Let Me Put YOU in the Airliner Cockpit.


IMG_6467

Ever thought about a day as an airline captain? Want to fill in the blanks regarding what goes on in the captain’s head once the cockpit door is closed? Here’s your own personal captain’s vision through my eyes.

First off, The Cloak of Invisibility: I just want to make it through the airport terminal unnoticed. I try to stay clearheaded, unhassled. All I want to do is A) find the jet on the gate (not delayed or worse) and B) See the route of flight and planned fuel load. Ain’t my first rodeo–I can get a pretty good feel for weather, winds, fuel and time.

IMG_6484

I can (and do) upload the flight plan data to both my phone and my iPad. If you see me at the gate scrolling through my phone rather than re-booking you (I can’t do that, I don’t have the ticket agent super-powers nor access to the computer reservation system, but I know you’ll ask anyway) I’m determining the planned fuel over destination and if I feel that the total is adequate, I’ll electronically accept the fuel load with a tap on my phone screen. If not, another tap speed-dials Flight Dispatch and I’ll have fuel added to our jet.

The good folks at Dispatch are always super helpful and as captain, just like with Crew Schedule, the ramp crew and Aircraft Maintenance, it’s so very important to invest in courtesy and gratitude in all interactions. They all work behind the scenes for us and the smart captain wants his support team happy. The least you can do is be self-effacing and respectful: “Hi, this is Chris, captain on 228 to Seattle … thank you very much.” It’s how you should treat people who work for you. Never argue with anyone: you’re the captain, so you’ve already won. It costs you nothing to be supportive and appreciative. See why I want to stay unhassled?

IMG_6413

Okay, we all have our weaknesses. One of mine might be the 7-Eleven dog. Don’t judge, and even if you do, realize I in the pointy end won’t be dealing with hunger pangs somewhere over Idaho on our nearly four hour cruise to Seattle. You?

IMG_6285

I try to stay out of everyone’s hair once I’m in the cockpit. I show up, stow my gear (hate it when FOs have extra bags and crap piled everywhere–especially behind my seat) and fire up the dual GFMS systems, letting the inertial reference gizmos negotiate WTF we are with the satellite widgets while I set the instrument panel and display lights, the comm panel audio switches on my side, and plug in my headset; adjust the seat height, crank in full lumbar support, take out any thigh pad adjustment.

Next, the iPad: type in the flight number and it reaches into cyberspace to upload the flight plan and take-off performance plan. Save those–and verify the fuel load actually in the tanks matches what you need. If not, another speed dial to dispatch.

The WSI iPad weather display sets up the same way–just type in the flight number and it draws the line on the map, puts in the waypoints, adds the radar animation, turbulence display, and significant weather warnings. In flight, the cockpit WIFI will keep the map updated with the most current weather radar and warnings.

IMG_6202

By now the #1 flight attendant (or the #3, depending on who’s not busy) will poke a head into the cockpit. Introduce yourself, tell them to let you know if they need anything. They’re probably in the middle of boarding, so leave them to that.

When the First Officer starts playing with an iPhone, you can bet there’s nothing else to be done on the right side. So, perfect time to check the route. The clearance has auto-uploaded from the FAA to our comm display as well as to our route in our nav system. Now, you read each point off the Flight Management Computer screen and the FO crosschecks against the iPad uploaded flight plan. That’s it–you’re ready to fly.

When you notice cargo door warning lights winking out, you know the ground crew is about done. Boarding noises taper off about the same time. Like the monkey said when his tail got caught in the fan, “It won’t be long now.” Reach up and flip on the seatbelt sign. When you do, 9 out of 10 FOs will start reading the “Before Starting Checklist.” Good. Take your time. You’re not paid to rush and in fact, you’re paid to not rush, right? Sometimes you have to remind others of that.

IMG_6414

An agent will step into the cockpit, tell you how many “souls on board,” plus a count of live animals (if any, you immediately say, “That’s me.”) in the cargo compartment, followed by, “Okay to close the door?” The answer is twofold: “Heck yeah” and “thanks.”

IMG_5110

The ground crew will call you eventually, once everything’s buttoned up downstairs. You release the brakes and tell the Crew Chief to stand-by, then call for the “Just Prior to Engine Start” checklist. Blessedly quiet, it is, with the cockpit door sealed shut and just the ground crew’s voice in the interphone. The FO will call for pushback clearance and when he gets it, you pass it to the ground crew: “Brakes released, cleared to push.”

Then we’re underway, creeping backwards. “Cleared to start the ground guy says once we are clear. The FO kills the packs–we need the air to turn the CFM-56 engines. You notice that in back? “Turn number two” you give the order.

image

Engine number one follows once the brakes are parked and ground crew has cleared the area. They give you a salute which you return. Then it’s time to taxi. Love that part: two fists full of thrust and tons of jet fuel, turned loose with complete authority and freedom to fly.

Taxi-out is a methodical, orderly set of hurdles: you need the printout of the current weight, match that with the planned and the actual, confirm everything matches up.

Eyeballs out, while in motion, because there are other megaton jets in the aluminum conga line, ahead of you, behind you, and crossing your nose. Heads up.

IMG_5604

All final checks done, know and say out loud for the FO the field elevation, the minimum safe altitude, the initial assigned altitude, and your emergency return plan (usually, a left downwind because I can see left turns best from the left seat, right?) and the N1 one target RPM.

When you finally roll onto the runway, there’s a moment of peace: all we have to do now is fly. Don’t tell the airline, but that’s what we love to do anyway. Cleared for takeoff, exterior lights on, hack the elapsed time display, release the brakes.

Let’s rock.

IMG_6394

Advertisements

15 Responses to “Let Me Put YOU in the Airliner Cockpit.”

  1. T. Wright Barnes Says:

    Is that a TSO’d rubber band? 🙂

  2. Thanks Chris, another beautiful piece of work.

  3. Pitch-perfect. Thanks!

  4. Randy Sohn Says:

    TSO meant “Technical Standard Order” back in the day – or anyhow, in my book back then.

    Thinking back, we always called the hot dog a “Chicago Tube Steak”.

    Best, Randy

  5. Robert Pearse Says:

    Just love it. Sitting here with goose bumps!

  6. Thanks for putting us there even when we are at home on the couch! Love to read about your cockpit adventures.

  7. Oh for a job like yours!

    • warren trout Says:

      It’s called, “living the dream”. An inside joke among aircrew that it’s not as good as it looks.

      You like sleeping. Don’t be a pilot or flight attendant.

      • Been “living the dream” for 32 years now. Learned out how to sleep early on–good luck in this biz if you can’t figure that out.

  8. Bill Brandt Says:

    How do they calculate weight and balance? Or on an airliner is it not as critical? Have a friend who loads cargo pallets for UPS on 757s – always wondered how they calculate where to put what.

    I think there was a crash of a commuter airliner (Beech 1900?) at Atlanta where the crew made the mistake of “assuming” everyone was the standard FAA 175 lbs.

    I guess rotation speed is calculated too based on weight?

    Thanks for the write up –

    • Weight and balance is all computerized now. The ramp crew uses a handheld devices to annotate weights and position, and that’s transmitted to the Big Kahuna computer that crunches the numbers and sends the correct weight-based speeds to our FMS. The on-board FMS itself can do calculations and corrections for takeoff data, runway conditions, etc. Rotate speed is based on weight and runway conditions.

  9. Christine von Allwörden Says:

    Wow, das hat mich wirklich stark beeindruckt. Danke ! Für den ausführlichen Bericht. Meine nächsten Starts werden ganz anders erlebt als vorher !

  10. Phil Avery Says:

    Brought back some great memories, Chris. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: