Around the Pattern

Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

Tag: airline flying (Page 4 of 6)

Can Flying be Routine?

If you are really a ‘flying nut’, can flying ever really get to be routine? I don’t think so, even though I used that phrase in my last post.

As the junior member of the crew on the flight back to the U.S., I drew the first break. On long-haul flights with aircraft that have two required crew members, there must be one additional pilot for flights over 8 hours and two additional pilots for flights over 12 hours. Although our flight was scheduled for 11:45, we were lucky enough to have four pilots, so we could split the flight time in half.

As I lay in the bunk trying to fall asleep, my mind reran the last post I made and settled in on that ‘routine’ phrase. I’ve been flying professionally for about 40 years, twenty in the milary and now 19, so far, with this carrier, but when I really stop and think about it, I am amazed that I continue to get paid to do something that I really love to do. Flying is inside of me and will always be part of what I do, whether it is for pay or for fun.

Having napped, read and napped my way through the first half of the flight, I entered the flight deck to begin my flight duty and I was greeted with this sight. Mt. McKinley (Denali), Alaska

We were just NE of Anchorage at FL350. The sun was hiding just over the horizon and there was a layer of clouds below us with mountains poking up through them. The tall peak is Mt McKinley.

Normally the flight west-to-east is spent at least half in the dark. We take off at about 3 pm in Japan and land at about 3 pm in the U.S. This time of year, as the summer solstice approaches, the sun just barely disappears behind the horizon and twilight remains. The sun was rising again about a half hour after the photo was taken.

Sometimes you sit there at cruise altitude, making the occasional radio call and checking your fuel status and navigation progress and feel sort of bored. Then you get a view like this, one that only somebody who is flying can see, and you remember one of the reasons why you like aviation so much.

Flying may occasionally develop into a routine, but flying is never routine.

Enroute to Japan Again

My overnight in the U.S. was a quick one. Some work on the computer, a nice dinner and then a short 12-hour nap. Boy, did I need that.

But now we’re back in Japan again. The flight was fairly routine and 11:38 gate to gate, just 21 minutes longer than the westbound crossing thanks to light winds on our route. Alaska mountains near Yakutat.Glacier Fed Lake near Yakutat, AlaskaMost of the flight time was spent looking down on a solid cloud deck, but every once in a while Mountains would poke up through the clouds or we would get a good view of the terrain below us.

Our route took us directly over Anchorage and, miraculously, the clouds allowed a few good shots of the city, though a little haze washed out the colors. We were cruising at FL350 by that time.

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Shanghai and Back

Weather map for flight Tokyo-Shanghai.

The second leg of our trip was a soggy night flight from Tokyo to Shanghai. Typhoon Halong was moving from it’s visit in the Philippines toward Japan. The outer edges of the storms were approaching our area and the clouds were building and turning darker as we rode the bus to the airport. After we finished our duties in the flight planning room, I hurried to the airplane, dropped off my bags, grabbed my flashlight and headed out to do the exterior inspection as soon as I could. As I walked around looking at all the usual suspects, I could feel a mist-like rain falling. I finished up my duties outside and returned to the cockpit flight deck to finish my preflight and get ready for the departure. Twenty minutes later it was raining so hard that it was difficult to see the end of the terminal. That quick turnaround to outside had been one if my better decisions.

Since we were fairly light on gas with only a 3:30 flight time, we climbed right up to FL380 for the first portion of the trip. The climb was in light to moderate rain and light to moderate turbulence until about FL300. We made good use of the onboard weather radar and the controllers were willing to give ‘deviations as necessary’ for weather avoidance. By the time we reached the western coast of Japan, we were in the clear and stayed that way for the remainder of the flight.

As you cross form Japanese to Chinese control, your assigned altitude changes from a flight level in feet to one in meters. So, you switch from setting 38,000′ in the altitude select window to setting 38,100′ which equates to 11,600 meters. Then you have to refer to enroute and approach charts to convert the assigned meter altitudes to equivalent feet for climbs and descents. Luckily this plane has a ‘meters button’ that adds an additional window on the altitude tape and shows the meter equivalent. It’s just a habit and a good crosscheck to look at the conversion chart as a backup. Just the first level of complexity added to a flight into China.

The second level has to do with the radio. English may be the established language for aviation, but the Chinese comply only as necessary. As you gain experience flying you consciously or unconsciously develop a three-dimensional picture of where other aircraft are in your area by listening to the controller give directions and altitude to the other pilots. TCAS displays add more information to the picture and confirm what you have probably already learned from the radio calls for aircraft within the display parameters. Unless you understand Chinese, however, you won’t have that ability when flying in Chinese airspace. The controllers will speak English to non-Chinese aircraft, but all other traffic is directed in Chinese. The ATIS broadcast is also given in both languages rather than just in English. It just takes longer for the information to come around again if you miss something the first time through the recording.

On the Jeppesen Tokyo, Japan H/L Area chart (p. 10-1) there is a circle around some brown-shaded terrain to the west-southwest of Tokyo. The note says that aircraft operating IFR must maintain FL160 (the transition altitude in Japan is 14,000 ft.) or higher for terrain clearance. Inside the darkest area of the circle is a dot and the notation Mt. Fuji, 12,388′. It’s sort of hard to miss.Japan's Mt. Fuji

Overall, the flights went well, the layover was enjoyable… the simple pleasures of a comfortable bed and a good air conditioner. The return flight went on schedule in clear skies on both ends, the typhoon having moved off to the northeast while we were out of town.

Tomorrow we head back to the US for a night. Three more long legs in this trip and then I head home.

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