Sunday, December 28, 2014

Last 4 day for a while

I'm on day one of my last 4 day trip for a while. Next month I have a day trip line. It works weekends...but I'm home every night except 2 where I have 2 two day trips.

The plane from last week with the engine issue sat at an outstation for 4 days before being flown under a Special Ferry Permit back to my base where it was fixed again. Haven't personally flown it so I hope for the best.

This week I'm back with my line Captain. Today was a long day with just 3 legs. We left 30 minutes late on the first leg, but thanks to a 160 knot tailwind we arrived 10 minutes early. Descending through FL290 we hit moderate turbulence. We were only cleared to FL240. Even with the engines at idle we were gaining airspeed. The Captain had the plane set up for a 1000 foot per minute descent but with the turbulence we occasionally were climbing.

Level at FL240 we were rocking and rolling. I asked for lower but was denied due to traffic. After about 2 minutes I insisted we needed lower. Given a turn and a descent.

Quick turn.

Just over 10,000 pounds of fuel loaded up. Seemed like plenty. The 160 knot wind kicked up to 180 knots....all of it on the nose. The ground speed at mach .77 was a slow 250 knots. The FMS estimated landing on fumes. We contacted the dispatcher and pulled it back to .72 mach. A little better.

We agreed if we got to a certain fix with less than 4000 pounds of fuel we'd stop for fuel at a nearby outstation. We crossed with 4100 pounds. Eh.

I was flying and used all my tricks to conserve fuel on the descent. We landed with 2000 pounds of fuel, my bare minimum.

Two hour sit.

The flight to the overnight was again in a headwind but just 90 knots. The airport is surrounded by terrain. Picked up the airport 20 miles away and was cleared to maneuver for a visual. It's a nice change to descend on my own for an approach, especially around terrain. In and done.

Beautiful sunset photo I snapped while parked with the boarding door open and engines shutdown. Just a disclaimer to protect myself.


Four legs the next two days and one on Wednesday.

Hoping for an easy, non eventful trip.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Seems like I'm forgetting something

Day 3 of a 4 day.

Day 1 was a cluster. Supposed to do 3 legs. Due to that little emergency I only did 2.

As luck would have it the EXACT same aircraft I declared an emergency in was scheduled for my one leg out on day 2. I made sure to arrive at the gate when it parked.

I asked the crew how the plane was and specifically about engine number 2. They said they saw the write up and watched it carefully. No issues.

My Flight Attendant was not happy about being on the same plane, "If that damn engine has issues again I'm going to take an axe to it." he said jokingly.

My leg out. My third female Captain of the month. Most ever in one month.

I briefed her about the issue I had and we examined the logbook. Several valves had been replaced.

On takeoff she monitored the power and all was well. Around 5000 feet I turned the autopilot on and also monitored the engine. It seemed normal.

Passing FL280 we were talking when I noticed the N2 on the number 2 engine getting higher than the number 1.

"It's happening again," I said.

This time the ITT was around 830 on number 2 and 800 on number 1. The day before ITT was 890.

Passing FL340 the ITT on number 2 was 850 while number 1 was 820.  The N1 was 1% below target while N2 was at 100%. We were exactly halfway between our departure and destination.

The Captain got on the horn with the dispatcher. She also called back to the Flight Attendant. "Now don't freak out, but the engine is having issues again. We're halfway and have decided to continue on to our destination."

Level at FL370 the ITT was well within limits. The mechanics fixed one issue, but there was still something wrong.

Normal ILS to near mins landing. The outbound crew came down the jet bridge and thought it was a minor issue. I let them know the plane wouldn't be going anywhere. They weren't happy as it was one leg in for them.

Their flight cancelled and ended up deadheading home on the next flight.

Odd overnight. Old hotel that needs updating. It was also odd as my hotel was in between 2 La Quintas. One had a Waffle House while the other had a Denny's. Very odd.

The next morning I woke up early. I was down in the lobby at 5:45 AM for a 6 AM van.

