Archive for the aviation Category

“Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Pilots.”

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, airport, aviation, crewlife, pilot with tags , , , , , on June 18, 2020 by Chris Manno

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I doubt Willie and Waylon couldn’t pass an FAA administered flight crew drug test, and their “mamas” knew that, the song notwithstanding. But what about the rest of us?

Sure, airline pilots realize the challenges and constraints put on them by the profession, including constant flight evaluations, performance monitoring (any other profession data-stream and archive performance for analysis and critique?), invasion of privacy (any other professions require annual disclosure of  physicals, mental health, arrests and convictions?) and recurring random drug and alcohol testing.

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Enter Covid-19. which dwarfs the above career threats we’ve all accepted, endured and tolerated up until now.

Rewind just six months in the U.S airline industry and the picture was much different: the mid-1980s hires, pilots who are now nearing mandatory retirement (another unique airline pilot reality) which would create a massive pilot shortage across the airline industry. “If you get hired today,” the siren song went, “You’ll be a captain in five years.” Massive seniority catapult, the retirements were supposed to be.

Pilots at regionals felt they could be picky about which major airline they hire on with: I have a friend who flew for Comair for over ten years, waiting and adamant about only working for Delta Airlines eventually. After three years at Delta–when he could have gone to several other carriers years earlier–he’s now on the street for at least three years.

Another friend at Emirates reports their pandemic-mandated pilot cuts weren’t done strictly by seniority–rather, management took the opportunity to boot dozens of pilots with attendance records and other personnel issues the airline didn’t want to deal with ever again. Not furloughed–terminated.

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And many snooty pilots shunned the quiet financial dynamos like Spirit, Frontier and JetBlue, holding out for a marquee carrier like United, Delta and American, only to witness their peers who DID hire on with these powerful Low Cost Carriers upgrade to captain and enjoy a job security despite the pilot cuts (some are still hiring pilots) even as the “snooty pilots” are furloughed by their own carriers, with recall nowhere in sight.

No matter who they are or where they came from–the military, regionals, corporate, cargo or general aviation–all airline pilots have taken a beating, weathered harsh early flying jobs, invested unimaginable sweat equity, personal sacrifice, and expense, just to call an airline cockpit home. Now this.

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Me and my USAF pilot buds.

Ex-military pilots who maintained an ANG or AFRES connection may be able to get back onto active military service once again, but even that’s with drastically reduced pay and much more demanding flying in terms of time away from home and family, much less the risk involved in military versus civilian flying. Other may be able to make their “side hustle”–if they have one, into a financial lifeboat for the near term.

Yes, pilots laughed at me when I fought my way through 65 on-campus graduate hours to earn a PhD as they enjoyed their boat/motorcycle/airplane/toys, but I’ve been teaching at a university for the past 17 years and just upped my class schedule, mostly for the additional income.

I know several pilots who struggled through law school while flying fulltime and at least now have gainful employment despite the dried-up aviation opportunities. Others have real estate licenses, teaching credentials and I even know one first officer who’s on track with a management training program at a major box store chain. Not what we expected, but smart because it pays the bills.

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But it all comes down to this: if you want to be an airline pilot, beyond the many unreasonable demands of the industry and the government agencies that oversee the licenses required to hold the flight privileges, the fundamentals of personal and financial disaster lurk just below the thin veneer of airline pilot reality: flying is a great career–until the career vanishes.

I’m rooting for the pilots still clinging to their seniority lists despite reduced flight hours and the defacto pay cut that produces. I’m hopeful for the smart pilots who had the foresight to hire on with the Low Cost Carriers who are poised to dominate the airline biz in the post-pandemic years ahead. And I’m empathetic to those pilots who were simply victims of a very capricious airline industry, despite the rosy predictions of only a few months ago.

For everyone else: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be pilots.”

Get the full, insider airline pilot story:

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Amazon’s #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation! All the insider, in-cockpit drama of a major airline flying life.

Paperback or Kindle, just CLICK HERE.

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An Airline Pilot’s Life: Windshear Flashback.

Posted in air travel, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, aviation, wind shear with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2020 by Chris Manno

Not every airline adventure–or misadventure–made it into An Airline Pilot’s Life, if only for the sake of controlling the page count. You can read an excerpt from the book that puts you in the DC-10 cockpit for my first copilot landing at LaGuardia in this month’s Airways Magazine.

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Meanwhile, here’s an incident where we tangled with windshear on approach to Raleigh-Durham Airport and to be honest, I wasn’t sure we’d successfully escape. Read on:

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The weather at Raleigh was iffy, with thunderstorms moving from east to west, towering cumulus that ranged in height between twenty-five and thirty thousand feet. That, in the context of airline operations, was simply North Carolina in the summertime.

