Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The West Is Best

In a previous post I talked about the great sightseeing opportunities when flying in the southwestern United States. A recent trip of mine was no exception.

I learned to fly in the small border town of Douglas, Arizona. One of my first cross country flights was up to Tucson and back. I can remember having to wait for takeoff so a bunch of A-7 Corsairs from the Arizona Air Guard could land.
A recent trip took us to TUS. Once again we had to wait for the Air Guard guys. But now they have upgraded to F-16's.

The ground crews at Southwest Airlines are showing their Arizona spirit with their tractor painted up like the state flag.

Not long after launching back to DFW, we spotted this fire in the hills just east of Tucson. The amazing thing about the photo is the cloud that has formed above the fire. The heat was apparently so intense that it formed it's own little weather system.

The next day would take us out to Palm Springs. A visual approach (as always) was made to runway 31. Just off the left out of the photo is a ridge of large mountains. You have to hug the ridge in order to set up for final approach to the runway.

Mt San Jacinto lies behind the tail. A missed approach off of runway 31 requires a right turnout. A left turn would be trouble!

Our routing back to DFW took us well north of course over southern Utah for some weather avoidance. Here's a shot of a canyon the Colorado River has carved out in Utah.

And finally another great southwestern sunset was in store. We took off from DFW and chased this sunset for almost one hour as we cruised westward towards Phoenix.

The West is Best!

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Just When The Going Was Good......

The oil crisis has been hitting AA especially hard. Just yesterday they announced a huge reduction in our flying for later this year as well as the accelerated retirement of numerous MD-80 aircraft and even some A-300's that are widely used in the Caribbean.

This will undoubtedly lead to huge furloughs among the employee groups. Just when many of our pilots were beginning to be recalled from furlough, they will probably be getting pink slips before too long.

Despite all the negative publicity about the poor service from the nations airlines, we continue to see full flights this year. I haven't seen a flight with less than a 75% load factor in a long time. It's hard to believe that we're still losing money with loads like this, but apparently the price of a ticket is still way too low to cover the direct operating cost of getting people from point A to point B.

But life goes on and the airline must continue to move the paying public. This weeks flying for me included a trip out to Fresno. It was a Sunday and ATC gave us a nice shortcut directly over Edwards Air Force Base. This is restricted airspace but today we were allowed to pass through it without the fear of an FAA violation.
The dry lake bed next to the base is Rogers Lake and has been used extensively over the years for many test aircraft including the space shuttle.

Next we passed over Mojave airport. Burt Rutan has been based here for many years and he and his company Scaled Composites have produced some of the most exceptional experimental aircraft ever built here. Mojave is also a graveyard for many old airliners. They come here to be scrapped after living out their lives with the airlines. I'm sure our MD-80 we were flying this day didn't appreciate us flying so close to it's eventual cemetery!

The departure from Fresno took us eastbound directly over the Sierra Nevada range. Great views today!
Thats Mono Lake below in the distance.
Further eastbound we passed over Canyonlands National Park in Utah. More great views!So then it was back to DFW and then on to Monterrey, Mexico. Another full flight as usual. The terrain around Monterrey consists of many high jagged peaks and they are usually covered in smog.
This almost always results in us having to complete a full instrument approach to find the airport. But this evening skies were clear enough for us to fly visually to the field.

After a short night there we launched another full flight
back to DFW the next morning.

The view from runway 29 shows some of the surrounding peaks.

In just over an hour we were on the downwind leg at DFW.

The photo shows a view of DFW with Grapevine Lake also pictured.A quick trip through customs and then it was off to another gate and another city. The airline life goes on.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Good Memories

As much as I would rather be in bed before dawn, there are times when you get to experience certain things from the air and it makes getting up extra early almost worth it.
This sunrise occurred over central Texas shortly after takeoff from Austin. We were climbing in the smooth morning air between multiple layers of clouds when the sun poked through and I managed to get off this shot before we went back in the clouds.

After the flight some of the passengers even commented on how cool the sunrise was. I was happy to take credit for it!

Later that same day we got to see a somewhat rare occurrence on the way up to Minneapolis. The skies were perfectly clear and smooth in the upper altitudes except for a bunch of contrails. Underneath was a solid layer of clouds that almost resembled snow. The sun was shining down on the contrails and causing shadows on the undercast.

It was something we don't get to see very often. It looked like a road-map from above.

