Monday, July 25, 2011

A new story about Northeast Airlines is out.

Here's an interesting story, let's see if authorities finally take a crew assault seriously!

Just a quick note please before we get into NEA...

I met Jack Hartery yesterday who worked for Air New England from 1974 until 1979 while he was visiting his sister in NH. After ANE he enjoyed a 25 year career with United Airlines as a dispatcher. He donated much to my ANE collection and my ANE friends can learn more by visiting our Picasa album. Great to see you again Jack and thanks for contacting me.

Northeast Airlines 1931 - 1972

My Dad in a B-727 during his retirement flight in 1980

As many of you know, I have a penchant for Northeast Airlines. An unabashed admiration for those who formed it, flew for it, maintained it, invested in it and otherwise served to keep the colorful airline aloft. Organized in 1931 under contract with Juan Trippe at Pan American Airways, it survived on its own until merging with Delta in 1972. It also had a long railroad affiliation until changing its name from Boston-Maine Airways to Northeast Airlines in 1940 with the introduction of its first, brand new, Douglas DC-3. It's fleet over the years grew from its core of Stinsons, to Lockheed 10A's, DC-3's, Convair 240's, DC-4's, DC-6B's, Viscounts, FH-227's, Convair 880's, 727's and DC-9's. In fact they flew a Curtis-Wright Commando for a short period of time. 

My father as a Convair 240 and DC-3 captain and a B-727 captain

Dad hired on at NEA in 1946 after serving during WWII with the US Army Air Force, flying C-47's, B25's and B26's. He hung around the NEA East Boston hangar complex for days, pestering Chief Pilot Pappy Wheeler until he hired him as a DC-3 copilot. Other names that I grew up with as a kid were captain Andy Anderson, the airlines first pilot who flew their Stinson Tri-motors acquired from The Ludington Line. He retired in the mid sixties flying a Convair 880. Not bad for a little "shoe string" airline. Captain Anderson had also served the airline and its pilots as VP of Flight Ops and later as it's ALPA MEC Chairman. 

There's not much written about Northeast, a trunk carrier that flew pretty much as a regional airline until breaking out in 1957 when the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board, now defunct) awarded it Florida rights, much to the consternation of Rickenbacker at Eastern and Baker at National. However, captain Bob Mudge undertook the challenge and wrote the airlines biography, Adventures of a Yellowbird, that chronicled the airline from 1931 until its entry into the jet age. Bob is another hero of mine, along with retired captain Norman Houle, the official, unofficial company historian. I've spent hours sitting with these men listening to stories that only whet my appetite more to become an airline pilot.

Do an Amazon or Ebay search for captain Mudge's book and you might, just might find one for under a hundred dollars. That's how rare it is. I have three signed copies, but don't ask to borrow one; it's the only book in my collection that I will NOT lend out. Several years ago at an NEA reunion, TWA captain Bob Buck, another legend, asked if I knew of Bob's book concerning meteorology. According to captain Buck, it is "the most scholarly book written in its field." I have one of these too and of course, Bob Mudge mocked me when I asked him to autograph it. "That old thing Rand, why in the world would you want me to sign it?"

Because it's a masterpiece, a piece of history that has contributed to the level of safety that we enjoy today.

My father and "Red's Boy" as his contemporaries refer to me.
I'm very proud of that moniker!

Above, my Dad and me in the cockpit of a B-727 on his retirement flight in January 1980. My four stripes were earned at the time flying as a Twin Otter captain at BOS based Air New England. I loved my time at ANE and flew there right up until they closed the doors in October of 1981. It was as close as I'd get to flying for NEA, over the same routes out of BOS and LGA. As a boy in the late 1950's, I remember flying to Florida with my father in the jumpseat of a DC-6B. 


