Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

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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.

Commuting Weather Worries

I mentioned previously that my OE trip was to start soon, implying that I was going to be commuting to my assigned base to start the trip. Clearing snow from the driveway.Since I was still officially in training the commute was for ‘company business’ and allowed me to book confirmed seats.  That meant I didn’t have to worry about getting a jumpseat or hoping that there was an empty seat left somewhere in the back of the plane. It also meant that to take advantage of the reserved seats I was going to have to do a 3-flight commute to get from my home to my base.

My plan was to leave  Reno at 6:30 on a Sunday morning and arrive at my base in the eastern U.S. that night in plenty of time for the start of my trip on Monday afternoon. Earlier in the week a winter storm passed through the area and dropped about 8” of snow at our house. It took a couple of tries, using both the blade on the front of our lawn tractor and a motorized snow thrower, but we got it all cleaned off the driveway. The city finally made a pass down our street about Wednesday and made the street passable, but it took 4-wheel drive to climb up the hill  leading out of the neighborhood.

I kept an eye on the weather and as luck would have it, another big storm was due to hit Friday night and continue through Sunday. Unfortunately this time the weatherperson was right. A heavy, wet snow started falling late Friday night. Saturday morning we cleaned  6-8 inches of new snow off the driveway and it was still accumulating.  That afternoon I plowed another 2-3 inches and hoped for the best.

At about 7 pm I called the local cab company to set up a 5 am pick-up for a ride to the airport. They said that because of the snow, they weren’t taking reservations or making any promises. That wasn’t good. Time for plan B.

Musical Chairs

Our last flight back to Narita’s runway 16R found us landing at sunset with low clouds and gusting winds.  That night the weather front passed through the area and cleared out most of the clouds, but kept the winds howling. By 7 am the  next morning Narita had switched to runway 34L and  FedEx’s flight from Guangzhou was arriving.  You already know the rest of that story.

We were told to stand by at the hotel for word on a new departure time for our flight back to the U.S.  that had been scheduled for that afternoon.  It was initially estimated that the runway would be reopened some time that evening but at about 6 pm that night we were released from our stand-by status and given an estimated departure time of noon the following day.Singapore Airlines Airbus A-380 on departure from Narita, Japan. Our crew call came at the promised time the next morning and we made our way to the airport.  Our crew had been augmented with another first officer bringing the crew complement to four with the captain and his OE student. As we filled out our flight paperwork another captain walked up and introduced himself to the crew.  He was there to administer a line check to me.  Oh goody.  I passed the age of 60 a while back and part of the new rules that allow me to continue flying until age 65 is a requirement to receive a line check every 6 months. Apparently our company’s  training department is is scheduling the age 60 line checks every 4-6 months just to make sure that they don’t get caught not complying with the rules. I looked at the captain I had been flying with on this trip and asked him why he wasn’t administering the line check. If you remember, he was qualified as a check airman during this trip on our flight from Manila to Narita.  Our company had another flight leaving Narita which was flying directly back to the check airman’s home base and which was augmented with only one additional pilot. A fourth pilot would make that an easier flight.  The check airman called and rearranged his schedule, then left to join the other crew. We were back to semi-normal operations. I still had a line check to complete, but now it was being administered by the captain I had already been flying with for over a week.  For the line check I would have to be evaluated making either the take-off or the landing.  Since the captain still had an OE student, he wanted me to make the take-off and the new captain to make the landing. That put me in the right seat for the departure.

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