Archive for November, 2007

The Best And Finest

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on November 27, 2007 by luckyjet

For  years any time I’ve been the least bit pressed to have something to say in the presence of my valued co-workers out pops my favorite astronaut quote from The Right Stuff. 

“I am just proud to be part of an organization that brings out the best and finest in every individual”.  You can either mean it or not mean it, either way it is just about the perfect thing to say. Ten people in a room can each come away with the impression of their choice.

For a very long time there was a sticker on my flight bag that read ” People are terrific, Business is great, Life is wonderful”.  Those that knew me very well would often laugh out loud when they saw it.

Don’t get me wrong, I find more wonder in life than about ten of most people put together. American small business is a great thing. And, (at least some) people are terrific. It was a red white and blue sticker, I think it might have looked French or something.

This week I carried almost two thousand passengers from place to place. The flights were all “fullish” but not all crammed totally full. The weather wasn’t great but it didn’t suck, there weren’t any mechanical problems worthy of mention.  The air was fairly rough across the country off and on all week. Cabin service was suspended several times. Nobody complained, except the crew.

People were good. Something is different this year. It was quiet. This is unusual. Nobody was drunk or rude. There was even a full moon! It almost seemed like many people knew a secret of travel they didn’t know last holiday season.


It really is the moon, promise.

With the exception of a valued Flight Attendant co-worker that felt compelled to get all preachy with a “Customer Of  Size” travelling with his wife and son just to “make sure that he knows that next time he will need to buy an extra ticket”, I didn’t hear a cross word the entire time.  Except maybe for the part where I reminded the valued co-worker that we were in a crew base and accordingly he could be replaced with someone more pleasant without incurring a delay.

I don’t know if people are just tired but maybe, just maybe, they really are taking my advice and trying to float like a leaf on the river of air travel and find a quiet center of happiness that will whisk them to the destination.  Some of the families with little kids and babies even seemed pretty well organized. Blog readers?

But that would mean that thousands of you are secretly reading this nonsense and benefiting greatly from it without comment. It’s ok, so long as it works.

dang-storm.jpgAtlanta might even get rain


A rare view of the Organ mountains from over the White Sands missle range. The airspace is usually restricted but Lyndon Johnson (really) suggested that on holidays the airlines could benefit from using it.


What the instrument panel would look like if you were a camera, or a bobblehead, and the air was a little bumpy. The “people view” is usually not all shook up since we bounce at pretty much the same rate as the airplane. (If we wear the seatbelt)

storm-cloud.jpg This is about twenty miles away, but nasty


So Far Away

Posted in Uncategorized on November 26, 2007 by luckyjet

This is going fairly well, considering. Our airplane is running about an hour late. With five flights ahead of us to get home it’s possible we might even be on time. Not likely, but possible.

From Florida to Louisiana then to south America and back, nothin to it. Except get all of these people and all this stuff crammed on the airplane and go. Five times.

The crew is all-right, the airplane isn’t my favourite but it’s ok, the weather isn’t great but it’s ok… we just need to get started.

The same line of storms across the South last night are still there, what could possibly go wrong.


“I’m going home” , one of the most beautiful three word sequences.

For The Valued Holiday Traveller

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on November 17, 2007 by luckyjet

I know you have seen a lot of hype in the media about how crazy busy the airlines are for T.G.D. and Xms holidays. As airline employees we generally work on those days so the celebration is either moved to another day, modified, or ignored altogether.

Please understand that the flights are full pretty much all of the time. We don’t run late on holidays because the flights are full. We run late because the flights are full of valued customers that don’t fly much with the wife and kids. All that stuff you have to bring, and the dang coats, sweaters, and Christmas presents, strollers, car seats, cameras, snacks, games and . . . .we understand.

Most of us had travelling children too. We were just better travellers due to practice.

 For the little ones be sure they know what to expect at the security checkpoint. My  two year old grandson positively flipped out because the government took his shoes. He got his shoes back in five minutes but was still agitated over the incident a week later. He’d go “Ruby Ridge” over the thing if he just knew how.

For the big ones (grown up types) be sure they know what to expect at the security checkpoint. All of the airlines have great web materials for TSA preparation. This involves zip lock bags for some reason. If you check bags don’t let them lay around at baggage claim without you being there to get them. Holiday season is when the most bags are stolen. People take stuff right off of the merry go round and leave with it.

Run a few simple at home drills with all of the stuff.  Who is to carry what, how many bags are there total. Have a rough game plan for each segment. Getting out of the car. Getting into the parking van. Getting out of the parking van. Going through security. Who should pick up what. How to storm through the airport effectively. Who holds who’s hand. When do we get to eat. Who has the damn camera?

