Saturday, June 27, 2009

My First Time at JFK

Do you believe it? Twenty-five years with Northwest now, and this is the first time that I've flown in/out of JFK. My previous European flights originated at BOS, DTW or BDL. It's time to get the 10-7 page and Jepp taxi chart out, blow off the dust and learn the particulars about this airfield. Interestingly, we'd deadheaded in on a DC-9 to start this trip, so my first exposure to the field is the taxi out. Normally, one's first view of a new field is on the taxi in. "OK where are we and how do we get to a particular runway?"

We've pushed back from gate 21 at terminal four, speak with ramp control and follow the yellow line out to fall in behind Caribbean Airlines just ahead. Don't pay any attention to those orange barrels out there, according to ramp control, "just taxi around them," as I called for the "taxi checklist."

Do you see the white lane markers? That's the truck lane that ground or ramp vehicles use to maneuver around the airport. Ground vehicles are supposed to give way to all aircraft... and they usually comply.

I'd noticed when reviewing our dispatch release that we'd been issued fifty minutes of taxi fuel. At 4 pm on a Friday afternoon it wasn't enough as we changed runways once and navigated around the airport for an hour. Welcome to JFK!

While holding short of alpha taxiway, we'll give way to this Swiss Airbus and Kuwait Airways B-777, both of which dwarf my "little" 757.

This is a street side shot that I took while hustling over to jetBlue to catch a jumpseat to BOS when I finished this trip.

Sequestered, nearly hidden now among JFK's massive new terminals, is this little gem of a building. Space age by design, you'd expect to see the Jetson's; George, Jane, Elroy and Judy emerge. Sorry Astro would be in a dog carrier destined for the rear cargo hold of a B-707. Or was it the front.. I can't remember which was heated.

It was simply known as the TWA Terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen in 1956 when this historic airfield was known as Idlewild and populated with magnificent, reciprocating giants with grand silver propellers. Mr. Saarinen also designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the main terminal at Dulles Airport among other notable accomplishments. Opened to the public in 1962 with its floating central staircase, tube-like gate connection corridors, wing like concrete roof and modern arrival/departure sign, it truly signified the beginning to the jet-age, as shiny new Boeing 707's and Douglas DC-8's crowded out their propeller driven ancestors. I view it as a "Howard Roark-like" design that celebrated the ingenuity and imagination of man and rebuffed mediocrity.

With close examination, you'll see that the historic TWA logo, designed by noted industrial designer Raymond Loewy, still stands vigil over the main terminal entrance. Mr. Loewy you may remember, was the imagination behind the Northeast Airlines Yellowbird campaign kicked off in the late '60's. Last used in 2001 this little icon of a building, like LGA's Marine Air Terminal just a few miles away, reminds us of our rich aviation heritage. In the background, looms JFK's 321 foot, white concrete control tower built in 1994.

Here it is from rampside as we taxied out to depart for Amsterdam.

A little further into our taxi and we encountered this Emirates A-380. This is only the second 380 that I've seen, the first was at LAX a few months ago. Its tail alone dwarfs everything around it!

OK, let's take a look at our dispatch release and our Atlantic crossing chart. We're flying ship number 5654, a two-hundred series 757, manufactured in October 2001 with Pratt & Whitney 2037 engines, winglets (added in '08) and a seating capacity of 184. The cockpit crew consists of one captain, a first officer and a cruise captain. We'll all be in the cockpit for the takeoff and landing and then rotate out for one third of the flight time. Our proposed takeoff weight is 230,000 pounds with 61,700 pounds of fuel distributed throughout our three tanks. Our actual fuel burn has been determined to be 49,000 pounds to fly this 3,234 nautical mile leg in six hours 13 minutes. This leaves us 11,700 pounds for reserve, contingency and alternate purposes. This segment is normally planned as an eight hour flight, but with more than 120 knots on the tail tonight, it's remarkably shorter.

