Taipei and Frisco

This is a great YouTube video of a camera strapped to the back of the nosewheel of a 747 as they make a takeoff and landing. About halfway through the show, the pilots bring the nosewheel down and fly around a bit before lowering the rest of the gear. It makes for great cinema, but leaves me wondering how they brought just the nosewheel down by itself (normally it comes down along with all the other main gear). Enjoy.

I just got back from my electrifyingly long 11 day trip — the one that started the day I got back from vacation. It was long because I was able to do a local trip from Hong Kong to Taipei and back. It was scheduled as some recurrent training and I did well. From Hong Kong, Taipei is only about an hour flight and we left in the evening, stayed briefly overnight and then made the first flight back to Hong Kong in the morning. I had an awesome landing in TPE, but hey, even a broken watch is right twice a day. We were floating, floating, then rolling, rolling. When the sound of the speedbrake lever moving back under its auto function is the signal the main wheels are on the ground, it’s a good one.
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TSA logo contest

Sick and tired of the farce we call the TSA at the airport security lines? Some are calling for a contest to design a new logo for the organization that needlessly hassles anyone who flies in the U.S. Click on the logo above to see more of the submissions. The one above is great, as it is a depiction of an Eagle clutching a tube of toothpaste in one talon and a box-cutter in the other. It is designed by Travis McHale. My favorite is the one with the attack dogs mauling an innocent passenger. (Note: not all are kid friendly)

You can read more about the farcical TSA in Patrick Smith’s weekly column at Ask The Pilot. He, like me, is an airline pilot who has to deal with the “security” all the time.

Manilla and Shanghai

I just finished a trip that took me over to Hong Kong, then round trips to both Manilla and Shanghai, and then back to the U.S. It was a long eleven days, but it was very nice to fly to two different cities out of Hong Kong; places I don’t normally go. I hadn’t been to the Philippine capital since training, and I have never been to mainland China.

The routes that I normally fly are freighter routes, but these two trips were passenger routes. I also haven’t flown passengers since training, and that was a blast. I had to remember to talk to the cabin crew over the P.A., think a little more closely about the seatbelt sign, and definitely had to hope for better landings than the ones the freight boxes enjoy. The freighter is nice because if you want a cup of coffee or something to eat you just get up and get it, without bothering a flight attendant with your request. However, the flying seems a little bit more satisfying when you have 399 people (379 + 20 crew) counting on you for a safe flight.
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Frontier + Midwest

There has been another airline merger, albeit not as major or significant as the recent United/Continental deal. My former employer, Chautauqua Airlines, has a parent company known as Republic Airways Holdings. RAH runs Chautauqua Airlines, Shuttle America Airlines, and Republic Airlines. These three are regional jet operators. A few months ago, they bought Frontier Airlines out of Denver, and Midwest Express Airlines out of Milwaukee. So now, RAH is running 5 airlines!

Midwest was in trouble for a lot of reasons but RAH is turning them around. They gave back Midwest’s larger Boeing 717 aircraft and have replaced them with Embraer 190 aircraft, which are smaller and less expensive to operate. Then Frontier was purchased and will be merged with Midwest Express. The new airline will be under the Frontier brand and paint scheme, but the famous, warm chocolate chip cookies served on Midwest Express will remain!

Now, Republic Airways Holdings runs three regional operators and one “major” airline. I wish them all luck and hope they succeed. It’s very tough to run airlines in today’s economy. The CEO has said that mistakes will be made along the way but they will work as hard as they can to make it all work out. I say good for them. I’m glad all this happened after I left for Cathay Pacific, or I may have never left the airline.

Atlanta to Vancouver

On the same trip that I lost my iPod and Bose noise canceling headsets, I got to fly from Atlanta to Vancouver. I had never flown this route before, and though I had flown in and out of ATL many times in the past, I’d never flown the queen of the skies, the 747, in or out of Georgia’s capital. The captain and I had an early wake-up call, at 04:10, but when getting to the aircraft, there was a last minute maintenance issue that caused a three hour delay. We both wished we could have slept for three more hours that morning.