Above all, try to make these good memories. Travelling, especially with kids, is a pain in the ass but if you just float on the river of travel like a leaf in a pond and resolve yourself to what is going on it is much more fun. If the kids are old enough to write get them a little pocket memo book for trip notes. What was the flight number? What were the crew names? What color was the parking lot van? Making a game and adventure out of the entire disaster makes it easier to cope with.

Have a happy, safe holiday season, and Happy Landings. 


Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on November 14, 2007 by luckyjet

Everybody seems to know that airplanes and storms are a bad mix. At least for the airplane anyway, the storm will be just fine either way.

A common concern is that the airplane might be “hit by lightning”.  This kind of makes sense because the airplane is flying and the lightning is flying all around. It just seems like the two could run into each other with terribly negative result. It just doesn’t happen that way at all.

There is a phenomenon we call a “lightning strike”  for lack of a better aviation terminology. 

An airplane can build up an incredible electrical charge when flying through dry snow, dust or near a thunderstorm. This is similar to walking across carpet on a dry day. The same if the carpet was at thirty nine thousand feet and you were walking at about five hundred miles per hour.

You may have noticed little pointy things hanging off of the back of the wings and tail of  an airplane. These are  “Static Discharge Wicks”, and are intended to dissipate the static potential in a controlled and non-impressive manner.  

Sometimes when the static potential is excessive an electrical field becomes evident by the discharge of  electrons. These little guys get kicked around and knock some photons loose.  This causes Saint Elmo’s fire, which at night looks like the blue sparky animation R2-D2 had all around him when the sand people zapped him. 

  Below is an unretouched picture I took of Saint Elmo in action. This is looking out the front window, you can see part of the wiper on the left.


 St. Elmo’s fire will dance around on the windshield and engine intakes. The stuff doesn’t really hurt anything but it does make radio communications difficult. Sometimes passengers can see it stream off of various parts of the wings, tail, and antennae.  Saint Elmo is the Patron Saint of sailors, the “fire” was first noticed at sea and must have scared the absolute beegeezez out of the guys in masted ships on stormy nights. That, of course, assumes they could be scared any worse that they already were in a storm at sea in a wooden boat.

If the static potential is kicked up a notch in intensity things start to get a bit interesting. Not dangerous, but weird. This is about the point where pilots stop playing with the windshield wipers to make Saint Elmo dance around, and turn the instrument lighting all the way up.  A cone shaped aura will project forward, ahead of the airplane.  

Usually the cone thing will go away quietly but once in a while you might notice a tiny little “stringer” of static discharge going off in one direction. This is a great time to squint your eyes since just about instantly a flash as bright as an arc welder is accompanied by a really loud clap of thunder. Hearing thunder in a jet going about 80 percent of the speed of sound is impressive.  Most passengers whoop or scream.

So, to me at least, it has always seemed that the airplane is providing the potential for a static discharge, creating an ionized path through the air. The “lightning” follows this ionized path right back to …. the airplane. 

Good news for us, “the occupants” is that an airplane provides a nice protective bubble in the dynamic of the electrical field. Airframe components are grounded together, sensitive equipment is shielded, and the aluminum skin provides very good conductivity and helps route the massive electrical discharge safely.

Airliner damage during one of these events is generally limited to little holes burned through the skin here and there, radio damage, and some odd system behaviours. A “lightning strike” event requires a maintenance inspection so a delay should be expected if you aren’t finished for the day.

A Change In Cabin Pressure

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on November 11, 2007 by luckyjet

A boring explanation of how it works.

Cabin Pressurization is one of those things that everybody knows about but hardly anybody really knows much about. The thing we generally call “pressurization” is really two systems working together. The Air Conditioning system provides the air that is pumped into the airplane, usually from the engines. The pressurization system controls how much of it is let out.

To breathe we need more than just air. We need air under pressure. At low altitude the air pressure is provided by the weight of the atmosphere pushing down on us. This is the same as when you dive to the bottom of a pool and feel the weight of the water.

Above 5,000 feet most people will notice a difference in the way they feel due to a decrease in blood oxygen level. This affects everyone differently, and not everyone the same way each time.

Jets typically cruise between thirty five and forty five thousand feet high. Due to the nearly complete lack of atmospheric pressure at these altitudes this is practically outer space as far as our bodies are concerned . Like David Bowie said “it’s cold in outer space”. The temperature is about 40 below zero at high altitude.

