Thursday, August 5, 2010

FRA to DTW via NAT A

I just arrived home from a short, three day Frankfort trip and made it to my mothers house in time for our triple birthday celebration; my mother's, my wife Linda's and my niece Perrin's. But here are a few shots of my German experience.

Until recently we stayed in Weisbaden, but have returned to Mainz. The crews have mixed thoughts on this, but I prefer Mainz because of it's old city section. The cafes, outdoor restaurants and strolling opportunities are limitless. Located on the west bank of the Rhine River, this 12th century, fortified Roman city marked the Empires northern boundary.

The square above is known as Kirschgarten or, the Cherry Orchard and is fascinating to me because of its beautiful architecture and its cobble-stoned street. 

Oh yes... and this too, the Zum Beymberg Bakery. There's little wonder why I enjoy Germany so. Russ, one of my FO's and I enjoyed walking the old city and dining at "The Tree House" on wienerschnitzel and rosti. The restaurant is owned by a retired Delta pilot and his wife who were off in Spain somewhere in their Mercedes 380SL. Sounds like a very nice retirement to me!

OK, back to business as we sit out in hardstand 111 loading the computer and pre-flighting as this A-320 pulls into the opposite position to offload its passengers. We normally park at terminal two, but with limited space we often find ourselves in remote parking.

Looking from east to west, this gives you a better understanding of the terminal two remote parking area and its activity. Originating from 1936, Rhein-Main Flughafen (EDDF) is Europe's third busiest airfield, ninth in world and was home to the airship Graf Zeppelin in the 1930's. Rhein-Main also served as the U.S. base of operations during Operation Vittles, better known as the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and '49. Surely you know of the Candy Bomber.

Looking west out of our windscreen down the "hardstand" line. 

We're flying a B767-300ER today, or in Delta parlance a 7ER. This catagory takes into account both the 757 and 767 ER series. As most of you know, the 757 and the 767 are a dual type rating and qualifies a pilot to fly either piece of equipment. Although one is a narrow body and the other a wide body, they are remarkably similar in cockpit appearance.

An exterior view of our position from under the right wing.

And Terminal Two behind us.

A Lufthansa 737-300 one stand over.

It's time to get underway. We've been cleared into position to hold on runway 25R behind this landing Lufthansa A-340. This will be a heavy weight, 394,200 pound, flap 5, "Close In Community" takeoff. 

- Here's the Drill - 

Apply takeoff thrust, activate the auto throttles, call out "80 knots throttle hold thrust normal," at rotation speed (166 knots) slowly rotate to 15 degrees into the V-Nav pitch bar, positive rate, gear up, at 1,500 feet reduce power to climb thrust, continue the climb to 3,000 feet, accelerate to flap 1 speed (209 knots) and retract the flaps and slats on schedule, (flaps up speed is 249 knots) activate the autopilot, follow the departure profile and check that L-Nav, V-Nav, auto throttle and one autopilot are all engaged in the climb mode, note the transition altitude of 5,000 feet and change altimeter to 29.92 QNH or 1013 QNE. Nine hours and five minutes later, after consuming two crew meals, many cups of coffee and a nap in the crew bunk, put the gear down and land in DTW. Simple enough!

Steve, my trip assigned copilot is on break, while Steve our relief pilot calls Gander at 30 degrees west longitude with a position report. This particular 767 has CPDLC/ADS which relieves us from making these position reports. So why are we doing it? 

This is my first experience with CPDLC (Control Pilot Data Link Communications) and it's interesting. Our 757's at NWA didn't have this feature, so every 10 degrees of longitude across the Atlantic, we'd call the controlling facility on HF and give a position report. We'd do this as well spanning the Pacific from the west coast to Hawaii. With CPDLC though, these reports are automatically sent with no pilot input. If ATC needs us they simply send us a computer message or SELCAL us to respond. If we need to communicate information to them or ask for an altitude change we can send them a computer message and wait for a response. HF frequencies are very heavily congested over the North Atlantic during peak hours and are affected by the sun, making communications rather cumbersome. But not any more!

So why is Steve giving a position report? For the Photo Op? No. Basically, North Atlantic traffic communicates with Gander (Canada) west of 30 degrees west longitude and Shanwick (Ireland) east of 30 degrees west longitude, but when you cross this point out in the middle of no where and change facilities you make an initial voice report to establish communications and get their primary and secondary HF frequencies as a back up. Also, while there we'll test our SELCAL equipment to insure that that facility can reach us via that system as well. Shanwick by the way is derived from the words Shannon and Prestwick where this sectors operators and controllers are based. Rather wordy on my part but I think that it gets the point across.

Here's our flight plan (that Steve's holding above) generated by our dispatchers in ATL and is our primary document to monitor our progress across the Atlantic today. Even with CPDLC, we record our time and fuel at each waypoint and check to see if the wind has had en affect upon these entries. We call it a "How Goes It" report that will quickly let us know if conditions are changing that will effect our arrival time and fuel burn.

- Let's take a closer look -

When our dispatcher (who does excellent work by the way) constructed the flight plan and release, he or she included a "track message" listing the available oceanic routes and the lat/long waypoints that define them. We've been assigned  NAT (North Atlantic Track) "A" this afternoon. Unlike the Pacific tracks, these are not fixed and change daily with wind conditions. The track message confirms our coordinates and allows either the pilots or the computer to "build" the route. The tracks fit into an envelope that range between 28,500 feet and 42,000 feet. Interestingly, the Concorde, when it was flying the North Atlantic, flew above the track system between 45,000 to 60,000 feet on fixed tracks. They were in a rarefied world of their own so to speak.

A close examination of this document reveals that our oceanic entry point is SUNOT, west of Scotland with a constant speed of mach .80 at Flight Level 330. Further examination reveals that we're running two minutes late at each waypoint but generally 1,000 pounds under our fuel burn. Why are we two minutes late? Normally you'd explain it away with wind, but after departure from FRA, while flying over the English Channel, we received delayed vectors for spacing at our oceanic entry point. These vectors, after we'd projected our "point times" explain the two minutes seeing as though the winds aloft forecast varied little from reality. 

My notes in the right margin indicate the primary and secondary HF frequencies for Shanwick and Gander and that at 1206Z we successfully accomplished a SELCAL check. PRAWN, east of Newfoundland is our oceanic exit point and Gander Radio will send us a computer message advising us to call Gander Center at a particular time on an assigned frequency when back within VHF radio range. 

Here's the Upper Air Weather Depiction Chart that dispatch included in our flight package. I've highlighted FRA, DTW and the Alpha track to orient you. You can see that although we'll have a moderate headwind, we'll be flying north of one area of known turbulence and below another. An excellent job by our dispatcher as we never encountered as much as a ripple throughout the entire flight. All 215 passengers, eight flight attendants and three pilots enjoyed a comfortably smooth ride. 

Here's a common sight as we cross the North Atlantic westbound during the day. It's actually quite crowded out here with airliners from throughout the world. We keep one of our radios tuned to a "chat" frequency so that we can communicate among ourselves as we journey along. I took this shot a while ago of NWA flight 50 as they passed us in an A-330 enroute from Paris to DTW. Here's an interesting video showing world airline traffic. Note how traffic flows from the North America to Europe when it starts, but as the sun moves from east to west, the traffic flow changes from Europe towards the North America. As I'd said, it's crowded out here!

So much for the nuts and bolts stuff, let's look out the window for a while. I've been fortunate to have flown much of the world, but without a doubt, these views of Greenland rank as my favorite. Sadly, my photography doesn't even come close to representing its beauty, and desolation as we cruise along this Great Circle Route. 

At 60 degrees north latitude, we're flying in the Temperate Zone just 6 degrees south of the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle denotes the southern point of the Polar Day and Polar Night region Huh... what's this? Once a year, during the winter and summer solstice (June/December) the sun is either above or below the horizon for a full 24 hour period, better known as the Land of the Midnight Sun. Interestingly, the Arctic Circle is not a fixed figure but is dependent upon the earths tilt on its axis. You need to know this stuff as an airline pilot! 

A similar picture taken a few years ago through my copilots windscreen, inspired me to write a story for the March 2009 issue of AIRWAYS MAGAZINE titled DOOLEY'S DOWN. AIRWAYS editor John Wegg generously allowed me to reproduce it on my website, so I'm sure he wont mind if I post it here too. This view reminds me of early pioneers that I've been privileged to have known who flew the North Atlantic in DC-3's for the Air Transport Command. From Presque Isle Maine to the Outer Hebrides Islands in Scotland, this little band of Northeast Airlines pilots flew DC-3's as low as 1,000 feet with no electronic navigation to speak of. Dead reckoning for hours at a time, shooting the stars if they were lucky enough to have a clear view, while I sit comfortably at FL 330 drinking coffee. These are the pioneers who hoisted me on their shoulders to be here today.

One more look at Greenland before I leave the cockpit for my break.

