Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just a quick note before I get into the blog.

I'd like to thank whom ever found my 747 book and very kindly brought it back to DTW and put it in my mailbox. Thank-you.

I carry a note book, full of hard to find information for quick reference. As you know I fly only rarely, so I keep copious notes that help with uncommon procedures. It's my own personal "How To Fly a 747, Volume 1." I left this aboard a flight recently and someone not only found it, but then had to carry it around for a while until returning to DTW. And then, rather than running to catch a commuter flight or going directly home, diverted to Flight Ops to put the book in my mailbox. Very thoughtful and much appreciated.

*     *     *

I recently commuted out to DTW for a day of "short call" reserve, which means that I have to be within two hours of the airport. The function of the short call reserve pilot (among others) is to be able to fill in immediately if another pilot calls in sick at the last minute or if a weather delay or mechanical event causes a crew to exceed FAR time restrictions. The consequences of delaying 400 passengers or pushing them back until the next day, when those flights are already full are significant.   

Long call reserve on the other hand is far more flexible. As you're aware, the airline has a "plan" for each and every day, but unlike many businesses, those plans change regularly as global conditions shift. A typhoon in Japan can cause 747 crew problems in Tel Aviv, or an airplane that just came out of heavy maintenance needs to be ferried into position. So for a little longer range problem solving, long call reserve pilots have a 12 hour call out window. The system works well and each fleet has it's own pilots standing by to insure as smooth an operation as possible.

There's a formula that crew sched uses to determine who will be on either short or long call reserve for a particular day. It factors in previous short calls, vacation, if trips have been flown already and seniority, but I'm not sure that anyone really understands it though. I'm liable for six short call assignments a month but have rarely been called in for more than two. Short calls are posted on the computer the day ahead.

- PART I -

Flight 629
19 June 2012
1550 local  1950Z

Our reflection at gate 38 in DTW in aircraft 6313 (constructed Aug 1999) awaiting pushback.

I'd just finished my short call assignment and was heading to the gate to catch my commuter flight back to BOS when my cell phone rang and displayed the familiar "404" area code. Crew scheduling in Atlanta is looking for me! "Rand, you're flying sequence 3001 tomorrow to Nagoya, leaving DTW at 1550 local."

Sequence 3001 is a "devised" or "made up " pairing that crew scheduling created to work around weather problems in Asia. This particular headache for crew scheds, known as "Typhoon Guchol," was located southwest of Japan in the East China Sea. Moving towards Japan and South Korea at 65 kilometers per hour, it dropped heavy rain and had sustained winds of 150 kilometers per hour. About the same ferocity as a level 3 hurricane. JAL and ANA would eventually cancel some 500 flights between them as the massive storm moved over Japan. I know that it's not always apparent, but when problems arise, whether you're in Topeka or Shanghai, central planning is always searching for alternatives to move you safely and efficiently from Point A to B. Really!

Typhon Guchol's position the day before I arrived in Nagoya.

During weather delays I've had passengers come up to me and say, "I just called my Aunt Jane, and she said that her cousins, dentist (who flies a Cessna) said that the weather near Denver looks pretty good to him."  Unfortunately we don't land at the dentists office!

Sequence 3001 was a six day trip that looked like this: Day 1. Flt 629 DTW-NGO 13:05,  Day 3. Flt 629 NGO-MNL 3:55,  Day 5. Flt 630 MNL-NGO 4:00 and Day 6. Flt 630 NGO-DTW 12:05. (NGO = Nagoya,  MNL = Manila) Nagoya is a port city located 175 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.

Brad, a former USAF C141 Commander/Instructor

Flight 629 today would cover 5,720 nautical miles in 12 hours 21 minutes, therefore two flight deck crews are assigned. Brad, seen here checking to insure that I've loaded the flight plan properly, and I would make the takeoff and fly to a point beyond Anchorage and then retire to the bunkroom as Captain Les Gorden and his FO would fly the remainder of the flight and land in Nagoya.

I was on a mission though and that was to fly as many takeoffs and landings as I could during this trip to avoid having to trek out to MSP and jump into the simulator to maintain currency. As you know, we have to perform three takeoffs and landings within a running 90 day period to remain legal and current. If you're a domestic pilot flying an 80 hour month you're probably scratching your head in disbelief.  I know, but satisfying this FAR on long haul flights with two crews, particularly as a reserve pilot is difficult. Fortunately all the pilots with whom I flew on this trip were "block holders" with few impediments to this rule. They took pity on this "reservist" and helped me out. I satisfied the FAR with four days to spare.

