Friday, April 27, 2012

So long Jim...

I'm sorry to have to announce that Captain Jim Baker died just a couple of days ago, 25 April 2012. Jim was a Korean War, Marine veteran who was hired by Northeast Airlines in 1957. Jim was also the BOS Chief Pilot for Delta Airlines when he retired in 1993. Not ready to hang up his flight bag just yet, Jim became the Director of Flight Operations at Lawrence, MA based King Air Charters and later at the New Pan Am based in Portsmouth, NH.

 Jim landing at Plymouth, NH during a recent Northeast Airlines reunion 

Jim was a regular at the Plymouth, NH, Northeast Airlines reunions held twice a year and hosted by retired NEA/DAL captain Bill Grady, where he enjoyed flying low passes in his North American AT6. If you spent any time at retired NEA/DAL captain Mike Harts Hampton Airfield, a magnet for antique, classic and tailwheel airplanes, you'd see Jim regularly in his Husky, enjoying lunch in the company of pilots.

Jim in his Husky (with his NEA cap) at Hampton Airfield in Hampton, NH

My first encounter with Jim was next to the pool at the Miami Skyways Motel just behind the old National Airlines Hanger on LeJeune Road by MIA. I was a ten year old boy with my parents on vacation in Miami and Jim was a DC-6B Flight Engineer on layover. This was the Northeast Airlines MIA layover hotel with DC-6's, DC-3's, Connies and Convairs departing overhead constantly and was just about the most exciting place this 10 year old had ever seen. Jim was an accomplished diver, took me under his wing and taught me the complexities of an inward pike (without hitting my head on the board!)

Years later after Air New England went out of business I approached Jim for advice concerning airline employment. He offered helpful insight but DAL wasn't hiring at that time, in fact few airlines were as the nation wallowed in recession. Does this sound like a familiar scenario? 

As time passed, even though many years separated us, every encounter with Jim always included a big "Hey Rand, what's going on" as he'd enquire about my airline career and tell he how proud my Dad would have been to have seen this. Like almost everyone at Northeast Airlines that I've known, Jim was a genuinely nice guy and a pleasure to have known.

Jim leaving Plymouth, NH at the end of another great "Yellowbird" reunion.
Headed West.

Though Jim retired from a Delta L-1011 he was equally at home flying  antique taildraggers from a small grass airfields in New England. 


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A video test...

I don't often post videos, most every time in the past that I've tried I've somehow managed to do damage to the HTML somewhere in the blog. But let me try again with these two short videos.

Taxiing out of JFK for a Narita departure.

A friend recently sent me this video of a DAL 747-451 departing DTW for AMS, which is interesting because I just read on DELTANET that we're resuming 747 service to Amsterdam very shortly. I hope that I'll be able to hold a few of these as Narita is getting just a tad bit old. Anyway, click here to see this video.

Here's a little video that I made some time ago in LAX that will give you a ramp side perspective of a 747-400 walk around inspection. Hopefully these two efforts won't mess up the blog. The aircraft in this video, ship 6316 was just withdrawn from service and has gone into maintenance to receive her new lie-flat seats and GPS nav system. 


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is that Venus or another airplane out there?

Just a quick blog post concerning Air Canada flight 878 from Toronto to Zurich that mistook Venus for an oncoming airplane about a year ago, but is just making the news. First, the press has treated this very fairly, or at least the reports that I've seen or read anyway. Normally, our uninformed, quick to react to be the first to report something news media, has treated this objectively. Usually, they're second guessing the cause of an accident as the aircraft is still sliding down a runway headed for disaster or sticking a microphone in the face of a crying passenger as they're loaded into an ambulance. "What can you tell us?" 

 In the case of ABC News, which I rarely watch, they consulted with John Nance, there "go to guy" concerning aviation matters and objectively reported the situation. I wish that other news outlets would follow their lead with an experienced pilot filling in the blanks. To there credit, my tiny ABC affiliate here in Manchester, NH, WMUR calls to ask my opinion when an aviation anomaly occurs in this area. 

