Saturday, November 28, 2009
1000 hours later
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The flight last night involved a married Captain and Flight Attendant. I had flown with each before seperately. One joke about being a pilot is "if your FIRST wife isn't a flight attendant you SECOND wife will be,". They both met at the airline and got married not too long ago.
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What happens when the flight plan hasn't been filed or I make an entry mistake requesting it
Push back was set for 6:45PM. At 6:42 PM all but two passengers were on board. We were the last flight to the outstation for the night. The gate agent radioed down to the jet bridge agent that she was going to hold the flight for the two remaining passengers (she must have been in a holiday mood). They made it...at 6:45PM exactly...with McDonalds in hand. This is important as the closest McDonalds was 18 gates away! That'sa good 5-8 minute brisk walk. These people made us late because they wanted McDonalds?!?!?!?
I passed the 1000th our in a jet last night. Knowing this ahead of time I took the leg out.
During the climb out ATC asked us to climb at 320 knots versus the normal 290 knots (after clearing 10,000 feet of course). I complied initially. During the climb I noticed the estimated arrival fuel number dropping.
A "comfortable" arrival fuel number is 3000 pounds. Clearing 16,000 feet it was 3200 pounds. Out of FL210 it dropped to 3090 pounds.
ATC stopped us at FL210 but asked that we keep the speed up. Hmmm.
Our final altitude was FL 370. The early stop was due to a slower 737 ahead at FL230. Adding to the problem was a stream of other aircraft climbing fast behind us. We were given 1000 foot step climbs to FL310. We then hung out for a while as the 737 turned out of the way, but there was traffic from the other direction causing a conflict. Arrival fuel was hovering at 3000 pounds.
Finally 30 minutes after takeoff we were cleared to FL370.
The airport was landing runway 26. We were coming in from the west. The Captain had not yet been to this airport before. He studied the airport diagram and I briefed him on a few odd things about the ramp area.
Clearing 12,000 feet on the descent I briefed a visual approach. The localizer approach was loaded up in the FMS as a backup.
Passing 4000 AFL we called the airport in sight and were cleared for a visual approach. The airport was at my 2 O'clock and about 4 miles.
I clicked off the flight director and straightened up for a proper downwind entry. Passing 210 knots I began calling for flaps.
Turning base at 180 knots and flaps 20 everything was looking good. The VASI wasn't visible, but I was 2000 AFL and about 5 miles out. Looking good.
After I called for flaps 30 I turned final and called for Flaps 45. Almost like I planned it I was right on the VASI.
Winds on the ground were 280/12. At 900 feet there were 320/25.
At 500 feet the Captain called, "on speed, sinking 600", meaning my speed was fine and I was descending the plane at 600 feet per minute.
Just like I have done at least 100 times, at the 50 foot call I began reducing power and correcting for the diminishing crosswind. The mains touched down at the 1500 foot markers. Just an average touchdown. We pulled into the gate at 8:20PM local time. Right on time.
I was the only crew member who had been here before. I told the rest of the crew that the hotel was close, van almost always here on time and that breakfast is awesome....if they have it out in time.
When we walked outside there was no van. I have most of the hotels I stay in stored in my phone. Five minutes later the van arrived.
The rooms are nice...one of the better hotels. Full kitchen....not that I have ever used it. I checked my schedule....it changed. Scheduling added on a turn once I get back in the morning. After sitting around for 90 minutes. So much for plans.
At 5:10AM my peaceful slumber was disturbed. Time to get up.
I headed down at 5:30AM for a 5:45AM van. The air did not hold a scent of warm food as I exited the elevator. Sure enough no food. There was coffee and a few cold items. Coffee, banana and yogurt started my day.
Winter has begun it's trek. It's cold enough to warrant not only my jacket, but gloves as well. Haven't had too deice yet. Sure it's coming soon.
We loaded up and pushed out 5 minutes early. The winter winds have arrived. The headwind on the nose varied between 70 knots and 110 knots. There was a fairly decent ride up at FL380.
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We pulled into the gate 10 minutes early. Due to being so early I now had almost 2 hours before my next turn. Down to the crew room where I went (where I started this blog).
The Captain of the next flight's name looked familiar. Couldn't place him. The sight of his name didn't make my blood pressure rise, so I didn't think he was hard to get along with.
About an hour prior to departure the plane had arrived. Off I went. Once on board there was just the a flight attendant. I know I had flown with her before. After a minute I remembered her.
We chit chatted for a bit. She was interested in my vacation to Tokyo. She is half japanese and grew up there. Soon after the Captain arrived...once I saw him I remembered him. Quiet guy...really senior...easy to get along with.
He gave me the leg out. Short flight. About 45 minutes block time. En-route we discussed cars, computers and politics. Thankfully we had similar opinions.
The outstation has a VOR about 5 miles south. In the past I would simply tell the FMS I wanted to cross the VOR (part of our flight plan) at 3000 feet. Always worked. Today it shot back a "Check FLT Plan Alt". Eh...I would wing it.
The descent worked out fine. I truly feel at home in my plane. Clearing 10,000 we were vectored for a right downwind. Once again I clicked off the flight director and did a true visual.
The runway was 16. Winds were 180/15G25. I planned on keeping a 5 extra knots for the gust. The gust didn't come into play until 10 feet...when I had almost no thrust set. A quick thrust addition and forward push on the yoke and it all worked out decently.
I had not been to this outstation in months. Had no idea they were installing a new runway. It had been so long in fact that I forgot the door code for the jet bridge door.
One of the most difficult parts of my job is getting through the door leading to the ramp. Some airports have key locks (I carry the key with me). Many have electronic combination keypads. None have the same code. Many times I get locked out as there is no code to get out on some...but there is to get back in. This morning in fact I got locked out. I had to shine my flash light thru the window to the flight attendant to come open the door for me. It's worse when it's raining/snowing/really cold.
Forty minutes after arriving we were heading back. Go home leg. Captain flew fast.
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We ended up arriving 10 minutes early. Released right away. Off for two days. I picked up 2 hours of overtime on Tuesday.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Working on holidays
I am on airport reserve on Christmas this year. Eh.
Seems like there will be some movement for me seniority wise soon. There was an announcement of additional flying recently which spurred some upgrades and additional positions.