During the delay, the sun was coming up so I went on my own little “walkabout” with my Canon S90. All airline pilots do an exterior inspection prior to each flight, known as a walk around. To me, it sounds a little like the Australian version of an adventure, called a walkabout. Walk arounds are much more dull than walkabouts unless some major technical problem is found. Even so, I use the time to admire the amazing aircraft I fly, the 747-400. As eloquent a description of the 747 as I’ve ever read, Barry Lopez compares the aircraft to a gothic cathedral, describing it with, “Standing on the main deck, where ‘nave’ meets ‘transept,’ and looking up toward the pilots’ ‘chancel’ . . . The machine was magnificent, beautiful, complex as an insoluble murmur of quadratic equations.” Amazing. I love this machine and she truly is the “Queen of the skies.”
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Sweet Cargo

A few days ago, I pulled up to the aircraft in JFK to fly to Anchorage.  The 747 was dwarfing this little red machine sitting on the ramp next to it.  That little red machine was cargo destined for Hong Kong and pretty sweet machine it was. A Ferrari F40! The other crew members and I couldn’t tell what year it was made, but the production years were from 1987-1992. When new, these hot little things sold for just under a half million bucks.

When driving around town, I often see these stupid, jazzed up Honda Civics that have a fat exhaust pipe and spoiler (in case the rear end wants to lift up at high speeds — whatever!) This Ferrari actually needs the spoiler, when ground speeds easily exceed 200 mph (321 kph). This was a racing version of the car, which came with a spartan interior, racing seats, no air conditioning or glove box, and racing dials for engine gauges.
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United + Continental = Unental?

It’s happened. Another airline merger that will create the largest airline in the world. Just a few years ago when the merger frenzy started, American took over TWA, chopped it up, spat it out, decimated St. Louis, and came out the other side as the largest airline in the world. Then, the shambles we all called USAirways was taken over by America West and even though it didn’t make the new largest airline in the world, smart management saved both airlines from going under. Then Delta and Northworst merged, and, you guessed it, we had a new world’s largest airline! Not to be left out and out done, United and Continental merged today. Do they now form the largest airline in the world? Yes, dear readers they do. “No way!” you say. The trend continues.
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The checks keep coming!

It seems like training never ends at work. I had a sim check in September, then a line check in January, and now another sim check in March. Because we take a simulator check ever six months and because my annual line check falls right in-between them, I get a stressful and hectic six months, from September to March. But, now that I’ve passed my most recent sim check, I’m free until September again. Yay!

My sim partner captain was a really good guy and we had flown together before, and our check captain was very nice as well. We learned a lot this time around and the checkride went very smoothly. They are always stressful, but in a strange way, it’s actually good that they are because it forces me to study hard. I always over prepare and that helps me sleep well at night. However, I aways learn something new, because no one ever has a perfect checkride — there is always something that could be done better. Most of the time, checkrides are humbling experiences where we make lots of mistakes, but learn from them. Part of the reason for that is because we almost never have emergencies in the real world, so dealing with them twice in six months helps to knock off the rust. Also, because it’s a check, I always make dumb, nervous mistakes that I normally wouldn’t do, simply because of the stress. However, the checkers know this and take that into account.

All in all, it feels good to be be able to pay the mortgage for six more months and have that behind me. That is, until September, and I get to start it all over again.

First line check

I passed my first line check at Cathay Pacific, and am good to go for another year. Airline pilots have lots of recurrent checks and training during their career. At Cathay, we have two simulator checkrides a year (every six months) and an annual line check. These three checks are the cause of many sleepless nights, heartburn, stress, and angst amongst most pilots. Especially at Cathay, the checks are taken quite seriously. At other airlines, sometimes the checks aren’t too stressful as there isn’t much jeopardy in the grading of the recurrent checkrides. At my last job, I knew the aircraft and the operation quite well, and the checkrides were no big deal, but since I’ve moved on to Cathay, it’s a whole other story. I’m newer, don’t fly as much, and have a lot more to think about compared to my last job.
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Anchorage to Hong Kong: the Western Way

Khabarovsk (UHHH) was cold and quiet. At five in the morning, there still wasn’t a lot of activity on it’s streets. As the sun was still beyond the horizon, the deep blue sky in it’s predawn light made things look even colder in this Russian town. Snow blanketed the entire landscape, and at this early hour, it was hard to tell where the deep blue of the sky ended and the cold blue ice on the ground began. A few amber sodium-vapor lights shown out from the cold darkness to reveal that life does indeed exist out here on the western plain. Life during the winter months has to be tough in a city like this, at least it would be for a Texas boy like me. On this cold, hard day north of the Chinese border, I’ll have to resign to simply imagining what lies ahead this work day for the inhabitants of Khabarovsk.

