A Good Day For Contrails

by on July 26, 2009

One of the flights on my last trip was from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (NRT). I had a request from one of my readers for a photo of the cockpit of a Boeing 747-400. Since I was taking the first break I had the chance to take this shot justCockpit of a Boeing 747-400 as we were about to make a right turn after engine start. For an airplane this big, the cockpit isn’t exactly huge. The captain’s left hand is on the tiller controlling the nosewheel steering. There is also one on the right side in the same relative position for the use of the first officer.

As we made our way to the end of runway 25R we could see across the two runways to the cargo ramp on the south side of the airport. Douglas DC-8 FreighterI took this photo of an ATI DC-8 freighter at one of the parking spots. It just struck me as a really long aircraft. I have never flown one, but with that much length behind the main gear I would think that the pitch attitude on landing and takeoff would have to be controlled very carefully.

One of the nice things about flying the 747-400 is the high cruise speed. Airbus A-330When we are flight planned on one of the organized tracks or airways between  Alaska and Japan or from the U.S. West Coast and Japan we will quite often pass other aircraft.  Since the routes are all in RVSM airspace our vertical separation is usually 1000′ between aircraft. This an Airbus A-330 that we passed shortly after entering the airway between Alaska and Japan. The Boeing 747-400 cruises at .85-.86 mach.  The A-330 cruises at .82 mach.

It became obvious as we progressed along the airway that we were not alone on our assigned route. Aircraft contrails  shadowed onto a lower cloud deck. We gradually moved over a low overcast with the sun shining from above. What look like snowmobile tracks in  snow below us are actually shadows from the contrails along our track that are cast onto the cloud deck. There is no way to know how far ahead or at what altitude the other aircraft were flying.

Just about the time we crossed into Japanese airspace we passed another aircraft. JAL Boeing 777 This one was 1000′ below us and was easily identified as a JAL Boeing 777. Their cruise speed is .83 mach. About a half hour after we passed the 777 we received a call from Japanese air traffic control. We were told to slow to mach .84 for traffic sequencing. Hmmm. Another example of the preferences given to the home airline. Not long after we slowed to .84 the JAL aircraft flew buy us cruising at least at .85. Their destination was also Tokyo’s Narita airport. I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but we get extended vectors or reduced speed all the time in order for JAL or one of the other Japanese airlines to land before us.

This last photo was taken while at the gate in Narita before we left to fly home.Tail logos of aircraft parked at international airline terminal in Narita, Japan. I thought it was a nice example of the different tails we see at the gates. I’ll let you figure out which airline logos they sport.

Overall, it was an enjoyable trip. One of the captains I worked with is four years into the building of an RV-10, so we had a lot to talk about. This week he is at EAA AirVenture trying to figure out what he is going to put into his instrument panel. Definitely ‘kid in a candy shop’ time for him.

Previous post:

Next post: