Monday, November 26, 2007

Buckle Up!!

I was fortunate enough to have a few days off over Thanksgiving but it was back to work as usual yesterday. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is typically the busiest travel day of the year and yesterday was no exception. The lines at the security checkpoints at DFW were jammed like never before. Most holiday travelers are not aware of all the latest rules and regulations concerning airline travel and they invariably slow down the security process. But that's just part of the airline experience! Fortunately the weather in Texas was decent and there were no delays throughout the day.

My trip today was a repeat of a trip I flew last month. DFW to Richmond to DFW and then Tulsa. Shortly after takeoff from DFW we started receiving reports from Air Traffic Control and other flights that the turbulence was bad at all altitudes. That was an understatement.....The chop was relentless all the way to Richmond. Much to their delight, the cabin crew had to remain in their seats for the majority of the flight. (They didn't have to do a drink service!) The turbulence finally ended shortly after we landed!

After landing I took a short walk next door to the general aviation ramp where there were a pair of F-18 Hornets parked. The one on the right is a trainer (two seats). The instructor pilot sits in the back seat. The student gets the front seat. The one on the left is a regular single seat fighter.

Nearby there was an old 1950's vintage Lockheed Lodestar that I had to check out. It appeared to be almost airworthy. There are very few of those left.

As I was walking back to the MD-80, an airport police cop came roaring up in his car with his lights flashing. He angrily stopped me and said that I had left the secure area of the commercial ramp and entered the general aviation side without permission. Apparently I had set off some sensors and the alarms were triggered and I caused a big stink! I told him who I was, what I was doing, showed him my ID and he started to calm down. He wrote down all my vital statistics just in case I was a terrorist. I hope I don't hear from the FAA about the incident. He wouldn't let me walk back alone so he gave me a ride in his car. He drove me right up to our jet with his lights still flashing and let me out on the ramp. I wonder what our passengers in the terminal who were looking through the windows were thinking!

Back to DFW and the same turbulence! Three hours worth. We tried changing altitudes from 20,000 ft all the way up to 34,000 ft with no luck. Just one of those days. We had a two hour break at DFW before the leg to Tulsa. I was hoping that the skies would be smooth by now but unfortunately it was even worse! It was only a 35 minute flight but that was way too long. There wasn't much talking going on in the van to the hotel...everyone was exhausted from the day's experience. The day was finally over...

The next day (today) had us flying from Tulsa to DFW, then to Denver and back to DFW. Fingers crossed for a good ride and luckily the skies were smooth today for all three legs. Parked on the ramp in Denver was an old Boeing 727 operated by Champion Air. All US commercial airlines quit operating 727's years ago. They were very fuel inefficient and required three pilots. Nowadays they are mostly operated by charter airlines and freight carriers.

Back to DFW from Denver and I shot a photo of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium being constructed in Arlington. We landed on the west side of the airport and made the long taxi over to the east side for an on time arrival.

Three days off now.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Boston Bound

Another early departure from DFW yesterday. Just a turnaround though...DFW to Boston and back in the same day. My copilot had already set up the cockpit for an originating flight and was having his Starbucks when I arrived to the airplane. Karl and I have flown together several times in the years past. He is a very senior first officer. He's the fourth most senior FO on the MD-80 in Dallas. That means he has about 20 years of experience in the right seat! He gets to pick and choose what trips he wants to fly and his choice is to fly only turnarounds so he can be home every night with his 4 kids and wife. His wife is a first officer with Delta Airlines and she commutes to fly out of Atlanta. So they both have to juggle their respective schedules to keep their family going strong. There is finally some movement among the pilot ranks nowadays and he expects to be going to captain training in the next few months.

We launched for Boston with only about 90 passengers but we were carrying a full load of fuel due to weather conditions in BOS. There was snow forecast for our arrival time and we had to carry enough fuel to make it to BOS and also to divert to New York or even Pittsburgh if necessary. Our dispatchers always keep a close eye on the weather and they prepare our flight plans for us as well as continuously monitor our flight progress. They always try to make sure we have enough fuel and anything else we might need. They are great babysitters. But it is always up to the captains to make the final decisions on everything about the flight.