We departed BOS at midnight in a roaring Noreaster, dumping massive amounts of snow throughout New England. Seven or so hours later, after listening to four Pratt & Whitney R2800's beat flawlessly and navigating a dark and foreboding Eastern Seaboard, the shining city of Miami appeared through the windscreen. White beaches, aqua water, sailboats and glimmering buildings in the sun, erased any thoughts of inclement weather left behind in Boston and further drove me to seek this life aloft. The food was pretty good too, but it would be years later until I acquired a taste for "airline coffee." 

1954 NEA timetable, before the Florida route award.

As a side-note, I interviewed with Delta in 1978 in ATL. After looking through my application and resume, my inquisitor, apparently happy with what he saw said, "Rand, you're going to love it here at Delta, it's a family operation." Needless to say I was excited as visions of DC-9's and 727's danced in my head. Flying those Beech 18's and Twin Otters finally paid off. But hold on a second...

A few moments later he noticed a section on the application that asked, Do you have any family members in the employ of Delta Airlines? Of course I answered affirmatively with "yes, CK Peck, BOS captain." With that my major airline career hopes were dashed and the Twin Otters replaced the Nines and 727's yet again. Delta had a nepotism clause in those days excluding family members from working at THE FAMILY. I've never understood this but that was their policy, so back to flying my New England routes until deregulation came about and changed everything.

A fleet of Northeast Airlines DC-3's at the Barre-Montipelier Airport in Vermont. 

Frankly, I've written about all of this before and most of it can be found on my website under the tab, RAND'S HISTORY, but as you may have guessed there's a reason that I've brought it up again. Author David Stringer has written a three part history of NEA for AIRWAYS MAGAZINE, the last part to appear in the October issue. The first two installments are in the August and September issue of 2011. 

As I'd mentioned to Editor Wegg in an email, "I started reading David's story with a jaded eye, after all, how could an outsider possibly get this right." I'm happy to report that my concerns were unfounded as Stringer has done a superb job of portraying the nations smallest trunk airline. He successfully captured it's flavor, it's essence and it's place in history. Captains, Mudge, Houle and Peck I'm sure would be pleased with his work.

I'm also an unabashed supporter of AIRWAYS MAGAZINE, not just because they publish some of my work, (not all of it, they're very selective) but because it's the bible from my perspective, for the tens of thousands of commercial aviation enthusiasts around the globe. I see them everywhere with their cameras on tripods when landing at airfields throughout the U.S., Asia and Europe. It's the premier commercial aviation publication, written by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. 

Anyway, if you enjoy airline history, particularly when that history includes round engines, cowl flaps and METO power, you won't want to miss Stringer's three part NEA history.

As usual, thanks for reading.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Part 3: The Simulator Phase

Randy, Steve, Doug and I have completed groundschool and the Procedures phase of our 747 training and have moved on to the simulator phase, which, although far more intense, is a lot of fun. That is of course if everything is going well! We've been split off from Steve and Doug enjoying the "A" period that runs from 0500 to 1030 while Randy and I are assigned the "D" period that flies from 1800 until 2330. Surprisingly this period worked well for us. Although we finished late at night I got a good nights sleep and had the entire following day to exercise and study.

As I'd mentioned earlier, Randy and I are both captains which means that half of the four hour simulator period we'll be in the copilots seat assisting the other. Not optimum, but that's the way that it goes.

Our "D" period consists of an hour and a half brief from 1800 until 1930 and then in the simulator from 1930 until 2230. Sounds like a long time doesn't it? But you're so busy that the time literally flies by. Our schedule and syllabus are well laid out for us in our student manual so we know exactly what to expect and when, including the flight paperwork that we'd experience on line.

Randy is entering one of the two 747-400 simulators that the airline operates. This is sim session number 1 of 9 to prepare us for the LOE (Line Oriented Evaluation) nine days from today. But before we get to sim 9 and the LOE we'll have three days to prepare for our MV or Maneuvers Evaluation.