Right now I am the bottom guy. There will soon be 10 more slots open for my position. I am hopping all those 10 will be junior to me. That combined with Captain positions could me people above me leaving as well. I will find out in a few weeks.
Hoping for the best.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I love what I do
I had a great support system prior to starting down the journey of becoming an airline pilot. I had a stable work history, college degree, money in the bank and a extremely supporting wife. If I were single, just out of high school/college, living on my own....I would likely have a different answer.
I don't think I could have supported myself on what I made the first two years. Heck I know I couldn't have. My quality of life would have been much lower. Now that I am on third year pay I should pull down $35K next year before taxes and per diem. Not a lot of cash really. The Assistant Manager position of the gas station down from my house starts at $34K. All about perspective.
Today is my Monday. I work the next five days. Yep right through Thanksgiving. My wife is very understanding. We are penciling in a trip to Vegas in December to make up for Thanksgiving and Christmas. All about perspective.
My last trip Saturday was really nice. It was on overtime.
The flight left at 5:20PM. For reasons I still don't know my Captain didn't arrive to the plane until 5:10PM. By then I had the plane set up and he literally just had to sit down, sign for the plane, close the door and then collect 3X my pay.
I chose the leg out Mostly because I figured I set up the plane, I wanted to fly it. It has been a while since I flew a fully loaded plane. We took off just a few hundred pounds shy of MTOW. There is definitely a difference felt. The plane had one minor mechanical issue, the slats were only operating at 1/2 speed.
The winter jet stream hasn't arrived yet. At FL 370 we had just 10 knots of wind acting on the plane. Normally its over 80 knots this time of year.
The landing weight was also just shy of max landing weight. My plane seems to be "easier" to land when heavy. Sure enough I rolled it on nicely.
I haven't been to this airport or hotel in months. A lot has changed. The rooms are now all fancy which is nice....except for the thermostat.
When I walked in the room it showed 69 degrees. It felt much warmer. I turned it all the way down to 64...it ran for 5 minutes and shutoff...now showing 64 degrees. Liar. I turned the fan mode on. Warm all night.
It was a short overnight. Just 10 hours between arrival and departure. Of those 10 hours, 9 are considered to be rest. Of those 9 hours, 30 minutes were spent in the hotel van. Another 10 were spent talking to and from the room. So really just about 8 hours of rest. Of course I need at least 30 minutes to get ready...so 7 1/2 hours. Unfortunately I can't sleep on demand. I really got about 6 hours of sleep.
Due to the light winds the flight computer estimated we would be 45 minutes EARLY. Nice. I get the full scheduled flight pay or greater. Since we would be early I would end up getting paid for 45 minutes of work I didn't do.
The flight was fine. No issues. The previous MEL for the Slats 1/2 speed had been fixed by contract mechanics.
More photos to come. Recently reinstalled Mac OS X and Windows 7 on my Macbook Pro. Still getting all the regular programs back in place.
And yes I do love what I do and wouldn't change a thing.....well okay...more money....and longer overnights.....but that's about it.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Yearly Sim Ride
This was my third visit to the simulator. My first was my initial training. About a year ago I had my probation ride. This year I just had flight training.
I arrived at 10:30AM and met the Captain I would be flying with. This Captain is an IOE Captain that I flew with just once when I first started. Nice guy who has a true passion for the job.
The instructor then arrived. He let us know what the ride would entail. We would do the following:
- Low vis rejected takeoff
-Low vis takeoff involving a RNAV departure
- Two engine ILS
- Localizer approach
- GPS approach
- V1 cut
- Wind shear training
- Single engine ILS
- ILS PRM approach
- Anything else he felt like throwing in
The Captain was flying first. It took me a bit to get used to the visuals in the simulator. The simulator is full motion, but even then during turns on the ground people can get queasy. I am not immune.
During the first takeoff, just prior to V1, the speed stagnated....we had encountered wind shear. I called "abort, abort, abort" then pushed the yoke full forward while the Captain applied full reverse, max braking and steered with the tiller. I then notified tower that we were still on the runway. Textbook.
The next takeoff was normal. Standard RNAV. We then were vectored off for air work. The Captain did a departure stall with a 20 degree bank and an arrival stall with flaps 45. This was followed by steep turns. I then took over and did a departure stall with a 20 degree bank, arrival stall with flaps 45 and a clean stall. The trickiest stall was the arrival stall recovery as the plane was totally out of trim when the stick shaker went off. Lots of nose down force needed as the plane was trimmed for flaps 45 and thus nose up. When I added full takeoff/go around power it was quite a work out. This scenario is similar to how Colgan 3401 went down. If the Colgan 3401 crew had added full power....the might still be here.
We then headed to Memphis. Memphis airport is used a lot for training. Captain was flying. After approach advised vectors for ILS to 18L he continued and advised of a 747 nearby. I missed the call direction. Approach kept talking and said "Break Fedex 939 heavy cleared for the ILS 18L approach be advised regional jet 2 miles 12 o'clock." Just as I called back for the traffic the entire plane shook violently. We were in hard IMC. I looked down and saw that we were upside down and falling...fast. The Captain quickly idled the engines and turned the plane back upright. We had hit the wake turbulence from the 747. Wow. We were then given new vectors.
The first approach was an ILS to 18L. At 10 feet tower called the go around. After going missed we were vectored for a GPS approach to runway 9. GPS approaches require a little extra briefing than other approaches due to required RAIM. We went missed again due to a 747 taxiing out on the runway.
We were quickly vectored for a localizer approach to 27 with a circle to land runway 18R. This is a Captain only maneuver. Once he landed we came to a full stop. Time for a V1 cut.
Right at V1 we lost the right engine. Flameout. After I ran all the checklist (I think there were 3 total) the Captain then flew a ILS single engine. Done....for him.
My ride started with a reduced vis takeoff. During climb out...just 300 feet off the ground I hit wind shear bad.
I announced "Escape" and jammed the thrust levers full forward and then place both hands on the yoke. During wind shear the only gauge that gives accurate data is the RADAR altimeter. Airspeed, altimeter and VSI all get data from probes. Those probes are being fed a huge rush of air with changing pressure. The artificial horizon is also useless.
