Archive for February, 2008

Pilot Fortunes

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff, Uncategorized on February 28, 2008 by luckyjet

Airline employees make a ton of money … right?

Lets start with the Captain.  Each airline has a different  pay-scale and work rules. The “commuter” airline pay is horrible. Pilots leave after five to ten years when they can get hired at a “major” and start over at the bottom of the seniority list. If anybody is hiring.

Pilots with the major airlines have taken up to a 30 percent pay CUT  since 9-11. This is not due to inflation or creative accounting of some sort, it is a real decrease in salary. Pilots have had to accept reduced pay so the airlines can afford to buy fuel, and subsidise low fares. Some carriers  compensate pilots partly through stock options which are now worthless.

For the same period airline “executives” have received hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses, severance packages and “incentives”. This seems a little greedy.

So…. you guys made an amazing amount of money to start with and a pay cut should be no big deal, right?

Wrong.  There is a difference between the VALUE of a professional service rendered and the LEAST someone else might do it for.  I want all of the medical professionals, nuke plant engineers, train brakemen, ship Captains, and pilots to be well paid and worry free.

In 1970 an Airline Captain was paid the equivalent of  12 new Corvettes per year.  Today Captains are paid about 4.5 Corvettes a year at most. We could use a different unit for comparison but it works out the same or worse if you use the price of about anything.

Were the pilots of the pre-discount era any better?  They certainly had fewer problems to worry about, more money, more time off, less stress, and a much higher standard of living. I should think that you would want your pilots behind the big door to be stress free. They ain’t. 

So it is still a lot of money.  About 130 to 200 K per year. For being at work 80 to 90 hours a week, away from home 15 to 18 nights per month, working most holidays, getting up at four AM some days, working till two AM other days, and having a large percentage of the worlds population waiting to jump up and down with an AK-47 gleeful that some dipshit blew up another airplane. 

Then there is the physical exam required every 6 months that can end the career or the semi-annual “bet your career” two hour comprehensive orals and four hour simulator check, everything you do and say being recorded, across the board reduction or elimination of pilot pensions and retirement health care, throw in the years of expensive training, required experience gained through low paying entry level jobs or the military, airport security, drug testing, the near impossibility of having a normal family circumstance and the mind numbing boredom of most FAA required training (most of which is useless) and you have a great career opportunity. If your airline fails for whatever reason you will be lucky to start over as a co-pilot at another company at the bottom of the pay-scale and seniority list.

On balance, the view makes it all worth it.



Do You Read?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 28, 2008 by luckyjet

“Do you read?” is airplane talk for “Can you hear me, and/or are you listening, dumbass?” We have all heard this a time or two.

The big hoo-wah over the guys in Hawaii over flying the airport by 15 miles is disturbing. The overflight is a little disturbing, the hoo-wah is worse. It seems there was  a lapse of situational awareness on the part of the crew. They might have been talking and not paying attention to position, might have misprogrammed something and convinced themselves they weren’t there yet, or might even have drifted off in a snooze.  They were probably really, significantly, profoundly tired.  

The schedules these guys fly are often brutal. Pilot fatigue is a serious on-going problem and will be dealt with effectively only when pilots can make a descent living for a reasonable work day.  You know, like we like to think airlines are. 

It worked out just fine though.

It is fairly common for airplanes to go “off frequency” accidentally for several minutes at a time while enroute at cruising altitude.  There are any number of little mistakes that can cause this.

Once in a while an airplane will miss a turn or altitude assignment while off frequency and the controller might not notice right away. For both to happen at the same time is very uncommon but still rarely causes any real trouble. 
It might be necessary for controllers to instruct other planes to do something different than originally planned if this happens.  There are several means for Air Traffic Control to communicate with most airliners, the radio is just one of them.

For the most part except during a busy departure or arrival there isn’t usually a great deal of urgency for controllers to talk to the pilots. The urgency factor is inversely proportional to altitude, and always dependent on everybody else paying attention.

Controller workload increases dramatically when pilots miss radio calls in a busy enviornment. They don’t like it a bit and are not bashful when it comes to expressing their feelings. And when they give you a phone number so you can call up and have the rest of your butt chewed right off it is never a good thing.

Happy Landings

Brandy Anyone?

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff, Uncategorized on February 25, 2008 by luckyjet

Today in the news it was reported as a Big Damn Deal that an airplane flew using biofuel.

A jet engine is a remarkable piece of machinery. Someday soon I’ll  explain how one works if anybody cares. In the meantime please understand that the things have ALWAYS been able to run on about ANY liquid that will flow through a tube  and burn. 

Gasoline, coal oil, alcohol, acetone, even kerosene works fine. And now biofuel.

Actually, kerosene is jet fuel, there are some additives to reduce microbe growth and prevent icing but it is the same stuff. This is why a cold winter always brings higher jet fuel prices. Home heating Oil and Jet fuel are the exact same stuff. 

Maybe as an alternative to  using all of our agricultural resources to grow corn for ethanol and other biofuel nonsense we should just stop using heating oil. A few million Americans would be a little chilly during the winter but the rest of us would be able to afford food. Freeze or starve, let’s pick.

Please don’t get me wrong, I think the oil companies are a pack of thieving multi-national, un-American bandits. Petroleum based products are still inarguably far and away the most sensible liquid fuel for airplanes.

When you see prices go absolutely batshit at the grocery store it will be a direct result of this biofuel bullshit. Corn is feed for cattle. Using corn for fuel = High corn prices = high burger prices = us starving. 

The amount of energy required to produce ethanol makes the entire process absurd. Ethanol is the exact same stuff as White Lightning. Corn Liquor.  The energy to make the ethanol comes from coal. Coal is dirty stuff to burn, so any possible environmental benefit is offset by far.

Do not be fooled into thinking that by wrecking our food supply we will reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Where does all of the Alaskan North Slope oil from the pipeline go now anyway? Apply some logic and look at a globe. It ain’t Texas.

If you are concerned about foreign oil imports stop driving like fuel is free. The airlines have and it has cut fuel consumption by 10 percent or more.

And another worry, a big one. Suppose something causes a sudden public understanding of what nonsense the whole corn ethanol thing is, and the monthly billions the government is dumping into corn subsidies stop.  This could trigger a collapse in the corn market which could trigger the bankruptcy of  agriculture. 

Kind of like a great depression except we would need a new name.

Maybe the Great Dysfunction.

More Than A Feeling

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on February 24, 2008 by luckyjet

We feel some weird stuff  when we fly. Part of the reason for this is that flying is kind of a weird activity in the first place.

People are very sensitive to acceleration. Our inner ear is a precision instrument for balance perception and our brain is a really fast processor. This makes it easy for us to stand and walk.

Our brains are also very good at finding patterns. Patterns in numbers, pictures, sounds, and sensory input.  Also, our brains will often create a pattern where one doesn’t exist and one of our senses can cause errors of perception in the others. This is a large part of why flying without visual reference to the horizon is a skill acquired only through considerable training. Up doesn’t always feel like up.

The takeoff begins with acceleration. When the brakes are released and the power is pushed up the speed increases and we feel “pushed back” in the seat.  This is because we are being pushed back in the seat.

Engineers call the maneuver when the nose of the airplane is raised up on takeoff “rotation”.  An airliner at average takeoff weight generally rotates at around 3 degrees per second once the proper takeoff speed is reached. This provides for a pitch attitude of about 8 degrees “nose up” as the wheels leave the ground.  Airliners have a limit of allowable pitch during takeoff to prevent the tail from dragging the ground.  A “tail strike” is a bad thing so we don’t exceed this limit.

As the landing gear is retracted our speed is about 30 percent more than the minimum stall speed for the wings and the pitch is at around 10 degrees and increasing to an initial climb value of 18 to 20 degrees. This makes us feel pushed down in the seat a little as the pitch is increased.  If you were sitting on a scale your measured weight would increase about 10 percent. ( a total guess)

It has only been 40 seconds or so since brake release and this is already enough to confound our human balance sensory processing. When you can’t see outside, the inner ear will often interpret acceleration as a turning movement. The combination of this and the conflicting visual input of  the stationary airplane interior which is clearly not turning makes people feel weird.

After getting off the ground our next objective is to get up to a safe altitude in the event of engine failure so the 18 or 20 degrees of pitch persists for another half  a minute or so. A turn might be started during this time, introducing yet another confusing sensory input.

When about one thousand feet high it is time to start accelerating to flap retraction speed and “cleaning up” the airplane.  This doesn’t involve throwing away candy wrappers but is a general description of  retracting the flaps and anything else than hangs out.

The pitch attitude is lowered to about 13 degrees, this might make you feel “lighter” in the seat.  The 5 degree change doesn’t sound like much but it is easily perceptible, especially if it isn’t done smoothly. By the time we reach about three thousand feet our speed is at 250 knots and our “acceleration state” should be pretty much neutral.

There are almost always level offs , speed changes, and turns on the way up to cruise altitude. These aren’t as dramatic as the takeoff but if you are sensitive you might notice a difference in acceleration.

When there are visual cues outside most people feel less uncomfortable. Misleading visual cues like slanted clouds or rows of lights can cause you to feel like the airplane is leaning  to one side or turning when it isn’t.

If you are bothered by motion sickness consider getting a window seat.  Watch outside during the takeoff and climb. Try to look at the horizon as far away as possible.  This might help you stay better oriented. 

