LAX to Hong Kong

Front EndIt was a cool and misty 4:00 am at the cargo complex at LAX airport. We all chatted on our way out to the awaiting 747 that we were to pilot half way across the globe. There were four of us pilots because it was such a long flight, with one captain and three first officers. Because of the strong headwinds across the Pacific, we wouldn’t be over much water on our way to Hong Kong because the flight was planned well North of the great circle route. After departure, we would head up toward Anchorage, and even pass overhead Mongolia before coming back East to Hong Kong. After taxiing out to the runway, we were cleared for takeoff. The toga buttons were pressed and the huge engines roared to life. As we lifted off the runway, I let out a small sigh as I looked at the computer generated time remaining. It read 15 hrs, 15 mins.
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Shelby Cobra

We had some pretty fancy cargo on my most recent flight from Anchorage to Hong Kong. Pictured is a Shelby Cobra, being transported from Los Angeles to somewhere in New Zealand. Someone certainly has an amazing toy, and lots of money to pay for us to transport it via air.

The dash is even signed by Carroll Shelby himself — wow! These cars are sold in the 2 to 5 Million dollar range.

Flying the 747-8

When the taxi instructions come down to us from the tower, I release the parking break. Even at just over 985,000 lbs, we start to roll forward; the mighty GEnx-2B67 engines are hungry to pull us forward and eager to power us into the dark and brooding Hong Kong night. I take my time in the turns and make them extra deep so that our 250 foot long frame will carefully round the corners of the taxiways. The cockpit is dark, still smelling like brand new leather and carpet, with just the dim glow of the LED screens in front of us showing the engine instruments and the flight path on departure. As I call for the before takeoff checklist, the captain reads from the front computer screen and ticks off the items one by one.

Huge and heavy, this machine of precision and power is easy to guide onto the runway. The clearance comes in over our headsets: “Cleared for takeoff.” I glance at my instruments, seeing the terrain display depicting the mountains off to our right as they sit unseen out the front windows in the darkness. The engine indications are all normal and the weight indicator shows that we are right at max takeoff weight: 985.0. With everything on the level, it is time to ride this rocket into the sky. I call for takeoff thrust and the captain “stands up” the thrust levers and then pushes the auto thrust switch to engage full power. Seconds pass with nothing; no changes, no sounds. The enormous and powerful, yet eerily quiet GE engines slowly come to life before calmly producing nearly 67,000 lbs of thrust each at max power. This mighty beast we sit atop charges down the runway for takeoff with the ease of a Sunday afternoon stroll, even when it is fully laden with cargo.

Passing our decision speed of 130 knots, the computer calls out “V1”. The captain removes his hands from the thrust levers as there is no aborting this now. Roughly ten seconds later, he calls “Rotate” and I guide the control column back into my lap as the nose starts to rise. Keeping the wings level, I pitch the nose for 12 degrees and wait — she’ll fly when she’s ready. We lift off the runway at a V2 speed of 180 knots as the lights of Hong Kong International blur past us in a hurry. Slowly and steadily, the lights of the airport melt away beneath us as we pull our way into the darkness. Gliding gracefully through the moonless dark air, we climb out at 350 knots all the way to our cruise altitude of 31,000 feet. Aboard Cathay Pacific’s newest 747 variant, the “-8,” it’s nine hours and fifteen minutes to Anchorage, and I’m looking forward to every minute of it . . .
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New 747-8 Simulator

Almost one year after receiving the real 747-8 aircraft, we finally have a simulator to actually train with. Our chief pilot says that it looks like something out of Star Wars, and I think he’s right. It certainly looks different than the older 747 sims that Cathay Pacific has. No one has flown this simulator yet, but when I do, I’ll update the blog as to what it is like.

Supposedly, it has a much better motion computer for better realism and feel, and upgraded graphics out the front windscreens. Even with great graphics, we almost always fly on instruments in the simulator with nothing to see out front but clouds. However, everyone once and a while we do visual approach training, and that ought to be fun with the new visuals and motion.
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Baby Cam

This past winter, the geek in me set up a couple ip cameras around the house so that when Laura and I were out, we could check in on what Gus was up to. I added another one so I could see the baby’s crib while in Hong Kong, and added a third in the living room for security.

