When you've finished here, click over to see what Miguel has to say at his blog. He's created some great photography and commentary as well... en dos lenguas!
I recently flew a domestic trip that included a leg between Minneapolis and Orlando, (McCoy Field) continuing to Detroit the next day before heading home. Here we are in a -300 taxiing out in MSP in search of runway 30L. Some 20 NWA 757's have received the new DAL livery as we continue our march toward corporate integration. The computers are loaded, the crew briefed and we're underway; follow along as we navigate our way to Florida.
Let me digress for a moment because I've received many questions concerning the DAL/NWA integration. Personally, I think that it's going well although it's a lot of work on every ones part. The change is quite dramatic and requires effort, but those who have engineered this change and are responsible for getting it out to the troops are doing it well. The majority of change has fallen upon the former NWA pilots as we seem to have pretty much adopted DAL policies and methods. I may be wrong, but that's my perception and that's the way of the world. I'd be interested in your thoughts concerning this if you're a pre merger Delta pilot.
I prefer many of our procedures at Northwest, but need to adapt to a new corporate culture. If you followed my previous blog, you undoubtedly know that I was no fan of our corporate culture or leadership at NWA and am happy that they've moved on, although I did support Flight Operations and Training. It's really quite simple. Accept the inevitable change and move on or fight it and make yourself (and everyone around you) miserable. Unlike their counterparts at NWA, those who are running the show here appear to want to run an airline. My bottom line, like most pilots though, is to help make the corporation profitable, insure that my retirement will be there when I need it and create a solid, respectable airline.
And in that spirit, if you need to book a flight, anywhere in the world, click here to give us a try.
OK. I'll get off of my soapbox now and get back to matters at hand.
Approaching the departure end of 30L we encounter two A-320's; one in each livery. What do you think? Do you have a preference? I was never really a fan of the "bowling shoe" paint scheme, so prefer the Delta look, but the company name and widget could stand to be enlarged in my opinion.
On the other hand I prefer this NWA paint scheme to the new DAL paint. The red tail of course is historic and has been with us since 1948, but I like the bold NWA with Northwest Airlines spelled out beneath it. To my eye, this is a more dramatic display of corporate identity than the small widget. The fuselage color is a shade of silver, not white and is an attempt to show a bare fuselage. Although difficult to keep clean and avoid oxidation, American has done a great job in this area. We're still holding short of 30L as this A-320 will depart in front of us and the A-330 awaits maintenance. This shot emphasizes the NWA tails and shows an apparent discrepancy. Have you noticed it?
A close up of ship 3255 with a C-130 Hercules approaching 30R in the background. OK, "before takeoff checklist," we're almost ready to go.
Just as our dispatcher predicted, we have a small line of thunderstorms ahead that stretch southeasterly, top out above 40,000 feet and is moving at nearly 50 knots. We're southbound, they're moving to the east so we'll request deviations to the west to fly an end run around them. Choosing the westerly deviation, we'll have the winds aloft help us out and can constantly correct back to the east as we approach the line. We'll remain upwind of the blow off and never encounter any turbulence.
Here's a graphic look at our situation using our radar, superimposed over our ADI. We have traffic 1000 feet below us electing to fly an easterly route and another further out 900 feet above us flying westerly deviations. The PXV VOR (Evansville Indiana) is 105 nautical miles ahead, just beyond the first cell located 80 miles ahead of us. These are large cells. I only have one degree of downward tilt and they display most prominently. The solid line to the left is our flight plan route and as you can see would place us into the blow off of the first cell and squarely into the heart of the next. We've already spoken with ATC, disengaged LNAV by activating Heading Select and started to deviate. To fly to the east would require constant corrections to avoid danger and encounter at least moderate turbulence as the wind would be pushing this weather towards us at all times. The westerly option solves both of these problems and assures a smooth ride. It might take a little longer, but we'll request something direct once we're on the backside and make up time.
ATC gets pretty busy when the weather deteriorates and has to accommodate hundreds of airplanes trying to avoid rough rides. And this is only one storm system, there are many others out here tonight that they'll have to contend with. If I remember, we we're working with Chicago Center at this point and like most high altitude facilities, do a great job accommodating everyone and maintaining a traffic flow. Consequently, those in the low altitude, arrival and local facilities adjust to the latest conditions. It really is a large, three-dimensional puzzle that continually changes and effects flights world-wide.
This is an aspect of commercial aviation that passengers don't comprehend. The weather was good at their departure point and their Aunt Mary's cousins brother in law says it's good at his home near their destination airport. Why then are we late?? It has to do with Newton's first law of motion, something about two pieces of matter occupying the same space at the same time... or so I'm told.
The shades of light are interesting here aren't they? Down below near Evanston, nightfall has occurred, kitchen and dining room lights are turning on, car headlights and windshield wipers are selected on too, but at altitude we enjoy the last of the days light from a sun low on the horizon to our right. Like those below preparing for dinner, I too reach for my McDonald's bag to enjoy my grilled, southwest chicken salad. There are no crew meals on this leg, only what we've provided for ourselves. According to our radar, heavy rain is drenching Indiana as I open my Paul Newman's salad dressing and watch this cell illuminate with constant flashing.
Maybe just a little more to the right!
This is a beautiful view of nature as this large moisture mass continually explodes from within providing us with a spectacular light show. This is one of 16 million lightening storms that will occur over our planet this year.
We've rounded the first two cells that you saw on radar, now here's the largest of the three as we continue our turn to the east towards our destination. There are more cells in this line, but by the time we pass this one, we'll be south of the line and will no longer concern ourselves with it. This is a text book cell with a near perfect anvil head. It's easy navigating around these aerial monsters with daylight, but a bit more challenging after dark.
In the 727 days before moving maps and superimposed radar, navigating a line of storms was a rather complex mental puzzle to solve. Older radar units only painted the storm directly ahead and couldn't see the next cell until you were around the first. In your mind, you needed to visualize where you were, where you wanted to go, what the line looked like and what the wind was doing. With today's technology it's simply a matter of looking at a big picture and weaving your way through the sky. When I first started flying commercially, we had no radar in our Twin Otters, Beech-99's and DC-3's and simply tuned our ADF to a weak station. When a cell discharged, the needle would point in that direction. We'd make mental notes of their locations and fly accordingly. It worked rather well!
This is difficult to describe, but when lightening isn't occurring within this behemoth, it simply appears as a big old cloud. But when it's flashing like this, it takes on a majestic appearance of grandeur. In my mind I'm listening to The Ride of the Valkyres from Wagner's Die Walkure.
This very large mass of moving moisture and electricity is a flashing beacon of light, warning me to keep my distance, pay my respects and and continue on my way. I may have two powerful jet engines and magnificent silver wings, but they are no match for the strength hidden deep within this towering force. It's nearing maturity, but still has much rain to drop and noise to make as it sweeps it's way southeasterly towards Atlanta. Our Dispatchers will be busy tonight and the delays costly, but be assured that you'll arrive safely!
Normally, from the ground, you'll observe cloud to ground or cloud to cloud lightening, but up here tonight this is intra-cloud or sheet lightening that you can observe from within the cell. It's interesting because you know that it's extraordinarily powerful, but there is no thunder associated with it. We can only see its strength from inside our cockpit but cannot hear its roar.
It was a short layover here in Orlando, but that's fine because we're on our way home today. I've just picked up my paperwork in Flight Operations and pause for a moment to snap this shot of a DC-9 as it pulls into its gate. It's hot and muggy here today, ideal conditions for another round of afternoon thunderstorms.
All of our checklists are complete, we're ready to go and as soon as the Bus completes its push back, the fellows over there in Orlando Tower will clear us to do the same.