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The MD-80 cockpit felt crowded with three of us crammed into the small compartment in the pointy end. It wasn’t unusual to have a jumpseater but for some reason, the space that day seemed too small. But, the back of the jet was equally crammed with all 142 passenger seats full, so the extra pilot on the jumpseat, who was actually an FO I’d enjoyed flying with in the past, was a reality so he could join some buddies in Raleigh for a golf outing.

Enroute, my excellent, experienced, retired Air Force FO requested the Raleigh-Durham Airport weather. That flight segment always seemed quick to me, maybe because I was more accustomed to the longer Seattle or Boston legs out of DFW, so I was glad he’d gotten an early start on the weather.

“The airfield is clear,” he said, and handed me the weather that our onboard printer had spit out. I glanced at it with my non-engineer’s pilot eyes: Instinct mattered as much as data, to me. I looked for the big picture, the hidden details, like what signs are there foretelling what’s to come. Pressure falling rapidly, towering cumulus northeast. Yeah, the airfield’s clear—but. Something felt wrong.

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“Let’s plan flaps 28,” I said, which doesn’t sound extraordinary: the MD-80 standard approach configuration was 28 degrees of flaps because it saved fuel. I didn’t hold with that, personally, having flown the MD-80 for twenty-plus years myself. There were less times when 28 was actually required than not, and I liked having the power up on approach because of the added drag of 40 flaps because it made for better go-around response under normal circumstances.

But “what wasn’t there,” what the weather report didn’t explicitly state, gave me pause: flaps 40 meant flaps 15 for go-around, which was extra drag we wouldn’t need if there was a hint of wind shear. Flaps 28 was less drag on the approach and since it would be paired with flaps 11 on the go-around, if we were to fly a go-around, which was also an extra margin of performance we might be glad we had. Layers of thinking and prevention, that’s all part of the captain’s job.

We started a long enroute descent straight into runway 05L. We’d briefed the approach as an ILS, my preference, even though the weather was currently VFR. I always prefer the precision approach and the missed approach, myself. That way, if we request the ILS, there’s no ambiguity about what we’ll do on the missed approach. So many pilots brief “Missed approach will be with the tower” which is really no brief at all. More importantly—and I often have to correct this—if you’re cleared to fly the ILS, you’re expected to fly the published missed approach, not “go with the tower.”

Ahead to the east of the field, the sky darkened to a bruised blue and clouds stacked well into the stratosphere. We had a good radar paint ahead which showed just enough mileage between us and the storms to execute the missed approach if needed. The winds seemed steady off the nose, maybe even increasing slightly, which foretold the approaching gust front from the storms east of the field.

We never saw it coming: below a thousand feet, in clear air, with the runway in sight, we lost over twenty knots of airspeed instantly and began to sink. In a heartbeat, the WAGS (Windshear Alert And Guidance System) sprang to life, commanding a pitch-up and calling out “Windshear! Windshear!”

I kicked off the autothrottles and I was already hand-flying, so I aimed the nose towards fifteen degrees of pitch and firewalled the throttles. Still, we continued to sink, even at maximum thrust from both engines.

“Fifteen degrees,” my FO called out to cue me, “We’re still sinking, airspeed minus ten.”

I caught the five-hundred foot marker on the radio altimeter tape out of the corner of my eye. Shit. And we were still sinking.

We’d been ambushed: an outflow boundary from a thunderhead behind us had tossed us a huge tidal wave of tailwind. Slowly, gradually, we regained flying speed and crept skyward at barely two-hundred feet per minute. We cleaned up, executed the missed approach and as we did, we requested clearance direct to Norfolk. We cruised the twenty minutes to Norfolk in relative quiet.

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“You just never know,” I told my FO as we taxied in to a gate at Norfolk. He just nodded. We’d done everything correctly, but: you just never know. You’re vulnerable on approach, dirty, slow and low and I was just glad for my instinctive bias towards flaps 28, just based on a hunch.

The jumpseater actually deplaned in Norfolk—said he’d rent a car and drive back to Raleigh, even though we’d be returning there ourselves after refueling. About half of the passengers deplaned too, because I guess they’d all had enough flying for the day, especially with the closeup look at the dirt a few miles from the Raleigh runway.

Procedures, instinct and luck—a little bad luck and a lot of good—and we made it to Raleigh a few hours after the storm had passed. Sometimes, it’s just that way.

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Get the full story–read the true story that is Amazon’s #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation:

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From Amazon Books–just CLICK HERE.

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MD-80 Flashback

Posted in airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airlines, airport, aviation, crewlife, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight training, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2020 by Chris Manno

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I flew the American Airlines’ MD-80s for over 20 years and more than 10,000 pilot hours. She was the mainstay of our fleet for a long time and generally speaking, it was a decent jet to fly.