I pulled the nose up. The Captain then began calling out basic calls, "280 feet, sinking." I pulled up more. "280 feet, rising". I held it. "250 feet, sinking." I pulled up more. "320 feet, rising." I held the angle. "500 feet rising.......700 feet climbing.....1000 feet." By then we were out of it. It was a very violent maneuver. Really got my heart racing.
My first approach was a GPS to runway 9. At 20 feet the tower called the miss. The plane briefly touched the ground. I pushed the thrust levers up and announced I was going around. I pitched up and noticed something wasn't right. I forgot to hit the TOGA buttons on the thrust levers. Hitting the TOGA puts the plane in go around mode by raising the command bars, activating the missed approach in the FMS and (if applicable) disconnects the autopilot.
I hit the TOGA buttons. The rest of the missed approach was fine. I was quickly vectored for a localizer approach to runway 27. All approaches had a 15 knot direct crosswind.
The trick to a smooth approach in the CRJ is all about pitch. The weather was right at mins. Once at MDA the Captain called the approach lights. I then waited till VDP and disconnected the autopilot. Before looking outside I smoothly pitched over the nose to 1 degree nose down. I then looked outside. No PAPI/VASI was available. I pulled the nose up a bit much and had to quickly correct it to keep from busting stabilized approach and causing a go around.
The landing was a little long. I firmly put the mains down and stopped the plane.
Next up was a V1 cut.
Back when airline hiring was high I taught the ATP Regional Jet Course. During the course I taught many V1 cuts.
V1 is a speed where the takeoff can no longer be aborted. It's a must go speed. A V1 cut involves losing an engine right at V1.
In my plane the engines are fuselage mounted. The yaw created by losing an engine isn't as severe as wing mounted engines, but it does yaw.
Right a V1 there was a rumble quickly followed by flashing lights. An engine had failed.
I smoothly used right rudder and aileron to correct the yaw and keep the plane on centerline. This entire time the nose is on the ground. Once the plane was stabilized I slowly rotated the nose off the ground and added a little more rudder as the friction from the wheel was gone. Once again I forgot a call out. I was supposed to announce to "set max power". The Captain backed me up and said it. I then climbed up and flew the standard profile.
Once all the checklist were done I was vectored in for a single engine ILS to runway 18L.
Single engine landings are done at flaps 20 instead of 45 (less drag). The auto pilot was on until glide slope intercept.
The pitch angle is much steeper (nose high) with flaps 20. When the runway was called in sight I looked outside and lowered the nose to what flaps 45 looks like. Wrong. Back inside I went and simply followed the glide slope until 100 feet and then looked back outside. Everything was fine till about 80 knots when I got a little crazy with the brakes and veered toward the side of the runway. It wasn't a smooth correction, but it was done.
We then headed to Philedelphia for an ILS PRM approach. An ILS PRM approach requires extra reading and briefing. ILS PRM approaches are required when two runways are closer than 4300 feet and both are used during IMC condition. During the approach I was given a descending breakout manuever. The breakout is called if another aircraft on approach gets too close. There is no profile for the breakout....just gotta fly the plane.
At roughly 2100 feet I head, "flight 393 breakout, descend and maintain 1800 turn left heading 270". I clicked off the autopilot and smoothly descended and turned. I had to ignore the flight director as it was still setup for the ILS. A little confusing. Once established I cleaned the plane up.
The instructor then said we were done. He said both of us clearly did our preparation work and that most of the time he has to use every second in order to get the requirements done. Not needed with us. No one was coming in next so we were able to use more sim time.
We then got to do the "Miracle on the Hudson." Lined up on the same runway as "Sully" I took off and then flew the same departure. Weather conditions were the same as that day. Right at 3800 feet I lost both engines. Of course we knew this was coming. We then glided...for a long time. Same path as the Airbus. The Airbus has a much better glide performance. We made the same turns. Teterboro was right in front of us. We could have made it no question. Instead we made the same turn and followed the Hudson all the way down to the water. Nearly the same spot again. I'm not second guessing the actions of the crew. In the heat of the moment who knows maybe we would have made the same choice.
Next was a scary eye opener. We headed to Aspen. Aspen is an airport where crews must be specially trained to fly to and from. Even though the CRJ700 is quite powerful, up there it's not.
We lined up for takeoff doing something we would never do...max weight takeoff of 75000 pounds. We did start the APU so we could have max power to the engines. My takeoff. I elected to stand on the brakes and apply max takeoff power. A jack rabbit start. Didn't do much as the air was so thin that when I released the brakes we just started rolling. With 2000 feet left it was clear we wouldn't reach V1. I called the abort and literally stood on the brakes with the Captain. Even with max braking and reverse we went off the end of the runway. Wow.
We then discussed the session. I was dinged for missing two call outs. He did say that I flew the profile fine and took care of the situation, but the call outs were required. Beyond that he said I did very well. Both the instructor and Captain said my V1 cut was one of the best they have seen. Nice.
I am all done with the simulator for another year. Next year will be a real check ride. Going to prep a little more next time. I don't like making mistakes.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Rumors....take them with a grain of salt
Pilots, for the most part, gossip. Rarely a day goes by that a rumor isn't overheard or told to me. Some start with, "I heard from a gate agent in Newark that we are going to be flying non-stop to New Orleans," or "Did you see that they are painting new lead in lines for XXX aircraft. That means we are getting them."
Airline employees are sometimes the last people in the chain to "know" something. Sometimes I find out new information about my airline from CNN or Reuters.
Lately lots of rumors are going around about the shifting of flying from one base to another or from our airline to another regional carrier. I can't think of any major airline that depends on just one regional carrier.
Delta used to use Comair as their primary regional carrier until Comair went on strike in 2001 costing Delta millions. For 89 days Delta had to scramble to cover flights. Most were cancelled. Including yours truly. Not good. Since then Delta has taken on many regional carriers. They shift flying almost at will.
This morning I had reserve at home....2 hour call out. I was called at 7:40AM for a 9:40AM report for airport reserve. While on the bus I discussed the shifting of flying with a Captain who was called in for the same assignment. He seems to think that the flying won't be shifted. His reasons make sense. Hope it holds true as if the flying is shifted my seniority might not be able to allow me to be based here anymore.