Most networks consult doctors, lawyers, politicians and economists to clarify specific matters in those fields, it seems only prudent to follow the same course with regard to aviation concerns. 

Air Canada Boeing 767

I've had several friends not associated with aviation, express their skepticism about this situation. "Come on Rand, how could you possibly think that a distant planet is an approaching jet?"

Air Canada Boeing 777

I understand their dismay, but from personal experience can easily understand how this incident could have occurred.

The moon dead ahead over the North Atlantic from Tel Aviv to New York. 

Out over a dark and desolate North Atlantic and North Pacific I've peered out of my windscreen at both Venus and Pluto and wondered if they were an oncoming airliner in the track system. There is no radar coverage out here so visual contact and TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) backs up the track reporting system. I'll try to illustrate my position with these two aerial moon shots.

According to reports, the FO was just awakening from a nap when the captain advised that they had traffic a thousand feet low at 12 o'clock. Looking out the window and seeing roughly what you see here, the FO thought that they were in immediate danger and reacted. He or she misinterpreted the picture and an abrupt descent was initiated resulting in injuries. 

Did the FO over react? Should he have deferred to the captain and raised the point first? Possibly yes to both questions, but I can easily see how this incident unfolded. A point of light on the horizon, not moving laterally across your windscreen, appears to becoming directly at you. I've written this post not in his/her defense, but merely to point out that this  situation has easily gotten many aviators attention... and will again.

I researched my photo data base again and found what I'd been looking for. Here's a shot of Venus through our windscreen at 33,000 feet. Tell me that that point of light ahead doesn't look like another aircraft with its lights on. I've heard it many times from pilots sitting next to me... "is that Venus or an airplane in front of us?"

Now to another matter; napping in the cockpit. Apparently this is condoned in Canada, but as you know is not tolerated in the US. I agree with the Canadians in this matter. Long haul, back of the clock flying over oceans is both tedious and boring with little stimulation. We're also not allowed extraneous reading material and I've seen pilots pull out an aircraft systems  manual and look through electrical or hydraulic schematics to exercise their brain. 

Sitting for hours on end, looking at instrumentation after conversations have come to an end is mind numbing. When sitting at home working on my computer in the late afternoon, fatigue will set in and it's amazing what a 20 minute cat nap will do to revive both my interest level and cognitive abilities. I suspect that it would do the same in a cockpit prior to a complex  arrival procedure into Paris, Frankfurt or LAX. 

The cockpit of a 747-400 with its exercise yard in the rear.

In order to combat this as well as physical problems that can arise from sitting too long, I make it a habit to get out of my seat to stretch and move about every hour or so. With a 757, 767 and 747 background, I'm fortunate to be flying airplanes with a substantial cockpit to enjoy this freedom. I'm basically adhering to the videos that we used to show passengers concerning exercising in your seat as well as getting up and walking occasionally. Napping in the cockpit is an area that I'd certainly like to see the FAA revisit and reconsider their position.

At both NWA and now at DAL our flight attendants bring up several 1.5 liter bottles of water to help keep us hydrated. Rarely does my bottle have any water remaining at the end of the flight.

Envision yourself sitting here for up to six hours in the middle of the night and trying to maintain a high level of concentration. Good luck!

And lastly, when we give our spiel about keeping your seat belt fastened, even if the sign is extinguished, please heed our advice. This Air Canada situation certainly adds credence to that announcement as does American Airlines flight 980 from Brazil to Miami on 17 April. Don't forget, you're in an aluminum tube 6 or 7 miles above the earth, traveling through  a thin atmosphere at say 80 to 85% of the speed of sound through a jet stream that can whistle right along at 150 mph. Hit a little unstable air and you're a missile within the tube.

As usual, thanks very much for following along and reading my thoughts concerning this matter.


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,