We'd landed at 1400 on flight 143 from FRA in a B-767-300ER, right on time by the way and taxied to gate 34 at DTW. It was just a matter of processing through Customs and Immigration, stowing my flight bag downstairs, dropping off the flight papers from our crossing, exchanging my uniform shirt for a golf shirt and heading to gate 17 to commute home.
As seems to be the norm these days, the flight was full so I'd enjoy my commute home in the jumpseat of this DC-9-51. I feel right at home here! As much as I've grown accustomed to flying "glass," there's much about this cockpit that I love. Look at all this stuff. There's stuff everywhere! But it's going away fast so enjoy it while you can.
I'm sitting in the jumpseat of a DC-9-51. This placard is just to my left at shoulder height and identifies the ship as serial number 47730 constructed in February 1977. It was built for North Central Airlines, but survived to fly for Republic Airlines, Northwest Airlines and now Delta Air Lines. It's lineage is impressive too, dating to 1921 with Donald Douglas's most famous design flying in 1935 in the form of the Douglas DC-3. Merging with McDonnell Aircraft in 1967 forming McDonnell-Douglas, the Douglas name faded into history entirely when purchased by Boeing in 1997.
Even this placard is a highly collectible piece of airline memorabilia as I reach for my pen knife. Oh yeah... I can't carry a pen knife any longer as I'm considered suspect by authorities, but I'd love to include this with my DC-9 collection.
I was hired at Republic in 1985 where they operated the largest fleet of DC-9's at the time. Acquired from a variety of mergers with North Central, Southern Airways and Hughes Airwest the fleet numbered 130. Some even date back to West Coast and Bonanza Airlines who, with Pacific Airlines merged to form Air West in 1968. After merging with NWA in 1986, the fleet grew even larger with additions from Eastern Airlines and Swissair bringing the total to 175. We flew them everywhere (thus my use of the term ubiquitous) and its reliability factor was outstanding. It was a bullet proof airplane.
780NC built November 1979 for North Central Airlines
The DC-9 first flew in 1965 just six years after its big brother, the DC-8 made its debut in 1959 signaling the beginning of airline jet service. Both aircraft entered passenger service with launch customer Delta Air Lines, but if you want DC-9 pictures don't wait too long to get out and get them. This is how our DC-9's look today, but the fleet now numbers only 53 from as high as 136 when we merged a year ago. I'm hearing a variety of rumors as to when she'll finally be retired, but suspect that her tenure is short. She's a gas guzzler according to all reports, but a reliable, dependable and historically significant gas guzzler none the less.
Here's a view of a DC-9-30 from the jumpseat as we taxi out to 21R at DTW. This is 8926E, built in June of 1967 and I think acquired from Eastern Airlines. There aren't many NWA paint schemes left, but seeing as though the -40's and -50's will be the last to leave the property, the remaining unpainted -30's will probably be just that... unpainted. This was probably the third NWA livery this aircraft has sported; the first was the old Northwest Orient red/white/blue, the second was the "bowling shoe" and this is the third.
Just in case you've forgotten, here's the bowling shoe livery. Interestingly, this was 13E's last day on the property (1/14/04) as she taxied in MSP to be stored at Marina, Tucson. I learned this from their conversation with ground control, scrambled, got my camera and took this parting shot as this 1966, -10 series DC-9 left the stage. Our -10's came from Atlanta based Southern Airways and some of those had been former Delta birds. The -10's had no leading edge devices or slats in Douglas speak, was a little hot rod and a ball to fly.
Jay is our captain, we'd flown together a few years ago when he was a 757 FO. He has only a few DC-9 trips remaining as he starts MD 88/90 school in September. We're number seven in line for take off with six other aircraft on the west side of the runway out of view.
We're in position awaiting our takeoff clearance to fly the MOON2 departure.
We're underway for BOS
New glass "flightdecks" focus a pilots information to a specific screen. Take a look here, there's information everywhere! We called it developing a scan. You needed to discriminate between primary and secondary information and then move on. An engine failure at rotation here requires absorbing information from several instruments as your eyes continually scan them, updating your situation.
I very much enjoyed flying both the DC-9 and the 727. Look closely, the only glass that you'll see here are the faces on the instruments... and there are many of them. I learned about "situational awareness" here. There is no moving map, no top of descent indicator, no wind indicator, no auto throttles or LNAV or VNAV. Everything needs to be planned out ahead of time, checked and re-thought again. And then again!
A picture is worth a thousand words. Just about everything that you need to know to fly the Airbus in the same situation described above is right here, right in front of you. Information required from five instruments clustered above, is displayed here in just one. Technology is a marvelous thing.
Decision time ahead
When ATC called and directed, "Cross 15 miles west of GARDNER at ten and 250," you'd build a point, but not in the computer and see it pop up on your screen with a Top of Descent Point like in the 757 or A-320, but in your head. In order to comply with the clearance these are the mental gymnastics that ran through your brain.
Let's see, I'm at 31,000 feet and need to lose 21,000 feet. With my tailwind I'm covering six miles per minute, so at a descent rate of 3,000 feet per minute it will take me seven minutes to loose 21,000 feet. At six miles per minute I'll need 42 miles to do this. I'll also need five miles to slow from 300 to 250 and need to reach this point 15 miles west of Gardner. So, I'll start down at 3,000 feet per minute and pull the thrust levers to idle when I hit 300 knots 57 miles west of the GARDNER VOR. I'll also add a five mile fudge factor to the equation and start down at 62 miles west of GARDNER. Don't forget, I can reach 10,000 feet before GARDNER.... but not AFTER!
Every 2,000 feet or so I'll repeat this exercise to see how I'm doing. Are the winds aloft unchanged, have I lost or gained ground speed? Do I need to increase or decrease my rate of descent to cross as planned? On the 757 you build the point, put 10,000' in your altitude selector and when you reach top of descent, automatically the aircraft noses over, the power goes to idle and a green arc let's you know if you're on profile. Can I get another cup of coffee here?
When we reach our destination and the weather is 200 and a half, I need to know where I am in the pattern while being vectored. On a left downwind the runway is off to my right. When turned on a base, it's still off my right and one more 90 degree turn will line me up or a 60 degree turn will set me up for localizer intercept. If I have a located outer marker, I can use my ADF needle to watch myself being incrementally turned from any point along the approach. We still do the same things, but in the Nine and Seven Two... we did it in our heads. And it was fun! There was more a sense of accomplishment from flying a smooth, well planned arrival and approach, without "jockeying" power, than in today's glass airplanes. At least from my point of view.
Let me tell you about Lenny Wing, just one of many guys over the years who have had a hand in teaching me how to fly airplanes. One of many who have influenced my thinking, my habit patterns, my thought process. I was a relatively new Twin Otter copilot at Air New England and after watching me descend and land at such places as Burlington, Montpelier, Lebanon, Hyannis, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, captain Wing explained that future descents and approaches should be planned in such a manner that only power reductions were acceptable. In other words, plan for a continuous descent where a lack of planning was evident by adding power. It was a game and we'd play against one another. At first I thought he was nuts, but as I observed his methodical, planned out flying skills I became intrigued. Lenny was a hell of a professional pilot and he was determined to make me the same.
"Every power change Rand is an EGT change that imparts stress on the burner section. The less throttle movement the less EGT change and the happier your engines will be." Thirty-six years later I can still hear Lenny's words from the left seat of those Twin Otters. I'm sure he learned this from our Chief Pilot Jim Pashley who preached, "take care of your engines boys and they'll take care of you." Jim demanded smooth throttle movement on our 14 cylinder, Pratt and Whitney powered DC-3's to obtain slow, even cylinder head temperature changes. Good advice from two of the most professional pilots that I've encountered.
To this day, when I see a pilot slam the throttles back on a jet engine I cringe.
Well, this is how it looked a few years ago in DTW, but the DC-9 fleet is rapidly changing.
But as the sun sets on this fabulously reliable old airplane I easily remember all that it taught me as a copilot, captain and check airman. I remember eating box lunches from the outer marker inbound, no jetways at Mobile, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi, back course approaches at Green Bay, Wisconsin, NDB approaches at BOS... yes BOS, NDB holding, DME ARC approaches at Midway and late night approaches to short, snow covered midwest runways with devilish crosswinds. I'll forever value my Republic and Northwest heritage but won't confuse the nostalgia with my new allegiance to Delta Air Lines. My previous airlines are part of my past, a colorful history that I treasure, but look forward to the future with Delta and new experiences that will usher in retirement.
I loved flying the historic, noisy, windshield leaking DC-9 that prepared me to command a 767-300ER spanning oceans and continents with hundreds of passengers aboard. The box lunches are gone too as I now enjoy hot first class meals topped off with a hot fudge sundae... sometimes two! But I could probably still wolf one down inside the outer marker.
Thanks for reading along but before I leave a question for Sarah. After introducing myself to the crew and settling into the DC-9 cockpit jumpseat, I said "six." Why?? If after a couple of days Sarah doesn't reply, it's open to all.