Archive for October, 2007

Things That Really Scare a Pilot ( me anyway )

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on October 28, 2007 by luckyjet

There’s a big difference between startled and being in serious “doubt of the successful outcome of the maneuver”.  An FAA speak way of thinking you are about to crash.

Flying, like any other dynamic activity (surgery, nuke plant operation, bleaching your hair, etc.) requires the imposition of a sucessful outcome in order to prevent physics from choosing an undesirable outcome.

Sudden noises like bird strikes on the nose of the plane, lightning discharges, or a nose tire exploding in the gear well will startle the hell out of a crew. These things can all have a small potential for a bad outcome but usually are in the “pain in the ass requiring paper work and/or a delay” to continue category.

 Things like a sudden critical systems failure or engine failure generally trigger a trained response from the crew and aren’t really scary. Stressful, but if managed correctly usually not so scary at the time.

 A lot of pilot training actually is intended to slow down pilot reactions in the interest of the “reasoned response”. My philosophy is that it is always better to do the right thing a few seconds late than it is to do the wrong thing instantly.

Since most preventable accidents are a result of the crew flying a good airplane right into the dirt with “Whoop Whoop Pull Up” warnings sounding, the concept of fear doesn’t seem to be correctly placed.

The things that should really scare us:

(1) Smoke in the airplane. Smoke means fire, fire is bad. Doing stupid stuff is even worse so a quick decisive response is needed for this one. An airplane on fire is actually two dynamics operating simutaneously so it is important to get them both stopped right away. That is, the airplane landed and the fire out.

(2) Collision potentail, especially on the ground, is a scary thing. There is little to prevent what we call “runway incursion”. It is a big safety improvement effort area for the FAA and an important one. Why oh why isn’t every airplane at the “really big” airports equipped with a moving map GPS of the airport? Because you, the public, do not demand it and your representatives in the government will not act before a nasty accident happens.

(3) Negligence. When it comes right down to it the scariest thing is that one’s own neglect could cause something nasty to happen. Pilots make mistakes just about constantly. The trick is to be good enough at backing up yourself and your valued co-workers such that little errors don’t compound into big ones and the big ones get caught early.

(4) Trains scare me because I have concern that one will come off of the tracks and squash me if I were to wait by the track long enough. My daughter feels that this is irrational. She lives pretty much ON a busy freight rail line in a awesome old house.


In the Cockpit, On the TarMac ?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2007 by luckyjet

Where the hell is the Tarmac anyway?

I’ve been flying since 1952 (really). Even though I know what the stuff is I don’t know why it is refered to as a “place”. My understanding is that a guy ( in England I think) named Mc Adam developed the Mc Adam substitute for concrete for airfield use during WW II and made a million zillion dollars. Or pounds.

Tar/Mac would be an even cheaper substitute for the authentic substitute. The stuff won’t bear much weight but would have been allright for the wheel weight of most airplanes at the time. This explains the “what” of it; but WHY do the media and public use as it a nonspecific place other than at the gate or in the air?  Really, why?

Is it the Flight Deck or the Cockpit?

The use of the term Flight Deck started about twenty five years ago at one of the more snootypants airlines and seems to have spread throughout the industry.  Somebody in management probably thought that saying “cockpit”  on the PA might get somebody excited.  Good excited, or bad excited. Either way could be bad. There was probably a letter from a passenger.

The best explanation I have heard for the origin of the word is nautical.  A lot of aviation stuff is nautical in origin. Cockpit  comes from a very long time ago when guys in wooden ships were busy blasting away at one another.  The wounded guys would be put below the waterline in the back of the ship in the little compartment where the manual tiller was located.  The tiller would be the only way to steer the ship if the steering gear above deck were damaged.  Since all the blewt-up guys were bleeding all over the place, and cock-fighting was an even bigger sport at the time than blowing eachother up, the little compartment where the manual controls were located came to be called the “cockpit”.  Rooster fighting, I suppose, results in substantial blood loss.

It is important to understand that nautical people are compelled, probably by boredom, to have an obscure name for everything. Anything that is said or done on a boat or ship more than once becomes a time honored tradition.

So the “steer the boat” room name of cockpit got passed on to sailing yachts in the 19th century. The next leap of calling part of an airplane the same name just about had to be British since it isn’t a French word and Americans didn’t name any airplane parts I can think of.  Except the Kollsman Window which isn’t really a window at all. It was just the best name Kollsman could come up with.