 Happy landings

Whazat Noise

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff, Uncategorized on February 20, 2008 by luckyjet

The noises that go along with a flight can tell you a lot about what’s going on.

All of this applies to the Boeing. Those weird French airbusters make different noises. If it ain’t a Boeing I ain’t going…. Yea, ‘Merica and all that.

Before pushback you may hear:

A irregular thumping from under the floor. This is the sound of guys cramming suitcases in the cargo bins. This is always done by hand, since we haven’t come up with a machine that can break things and pull the handles off effectively. 

 The “belt-loader” is a small car chassis with an engine driven conveyor mounted on it. These make a squealing noise when the conveyor bearings are bad. Otherwise they just help to move the bags from the wagon to the airplane.

 On a windy day you may hear a regular clackaty clackaty sound, this is the fan blades of the engine flopping around and touching the sies of the fan shroud as the wind makes the engine turn. With a strong tail wind the engines might even turn backwards. The engines turning like this doesn’t hurt anything but some times it makes a hydraulic system sense a fault and creates a simulated leak.

Near the rear of the plane you might hear a small turbine engine. A loud exhaust noise usually obscures the turbine noise. This little engine is the APU, or Auxiliary Power Unit. It is the power plant for our little airplane kingdom that makes us independent from the world for our power and air conditioning needs while the main engines are shut down.

Many airlines are limiting the use of the APU in an  attempt to save money on fuel. The APU normally provides air for starting the main engines so it is started  about five minutes before push back. Or when the cockpit gets uncomfortable.

The majority of announcements you hear before boarding are FAA required. You already know where the exits are, and the oxygen mask thing will just give you something to mess with while the crew figures out what the hell is going on in the event of blah …blah…

The air conditioning is ALWAYS turned OFF during engine start. This isn’t out of  orneryness, the air systems are needed for the engine’s starter. Generally, an attempt to start an engine with the air conditioning running won’t work and could cause several million dollars in engine damage. And a delay while a new engine is installed.

Occasionally the APU won’t be working and you might hear ground service equipment that provides air for starting the engines. This thing sounds like a low pitched siren and  is really loud. When these things are used both engines will be started at the gate before brake release.

If you are seated at mid-cabin over the wings you might hear a “bareeeep ” sound when the brakes are released. This is the parking brake valve opening. Any time the airplane is stopped for a moment the parking brake is usually set so you might hear this faint noise a few times during taxi.

Wing flaps and leading edge flaps and slats change the shape of the wing and increase the size of the wing . This allows the airplane to takeoff and land at much lower speeds than it ever could without them. If you watch a large bird land you will notice that they always spread feathers out and curve their wings to slow down. It doesn’t make much noise when they do this since birds aren’t hydraulic.

As the wing flaps are extended for takeoff these is a raa raa raa raa raa raa rrrrrr rrr noise from under the floor at about mid cabin. The flaps are mostly mechanical and hydraulically driven. This involves quite a bit of machinery. Most airlines extend the flaps before taxi out. Some complete the before takeoff checklist during taxi out.

If you watch closely you will see the ailerons move up then down and back to neutral at the pilot exercises the controls. This is done to ensure freedom of movement. The ailerons are on the trailing edge of the wing toward the tip.

After takeoff there is a whooosh bathump sound. This is the landing gear retracting.

The flaps are usually retracted in stages after takeoff. This makes more of the raa raa noise.

The assorted bells and chimes are different for each airline. Things that signal disaster for the crew at one company mean that every thing is fine at another. The bells, chimes, and codes change all the time anyway so it would be pointless to explain them even if it weren’t a secret.

You may notice on occasion that engine power is actually increased after takeoff. This is a normal part of power management and will take a few hundred words to explain. The short version is that we usually don’t use all of the power.

The sound of the crew saying thank you is authentic gratitude. Our industry is in big trouble.  Happy Landings.

Bendy Things

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on February 20, 2008 by luckyjet

Why do the wings bend and flex so much in rough air?

So they don’t break. Things than bend are stronger than things that are rigid. Don’t be alarmed by the wings of a jet plane flopping around in rough air, they are made for it.

For the valued customer in the flower print jumpsuit: 

Why did the pilot riding in the back of the airplane give you such a surly look?

Because the seventeenth time you yanked on the back of his seat to haul your self up he was dreaming of choking you. It was only a dream.

Why is there so much “give” in the floor of an airliner that you can feel the floor move when the Flight Attendants tromp back and forth?

Three reasons really. Some F/A s never seem to walk gracefully, they tromp. Maybe it makes them feel more stable. The floor is made to be light, not rigid. We could make the floor feel really strong but then we couldn’t carry passengers or fuel because of the extra weight.