Left the hotel on time.

As we approached the TSA checkpoint at the airport,  I opened my jacket and felt for my ID. It wasn't there. I had left it in the hotel room! Second time in 7 years I have done this.

I immediately called the hotel. The rest of the crew went on to prepare the aircraft.

Thankfully the van driver returned at 6:42 AM with my ID. I tipped him $5. Departure was supposed to be 6:55 AM. I was in my seat by 6:50 AM. Delayed. The first two Ground Power Units were faulty so boarding had not started.

Blocked out at 7:05 AM. Four legs later and done.

Tomorrow I would have had one leg in and done. I added on a 4.5 hour turn on overtime. It's risky on Christmas Eve especially with weather. Here's hoping I don't get stuck.

And the aircraft with the troubled engine is still stuck at the out station....I bet it will bet there until Saturday.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Broke my motto today

When I fly with someone new I often tell them my motto, "No paperwork, No News." That pretty much covers everything. Today I broke my motto.

I started my 4 day 24 hour trip with a 7:15AM report time.

It's a 3-2-4-3 trip. It was originally 19 hours but I added a 5 hour turn on the end. Christmas gifts to pay for.

The Captain I'm supposed to fly with got in late last night from another trip and was pulled off the first turn. The reserve Captain assigned to the trip is younger than me and just a little more senior. He was running late as he had a minor mechanical issue leaving an outstation. When he arrived I had everything set up. All he had to do was sign the release and review the logbook. I knew his name from when we were both First Officers on a previous aircraft.

We blocked out on time. I decided to fly the first leg.

Every modern jet uses a computer to control engine power settings. There's no direct connection between the thrust levers and the engines. Everything goes into a computer that decides how much power we get for a given thrust lever angle, stage of flight and aircraft configuration.

For example during takeoff, the computer uses outside temperature, pressure, aircraft weight and anti-ice settings to set a target N1 setting. The N1 is the front of the engine when viewed from the nose. When I'm flying I say "set thrust" and put the thrust levers in a defined detent. The Captain then verifies the power being produced matches the power being specified. If there is a discrepancy an aborted takeoff is considered.

During the takeoff roll when I'm flying, my eyes are outside and I never look at the interior screens until the nose is in the air. Once I hear "V1, Rotate!", my eyes go from outside to inside as my PFD is my primary instrument.

Today was normal during takeoff and climbout. I don't often look at the MFD or EICAS screens until we are out of the terminal area.

While passing FL350 I noticed the number 2 engine climb power being produced was not matching the climb power being commanded.

The FADEC was commanding 92% N1 power while the engine was only producing 90.5% power. I scanned down and noticed the ITT (Internal Turbine Temperature) was at the top of the normal range and the N2 (back of the engine so to speak) was at 100%.

"Hey something is up here." I told the Captain. I thought maybe I had moved the thrust lever for the number 2 engine back a little. I moved them back and forward....nope they were in the right spot.

The higher went the higher the ITT rose while the amount of power went down a bit. I pulled the thrust levers back and we discussed the situation. Something was definitely wrong with the Number 2 engine. The Number 1 engine was producing the correct power, had a ITT 100 degrees lower and had an N2 8% lower.

We were 110 miles south of an airport that has maintenance  but just 200 miles north of our base. Since the engine was still making power and controllable we decided the safest course of action was to return to our base. The airport with maintenance was closer but had much shorter runways. Additionally we'd have to expedite down or get turned off as it was fairly close. Finally if we diverted there the passengers would be stuck till the next day as there were likely no spare aircraft available.

The Captain notified our dispatcher via ACARS then notified ATC. He handed the radios to me while he advised the Flight Attendant and passengers.

I told ATC we were not declaring an emergency just yet as things were controllable. He gave me a vector then assigned a RNAV arrival procedure. After the Captain was done with the Flight Attendant and passengers I told him what we were doing and mentioned it might be best to declare an emergency to avoid having to monitor the engine and deal with the step down fixes on the arrival. He agreed. Emergency declared and we were cleared direct to the airport vs a slightly complex RNAV arrival that had several level offs to deal with.