My first actual flight as copilot is recorded in detail below. This is an excerpt from my true-life story, An Airline Pilot’s Life, which is holding at Amazon’s #1 New Release in commercial aviation. In this book I take you along in the cockpits of American Airlines’ DC-10s, MD-80s, F-100s and Boeing 737s. Every training program, every aircraft shakedown flight, and more, including my years as an instructor/evaluator pilot. How do the jet’s controls feel? What are the maneuvering characteristics? How is the engine response? Get firsthand, first-person answers.

Here’s a sample, letting you sit in the copilot’s seat on my first landing in the MD-80, with 142 passengers on board:

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“Localizer capture,” said Charles Clack, a Check Airman, from the left seat. Ahead, the lights of the Los Angeles basin sprawled like diamonds scattered across the blanket of night as we sank lower on our approach to Long Beach Airport.

Technically, I should have made that callout, being the pilot flying, as soon as our flight director system captured the navigational signal leading us to the runway. But that was why there was a Check Airman in the captain’s seat supervising my first landing—with 142 unknowing passengers aboard—in the MD-80.

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As is typically the case, I discovered the real aircraft flew better and different from the simulator, which had been my total experience “flying” the MD-80 up to that point. I had the jet trimmed up nicely and the winds were mild so she flew a steady, true course with little correction from me.

But the most important, exciting and rewarding point for me was, I was the pilot flying. That felt good, after almost two years sitting sideways at the DC-10 engineer’s panel. That had been an easy, decent gig, but this is what I was here for.

Fully configured with full flaps, the MD-80 autothrottles kept the EPR (Engine Pressure Ratio, pronounced “EEP-er”) fairly high, which was good: she flew more stable at a higher power setting with more drag. The MD-80 Operating Manual recommended flaps 28 for routine use because it saved fuel due to the reduced drag compared to flaps 40. But I learned from experience that the jet flew a better, tighter approach at the higher power setting and really, how much extra fuel was being burned from the final approach fix to touchdown anyway?

Fully configured with gear and flaps, I simply flew the long silver jet down the guy wire Major Wingo had told me about, from our vector altitude all the way to touchdown on the comparatively short Long Beach runway. The landing was firm but decent, although the nosewheel came down harder than I’d anticipated.

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“I should have reminded you about that,” Charles said later in the hotel van. “With flaps forty, the nose is heavy; so you have to ease it down.”

Still, nothing could dampen my elation at having flown my first takeoff and landing in a passenger jet at a major airline. With a full load of passengers on board. That was it—I was really an airline pilot at last. Cross another item off the dream come true list, I said to myself silently.

The first officer upgrade at the Schoolhouse had been a breeze for a couple reasons. First, the McDonnell-Douglas systems logic and flight guidance processes were much the same as those on the DC-10. I already understood “CLMP,” “IAS,” “VS” and all of the flight guidance modes and what they’d do because I’d been monitoring the DC-10 pilots’ processes and procedures for a couple years.

And, I was paired with Brian, a very smart, capable captain-upgrade pilot for the entire ground school and simulator programs. He was a Chicago-based pilot, quiet, serious, and very capable. He offered easygoing help and coaching, just as he’d do with his copilots up at O’Hare and I learned a lot from him. He’d be an excellent captain, I could already tell, and in fact, he became a Check Airman himself eventually.

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The MD-80 itself was a study in design contradictions. When Douglas Aircraft stretched the old DC-9 by adding two fuselage extensions, one forward of the wing root and one aft, they didn’t enlarge or beef up the wing at all. By contrast, when Boeing extended the 737 series, they’d enlarged and improved the wing. The MD-80 simply had higher wing loading, which is not an optimal situation from a pilot’s view. The lift was adequate, but certainly not ample, reducing the stall margin. While Boeing’s philosophy was “make new,” Douglas seemed to be simply “make do.”

The ailerons were unpowered, relying on the exact same sluggish flying tabs the old KC-135 tankers had. She was lethargic and clumsy in the roll axis and the actual control wheels in the cockpit were cartoonishly large to give pilots more leverage against the lethargic ailerons. To boost roll response at slower speeds, the wing spoilers were metered to the ailerons, which was a mixed blessing: they didn’t raise the left wing to reinforce a right turn; rather, they dropped the right wing with drag. In an engine failure situation, the last thing you needed was spoiler drag added to engine thrust loss in any maneuver. That was Douglas doing “make do,” as they had done with so many hastily added components on the DC-10.