Each time I get frustrated with being so junior I think about all my friends who are commuters. Some by choice some forced by seniority. Either way they commute. So far I have enjoyed 2 years of living in base. The pilot who was one junior to me has been commuting for 11 months. Things could always be worse.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The recalls at Trans States was predicated on that airline getting additional flying from United. Yesterday it was announced that Expressjet (who currently flies for Continental) will get the flying. All of the recalls Trans States sent out were all cancelled. I feel bad for those guys. Crazy emotional roller coaster. Hired, Furloughed, Recalled and Re-Furloughed. Ouch.
There is a sign that Delta Airlines is thinking about hiring. Yeah the REAL Delta Airlines.
For a long time they weren't allowing updates via the application site (airlineapps.com). Within the last few days they are allowing updates again. The mins are crazy low....even I qualify! Of course mins are just that....mins. Competitive qualifications will be much higher. It's a good sign though.
Bidding is up for next month as well as next year. The results for next months schedule should post on Friday while I am in the simulator. I also bid for next years vacation. All seniority based.
I should be working Thanksgiving. No big deal as it's just the wife and I here anyway.
A pilot friendof mine recently took a cross country that even makes me jealous. He is still working on building time (currently around 215 TT) . He was able to build multi-engine time with the following flight:
Little Rock to OK City, Denver, Fremont, Leadville, Aspen, Telluride, Salt Lake City, Lake Tahoe, Arcata, Oakland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Sedona, Winslow, Santa Fe, Stephenville , Durant, and then back to Little Rock. He logged 39 hours of multi-engine time including several hours of IMC. He flew real SIDS and STARS. Truly amazing. Getting that kind of exposure prior to hitting an airline is a great asset.
Beyond that everything is status quo. Which in this industry is a great thing.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
After 2 years I still haven't learned to not answer the phone
When Crew Scheduling calls called ID is blocked. Never asked why. Just is.
I was supposed to do a 5 1/2 hour turn Friday. Friday morning at 8:08AM my phone rang. I saw it was 'Unknown Name'.....I thought for a second...then answered it. Then I heard the words, "Is this First Officer...." Crap.
The rules are if I confirm my assignment the night prior, nothing can be changed with the first flight unless they have positive verbal contact with me. No voicemails, emails, carrier pigeons. Positive verbal contact.
The agent was changing everything on me. Instead of a flight at 11:40AM I now had a flight at 3:50PM AND an overnight. I remarked, "I should have not answered the phone," He came back with "We were going to give you an overnight anyway, this way you have more time at home." Hmm yeah more time at home today, but tomorrow I don't finish until 4PM. Waste of a Saturday.
If I had not answered the phone I still could have made the overnight they assigned me. The difference would be the sit time. NOW I had a 2 1/2 hour sit between my turn and overnight. If I kept the previous flight it would have been a 4 hour sit time.
Of the 3 other crew members, I knew 2 of them. The Captain is a nice Norweigian guy while the front flight attendant happens to be my favorite flight attendant....so it works out I guess.
Turns out 10 minutes prior to sign in they called to tell me the first turn downgraded to a smaller plane and they wouldn't need me until 9PM. The agent said he wanted to catch me before I left for the airport. Hello 10 minutes prior?!? I was walking off the bus at that point.
I stashed my bags and headed home. It was nice spending time with my wife, but I started getting tired. My wife remarked, "Doesn't this sitting around till late at night make you tired." I replied, "Yes, but I have no choice."
My wife dropped me off at 8:15PM. I grabbed my bags and headed to the gate. As I walked down the jetway my favorite flight attendant welcomed me on board. She is fairly senior but always in a good mood. Around my airline senior and good mood rarely go hand in hand.
The Captain wanted the first leg. Fine with me. We blocked out 5 minutes early. This Captain likes to save fuel. We did a single engine taxi with the APU shutdown. During the taxi I completed a cross bleed engine start using bleed air from the left engine. On short flights I have found most of the fuel savings is had not in flight, but on the ground.
We flew by the book. Nearing the airport he stayed high much longer than normal.
Being a clear night we saw the airport 40 miles away. Twenty miles away we were cleared for a visual approach.
Entering left base at 10,000 feet he idled the engines. he then glided in and used the drag from flaps and gear to reduce speed. He never added power until he called for flaps 30. It was a beautiful approach. He then kissed runway and taxi'd it in.
The hotel was nice. Nothing great.
Sixteen hours later I was back in the cockpit. I planned on flying fast. Clearing 17,000 feet though ATC had other intentions as they told us to maintain 250 knots. Eh...they foiled my plan.
Due to an approaching front though we had a 85 knot tailwind thus negating the speed reduction. Even flying slow though I greased it on 23 minutes early.
Seeing as I was off on Sunday, scheduling released me right away.
Sunday and Monday are my days off. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I'm on reserve. Friday I head into the sim.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wall of fog
As we pushed out we got a unrequested print out via ACARS. The print out was weather in base from our dispatcher. Weather was below mins (1/4SM and 001OVC) . The previous forecast on which the flight was planned was wrong....by a lot. We already had one alternate. But with the new weather, a second might be in order.
Since we had just pushed out and not moved we decided to stay put and work the situation. I pulled the weather in base and a few airports in the area, he looked up the FARs concerning when a 2nd alternate is needed. After a few minutes we had a plan, we needed a second alternate. I typed away on the FMS to send a message to our dispatcher to work up a second alternate. The Captain began taxiing.
We sat at the end of the runway for a few minutes before getting a print out with our new fuel burn info and alternate flight plan. Good to go.
Being a 5:45AM departure it's no surprise we were the first flight out. The departure controller must have still been sleep. The tower handed us off when we reached 4000 feet. I called departure a few times. No response. Back to tower. Told to contact departure again. No response. Back to tower. He cleared us to 15,000. Around 12,000 we were told to switch again and they picked up only to handed off to a center controller right away..
Our ACARS system is very useful. For airports with digital ATIS it can pull and transcribe the ATIS for us. In addition it can keep track of updates. This is useful in situations where the weather in constantly changing.
The flight was planned for 50 minutes. In that time span 6 ATIS updates came out. Weather was going up and down.