We began a slow descent. I used the VNAV to compute a descent rate that would require no level offs and would put me 5 miles from the airport at 1500 feet. It worked wonderfully. We did notice the lower we descended the more inline the engine parameters became.

An ILS to a visual approach were performed. I picked up the runway about 4 miles out. I saw several Fire Trucks and emergency vehicles along the runway.

After an amazingly smooth landing he took control and taxied off the runway. We then had a Fire Truck escort all the way to the gate as is normal in this situation.

Fireman lead came on board to see if we needed any help. Then several mechanics. Then a Chief Pilot. Just an hour later we had a new plane and were off again. Being so late I lost my overnight.

After we got back I had to fill out paperwork on the emergency.

A bonus is I get to watch Wreck It Ralph with my kiddo.

On another happy note I found the mythical Unicorn for next month. Day trips. More later this week.

Monday, December 15, 2014

One of my top 10 worst days

It all started at 7:48 AM Sunday morning. The Captain I'm flying with this month sent me a message on Facebook that she was calling in sick, but just for the first 2 days. My report time was 12:15PM. Surely my airline could find a Captain to fill her spot in time for an on-time departure.

I walked down the jet bridge at 12:25 PM as the inbound aircraft was parking. Just ten minutes later all passengers were off and I was working on my preflight. By 12:50 all passengers and cargo were on board.....just missing the Captain.

The reserve Captain had arrived two gates down at 12:45PM. It takes some time to park, shut down the aircraft, pack up and move on. I made a PA concerning why we were late. The Captain arrived shortly after 1PM (scheduled departure time). We blocked out at 1:12PM.

Weather. The Captain was motivated as after this turn he was going to commute home to Seattle. His leg. Gusty crosswind approach. In and done. Normal turn as the station was slow and had a lot of new employees.

Blocked out 26 minutes late. Gusty crosswind takeoff for me. Up and away we went. I tried to fly fast but weather got in the way and we landed 31 minutes late as we blocked in at 4:16 PM.

The Captain commuted home, I had 3 legs left for the day.

I checked the computer and saw the next reserve Captain had arrived at 4:20 PM 30 gates down. Original departure time was 4:40 PM. The Flight Attendant and I made our way to our plane. Since the Captain was on the ground I figured it was okay to board.

After my preflight I returned to the flight deck and noticed it was getting stuffy. Boarding was well underway. I reached to start the APU when I noticed a MEL sticker. The APU was MEL'd.

I reviewed the logbook then made a call to operations for the external air to be connected. This was 4:45PM. I watched to temp of the cabin slowly rise. It's winter and cool outside, but when 50 warm bodies fill a confined space it gets warm. Five o'clock came and still no external air. I sprang from my seat and went down to the ramp to ask what was going on. The ramper said the hose was broken. I would have appreciated if he had come and told me this OR if he said a new hose was on the way. Instead he just said the hose was broken.

I made another call to operations with the threat that I would deplane the passengers if air is not connected to the aircraft. At the gate, with no APU or engine running, all that's blowing is recycled air.

Curious about the missing Captain I checked the computer again. I should have investigated further earlier as the Captain was arriving on an international flight.....30 gates away. This meant she had to clear customs, re-enter security and then make her way to the new gate. This was a 50 minute process at best. I advised operations of this new found data.

Two minutes later a ramper is looking at me giving me the hand signals to start the number 2 engine as they had connected the air start machine. I just shook my head. No engine can be started without the Captain.

Again I went down and explained there was no Captain on board and I needed pre-conditioned air connected. Again he said the hose was broken. I saw a ramp supervisor in a tug and told him I wanted a portable air cart connected now. He said the once nearby was broken but he was looking for another cart. I said they had ten minutes or I would deplane.