The 757 has a center tank and two wing tanks equipped with a total of six electrically operated fuel pumps and two engine driven pumps. We burn from the center tank first and then automatically switch to the wing tanks. Should the wing tanks become unbalanced, it's simply a matter of opening crossfeed valves and extinguishing the electrically driven pumps in the "light" tank. We're unable to shift fuel between tanks in flight, but can feed either engine from any tank with several crossfeed valve and fuel pump configurations. The overhead fuel panel is laid out in a schematic fashion and very easy to configure.

The two electric center tank fuel pumps are also called "override" pumps. For takeoff, if there is center tank fuel on board, all six pumps are selected on, so you may wonder, why then is fuel pumped from the center tank and not the wing tanks. The old "How do it know conundrum?" The answer is that the center pumps have a higher PSI output than the wing pumps, thus over riding them and using center tank fuel. When center tank fuel is exhausted, the wing pumps, already turned on, simply supply fuel with no interference from the override pumps. We do reach up and shut the centers off though when their job is complete.

We've pre configured our oceanic crossing chart as anticipated in our dispatch release, contact Gander Radio via ACARS an hour and a half before our anticipated entry into the North Atlantic Track system and wait to receive our final clearance. ACARS has made this easy; years ago, flying the DC-10 this was accomplished by voice with everyone calling at the same time for a clearance. Confusion reigned as we stepped all over one another. Other than altitude, routing rarely differs from what our dispatcher has prepared. Designated as NAT Track "Victor" Our entry point today is near 45W, our exit point is near 20W and our "equal time point" (ETP) is near 35W. Should something go awry before or after our ETP, our alternates are CYYR, Goose Bay, Labrador and EGPH, Edinburgh, Scotland.

The captain loads the route into the computer and the FO checks to insure that the lat/longs agree with a Jepp chart. He'll then check the heading and distances between each waypoint to insure these numbers agree with those on the actual flight plan. It's tedious, but this is where you're likely to catch mistakes. and save future embarrassment.

After nearly an hour of taxi time we're finally airborne off runway 13R and are cleared to make a climbing left turn easterly along Long Island, approaching the East Rockaway Inlet. We'll fly the length of Long Island, then over Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod and then off shore until we reach Halifax Nova Scotia. At 118 miles, Long Island is the longest and largest island in the contiguous US.

Meet Corinne, whom you've met previously on a trip that we flew together to Hawaii a few months ago. But that was on my old blog which has become dysfunctional. This must have been my leg as she's holding the flight plan, preparing to make an HF position report. Our second FO is John, back in seat 4B on break. John, whom you'll meet later, and I will be together for 10 days as we fly three JFK-AMS round trips.

This is an unusual trip in that it leaves early in the day from JFK, resulting in a very short "night" segment. After flying a southerly Atlantic track and passing over Ireland, we encounter sunrise near Manchester, England. Top of Descent is within 30 minutes now as we review the LAMSO Arrival procedure into AMS.

Night flight across the Atlantic is, well, how do I say this? A little boring... which is good I suppose, but landfall with emerging sunlight, sandwiched between a blackened earth below and sky above is a thing of beauty. Incandescent light re-appears, movement below is detected, human contact is re-established and the end to our journey looms near. It's time to get out of my seat, stretch a bit, clean up the cockpit and prepare to land.

The sun is on the horizon at 52 degrees North and the air stirs just enough to form a layer of early morning ground fog as we approach short final for runway 24 at Schipol. Just a few moments ago, a couple of hundred feet higher on the glideslope, ground contact was obscured until we dropped down into the fog. Home to our code share partner KLM, this is Europe's third largest airfield, opened in 1916.

Off to Hawaii today and yet another new experience. When we return to LAX on 30 June at 0555, we'll be the first NWA flight to arrive at the DAL gates on the other side of the field. NWA has been on the runway 24 complex while DAL is located on the 25 complex. The company has prepared us well for this event with charts, diagrams and bulletins to ease the way. But where do we catch the hotel van??

Thanks for reading,

And as a sidenote: Have you wondered what became of our old pal Doug Steenland?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Annual Physicals

I just returned home from having my physicals and thought you might enjoy meeting those involved with my well being. Off to HNL today and wanted to leave something behind.

