Friday, May 25, 2012

"Cleared left turn direct destination"....flying as a Lifeguard

My last 4 day was crappy. I was off my game...I made the single worst approach in my career....went around.....and plunked it onto the runway.

The plunking was needed as the runway was 5200 feet long...and it had just finished raining. There were thunderstorms in the area which was part of the reason for the approach.

Due to weather  and direction of wind the only approach was a VOR approach. Yeah I said it was ugly.

The performance charts started I needed 3800 feet excluding thrust reverser credit. It was a minimal flare, get'r done, landing. Eh.

Fast forward to day 4. Go home day.

Day 4 was just 3 legs.

Flight attendants have preflight duties just like I have a preflight to perform. During the cabin preflight the cabin crew noticed an issue in the lavatory. It was a no go item. The overnight ground crew is supposed to inspect the cabin and have a checklist of their own. One of the items was the issue in the lavatory....which the ground crew checked off as "satisfactory". Nope.

Delayed. Blocked out 25 minutes late. This was the kickoff flight (meaning first flight out). Lots of connecting passengers.

Thankfully the skies were clear and the Captain was able to make up a lot of time. It helped our hub was in a west flow (meaning takeoffs and landings flown with a westerly heading) and we were approaching from the a straight approach.

We landed 1 minute late and blocked in 12 minutes late. Twelve minutes late is "on time" according to the Department of Transportation.

Originally we had 40 minutes between flights. Since we blocked in 12 minutes late we had just 28 minutes.  In those 28 minutes we had to:

1. Deplane and re-board passengers

2. Unload and reload passenger bags and cargo

3. Refuel.

4. Get a local mechanic to sign off on the issue with the lavatory

5. Get breakfast (nothing at the outstation)

6. Postflight/Preflight the flight deck and exterior of the plane

7. Get the cabin cleaned

8. Restock the galley

9. Set the plane up for the outbound flight

We did all that in 23 minutes. Crazy looking back. I didn't rush, I even had a chat with a pilot I haven't seen in a while during my wait for breakfast.

We changed it up and swapped legs at the hub versus the outstation....fine with me as I wanted to fly sooner than later.

There was a reason why it worked so well and were able to do a 23 minute turn, but we wouldn't find out the reason until we talked to the ground controller.

"4929 Lifegaurd taxi to runway 27L via Bravo, traffic on Mike waits for you,"

Lifeguard? We are a lifeguard? A quick scan of our small little line...stated we were indeed a lifeguard flight. No one from my company cared to advise us we were a lifeguard flight. Looking back it made sense.

Normally I have to call to have a mechanic come out....but there was one standing by when we pulled in. Normally the ramp crew takes their time unloading and reloading bags....but they were done early as they had extra help. It wasn't a miracle we got out was because we were a lifeguard flight. Everyone around the plane knew...but no one told us.

Our original clearance had the normal SID, Jetways, VORs and a STAR.

While climbing out the departure controller simply said, "4929 Lifeguard cleared left turn direct destination". Wow.

It was very odd flying a straight line. About 80 miles out we were cleared direct to the final approach fix. Other aircraft were slowed and turned to accomadate us.

Landed 20 minutes early and saved 800 pounds of fuel (mostly due to the straight line flight!).

During my post flight I saw the reason for the lifeguard status...a kidney was on board in the cargo compartment.

For the flight back every seat in the cabin was full....and there was a jump seater. Not just any jump seater....the man...the FAA. An FAA inspector was headed out for a sim session to stay current for his Citation type rating.

Long flight back. The FAA guy was quiet. He had no interest in talking. Each time the Captain or I brought up a topic we got just a few words back. I did ask him something I am very interested in...the First Officer ATP type rating coming up.

I took my ATP written before I was hired. There is a rule stating an expired ATP written can be used for an upgrade as long as the pilot is continuously employed at a 121 carrier. The problem is I will be taking a First Officer ATP practical. As of now I have to retake the ATP written...another $80 out of my pocket and more time studying.

