Around the Pattern

Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

Category: Professional Flying (Page 4 of 23)


I know I’ve only been posting link articles on Fridays – I said I was going to be doing that and didn’t want to go back on my word. I’m in the middle of my second 12-day Europe trip in 30 days and it is really kicking my butt. I guess my body is too used to going to Asia.

I normally sleep well on my Asia trips and feel coherent enough to post once in a while. Most of my nights in Europe, though, have been spent tossing and turning. The majority of my productive sleep has come during the day – when I would normally be asleep at home. When I get a layover back in the U.S. I have been going out to get something to eat and then sleeping for 10-11 hours, waking up and repacking to go to the airport.

Right now my body thinks it is about 3 am and I’m really dragging, but it’s noon here in Milan and I just finished a 9-hour flight from JFK that ended with a Cat III ILS . Temperature inversion fog was blanketing the whole area. It was clear and 59 F (15 C) at 1500’ AGL when we went into the clouds and at ground level it was 32 F (0 C) with no wind and 500’ (150 m) visibility.

Yep, this is really living the exotic life of an international airline pilot. I’m going to bed in hopes that I’ll get enough sleep to be able to go out to dinner and not pass out into my pasta.

Four more days and three more crossings of the Atlantic on this trip and then I’ll get some time off.

Bear with me, I’ll get back to a regular writing schedule soon.

Layover Life

Here I am, sitting at my computer again in a room someplace other than home. Yeah, I’m out on another airline trip. I’m awake again after sleeping for about five hours and it’s still dark outside. Why did I wake up? A couple of reasons. For one, the time zone where I live told my body it was time to wake up and for another, it seemed that the bed was shaking.

My semi-awake brain said ‘Hmmm, that doesn’t seem right’ and woke me up to the point I couldn’t sleep any more. I took out my earplugs and lay in bed for a while. That’s when I noticed the winds howling and rain slamming against my ninth-floor window. Maybe I just felt a strong wind gust hit the building.

I gave up trying to sleep and turned on the TV.  CNN Asia was talking about a 7.4 earthquake off the SE tip Japan’s main island. Mystery solved – it wasn’t just a dream. They were playing their Tsunami card, explaining that islands near the epicenter could see a 2-meter surge while the coast of Japan could get a 1/2-meter wave. With this storm that’s already in progress I think they’ll have a hard time picking that particular wave out of the mix.

The pounding rain shot down the idea of walking around the area today and brought up the vision of a cold, wet and windy exterior preflight for our flight tonight. I really should have packed that plastic raincoat.

We got here in the early evening last night. I got to my room, cleaned up and went down to the restaurant looking for dinner. I was seated and advised that the were having a ‘special’ Christmas buffet – crew price worked out to $30. I looked it over and it appeared to be just like every other buffet that they have here – except for the chocolate fountain in the dessert area. That explained why there weren’t any other crew members visible in the restaurant – the ones who were eating were in the sports bar ordering off that menu. I opted for an order of pasta, a salad and a glass of wine at half the price of the buffet.

If you travel infrequently, hotel buffets can be an interesting experience and often a way to try some of the local dishes. When you travel for a living and stay at the same hotel over and over you notice that the buffet fare rarely changes. There is usually comfort in consistency – but not in this case.

The sun is just starting to come up now – well it’s getting light outside. Solid low clouds, fog and rain. It looks like another day for hotel hobbies. I’ll probably spend it emptying out my email  inbox and closing a bunch of browser tabs holding articles I thought I may want to read. With a bit of luck I’ll get tired again and will be able to take a nap before our evening departure – heading southwest to warmer temperatures in Bangkok, though the humidity will probably stay pretty close to the current 100%.

After I wrote that last paragraph I worked on getting some photos off of my camera storage card and formatting them to include in this post. It didn’t take long, maybe a half hour – I had to search for my camera cable. Anyway, now as I look outside and, although it’s still a bit foggy, I see that the sky is almost clear blue. What clouds that remain are moving off at a fast clip. It’s going to be an interesting flying day.