Dr. Paul Turnquist in Dover, New Hampshire

Sadly, my FAA medical examiner passed away recently. He was a good fellow, very interested in the careers of the airline pilots whom he examined and willing to go the extra mile to help preserve their class 1 medical status. It was a shock to those of us who relied on his expertise for years and valued his council. A scramble now was underway by hundreds of pilots in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine to fill Dr T's void and cultivate a new relationship with another ME. The grapevine was active and we all shared our good and bad experiences with one another.

Fortunately, time was on my side and I wasn't due for a while so had time to investigate the field. Pictured above is Dr. Paul Turnquist, practicing in Dover, NH and a man very interested in flight and those who fly. I experienced a thorough, yet relaxed examination as he explained each step as we progressed. He has an interesting background too. He served in the Air Force as a pilot from 1976 to 1983 instructing in T-38's in Del Rio and flew KC-135's out of Rickenbacker and A-37's from Peoria. He's also the official Massachusetts state Flight Surgeon. Now here's where it gets interesting. He was hired at USAir in 1984 eventually upgrading to DC-9 and A-320 Captain when his curiosity overtook him and he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. All the while he flew at USAir, even during his residency. Today he's a senior A-330 FO based in PHL, in fact he'd just returned from a Frankfurt trip the day before. 

Dave Wilke in Nashua, New Hampshire

While I was having my eyes, heart, lungs and blood pressure checked, my '46 Cub spent a few days in Dave Wilke's hangar in Nashua, NH undergoing its annual check too. Dave found a few problems that he was able to solve with ingenuity and few new parts. Finding a good mechanic is one thing, but finding one with antique aircraft knowledge is another. Dave understands "expander" brakes, operated by heel levers, old magnetos, landing gear bungees and fabric cover repair. Many mechanics view vintage tailwheel airplanes as relics and cringe when they appear at their hangar, but Dave owns a Luscombe Silvaire and has himself been bitten by the tailwheel bug.

NC98342 at home in Brookline NH with newly refaced instruments

With Dave's help, I completed a project that I'd planned to do for years, refacing my cockpit instruments with cream faces and Cub logos. Now her cockpit has a more original look. We'd removed the instruments, all four of them and sent them to Keystone Instruments at the Wm T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven PA. They turned them very quickly and in less than a month I owned an original looking Altimeter, Tach, Airspeed indicator and oil pressure and temperature gauge. My Cub is an older restoration that I upgraded a few years ago with four new Millinium cylinders, two new dual impulse magnetos, new lift struts and an electric oil heater for cold weather operations. Yes, I fly this baby through New Hampshire winters!

Off on a five day trip today, but when I get home I plan to start posting JFK photos from a recent 9 day JFK-AMS trip. 

 - Just one more thing -

I just received this little piece of philosophy from my friend, retired Delta/Northeast Airlines captain Norm Houle. I thought that knowing Norm and having just dealt with Paul Turnquist and Dave Wilke that this saying was most appropriate. It occurred to me that those whom I've met in my life who are the happiest, are those who subscribe to this thought.

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction

between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure,

his mind and his body, his education and his recreation.

He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his

vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and

leaves others to determine if he is working or playing.

To himself he always seems to be doing both.”



Sunday, June 14, 2009

My new airline blog... it's a start!

Welcome to my new BLOG. I just couldn't relax for the summer leaving the remnants of my old BLOG rattling around through cyberspace. Not that relaxing really factored into my summer plans with a large move facing us in July and my daughters wedding in New Zealand coming up. But the HTML had become so jumbled I had to do something. So here it is; a new beginning. I'll add to it infrequently until the Fall, when I hope to be back at it full time.

I flew a 13 day 757 Asian trip in April. We deadhead over on a 747-400 and then spend 11 days flying inter-Asian before heading home. I bid one of these trips every four months or so to see a different part of the world and experience a new flying environment. This particular trip hubbed out of Narita (Tokyo) and visited Bangkok, Guam and Osaka. Here, we've taxied out to runway 16L at Narita behind a Thai Airways Triple seven.

Do you notice anything different about this JAL 747? It will take a fair amount of left rudder to keep her straight on takeoff! 