We could all wear a pressure suit and space helmet but that would make it difficult to eat the peanuts and pretzels. A more practical alternative is to pump the entire airplane up with excess air. Pumping the cabin to about 9 PSI simulates the atmosphere at a lower altitude, allowing us all to breathe without supplemental oxygen or the space suit.

Airliner cabins DO NOT keep the equivalent of sea level pressure though. Since there is a limit to how much pressure can be safely applied to the airplane cabin sea level atmosphere can only be maintained up to about twenty five thousand feet of airplane altitude. At normal cruise altitudes the 9 PSI of cabin pressure will result in a cabin altitude of about 8000 feet.

Most light airplanes aren’t pressurized at all. Since they generally fly well below ten thousand feet this isn’t much of a problem. Doctors will often tell expectant mothers that it is fine to fly during pregnancy so long as the airplane is pressurized. This is ignorant. An unpressurized airplane will almost always cruise below 6,000 feet but a pressurized airliner will almost always have a “cabin altitude” above 8,000 feet. For a long flight expectant moms and anyone with compromised respiratory function might consider bringing along an oxygen concentrator or supplemental oxygen. Airlines have differing rules as to what is allowable.

We’ve all heard the FAA mandated announcement Flight Attendants make while doing Tai Che with a margarine cup in one hand. What really happens in the event of a cabin pressure failure depends on several things.

If the cabin pressure fails after takeoff during the initial climb you may not even know what the problem is before the crew explains. This sort of failure is generally due to a cargo door seal that is leaky or some other unexpected hole in the airplane that the air conditioning supply cannot overcome. A return for landing may cause you to be late but there is no real cause for concern. The masks probably won’t even drop.

Up at high altitude if the cabin pressure fails as a result of an air conditioning supply problem the decrease in cabin pressure will be fairly gentle. The pilots will already be working to restore proper airflow to the cabin as the masks drop from the overhead panels. Cockpit warnings start at 10,000 feet cabin altitude, the masks drop at about 14,000 feet.

Generally, you can expect a fairly rapid descent if you were already at high altitude, so get in a seat and fasten your seat belt. Passenger oxygen is not delivered under pressure but it will help give you something to do to pass the time. The oxygen supply is either provided from a tank or may be generated chemically by a canister in the overhead compartment.

The oxygen generators get pretty hot so the cabin may smell like there is an electrical fire. This is just a smell so don’t freak over it. If the masks have dropped and the airplane is headed down before you expected it, everything is going to be just fine. Paper work will be generated by the crew and your flight will be late, but everything should be just fine.

A rapid depressurization is very, very rare. This is a rapid decrease of cabin pressure that is caused at high altitude by the failure of a compartment door, window or something that results in the equivalent of a large hole in the airplane. When the air conditioning system cannot keep up with the leak the cabin pressure will be lost rapidly. An emergency descent will be made. Most people will pass out. At high altitude a rapid loss of pressure will allow only a few seconds of consciousness. If you get on the oxygen right away you may not pass out. You may see Flight Attendants walking around carrying emergency walk around bottles checking on the passengers. When a safe altitude is reached everybody should be fine. The flight will probably divert to the nearest suitable airport.

During any cabin pressure failure event the pilots will be wearing pressure masks that do a pretty good job of keeping them functioning.  This assumes they were functioning before.

Fear Of Flying 101

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on November 1, 2007 by luckyjet

A few Strange But True items:

     (1) Most fatal aviation accidents are a result of pilots flying a perfectly good airplane into the dirt.

     (2) More twin engine airplanes are involved in fatal accidents than are single engine airplanes when engine failure occurs. ( Airplanes with more than one engine are difficult to control when an engine quits.)

     (3) Modern systems that warn of approaching terrain are often ignored by pilots. Often with tragic results.

    (4) Pilots rely on airport maps as small as 4 square inches with tiny writing and obscure little notes in order to follow directions on the ground.  Only a few airplanes have any kind of electronic map that works on the ground.  There are no stop signs.

But ………

    (5) If  an airliner  crashed every single day the number of people killed in cars would be about the same.  Another way to put it would be that if as many people were killed in airplanes as in cars then all of the airplanes in the world would be gone in about six months. The airplane factories could not build airplanes fast enough to kill as many people as cars do.

   (6) If the average level of anxiety applied to flying were applied in proportion to the actual risk of  riding in a car most people would be crouching behind trees, afraid to cross the street. Much less actually ride in a car.

Then again, most people drive like shit. Even below average pilots usually try pretty hard to not wreck.