Archive for the Airplanes n Stuff Category

Clean Happy Work Enviornment

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff with tags on June 20, 2008 by luckyjet

How do you picture what’s behind the door while you are enjoying or enduring air travel as the case may be?

People generally seem to imagine the cockpit as a well designed, ergonomic, clean, comfortable, environment.  It ain’t. At least not in America.  Maybe in France or in one of those airbusters, but  not in the Boeing cockpit as it is fairly rustic. This doesn’t vary much from one airline to another.

Sharp corners are everywhere, dust is everywhere, things look clean only at first glance. Knobs and switches that get used a lot are usually really dirty. There is a special kind of crud that is part Mechanic hand grease, pilot booger and passenger lint that gets into every corner. And there are a lot of little corners. All of the knobs are designed for maximum finger traction and have little ridges. These couldn’t be more effective for gathering crud if they were designed for the purpose.


Airline Pilots are apparently sloppy people as a rule. Coffee, juice and Coke gets spilled and splashed all over everything. This provides a base layer for more lint and boogers. Pilots think nothing of sneezing all over the instrument panel and leaving snot everywhere. At night it doesn’t really show, but in intense daylight …….. everything shows.    I prefer to fly in the dark.

The sheepskin seat covers are great. Especially if nobody other than you ever sits in the seat. The problem is that on a hot day when someone else has been in the seat all day it gets kind of damp. I don’t find it invigorating to hop in and sit down on a dead sheep damp with somebody  else’s butt sweat.  Maybe I’m overly sensitive about this but it just isn’t my thing.

A good offset for the damp seat is the massive amount of paper they give us for each flight with the flight plan and weather printed on it. This makes a pretty good seat cover for the seat cover.

 The lint that collects in the cockpit changes color from Summer to Winter months. I think this is because passenger clothing is fuzzier during the winter.  Airplane boogers are even a different color in the winter too.

One of the very best things about the job is the view. It can also be one of the most challenging things about the job at sunrise and sunset since the only effective protection against intense sunlight at high altitude is a map or checklist card stuck in the window. 

There has been a subtle battle between aircraft design engineers, pilots, and the FAA (formerly the CAA) for the last eighty years or so in which the engineers try to provide an effective sun shade within government guidelines and the pilots find something else to use that actually works. Pilots are about a zillion thousand times more likely to get a bad case of exploding sunshine eyeball than anybody else. Engineers could just barely get people to the moon and back much less design an effective sun shade that isn’t illegal. The FAA has thier own ideas on how big a sun visor should be, but they all work in an office.

This is all nothing more than idle bitching, what I really wanted to tell you about is the view from my office. 

Twenty Miles Away

The windows are huge and I don’t have to lean over to see out. From about eight miles high the horizon is distinctly curved. A full moon is so bright I really do need sun glasses at night, and It’s easy to see five states as long as you aren’t in the middle of Texas.  It is also easy to see that a line of severe storms produces constant lightning.  On a clear night with a heavy undercast and no moon, leaning back in the seat I can see straight up.  Take it from me there are at least a zillion, zillion stars. 

2 or 3 States

The airlines are missing a huge opportunity to make money by not having an observation bubble in the top of the airplane and charging a dollar a minute to look outside.

Thank you all for your patience, I haven’t posted anything in a few weeks.  Enjoy the pictures.

 Happy landings.



You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on April 5, 2008 by luckyjet

This week ATA Airlines, Aloha Airlines, and Skybus Airlines ceased operations. 

If this doesn’t seem like a big deal just wait. The airline industry as we understand it today is melting away faster than the Antarctica ice.

Fares are cheap. Planes are full. Fuel is expensive.

Most airline companies will fail financially and cease operations. Pilots at United, Delta, American, and others have taken HUGE pay cuts, lost thier pensions and are still suffering the stress of lost job security. How can this be a good thing?

Pilots at Southwest were the lowest paid five years ago and never had a pension to start with. They do seem to have job security though.

