Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pooh, Tink and RVR

Trip started with a 11:30 AM report time. I met the Captain at the gate. Nice guy I've flown with once before. He's fairly senior and has no plans on changing airlines. He will retire as a regional jet Captain.

He took the first leg out. Next two were mine. Day 1 was 7 hours of flying.

The leg to the overnight was a decent 2 hour flight. My airline has been playing musical Flight Attendants lately. The one for the overnight had her preferred name as "Tink". Yup.....Tink.

Winds at the out station were 040@10. Ceilings were 3500 feet. I had the option of a straight in for runway 4 or a short downwind for runway 32 right. Runway 4 was 6000 feet while 32R was 8200 feet. There was thin patchy snow reported on runways and taxiways. The performance chart showed I only needed 4700 feet of runway to stop. I opted for runway 32R. If anything odd happened I'd have plenty of room to spare. I entered a left downwind and a quick sweep to final. Done.

As I walked into the terminal I thought "this doesn't look familiar at all, guess I've never been here."

Short ride to the hotel. Once I walked in it seemed familiar. I had been here before, back when it was a 8 1/2 hour overnight. Foggy memory.

This sequence has all early starts. The first morning was a 7 AM van. Me being me....I always wake up on my own way before the alarm clock.

Light snow falling. Deicing was needed.

Quick flight to O'hare. The Polar Vortex that shut down the airport last week was gone. Easy (for Chicago) approach to runway 28 Center. Arrived 10 minutes early.

I then had 3 hours of airport appreciation.

Being in Chicago I stopped by Burrito Beach for a vegetarian burrito. It was good...but stained my shirt. For the first time in 6 years I had to pull out the backup shirt I carry.


Snow began falling. The ramp was covered in orange slush. Doing a preflight in a ramp covered in Glycol is no bueno. Glad I don't do it everyday or I'd have to buy shoes much more often.



The Flight Attendant for my second leg was nicknamed "Pooh"....yes like Winnie the Pooh.

Being a deicer is a thankless job. Most deicers I see have no face protection. Every now and then they have goggles. I couldn't do it. Being hit with hot glycol all day long. Yuck. One perk is the cool name. At every airport the guy in the bucket is called "Iceman".


After being hit with Type I (deicing fluid) and Type IV (anti-icing fluid) we were on our way. With light snow the charts said we had 45 minutes of protection. We were off the ground in 20 minutes.

Got to the overnight early.

Day 3 was supposed to start with a 4:30 AM alarm for a 5:20 AM van. Me being me I was up at 3:35 AM. I always wake up early when I have an early show.

My two legs. Both approaches were ILS's to mins.

During the second approach we got a master caution for "Access Doors" right when I called for gear down. Thankfully it went away. Could have been the high winds in the clouds caused a sensor to be off for just a moment.

Day 4 started with a 5:30 AM van time.  Three legs worth 7 hours 45 minutes. Just two 35 minute turns meant I will be in the flight deck seat nearly non-stop.

The first leg was my Captains. Long flight blocked for 3 hours 20 minutes. Due to local weather, high headwinds, and destination weather we departed the gate with full fuel tanks.

Weather at the outstation was crap. Reporting 1/2 mile visibility. The ground was so foggy tower advised to notify him when we were ready as he couldn't see us. Taxiing around very slowly we made our way to the runway. Due to the low visibility we had a takeoff alternate as we could not return due to 100 foot ceilings.

"Cleared for takeoff, turn right heading 270, I'll turn the lights on high for you." stated the tower.

As the Captain lined up the plane on the runway it was just like we were in the sim. Runway Visual Range was reported as 2000 but it looked like maybe 800. We only needed 600 for takeoff. That number is how far down the runway we can see. The runway was equipped with center line lighting which is very valuable when screaming down the runway at 140 MPH.

Standard takeoff.