We arrived 25 minutes early. I was in my car at arrival time. Great to live in base.

Off for 5 days. I have one more 4 day trip that bumps into a 2 day trip for my June line. Yup a 6 day trip. I do get to come home for the night after the 4 day trip.

Next month, excluding this first 2 day trip, I have 3 day trips, weekends off and one night staying ON the beach. Much better than May.


Friday, May 18, 2012

I want my...APU back, APU back, APU back, APU back,

Right now I am enjoying a frosty adult beverage in my favorite Samuel Adams Pilsner glass I got after visiting the Boston brewery.

Day four of my last trip was rough.

I did sleep well though...actually I slept freaking great.

The overnight hotel was on the final approach path to the main runway. Planes on glide slope passed maybe 400 feet over the hotel. Close.

We piled in the van at 6:10AM. I was doing my preflight at 6:18AM. Close.

Blocked out on time. Perfect airplane.

The first of 5 legs.

A little chop...but nothing horrible.

Blocked in early. We were supposed to keep the same plane for the first 3 legs. Pulling into the gate the ramp controller advised our plane was going out in 10 a city not on our schedule.


I hate plane swaps, especially when I don't see them coming. I built my "nest" on my side of the flight deck. Eh.

Sure enough a crew was waiting for our plane. They broke theirs. Not really. The First Officer found an issue on the preflight that would take a while to fix.

They got our plane. We got theirs.

The APU on their plane was already out of service. Now the number 2 pack (a "pack" is an Air Cycle Machine..AKA an air conditioner) was also out of service. What does this mean? A hot airplane that has to fly low.

It's summer...almost. It's still hot outside. Even on a 75 degree day the cabin can be as warm as 80 degrees while empty. Throw is a bunch of bodies with a temp of 98.6 degrees...and it gets warm quick.

For whatever reason the ground crew did not connect the pre-conditioned air so the cabin was stuffy...the flight deck was downright hot. I called our operations and requested the air to be connected. Without an APU pre-conditioned air was the only way to cool the cabin down without starting an engine.

I left to do my preflight and grab lunch. Ten minutes later the cabin was tolerable while the flight deck was still hot.

We boarded up the passengers and then waited for the huffer cart to be connected. Jet engines use pressurized air to start. Without an APU we needed an external air source....thus a huffer cart.

The huffer was finally connected. We ran the external start checklist and my Captain started the 1st engine. Done.

I engaged the number 1 pack as the number 2 pack (that primarily cools the cabin) was out of service. Thankfully we were only half full and it wasn't too hot outside.

When things aren't normal it takes a little longer to get things done. I have to remind myself to NOT do my normal flows.

During the taxi out to the runway I used bleed air from the number one engine to start the number two engine. Not hard, but it requires a little more thought than using the APU. Done.

Due to various FARs we had to fly at a lower altitude since only one of the two packs was operational. Thankfully the lower flight levels had better rides. It was my Captains leg.

Nothing exciting until final. The out station has intersecting runways. Departures were launching off runway 31. We were approaching on runway 5. Tower was staggering departures and arrivals. On short final the aircraft taking off 31 was a little slow on the roll. We were preparing for him to abort or, more likely, us to go around. Thankfully he passed through the intersection just as we passed 300 feet above the ground.

Quick turn. Once again an external air start. My leg back.

Beautiful VFR day at my hub. Clear skies, calm winds....80 degrees now. Normally makes for an easy approach. It wasn't too be....we were following a 747.

With calm winds the wake turbulence would stick around versus being blown away. I stayed high on the ILS and slightly to the right. I advised my Captain of my intention to remain high all the way to the runway and land long. He agreed.

My plan worked. Smooth all the way down. We did get a good whiff of burning rubber after touchdown which is too be expected as the 747 has 18 tires!

Third leg done. An hour sit and one more turn left.

The next plane was perfect. Nothing out of service. My leg again. Fairly short 70 minute flight. I flew a little fast as I wanted to finish early.