Historically when times get tough airline management comes to the pilot group for concessions. The idea is that after a while things will get better and we can all share in the rewards. It hasn’t worked yet.

If the pilots had never agreed to pay concessions the industry would have had a total crisis about six years ago, twelve years ago, in the early nineties, mid eighties and several others. This seems to have happened about every six or eight years since 1930, and it has been much worse since de-regulation.

After the big industry “crash” there will be thousands of airliners parked in the desert with foil on the windows. General electric, American Express Credit, Guiness, and a host of others that hold the financial paper on the airframes and engines will suffer.

Maybe they can get a few billion from Congress and make it all better.

We are rapidly headed for a Re-Regulated airline industry, or a Domestic System with only one carrier, maybe two.  You’ll pay for it one way or the other.

Please check your seat belt, this will be a wild ride.

Happy Landings

Light Management Duties

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

Most of what we do as pilots is just a structured set up for two people working in a confined space for several hours a day to avoid choking one another.

A fair amount of the Captain’s efforts are related to keeping the interior cockpit lighting just right for the task at hand and managing the exterior lights.  It doesn’t sound like much but the proper illumination level for all the instrument clusters and panels makes it much easier to see outside. Seeing outside is kind of a big deal, especially at low altitude where there could be unreported traffic. It also helps set the proper mood for the dramatic music we always hear in our heads.

The instrument panel lights on the First Officer’s side of the cockpit have several independant brightness controls. These are not directly controlled by the Captain but they are part of the “light show”.

There are hundreds of things first Officers are supposed to know that are not part of the training. This is, for the most part,  stuff your Dad or Uncle should have told you when you were a little kid. That is, of course, if you were raised in a family that has airline running all through it.

Some of the unwritten rules are as follows:

Do not run your main panel lights much brighter than the Captains.

If a single instrument on your side tends to be brighter than the rest then dim all of them. If you need more light ask the Captain,  “Mind if I turn these up a little?” Turn things back down for the approach and landing without being asked. This might make the Captain think you have the good sense to look outside.

If you must use the overhead map light then turn it off when you are finished. It should always  be turned on while dim then eased up to a setting you can use.

Your personal worth as a human being is often directly judged by a combination of how much of your approach chart data you can remember without turning that damn light back on and the suspicion that you have forgotten something.  The Captain already knows you have forgotten something.

You can only hope to be the brightest thing on your side of the cockpit when the lights are managed correctly.  Since you will screw up the temperature at least get the light levels on your side right.

If the Captain has to tell you multiple hundreds of times to turn the goddam map light off you might suck to fly with. That is not good.

Walk through the terminal with the Captain. Not in front of him. He shouldn’t walk ahead of you either unless he is a dick.

Always ask if there is any more trash to be thrown away before you take the cockpit trash bag out. “Hey, you got any more trash to throw away?” 

This stuff ain’t hard. Be considerate of your valued coworkers.

Happy Landings.

Where Does THAT go?

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff, Uncategorized on March 22, 2008 by luckyjet

A little boy about five came to the front of the airplane and after a little encouragement from his mom asked “Where does the stuff go?”  What stuff, little man? “The poop, where does the poop go? In the sky? Does the poop go in the sky?” He turned and left in a fit of giggles before either of us could answer him.  Of course he did. Poop is probably one of the funniest things on the planet. Poop falling from the sky is an order of magnitude funnier.

A very long time ago when airliners were not pressurized you could actually see the ground through the “semi-flushing” toilet. There was no tank or anything, the poo n’ stuff just sailed right out there. That was a simpler time and the country was less populated. Most people were too busy barfing to really worry about it much.

Then came the days of giant pressurized airliners. This arrangement started in the  1940’s before jets. The new modern design brought the first “holding tanks”.  There was usually a tank for each toilet that could be emptied from the outside. Flushed with “blue water”, that was recycled from the tank with each flush,  these really didn’t change much for about 50 years or so. The water didn’t stay so blue for very long.

