Friday, October 16, 2009

8000 feet and 250 knots

Remember a few days back I had to fly a plane to a maintenance base? While walking thru the hangar I snapped a photo of an exposed engine. Well that plane was in a heavy check. It finished yesterday. A crew was deadheaded in to do a test flight and then, if it passed, to fly it back to base.

The crew signed it off and flew it back to base. On the way there they noticed a "harmonic vibration" about 290 knots. The plane was put out of service. The plane was then scheduled to fly back to the maintenance base to be inspected. Due to the harmonic vibration a special ferry permit was issued to fly at max altitude of 8000 feet and speed of 250 knots.

I was sitting ready yesterday. When I was assigned the flight (scheduled to depart at 8:15PM) I headed over to the crew room. The captain arrived, a guy I saw ready with a few months ago, and told me the max altitude and speed restrictions. I laughed and told him "nice joke." He said he wasn't joking. I looked at the flight release. WTF?

The plane was sitting on a pad away from the terminal. A ramp supervisor picked us up at 9PM and gave us a ride to the plane. Crew scheduling initially asked why we couldn't just "walk to the plane". I wouldn't walk across an airport ramp at night even if I was dressed in flashing red lights. Ramps are very busy with all kinds of motorized vehicles buzzing about. Ever notice how many dents airport vehicles have in them? Especially of note are the vehicles with tubular bars all around that STILL have dents. No thanks.

Once we arrived I reached up to open the main door. Thankfully it opened easily. A while ago I used my full body weight on the door and it still wouldn't open. I had to rock it back and forth quite a bit.

We BOTH did a preflight. The Captain used to teach ground school on the plane, he knows it very well. We wanted to make sure there was nothing on the outside of the plane that could be causing the vibration. Once done we headed to the cockpit.

After starting the APU and going through our checks we noticed the hydraulic fluid level at just 40% on systems 1 and 3. The normal level is at least 45%. When it's at least 45% it turns green. At 40% it was white. The Captain and I discussed the issue. We agreed it was a "no go". Back to the terminal we went.

The Captain had been on reserve at home since 10AM. The latest he could work was 2AM. Flight time was estimated at 1 hour 5 minutes. Add in 15 minutes post flight duty and the latest we could take off was 12:40AM. Long day.

At 10:10PM I was back in the cockpit. When I called to get the clearance the controller paused before stating, "climb and maintain 4,000.....expect 8,000 10 minutes after departure. Is 8,000 the highest you can go?" I replied it was.

Takeoff was normal. Once at 8,000 feet we sat back and watched the world below. It was a clear night. Good thing as we go a few advisories of planes flying around us. Not jets. Cessnas, Pipers and such. One was a VFR target only out in class E. Good times.

Once parked at the Mantanence hangar I called the hotel. They weren't expecting us. Crew scheduling never called. I then spent 20 minutes calling crew scheduling, the hotel and a taxi service (the hotel van stopped running). This all should have been done by scheduling. I wasn't happy.

I walked into the hotel room just past midnight. Initially I was supposed to deadhead home at 11AM. My phone just rang. It was from "unknown" which is crew scheduling. I was screwed over a few times by answering my phone while away from base. I am not required to do so, so I don't. The Captain apparently answered his phone then called me on the hotel phone. They changed our assignment. We were now going to do a test flight on the same plane at 1PM and then, if it passes, fly it back. Here's the problem.

If the plane isn't ready at 1PM we have a chance at the 2:10PM flight to base to deadhead on (the same one I barely missed a few days ago). If we miss that flight the next flight isn't till 5:50PM. Yeah. This could get ugly.

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