This is how our Singer-Link simulator appears as you step inside. To the uninitiated it looks exactly like a 747-400 cockpit and everything works as it is supposed to. Technically it's a "Six Degrees of Freedom Device" that refers to it's ability to move about in three perpendicular axis's. A little further along I'll show you the hydraulics that support this. It's also referred to as a Level D, full motion, visual flight simulator. It even smells like the airplane!

Let's step back in time and take a look at the old 747-200 flight simulator located just across the hall in a separate bay. Northwest operated its last 747-200 passenger flight on 12 September 2007 from Tokyo to Minneapolis with a stop in Seattle. The -200 entered service with NWA in 1975 and grew to a fleet of 22 aircraft. As an aficionado of the "three man cockpit" I'd loved to have flown this airplane. Click on this Trip Report to see pictures of NWA 76 on 21 July 2007, starring N623US from NRT to SPN.

747-200 Flight Engineer's Panel

Steve in the right seat is a 747 FO and instructor who flew with Randy on his Type Ride or LOE. Let's talk about the MV or Maneuvers Validation as we now approach Day 4 of our sim training. Each MV takes nearly two hours and includes a variety of maneuvers that include engine failures after V1, rejected takeoffs, windshear recovery and stalls, missed approaches with engines out, visual approaches with engines out, CAT I, II, and III approaches some with failed engines and missed approaches, non precision (VNAV) approaches, holding and more. 

The best advice that I was given was DON'T PLAN ON LANDING, plan on a missed approach and if you land it's a bonus. Again, if you've paid attention during the previous sim sessions, done a little "chair flying" in your room and are familiar with the procedures and manuals, you'll likely experience a positive conclusion. Another piece of valuable advise included not dwelling on mistakes. We all make them, the check pilot expects to see some, but also wants to see how you handle the adversity. If you allow the mistake to fester and infect the remainder of your ride he or she won't be happy. On the other hand if you recognize the mistake, correct it and move on things will be fine. All you've done is give your instructor something to debrief. I gave them many!

I administered many simulator checkrides in the DC-9 and 727. I anticipated mistakes and a certain level of nervousness and simply looked for a good solid ride, with good crew communications and systems knowledge. Apparently little has changed with this aspect from my days of instructing. The final criteria was and I suspect still is "Would I put my family on board with these guys?"

After successful MV's, Randy and I have been separated as we near our LOE. As Justin, sitting at the instructors panel positions the simulator at Narita, Randy preflights the airplane. Justin never planted any "Easter eggs" for us to find, he simply figured the previous crew as they exited in haste would leave enough as it is... and he was right. While he has one eye on his panel, the other watched us closely as we preflighted the cockpit, interrupting occasionally with questions or guidance.  

Another excellent instructor, Justin interspersed practical knowledge and real life scenarios that he'd encountered and passed along his experience. Thought out, scripted scenarios go a long way to effectively introduce problems and solutions, but "let me show you what happened to me one night out of Manila" from a guy thats been there is very effective.  

As I back my way out of the simulator Justin, Randy and Steve prepare to depart Narita for Manila for Randy's last sim session before his type ride tomorrow night. This nine days have passed very quickly though as the course nears completion. 

From ground level you get a better feel for the size of this machine. When the instructor selects the motion button, the ramp, in the raised position here to the right, raises and frees the simulator from its dock. The hydraulic legs provide all of the motion and direction required, in conjunction with the flight instruments and visual, to create pitch and roll, acceleration and deceleration and create a real time flight. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Which incidentally reminds me. Much of the input to new simulators is "touch screen", but keyboards still exist. Years ago, the student could easily hear the instructor "tap tap tapping" away back there and anticipate pending doom through an engine failure or some other catastrophic failure. He may simply be entering the weather at your destination, but you'd be keyed up for a major event. I never heard any keyboard clatter this time around which only added to the realism of the experience.