The temp in the cabin was a humid 74 degrees.

At 5:24 PM an airport facilities van pulled up and replaced the hose. Finally cool air was flowing into the cabin.

The Captain arrived at 5:35 PM. I had everything set up for her arrival. She reviewed the logbook and flight release promptly. We pushed back at hour an thirteen minutes late.

Everyone has different fly styles. This Captain peaked my interest with hers. A little on the "WTF?!?!" side. One leg to the outstation and it was my turn. I will wait to reserve further judgement until I see her fly today.

We hoped for a quick turn as we had arrived at 6:41 PM instead of 5:23 PM. It wasn't to be. Twenty-nine minutes after blocking in we blocked out....almost. The airport has two runways. One was closed last week but was open this week. The automated performance computer (works numbers for takeoff including weight, temp and V-speeds) was set for runway 17L but was showing it was still closed so no data came out. It took a few minutes but we were able to get data for 17R. I've never used 17R for takeoff (last week we used 35L, same pavement but shorter taxi). Tower was a bit confused but gave us 17R.

I flew fast and landed just 25 minutes after taking off. My attempts at transporting passengers to their next destination quickly were foiled when we were told there were no open gates.

We got in a line of 10 other aircraft all waiting for gates. The flight was blocked for 50 minutes. By the time a gate opened and we parked we had blocked 2 hours and seven minutes. We blocked in at 9:17PM. My flight to the overnight was supposed to leave at 7:55 PM. With a shortage of pilots the flight was just delayed.

I packed up and headed to yet another aircraft. Ironically the aircraft I would take to the overnight was the same aircraft I flew on my first turn.

Passengers in the waiting area were happy to see me when I confirmed I was their pilot. It had been a long day. Crew scheduling called to ask if I would take the 2 hour extension of my duty day (part of FAR 117). I said I would not take an extension but would complete the flight if we got out in time. My "bingo" time was 10:59 PM. If we were off the ground by that time I would have a 12 hour duty day.

Fatigue is a serious condition. Bad decisions are made when people are fatigued. Often people who are fatigued don't know they are fatigued. I've been fatigued before. I've also been able to project in the future and estimate if I will be able to complete a flight without being fatigued.

We boarded up quickly and blocked out a 10:02 PM. Tired, but not fatigued. I drank a good amount of water and felt better.

Vectored around weather. I perked up a bit when the controller stated there were reports of moderate AND severe turbulence between FL290-FL330. I've been through moderate but never anything worse. Severe turbulence reports require aircraft inspections. We were vectored 20 miles away from that are before climbing up. Just moderate. I flew fast.

Light winds out of the south in northern Kentucky. The airport was using runways 36C, 36R and 9. I picked runway 9 as I didn't want a tailwind and it would be a faster approach. It was an ILS to a visual. Even a little tired I managed an incredibly smooth landing. The wheels just rolled onto the runway softly.

Blocked in at 1:08 AM local time. Good morning. One of my top 10 worst days.

Today it's just two legs, tomorrow is four and Wednesday has three legs. Time to rest up.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Got ice?

Flying in the winter means more flying in ice. The aircraft I fly is certified for flight into icing conditions.

On my aircraft the wings, engine cowls and tail are all heated with extremely hot air from the engines. The various probes and windshield are heated with electricity.  On each side of the aircraft nose is an ice detector. The detector is shaped like a wing and is designed to pick up ice quickly. The detector is constantly vibrating. When ice accumulates the vibrations slow alerting the ice detection system. The system automatically kicks on the heating of the wings, cowls and tail.

This is great most of the time. A problem occurs when trying to descend or climb as the hot air being tapped from the engines both robs power being produced AND increases the idle thrust rating.

When climbing this means a slower speed as there is less thrust. When trying to make a descent it means a more shallow descent as even at idle the engines are producing higher thrust. It can be tricky.

From my seat I can barely see the edge of the right wing. The only visual cues of icing are the unheated portions of the windshield and the windshield wiper arms.