The out station was a former military base. Huge 200 foot wide runway. Vectored in for a left base. I was a little higher than I wanted to be as I turned final. I just idled the engines and called for gear and flaps.

I was on approach speed by 500 feet. Blocked in 15 minutes early. Done.

Last leg. We were all ready to be finished. We had already flown 6 hours 50 minutes that day.

Blocked out 10 minutes early. It was looking like we would arrive 25 minutes early....until center gave us a 90 degree vector off course. Congestion. Yadda, yadda, yadda....we blocked in 15 minutes early.

Twelve hour and thirty minute duty day....flew 7 hours and 30 minutes....I had been up for 13 and a half hours. Ugh.

My wife dropped me off on Sunday and would be picking me up. She planned on me being on time...since I was early I had time to kill. daughter does love Strawberry shakes.

Shake in hand I walked out of the terminal just as my family pulled up. Even though I was tired the instant my daughter peeked her head around her car seat and saw me I was refreshed. She was even happier when she saw the shake in my hand.

Off for 3 days. I start another dreadful 4 day Sunday afternoon. I'm soooo preferencing 3 day trips next month!



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It keeps getting harder

On day 3 of a 4 day. The trip is a 1-2-4-5 trip.

Day one was easy. I had a 7PM departure. One leg to the overnight....a reduced rest 8 1/2 hour overnight. Eh.

I'd been off for 9 days...same with my co-pilot. He used to be an instructor in the training center and just recently came back to the line. He took the first leg. We would trade at the outstations.

Normal first leg. He greased it on. He was surprised seeing as he was off for 9 days.

Very short overnight.

Day two was just 2 legs. Both mine.  I also greased them on...surprising myself as well. The first one was so smooth I had to check the RADAR altimeter to make sure we actually landed. Like glass. Several passengers commented on it. Nice eh?

Tired. The good part was the overnight hotel was literally on the beach. I COULD have had my feet in the sand at noon. I'm not a beach person though.

Met up with my crew for dinner. Nice dinner.

This morning started early with a 5:40AM van.

Four legs later at another overnight. We both greased them on all day.

Another long overnight.

Tomorrow is 5 legs...8 hours of flying. Not looking forward to it.

I truly don't care for 4 day trips. Last time I had one was IOE last November. I have two more this month. Next month I am preferencing for 3 day trips.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Big Shiny Jets....

I was first diagnosed with SJS when I was just 10 years old. I was in wood shop when I saw a few kids huddled around a "state of the art" 80386 computer running Microsoft Flight Simulator. I was hooked...on computers...and soon flying jets.

Years went by and I played better and better versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator. My favorite "jets" were from The ERJ and CRJ aircraft are both highly detailed yet easy to use. I couldn't wait to fly the real thing.

Fast forward to 2006. I decided to start flight training. One of my good friends kept asking me, "so when are you going to fly jets", as my flying props wasn't real flying.

When I was first hired by my airline I was flying a regional jet....a "big" one....not one of those "little" ones. In reality all RJs are "little" ones...some more cramped than others.

All airlines adjust fleet count in domiciles. Some domiciles get bigger...some domicilies get smaller...some domiciles disappear.

Last year the aircraft I was assigned too was dropped from my domicile. I was a man without a plane.

I had the opportunity to follow my plane to its new domicile. I'd keep my "big" RJ seat. Nah.

Those who have read for a while know I changed aircraft.

My new RJ isn't as nice as my old RJ....but it's still an RJ.

More importantly my QOL is much better on this new RJ. Quality of Life is waaaay more important than the equipment I fly. A Captain who was in the same position as me put it like this, "This is a job. You are paid to fly passengers safely from point A to point B. Who cares what kind of aircraft you fly. As long as it allows you to safely do your job and go home to your family at night, it doesn't matter. Your family is what matters."

Couldn't have said it better myself. I'm home way more now than I was before. This is due to my company seniority increasing and my relative seniority increasing.