This National Geographic map will give you a pretty good idea of where we are. The flight to Bangkok covers 2,670 nautical miles over six hours thirty minutes and dispatches with 57,000 pounds of fuel. We leave Japanese airspace southwest bound over the East China Sea, fly between Taipei and Mainland China over the Straits of Formosa and make landfall over South Vietnam, just north of Da Nang over the Mekong River. 

Narita to Guam is a mere 1,387 miles, flown in just three hours eighteen minutes. Out of VHF range over the Philippine Sea, we communicate with Tokyo and San Francisco Radios, giving position reports on HF frequencies. We fly parallel to the Bonin Trench, the Pacific's deepest section at 35,000 feet and can see Iwo Jima on a good day. That 35,000 feet is the ocean depth... not our altitude! 

- Airline Crews -

The rest of this post is dedicated to the crews with whom I flew and met along the way. A complaint that has become very popular is how airline flying just isn't how it used to be. I disagree. Airline flying is about the crews and once the door is closed and you've pushed back from the gate, it's what you make of it. If you "slam click," grouse about your company and avoid the benefits that interesting layovers provide, your sour outlook will infect the crew. I've been most fortunate during my career to have avoided complainers and this trip was not any different. And before the emails start, I don't care where you layover, Saipan or Kalamazoo... there are interesting things to get out and see. In fact, I woke up one morning many years ago on a DC-9 AZO layover to a "clinking" sound. I opened my curtains to observe a couple of hundred people playing horseshoes. It was a state tournament, complete with a couple of small bands, a local brewery and BBQ pits. You know where my crew spent that day!

I had two Guam layovers on this trip and enjoyed the first one with John.

Later on the same day, I met John as I continued on to Narita from Osaka.

On another Osaka through flight I flew with Bruce, seated here next to our Purser, Brendan O'Callaghan. Now we've all met some very funny people in our lives... but until you've met Brendan, I've got one up on you!

Hank and I are on our way to Bangkok from Narita. Unfortunately, Bangkok was experiencing extreme political unrest with riots and fully armed government troops. Although scheduled to layover downtown, it never happened as we stayed out near the airport. Most of the roads were closed and we were allowed nowhere near the action. I rather wimped out the next day, my excuse was to study for SVT, but Hank found something to do that was away from the political turmoil and I regret not going with him.

He went to the Tiger Farm. Located about an hour from the airport, and not easily accessible, they raise tigers here and you can hold and feed one if you'd care to. Before this picture, which he had to purchase because his camera malfunctioned, he held two new Cubs and scratched their bellies until they fell asleep. Just think of all the pictures he'd have had if I'd gone along! Hanks also an entrepreneur... visit with him at home in Daytona.

We ran into this JAL 747 crew in Guam as we all waited to clear customs.

We met this Asiana crew in Bangkok at 0100 at the hotel. Unable to get downtown to our normal layover hotels, the local airport hotel, which was quite luxurious, accommodated many stranded crews.

We met this Emirates crew at midnight while waiting to clear customs at Bangkok.

I took this while taxiing out of Narita for Guam. I apologize, I failed to note my FO's name on this flight. Maybe he'll see this and email me though.

Wolfgang, standing by one of the many temples we visited in Bangkok. We finally made it downtown near the end of this 13 day trip and toured the canals and visited the Grand Palace. After nearly two weeks of not seeing tourists, and their money, we were very warmly received.

Crystal and Amy from Pinnacle Airlines,  jumpseating from NRT to BKK

Just a few days ago I was downstairs in the crew area in MSP when I saw this young woman approach and say hello. She's a Pinnacle RJ200 FO and at first I was unsure how she knew me. Then the light came on. Her name is Crystal and I'd met both her and Amy, a Pinnacle Captain, two months ago when they jumpseated with us from Narita to Bangkok. They were touring Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam when Hank and I met them. I was greatly relieved to learn that they had returned home safely.

Have you noticed a common theme to these pictures? Everyone's smiling! No ones complaining about their airline because we're too busy having a good time. Yes there are many pitfalls to this job, but there are as many reasons to enjoy it. 

It's 0310 at the Bangkok downtown layover hotel as my alarm rattles me from sleep and my phone rings with my wake-up call. It's time to get up and head for the airport to fly back to Narita. No... I wasn't smiling!