Friday, July 16, 2010

A friend emailed and asked if I'd post more crew pictures with this post. So here are a few more, down near the bottom, of my friends out enjoying the high altitude jet airways.

I just returned home from a 13 day Asian trip that included layovers in Narita, Nagoya, Saipan, Guam and Beijing. These trips are a bit more interesting these days, because rather than deadheading to Narita from DTW on a 747-400 to start a trip, we now fly a 767-300ER from SEA to either Beijing or Osaka. More about that later when I write about my first SEA-PEK flight, but today, strap in and fly along with us on a typical Saipan-Narita flight aboard a 757-200.

We've just pushed off the gate in SPN, have started both engines and await the tug drivers wave off. It's a short taxi out to runway seven as we fall in line behind a Cherokee Six. This is Delta Air Lines flight 287 and our clearance reads: 


Total flight time equals 3 hours 11 minutes to cover 1,321 nautical miles. Our fuel load equals 30,600 pounds which gives us nearly 8,000 pounds of reserve with Haneda International, RJTT as our destination alternate. We're relatively light this morning with a takeoff weight of only 177,299 pounds and flight planned to cruise up at FL 400 (40,000') 

Today's flight will require maneuvering around several areas of thunderstorms, but yesterdays arrival was absolutely beautiful with clear skies and light winds as the Upper Air Weather Depiction Chart above indicates. To orient you, the yellow line connects SPN with NRT and roughly coincides with B586. Saipan and Guam are located in the Northern Mariana Island chain at approximately 15 degrees north latitude in the Philippine Sea. Interestingly, just east of our location is the Mariana Trench, the deepest point of all the earths oceans. The trench is 1,500 miles long and is 36,201 feet deep just south of Guam. 

This is how our arrival appeared yesterday afternoon as we slowed and configured for landing on runway seven at SPN. Do you see what looks like two parallel runways just ahead over our nose? The island is Tinian and those are the runways at "North Field" that the B-29's from the 509th Composite Group that invaded Japan departed from. Most notably, Enola Gay flown by Colonel Paul Tibbets and Bock's Car flown by Major Charles Sweeney that carried Little Boy and Fat Man respectively in August 1945. Enola Gay is presently on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington and Bock's Car is available to be seen at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. 

You've probably heard the term "kamakazi," but do you know what it means? The common translation is "Divine wind." These winds or typhoons protected the Japanese from many invaders over the years, sinking or displacing invading armadas. It nearly did the same thing with our B-29's as many had to turn back to Tinian after running low on fuel from flying into fierce headwinds. Our flight today will take 3:11 minutes in a B-757, you can imagine how long this took in a lumbering, four engined, piston powered B-29, loaded with fuel and ordnance.

Here's another look at the runways on Tinian as we turn final for runway seven at SPN. John and I were deadheading into SPN from Osaka to fly a trip out the next morning. This was taken from a first class seat as we enjoyed breakfast and the morning newspaper. I've not done it, but many of our pilots have flown over to Tinian on a Cherokee Six to explore these runways and the original bomb pits that were used to load Little Boy and Fat Man aboard their B-29's.

I haven't posted a video in a while. Here's a short video taken from a first class seat after passing over Tinian and landing on runway seven in SPN.

Clear sailing ahead 37,000 feet as we await our clearance to climb to 40,000 feet.

It turns out that 40,000 feet wasn't available so we requested and climbed to 42,000 feet. This is the max altitude available to our 757's, but we were light and easily climbed to FL420.

It's a beautiful sight from 42,000 feet looking north towards Japan over a cloud studded ocean. With a little imagination... ok a lot of imagination you can see the curvature of the earth in this atmospheric re-entry shot. It's only because of the way that I've tilted my camera, the curvature really isn't noticeable until above 80,000 feet or so.

At 42,000 feet today our cabin pressure is close to 7,000 feet, as we cruise above the tropopause, the line that separates the troposphere from the stratosphere, at mach .79 or 79% of the speed of sound. Our outside air temperature is approximately -40C, we're above more than 80% of the earths atmosphere and our time of useful consciousness, should our pressurization fail, is about 10 seconds. It's a beautiful yet cold, forbidding environment up here.

Dinner with a view over the North Pacific. 

The turbulence at 42,000 feet increased to slightly greater than light, so we've descended to 38,000 feet where we've found a smooth ride, but necessitates maneuvering around scattered thunderstorms.
Where in the world are we?
Jeppesen Far East Hi/Low 7/8

We're on that middle yellow line in RVSM (reduced vertical separation minima) airspace, just north of the FIR (flight information region) boundary that separates Oakland from Fukuoka airspace. We're communicating via HF radios and will contact Tokyo Radio with a position report over VASKO. 


Here's how it appears on our HSI. You can see that we're at VASKO, 290 nm south of our next waypoint with a light wind from the northeast. Just to our left is RJAW, better known as Iwo Jima and an alternate landing sight for this flight. The airfield at Iwo is 384' above sea level with an 8,700' runway.


