Archive for flight engineer

Tales From The Flight Deck

Posted in airline, airline industry, flight, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by Chris Manno

dc10 frontBack in the day, you’d slide that DC-10 electric seat forward in the copilot’s position and hunker down for the long haul: 9 hours from DFW to Paris on a good day with favorable winds. But more than flight time or miles or fuel flow and track routing, pacing was the order of the day: you’re going to be sitting here all night–don’t be in any rush to do anything.

That was over twenty years ago–closer to twenty-five. And the captains in those days had at least that many years with the airline in order to have advanced seniority-wise into the widebody left seat ranks, rarified air in any airline. So we’re talking what–a half century into the past, into the flight memories and aviation lore to be shared in the cold, dark, midnight sky over Greenland and the Atlantic?

Always liked flying with Bob C., now deceased, but who in those long hours at altitude would relate memories of flying wing for Iven  Kincheloe over the Yalu River during the Korean War. Barely hanging onto his wing, trying not to get killed . . . he was a madman . . .

connieBut tonight’s story hour would come from a different source. Dick B. had flown Super Connies for TWA before quiting to take a job with my airline when I was still in pre-school. “A better deal,” he’d always say, “although flying plumber on the Connie was a heck of an education.”

Plumber. Or, in more correct parlance, flight engineer. Back in the fifties, he’d say, the airline biz was a whole ‘nother animal. Of course, we all still say that: when were you hired? Ninety-one? Well, all through the eighties this airline was a blast . . .

Still, even with a grain of salt or two, the Kinchloe or Connie stories were a welcome relief from the doldrums of midnight cruise across the pond.

Tonight Dick was holding forth about the early Connie days, back when the Cold War was heating up; the days when a lot of guys like Bob were just out of the Air Force after the post-Korean War draw down. Guys like Dick had never served, so he’s been able to spend his early years on the engineer’s panel instead of hanging onto Iven Kinchloe’s wing for dear life.

Those were the days of Kruschev bellowing about the demise of democracy, and Sputnik, and the nuclear standoff. In the midst of it all, both countries at least made a show of diplomacy. That’s where Dick came in.

Besides the well-known “red phone” from the Kremlin to the White House, other lesser gestures intended to defuse the Cold War took place as well.

aeroflotAeroflot would be allowed one flight a day into “Idlewilde Field”–later renamed Kennedy International–in New York City, and one U.S. carrier would be granted a landing slot in Moscow. A small but meaningful attempt at detente. The U.S. flag carrier granted this Moscow route was, of course, TWA; and the aircraft making the maiden flight was the Super Constellation. On board was one very young, excited flight engineer named Dick.

It was common knowledge that the Aeroflot aircraft would be packed to the gills with spying equipment like cameras and other electronic data gathering devices. Maybe that’s why Kennedy was chosen as the landing base by the U.S. State Department: nothing to overfly, no way to take spy photos out there in the Long Island hinterlands.

But in the spy vs. spy paranoia of the Cold War, the Connie crew just knew they’d be spied on once they landed in Russia. So, Dick told us, when the crew reached their layover hotel in Moscow, they made a pact: they’d all search their rooms for the listening devices and spying equipment they knew had to be there. Dick tore apart his room and found nothing–but in short order, his phone rang: the lead flight attendant had found a mysterious metal canister under her bed.  Aha. Be right down with my tools.

The good flight engineer grabbed his tool bag and hustled to the flight attendant’s room, already packed with the captain and the rest of the crew, with the bed shoved aside, mysterious, gleaming canister in the center of the floor.

Carefully, using a crescent wrench adjusted for the odd caliber of the nuts on the bolts ringing the canisters, the engineer removed each bolt carefully. Suspense built with the last bolt . . . deep breath, lift the canister . . .


But within minutes, there was an angry voice at the door, fists pounding, and footsteps rushing down the hall and towards the room. The crew prepared for the worst.

kgbInstead, it was the maitre d, enraged, plus the hotel manager. As it turned out, the flight attendant’s room was above the main dining room. Instead of disabling a sinister spy device, the crew had unwittingly removed the anchor plate for the chandelier in the dining room.

Oops. maybe Kruschev was right–maybe Americans were the real crazies, despite the world famous pictures of him pounding the podium with his own shoe at a televised news conference. And my question, though I didn’t ask, is whether the red phone on Eisenhower’s desk rang shortly afterward, with a demand for payment for one smashed chandelier and maybe a buffet line.

But those days, and those pilots, are now long gone. Now, in the left seat, it’s pilots like me remembering them, but also our own early days with the airline and the adventures that span thousands of air miles.

And when it gets dark, and quiet, and dull on the flight deck at 41,000 feet a thousand miles from anywhere, it’s time.

Did I ever tell you about that time in London when the police picked up the entire crew walking down the middle of the street at 3am?

And so it goes . . .

cockpit night

Jet Runways: The Long and Short of It.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline pilot blog with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2013 by Chris Manno

And that’s what it looks like, landing a jet on a short field which, for a transport category jet, John Wayne-Orange County (SNA) certainly is. But the video tells nothing about how it’s done, much less how it’s possible.

Besides, landing is the easy part–taking off, unless you plan to spend the rest of your life there, is the complex and more difficult maneuver. So here comes a discussion of the long and short of it.