As we neared base we monitored to tower frequency for RVR reports.The FAA has a website to view live RVR reports here. The reports were touchdown at greater than 6000, midpoint 800 , rollout 800. Clearly half the airport was covered in fog.
Sure enough there was a low layer of clouds all over the area. Lined up with the runway we could see the approach lights 10 miles away. The control tower was above the clouds. It was a very interesting sight, photo worthy....but we were in sterile cockpit so no photographs allowed.
As we neared the runway we could see a thick wall of fog. After landing we were quickly inside the fog and could see maybe 100 feet in front of us. Just a few taxi lights.
The airport has ground RADAR which is great because the tower couldn't see us. After clearing the runway it took a moment to verify where we were. Taxiway signs were obscured.
Amazingly a few moments later we were in the clear. The fog was thick and patchy.
After parking at the gate I was released for the day. I took the morning to fix that flat tire. One hundred and thirty dollars later it was fixed. It seems the valve that snapped off wasn't just a valve but part of the Tire Pressure Monitoring System for my car. Nice. A whole days pay on one tire.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Too hard for one leg
I'm almost back to normal as far as my health goes. Just a light cough. I headed out the door at 10:09 and began loading up my car. By 10:12 I was done.
Over the last few days the Tire Pressure Monitoring System on my car has been going off. I finally traced it down to the rear driver side tire. I had planned on topping it off today and getting it fixed when I get back tomorrow. I figured there was a nail in it.
When I walked around to that side of the car I was greeted by a very deflated tire. I quickly grabbed the inflator and turned my car on. I then thought there must be a hole. I grabbed a bottle of fix-o-flat. I screwed it on and pumped it in. Then it happened.
As I unscrewed the inflator hose the entire valve stem just snapped off. Out went all of the air. Time 10:17. Crap.
I quickly called crew scheduling. I let the agent know that I would likely not make the sign in time but I should make the departure no problem. I could have simply burned another sick day and been done with it, but I plan on saving my sick time for when I have a second officer of my own...I'm sure I will need it.
The agent said to keep him updated. The departure was set for noon. I got to work changing the tire.
For whatever reason Mazda equips the Mazda5 with a ridiculously complicated jacking system. Ugh. I've only had two flat tires in my life (not bad for 18 years of driving and 8 or so different cars). The last time was on the inner lane of a 3 lane freeway with a 60 MPH speed limit. Not the smartest idea to pull over there. Three scraped knuckles later it was fixed.
Having a flat in the garage is much more convinenent. At 10:40AM I was done. Problem...the spare looked very flat. With a quick check I found it too be at 25 PSI! Normal is 55PSI. While filling it up I called scheduling and told them I could make a 11:30AM sign in and that the flight would still leave on time. That's all he really cared to hear..."leave on time."
I pulled into the employee lot at 11:12AM. On the bus at 11:15AM. Cleared the security portal at 11:23AM and signed in at 11:25AM. Not bad.
After stopping by the crew room for my manual updates I headed to the gate....18 gates away. I walked onto the plane at 11:35AM. Boarding had just started.
I knew the Captain. He was my initial sim instructor. I stashed my bags and did my preflight. All parts accounted for I took my seat.
I glanced at the overhead panel. Something was off...or on rather. The IDG (Integrated Drive Generator) #2 had a fault light. Not good. Captain noticed it about the same time.
A few minutes later a mechanic arrived. Stated we would likely need to deplane. APU running. We all knew that resetting the plane would likely clear the fault light. Problem is we can't have passengers on a plane with no power. Ground power wasn't available.
The mechanic began looking at the circuit breaker behind my seat. I was busy programming the FMS. Then it happened. Everything went black. He pulled the circuit breaker for the main battery bus. WTF?
He pushed it back in. All kinds of warnings and bells went off associated with initially powering up the plane. The Captain and I quickly reconfigured the overhead panel for an APU restart and he started it up. Sure enough the IDG fault light was gone, but a new more minor one was here.
After twenty minutes of discussion and writing we were pushing out of the gate 15 minutes late with one minor item MEL'd.
The Captain had been flying all day. He gave the leg to me.
During taxi my checklist calls for me to check the flight controls. In the CRJ there is no direct connection between the yoke and the control surfaces. Thus I am just making sure when I turn right that the Flight Control Synoptic page shows the right aileron going up and what not.
The controls felt fine and everything looked normal.
Cross-bleed (no APU) engine start complete it was my aircraft. At 124 knots I rotated the 59,000 pound plane with 29 adults on it into the air. Right away something didn't feel right. The controls felt jammed.
I wiggled the yoke a bit and the plane responded. I stated the controls felt very stiff. The plane had just come out of maintenance for having stiff controls. Not fixed. At 600 feet I called for the autopilot.
Thankfully the outstation was using a runway that allowed for a straight in landing. That combined with me flying a higher cruise speed meant I could make up most, if not all of the delay.
Somehow I made an incredibly smooth landing (light plane at 56000 pounds) while dealing with a decent crosswind.
While taxing to the gate a twin Cessna almost turned into the grass leaving the runway. Guess they were trying to make a certain exit....eh
We pulled into the gate 1 minute late (still on time according to the Department of Transportation...as long as we block in within 14 minutes of scheduled arrival time).
Not my favorite overnight. There is a really good catfish place across the river. Hopefully tomorrow I will be off when I get back.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Being sick and a pilot
Now each time I get sick I research what I think I have and possible drugs/treatments. I then go to the Doctor. Each time I advise that I'm a pilot and that I have to be careful what I take. Most of the time the Doctor takes the time and makes sure the drugs/treatments are FAA approved. Every now and then they state it's safe, then I check and it's not. Always double check.
This happened yesterday. I am finally getting over a cold/flu (I got the flu shot 2 months ago....yeah). I've had a cough for a few days. My first visit was to a non-urgent care center. The RN prescribed Benzonatate. I asked if it caused drowsiness/nausea. She assured me it didn't. Once I got the bottle sure enough it has three stickers referencing drowsiness/nausea/heavy machinery. No go.
Today I went to my regular (non-FAA) Doctor. Yadda, yadda, yadda they have no idea why I have a cough. I had a chest xray which came up with nothing. I was given a script for a mega-dosage of an anti-biotic (FAA approved) and sent on my way. Hopefully this does the trick.