Although of poor quality, there's Iwo Jima from my left cockpit window. It looks tranquil from this vantage point, but on 19 February 1945 when the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions waded ashore it was anything but tranquil. Suffice it to say that more Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded (27) during this battle, than for any other battle in American history. The American flag was raised on Mt Suribachi during day four of a battle that raged for 36 days. I'm sure that you're familiar with Joe Rosenthal's famous photograph of six Marines raising the American flag here that is memorialized in bronze at Arlington National Cemetery. Americans suffered causalities that included 6,891 dead and 18,070 wounded. Semper Fi!

Have you read FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, written by James Bradley, the son of one of the six flag raisers. It's very moving and a wonderful read. Bradley also wrote FLYBOYS, another wonderful book written about this area during WWII.

Now on to other matters. It's no secret that I enjoy my job, but it's not just because I have the opportunity to fly jets around the world. It goes far beyond that... it's the people with whom I work that gives me the most enjoyment. Let me introduce you to just some of those with whom I've flown my last few trips.


This is Eric, who was hired at Delta in 1999 as a B-727 flight engineer. He's only the second Delta pilot with whom I've flown and enjoyed. His twin brother Brian, a businessman and private pilot and Eric are avid airliner enthusiasts and AIRWAYS MAGAZINE readers. He has yet another brother assigned to Delta's 737 fleet too. I met Eric, who was our relief pilot when we flew from Beijing to Seattle on the penultimate leg of this trip.


Dave was my copilot for the entire 13 day trip. He enjoyed a bit of a family reunion on both of our Beijing layovers, meeting his sons Steve and Philip. Steve lives and works in China and Phil flew over to see his brother and enjoy time with both of them in Beijing. Another great guy to fly with.  

We fly with Asian based flight attendants when flying throughout the Pacific Rim. We change flight attendants on every leg so it's difficult to get names, but they are a delight to fly with.


They're based in Narita, Beijing, Manila, Bangkok and Nagoya. 


This is Shiba, a Narita based translator.

I flew my previous 13 day Asian trip with John who lives near Atlanta and is married to a Delta flight attendant. I visited the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square and the Pearl Market with John who was a pleasure to fly with.

In fact, here I am with part of that crew on the Great Wall just a couple of weeks earlier. John is to the far left.

After visiting the Pearl Market, which by the way is much more than just pearls, we had dinner across the street at "The Brown Door" with this Air Canada crew.


I recently flew a DTW-FRA flight and enjoyed this crew. Dave is to the far left, a fellow with whom I particularly enjoy flying. We've taken train trips while on Amsterdam layovers and enjoyed dinner at the Rathskeller in Wiesbaden, Germany during this trip. The other pilot is Bill, a JFK based check airman who gave us a transoceanic line check to Frankfort and back.

Big Mike and me, leaving Saigon

"It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses."

Rand in Narita with a B-767-300ER 

I could go on forever with crew pictures that I've saved to my archives. But as I said, the airplanes are wonderful, but the people are what make the job. In the words of General Jimmy Doolittle, "I could never be so lucky again."

Matt, somewhere over the planet earth

Bill. Yes, he's always this happy.

Big Mike handing out candy in Narita

Leaving SEA

Andy as we approach Mt Rainer

Now here's a motley crew waiting for their paper work in Amsterdam.

Now Tom's a guy with a story to tell, hopefully I'll get to it soon. But I need to sit down, spend time and get all the hair raising, bone chilling details correct.


Here we are departing Beijing for Seattle in a 767-300ER with Dave and Eric. Flight time equals nearly 10 hours to cover 4,835 nautical miles through Chinese and Russian airspace before over flying Anchorage into Canadian airspace and turning south towards Vancouver British Columbia and the US west coast. The scheduled flight time is normally 11:35, but we enjoyed tremendous tailwinds today expediting our flight and saving thousands of pounds of fuel.

Until next time, thanks for flying along.


Oh, one more thing. I'm the proud father of Samantha who is marrying Blair from New Zealand in just a few days. The ceremony will be held at our home in NH. Here they are at Blairs parents home Matakana, New Zealand.

My good friend Captain Ron Turner (Former Air New England, USAIR via Piedmont, RET) just read my latest post and shared this picture of his son Andrew, now a Marine Major and his fiance Kate who's a Navy Lt Commander. As I'd mentioned in my blog, it's all about the people; old airline friends or new airline friends, they're all valuable to me. 


  1. Sorry to nit-pick, but I believe the B767 pictured above is a B-767-400ER. I really enjoy reading your blog and as an ex-DL employee, I am glad to know that DL is still a welcoming employer. (I was there during both the WA and PA mergers/acquisitions) Keep up the good work!