Looking north on uniform taxiway on the A Terminal ramp.

"Brakes released, cleared to push, tail south," I relate to our pushback crew as Brad and I finish our Before Start Checklist and I turn on the rotating beacon. During the push we're cleared to start as Brad reaches up and starts engines 3 and 4 simultaniously. When stabilized he'll then start 1 and 2 which is where we are now as I set the brakes and call for the After Start Check. Our procedure is to utilize all four engines for the taxi out, so we'll shut the APU down as soon as it's gone through a cooling cycle.

During the pushback we received our WDR (Weight Data Record... we have an acronym for everything!) or takeoff numbers. Brad rips it off the printer and hands it to me for my inspection. The second crew prints a copy as well and back me up to insure that I've chosen the correct numbers out of the many possible combinations. I check for the appropriate runway, temperature and power settings, then look for our ramp weight, stab setting and V speeds as I call them off and Brad enters them into the computer. Runway 21R, Detroit's longest is closed today so we'll use the shorter 22R which creates problems, because we're very heavy today at 817,904 pounds. We're too heavy to use this runway, but, according to the WDR we can accept it if we have at least an 8 knot headwind. We're saved, towers calling the wind 210 at 10.

With this task complete, as well as the After Start Checklist and the Performance Checklist, I call for "flaps 20 taxi clearance" as Brad calls the ramp tower and selects and verifies that the flaps have traveled to 20 degrees. Ramp tower is controlled by Delta personnel and replies with "629, taxi north on uniform, contact ground at 3 north."

We're underway only 12 plus hours to go!

We're approaching Yellowknife (YZF) in the Northwest Territories at 62 North 114 West, home to Buffalo Airways made famous by the TV show ICE PILOTS. Owning a Delta or Northwest Airlines cap is good, but if you want to be really cool you need to visit BuffaloAirWear and purchase one of theirs.  

ANE DC-3 on the BOS ramp in 1974

I have some DC-3 experience, a lot of tailwheel time, much radial engine experience too and would love to fly for Buffalo Airways after retirement. If I showed up in their hangar with my resume full of jet experience though, Buffalo Joe McBryan, his son Mikey and former Chief Pilot Arnie Schreder would laugh me out of the hangar. Though no where near as rugged, this reminds me of my early days flying in northern New England at Air New England. I'm sorry to learn that Arnie has recently died, but suspected problems when he retired from Buffalo in a recent episode.

We're now passing over Kotzebue (OTZ) just above the Arctic Circle before stepping out over the Bering Straits into Russian airspace. But look south by the crease and you'll see Unakleet, home to Jim Tweto and family of FLYING WILD ALASKA fame. I want to fly here too. Jim, I can bring my own Cub!!

Jim, just in case you're looking, I'm here on the ground... or more accurately, on Lake Winnipesaukee in NH with two Luscombes and my Cessna 140. Note the ice and vast amount of snow. Don't be fooled by the blue sky though, it was snowing and blowing heavily just this morning and we flew down a valley with poor visibility to find Alton Bay. I'm available to relocate to Alaska in April of 2014.



We've switched now from a Jeppesen Chart to a DELTA N. PACIFIC, CANADA ORIENTATION CHART. This can be confusing at first glance. Note that land is shown in blue and water is white. I'd prefer to see this depicted just the opposite. We depart OTZ on B244 over Kotzebue Sound. We're flying far to the north today, you can see the majority of tracks that lead to Japan below.

Two of the charts that we've used for reference through Canada, Alaska and along the track through Russian airspace.

The Flight Release for 629 today from DTW to NGO or RJGG as it's depicted here. Just about everything that you need to know is shown on this document. Tim, this is a release that I referred to in the last comment section. It displays the most pertinent information and is at the beginning of all of our flight paperwork.

(Above and below) Views from the cockpit as we step out over the Bering Straits. We're at 67 degrees north latitude and this is what it looks like on 19 June. It's still very ice choked, can you imagine what it's like in December or January? Moments after I took this shot the other crew returned to the cockpit from their break and I briefed Les concerning our position, fuel state, progress, and maintenance. Actually, we have a briefing card that you refer to so as to not miss any vital items during the crew change over. Then Brad and I retire to the bunk room for the next six hours.