As our 747-400ERF pressed on at 38,100 feet, (or 11,600 meters due to being in Russian airspace) I’m sure we looked like a silent glint, slowly passing high overhead. As so often is the case, I wonder what is going on down there in the cities and towns we pass by so quickly, at nearly 9 miles a minute. Can they hear us or see us? Are they getting ready to head out to work? What kind of jobs exist in a city like this? Have they ever ventured as far as Moscow or even Europe? Have they heard of God’s grace? How do they deal with the bitter cold? Will I ever get to visit this city and see it from the ground, where I can connect with locals and truly take in the culture?
I was excited about this most recent trip across the Pacific, traveling from Anchorage to Hong Kong, because we were taking a more Western route, one that I had never been on before. As this route plot will show, (click on it to see it larger) instead of staying off the Eastern coast of Japan like I typically have in the past, we headed inland over Eastern Russia and China. The perfectly straight line on the map is the great circle route, and the zigzag line is the route we actually planned on flying. We try to stay as close to the great circle route as possible, because it is the most direct path. However, airspace restrictions, air traffic control restrictions, restrictions that force us to stay somewhat close to alternate airfields, and depending on the upper level winds, we often have to deviate from the “perfect path.” Because of this, we crossed over Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Harbin, Beijing, and actually approached Hong Kong from the West. It seems odd to approach Hong Kong from the West, like flights do from Europe, but that is the way things often happen with the high winter winds.

This trip included a great crew, but also a chance to look down and see things I have never seen before. We could clearly see the border between Russia and China — a river, that to the south supplies water to thousands of small Chinese farm plots. Odd rectangle after odd rectangle littered the ground like an uneven checkerboard that extended hundreds of miles. North of Harbin, (pronounced Har-been) China, I wondered how these farmers lived, especially in the cold winter months. Do they have cars and drive to Harbin? Do they only live with cattle and donkeys? How can there be so many individual family plots so close together? I’ll have to visit someday to find out. To the North of the river was mother Russia. The landscape there was stark and bleak. There weren’t any farm plots and there wasn’t much of an organized look to the landscape. The soil may not have been conducive to farming, or people found work in the cities instead.
As the miles ticked off further South, we crossed over Harbin. It is renowned for the winter ice show that is put on there every year. Click this link to see more photos of this amazing event. This isn’t anything like what is seen in other parts of the world, but a huge production that takes months to plan and put together. Blocks of ice are cut out of a river and hauled to a central local where huge ice sculptures are made, like castles and such, and then lights are placed inside of the ice. At night, it’s a sight to be seen. Farther south was the huge city of Beijing and the Great Wall. Clouds came in, so I wasn’t able to see the wall, but I’ve heard it’s quite the sight as well. Also unseen, but flown over, is this tower in Guangzhou, where engineers are building the second tallest metal tower on Earth.

Approaching Hong Kong from the West, heading Southeast, means the Sierra arrival. It can be a bit tricky to fly because it leaves you high as you fly over Macau’s airport and then controllers can give you a quick descent clearance and point us toward the airport. As my Australian friends like to say, you can get “caught out” by being too high to get down in time. It’s a lot like arrivals into JFK, where sometimes you get slam-dunked down, and other times you go way out and then way back in to the airport with a gradual descent. Murphy’s law says that if you plan on a quick descent, you’ll get the slow one, and if you hope to get the slow descent, that is when controllers point you at the runway and clear you to descend 15,000 feet, and do it quickly. The 747 is a beautiful machine, but when we are heavy, it takes a lot of work to get it to slow and descend at the same time. As soon as we plan ahead, ATC has a different idea.

This was a good trip because I got to see a lot of new things. Aviation is all about routine and getting things to be as mundane as possible, so that we are ready if anything should happen. However, sometimes, breaking things up a bit and seeing new things is good for the soul and the aviator in all of us. People often ask me how I don’t get bored on these long flights. Honestly, there is too much to do to get bored, however, boring can be a good thing, because it means emergencies aren’t happening! On this trip, breaking through the routine proved to make for quite a fun trip.