  2. You're right... but it's the only DL 767 in flight photo that I had. It gets worse, it's actually departing from DTW. But no one would know that unless I fessed up! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Hey Rand,
    awesome post!
    Its been a while since the last one, but was absolutely worth the wait!
    Incredible pictures and great stories!
    Its always nice to find a new post on your blog!
    best regards

  4. wow, only 2 DL pilots have been enjoyable so far? (I'm sure you meant you've only flown with 2 DL pilots and found them both to be enjoyable, right?) :)

    Now if you could find a way to update DL's horrible computer system so that it could actually assign me a seat on a connecting flight and not leave me stranded all over the continental US, I might actually fly on DL more than once every 3 years. Shame what they've done to the airline of my childhood NW!

  5. JB,
    Is that a dangling modifier? I suppose that I could have worded that better, but you're right, Eric is only the 2nd DAl pilot with whom I've flown and have enjoyed both!! I'm sorry for the problems that you're encountering with DAL. Believe me I recognize them and many others that I've learned about, but can only hope that they iron them out as time passes. They bit off a lot when they bought us, but from a pilots point of view, I'm seeing improvement. I hope that you do too, seeing as how my retirement package hangs in the balance.

    For others reading this, visit JB's blog at:


  6. Rand,
    As always a great post. You seem to be one of the few that is always 'glass half full' in this profession. I'm trying to do the same. Do you ever fly into HKG?

  7. Hello J,
    I've not been to HKG yet; at NWA that was a -400 route, but at Delta I'm hoping we'll fly it in a 300ER. I just read a few of your posts, particularly the one about your college pal now flying corporate who plans to pass on DAL. I certainly understand, the industry is not what it used to be, but, what industry is? Our entire country teeters on uncertainty at this point. Timing is everything and my time here has been reasonably good. But I'm bothered by your friends negativity. Is flying corporate, which is even more at the whim of the economy better than flying for Delta? I don't know, I have no corporate experience and as you say, I'm always "half full." But I lead my entire life "half full" not just the airline aspect. I love the airlines, but am a strong advocate of having other businesses on the side, a fall back position. Believe me, having a fall back position, should DAL go belly up, furloughs or negates it's pension responsibility, allows me to sleep at night. But most of us don't, because we waste energy, that we should be directing in this area, complaining about things with which we have no control. I avoid the complainers, seek out the positive people and learn much from their positive ideas, thoughts and business acumen. I espouse this position on my website "Ask The Captain" column to everyone who asks about an airline flying career. I don't care what field you chose, if you're working for someone else, particularly a large corporation, you need a fall back position. The airlines have given me ample time off to position myself accordingly. Rather than hang around the bar and "group complain" I researched/wrote business plans on layovers. Many I know completed Masters Degrees, Law Degrees, have written books, write/photograph travel stories, started on line businesses, run FBO's, sell Real Estate, own rental property, have maintenance businesses and do hundreds of other things. My FAA medical examiner is a USAir Airbus captain who went to medical school when on reserve in the DC-9! I'm always amazed by the positive energy with which I'm surrounded by here. These guys don't sit around... they make things happen and enjoy coming out and flying too. Is it easy? No. But it beats wasting time bitching or giving up on your dream. Sorry, I didn't mean to get on a soap box, but this is what has made the airlines good for me. Keep on looking on the bright side J and pursue relentlessly your other areas of interest.


  8. Hi Rand,
    Thanks for that well thought out reply. Your points regarding stability are 100% valid. My friends corporate gig could be gone tomorrow. You just never know where life will take you. My post was not meant to be a slight at Delta at all, in fact I personally believe that Delta is the best positioned US Major Airline for long term success and survival, a point that I clearly tried to make for my friend. I think I was just trying to say how unfortunate it is that the dreams we had, are no longer the dreams many have today. Rand, I can count on one finger the number of freshman that I started college with, that have made it to a major airline. Yes, one finger and I'm typing this reply. And to be honest, it is not even a domestic carrier. It is very sad to me to hear about friends that love flying moving into different fields(law, eye doctors, police officers, etc) because of the past few years. These are all great professions, but they are not what my fellow college friends wished for. I personally always wanted to be an airline pilot, and I am thankful and grateful for being able to have achieved that goal. I think luck played a role as well, but I am a firm believer that luck is the result of hard work and good planning. I just wish everyone else that I moved up with had been as fortunate but it is just not so. Many have been stuck in the right seat at regional airlines for years, as well as having been furloughed. They are scared it will happen all over again at a major airline. The fickle nature of job creation and loss has made the bottom years at many(not all) airlines a dangerous place to be.
    I envy your history, and I thoroughly enjoy seeing the satisfaction you get from seeing your old friends from New England Airlines and Republic all throughout the Delta system. I as well love running into former colleagues at my present employer. I just hope that those numbers continue to grow and I see more of them. I just hope that they can push through the adversity, see the glass half full, and as you said, have a great back up plan. I think you are an excellent example of what the 'new' generation of airline pilots NEEDS to be. An airline pilot number one, but a well diversified pilot, as well.

    As always, keep up the great writing. I recently renewed my Airways subscription so no more flipping pages at Barnes and Noble. Thanks again for the reply.

  9. Correction to above:

    Air New England, not New England Airlines ;)

  10. Thanks Rand for taking the time to share your great career with your words and photos. I look forward to all your new posts.


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