I've posted this picture before but is just about the best shot I've been able to get of the bunk room. Located directly behind the cockpit you need a "special" key to gain entry. Yup... I have one. Our linens; a blanket, pillow and sheet, cleaned and wrapped in plastic are put in here before each flight. Extras packages are included as well so those of us who use two pillows and an extra blanket to make the bunk softer are available. You can barely discern the 'bunk curtain" on the lower unit that you pull closed once in position. It's very private, cool and dark in here; perfect for sleeping. Each bunk is furnished with a reading light and gasper outlet for air flow. The wall, just out of view to the left has hangers where we can hang our uniforms. I've tried leaving my shoes just outside the door, as we used to do in Europe, to see if someone will shine them. It's never happened!

We'll be in here today for 6 hours before returning to the cockpit for the descent and landing. You may have heard the term "dozing for dollars." It came about because of this room. I have no problem sleeping in here but some do and will seek out a first class seat to watch a movie or read or eat their crew meal. If not too tired I'll get up and stroll around the airplane for a short while to stretch and visit with the rest of the crew.

My normal routine is to climb into the top bunk with what ever book I'm reading. Presently I'm enjoying and learning much from Milton and Rose Friedman's book, FREE TO CHOOSE, read for an hour or so, shut off the light and quickly drift off. When our break is over, the pilots in the cockpit ring our alarm to awaken us and we simply bang on the wall to let them know we're awake.

Les made an uneventful landing in NGO, just rolled it on as we cleared customs and headed downtown for our layover. It's a 45 minute ride into town.


Flight 630
23 June 2012
0630 local  1530Z

After about a 30 hour layover in Manila, where I enjoy probably one of the best breakfast buffets in the system, Brad and I shove off to return to Nagoya. One day I'll bring my camera into the buffet and share that with you, but I'd look like such a tourist.

This is the high altitude chart that we used to navigate back to NRT and you can see that we'll be flying directly over Okinawa. I've flown here before but this is the first time that I'll be able to see it. Located about 400 miles south of the main island, it's the fifth largest in the chain and site to the 82 day "Battle of Okinawa," also known as Operation Iceberg that was fought from April - June 1945.

There it is over our nose

and as it passes beneath our left wing.

This is an older shot that I took from the jumpseat some time ago. The airport at Nagoya (Chubu Centrair)  is a single runway located on a man made island specifically for this purpose. Opened in 2005, this is the third of five offshore airports in Japan. We fly from here to Guam, Saipan, Manila, Detroit and Honolulu.

24 June 2012
1315 Local  0415 Z

The release for DAL 630 from NGO back to DTW

We've left NGO for DTW and I took this shot just east of Anchorage at 0200 local on 23 June, just two days after the summer solstice or the longest day of the year. We'd been watching the sun descend to set for a while, but just as it touched the horizon it started back up.

It's late June and this very remote Canadian area is still full of snow.

We're flying on NCA 13 just past Yeska to Whitehorse (YXY) as we enjoy a moderate tailwind delivering a groundspeed of 532 knots. Jagit is located right on the US - Canadian border as we'll soon be in Canadian airspace. 

This is what it looks like out the window however with very tall mountains and glaciers. Beautiful isn't it?

Ho hum... more mountains and glaciers. Truthfully though, this is a sight that I never tire of.

This brings up an interesting point though. If we were to experience a pressurization failure, our procedure is to descend to 10,000 feet. What do you think? You're right, that just wouldn't work here due to the snow covered granite. Our dispatcher has identified what we call Critical Terrain Routes that allow us to descend to a safe altitude and fly towards a prearranged alternate airport. It's a little complicated, but we enter the route into the FMC under Route 2. We're flying via Route 1, but if needed we'd switch to Route 2 and descend on the profile towards our alternate. There's always a plan!!

Brian, who has more than 10 years experience in the 747-400. At least once every hour I get out of my seat to stretch, move about and take a photo or two.

Presently we're burning from "Tank to Engine" having exhausted the fuel in both the center and stab fuel tanks. Main tanks 1 through 4 are all just about even with each supplying its own engine. We have 64,100 pounds of fuel remaining, but we're only 860 miles west of DTW and will be there in no time, landing at 1601Z, five minutes early with 37,200 pounds of fuel remaining.

Before I leave, I'd like to introduce you to the folks at the Stop Over Store in DTW. Elizabeth, Greg and Katherine run the shop and offer excellent service. This is where I bought my "tough" Purdy Neat Stuff roll around bag twenty years ago and it's still in great shape. If you need just about anything airline related click on their site and enjoy shopping. Just before I started this trip I had a zipper failure on my bag  that would have cost me serious storage space on a ten day trip. Greg dropped everything and fixed my bag while I was in flight planning with the rest of my crew. Thank-you Greg!

Once again, thanks very much for following along.