Climbing up to 32,ooo ft over Oklahoma and the sun was just rising over the cloud deck. The next big cities we would overfly would be St Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Buffalo and then Albany. The clouds were solid the entire way and we never even saw the ground. Sure enough, the snow was falling in Boston and we had to make an instrument approach to runway 22L. The visibility was pretty low at just under 1 mile and the ceiling was just under 1000 ft. I made a decent landing with no damage to the airplane and we taxied in for an on time arrival.

There were several flights that were being de-iced there. The photo above shows an American Boeing 757 getting de-iced before departure. The plane apparently had been parked for awhile and had accumulated some snow and ice and that stuff has to be removed before takeoff. Anything like that on the wing and tail surfaces can destroy the lift and the airplane won't be able to fly as well or maybe even not at all if there is too much contamination. So that's why it's very important to get de-iced before takeoff. Once airborne, the airplane has it's own systems to keep the ice from forming on all the lifting surfaces.

We boarded a full flight for the return to DFW. Lots of kids going to Grandmas house for the big Thanksgiving feast! The air traffic controllers at Boston Logan were doing a nice job of directing traffic considering the lousy conditions on the ground. Takeoff was from runway 15R right after an MD-80 took off from an intersecting runway. You can barely make it out in the photo.

Karl flew the leg back to DFW. This time we flew over New York City, Philadelphia, Charleston WV, Memphis, and then Little Rock. Once again we never saw the ground the entire way. It was 83 degrees at DFW when Karl made his customary perfect landing. Much nicer than snowy Boston.

Now for a few days off and some good food!!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Thank You For Our Soldiers

As I mentioned before, our hotel in Minneapolis was very close to the airport but it was also very close to a mall. But not just any old mall...It was the Mall of America!!! It is the largest mall in the United States and it is really BIG. It even has an amusement park built right inside. The weather was nice so I walked over there from the hotel to have some lunch and spend some time exploring the enormous place. The holiday shoppers seemed to be out in force even though it was a weekday. It was packed!

Back to the hotel and a short drive to the airport and soon we were flying south to Texas again. The sun was setting as we ate our crew meals. The pilots usually eat the same meals that the first class passengers get.

I shot this photo of the sunset with a contrail nearby. A contrail or "condensation trail" is formed at high altitudes when the air is very cold and the hot exhaust from the engines meets the cold moist air. Sometimes a cloud is formed and can linger all day long if the conditions are just right. It's similar to in the winter when you can see your breath when it's very cold outside.

Back at DFW I was getting our flight plan ready to go to Nashville and I noticed a large group of soldiers at our gate. There must have been about 30 of them. I went over and asked a couple of them what they were doing on our flight. They said that they were flying on our airline to Nashville and then boarding a bus to go to Ft Campbell, Kentucky and then boarding a military charter jet to Iraq. They would be traveling for over 24 hours straight! I welcomed them aboard but personally felt bad for them knowing that they were heading to war over the upcoming holidays. Once on the plane I made a PA to the passengers about the soldiers being on board, what their mission was that night and thanking them for their service and hoping that they would soon return home. That brought a huge round of applause from all the regular passengers! Later inflight, a gentleman passenger asked if he could buy them all a beer but the flight attendants had already seen to it that the soldiers would receive anything they wanted at no charge. It was a nice gesture on his part.

We made it to Nashville on time and spent a short night at a nearby hotel. Up early the next morning and 3 legs were in store for the day. Nashville to DFW, then San Antonio and back to DFW. Nothing special to report for those 3 legs....just a routine day at the office.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Heading North

With all the news these days about air traffic control and weather delays, yesterday would end up being a good example of just those issues.

The day's trip was from DFW to LGA (New York La Guardia) and then on to MSP (Minneapolis - St Paul). New York was having problems with low ceilings and wind. To begin with, LGA is very limited in that whenever there is too much wind, all the arrivals and departures have to use the same runway. It is a very small airport and the runways are extra short. Yesterday they were having that very problem and the Air Traffic Control system was backed up.

We were carrying some mail to New York. It gets loaded in small boxes and then put in the cargo compartments along with your luggage.

The leg from DFW to LGA was delayed by two hours. ATC (Air Traffic Control) imposed what we call a "wheels up" time for our flight and every other flight going to New York from all other parts of the country. The idea is to sequence all the flights so as not to have to make them do any airborne holding. It's much less expensive for an airline to hold a flight at it's departure city rather than to have it holding in the air. Much less fuel is consumed that way.

We pushed back from the gate about an hour late and had to spend the other hour parked in between runways at DFW while awaiting our clearance to takeoff from ATC. It gave a us a good view of one of the arrival runways and I had the opportunity to get some photos.

The flight to LGA went well except for some further enroute delays by ATC. With about one hour remaining in the flight, they slowed us down considerably and we even had to do some brief holding. Then during the descent we encountered some very significant turbulence and had to slow down even more. But by the time we made the approach and landing, the weather was pretty good. New York was clear by then and the arrival over New York harbor at night was quite a sight.

The photo you see below is of the control tower at LGA. Kind of an art-deco look to it. During March they light it up with green lights for St Patrick's Day.

LGA was busy as usual but the ground crew quickly got us unloaded and then loaded up again for Minnesota and away we went again. The routing took us up over northwestern New York state, then over Toronto, northern Michigan, Green Bay and then finally a smooth descent over a clear St Paul and then the landing in Minneapolis. Our flight attendants were scheduled for a very short layover (8 hours), and our hotel van was nowhere in sight so I called a couple of taxis to take us to our hotel. $18 for a 2 mile ride per taxi!! The hotel paid for it though. Time to go to bed now...

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Having to spend the night at a DFW hotel was a new experience since I live in the DFW area. I could have gone home last night but the drive is pretty far and I would have had to return to the airport during the morning rush hour. So I chose to stay at the hotel that was provided for me.

We were supposed to spend last night in Memphis and return this morning but that all got canceled yesterday.

The remainder of the trip was from DFW to ELP (El Paso) and then back to DFW. So we just picked up the rest of the trip this morning at DFW.

The flights over to ELP and back were routine. On the descent in to ELP we got
a good view of Guadalupe peak. It is the highest point in the state of Texas. Back to DFW by early afternoon and a smooth landing on one of the west side runways at DFW. The taxi in to the gate was behind a US Airways Airbus. It was a former America West Airlines airplane. You can tell by the registration number on the side of the airplane. The last two letters are AW (America West).

Thanks for reading.

Another Day of Delays

Yesterday Nov 12th was to be a very long day with five legs totaling nearly 8 hours of flying. On the drive in to work, the news stations were reporting that a major freeway was closed south of Ft Worth due to a bad wreck. I was sure glad I wasn't on that freeway! I was signed in and already in the cockpit with 20 minutes to pushback and still the first officer was nowhere to be found. Then I called our dispatcher and he relayed to me that the FO was stuck in traffic on that very freeway!! He finally arrived about 30 minutes after scheduled departure time and we were finally moving.

The first leg was from DFW to ABQ (Albuquerque). We flew through an approaching cold front and that made for a very bumpy ride all the way to ABQ. Same thing on the next leg back to DFW. The next leg would take us from DFW to SAT (San Antonio). We were almost back on schedule by the time we reached SAT. On the way to SAT we experienced some difficulties with the ailerons and decided to have the maintenance people take a look at the problem. (The ailerons are the small flight controls on the ends of the wings that move up and down and their function is to bank the aircraft left and right.) The mechanics couldn't find any problem with them and released the aircraft for service. I wasn't satisfied and refused the aircraft and ultimately the flight back to DFW was canceled. The previous flight from SAT to DFW had also canceled so the gate agents weren't too happy about the situation. Three hours passed before our scheduling people finally decided to send us back to DFW and spend the night there.

We saw an Air Force C-17 cargo jet land while we were waiting.

We eventually deadheaded on a late flight from SAT back to DFW. Deadheading is when airline crew members ride as passengers in the cabin. I had to sit in the very last row between the loud engines!!!

