Archive for December, 2008

The Appearance Of Things

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2008 by luckyjet

There are a great many things in aviation that have been for  a purpose not readily apparent.

The Flight School where I got my first paying flying job, for example, seemed to be a place for the purpose of teaching primary and instrument flight students how to fly.

In reality it was a place for the instructors (me included) to learn to fly at someone else’s expense.  Having reached  the first rung of the  experience ladder a Flight Instructor  can finally gain flight time without paying for it. Our school was actually founded for the purpose of furthering the career of the instructors.

Now from the top of the aviation career ladder the view is different. It might seem that the purpose of the airline industry is to move passengers and materials around the world safely and efficiently. In reality it exists for the purpose of providing pilots with an awe inspiring view of our planet.

Since 1970 pilot compensation has been falling  like blue ice from an old 747 fuselage. Inflation, pay concessions, robbing of pensions, layoffs, strikes, and longer work periods have worked together to bring pilot pay down TO about 37 percent of what it was less than 40 years ago. This is true.

The view from the cockpit  however, is better than ever. Air pollution brings us nice colorful sunsets, longer higher cruise segments and longer flights give us a better view of storms, and there seem to be more photogenic storms to see.

And all this time you thought that we were flying you around to get you where you wanted to go, not so. You have just been subsidising the view out the front of the airplane.

If the airlines were as smart as I am there would be special seats in the back with cockpit style obversation windows. People should pay a LOT more for a ticket to sit there.

The Empire State Building made more money from the observation deck than it did from rent for the first five years it was open.  Happy Landings.dsc_3764


Not Bad For A Holiday

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2008 by luckyjet

Someone asked a few weeks ago about the wisdom of connecting flights in Chicago  during the Christmas holiday. I think I advised to take a more southern route if possible.  At least I hope so.

We weren’t just delayed, we got creamed. The combined effects of  freezing rain, ice pellets, snow, an unscheduled airplane swap, late connecting passengers,  a computer crash, fueling mistake, air traffic control traffic backlog, a medical emergency, and a few thousand holiday travellers with all that stuff added up to a delay of almost five hours on our last flight of the night.  Even before the necessary de-icing of the airplane before take-off.

When we finally arrived on scene at the destination the local weather was in aviation technical terms “dogshit”.  The canine fecal designator for weather is a variable concept and largely dependant on the eqiuipment available and the qualifications of the crew. 

We are well qualified and our equipment, although a bit on the rugged side, is quite effective and  reliable.

Airline operations are required to have minimum visibility available before the approach to the airport can be started. The visibility was very near this minimum value. The precision of our approach monitoring equipment allows this with some additional restrictions.

Computers project the touchdown point of the airplane based on the ground speed and winds.  If the flight path model predicted by the computers using wind data gathered during the approach is projected to be out of bounds the system will trigger an Approach Warning and the approach must be abandoned. 

As in ZOOM, you thought we were landing, but now we ain’t. This is one of those things that we don’t do much and as a result causes stress and fatigue.  It also uses about a ton (really) of fuel.

A decision to use a less precise category of approach mode after being warned off of the first approach is counter-intuitive.  Our problem with the first approach was that the system was freaked out by the winds at about 500 feet. This is what caused the Approach Warning. A lesser crew wouldn’t have noticed this.  If we had been much more tired we would have been a lesser crew.

The less precise approach mode would only allow a descent to 100 feet but with less fussy wind parameters. If the second approach had not been successful a diversion to our alternate airport would have been necessary.

Then, we would have been illegal to fly since our duty day was already more than 14 hours and everybody would have ended up in a city that we could all be dang sure they didn’t want to be in since they didn’t buy a ticket to go there.

My contribution to your happy and safe holiday was a fifteen hour workday and several approaches in weather you had no business trying to drive in.  A thank you or merry Christmas might have been nice, but I understand.

Many in the traveling public  have expressed an entitlement to transportation without delay and we all know that the airlines are graded on performance by the DOT. 

What most people don’t know is that the Airline Employees grade passenger groups also.  Here are this years Holiday Traveller Performance numbers. The number is a  probability for encounter during the workday of Christmas Eve.

People wearing a backpack that  seem to not know that it sticks out behind them…..  19

People in a bad mood because a flight is 20 minutes late departing but still in a bad mood when arriving on time …… 155

People overwhelmed by their own stroller operation…….6 per flight (average)

Number of  surly old ladies insisting that someone had stolen her bag, delaying our departure ten minutes ……. 1

Number of  bags of a different color belonging to surly old ladies that were found in the overhead bin at the next city ……. 1

Number of children that wouldn’t leave the cockpit so I could come in, sit down, and do pilot stuff …….. 4

Number of times my airplane was de-iced during a three day trip …… 14

Inches of ice accumulated on the airplane in about five minutes during descent ….2

How much we were bothered by it …… 0

The number of passengers that reported ice on the wings to the flight attendants … 3

Number of minutes I waited before turning on the wing heat,  just for effect … 5

Percentage of people having a better time than circumstances might have otherwise indicated they should …… 77

Number of  hours we waited on passengers that never showed up because they weren’t coming since the flight had diverted …. 2.5

Number of valued co-workers we chose to hold responsible for this ….. 1

Amount said valued co-worker seemed to really care about the delay ….. 0

Pages of reports required by this and other incidents …. 16

Probability that we did the best we could with what was available …… 88 to 98%

Happy Landings … 12

Your Stuff

Posted in Uncategorized on December 7, 2008 by luckyjet

One of the very best George Carlin routines concerns the management of your stuff and the sub-sets of stuff as you continue on your travels. Since the airlines are acting all weird and charging for everything two or three times maybe this will help a little.