I took this shot as I was about to leave the cockpit – waiting at the cockpit door for the captain to return from his break. I had been occupying the left seat while the captain was sleeping. We logged 10.3 hours for the flight.

Rats. Another storm is moving in. I can see the clouds/fog rolling in below my room level. I wonder how many crew members are getting caught out doing their morning run….

Two Flights and Fun in the Sim


My wife recently asked me if this is how  I felt. Tired PuppyYeah, it pretty much described my physical state when she asked.  I was amazed to see that it had been a month since my last post. Time flies.

My brief hiatus from writing started with a 4-day recovery period at the end of a 12-day Asia trip. I finished that trip in the middle of October. About the  time I started feeling like I was on the right time zone I had my annual FAA flight physical – the company requires a Class I for type-rated first officers(FO). The longer legs (over 8 hours) are augmented with an extra FO. When the captain takes his break that leaves two FOs in the seat with the one in the left seat acting as the captain. No extra pay, but the added responsibility for the safety of the flight until the captain returns to the flight deck.

I successfully passed the physical and moved on to the next major item on my to-do list -  the annual inspection of my Swift. I was lucky weather-wise and the temperatures stayed in the 50-degree (F) range for that week so working in my unheated hangar wasn’t a major hardship. I worked steadily each day, probably  six hours a day of hard labor,  and finished a 100-hour inspection in a week.  My IA friend then satisfied his curiosity about the plane’s condition, checked the fuel injection pressures and completed the required paperwork. A couple of days of projects at home, a fly-out day to my favorite breakfast spot and it was time to go back to work.

  Next up was a 12-day Europe trip that included 8 Atlantic crossings. Most long-haul pilots seem to think that crossing multiple time zones going east is harder on your body that an equally long trip to the west. For me, it seems to be exponentially harder on my body. We would arrive in Europe in late morning and my layovers usually consisted of a 4-5 hour nap followed by dinner and then an attempt at another 8 hours of sleep overnight. I was pretty much a basket case by the time the trip was finished.

That trip took almost a week for me to feel human again. Then it was time to cram for my annual recurrent training session. I had been trying to ignore it sitting there on my schedule, but the time had come to try to assure that I didn’t become a topic for conversation around the instructor’s lunch table. It was a wonderful 3-day stint at the airline’s training facility.

Day one was taken up by a few required briefings and a computer-generated 50-question test on aircraft systems. Each year they pick ten systems for review and the computer picks random questions from the master question bank – just like the FAA exams except that we don’t have the question bank to study. Day two was a 4-hour session in the simulator called a Maneuver Validation. This is when we refresh our memories on how to do the maneuvers that we rarely see flying our normal trips – engine failures (in several different phases of flight), non-precision approaches, windshear and TCAS encounters and revalidation of our CAT II/III ILS approach certification. Day three was the Line-Oriented Evaluation (LOE) or check ride. We plan a normal line flight and then operate it as we would flying the line We handle minor and major abnormal occurrences as they appear, coordinating our actions with the instructor acting as our ATC controller, the Lead Flight Attendant and the company dispatcher. This year the scenario was a flight from the U.S. east coast to Europe on the North Atlantic Track System (NATS). Of course, we never made it. The crew for the LOE included a "seat support" captain since I was paired with another FO for the training sessions. The other FO started in the right seat and I was in the jumpseat. We eventually made it to cruise altitude and were on our way to the track entry point. The captain decided that he wanted to take the first break, so he got out of the seat and left the simulator. That put me in the left seat acting as the captain. Of course, it didn’t take long for the nice calm flight to turn extremely busy. The Lead Flight Attendant called up and said the captain was having a heart attack, they had two doctors on board and they recommended to get on the ground as fast as possible. And that’s how we ended up in (simulated) Bangor, Maine.  And, no, the captain didn’t make it – but the two of us remaining in the cockpit each moved up a number – the harsh realities of the seniority system.

This period was marked by two notable events – my last FAA Class I medical exam and my last check ride with the airline. Those two items successfully accomplished have removed a large amount of stress from my life. I’m now home for almost three weeks until my next trip and by then will have just under two months until my retirement date.  Definitely mixed emotions there.

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