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The instrument panel was chaotic, as if they’d just thrown in all the indicators and instruments they could think of and then slammed the door. That left the pilots to constantly sort out useful information and block out distracting nuisance warnings. Douglas made a stab at lightening the scan load on the pilots with an elaborate array of aural warnings, a voice known as “Bitching Betty” to pilots. They just weren’t sensitive enough to be useful, like yelling “landing gear” in certain situations where landing gear wasn’t needed, which gradually desensitized a pilot to the point where you’d reflexively screen out the distraction, which was good, but also the warning, which was bad.

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The most unbelievable bit of cockpit clumsiness was the HSI, or “Horizontal Situation Indicator,” the primary compass-driven course and heading indicator before each pilot. Mine on the copilot’s side was placed off-center and mostly behind the bulky control yoke. It was actually angled slightly to make it more visible to the captain, because his instrument display was also obstructed by his control yoke, an incredibly clumsy arrangement.

The ultimate design goofiness was the standby compass, which on most aircraft was located right above the glareshield between the pilots. Douglas engineers must have had a field day designing the MD-80 whiskey compass, locating it on the aft cockpit bulkhead above the copilot’s right shoulder. To use it, you had to flip up a folding mirror on the glareshield itself, aim and find the compass behind both pilots’ backs, then try to fly while referencing the compass in the tiny mirror.

The fuselage was long and thin, earning the jet the nickname “the Long Beach sewer pipe” because it had been built in Long Beach at the McDonnell-Douglas plant. Flight attendants called it the “Barbie Dream Jet” because it was almost toy-like compared to the other American Airlines narrow body jet, the 727.

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The problem with the increased fuselage length was that Douglas hadn’t enlarged the rudder at all on the stretched MD-80, so the rudder itself was fairly useless for heading changes or turn coordination. All it seemed to do was torque the fuselage and have little effect on the aircraft’s azimuth. Eventually, an MD-80 pilot learned to ignore the rudder pedals in the air, unless it was needed to control yaw during a thrust loss on either engine.

The aspect of having the engines mounted along the aircraft centerline was a good deal compared to wing mounted engines which incur more asymmetrical yaw in an engine failure and I appreciated that. The engines were so far back that you couldn’t hear an engine failure in the cockpit, so there were actually warning lights to alert pilots of a failure.

The JT8D engine response was forceful and the engines themselves were the Pratt and Whitney equivalent of the gutsy General Electric TF-33 fanjets we had on the EC-135 J at Hickam. Minus the roll heaviness and disregarding the cockpit design mess, I wasn’t about to let anything dampen my enthusiasm for line flying as a pilot at a major airline.

I’d waited long enough to bid first officer that I could actually hold a set schedule rather than an “on call” reserve pilot schedule. At my seniority range, the trips weren’t very good, but they were trips just the same.

My first month I held a schedule of early two day Buffalo trips. Still, I was undaunted—I had a schedule! A regular airline pilot trip.

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Read more: fly the DC-10, the F-100 and more.

Get your copy of An Airline Pilot’s Life in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon Books HERE.  Makes a great Father’s Day gift!

Want a signed copy (US only)? Click Here.

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An Airline Pilot’s Life Now Available In Paperback & Kindle.

Posted in air travel, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, aviation, crewlife, flight attendant, flight crew, flight training, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2020 by Chris Manno

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This is the true story that is Amazon’s #1 new release in Commercial Aviation, now available in paperback! Now you can live the pilot’s life yourself, from early years flying gas-powered, control line aircraft, to soloing in a Cessna 152, to USAF pilot training and soloing a supersonic T-38, to many years as an Air Force pilot in the Pacific, to American Airlines and a decades-long airline pilot career around the world, most of it as captain.

You’re in the pilot’s seat, living every step of the journey, hands-on, first person; the unvarnished truth that is the reality of a pilot’s life.

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Critics have called this “the real thing,” “an extraordinary adventure,” and “the closest most of us will ever get to flying a jetliner.” It’s all here, from the flying the DC-10 to captain upgrade to the MD-80 left seat, to instructor/evaluator, pilot union elected officer, to the Fokker-100 and eventually, the 737-800.

Live the dream yourself, every approach, every tight spot, every behind-the-scenes adventure in a vivid, fast-paced real life story.

Get your copy from Amazon books–just CLICK HERE.

Then, let your first-person adventure begin.

From Goodreads: “Reading this book, one learns what goes into the making of an airline pilot, as well as what is in the heart and soul of an airline pilot. I highly recommend it on both counts.”

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Covid-19 and Air Travel

Posted in air travel, airport, aviation, travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2020 by Chris Manno

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First, know this: your crew doesn’t want to share the contagion any more than you do. And second, the FAA is doing as little as possible to ensure your safe, contagion-free flight. And finally, much of the solution will require a level of passenger compliance that has largely disappeared from today’s flying public. Let me explain.

Congregating is the essence of air travel: boarding, seating, in flight and deplaning are all mass motions by multiple humans, including passengers, staff, and crew. Aircraft manufacturers have crammed as many seats into passenger aircraft as possible and airline schedules demand minimum turnaround time between flights. Simply put, flying is a time-sensitive crowd activity and your crew is part of the crowd. We want to use the best and most protective protocols and procedures, but that depends on both regulation and enforcement: we as crew want to be protected, and to protect you.

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Which brings me to my second point: the FAA is deliberately dodging their responsibility to mandate and enforce best practices pandemic mitigation in air travel. The first very lame dodge from the FAA was that they are “not a medical or health organization.” And yet, the FAA mandates medical exams, analysis and waivers for every commercial pilot flying an airliner. The sidestep when confronted with passenger and crew health in the FAA jurisdiction of air travel is a leadership failure at the highest level of the FAA.

And the final point: passengers. Passenger compliance with air crew directives is at an all-time low in the thirty-four years I’ve been an airline pilot. People simply will not be told what to do regardless of regulations designed to protect everyone aboard. What are the chances that passengers will followed new and rigid spacing requirements during boarding and deplaning? And what would be the point anyway, given that after boarding, passengers will sit literally shoulder to shoulder with other passengers anyway?

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And for those passengers already demanding the airlines deliberately limit capacity, flying with empty seats: are you ready to pay the higher fare resulting from limited tickets sold on your flight?

Clearly, the answer is threefold, but only two of the critical actions fall on passengers and crew. The first two items are compliance and patience: passengers and crew must adhere to spacing and protective gear requirements, masks must be worn (and, at some airlines regarding crews, masks and gloves must be permitted for crews) by passengers and crew. Compliance cannot be optional, and crew authority must be the final word. No exceptions, no excuses.

But regardless of this very real pandemic threat, the final piece of the puzzle, regulation and enforcement, is presently lost in the bureaucratic and leadership failure of the FAA. So, when it comes to pandemic safety, there’ll be neither FAA regulation nor enforcement, so rest easy.

But when it comes to the spread of the pandemic through air travel, while the FAA remains asleep at the wheel, buyer beware.

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Get an insider-view of the pilot world

–order yours HERE

and get into a jet cockpit firsthand.

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Free Sample: An Airline Pilot’s Story

Posted in airline pilot, aviation, pilot with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2020 by Chris Manno

Hundreds of new Kindle readers a day are enjoying this true story, the Amazon #1 aviation new release:

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Here’s a free sample, along with some actual photos of the places , people and jet in the story. Enjoy this sample, then get your copy of Part 1: An Airline Pilot’s Story from amazon HERE.

Here’s the scene: me and my aircraft commander Widetrack (see picture below) find ourselves roped into a “mission spare” status for a buttcrack of dawn mission of tankers and BUFFs (Big Ugly Fat F*ckers) launching out of Andersen AFB, Guam. What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything. Live it yourself:

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The next day, upon release from alert after crew changeover, we were immediately assigned to crew rest for an early morning refueling mission. Crew rest, of course, called for us to drink as much as possible right up to the eight hour cutoff for alcohol, while the ongoing alert crew planned our mission.

“Don’t worry,” Widetrack promised me, “I finagled us the number five tanker position. We’re just the spare.”

That meant we’d start up and taxi out with the four primary tankers, but we’d only launch if one of them had a no-go mechanical problem at the last minute. The two BUFFs (B-52: Big Ugly Fat Fuckers) would launch first, then after the primary tankers launched, we’d taxi back in, shut down, then go back to sleep off our hangovers.

So on our “crew rest” we replayed the beer-filled maintenance van on the beach deal, and Casey, the then-off duty alert controller, met me on Terragi Beach for a private, beer-lubricated day of beach fun and other interpersonal activities.

It was well after midnight by the time we’d paid our proper respects to General Shaky, returned the van, and hit the sack. The room spun, my skin felt tight and scorched from the sun—Casey’d gotten herself fried—and the air conditioner gurgled and clanked every time I fell asleep, waking me. But, I told myself, no worries: we were just the spare. I’d be back in the sack by eight o’clock.

I dragged myself through the buttcrack-of-dawn showtime, crew briefing and preflight, then slouched in my cockpit seat. Widetrack slumped in his and no one, including Stinkfinger and Flintstone said a word—it was too damn early and we were all still suspended in the nauseating grey netherworld between half-drunk and well-hungover.

Flintstone hadn’t even bothered getting a jug of coffee, the fat, lazy bastard. All he’d managed was a couple gallons of room temperature tap water since we were just the spare. He’d figured he’d just end up dumping out the coffee anyway, which I kind of craved as a result.

Me and Widetrack, waiting on the wing of our jet.

Me and Widetrack, killing time on the wing of our jet.

After engine start, we lumbered out behind the two B-52s and the other four tankers. I was only vaguely aware of where they were all headed, having ignored most of the briefing. Something about the BUFFs doing a low level bombing route, then popping up for max fuel offload then blah-blah-blah. My head pounded, my mouth felt like sandpaper, so I just didn’t care.

That is, until mission frequency crackled to life and the command post ordered, “Launch the spare.”

What the hell?

“Confirm,” the command post snapped. “Trade 19, launch.”

That was us. Shit.

“He didn’t get water,” Stinkfinger grumbled, pointing at the tanker on the runway.

I squinted at the squatty tanker, engines bellowing, but no telltale black cloud from the water injection. Fuck, he’s got a boost pump failure.

“Try it again,” Widetrack barked on the mission frequency, a bold and prohibited move on his part, but I hoped that might prod the other crew to cycle the boost pumps a few more times.

No dice.

“Trade 19 now mission primary,” Stinkfinger groaned over the mission frequency.

As if in a bad dream, I acknowledged the tower’s take-off clearance among the muttered curses in the cockpit from my three fellow crewmembers.

We ran through the final takeoff checklist items while I silently prayed that our water injection system would fail so we could abort as well. But no dice; the water injection system kicked in, then Widetrack released the brakes and we began to inch forward.

We rolled most of the long runway, into a glowing pink sunrise, then wobbled into the air and past the cliff at the far end, over the Pacific.

“Gear up,” Widetrack said. I reached for the gear handle and raised it.

Nada.

“It’s not coming up,” I said.

“Well, cycle the handle,” Widetrack said.

I put the gear handle down, waited a heartbeat, then raised it again. Still nothing.

“Fuck me,” Widetrack muttered, lowering the nose slightly to preserve airspeed with the huge landing gear trucks dragging in the slipstream.

Fuck all of us, I decided. With the gear down we’d never make the formation, much less the mission.

“One-ten, water,” Stinkfinger whined.

“Tell the Command Post we’re an air abort,” Widetrack said.

Stinkfinger relayed our status to the Command Post while I coordinated a cruise clearance with Departure Control. No one else spoke, because we all knew we were still screwed: with our mission fuel load, we’d be too heavy to land for hours.

I began to calculate the fuel burn, then the max landing weight. Sonofabitch.

“Three goddam hours at ten thousand,” I relayed the bad news to Widetrack. Flintstone cursed roundly, Stinkfinger whined.

“Request a cruise clearance at five thousand,” Widetrack ordered. “Nothing to hit out here anyway.”

That would help. Maybe only two hours. Flintstone and Stinkfinger unstrapped and went back into the cargo compartment to forage in a survival kit for something to eat while Widetrack and I scoured the manuals for a technical solution to our landing gear failure to retract. There was none.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Widetrack said as I eyed the fuel dump valve switch. “And so does the Command Post.”

I sighed. He was right: they knew exactly how much fuel we’d launched with and even as we spoke, some asshole with a calculator in the command center was figuring out just how long we’d have to fly in order to burn off fuel to be below the max landing weight.

Sure, in an actual emergency, no one would question fuel dumping. But our only emergency was an ever-worsening hangover, although I began to get the impression that only three of us were actually suffering. Stinkfinger had avoided the beach beer binge both days and actually seemed to be enjoying everyone else’s discomfort. Just one more reason for me to despise his whiny ass.

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Seems like I spent a lot of time hanging out on the wing which was much cooler than the cockpit in the South Pacific heat.

Sawdust bars, or what the Air Force called “survival concentrate,” which was densely packed, dried cornflake cubes the size of a soap bar, was all the survival kit offered. I gnawed silently, washing the sawdust down with tepid tap water, and made a promise to myself that I’d cram some sort of survival food into my flight bag going forward.

I’d usually grab a can of Coke before leaving Base Ops for the jet, and I had a special place just aft of the crew entry door wear the insulation could be peeled back and I’d stow the can next to the external skin where at altitude it would chill just shy of freezing within an hour of takeoff. But I hadn’t bothered, being the spare. How I wished for that cold drink as we cruised over the Marianas Islands and the impossibly blue South Pacific at five thousand feet and three hundred knots.

After landing I spent the rest of the morning sleeping, then hung out at the Officer’s Club pool the rest of the day. Though tropically hot and sticky, regular dips in the pool counteracted the heat and on and off catnapping restored my strength from the early showtime.

“Have you heard anything about the plane,” I asked Widetrack who snoozed on the beach chair next to mine.