One plan that seems to work well is to send stuff ahead to the destination using Fed Ex or UPS then travel light and easily.

If you don’t need huge amounts of stuff try not to take it all, sometimes it helps to actually rehearse the trip day by day and toss the appropriate clothes in a pile accordingly for each day. A little for contingency and away you go.

Packing is a lost art. Shirts that will wrinkle should be folded with a tee shirt laid on them. The tee prevents creases. Pants fold along the crease lines then fold over folded underwear to prevent horizontal creases.

Emply space in the bag and the top still wont close,  improvement can still be made. Things can be put in shoes to save room. Undies can be a bundle or used to fill up little corners of empty space.

Liquids should be in a zip lock to slow down leaks but should always be at the bottom of the bag in hope that if there were a leak shampoo wouldn’t get on everything.

Always take a power strip for your computer, most hotel plugs are behind the bed.

If you use the tub take Lysol to prevent a bad case of athletes Butt.

Dont walk barefoot on the tile, disenfectant will burn your feet.

Always take all of the old tags off of your suitcases, they can be misrouted because of old tags.

When someone asks what your final distination is they mean :Where do you expect this bag to end up?

If you are late and your bag isn’t you should be able to collect your things from the baggage claim office down there by baggage claim somewhere. This is a tempting opportunity to be extra hatefull but nice seems to work real well.

If you haven’t declared excess value and paid a small imsurance surcharge for your bag the upper limit of compensation for a lost or destroyed item is 25 dollars.

People will steal your stuff off of the merrygoround so make sure that your bag is distinct. Thieves want to be able to say they were confused because bags are similiar but if you have a unique scarf, etc. on it this isn’t likely.

Bring earplugs or a good noise attenuating headset, mp3 player, crackers of choice, water,

Happy Landings

Fuego Fuego Fumar

Posted in Uncategorized on December 7, 2008 by luckyjet

People often say things like “You must have really fast reflexes if you are a pilot”  or “You have to be really good at math and science if you are a pilot” ……….. not so much really.

The math and science thing might come in handy if  you were designing airplanes and had to get it right without a lot of trial and error, otherwise even then it wouldn’t matter that much.

Fast reflexes aren’t really important either.  It is a cool trick to catch things that get knocked off of a counter, but that doesn’t come up much in aviation.

Over the years I’ve learned that a reasoned response works much better than a reflex. Especially when smoke and fire are involved. They aren’t always the same thing.

Things that need to be gotten right the first time should be done deliberately. At the first hint of smoke in the airplane we don oxygen masks and get the smoke goggles on. I don’t know why they call it don the mask, they just do.

It comes up once in a while.  I started a fire by dropping a lit cigarette into the fuel selector panel one night. My ill considered response was to discharge a fire extinguisher in the small cockpit, blinding myself with fire supressant stuff. Barely able to breath or see the instruments from all the soda ash I managed to open the little storm vent window, complete the approach and land ok. After I threw the smoldering floor mats out on the runway everything was fine. I should have done that in the first place.

Not long ago in the Boeing we were on the taxi-way between several airliners waiting for takeoff when the Flight Attendants reported smoke in the cabin. I told them to prepare for evacuation, declared an emergency, got a clearance to go down the runway, and had fire trucks at the airplane as we stopped at the gate and asked the passengers to leave in an orderly manner.  A hint of smoke reached the cockpit, but not much. Nobody freaked too much, but we were ready to. Less than two minutes passed from the first notice of smoke to people leaving the plane.

A teensy bit more smoke in the cabin would have resulted in the evacuation of all the people down the scary slides. Piling out all on top of eachother, breaking ankles, stealing the blankets and all. Much more smoke could have been an indication of something that if not dealt with properly could have resulted in nobody surviving. There has to be a balance of considered response, reflexive actions good sense and luck.  Scared shitless just has to wait till later.

Today my brother and I were in my 1979 Ford truck on the way to lunch. The truck was our grandfathers and has been driven only about 800 miles a year but looks pretty rough.  It was  hard to get started, got flooded and smelled of fuel. Finally we  got going after several start attempts and gasoline smell was going away. The day was cold and the air held a faint air smelled of  wood burning.  We pulled in to the parking lot just as smoke started coming out of the vents. Just little wisps at first. then a little more. Brother was reading a Guitar Center catalog, “We should get one of these amplifiers” he said.  “We should do something about this fucking fire”, says me.

We pulled off to the side and stopped, with the doors open dense white smoke was billowing out of the vents. The smell wasn’t electrical,  it smelled like burning leaves. So I selected defrost and put the fan on High. All the burning leaves blew out, the smoke cleared and we went on our way.

We and the truck smell like a forest fire now.

Often it isn’t the problem that gets you in trouble, it is what you do about it that gets you killed. Or what you don’t do when you should.

How do you tell which is which?  Think fast, act slow, fear nothing.