Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New guy, Depressed guy and a crappy overnight

The last 4 day trip was rough...mostly because it was a 4 day trip.

My first co-pilot was brand new to a jet. He's been with my airline for years....but never flew a jet. He just finished his initial training and his flight with me was his 3rd flight without a check airman on board.

He was a very easy going guy. I offered to take the first leg as I know how it is to be a new to a plane. Mostly uneventful.  Dodged a little weather, arrived early.

During the flight back it was very apparent he was still getting used to flying above 16,000 feet.

He had a little trouble managing energy during the climb and descent. The jet I fly isn't all that powerful, but energy management must always be in play. During the arrival we were told to keep a speed of 300 knots and to cross a specific fix at 12,000 feet and 250 knots.

There is a function of the FMS that will show the required descent rate to meet the 12,000 foot restriction. Speed though...that's all up to the guy flying.

It takes time to learn descent angles and speed in a new plane. For my plane at an average weight a 1600 FPM engines idled descent = 250 knots. Increasing to 2800 FPM will get roughly 300 knots.

My copilot started a shallow descent of 1000 FPM and increased power to get to 300 knots. When he saw he needed to increase the descent rate to make the crossing restriction he pulled the power back...a lot.

We were descending at 2500 FPM and about 270 knots. It wasn't long before the approach controller asked us to pick up the speed. I could tell my co-pilot was struggling a bit so I offered up idling the engines and increasing to 3000 FPM which equaled just above 300 knots. The plane leveled off at 12,000 feet 6 miles before the fix. With engines at idle the plane will slow roughly 10 knots per nautical mile. Sure enough the plane was right at 250 knots as we crossed the fix. Done.

Next up was the approach and landing. He is still getting used to swept wing planes and jet engines. He previously had a straight wing and  turbo props. He did ok...bumpy landing, but fine.

My next Co-pilot would be flying with me for the rest of the trip. Right off the bat I could tell he was kind of a "Debbie Downer". Nice guy, but has apparently had a rough couple of years. He commuted for a bit which stressed out his marriage. He moved his family local...didn't help. Divorced. I took the leg to the overnight.  We talked a little, but most of the flying was quiet.

The tower at the out station closed at Midnight. Scheduled arrival time was 11:59PM. Approach left us high due to crossing traffic. Cleared direct to the FAF while 11,000 feet AGL and just 20 miles away.

I idled the engines and began dirtying up the plane. Spoilers and flaps out first. Passing through 3,000 AGL the gear went down. Spoilers in around 2,400 AGL while the remaining flaps went out. Visual approach. We crossed the FAF right at glide slope intercept and 20 knots above approach speed...which was fine.

Nice landing. Decent overnight. I'd been there once before. Older Ramada.

Day two was just 2 legs.

While at the gate we got a reroute for weather. More fuel needed. This fuel would later become very important. My co-pilot flew both legs.

Left the gate 20 minutes late. A few bumps during the climb, but fairly smooth. Weather wasn't as bad as predicted and we got a few shortcuts. About 40 minutes out crap hit the fan. Just as I switched to a new frequency I heard another flight ahead being given holding instructions.

After I checked in the controller advised we could expect holding as well. My co-pilot slowed down and I began looking for places to divert. There was an airport we serve 80 miles east.

Sure enough we held. With the extra fuel from the reroute + the short cuts we had 30 minutes of holding fuel. This is double what we normally have. I reran the fuel numbers to make sure.

From the holding fix I calculated we needed 850 pounds to get to out planned destination. Furthermore we needed 900 pounds to get to our alternate. Add in the 45 minute required reserve of 1300 pounds ( a crazy optimistic number) and we could burn down to 3,050 pounds before we had to divert. I added in a 200 pounds fudge factor and my Co-pilot agreed at 3300 pounds we would bug out.

Of course my numbers are only half the story. I gave the dispatcher our fuel information who came back with a 2900 pound "bingo fuel" number. I , like most pilots, err on the side of caution...3300 pounds was our number.

After about 4 laps things weren't looking good. Thirty knot direct crosswinds at our destination airport. Thirty knots it the maximum demonstrated for the plane.

A few international flights were already diverting as they wanted no part in the 30 knot crosswinds.

I went ahead and dug out my Jepp charts for the airport we planned on diverting to. Right around 3500 pounds the controller advised the winds were dying down and we could expect to leave the hold soon.

About a minute later we were given a left turn to a heading to leave the hold. Right at 3,300 pounds.

Sure enough the winds did die down, just 11 knots of crosswind. In and done....20 minutes late.

Same plane to the overnight. A reduced rest overnight at that. Left on time. Arrived on time. Just 8 hours and 40 minutes between when I finished duty and when I had to be back at the airport. Of course I "finished" duty while walking to the hotel van. My rest started just 15 minutes after blocking in.

Nice hotel. I tried to go straight to bed. Unfortunetly I'm not a robot. I got maybe 5 and a half hours sleep. Not horrible really.

Hotel van was set for 6AM. I was downstairs a little early in search of coffee. None to be had...even Starbucks was closed.

After my preflight a flight attendant handed me a cup of coffee. Still tired I tripped while walking to the flight deck. Coffee went down..thankfully it didn't hit anything important.

Another two leg day. Both mine. Mostly uneventful. Arrived at the next overnight at 11:40AM. Nice long 18 hours of rest ahead.

This hotel was right next to the airport. I had my choice of a McDonalds under renovation, a high priced Steakhouse or a gas station for food.

McDonalds it was...for lunch and dinner. I didn't want McDonalds for both, but the Gas station cafe was closed for the day. Crappy overnight as there was nothing to do in the area. Won't be back.

Day four was just 3 legs. Just the last leg was mine.

Being the last leg I planned on flying fast. It wasn't too be. Flow restrictions. We were assigned 250 knots...200 mile from the airport. Ended up arriving 5 minutes early.

Just two days off before my next trip. Just a 3 day worth 16 hours.

Haven't posted a photo in a while....snapped this on the last four day...neat rainbow effect going on.





  1. It's interesting that your airline has "direct entry" captains with little or no jet experience.  I would think that would be a pretty big safety risk.  Do they pair them on purpose with somewhat more experienced First Officers like yourself?  Obviously the new Captain has the CRM experience having likely been a captain for many years, on the turboprops, but airplane type experience is pretty important too.  That was a factor in the AF447 crash which is getting lots of press again lately... none of the three pilots had a huge amount of experience in the A330, though they did have lots of overall aeronautical experience.

    P.S. Your reference to the Captain as "my co-pilot" gets a little tiring, by the way.  I think most readers of this blog understand the correct meaning of Captain, First Officer, and co-pilots.

  2. I agree on the copilot thing. I have to make a concious effort to type it. Will take it under consideration.

  3. A pretty good post.  I liked the decisions you folks made about the fuel, holding and when to bug-out.  As others have noted, I too find your use of 'co-pilot' a bit trite.  I'm thinking that you don't like Captains, experienced or not.  Still, one of my fav blogs!

  4. What I took away from this post was that it doesn't matter how many stripes you have, you both work together to get us from point A to point B--safely.  That's very comforting... Just my little thought...

    Thanks for the posts.


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