We're standing in front of the simulator looking back towards the dock and stairs that provide egress to the briefing rooms. There are several emergency motion shutoff switches located throughout the cockpit to take the simulator off motion. Why?? You may wonder. Many years ago when using the US Air 727 sim in PIT, Jerry Helmey and I were tossed about somewhat violently when the motion went "NUTS!" I was standing in the back of the sim with Jerry as the Flight Engineer instructor. The pilots, strapped in and secured, activated their shutoff switches located near their seat control levers and saved the day. 

Jerry retired off the 747-200 several years ago, but to see him today drop down to the Air West reunion post and you'll see him in the back row. Jerry, you look great and have hardly changed! Another excellent instructor from whom I learned much.

V1, rotate, as Randy departs off the "A" runway at Narita. The hydraulic legs rapidly thrust the machine forward and gently reach their limit inducing acceleration as he rotates towards 15 degrees of pitch attitude. Believe me... it's realistic, as you hear and feel your nosewheel tires thumping over the runway centerline lights. In reality though, we all move the airplane over just a bit to avoid these lights, but doing so in the simulator is fruitless because  these sensations are programmed in.

An A-330 simulator in the adjacent bay.

Twenty-four hours later, this is my view of the corridor that leads to the simulators and briefing rooms as I reach my moment of truth. Within moments I'll meet my simulator partner and check airman who will determine if I've prepared properly. Much goes through your mind as you proceed down the "corridor of truth;" are those my footsteps that I hear or my rapid heartbeat? I've taken this walk many times over the last 26 years at NWA and now DAL experiencing annual checkrides and type rating rides. Although I've acquired much experience over those years and know how the event is administered, this walk is no less apprehensive than my first. Doubt creeps in. You pray that you don't screw up and that you brought your "A" game with you tonight. It's a long, lonely walk as simulator scenarios, procedures and memory items pass through your brain.  

I'm here. This is room D248 where in 30 minutes or so we'll brief for my LOE.

I've arrived early to go over a few items in the QRH, Volume 1 and take one last look at the MEL manual. I've also pulled out my license, medical and radio operators license to be prepared when asked for them. It's Saturday night at 1900 hours, I've not seen another human since I entered the building and it's lonely inside my little cubicle as I hear a stall warning horn echo from a distant simulator bay. I'm not here alone after all, another pilot is demonstrating his or her skills tonight too. 

Saturday night! Most everyone else I know is out enjoying life on a Saturday night as I await my fate in this little cubicle.  What were you doing on Saturday night, 30 April at 1900 hours central time? 

Moments later, Gary walks into the room, extends his hand and says hello. After a little small talk we jumped into the computer to pull up and print my paperwork for tonights flight from Narita to Manila. There are eight different LOE flight scenarios; Gary simply enters my employee number and the computer chooses one of them and prints out everything we need. During the ensuing discussion of the flight, the flightplan and our MEL item, Gary has done a wonderful job of setting a comfortable environment. Any anxiety that I may have harbored has dissipated as we move forward. 

I didn't have time to take pictures though. I also thought it inappropriate to ask Gary if he'd mind if I periodically interrupted him to take pictures, so stashed my camera until the outcome was determined.

Steve (another Steve, not the fellow who flew with Randy) and I discussed our flightplan and MEL item before entering the simulator to accomplish our preflight inspections. I then briefed Steve and our lead flight attendant (Gary) concerning such items as our taxi route, departure procedure, flaps setting, weather, rides, and time en route. 

After taxi out and completing all of the appropriate checklists, we departed off runway 34L, flew a close in community departure and followed a standard LNAV/VNAV departure procedure. As is normally the case departing Narita, ATC stopped our climb at 7,000 feet and started issuing headings. I knew what was coming next!

Using "heading select" I followed the clearances, including a clearance to continue the climb to 10,000 feet when ATC called and cleared us to fly a particular heading to intercept a published airway to a point further along our flightplan. A sincere "thank-you," to Nicole, Justin, Brian and Rusty for squaring me away on these procedures.