I am keeping a log of all of my Doctor visits. I'm required to report them on my yearly flight physical. No biggie.
I called in sick today. I am feeling better now. I was assigned a two day trip tomorrow. This is a horrible trip for over time, but good for reserve.
My flight leaves tomorrow at 12:00PM. It's one leg to the overnight. The return flight leaves the outstation at 5:45AM Thursday (hotel van leaves at 4:45AM!) and I should hopefully be done at 7AM.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Halfway done with recurrent
The first two days were all classroom based covering company and aircraft specific information. The last day we headed down to the cabin trainer (full size replica of the CRJ) to practice opening emergency doors and covering use of all of the emergency equipment.
The only thing I learned was that the ADG (Air Driven Generator) is always heated. This was there is little/no chance of ice freezing the prop when it drops out. Makes sense.
I finish the other half on November 20th when I head to the simulator.
While in training I saw the pilot one junior to me. She is based elsewhere. Haven't seen her since we were hired. She is getting ready to go out on pregnancy leave for the second time in less than two weeks. She kinda got a bad deal as she will be out long enough to require another recurrent training when she comes back. Doesn't make much sense to take her off the line for 4 days (3 days ground + her check ride) when she will be gone so soon. Oh well. She did fine. It's gotta be rough being pregnant and doing this job. Ooof.
Saturday my wife and I flew over to see my dad for the day. It's a 4 hour drive or a 40 minute flight. Since starting here I haven't driven too see him. Why fly when you can drive? I'm still waiting for the day he wants to fly somewhere. He has yet to use my benefits.
It was odd to have a Sunday off. I haven't had a Sunday off (not including vacation) in months. My wife and I didn't know what too do with ourselves. I get a month of Sundays off. Nice.
I saw online Skywest will be flying for AirTran. They are flying "at risk" meaning they get paid they pay for everything and hope the flight has enough passengers to make a profit. This is opposite how most regionals work. At most regionals the regional carrier pays for the planes and staff. The regional carrier gets a set fee for every flight regardless of how many passengers are on board. This is known as "fee for departure". I have flown several empty planes around where my airline made a profit. Good luck to Skywest.
Republic Airline Holdings is doing very interesting things. Not many I care for. One thing that really irks me is how they are handling the ERJ-190's.
Their current pay scale (seen here) for Captains goes up to 99 seats. The ERJ-190's have 100 seats. Rather than negotiate a new pay scale they are literally MELing (putting out of service) one seat on every flight. To make matters worse First Officers make the same pay if they fly 37 seats or 99 seats. This is scummy. I hope their Union (Teamsters instead of the more common ALPA) goes to bat for them.
Mesa Air Group appears to be in bad shape. They will soon lose their Dash flying for United. Their CRJ200 flying for United might also go away. When planes are parked...pilots are let go.
There is some good news to be had.
Trans-States in recalling furloughed pilots. As is American Eagle.
As far as my status at my airline. Everything is status quo.....which given the volatile state of the industry....is a pretty good thing.
Random photo below. Taken during one of the many test flights last month.
[singlepic id=407 w=800 h=600 float=center]
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Everything is review. First day was company procedures, aircraft security and basic system review. Today was all systems review. Tomorrow we hop in a cabin trainer for a few practice items before taking a final written exam. I then have a 3 day weekend before going back to reserve. I hit the simulator on November 20th.
One interesting part of recurrent is meeting other pilots who I normally only see in passing in the jet bridge. In the room are 11 pilots total. Six are Captains. I have only flown with two of them.
When I first started at my airline, a few of my friends headed to corporate stating "corporate was safe". Well today Netjets announced they were planning on furloughing 500 pilots. Wow. Just when I thought the economy was on the rebound.
Below is a photo I took last month during all my test flight. Backing a plane into a hangar is a very interesting thing too watch. They have a scaffolding that surrounds the tail. Very little room for error.
[singlepic id=406 w=640 h=480 float=center]
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Heading to training
The hotel was my favorite...due to an awesome breakfast. I did find something new to like...powered USB ports. I left my netbook charger at home. Thankfully the hotel has powered USB ports. Plugged my phone in....problem solved.
On the second day there were 3 legs. Two were mine. Once again on the second landing I was high. Not so high that the final approach controller came on the line, but the glideslope was barely visible. All turned out okay.
Today I head in for recurrent ground training. I start today at noon...finish sometime late tonight. I think I start at 8AM and finish at 5PM Thursday and Friday.
I got a nice $3 an hour pay raise last week. This brings me up to $37 an hour. This translates into about $33,000 a year before taxes and per diem. Not a lot of money. This is substantially less than I earned before I started flying. I've said it many times, but without my wife none of this would be possible.
I am going to have to force myself to update my logbook next week. I use Logbook Pro. Love it. I also bought the Airline Pilot Daily Logbook so that I could update it on the fly. Never really did that. I haven't updated my hours since July. My airline tracks my flight time for me. They show I have 990 hours of flight time at the airline and 1540 hours total time. I know I have a few more hours as their starting time for me is what I had when I interviewed.
Using Windows 7. Bought two copies of Windows 7 Home Premium. I find myself using Windows 7 almost as much as Mac OS X.
Posting has been infrequent lately due to my vacation (loved it) and now training. Should be back to normal sometime next week.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Back in the saddle...errr cockpit
My first day of reserve? Assigned airport standby! No biggie as I had to update my manuals anyway. That took a good hour. I then continued studying for my recurrent ground and simulator check coming up.
Around 5PM it was time for dinner. As soon as I took my first bite my phone rang. Assigned a flight leaving at 5:30PM. I advised I just started eating dinner and would get there as soon as I finished. Long ago I learned it's not my stomach's fault that they need me right away. Once done eating I headed over to the plane.
The flight was supposed to leave at 3:50PM. Mechanical delays and a sick FO caused the new time to be 5:30PM. I arrived at 5:20PM to an empty plane. Hmmm.
When I stepped into the plane I noticed a slightly odd odor. Having not flown in a while, I assumed it was "normal".
The flight attendants arrived (also airport standby). They complained about the smell as well. Captain advised us all of where the smell was coming from.