By the time we reached MSP, the skies had cleared allowing for a nice view of the airport and downtown Minneapolis beyond runway 35. That's the Mississippi River in the foreground.
The rest of the day was uneventful....our flight back to DFW departed on schedule. The contrails had all dissipated and the skies were starting to get choppy from the afternoon heat and an approaching weather system was threatening to disrupt the DFW arrivals, but we made it in before the thunderstorms arrived.

Another trip was safely in the logbook.

The sunrise from just a few hours ago was just another good memory.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Don't Cross That Runway!

So it's back to work again after a nice but way too short vacation.

The next two trips on my schedule were a pair of identical three day trips spread over an eleven day period. Day one included a five leg day. Day two was just a west coast turnaround and day three would be three legs. Not too terrible.

The five leg day included a visit to Denver International. This view from the downwind leg shows how spread out the airport is. Their longest runway is 16,000 ft long. I can't think of any longer commercial runways in this country.

Southwest Airlines has a number of unusual paint schemes in their fleet. Here's one of them at DEN.

Speaking of runways...The FAA has an experimental runway status light system in place on one of the runways at DFW airport.
There are Takeoff Hold Lights that automatically illuminate to warn takeoff or landing traffic if an aircraft or ground vehicle inadvertently enters that runway after their takeoff or landing clearance is received. Also there are Runway Entrance Lights at the crossing taxiways that automatically illuminate when traffic takes off or lands on that runway.
The red lights down the middle are Runway Hold Lights. Takeoff is not allowed when these lights are illuminated. Traffic could be crossing downfield.
The red lights here are the Runway Entrance Lights. You are not supposed to cross this runway when these lights are illuminated. Very bad things could happen if you were to taxi onto this runway when any of the red lights are on.

The system has been a great success so far. I hope it gets adopted nationwide.

Along the same lines...Here's a shot of El Paso airport from 36,000 ft. It's the one on the left. It shows the proximity of Biggs Army Airfield to El Paso International. It has almost the exact same layout. Many a pilot has lined up to land at the wrong airport and then realized their mistake. And some of them have even continued their approach and landed at the wrong airport! A bad day for sure.

Anyhow, the rest of my two trips went without too many hitches. We flew into Los Angeles a couple of times that week. There's always a bunch of good photos to be had there.

The descent from the east takes you through Banning Pass near Palm Springs. Mt San Jacinto can bee seen on the left. The clouds that move in from the coast almost always dissipate right near the pass. This day was a perfect example.

Here's a Continental 757-300 launching from runway 25R.

Also a United 747-400 about to lift off the same runway.

Finally an Eva 777-300 just airborne for Taipei.

So where did the word runway come from anyhow? I know that it's a term used to describe the path that a pilot takes to makes his or her takeoff run (That's obvious). But I wonder how it originated? Maybe someone can chime in.

More to come soon.....

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Friday, May 2, 2008

A Visit Back To Medieval Times

The next stop on our itinerary would be in the medieval town of Bruges, Belgium. It is a historic city in the northwestern part of Belgium. It was a 2.5 hour drive from Haarlem with a short stop in Rotterdam for some business concerns that BD had to handle.
The old part of Brugges is a little difficult to maneuver by car. The streets are very narrow and most of them go only one way. Of course we made a few wrong turns along the way as we tried to find our way into the town and to our hotel.
Once settled, we got out and made a visit to the town square and up we went in the belfry tower.

Lots of steps on the way up but the view was pretty good this day from the top so it was well worth the climb.

As in Amsterdam, we had to take the obligatory canal cruise. No houseboats here though. Just canals.

After that it was back to the town square for a Belgian beer and some pommes frites (french fries).

My beer cost me $12...The fries were about $5
It's no secret that the value of the American dollar is down right now. But this was ridiculous!

The next day we left Bruges and headed back to Holland.
Along the way I noted the many canals. It was interesting to see that along most of the canals, they have planted trees along side of them and it makes for a nice look. Looked almost like a postcard!

Our last day in Holland would takes us to visit a couple of castles.

The most notable one was Muiderslot not far from Amsterdam.

As we were leaving the castle I was thinking about how life would have been back in those simpler and tougher times. Must have been difficult. Then I looked up and saw a familiar sight.....a contrail from a westbound airliner. I was quickly jolted back to reality!

The following day we were up early and soon found ourselves at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam boarding a westbound KLM A-330 headed for Texas. Our week in The Netherlands had gone by amazingly fast. Most vacations do.

So now it's back to work again. We'll see if the MD-80 fleet can survive another summer. Thanks again for enduring my vacation stories.

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