Current “next generation” jets generally have a common tank for multiple toilets. A combination of clean water and compressed air whisk all the poo n’ stuff away with a startling ka-whoosh. For some reason people still pee all over the floor.

Then what? In theory upon arrival our valued co-workers responsible for this sort of thing hook up a “lavatory service cart” to empty the tank.  Others “mop” the lavatory, which is a nice word for spread the pee around so it is thinner. I think it is great that this is about the only example of the word “lavatory” in common usage of American English.  

A little research would probably show that one of the airlines started using the word after WW II and it caught on since it sounds a lot better than shit-house and has fewer letters. 

The “Lav Cart” is then carted away to an approved location where it is connected to a sewer and dumped out in an approved and non-gross manner. They never seem to do anything at all with the mops that have been in airline use since 1937.

What could possibly go wrong?

In the old days an innocent person could have been smacked with an intact turd from a passing plane. This is one of the very few examples of the airline industry taking advantage of an available technology before the worst case scenario played out. If there was ever a documented turd strike it was hushed up since there appears to be no record of such an incident.

There have however been some tragic poo n’ stuff events in spite of the modern improved system since the  “just let one fly” days. This is why we have the “next generation” system.

Jets (as you know if you are a regular reader) fly at high altitude where the air is thin, smooth and cold.  About fifty degrees below zero. A small leak from the filler connection of a poo n’ stuff holding tank can result in a sizable chunk of poo n’ stuff ice forming on the outside of the plane.  These things can easily weigh thirty or forty pounds.

When the airplane descends to warmer air the giant frozen poo n’ stuff  ball becomes detached and hurtles to the ground usually coming apart or falling harmlessly to earth in an unpopulated area.

There was a family having breakfast one morning as a  jet airliner flew over on approach to a nearby international airport. An enormous frozen blue poo n’ stuff ball crashed through their roof and exploded in the center of the kitchen.

As I recall there were no injuries reported but I’ll bet they got to stay home from school.

Happy Landings. 


I think this is a bug on the window but it could be . . . . . .

How Do You Remember What All That Does?

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on March 18, 2008 by luckyjet

First of all there is a full set of  flight instruments for each pilot. The really critical flight instruments have at least one additional “back-up” instrument for use in the event all power to the main ones is lost. This makes the front panel look twice as complicated as necessary. Each major system has switches, most we don’t normally use much.

Practically everything else was installed as a result of a nasty accident. The FAA equipment requirements are historically reactionary and the airlines are historically cheap. Instead of shopping for new equipment like a 17 year old at a car stereo shop with a stolen credit card the airlines are mostly interested in reliability and economy. 

We remember how the systems of the airplane work in much the same way you remember how to operate your house.

If all  the switches for your house and all the appliances were located in a hall closet it would look impressive too. People might say things like “How the hell do you know what all the switches do?” It’s easy.

This is the toaster dark-light control, this is the bread ejector lever.  Over here we have the extra rinse cycle next to the garbage disposal on / off switch and the garage door opener.  This is the door bell and this row here is for the DVD-VCR-DVR for CNN, NBC, MTV, CBS, TNN and AC.  Flip this switch to here and you get a big eyed grumpy ex-prosecutor, flip this one and we can cool off the house in the summer.

Once in a while we forget a switch, once in a while you leave the garage open all night or your keys in the door.  People do stuff like that. 

This is why most of the important stuff has a big orange light that comes on when it isn’t working.

Red lights are usually r e a l powerful stuff. Fire warnings, parking brakes, and such. 

Blue lights are for things that are generally not always needed but are on and working fine for now just in case anybody cares. Bright blue lights are for things that you tried to turn on but haven’t quite come all the way on yet and might be stuck if you don’t notice the light is still bright and could result in an orange light later.  Or worse yet, a lot of orange lights.

For the most part we are required to know how to “work” something as opposed to “how it works”. It is more important to know the difference between the blender and the washer than it is to know how fast the RPM of the blender is. 

Just like your home it is important to be able to find important things in the dark. A basic understanding of what to do in an emergency is also kind of a big deal for us.

Did you know you are supposed to stay near the floor and crawl out like crazy in the event of a house fire?

 What should you do in the event of an impending home invasion when you have forgotten to bring your guns to the dinner table?

Safety preparation and training is probably just as important for the home as it is for anywhere. I try to be over-prepared for everything we can think of that could go weird when you fly. Please take a little time and prepare for things that will probably never happen at home.

Happy Landings

One Of Those Landings

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on March 10, 2008 by luckyjet

People never remember the stuff that impresses pilots. I guess they don’t notice it.

The descent  took more planning than usual due to mountainous terrain, high winds and convective weather in the area.  It didn’t pay extra though.

There was a bit of a “set to” with approach control when I needed a course deviation for weather and the controller said in kind of a pissy voice “I don’t show any weather at your 12 o’clock” My response was something about us having radar AND windows both of which require the turn we are making now. So the turn was approved after the fact but we were moved back in the line-up. It didn’t piss me off at all, not even a little bit, I’m surprised I even remember it.  There isn’t room in the cockpit to throw a fit anyway.

 What would have been four mile right hand traffic pattern turned into an eight mile left handed wifferdill back across the approach course and eventually to the runway. That’s ok. Really. Even though it didn’t pay extra. It does not piss me off. Not a bit.

There was a lot of headwind so I delayed landing gear extension until late in the approach to save fuel. This also makes the approach quiet for not only those on the ground but also our valued passengers. 

Even with the wind changing by about thirty knots from a thousand feet to the surface the visual approach was flown within three or fours knots of target speed all the way down. That’s no big deal, we just do it that way now.  If we don’t the airplane will rat us out to management via satellite datalink before we even land.

Somewhere about four feet above touchdown everything tried to turn to shit. This is an aviation term meaning an unexpected decrease of aircraft threshold energy resulting in a rapidly increasing sink rate,  ie. about to crash.

Small abrupt windshear events cause this sort of thing and other than messing up what would have been an ordinary landing are no big deal. Usually.

Most often when this happens a pilot will raise the nose in order to arrest the sink rate. Since the wheels of a swept wing airplane are way behind the center of gravity this “rotates” the landing gear into the cement with considerable velocity. The sink rate of the airplane might actually decrease but the wheels will Spank the ground. This is generally perceived as a “bad” landing.

So, what makes this memorable for me is that instead of the intuitive yank back on the yoke, or even just a little positive back pressure, or a flinch that would have smacked the wheels down I actually saved it through clever use of the 727 Roll-On.

The roll-on is one of those techniques that is actually a category of maneuvers. All of which are performed below 3 feet of altitude with various results. There is the roll-on, the modified roll-on, the hoy-yah, and others. Landing a large jet is a lot like surfing in this regard. A lot of times you might not know what trick you just did unless somebody else gives it a name.

The 727 roll-on gets it’s name from the Boeing 727 which has all three of it’s engines above the center of gravity and the wheels way behind the C.G. If you can manage to get the 727 about 5 feet high and just goose the thrust a little while pushing the nose down a good landing usually is the result.

The landing that resulted today was truly something to be recorded. There was no perceptible difference between the part where we were flying and the part where we weren’t. Exactly at the touchdown target zone  the wheels began to brush, then carress the runway. Gently the roundness of the tires meshed with the raised  areas between the grains of concrete and friction started to take place. The wheels spun up to the speed of the airplane gradually instead of suddenly and the struts began to accept the weight of the airplane gracefully as it was smoothly offered by the wings in  little increments. I made some smart ass remark like “I think the number three tire is a little out of round” to the First Officer as I turned off of the runway half way down.

This was one of those landings that happens maybe once a year for me and I fly a lot. I also generally make smooth landings but this was different. This was a combination of physics, art, skill, and blind stumbling luck. It was mine though, the best one of the year so far and nobody said a damn word about it. Not a single wow, oh my, or kiss my ass, from anybody on the airplane. That doesn’t piss me off any either. Not even a little.

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.