I've been here 4 1/2 years. I'm holding weekends off (if I want), most Holidays off, 16+ days off a month,  getting the vacation I want......and I fly a little dull jet. Life is good.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


I finished my day trip Friday. I'm off until NEXT week on Sunday. Just part of my line. Keeping my daughter out of daycare all this week. It's going to be the geek and daughter show.....thus it will be quiet here this week. Might write a general post about how QOL is way more important to MOST pilots than the equipment they fly. If not...crickets for a bit.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

David Clamps.....ugggggh....had to send in my Bose A-20s

My Bose A-20s are in the back of a UPS airplane right now headed over to Massachusetts.

Over the last week they developed a nasty habit of cutting out all sound for a few seconds if I moved my head ....sometimes. A few seconds of no communication is very bad especially in the terminal environment.  I did find it only happened when ANR was turned on. So my temporary fix was to sit REALLY still in cruise. Once below 18,000 feet I just turned the ANR off and dealt with the extra noise.

There is a 5 year warranty so back they went. I am pretty sure it's an issue with the cable.

Today I had to use the company supplied David Clamps...err David Clarks. Wow I forgot how heavy and clamping they are. Ugh.

Thankfully I have one trip tomorrow and then I am off for 10 days...I should have my Bose back before my next long trip. I hope so anyway.

I didn't want to sit in a hotel for 18 hours

If I had not banged out sick I would be working 6 days in a row and have flown 28 hours over that period. Using my daughters new favorite word that would have been, "icky".

I feel much better today so I went flying.

Originally I was scheduled to depart at 7:35AM, fly 2.15 hours and then have an 18 hour overnight. Tomorrow I would have flown 3 hours back to base and been done at 8:30AM. Sounds easy....however I didn't want to sit a hotel for 18 hours.

Instead I traded that overnight trip for 2 day trips.

Today I did a very easy 2 hour 40 minute turn. Tomorrow I do a 3 hours 10 minute turn. Overall I am ahead on pay.

This morning I dropped my daughter off at daycare at 8AM. I then pondered parking at the terminal in short term parking versus parking for free in the employee lot. Parking short term would save me 15 minutes on each side of my trip. Hmmm.

Short term parking it was (AKA Princess Parking).

I didn't have to report for duty until 9:25AM. To blow off time I went thru a car wash then sat in the airport observation area and read my kindle till just after 9AM.

My trip was incredibly easy. My leg down. Nothing interesting to blog about. Arrived early. Left early. Arrived back in base REALLY early. How early?

Well I was supposed to arrive back in base at 1:25PM. I was at home in my recliner at 1:25PM. It helped a lot that I princess parked and live really close.

I will do something similar tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Banging out sick

Had to bang out sick in the middle of my last trip of the month. Toddler germs plus allergies. Ick.

Being the dad of a toddler who attends day care 3 days a week means I am exposed to all kinds of germs....evil toddler germs.

I am vigalint about hand washing as soon as we get home from daycare. It helps...but sometimes germs sneak through. My daughter had a snotty nose for a few days last week. Guess who got it next?

My trip started Sunday afternoon. I felt good enough to start the trip. Seven hours flying with 3 legs.

My Co-pilot started the trip. Long first leg. The next two were mine.

The overnight was at a fairly small airport. Calm winds. We asked and were cleared for a straight in approach to runway 10 and cleared to land. Another regional jet was cleared for a visual approach to runway 28....but only for the approach as we were cleared to land.

It is a bit unnerving to see an airplane approaching from the opposite direction during landing. I made a nice landing and made a quick stop to get off the runway as soon as possible. I didn't do one of those "slam on the brakes and throw everyone forward" landings....just a "land the mains, lower the nose and gradually apply brakes and thrust reverse". Done.

I felt pretty stuffy after getting on the hotel van.

The next morning I was a little better.

Decent overnight.

During the flight back to base I got a little more stuffy. Not worth it.

Once we were back in base I banged out sick. Flying stuffy...even just slightly depending on the time of day, isn't worth it. I rarely call in sick. I have almost 2 full months of sick time in the bank. Done.

A bonus of calling in sick? I get to hang out with my germ transporter....errr daughter a little more.