First, consider landing–which isn’t really the more difficult challenge. Rather, stopping sixty tons of metal, fuel, flesh and bone in the allotted distance is, and taking off is more tricky than landing. Why? That’s a question of physics more than anything. Here’s a relic from the olden days:

brake chart DC8

The wily flight engineer had to enter the graph with the jet’s landing weight, speed, the airfield pressure altitude and compute the millions of foot-pounds of brake energy that much be dissipated after touchdown. See why? It’s all about choices: on landing, you have a choice that you don’t have on take-off, which is, don’t stop.

On landing, you’re in flight and can continue–go around, divert, find a longer runway; set up for a different approach. On take-off, you don’t have the option of continuing a flight you have yet to achieve, and you’ll be likely to be much heavier on take-off (fuel, which gets burned off enroute, right?) than on landing, minus one key option–staying in the air.

You have to stop. And on many runways, you have little space in which to do that.

sna 10-9 a

So you’ve seen the primary challenges: weight, speed, and distance. Now for the wild cards, which are tailwinds and runway surface conditions. If you are at your threshold speed, say 150 KIAS (Knots Indicated Airspeed), but the wind is directly on your tail at 5 to 10 knots, your tires will hit the runway at 155 to 160, and the brakes will have to absorb the kinetic energy associated with that, not the 150 threshold speed.

The Byzantine brake energy chart above assumes a standard coefficient of friction, but if the runway is wet or worse, the coefficient of friction will be reduced as will brake effectiveness.


And now let’s throw in the hardware curveballs: what if one or both reversers fail to deploy? Or if an engine fails, that reverse thrust is lost as well. And if the wing spoilers fail to deploy, or the antiskid fails, or any tire blows, reducing your braking capacity by 25% per tire.

These are all contingencies that must be dealt with, and on take-off roll on a short runway, they come at you fast because you’re using a higher power setting to lift more weight of the short runway: faster acceleration means less reaction time before you’re committed to flight because stopping in the runway remaining isn’t possible.

Plus, lest you think the remedy is a longer runway, don’t forget the “Pressure Altitude” factor in the DC-8 Flight Engineer’s hands above:


Mexico City has a 12,000 foot long runway–more than twice the length of the SNA runway–but at 7,500 feet on a good day; if the temp hits 90, as it often does, MEX becomes an engineering nightmare for stopping and for taking off. Ditto Denver International. And (told you it was more complicated) if you’re not taking off but rather trying to abort on the runway, with any of the variables, wild cards and curveballs above, you’ve got a real mess on your hands.

So how is it done? It all goes back to being a junior high school boy, when the primary question in life was this: how much can I get away with?

So the first thing to do upon level-off, after we’re at cruise altitude and can finally get a decent estimate of our enroute fuel burn and thus arrival fuel weight, is haul out this chart:

landing distance

Calculate the predicted landing weight–takeoff weight minus enroute fuel burn–then determine the “Landing Distance” we’ll require. The bottom three lines include the degrade factors for tailwind and no reverse thrust–have to add those factors as well. Keep that number in mind to recheck before descent: if we’ve burned more fuel than planned, the margin gets better. If we’ve saved fuel by favorable winds or routing, the figures are wrong. Plus, we really won’t know for sure if the runway is dry, wet or icy until we’re much closer in.

Aircraft manufacturers, in compliance with FAA standards, have computed the Landing Distance chart very conservatively: they figured only about 75% of the actual brake effectiveness; they normal include zero reverse thrust.

autobrake 1

Boeing jets have excellent autobrakes which can smoothly and easily apply Max braking, and do it evenly: if you’re landing with a lot of rudder input, you’ll have one leg extended and one bent back–try applying both pedals equally then. And antiskid computers apply the braking evenly on both gear until sensing an incipient skid, keeping the pressure just below that point, something humans can’t really perceive.

So, on landing, know before the wheels come down on final what the maximum weight for conservatively landing on a runway is, plus the adjustments to make in your head for the variables of winds and runway surface conditions. It’s best to have as wide a margin between our weight and the max, the most realistic, with conservative additives, estimate of  what the jet and the runway can handle.

sun tail las 1

Takeoff is a similar max calculation, with a twist: what’s the maximum speed to which you can accelerate and still stop in the remaining runway? Same wild cards, curveballs and technical factors in play: winds, runway surface, equipment failures–including those that help us go (engines, high lift devices, flight controls) and those that help us stop (hydraulics, engines, reverse, tires, brakes, antiskid, electrical power).

Again, it’s coming at you fast on take-off roll because you’re accelerating and using maximum power for the adverse conditions. In the split second of a go or abort decision, you’d better discern if what you’re aborting for will compromise your ability to stop (see parenthesis in the above sentence) or eliminate your ability to fly–and you’d better be right.

LGA position n hold

LaGuardia, just prior to brake release.

Prior to applying takeoff power, review for myself the abort procedures that you must correctly do in the proper sequence (throttles idle, speed brakes, reverse thrust, brakes) and the dividing line: after 70 knots (considered the high speed-low speed dividing line), we’ll abort only for the mandatory items, which you also have memorized.

So we don’t even release the brakes till we have the big numbers pow-wow: planned weight, actual weight; takeoff power setting, N1 engine reading, V1 speed. You have to see it on the paper copy, on the glass (the FMS control head), on the flight management display (same numbers) and the Primary Flight Display, which is also repeated in the Heads Up Display projected on the glass in front of your face.

Now we’re ready to go–or, stop, as the case may be. Clear your mind of everything but the important stuff, know where you are in relation to each factor as speed increases and runway decreases, and be prepared to recognize developing situations and the proper options to handle them.

And that’s the long and short of jets and runways. Let’s go fly.



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