Thursday, April 5, 2012

On the road again...

I was called out again recently to fly another trip, crew sched must have found my number hidden deep within their rolodex. This was a five day trip that started and ended with a deadhead to/from Narita. The actual flying consisted of operating Delta flights 96 and 97 from Narita to Guam and back. I've flown these flights many times in the past in a 757 on what NWA called "Interport" flights and looked forward to returning to Guam. 

This is the beginning of "Golden Week," which really runs from April 29 through May 5 but seems to have gotten an early start this year with Japanese tourists on the move. Golden Week incorporates nine official holidays and is the longest holiday period of the year here. As I'd mentioned, these flights normally operate with a B-757, but the company has been selectively substituting 747-400's along this route and they're full. We don't have extra 747 qualified pilots just hanging around Narita, so Shang (you'll meet him a little later) and I were called out and deadheaded over.

After arriving in NRT and resting for 24 hours, Shang and I are driven to spot 830, a remote boarding area and await our flight attendants and passengers. While there though, I looked out the window and watched Japan Airlines personnel tow this brand new 787 into the maintenance area.  You can see it parked here next to an ANA 767.

Here's a little better look at it. Other than flying over Boeing Field in Seattle, this is my first glimpse of this new airplane.

Shang and I have pushed from spot 830, taxied to runway 16R, departed and climbed to altitude and now have time to enjoy dinner. This is my first 747 experience without an augmented crew. Normally when we fly from the US to Japan we have two cockpit crews, each of which fly half the flight. But this is a mere three hour jaunt and requires only one cockpit crew. 

"Where is everyone?" It feels very different and unbelievably less crowded without another captain and FO with whom to share our space. Company procedure dictates that only one pilot eats at a time; I suppose so at least one of us has easy access to the controls should a problem arise. 

Years ago in a DC-9 I was descending into Tampa through 31,000 feet with captain Vern Hysell when we heard a loud BANG, that scared the hell out of us; we thought that the windscreen had failed. It sounded as though someone had discharged a double-barrelled shotgun in the cockpit. We both ducked for cover and our meal trays went flying as we anticipated catastrophic problems. After a moment or two with the situation stabilized we looked up to see our center windscreen shattered, but the inner or structural pane was fully intact and functioning. We continued our descent and landed, but our return flight to DTW didn't operate.

What did I learn from this experience? Well, if I hadn't been eating and had waited my turn I wouldn't have lost my chocolate cheese cake which I could have enjoyed later after landing while speaking with maintenance. Life's full of little lessons!

Holy Moly only 81,000 pounds of fuel. I'm more accustomed to seeing 330,000 pound fuel loads from DTW to NRT. Note we have no fuel in either the center tank or the stab tank. There are many tank and pump configurations, this one is referred to as "tank to engine," where each individual tank is supplying fuel directly to its own engine. The fuel page is a great way to visualize configurations, check pump functions, valve positions and eliminate ambiguity. After all, we have 8 tanks, 16 pumps, a bunch of crossfeed valves and can carry 382,000 pounds of fuel and have dumping capability too.

I've received questions about stab tank fuel recently so let me address this. It's difficult to tell from this picture, but the stab tank is the only fuel source that cannot feed an engine directly. When the center tank burns down below a certain level, we activate the stab pumps which transfers its fuel into the center tank. Now that fuel can be distributed to engines via the center fuel pumps and cross feed valves. Also, when we activate the stab pumps in the overhead fuel panel, a line appears between the stab and center tanks, visually confirming that the valves are open and the fuel is flowing. When the stab tank is empty and its fuel is in the center tank, we simply extinguish the stab pumps and we're back to normal. 

Here's a picture that better illustrates my point. The fuel in the center tank has dropped to 80,000 pounds, we've activated the stab pumps and the fuel line appears and the stab pumps turn green indicating activation. The small amount of fuel in RES 2 and 3 will simply gravity feed into MAIN 1 and 4 when room permits. In these schematics, the square boxes are AC driven pumps and the circles are AC driven valves. All the main fuel pumps here are green indicating activation, but do you see the four blue pumps that are dormant? These are AC driven over ride pumps that have a higher psi output than the main pumps and, as their name implies, overpowers them. They're located in tanks 2 and 3 which you'll notice are high capacity tanks and also aid in fuel jettisoning. And yes there is a temperature range that the fuel must remain in or actions need to be taken. It's -43C to plus 54C. That's about it... you're ready to take an oral on the 747-400 fuel system.

We're flying a published airway between Japan and Guam, I'll show the chart a little later, but are communicating via HF with Tokyo Radio as we're out of VHF range. We're 186 nm north of SAGOP and will cross it at 1217Z. We're zipping right along at 485 knots over the water with a strong crosswind that started out as a tailwind but has shifted significantly over the last 30 minutes. If you couldn't read our altitude here, is there anyway of knowing if we're above the transition level? In the US the transition level is 18,000' but out of Narita it's 14,000'. Am I hand flying or is there an autopilot engaged?

Here's our flight plan as seen on the ACARS. There's a lot of information here; headings between fixes, distances between fixes, projected mach number and altitude. Press the RTE DATA button and you'll see ETA's for each fix as well. If ATC were to ask me for a TERYY estimate, I'd select the RTE DATA button and I'd immediately see a zulu time appear in the far right column. 

If you read the header you'll notice that we're "active" on RTE 1. We also have a button at the lower left that will take us to RTE 2. This key is a matter of technique. On the 757 when we finished loading the flight plan into RTE 1, we'd then copy it to RTE 2. Our thinking was if we lost the route or somehow butchered it while trying to make changes, we could simply switch to RTE 2 and continue on our way. I've also seen pilots put a different track across the North Atlantic in anticipation of receiving a clearance other than expected. I'm not a fan of this technique as I can see how one might end up on the wrong track inadvertently by hitting a wrong button. 

Something I learned when flying as a 727 engineer a long time ago; when you press a button or move a switch, check to insure that something actually happened, like a valve moving, a light extinguishing, a flap moving or possibly a route changing. It's easy to become complacent and not verify an action but very embarrassing to have to explain your way out of it.

It was a popular sim lesson for a new engineer to fail the fuel dump valves in the open position when dumping fuel for an over weight landing on two engines. The engineer is very busy during this exercise and can easily become overloaded and attempt short cuts. Particularly if it's accompanied with a hydraulic failure and he needs to manually crank the gear down too. If he or she failed to take note of the actual dump valve position not moving closed, the next thing you know is that you're running out of gas and the pilots are in a real bind now. This was not done maliciously, but done to make a point and was a great learning experience. If you move a switch... check to insure that the corresponding action occurred.

Shang drew out an orientation chart as we're required to by procedure, but this FAR EAST HIGH/LOW ALTITUDE ENROUTE CHART is far more effective and informative. I'll show you the routes we flew a little later.  

I can't tell you how many emails I receive regarding takeoff weight, flap settings and stab trim position. It seems that every few years or so someone comes up with a new idea of how to use, display and convey this information. Here's the latest version called the WDR update.

Normally, just prior to pushback or during pushback we'll receive this ACARS message which we'll print. The FO will rip it off and hand it to me to examine. If we have a second crew he'll hand it to them to peruse. One way or another several of us will confirm the information that I've highlighted in yellow. I'll read off certain numbers that the FO will input and we'll then have our flap setting, stab setting and V speeds. After the engines have started and we reach the Performance Checklist, we'll check these numbers one more time. These numbers are vitally important so it's check, check and recheck!

You'll notice that we have numbers for both runways 16R and 34L from intersection A12 that also show headwind and tailwind components. Precision is important here to insure that you use numbers from the correct runway. This is why so many eyes scan this little document.

Here's the flight release for DAL 96 from NRT to GUM. By now, most of you can read this form as well as I can, but if you need help, my quick reference notes can be found to the right.

For those unfamiliar with this form, it tells me just about everything I need to know. Our route of flight tonight is: NRT, CUPID departure, Y820, A337, G205 to UNZ which is the Nimitz VOR, vectors for an ILS to 6R. We'll build a point 40 miles north of the UNZ VOR to cross at 10,000 feet which will set us up for the approach perfectly. Normally we create this point at 30 miles from the airport, but this arrival seems to always turn into a slam dunk event so I'll give myself a little more room to maneuver comfortably.

Well out of radar contact, Shang is giving a position report on HF to either Tokyo Radio or San Francisco Radio.

Here's our "How Go's it" form which Shang was reading from in the previous picture. We gather a lot of info from this document after it's filled out. It looks like we've just passed SAGOP so we're still with Tokyo Radio on HF frequency 11384. We passed SAGOP one minute late at 1216Z at FL 390 with 73,000 pounds of fuel and estimate TEGOD at 1246Z. Everything looks great, the winds are on forecast, we're on time and 2,100 pounds below our projected fuel burn. This fuel savings will contribute to my profit sharing check!

If you're familiar with HF communications you know that it's scratchy and uncomfortable to listen to, so we don't maintain a constant listening watch out here. After giving his report, we simply switch this radios receiver off. Seven photos earlier you may have noticed our SELCAL identifier on the forward panel. If either San Francisco or Tokyo Radio need to speak with us, they'll send a radio signal that activates a tone in the cockpit that we'll respond to. We leave VHF1 on a designated air to air frequency so that we can communicate with aircraft in our vicinity and VHF2 on the emergency frequency so we can aid another should we hear a distress call. 