Why do people slam the overhead bin doors so damn hard when all that is required is that they be pushed closed? Nobody really knows.

Why don’t the airlines charge people for breaking things like overhead bin doors when they are cramming stuff in the bin that is obviously to big? They just haven’t thought of it yet but when they do . . . .

Why don’t the airlines charge for reservations like a rental car company or hotel? Then maybe they wouldn’t need to “overbook” in order to sell the seats. Nobody knows.

Why do babies cry on airplanes? Because their ears hurt. Or they are pissed off about a weather delay, it’s hard to tell.

Why can’t we all just be more flexible and compassionate?  Who the hell says we ain’t.

Your Luggage

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on February 19, 2008 by luckyjet

Luggage used to be what it is called. You had to lug it around because it was big and heavy. When your coach or car brought you to the train station a uniformed porter would port your luggage to a cart and put it with other bags and trunks to be loaded on the same train.

People that had any intention of ever seeing all of their things again would tip the nice man.

Now, here in the future, things haven’t changed all that much.  Except the whole train thing, those are pretty much gone.  At least as far as effective long distance passenger service is concerned. And nobody carries bags anymore, we drag them. Should it should be called rollage? Or maybe dragage?

The bags are still surrendered to a uniformed person that has the success of your entire trip in their personal power. Tipping might still be a good idea.

Generally mistakes are rare when it comes to checking a bag to the correct destination and having it get there. What could possibly go wrong? I read that about 1 percent of baggage is “mis-handled”. It doesn’t sound like much but if there are a hundred bags on a flight on average one of them should probably be somewhere else.

Things That Possibly go Wrong

1. When you are asked by anyone having anything to do with your bags what your destination is always answer with the “AIRPORT” and “CITY”.  Many airlines serve multiple airports near the same city.  For example “Washington, Dulles” or Intercontinental, Bush, Houston” could be good answers.  Some airports have several names which are used interchangeably like Hartford-Bradley-Windsor Locks.  A true road warrior will know the three letter identifier for the destination. IAH, BDL, whatever. Check to see that your bag is tagged to the place you next want to see it.

2. If you have a lay-over in say, Dallas, change planes then continue to Seattle on the same airline your destination is still Seattle. The only exception might be a stroller you need for the baby during a long layover. Some airlines will bring the stroller up for you to use during a layover but it might not be worth the trouble.

3. If you have a lay-over in Dallas and you are continuing on a different airline to Seattle be sure to explain in the following language: “My destination is Seattle on brand X air, I am connecting on Brand A airlines at DFW.”  Will my bags transfer “interline”? Or will I need to claim and re-check to the destination. A brief weird explanation will follow. Ask questions, get answers. Look at the claim check.

4. Picture the top of an SUV. Picture all of your baggage stacked up there. Picture someone tossing it off to the ground. Gleefully. The happy baggage handlers are still hard at work getting your baggage from carts to the airplane and back to the conveyor system where the straps can get caught in the works of the machinery and pulled off.

5. Never ever have nice luggage. Those utility totes that the big home improvement stores sell make great travel bags. They have wheels, are tough and allow for dragging even more stuff along too. Nice luggage gets damaged, fact’ o life. Luggage straps will cause a bag to get mis-routed because it can confound the machinery. A strap may get tangled in a machine and delay the bag until after the flight has left. You might even see it again someday. Click straps are great if they are kept tight.

6. Never ever have tags or stickers on your bag that are from a previous flight. When things get weird and somebody sees only the destination, not last years date, your bag may well end up where you were last year. Or Worse.

7. Baggage that is common should be personalized with a ribbon, sticker or something. People actually do confuse bags sometimes. Make it easy for us to find out who you are and how to contact you right away if this happens. We usually try to find people at the rental car counter. A copy of your itinerary in a easy to find packet is a good idea.

8. Most lost baggage (the kind you never see again) is actually stolen. Never make your baggage look nice. It should be durable but not attractive.  It shouldn’t spend any more time alone than necessary at the baggage claim place.  Thieves will usually take bags that are common in appearance so they can say they thought it was theirs.

9. Locks are not cool, the TSA inspectors will often take them off. If they won’t come off easily the bag will be delayed.

10. NEVER pack anything hazardous. the FAA and TSA have really good web resources for what hazardous means. Some of the less obvious things are matches, mercury, batteries, or any kind of fireworks. Hazardous stuff presented for air transport creates a violation of Federal law and can get you in a huge amount of trouble.

Carry on bags might always have to be checked in the cargo bin at the last minute so keep a little bag inside the carry-on  for medication, cameras, and stuff you can’t part with gleefully. Just say. “Sure I can check it if I must, just let me get my medication and diamonds out”.

Thank you for playing along, Happy Landings