Monday, March 19, 2012

Ahhh who needs all that fancy FMS stuff?

Same trip as last week. Still not an easy trip.

Started off with the rest of my crew abandoning me! They all called in sick!

I was the only line holder, the rest were reserves. Departed on time. The plane had a lot of MEL's including the FMS. This meant we would be navigating the "old fashioned way".

Well not too old fashioned. I didn't have to break out a sundial and star map. We had to use navigational radios.

Flying "green needles" with ground based navigation is a little more relaxed than FMS. Not crazy RNAV GPS departure...simply takeoff and track a radial outbound. Easy enough.

Since I started the last trip, I had the Captain (even though he's not my line Captain) start this trip.

Easy enough first leg. The approach controller left us really high due to a few general aviation planes flying around west of the airport. Steep descent and done.

My next leg was mostly uneventful. ATC kept offering us "direct tos" but we had to decline if it wasn't a VOR we could tune in. A little annoying...took a few minutes longer....but I'm paid by the minute right?

Third leg of the day involved a plane swap. Different terminal. Just 40 minutes between when we were scheduled to arrive and scheduled to depart.

I stopped by a place to grab some food. Took longer than I planned. I arrived at my gate 22 minutes before departure. Boarding started as soon as I placed my bags in the plane and turned the power on.

Ten minutes to departure I had the preflight done, FMS set up and ready to go. Then it happened. My cabin crew stated there was a seat back that wouldn't stay up. We had a few open seats, but the seat needed to be upright. Mechanic called.

Delayed. Ten minutes AFTER departure the mechanic arrived. He started banging around on the seat then came up and said we would have to deplane for him to finish the job. Ugh.

Everybody off. He then had it fixed in 2 minutes. The REAL reason he wanted everyone off was he didn't want them to get the wrong idea about his repair and all the banging. The banging was needed to release the gears so he could lock the seat in an upright position. Fine. Reboarded. Left an hour late.

Smooth flight. Calm wind at the outstation. We were arriving from the south but they were landing south. I hoped to land north and save a few minutes.

I briefed a visual to the north and backed up by the ILS.

Cleared for the visual to runway 2. Coming in from the southeast on about a 320 heading. Night time. It "looked" like I was fine altitude wise. The ILS was turned on for ILS no help there.

I quickly loaded up the GPS approach to runway 2. This gave me an artificial glide slope. I was really high.

Dirtied up and steep descent. I turned final at about 1100 feet AGL. Right on the VASI. Slight 6 knot tailwind. Floated a bit. Decent landing. Done.

Arrived an hour late.

Day 2 started fine. Nice ride to the airport....sunny day.

My cabin crew includes one new flight attendant. She told me she worked as a FA elsewhere, but was new here. She seems really new though...very slow in getting things done and doesn't keep an eye on departure time.

The distance between the gate and the runway was maybe 100 yards. Short taxi. We advised her of the short taxi.

We ran the checklist and taxi'd really slowly. We then held short for about 4 minutes while they finished the safety demo. Thankfully there was no one behind us.

Captain took the first two legs. We were in the same plane as yesterday, but all the MEL's were in fixed. The plane stayed the night in a maintenance base.

Fairly easy day. All flights on time. The last leg to the overnight was mine.

The overnight had weather coming in. It was supposed to be gone before we arrived. We had an alternate just in case.

About 35 minutes out the weather over the airport was gone....but there was still weather in the area.

The enroute controller was issuing commands non-stop. We were headed to a fairly small airport. The controller was primarily giving instructions to planes inbound to a much larger airport.

I had the VNAV setup to be level at 10,000 AGL 30 miles from the airport. My normal setting.

We were level at FL370. I watched the required rate increase from 500 feet per minute, to 1500 feet per minute, to 3500 feet per minute....all without being given a descent. Reason was twofold...traffic and weather.

Finally clear of traffic....but not the weather. I gave up trying to cross 30 miles out at 10,000 feet as the required descent rate was 5500 feet per minute. I just wanted to hustle down through the weather.

It was rough. Heavy rain and lightening all around. I was using the RADAR to deviate around the worse parts of the weather the best I could. We were cleared direct to the airport when able. Given a descent down to 10,000 MSL . Airport elevation is 1000 feet MSL. We were just 6 miles away from the FAF while passing through 9000 MSL.

Finally thought I had it made as we were in clear skies so I began a steep descent. Being given vectors for the ILS to runway 2. Problem...there was another RJ inbound. The controller asked if we could take a turn to final. Unable...we were simply too high. To make matters worse we were flying around inside a small area surrounded by weather.

It seemed like the controller couldn't see the weather as we were being flown toward squall lines and thunderclouds at every turn. I had the autopilot turned off and was deviating the best I could. The Captain asked if we could get a left 360 to stay clear of the weather. Approved but we had to stay above 4500 MSL as the other RJ was at 2500 MSL inbound to land. Fine. I could see the airport clearly during the turn.


Here's a shot of the actual RADAR and our flight path (the green line). The dashed blue line was our filed flight path. We fell off RADAR tracking by flightaware (source of the image) probably around 5000 feet AGL.

Lots of bumps. I was on the ball keeping a tight turn while descending. Finally cleared for the visual.....number 2.

The other RJ was 3 1/2 miles ahead. I quickly slowed up and made a small S turn for spacing.

Winds at the airport were 310@18G30....landing runway 2. At 2000 AGL the winds were a screaming 330@45 knots.

The descent was bumpy all the way till about 200 feet when the wind started to die off.

Minimal flare and touchdown. Done.

Same hotel room as the night prior. Happy to be done.

Day 3 was mostly easy. We had to deal with weather again on the 2nd leg. Lots of scud making a visual approach hard. The approach controller said some aircraft could pick up the runway 6 miles out while others could not. I looked joy. Cleared for the ILS.

The last leg was mine. Ready to be done.

Gusty winds on takeoff. Long flight.

During the flight I told the Captain how happy I was to have 4 days off. He wished he had that. He is a very junior Captain. He was on day 3 of 6. Sure enough he had more flying to do once we got back. He flew each day.

I forgot how bad reserve can be. Not sure I'm looking forward to it when I upgrade to Captain (which MIGHT happen in the next 12 months or so). It's a big step up in pay while a huge drop in quality of life.

I will go from having 18+ days off, nice schedules and top picks on vacation to 11 days off, unpredictable schedules and crappy vacation. Eh.

For now I'm happy to be relaxing. I do the same trip again this week. Next week though will be different.



  1. Thanks for another great post.  I'm surprised that the FMS can be MEL'd, but I don't make the rules .  WHen it is your turn to upgrade, gofoit!  The reduction in QOL won't last long.  Best wishes. -C.

  2. I agree with Cedarglen (hi C!)'s always better in the left seat. Best wishes from me too.


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