Turns out there was still an issue. A passenger on the inbound flight had a medical emergency and urinated on the last row of seats which spread to the carpet. The seats are all leather, but the cushions were changed out anyway. The carpet was deodorized....but that's it.
We ended up refusing the aircraft. A few minutes later we were assigned a new aircraft....right next door.
At 6:45PM....almost 3 hours after scheduled departure...we pushed out of the gate. This was a great thing as another scheduled flight was scheduled to leave at the same time. We beat that flight out of the ramp by 2 minutes. They followed us the entire way. By being "in front" we would easily get parked at the outstation and taken care of first.
I was hoping the Captain would take the first leg so I could get my feet wet again. Nah he gave it too me.
Most of the flight was normal....right until the approach.
The assigned runway has an offset localizer. This is noted on the approach chart. Skies were clear and visibility unrestricted so I briefed a visual approach backed up with the localizer. I mistakenly forgot to brief the localizer offset.
The airport was surprisingly busy. There were 2 planes already on final. We were told to follow a Gulfstream who was number 2. Meanwhile a Cessna would be following us. Once the Captain and I agreed that we had the Gulfstream in view he called it. I then clicked off the autopilot and turned base. As soon as I turned I saw that I would be about 400 feet above the altitude at the FAF for the ILS for the runway. I began dirtying up the plane and slowing down. I crossed the FAF a little more than 200 feet high.
I lined up with the runway and before long was at flaps 45. The spacing between the Gulfstream and my plane appeared to be just over 2 1/2 miles. Decent. I then noticed the horizontal row of white lights to the left of the runway. I was still high!
I reduced the thrust levers and pushed the toke forward. By 800 feet AGL I was on glideslope and on approach speed.
Somehow the stars aligned and I managed a very nice landing touching down about 500 feet beyond the 1000 foot markings.
We were late. Pulling into the gate I noticed ZERO passengers in the waiting area. Due to being so late, all of the passengers were accommodated on other flights. A very quick 16 minutes later the plane was fueled, programmed and pushing back from the gate....with just 4 people on board....me, the Captain and the flight attendants.
During climb out, being so light we hit 5000 feet per minute sustained. Nice.
We were hoping to go fast and be done. Negative. We were slowed due to slower traffic ahead.
Just after 9PM the Captain began his flare to land the plane. Then the plane floated. This has happened to me many times. It looked like he was going to have a soft landing. It wasn't meant to be. With a jolt the mains contacted the runway once....and then again. We laughed about it later.
Being just 9:15PM when we pulled into the gate, I had 45 minutes of standby to sit out. Eh...I was never used.
Today I had a two day trip starting at 5:55PM. I will be heading to my favorite hotel for 9 hours. If it all works out well I will be done tomorrow at 12:30PM.
I then have recurrent ground training Wednesday thru Friday, off for a 3 day weekend and then back on reserve a week from today.
It's good to be back.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Pilot's arduous 2-day schedule reflects demands on flight crews
Pilot's arduous 2-day schedule reflects demands on flight crews
12:36 AM CDT on Sunday, November 1, 2009
By ERIC TORBENSON / The Dallas Morning News
This time, he required coffee. And Doug Gibbs doesn't like coffee; he's more of a Coke guy when he needs a boost. So he dulls the taste with lots of cream.This Tuesday would demand maximum caffeine: a 3:40 a.m. wake-up call to ensure he was on a shuttle bus by 4:30 from the hotel to the Little Rock airport.
A first officer for American Eagle Airlines, Gibbs had to check in for the 5:40 a.m. flight to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – the first of five flights he'd be in the cockpit for on a workday that wouldn't get him back to his Lewisville home until after 6 p.m.
That's not an everyday occurrence for Gibbs, who was on the second day of a two-day sequence that saw him making eight flights in 35 hours. But because he's paid only for the time when the plane is actually moving, he's got to work several such sequences each month to log enough hours to earn his $38,000 a year.
It's the accumulation of days like this over a month that has the nation's air safety regulator moving to change how often pilots can fly and when they must rest.
The proposed rules change comes in the wake of a February regional jet crash in Buffalo where the cockpit transcript showed both pilots were clearly tired, plus a string of small-jet crashes in recent years where pilot fatigue played a role. The Federal Aviation Administration's proposed rules are due before the end of the year.
This week speculation over whether two Northwest Airlines pilots may have been sleeping when they flew 150 miles past Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport brought more attention to whether pilots are overscheduled.
The Northwest pilots – in their mid-50s and with decades of experience – told regulators they were distracted by a discussion about pilot scheduling and denied being asleep.
While regional airlines have been in the FAA's spotlight, the Northwest incident demonstrates how concerns over pilot behavior go beyond the small carriers.
Both small- and large-jet operators have been scheduling pilots with decades-old limits that critics say haven't kept up with the economic pressures that airlines and pilots face today.
Under current scheduling rules, pilots can be at work – preparing for flights, actually flying and waiting to fly again – up to 16 consecutive hours. They can physically be flying a plane only eight of those hours.
Initial reports from the FAA's rulemaking process suggest that a pilot's duty day – the time at work – will shrink, but the amount of actual flying time allowed may increase, if the flights are scheduled during daylight hours.
"On one end you've got pilots doing long-haul international flights and on the other you've got guys slogging through bad weather in the Northeast on turboprops flying five or six times a day," said Bob Mann, an aviation consultant for R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, N.Y. "It's a tall order to make a set of rules to fit that."
The new rules will alter how airlines plan flights, force them to hire more pilots and potentially lead to unprofitable routes being eliminated.
Airline pilot scheduling has changed in the last decade for a host of reasons:
•Regional airlines try to keep costs low by maximizing the productivity of their pilots and using as few reserve pilots as possible.
•Pay cuts have prompted pilots to fly as much as they can to keep a standard of living.
•Many pilots choose to commute to their assigned crew bases because of high living costs, adding more travel time even before they punch the clock to start flying.
Compounding the problem for commuting pilots, recent cutbacks in airline flights have meant far fewer empty seats available. Consequently, some pilots have to fly a day in advance to ensure they make it to their crew base, lengthening their time on the road.
In the Buffalo crash, for example, the 24-year-old co-pilot had flown overnight from Seattle to New Jersey before starting her day.