The last leg of the day was to be from DFW to Memphis but that was canceled also so the scheduling people decided to send us to a hotel right near DFW and have us nearby for the remainder of the trip the next day. It wasn't a real good day......

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 9, 2007

A Long Day

My hotel room in Portland overlooked one of the main streets in downtown and at 3:30 in the morning I was awakened by a street-sweeper followed by a garbage truck doing the morning rounds. Our pick up time from the hotel was just before 8:00 AM and the driver was right on time. Most of the time the hotels provide the transportation but today it was a contracted service. The drive to the airport took a few minutes extra due to heavy morning fog.

Todays flying was scheduled for Portland to DFW, then on to IND (Indianapolis) and then back to DFW. This was to be a very long day. Pilots are only allowed to be scheduled for up to 8 hours of flying in one day and today was right at 8 hours.

We launched with a full plane for DFW right after this Alaska Airlines MD-80 landed.

The climb to the East was out over the Columbia River again and then a slight turn to the Southeast and a nice view of Mt Hood from my window. Boise, Salt Lake City, Grand Junction and Amarillo were the bigger cities we would overfly.

Three hours later we were in Texas again and loading another full flight to Indianapolis. On this leg we had a pilot from another airline riding in the cockpit with us. Pilots are afforded this privilege between many airlines at no cost. He had just arrived from Kuwait and was heading back to his home in Indiana. His airline has a government contract to carry our troops back and forth from the Middle East. Every day at DFW we see many soldiers either on their way home for a short leave or on their way back to the desert. Whenever we have any of them on our flights, our agents will do everything possible to provide them with a first class seat.

A routine flight to IND and back and the day was finally over. Now for 3 days off!!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Another Early Day

Sign-in Wednesday Nov 7th was at 5:45 AM. So that meant getting up at just before 4:00 AM for the long drive to work. At least there's not much traffic at that hour.

The day's flying was from DFW to ORD (Chicago) and then on to PDX (Portland, Oregon). The flight was full of mostly business people to Chicago. Very smooth flying conditions, good weather, and no delays made for an early arrival at ORD. When the skies are turbulent, we sometimes have to slow down to make the ride more bearable. In many cases we have to change altitudes in the search for a smoother ride.

We kept the same plane for the PDX leg. It was full also. The weather in Portland was calling for fog at our arrival time so we had to carry extra fuel just in case we would have to divert to another city with better weather. So we were extra heavy departing Chicago. So heavy in fact that we had to request the longest runway for takeoff. Chicago rarely uses their longest runway so we had to accept a lengthy delay in order to use that runway. Chicago is one of the world's busiest airports and we had to wait our turn and be sequenced in among all the other departures that were using the other runways. On the way out to that runway we passed by the international terminal and could see a Japan Airlines Boeing 747 and a Korean Airlines Boeing 777 at their gates.

35 minutes after pushing back from the gate we took off for PDX. A China Airlines 747 took off right behind us bound for Anchorage, Alaska.

Enroute to Portland we passed over the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and the town of Jackson Hole.

The weather in Portland was slowly improving and by the time we started our descent four hours after takeoff, the fog had lifted and we were able to plan for a visual approach and landing. The arrival routing took us right by Mt. Hood just East of Portland. After passing Mt. Hood we descended along the Columbia River and then made a 180 degree turn and landed to the East on runway 10R(Right).

My co-pilot and I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around downtown and enjoying the nice day in the city. An early dinner and back to the hotel to rest up for the next day.

Thanks for reading

Monday, November 5, 2007

No More Daylight Savings Time

I was up early on Sunday morning Nov 4th for a two day trip. DFW to RIC (Richmond Virginia) to DFW and then on to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The sun was coming up extra early due to everyone's clocks being moved back one hour. As the sun was rising , I spotted this Lufthansa Cargo MD-11 taxiing out for takeoff on runway 17R at DFW as I arrived at the employee parking lot. They were headed for Mexico City.

The flight to RIC was fairly light....only about 90 passengers. The catering people apparently goofed up the first class meals and catered about 30 cheese omelettes for the 7 first class passengers. So the entire crew had cheese omelettes for breakfast. An MD-80 crew usually consists of two pilots and three flight attendants. And as is the case nowadays, the coach passengers get no food at all....just sodas, juice, etc.