While climbing through 25,000 feet at 320 knots, on course, on the airway our comfortable little environment was suddenly jolted to reality as red lights glared and shrill bells shattered the silence. Well, this is a checkride after all and a quick scan of our displays revealed that we were experiencing a forward cargo fire. There are few emergencies that demand your immediate attention, but a fire within the fuselage area is one of them. I handed the airplane over to Steve, asked him to declare an emergency and get a clearance directly back to Narita with an immediate descent while I reached for the QRH and selected the proper procedure. 

Steve's job is to FLY THE AIRPLANE AND COMMUNICATE and mine is to attend to the emergency and, as the captain, keep an eye on the airplane and maintain situational awareness. I need to be mindful of where we are, where we're going and catalog in my mind what's been completed and what remains to be accomplished. It's busy, very busy, but performing in an unrushed, methodical manner is crucial.

The index indicates that the Forward Cargo Fire procedure is in section 8.16 which I flip to quickly , read the title out loud and ask Steve if he agrees with the checklist that I've chosen. There's nothing worse on a checkride than working a procedure for many minutes, only to discover that as the procedure unfolds, it's apparent that you've chosen the wrong one. In this case we're in agreement and I move forward. Another important item. When you move a switch, first identify the switch and then confirm that what should have happened ... did! If you're opening or closing a valve, look to insure that the valve moved and that it didn't fail which would change how you proceed. Don't rush... identify your items first.

Upon completing the Forward Cargo Fire checklist, I checked in with Steve to let him know that I'd completed the procedure and to get an update. "Narita is closed" I've learned, it's gone below limits, so I ask the controller for the Haneda weather which is at CAT I limits. 

"Steve you still have the airplane and the radio, lets' go to Haneda" as I update the FMS and enter the anticipated runway, it's ILS and pull up an ATIS. At this point I'll leave Steve for a moment, call our lead flight attendant and brief him. "We have a possible forward cargo fire, will land in 10 minutes at Haneda and MAY have to evacuate... any questions?" Then I'll make a quick passenger PA and announce that we have a problem and will be landing in 10 minutes and to please follow the directions of our flight attendants.

The QRH procedure automatically leads me into the Descent and Approach checklists, so everything that I need is handy. I've determined that I don't have time to call my dispatcher, there's not much he can do for me now anyway, so I ask ATC to call them for me. Don't forget, I'm an emergency airplane and can do as I please.... that is as long as I'm right!!

As I'm reviewing what we've accomplished, Steve starts calling for flaps as the localizer comes alive. We've determined to do a flap 30 landing with auto brakes 3 and once more confirm that emergency equipment is standing by. The Emergency checklists, descent and  approach checks are complete, the weather is sufficient to land, the radios have been tuned and identified, flight attendants, ATC, company and passengers have been briefed. We're final approach fix inbound, configured and cleared to land. What could possibly go wrong??

As it turned out, nothing. Steve was still flying so I let him continue, freeing me to address anything should it occur. The landing was without incident; we turned off the runway and my ride was over. Gary slapped me on the back, congratulated me and welcomed me to the club.

OK, time to get the camera out!

I was tired, but it was a good feeling. It's still Saturday night though and I have time to celebrate.

Thanks very much to everyone in the training department who sincerely had my best interests in mind as I navigated the 747-400 training course.

Next up, OE with Gene.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A New England Fourth of July

I've nearly finished Part 3 of my 747-400 check out; hopefully it will be up on Monday. But in the meanwhile, particularly if you're from away, I wanted to share a glimpse of our local Fourth of July celebrations. This July 4th marks America's 235th year of independence. The Declaration of Independence was read aloud to Amherst, NH citizens in the second week of July 1776 by Sheriff Moses Kelley, just to my right here on the Amherst Green. The Green as well served as a training field for Captain Josiah Crosby and the Amherst Militia Company.

The parade at Amherst, NH is quite large for a town of only 12,000 people, but attracts New Englanders from throughout the region. Here, former Amherst Fire Chief Rick Crocker drives his fully restored, 1931 antique fire truck in the parade. This truck actually served our town back in the 1950's and how Rick found it is a great story for another time

The local Revolutionary War contingent marching in the parade. Many Amherst men, led by Captain Josiah Crosby of the Amherst Militia Company served in the War of Independence at Bunker Hill, just north of Boston on 17 June 1775. The New Hampshire contingent was hailed for it's defense of the Hills flanks, avoiding being surrounded by British troops and allowing an orderly retreat by local militias as they exhausted powder and shot. The British eventually triumphed but at the cost of 1,200 casualties including the loss of 70% of its officer corps. As General Gage succinctly stated sometime later. "Too many more victories like this and we'll lose the war."

Amherst resident, Lieutenant Thompson Maxwell, not only participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill with Captain Crosby, but took part in the Boston Tea Party on 16 December 1773 and the Battle of Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775. The day before on 18 April Paul Revere journeyed north to Lexington and Concord, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. "Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, on the eighteenth of April in seventy-five hardly a man is now alive who remembers that day and year..."

The local Civil War contingent marching through town. Twenty-seven Amherst men died in the Civil War including Amherst native Sergeant Charles Phelps of the Fifth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers. He'd survived such savage battles as Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville only to die on 4 July 1863 at Gettysburg. Both his gravesite and ancestral home are but a short walk from where we're standing.

The Soldiers Monument, erected in 1871 to honor Sergeant Phelps and his fallen comrades, is but two hundred yards to our right from where we're standing to observe today's parade.

Old time high-wheel bicyclists

Many presidential candidates have marched in the Amherst Fourth of July Celebration due to our "first in the nation primary" status. In fact NH native and 14th president of the United States, Franklin Pierce, was married a short walk off to my right at the Colonel Robert Means Mansion in 1834. Two presidential hopefuls are marching in today's parade; Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney. Can you find Romney in this shot?

Above and below: As the parades participants disbanded I asked part of the Revolutionary and Civil War groups to pose in front of our home.  Our home was built in either 1780 or 1790 depending upon whom you consult and would have witnessed local Civil War veterans returning home. If you choose the earlier date it was here as well when the U.S. Constitution was ratified in June of 1788 before General Washington became President Washington. Interestingly, New Hampshire was the ninth state to vote for the Constitution thus ratifying it for the 13 American Colonies.

While all this is going on in Amherst, NH, just 45 south in Boston, the USS Constitution, or Old Iron Sides as she's more popularly known, was enjoying its' annual cruise and firing her cannon. Constitution, constructed in 1797 in Charlestown, Massachusetts is an active military vessel, still listed in the US Navy's inventory, making it the worlds oldest commissioned warship.

To see what goes on in Boston, click here and take a trip to the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade next to the Charles River that divides Boston from Cambridge. It was from Cambridge that General Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775. Drop down just below the red band and click on the video. Every Fourth of July Boston Pop's plays Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture as 105 mm howitzers fire and fireworks explode overhead. The rockets red glare as the pungent odor of cordite fills the air. Participating this year is the 101st Field Artillery Regiment, just back from Afghanistan, the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers Chorus and the 104th Fighter Wing from the Mass Air National Guard do a fly over with F-15C's. The Mass Air National Guards history stretches back to 1621 when the first Massachusetts militia were formed. 

My family and I gathered at my mother's home in Amherst for a day of celebration that included her pool, hot dogs and hamburgers, sparklers with the kids and much political discourse, inspired by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and his life long friend, John Adams. "Jefferson lives..."  Adams last words.

I know that those who read my blog posts do so for my aviation experiences, but until I get Part Three up and running I wanted to share some of our local history and tradition. Thanks once again for following along and Happy Fourth of July.