The Regional Airline Association, which represents nearly all regional carriers including Eagle, has launched its own study of pilot fatigue that will also examine commuting's effect, president Roger Cohen said.
"There's been very little research in this area, and we need better science," said Cohen, who has been defending his industry's safety record since the Buffalo crash.
He also questions whether regional pilots are more prone to fatigue than their mainline counterparts.
"There could be more fatigue, but it may also be the opposite outcome," said Cohen. "Maybe the frequency of the flights keeps them more alert and active."
That frequency of flights is where regional pilots may have it tougher than pilots at mainline airlines.
Eagle has an average flight length of 350 miles compared with American Airlines' 900 miles. So, if they fly an equal distance, Eagle pilots will make about three times as many landings and takeoffs – the most stressful part of the job.
American's pilots have schedules that aren't easy to fly either, but with longer flights they can work fewer total days a month than Eagle's pilots do.
"I wish the industry would raise the bar on flight time and duty time rules, which hopefully is coming," said Gibbs, the first officer, over a lunch of chicken fingers at TGI Fridays at D/FW's B Concourse. He gets $1.75 an hour for food per diem, but "eating out three times a day can really add up." To save money, he often packs Pop Tarts (Frosted chocolate fudge or chocolate chip are his favorites).
Eagle seems to be a better place to fly than other regional airlines, Gibbs said, after comparing notes with friends at other carriers. "The safety and training programs here are top-notch," he said.
However, Eagle can't escape the declining economics of regional flying, especially as fuel prices rise. Eagle stopped flying 54 planes in June 2008; other regional airlines have seen their flying for major carriers cut and the rates they get paid reduced.
Living his dream
Despite the hours and disruptions to his sleep schedule, Gibbs said being an airline pilot is the job he's wanted since he flew in a 1956 Cessna 172 when he was 15 ½ years old and growing up on his family's farm in central Illinois.
"I love the freedom," he said. "I love not being in an office all day."
Gibbs, who's flown for American Eagle for almost four years, nearly got a job at Comair, which does regional flying for Delta Air Lines Inc., but Delta's bankruptcy filing in September 2005 scotched it. An extension program through Southern Illinois University got him in the door with Eagle.
In his first assignment, Gibbs was stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he and his colleagues dubbed themselves "Pilots of the Caribbean," which explains the skull and crossbones sticker on his crew-kit bag.
It's also where he met his wife, Iris, a sixth-grade English teacher, who, ironically, doesn't like flying though she's getting more comfortable with it – and with having her husband in the air all the time.
"It's hard on her, but she supports me," said Gibbs, who turned 27 last month but often gets asked by passengers if he's 13.
As a first officer on Eagle's Canadair Regional Jet, Gibbs' duties are basically the same as his captain's, though Gibbs does the "walk-around" of the plane before and after each flight to check its airworthiness.
Gibbs also serves as an elected union representative for the Air Line Pilots Association, which bargains for the 2,500 Eagle pilots. His union status allows him to talk to the media; everyday pilots – like his captain – cannot be quoted without permission from the airline.
Pilots use their seniority to bid for flying and fly in "sequences." Gibbs and his captain flew a sequence of eight flights over two days Oct 19-20.
During this trip, Gibbs will do the takeoffs and landings on the outbound parts of the schedule; the captain will handle the inbound parts. They're fortunate: two cloudless fall days to fly to the cities on their schedule – Little Rock on the first day, Lubbock and Des Moines on the second.
The first flight to Little Rock nearly never happens. When a flight attendant closes the Canadair Regional Jet's door, a bolt snaps, and Gibbs gets out of the cockpit to assess the problem and call in maintenance. It is one of five mechanical issues he deals with among the eight flights.
The plane he's flying this day also lacks a functioning auxiliary power unit, a not-too-uncommon issue. It's not a safety concern, but the unit does help start the engines and can run the air conditioning on board. Passengers complain about the stuffiness on board the 70-seat plane.
Good news: Maintenance finds the needed bolt and fixes the door. It's fortunate for Gibbs and his passengers because it's the last one in stock and a Canadair Regional Jet a few gates away just snapped the same bolt. A little more than two hours after the scheduled departure, they're off to Little Rock.
After turning around and returning to D/FW Airport, Gibbs flies back to Little Rock – his third flight on day one – and hops on the employee shuttle to a riverfront hotel. He does two hours of phone work before grabbing dinner, and then turns in around 6:30 p.m. for as much sleep as he can get before his 3:40 a.m. wake-up on Tuesday.
The layover is longer than usual for Gibbs and his captain. Mann and other consultants say short overnight layovers for regional pilots contribute considerably to fatigue because they can't get adequate sleep if they're on flying trips that last four, or in some cases, five days. And rest periods can get eaten up by paperwork at the airport and traveling to and from hotels.
"At some point these regional carriers push productivity to a point where it's no longer gain but pain," Mann said.
Gibbs' first flight on day two starts with another minor mechanical problem; the plane's backup de-icing system was giving it trouble, even though there wasn't any ice in Little Rock.
Eventually the problem clears, and he returns to D/FW to then make a quick hop and back to Lubbock, just 243 miles away.
Back at D/FW, Gibbs has a three-hour wait until his final round trip to Des Moines. That's the frustrating part of the schedule; it allows a leisurely lunch, but he'd rather be flying and getting home sooner.
After flying out and back from Iowa, Gibbs is finished with his two-day sequence. If he's tired, it doesn't show in his greeting passengers or in his cheery public address announcements.
Gibbs heads to the employee parking lot and eventually back home. He'll be back in the air in three days headed to Pittsburgh.
If Gibbs wants to be a captain – which could ultimately boost his pay at Eagle to more than $100,000 a year – he'll be waiting for several years as the seniority list at Eagle isn't moving quickly.
If the FAA changes the rules on rest, it would likely mean regional airlines like Eagle would need to hire more pilots. That's potentially good news for Gibbs' career advancement.
However, if American Airlines can't make money on Eagle routes, it could cut more flights, reducing the need for more pilots.
At some point, Gibbs may have to make a choice to commute from D/FW if he wants a chance at being captain, though it would mean more time away from home.
Being a captain "is always a target that's off there in the horizon," he said. "This is all I want to do."