“Nope,” he said. “And who cares anyway?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it made sense: the tankers were old and creaky and in the tropical climate, cranky from the heat, humidity, and corrosive salt air. I had heard that one of the BUFFs had also been unable to raise the landing gear so the entire mission was a bust. Copyright 2020 Chris Manno All Rights Reserved.

Read the story: paperback coming soon, Kindle today.

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Flying Story: Read It NOW.

Posted in action-adventure, air travel, airline, aviation with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2020 by Chris Manno

If you have hours of time with nothing to do but worry, why not take a flight of fancy?

Same pilots, different setting: now, versus back in our USAF days.

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Left to right, that’s Animal Hauser, wide-body captain; Chip, me, and the Coke, all narrow-body captains. It was a long road from the Air Force to the airlines. It wasn’t always easy, but most of it was fun and all of it memorable. You can climb into the cockpit with us as we all earned our USAF wings.

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Then onto the airlines after the Air Force, and you’ll be there every step of the way. Here’s where we are today:

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Left to right: me, Father-O, Coke, Chip, and Animal–the actual guys in the book:

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Part one is available now from Kindle here, part two and the full paperback will be available very soon from Amazon Books.

Why wait? Get yours today. Live the story, take the ride; enjoy the real thing: An Airline Pilot’s Story.

Amazon Books Rated #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation

 

 

Sneak Preview: “An Airline Pilot’s Life.”

Posted in air travel, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airport, aviation, crewlife, pilot with tags , , , , , on February 2, 2020 by Chris Manno

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Here’s an excerpt from the true story, An Airline Pilot’s Life, scheduled for release in March from Dark Horse Books. This story puts you in the captain’s seat in the cockpit of the world’s largest airline.

In this excerpt, you’ll fly what turned out to be a hair-raising approach into a lifelong lesson you–and every pilot–will never forget. The book will be available on Amazon.com next month. Now, strap in and let’s fly.

 

Chapter __

“Maintain two thousand till established, cleared back course localizer runway three-two, contact tower,” the approach controller said in a bored monotone.

Ahead, the McAllen Airport crept onto my map display. My FO read back the instructions, then checked in with the tower.

“American 1410, you’re cleared to land runway three-two,” the tower controller said. “Previous arrival reported patchy fog over the south end of the field.”

That was the problem with McAllen Airport: they only had a non-precision approach—the back course localizer—for landing north. The descent minimums were much higher than on a precision approach, which meant if we didn’t see the runway at a higher altitude, we couldn’t land.

A precision approach like a Cat 2 would let us descend to a hundred feet, at which point we’d likely see the runway. We’d just flown a Cat 2 approach on a Charlotte turn before the McAllen flight due to fog in Charlotte. We were ready to do the same at McAllen, but the precision approach was only from the north end, and that approach would have a tailwind that was beyond our American Airlines limitations.

I’d called the dispatcher before we left DFW to discuss the runway conundrum: the only sure bet was a precision approach. But, as was typical of McAllen weather, the fog usually blew by in waves. If we were lucky, we’d reach the runway in a gap in the clouds. If not, we’d just go missed-approach and divert to our alternate. We’d planned to carry plenty of fuel for that.

After I talked with the dispatcher, I spoke with another captain, a former AirCal pilot I knew from my merger work a few years earlier.

“Yeah,” Steve said, shaking his head, “Fog in the Rio Grande Valley. We’re headed to Harlingen and the same low viz.”

“Well,” I said, “What’s your alternate? We’ll see you there.”

We both laughed, then filed out of Flight Operations for our departure gates.

After the approach clearance, I pressed the arming buttons for the Cat 2 approach, then glanced at the FMS (Flight Management System) “Progress Fuel Prediction” readout. I always did that when cleared for the approach to decide what our options were if we couldn’t land and went missed-approach. Options were all about fuel, which determined flying time available.

We were way ahead on fuel, meaning, we had much more than we needed to complete the approach, fly the missed approach and divert to our alternate and still land with extra fuel.

Knowing that the visibility at McAllen would improve and degrade in cycles, I believed we’d have enough fuel for a second approach, if we wanted to do that. Or, we could simply divert after the first unsuccessful. I wondered what Steve was doing on his approach into Harlingen, where the weather always seemed to match McAllen. That was why we chose San Antonio for an alternate rather than Harlingen, and so did Steve.

“Looking at the fuel,” I said cross cockpit and I pointed at the FMS fuel prediction, “We have enough fuel for a second approach, with clearance on request to San Antonio on the missed approach. Are you comfortable with that?”

“Comfortable” was the key word: not “okay,” which to me meant I can stand it but I don’t like it. “Comfortable” meant my FO felt there was no worries in the idea. And he agreed.