Last night we entered icing conditions around 7000 feet. It was light icing at first. While level at 4000 feet it became moderate icing. Big chunks of ice had formed on the windshield wiper arm. The anti-icing system was working and the heated portions of the windshield were clear.

Cleared for an ILS to runway 27. Winds were 010@14 gusting t0 20. Nice 20 knot direct crosswind. The tower had closed for the evening. I had previously contacted our station personnel for a field report. They reported slush on the ramp but no comment on the runway.

We broke out of the moderate icing conditions at 1400 feet AGL and saw light snow. Firm touchdown by my Captain and thankfully good braking conditions.

Since we landed with ice I left the flaps down to avoid the ice and snow compacting in the flaps which could cause them to cease moving in the morning for the departing crew.

Below is a view from the flight deck after we parked.


Today is day 4.  Go home day. Three legs. Three aircraft and two 2 hour sits. I start at noon and finish at 9:30 PM.

Being the end of the year I should have a "How much does a Regional First Officer on year 8 pay make" post soon.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Four days again?

On day 2 of a 4 day. Yep.....four day trip. After months of flying two day trips and CDOs (Continuous Duty Overnights), I am back to four day trips. Four days. All to have Christmas off.

I wanted 3 day trips with Christmas off, but I couldn't hold them. What I have now isn't bad. It's just four days away from home.

The first two trips are highly unproductive trips worth just 17 hours each. By comparison I've done 20 hour 3 day trips and 14 hour 2 day  trips in the past. I want to come to work and work, not sit in hotel rooms.

The overnights are 18 hours, 17 hours and 13 hours long. More annoyance is it's a 5-2-4-3 trip. I really don't like 5 leg days as it's tiring. Running checklist over and over again. First world problems I know.

The Captain is only the 5th female I've flown with in 7 years. First time flying with her but we've passed each other often to know the others face. We get along fine. Like most Captains I fly with she lets me do my thing and is fine as long as I stay within the guidelines of our ops specs and tell her anything I'm going that might be "technique". "Technique" would be doing something non-standard but still within the guidelines. For example some pilots like to climb in Vertical Speed mode vs Indicated Airspeed  mode. Both are fine, just one is rarely used.

To start the trip she insisted we play rock, paper, scissors to see who got to pick to fly first. I won and decided to start the trip.

Over 5 legs we had 3 different aircraft. The first two each had issues we had to address one on each leg. The final aircraft was fine.

I've been blogging less over the last two months. I should say I've posted less in the last two months. I've written up a few things, but never hit the publish button. Reason being they were written out of emotion and somewhat irrational.

The regional industry has changed dramatically over the last 18 months. Thanks to airlines like PSA, Piedmont and Endeavor, airline management has lowered the value placed upon regional airlines. These airlines have stated they will do my job for less money in trade for new (or in the case of Piedmont well used) aircraft.

This has forced my management to threaten my livelihood unless I too agree to work for less money. My pilot group voted down concessions earlier this year. Then the beatings started. For 9 months nothing but bad news has come out to my pilot group. A base closure, aircraft being transferred to other carriers and cancelled upgrade classes among weekly other little punches to the group in the way of new procedures and restrictions.

The stress has taken a toll on many. One pilot had to be temporarily relieved of duty when he was caught pre-flighting the wrong plane. It wasn't even our airline, but a mainline aircraft. The stress had taken it's toll and he is getting the help he needs.

My own wife has noticed a change in me. I love what I do. As soon as the flight deck door closes I am a kid in a candy store. It's everything outside of the flight deck that bothers me.

Once again management is at our door demanding concessions. They aren't as deep as they were last time, but they are still concessions.  I believe now they will get them. It's like we are in an abusive marriage and just want the beatings to stop. Just stop and let us do our jobs.

With that said I'm going to go get breakfast. I'm staying at a Hampton Inn. I've never been to the Hamptons....but I doubt it's anything like the Hampton Inn.