Here's a clear view of our position on our North Atlantic Plotting chart. Do you see where the vertical line intersects our track near 45 degrees west longitude? That's our present position at the southern end of Greenland. That vertical line represents a 180 minute ETOPS (Extended range Twin engine Operations) position built from Reykjavik, Iceland and Goose Bay Labrador. You can just see Reykjavik in the upper right hand corner of this photo.

As usual, thanks very much for joining in as we cross the beautiful North Atlantic enroute from Frankfurt to Detroit, but it's time for Steve to return to duty and for me to slip into  the crew bunk for 2 hr 35 min and rest up for the landing. 

Aufwiedersehen, bis spater, 



  1. nice post rand!
    sounds like you enjoyed the rhein-main area, did you get time and crew rest to try "handkäs mit music" or a good "äbbelwoi"?
    best regards

  2. Hi Rand,
    Thanks for another great post,well worth the wait. Also thanks for the link to the 24-hour world air traffic depiction. It's amazing how much traffic there is and how it flows back and forth like the sands of an hour-glass. Can you expand on the use of the Hard-Stand system? Do you go from there to a gate for boarding or are passengers transported out to you like they do at IAD?


    Tim G in MN

  3. Excellent post! Huh, I learned a lot too, and haven't heard of CPDLC until just now. Maybe I'll have a chat with our fleet manager, but then again, we don't fly the NATS like you do. We only use Selcal to BDA and down in the Caribbean.

    Fly safe,


  4. Rand,
    Another great post! Thanks for the lengthy detail and, as always, the great pictures!

    I was at FRA the first time I saw an A340 in person, and my first thought was, "What a beautiful aircraft!" Always been a Boeing fan at heart, at least for modern jetware, but you've gotta give the Airbus folks credit for turning out one good-looking plane in the A340.

    Thanks again!

  5. Thanks Capt. Rand, always enjoy your posts. How about some pictures of the crew rest area?

  6. Many many many thanks to Cpt. Rand from Carpi (MO), Italy.

    It's always a great pleasure to read your cockpit report!

    Happy landing,


  7. Great posts Rand - been catching up after being away for a few weeks - looks like you've had some good trips! And some nice weather on the trips.

  8. Great post again! I hate those Hard Stands, as well as EDDF in general. I always seem to end up using those hard stands then having to ride the bus somewhere. It's generally a connection for me at FRA, and it is always a new experience at that airport! I must have been through here 20 some times and it still confuses me!

  9. I flew with Rand on the FRA trip, and also on the Beijing to SEA leg. Rand is a great Captain and a true aviation afficianado. That Air Canada 777-300ER actually took off behind us at FRA, but passed us very soon after level off. He stated he would fly .835 mach, and all we could muster was .79 mach, but we still got to our destination early. Thanks Rand for a couple of great trips and I hope to see you soon in a crew lounge around our system. FO ERIC

  10. Great Post. I really enjoy reading your blog. I am instrument rated pilot training and aspiring to work for a major airline one day. I really find the paper flight releases/ flight plans you get interesting. Would it be possible for you to post a full one in one of your future posts.

  11. Hello Erich,

    Thanks very much for reading my blog and taking the time to leave a note. With regard to doing a story on our flight paper work, let me look into the ramifications of this. I'm not sure my employer would approve but we'll see.


  12. FO Eric,

    Thanks very much for writing and swelling my head, I look forward to our next oceanic adventure. Plz say hello to your brothers.


  13. Rand,

    Another fascinating post - thanks! I had the pleasure of visiting the Met Office in Exeter, UK a couple of years ago for a Hot Air Ballooning meteorology course, and was surprised to learn that all of the upper air weather charts for the entire eastern hemisphere (down to Australia) are compiled at one desk in the forecaster's room in Exeter. There's an equivalent somewhere in the US, covering the western hemisphere.

    Never underestimate the ongoing involvement of humans in forecasting - as the chief forecaster told us, "sometime we look at the model and think 'nope, that's wrong' and go for our instinct instead"!

  14. Just before approaching an oceanic waypoint, do pilots check the latitude/longitude coordinates against the waypoint coordinates?

  15. Anon,
    We have a three part procedure. As we approach the waypoint we check it's lat/long and the next as well. Over the waypoint we check to insure that we've transitioned to the next waypoint and record our fuel and time and report our position if we don't have CPDLC. Ten minutes past the waypoint we check to see if we're on the proper course towards the next waypoint and insure that we're still in LNAV. This is a bit abbreviated but the name of the game is REMAINING ON COURSE!!

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