They are neat, cheap little ip cameras from Foscam and when set up, I can view and hear live video on my computer or iPhone from anywhere in the world, in real time. They even come with motion sensors to take pictures of a burglar.
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Flyover

On Wednesday I headed back to work after a long stretch of time off after Kiley’s birth. It’s always tough to go back to work after being off so long, especially when work involves being gone so long. There was, however, a little silver lining on this first flight at work.

We were flying Cathay 095 from JFK to ORD (Chicago O’hare), but because there was so much weather in the Northeast, we were routed in a more southerly direction than we normally fly. Normally, we head North toward Buffalo. This re-route was given to us after we started taxiing out for takeoff, and would be the first of five we would be given before we got to Chicago! That’s a lot of changes, even for me, who has been flying in the area a long time.
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Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences has a strange way of winding its way back to biting us in the behind. Congress recently passed a “Bill of Rights” for passengers flying on commercial airliners in the United States. They deemed that any airline keeping passengers on board a flight for longer than three hours before taking off would be subject to huge fines. This sounds great, right? After all, no one wants to be stuck on an airplane for hours on end. Regulators love to regulate, and law makers love to write new laws. However, what sounds beneficial to passengers often has unintended consequences.

At the country’s largest and busiest airports, this law, and the avoidance of its fines, can often cause more problems and delays than if the rule didn’t exist. I was trying to get home to Columbus from JFK one stormy night, and the delays to push back off the gate were mounting up as flight departures were slowed due to the weather. After sitting onboard for around an hour at the gate, we were all told we had to deplane. Once in the terminal, not five minutes passed and we were told to board again. My guess is that Delta was trying to reset the three hour clock and avoid a potential for delay fees.
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2011 Annual Line Check


Every 12 months, all Cathay Pacific pilots undergo an evaluation, known as the annual line check. This isn’t some run of the mill check that takes just a few minutes, but more like a three or four flight evaluation that is exhaustive and rigorous. Most of us study for weeks before hand because it is so stressful. The sad part of this story is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Most air carriers, especially in North America, and more specifically the U.S., it’s isn’t that big of deal. However, at Cathay, it is made into a big deal, mostly because of the culture that runs through its veins. It is what it is. I deal with it and move on.

This year’s check had a very auspicious start.
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Xiamen and Shanghai

5:45 in the morning and this is our view of the sunrise over the South China Sea as we climb out of Hong Kong bound for Xiamen, China. After doing so many long flights, this one was a hurried and cramped hour that left both me and the captain feeling a bit rushed. At least the view was great. We delivered aircraft parts to Xiamen, as there are lots of aircraft maintenance facilities there and our own passenger-to-freighter conversions of the 747 are done there as well.
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Sneaky Marketing

Observation:

I’m sitting here at 31,000 feet on a Delta flight to JFK to start my 8-day trip for work. The friendly flight attendant (stewardess, air hostie, trolly dolly) stopped by and offered me peanuts and a Coke Zero. I was stunned to see my packages of peanuts. No longer does the little red package say something to the likes of “Salted nuts” or “Snack”. Printed on the package was an advertisement for the Hilton Garden Inn, and their airy soft beds with “Snooze Control.” Ads on the snacks? Hah! What will they think of next?

If there is a way to eek out a little profit anywhere on the aircraft, leave it to the cash strapped airlines to come up with an idea to capitalize on it. Delta’s latest profit announcement was pretty good, considering, and I’m glad to see them and others doing well. I do wonder what Hilton paid to put an ad on the peanut packages. I can see this in a few years: Behind the tray table in front of you will be a computer screen with rolling ads on it, all customized to you the way Google Adwords works — and they’ll know it’s you because you paid for your seat with a credit card or because the TSA did a ten year background check on you (and then sold that information to the airlines so the TSA can pay for some of it’s budget). It’s coming . . .

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