Danger Danger

Posted in Uncategorized on October 14, 2007 by luckyjet

Modern airliners are equipped with a wide variety of warning systems. All of the ones I can think of at the moment were installed in response to a tragic event some time in the past.


The photo above was taken over the desert on approach to Phoenix. At the time there was no mention of adverse weather in the area. The small storm had pretty much rained itself out and was dissipating rapidly about ten miles from the airport. That’s not good.

Notice how the rain shaft on the left hits the ground then rolls up in a rotating tube. That’s not good either.

We were still several minutes from landing and included a “Windshear Escape” review in our approach briefing. This means that based generally on what we could see out the window, the spread between the temperature and dew point, the way the rain was curling up against the desert floor, and our landing weight it was a good idea to be prepared.

Our aircraft based equipment for windshear prediction is excellent and the ground based Doppler system from the control tower is pretty good but there is no replacement for looking out the window and understanding what you see.

The dissipating storm tearing up the desert was still a few miles from the airport, only minor airspeed fluctuation from windshear should be expected. But if much more was encountered we would execute the escape maneuver and bolt for an alternate airport with minimum fuel.

All of this sounds like a lead up for a great windshear story, but it isn’t.

What I should have been concerned about was the Sun. By the time we were landing the sun was setting and was shining through a curtain of rain. We had to stare through this during the approach and landing.

The runway was visible but the glare level was immense. The runway with no electronic guidance was still a good choice, it was longer, farther from the rain shower, and closer to our gate than the others.

I set up a calculated glide path for reference and relied on the runway VASI lights for primary guidance. The First Officer did a fine job of flying the approach and only forgot a few of his altitude callouts and flopped the landing. By the time we turned off the runway we were both practically blind from staring into the combination of rain, sun and sun reflected off of the ground and more rain. This was one of the most unusual visual combinations I have seen.

Maybe next time I will remember to include the Sun Angle as a briefing item, especially with rain in the area. It seems that it’s always something in addition to what you expect that should be expected.

Fear Of Flying?

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on October 10, 2007 by luckyjet


It’s important to know that the things that always scare passengers hardly even bother pilots a bit. Not even a little.


 Oddly, the things that   r e a l l y scare pilots are usually over by the time anybody realizes they started,  and passengers hardly ever notice.

You really don’t need to bother with which is which. So why worry?

Bayou Pilot

Posted in Uncategorized on October 9, 2007 by luckyjet

Life has segments and eras. Some of mine are New Mexico and early flying days, living in Point Barrow, then Houston, the big house, the Bayou, marriage, parenthood , tool making, flying, bidness of flying, more parenthood, more bidness, unemployment, more toolmaking, airline flying, violin work and grandparenthood along with more airline flying.

The bayou era remains special. The place is gone forever. The people remain though. We’re different but still the same as we were 40 years ago. If the three of us were back on our raft I think we would be exactly the same as we were then within about five minutes. Maybe not  as flexible as we were and a little wiser, but the same in important ways.

Jeff the corporate controller CFO kind of guy has Bananas and Pine Apples in production in his backyard. He tends to be decisive if not impulsive in the face of excessive deliberations. Chuck is an Architect now, he was always a careful designer. Looking to build on previous successes, avoid previous mistakes. I could always look smart by having Jeff execute Chuck’s ideas.

All of us have our kids in at least a low orbit if not fully launched. It’s not out of the question that the three of us could actually ply the seas again. Stranger things have been arranged.

Our poor bayou it turns out was the cause of the major flooding in Harris county and had to be straightened out by the Corps of engineers. 

It’s a lucky thing they didn’t try to do that while we were still teenagers. The corps would have probably gotten combat  pay but could have never completed the project with us in opposition. And there would have been opposition.

For all of those that thought the Bayou boys needed straightening out, we did just fine.

Airline Travel 101

Posted in Uncategorized on October 2, 2007 by luckyjet

The following are some things most people might need to know about air travel that airlines probably won’t mention.

Seat Reclining Protocol:

If there is someone behind you consider if it is really necessary to recline your seat at all. If the flight is short and the person behind you isn’t short the polite thing to do is endure a little good posture for a while. If you must recline then do it with a little grace and consideration. Slowly. This will give the person behind you time to move their computer and get their knees out of the way. It might also prevent you from being strangled from behind.

Inside Voice Please:

Please understand that air travel might make you more chatty than usual, a little stress, lower oxygen levels, whatever. It is usually just fine to talk to someone on the airplane but there is no need to shout. If the person you are talking to doesn’t occasionally say “what” you are probably talking too loudly. The other people around you could not give a rat’s ass about what you have to say and are trying to sleep. Or they might be lawyers for the other side and quite interested. Either way, shush a little.

Baggage Manners:

When you carry all that stuff down the aisle be careful to not hit people with it. Airline crews openly make fun of people that carry stuff like a hang-up bag over one arm banging everybody in the face. This occasionally starts a riot so if you don’t want to get your butt kicked by a fellow traveler please carry your stuff down low behind or in front of you.

Backpack Jagoff:

This is a manners malfunction that is so bad that it has actually earned a name for those that do it. If you wear a backpack be aware that you have stuff sticking out BEHIND you. When you turn around your pack hits people. They might hit back, so please be considerate.


Aircrew people always welcome a kind word but any and all attempts at being cute are at best merely tolerated. We generally mean it when we say “Hi” or “Welcome Aboard” or “Come See us again soon”.  It’s nice when you respond. 

Any comments about the crew drinking, sleeping, screwing, etc. during the flight or any other time really aren’t that much fun and we have probably heard it before. Would you say that shit to your doctor?

Face it, we get your money and you get your ride. We say thank you for the money and behaving yourself. You say thank you for not killing us all by accident. That’s as far as it needs to go.  We generally do not like to be touched. 


Always wear the seatbelt. Even the vast majority of airline crews have NEVER experienced severe turbulence. Be assured that there is some truly scary and dangerous stuff out there that we cannot always see coming. It is rare. It is very rare but it can also hurt you and the crew if seatbelts are not fastened.

That thing we always say about keeping your seatbelt loosely fastened when the seatbelt sign is off aint just for grins. Severe turbulence will give everybody on the airplane bruises from the seatbelts, or throw them against the ceiling hard enough to damage the interior of the airplane. We aren’t kidding about this one.

Gettin Buzzed:

Don’t get drunk at the airport or on the plane. The combined effect of altitude and alcohol is profound. Two drinks in the hour before a flight and one more on a one hour flight will put you way past the legal limit to drive. If you appear to be intoxicated your flight crew is required to have you removed from the airplane. So at least don’t give the appearance.

If you take mood altering medication altitude may affect you. Ask your doctor about it before you fly.


Airline crews are usually away from home for days at a time so we really do understand how miserable it can be to have a delay. It’s not like we get paid extra to screw up your day, and it is usually the weather or a mechanical problem that causes it in the first place.

Labor Problems:

It is true that the airline industry has from time to time been the subject of job actions by employees during labor disputes. This doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore since just about everybody went bankrupt, spent the pension funds on fuel or management bonuses and cut salaries in about half. Anyway, be informed.

Mechanical Delays:

The mechanical delays come in two general varieties. The first is stuff that is just obvious, bad and/or illegal to fly with. The second is stuff that would have been fine if we didn’t notice it. A lot of times it would have fixed itself if nobody had messed with it but now that we noticed it we are stuck.

Either way please trust our judgment on this. We don’t want to get killed or suspended without pay any more than you want to be late.

Beyond Our Control:

Frankly since the jet airliner was introduced in 1959 not much could be improved other than navigation safety and modern electronics has taken care of that pretty well.

Please bear with us while our valued, management inspired co-workers fidget, fuss, organize, repaint, redefine and otherwise try desperately to add quality to the same old point A to B jet powered travel product.

These people all have degrees in managing and marketing and stuff so please pardon any inconvenience as they try to manage and market in an attempt to keep the industry from falling into foreign ownership or government takeover. This could all get a lot worse.

This goes for every airline.

Cruse and the Descent of man

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2007 by luckyjet

I am pretty sure that Tom Cruse represents most of what is wrong with modern civilization. He can’t even act like himself.

If you watch late night or daytime TV you may have seen another Tom Cruse hustling the Hover-round scooter for the infirm. He looks much taller and older in the commercials than the one in those awful movies but I think we should give him a chance. 

Did you ever notice that the old tom is always the “best something” in every one of his movies. Even in the one that was a sorry remake  of Mars Attacks he was the best crane operator on the docks. Why can’t the little guy just relax and be comfortable with himself, or at least act like it. I forgot, he can’t act.

Tom Cruse doesn’t have problems of any sort since he is “best” .  Truth be known John Travolta is probably a better pilot. 

If my real name had to be  Maplethrerer I’d probably rather be me anyway.