A full flight back to DFW and then a two hour break for us pilots. The flight attendants went on to another city and we would get a new cabin crew on the next leg. The two hour break was spent in our flight operations in front of the tv watching the Sunday football games. Then a train ride to a new gate and soon it was off to Tulsa with another full airplane. We landed at 6:00 PM and it was already dark.

A short night at the hotel and an extremely early departure from Tulsa bound for DFW was the plan for today Nov 5th. The departure from TUL was delayed about 20 minutes for an Auxiliary Gyro INOP warning light. The MD-80 has numerous gyros that are used for flying while on instruments. They power the instruments that look like small horizons directly in front of the pilots on the instrument panel. This is how the pilots fly in the clouds when they can't see outside. The gyros tell us when we are descending or climbing, banking, or just plain straight and level. They must work or we don't go. The mechanics resolved the problem and off we went.

Taxiing out from DFW we watched this unmarked Boeing 747 freighter taking off. It took off very quickly with only a minimal takeoff roll so it must have been lightly loaded. Denver was nice and sunny and the agents were very helpful in getting us back on schedule. We followed a Southwest Boeing 737 in their old colors out to runway 08 and launched for DFW.

Back on schedule and home to DFW by 12:30 PM. One day off and I'll be back at it this coming Wednesday.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Day of Delays

Yesterday did not go too well. We arrived at the airport in MCI only to find no airplane. The inbound flight was delayed from DFW due to an autopilot problem. We left MCI bound for DFW about 30 minutes late. The photo is of the MCI airport shortly after takeoff heading South.

We arrived at DFW and kept the same plane and soon began boarding for the leg to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was a full flight...140 passengers. Right before the agent was set to close the door, a baggage handler notified us that there was a tear in the liner of the aft cargo compartment. This was bad...very bad. Each cargo compartment is a contained area that has built in fire extinguishers. If the liner has a tear or a even a small hole in it, the compartment is compromised and has to be repaired. So the choice was to either repair it or find a different airplane. Either option would take about one hour. The end result was a different airplane that was parked at the most distant terminal from where we were. As I made the PA to the passengers about the situation and that it would be at least another hour before departure, I could hear the groans and moans from the cabin. Everyone got off the plane and began the trek over to the other terminal. Fortunately the new plane had no problems but it took another hour before the cargo people and the catering people could unload the old plane and get it over to the new one. So we finally were on our way just over two hours late.

On the taxi out we passed the international terminal at DFW. All the American Airlines widebody jets were being prepared for their afternoon flights to Europe and beyond. You can see two Boeing 777's and a 767 at their gates.

The flight to Cabo went well. No bad weather and a smooth ride. The photo shows the Eastern coast of Baja California as we descended for Cabo. Kind of hot there....96 degrees! After landing I made a quick trip to the duty free store and bought a bottle of Tequila for future consumption. Crew members are allowed to bring in to the USA only one bottle per trip.

A quick fuel up and boarding of only 25 passengers and we were heading for DFW. 37,000 ft all the way and back to base in just over two hours. A trip through Customs and Immigration, dropped off my flight case, a ride on the employee bus to the parking lot and then I was finally headed home. Two days off and then another trip this coming Sunday.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Yesterday's Halloween travels were quick and easy. After most of the day at the hotel in Tulsa, my FO and I loaded up in the hotel shuttle and rode out to the airport for two quick legs. TUL to ORD (Chicago O'Hare) to MCI (Kansas City). After the taxi out behind a Southwest Boeing 737, we quickly climbed up to our cruise altitude.

We wolfed down our dinner at 37,000 ft and soon it was time to land.
The weather was still great in the midwest and the arrival at ORD was uneventful. The visibility was perfect and I have uploaded a night view of downtown Chicago although it's slightly blurry.

We kept the same plane and headed for MCI after boarding a full load of passengers. In bed by 11:00 PM this time. More to come tomorrow including a trip to Mexico.

Thanks for reading.....Len