway that was damp,but had no standing water. With 66 passengers and 2500 pounds of cargo, the takeoff weight was 70250 pounds. The performance chart listed 48 degrees as the maximum assumed temperature we could use with Engine ECS and that's what the Captain used.

A 7000 foot runway isn't short....but it isn't really long. With this in mind I decided to set takeoff thrust as quickly as possible once I was given the controls.

As the Captain turned onto the runway he already had the thrust levers 1/3 the way up. Once he said "your aircraft", I replied, "my aircraft" and smoothly advanced the thrust levers into the takeoff detent. "Set thrust" I said, and placed both of my hands on the yoke. My eyes were focused on the end of the runway, which looked really short.

"Thrust set", replied the Captain. The plane quickly began accelerating down the runway. "80 knots" the Captain stated. I momentarily looked down at my PFD and answered, "80 knots". Looking back outside there was 4500 feet of runway left.

With a light quartering headwind I didn't have to work much to keep on center line. I could see the speed tape getting close to VR. My grip on the yoke got a little tighter. The end of the runway was getting closer and closer. Once I heard , "V1, rotate" , I smoothly pulled back on the yoke. The CRJ7 only requires a slight back pressure to raise the nose, once it's started, most of the pressure is released. The nose lifted into the air with roughly 2500 feet of runway left.

"Positive rate, gear up, climb mode" I stated and transitioned my eyes from outside the cockpit to inside on my PFD.

The initial altitude was 3000 feet. The Captain checked in with departure around 1200 feet and we were cleared to FL230 and to deviate as necessary around the weather. I looked outside and aimed for a break between two cloud banks. This was the first time in a while I just sat back and flew VFR like. Most of the time I have to follow a GPS RNAV SID on takeoff. Rarely on takeoff am I allowed to just do whatever I want.

With my right hand on the yoke, I reached down with my left hand and turned on the weather RADAR. The gap between the two cloud banks was plenty big to fit through. Once clear I made a left turn to avoid another build up. There was nothing painting on the RADAR past that point. Too bad as I was having quite a bit of fun hand flying while picking my way through the clouds, all the while calling for the flaps to be retracted and then the appropriate checklist.

I hand flew the plane until just past 14,000 feet and called for the autopilot.

After leveling off at FL380 the ride was smooth and we were above most of the weather.

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Once on the arrival into base we were advised which runway to expect. The Captain setup the approach and I then briefed what I would do. The winds were calm...which I hate. We were vectored in high and then cleared for the visual. I clicked off the autopilot at 6000 feet and began turning toward the runway. A little flight spoilers here and flaps there. Reaching 800 feet the final checklist had been run....I just had to land the thing.

I hate no wind landings. I just do. Everything was looking decent at 500 feet. On speed, sinking 800 feet per minute. I adjusted the sink rate to 700 feet per minute and continued the descent. I ran the trim up to just below the takeoff trim setting. This tends to work for me as I have to put slight pressure forward on the yoke to continue the descent. By doing this I normally keep the plane from slapping itself onto the runway.

I pulled the power partially at 50 feet and closed it at 10 feet. The mains rejoined contact with the runway in an average manner. Eh I was tired. Short winds....just not in my element. There is something wrong when the drive to and from the airport is in the dark.

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Sunset to the overnight

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Sunrise from the overnight

Once at the gate the Captain and I both called to get released. It was 8:35AM. We were both (almost like they planned it) assigned to 8 hours of rest and then be available for a 2 hour callout this evening at 5:45PM. Nice. It's a loophole in scheduling. There are many loopholes on both sides of the table. This is one they can use. I doubt I will be called, but this assignment keeps me from having a cocktail with my lunch.

Still working on my displacement plans...I have a few more days till it closes. I am still trying to write up a blog without being too specific.

Anyone know of an easy to use (because I am lazy) watermarking program for Mac ? Maybe IPhoto compatible? I've been finding several of my photos of other peoples websites without my permission.

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