After reporting our position at TEGOD to San Francisco Radio, we were instructed to contact Guam Approach Control 250 miles north if UNZ. OK, where do you suppose that might be? Actually it's pretty easy to figure out. On the FMC we select the fix page, enter UNZ and ask for a circle, or radius of 250 miles. There it is in the photo above, so when we approach the circle we'll call Approach and check in. This point is so close to TERYY, I don't know why we weren't advised to contact approach at TERYY, but I don't always have the big picture.

If you look closely you'll see the top of descent (T/D) indicator that I mentioned earlier. We'll put this request in with Approach and when we cross that point, the nose pitches over, the power retards to idle and we'll descend to cross 40 miles north of UNZ at 10,000' and 250 knots with the descent and approach checklists and approach briefings complete. Part of our approach briefing includes which turnoff we anticipate, our assigned gate and the expected taxi route. This is a small airport with few taxiways, but at places like Narita or JFK the taxi brief is very important, particularly with NOTAMS about closed taxiways or runways. It can save you from being surprised!

A quick story. Many years ago in a 727 I made my first CAT II approach into Denver. The weather was bad, the ceiling was low and the vis poor. We don't make CAT II's often and as I mentioned this was my first real experience other than in a simulator. I concentrated so hard on the actual approach briefing and callouts, that after we landed and were rolling out in this murky soup, I'd forgotten whether it was a left or right turn off the runway. I casually asked my Flight Engineer who had the taxi diagram handy and he saved the day. Another lesson learned!

This was a very short layover in Guam, but here's the view from my balcony the next morning.

It was Shang's leg north, back to NRT so I went out and did the walk around inspection. It's a magnificent machine isn't it?

In a previous post I spoke about the articulating "Body Gear." This is it and it makes taxiing the airplane a lot easier. Keep in mind that there are two more landing gear, or trucks, that flank these. That's a lot of wheels!

China United Airlines taxied past in this 737-800 as I completed my walk around.

This may possibly be Shang's last 747 flight as he got bumped off the airplane on the previous system bid award, so we took a lot of pictures around the jet. As we did this, many of our passengers gathered at the windows and took pictures of us. Ship 6310 was built in August 1990. Here's another view of the body gear behind us.

The view down GUM runway 6R just before departure.

Somewhere over the North Pacific as Shang enjoys his last moments as a 747 pilot.

This is the FAR EAST HI/LOW 13 CHART that I mentioned earlier. On our southbound flight we followed the yellow line to the right, but flying back to NRT we're on the one to the left, which you can see passes nearly directly over Iwo Jima. Iwo is the large yellow spot about halfway up the chart. I don't care how often I fly this route, flying near Iwo Jima is an emotional experience for me.

DAL 97, north to Tokyo. There's that placard that I spoke of earlier bearing our SELCAL identifier; EH-GP. When we make our first HF communication, we give the operator this code who will send us a test chime to insure that it's working. If for some reason it's not, then we do need to constantly monitor our assigned HF frequency.

We've just parked at gate 24 in NRT and I'm off and running to catch my flight home. After arriving in NRT we're scheduled for a 23 hour layover and then deadhead home the next day. It's a contract thing! But I've arranged with crew scheduling to waive my layover and depart on the JFK flight that leaves in an hour and will get me home 24 hours early. This is a 12 hour flight and I'll have plenty of time to sleep. After arriving in JFK, I'll have one hour to get off the airplane, clear customs, find gate 1 and check in for the 1630 flight to BOS. It's amazing what you'll do when your nose is pointed home.

But before I rush off, I'd like to introduce you to a few more people that I met on this trip. Sumiko is a Japanese interpreter who is also flying her last 747 flight and will now fly the interport flights. Janne is a DTW manager who introduced me to Sumiko before we left DTW to start this trip.

I'd finished clearing security in Guam, grabbed my bag and started to head to my gate when I heard, "HEY RAND." I didn't even need to turn to see who it was, I recognized the voice of one of my good friends, Ralph Freeman. Ralph was one of the first captains I flew with when hired at Air New England in 1974. After we went out of business in October 1981, Ralph hired on with People Express and migrated to Continental. He's now the Director of Operations for United Airlines in Guam; formally known as Air Mic. He was on his way to Singapore to pick up a 737 after a heavy check. It was wonderful to see him again.

While Shang and I took pictures by the nosewheel and waved to our passengers overhead, this TSA agent came out and wanted her picture taken too. Sure jump in!

And lastly, Brian and his wife came up to say hello so we put them in our seats and emailed them this picture. I wish more passengers would come up and say hello but most think that it's contrary to some rule or another. 

Before I go I wanted to mention this article that I just read in the WSJ concerning Delta's investigation into buying an oil refinery. It's the CONOCO-PHILLIPS refinery near Philadelphia that's for sale. Is it a good idea? I don't know, but I admire the forward thinking and leadership to explore such an idea. I'm anxious to learn more about this process.

Thanks very much for flying along with us on 96 and 97 to Guam and back. I leave tomorrow for a ten day... yes ten day trip with layovers in Narita, Manila, Taipei and JFK.

Happy Easter,



  1. I check the internet every other day in hopes of finding a post from you. Thank you so much for this blog and I really hope that you will continue writing

    I'll never be a 747 pilot (only in flight sim which doesn't count :)) but your writing takes me inside the flight deck and I feel as though I'm flying the plane.

    I travel to NRT occasionally and hope to cross paths some day and I'll say hello as a fan!

    Thanks so much,
    Chris K.

  2. Happy Easter to Cpt. Peck from Modena, Italy.

    Always fantastic your cockpit reports.


  3. Hey Rand,

    So... no one has answered your questions yet! The STD shown in the lower right hand corner of the PFD indicates that you've set your barometric pressure to Standard or 29.92, which indicates you are above the transition level. The green CMD above your attitude indicator, also in the PFD, indicates that your autopilot is active and guiding the aircraft's autothrottle, roll and pitch modes as indicated by SPD, LNAV and VNAV PTH in the upper middle of the PFD. I've really enjoyed your posts over the past few years, so I am truly happy they found your name in the rolodex again!

    Thanks again,


  4. Hello Chris,
    Thanks very much for flying with us and keep an eye out, we just may cross paths.

    Thanks for reading my blog; I've enjoyed several wonderful vacations in Rome, on Lake Como and in Tuscany.

    What can I say, you know more about this stuff than I do!! Thanks for reading and offering your encouragement.


  5. I noticed in the wdr update that there was an MEL. What do you do with the MEL information?

  6. Captain Peck,

    Thank you for sharing your latest trip, you provide us with an amazing experience through your pictures and words! Would you please share with us if you have ever experienced a passenger issue that has forced you to divert the flight and how you dealt with this situation? Thank you.

    Ron in KPHX

  7. What a blog! Your blog about your trip is so detailed. As if you're taking us to your plane on that day to witness your flight as a 747 pilot. Thanks for all the facts about the tank fuels and for all your great experiences you've shared with us through your blog.

    James David teaches people how to buy single engine airplanes & has a passion for the Cessna 177

  8. Hi Capt Peck. Thanks for sharing youre job with us. Any chance youll share one of those crew meals as well? Anyways, I often think about saying hello to the flight crew when I board a plane, but I rarely do because I feel like its shunned upon. I remember being on a charter flight from Alicante, Spain to Oslo, Norway, when I asked the purser if it was possible to have a chat with the captain (this was pre-terror). He refused to ask the captain, and upon deboarding I asked again, but he still declined. What he did not notice was that the captain was standing right behind him and said over his back: "you wanna see the cockpit? Come on buddy!".. Ohh the grin on that pursers face makes me smile even today:-)

    Looking forward to your next posts

    Yngve from Norway

  9. The content is really informative. I really learned a lot of new things.
    Business Research

  10. Tim,
    When an MEL is listed on our release we simply look it up in the MEL manual, stored in the cockpit, to learn (a) if it's legal to operate, (b) if there are restrictions that we need to adhere to, such as a weight penalty (c) if it's placarded properly and (d) if the problem meets the time restrictions listed. For instance a particular MEL might be restricted to 10 calendar days or a specified number of cycles. The manual will also states how many said items are installed and how many are required for this flight. The MEL manual is very specific and either we're good to go or we're not.

    Many years ago as a DC-9 FO, flying with captain Ted Williams, we were notified that a passenger was having a stroke. We were 130 miles south of Greenville-Spartenburg at 32,000 feet and in the perfect position for a power off, high speed descent for a straight in approach. Ted flew it beautifully, the company coordinated perfectly and all the pieces fell into position as we pulled into the gate. As EMT's removed the patient, we refueled, got a new clearance, signed new paperwork and were on our way. We weren't on the ground 10 minutes and arrived in DTW one minute early.

    Thanks for your comments and keep putting people in airplanes. I have a good friend who owns and loves his 177.

    I'd love to share my crew meals... but seriously, they're not as bad as many make them out to be. And they even look better half way through a 12 hour flight. I've tried many times to go forward to speak with the captain and FO on European flights and have been discouraged by the purser. Maybe their policies are more restrictive than ours but most pilots here in the US encourage cockpit visits. Keep trying!

    Industry Analysis,
    Thanks for letting me know. My goal is to educate, inform and hope that you enjoy the flight as much as I did.

    Thanks everyone for taking the time to write,


  11. Thanks for another great blog entry Captain Peck, I eagerly anticipate every one of them. I was at Narita yesterday flying on United 876 to Seattle and I kept my eyes peeled hoping I would run into you.


  12. Hello Mark,
    Thanks for writing. I often see UAL 876 out and about on the NRT taxiways. Should you see me sometime over there please say hello.