During climb out we had to dodge weather while level at 12,000. We couldn't climb higher for a while as there were aircraft holding for nearby airports. We got some pretty good jolts of turbulence while picking our way through weather. About 40 miles out we were cleared up.

Shortly after leveling off at FL340 we got a master caution, one of the packs had gone offline. The pack in question was primarily for the flight deck air conditioning but is needed for pressurization of the entire aircraft.

I ran the checklist which called for turning it off manually, setting the temperature selector to "12 o'clock" (not hot or cold) and waiting 3 minutes while monitoring the cabin pressurization.

After 3 minutes I reset everything.....and it was still offline.

We then had to descend to FL240 as that's the max altitude for single pack operation. Not even 1/3rd through the flight, we discussed the need to divert for fuel. We can normally manage 2-4 thousand foot changes no problem....but 10,000 feet is huge.

Conicidentially the airport my Captain commutes from was just 90 miles ahead.

"We can head to Nashville" he said.

"Ha, convenient eh? Too bad we will be 3000 pounds over max landing weight if we did." I replied.

We sent a message to our dispatcher and our thinking about diverting. The dispatcher worked the numbers and said we could continue to our destination legally but we would use up all of our hold fuel and wiggle room. We would arrive with just the reserve fuel. The weather at the hub was now VFR and expected to stay that way.

The Captain and I agreed to continue on, but if things started looking iffy at all there were several airports we serve that we could stop off for fuel.

It all worked out and we landed with a little over reserve fuel on board. It helped the hub went from IFR to VFR.

New problem was we were scheduled to keep the plane for the next turn. Since it only had one pack that wasn't an option. My Captain commutes and hoped to make a 2:40PM flight home. Our scheduled arrival time as 2:30PM.

Plane swap.

The next plane was originally fueled to go on a much longer flight. Rather than waste time and effort defueling, the dispatcher "worked up" the need for an alternate and gave us an hour of hold fuel. The numbers only worked due to a very light passenger load.

"Do you mind flying it up so I can fly it back and have my commute fate in my own hands?" asked my Captain.

"I get paid the same either way." I replied.

It turns out we needed some of that fuel as it was constant moderate chop at our planned altitude. Down we went for smooth air..burning up the hold fuel.

Out station had 700 foot overcast. Winds on the ATIS were 300@9. There was an ILS to runway 3 or a GPS/RNAV to 33. The taxi from runway 3 is much shorter. That combined with an ILS and longer runway meant I picked runway 3 for the approach.

We picked up a little ice during the approach. Tower cleared us to land, but advised winds had picked up and were now 300@20G25. I had not had a good crosswind during landing in a while.

The nose of the plane was pointed toward the wind, meaning a good deal left of center of the runway. Approach speed was 135 knots or around 155 MPH. Just over 10 feet above the runway pushed the right rudder forward and put the left aileron down. Took a little wiggling but I flew the plane right onto the runway centerline. Done.

Blocked in 14 minutes late. We had a full load leaving.

Cold...but no snow.

Fairly quick turn and just 24 minutes after the cabin door opened, it was closed and we were on our way home.

Being so full we had to perform a max performance takeoff to have enough speed and altitude to meet terrain clearance.

Up and away we went.

My Captain asked for as much "wiggle" fuel as possible. The extra fuel and a 100 knot tailwind meant we were estimated to be 45 minutes EARLY.

We got several short cuts.

"I'm not sure who you paid off....but it's working." I told my Captain.

Lined up for final I tried one more short cut. We were cleared to land on the outboard runway. Being VFR I could tell there was no one waiting for takeoff on the inboard runway.

"Any chance we can land on the right?" I asked tower. A moment later we were cleared to land on the inboard.

Four day trip done. We blocked in 40 minutes early at 1:50PM.  I still get paid for the full block time and the Captain had time to drop off his kit bag, get lunch and still make his 2:40PM commute flight home.

It's only the 12th day of the month, but  I have no flights planned. I might pick up something next week....or I might just enjoy time at home.


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