“In the event of a missed approach,” my FO told the tower, “We’d like vectors to a second approach, with clearance on request to San Antonio afterward.”

“I’ll relay that to approach,” the tower controller said.

As we neared our descent minimums, there was no telltale lightness or gaps in the fog—just depthless gray. I executed the published missed approach and as we climbed past the departure end, the fog vanished. We’d been a minute too early for the fog bank to blow by, but that was encouraging nonetheless because we’d possibly catch the gap on the next approach.

I glanced down at the fuel prediction once again before committing to the approach and also checked with my FO.

“Are you okay with another approach?” I asked. “We could just bail out to San Antonio now. It’s no big deal.”

But he agreed: we had enough fuel to fly this second approach, go missed-approach and fly to San Antonio and still land with extra fuel.

But, at the minimum altitude, we were still in thick gray fog. Again I executed the missed approach and my FO told tower, “We’re ready for clearance to San Antonio.”

The tower controller acknowledged the request and told us that departure controller was ready with that clearance.

We switched frequencies and as we climbed to our enroute divert altitude, the FO made contact with departure control.

“Climb and maintain ten thousand feet,” the departure controller said.

That would have to change. We’d planned a much higher cruise altitude to ensure a minimal fuel burn. With the ten thousand foot cruise altitude set in the FMS, the fuel prediction showed us to land with less than planned fuel.

Then the same laconic voice on departure control frequency stabbed me in the heart.

“Be advised that San Antonio is calling their ceiling and visibility zero,” he droned. “They’re not accepting arrivals. State your intentions.”

Just like that, we were instantly screwed and I knew it. The fog had rolled up the Rio Grande valley much faster than our weather shop and dispatch had predicted. I desperately needed that two thousand pounds of fuel we’d burned on the second McAllen approach, but it was long gone. And if we’d left those fifteen minutes earlier, we might have made it into San Antonio. There was no one to blame but myself, because I’d made the decision to fly that second approach.

“How’s the Austin ceiling and viz?” I asked the controller. Less than fifty miles more flying beyond San Antonio. If we could get a higher altitude, we might conserve enough fuel to land in Austin with an uncomfortably low fuel total, but what were the options?

“Their ceiling and viz are dropping rapidly,” the controller said. “You’d better plan minimum time enroute.”

We coordinated a higher altitude but the fuel prediction still showed a frightfully low fuel total at Austin—if we beat the fog rolling up from the south.

I’d failed Cecil’s second dictum, “Know when to get the hell out of Dodge.” If we couldn’t land in Austin, the next option was Waco almost a hundred miles north. That arrival fuel total would be horrifying, if we even made it that far at all. I’d relied too heavily on the FMS technology and not enough on my instinct, which usually was, there’s nothing you’re going to see on a second approach that you didn’t see on the first. Just get the hell out of town. The MD-80 didn’t even have a fuel prediction function.

There was no panic in the cockpit, though we both knew instantly what we were up against. There was just intense concentration, with an ample side order of tension.

We climbed into the twenties, then I had another critical decision to make. Do I pull the power back to an endurance speed that burned minimal fuel? That would add time to our transit, which could mean the difference between landing before the relentless fog bank swallowed up the field and having to race further north.

The longer we waited, the cooler the evening air would become, and that was the insidious culprit: the fog wasn’t really “moving north” so much as the temperature-dew point spread was diminishing as the sun set. When it reached zero, there’d be fog, from the surface to at least a thousand feet.

It was an all-in bet, keeping the engine power high to minimize enroute time, albeit at the expense of arrival fuel. The new landing fuel prediction was about half of what I’d normally accept, but the minimal time gave us at least a fighting chance to fly the approach and find the runway at descent minimums.

We entered a long, shallow descent toward the Austin airport. I held the speed at two-hundred-fifty until just about twenty miles out, then we “threw out all the shit,” as Coker would say, dropping the gear, the boards and the speedbrakes to slow to approach speed. We broke out of the overcast well above minimums, which was a huge relief, then I flew her to a normal touchdown.

I don’t recall ever being so glad to slow a jet to taxi speed as I was that night. It had been a hell of a day, a long one at that, including three Cat 2 approaches, two go-arounds and a divert at emergency fuel levels.

The passengers never knew the ugly details, other than what should have been just over an hour of flying time turning into nearly three, plus ending up in Austin instead of McAllen. Nor did the flight attendants, really. There was no point telling either of them, as far as I could see.

I told the agent we’d need crew hotel rooms for the night, because we were done. We’d been on duty for twelve hours and besides that strain, the uncertainty of the Austin divert left both of us in the cockpit fried.

The agent invited me inside to operations where the dispatcher was on the line.

“Captain,” said a female voice I didn’t recognize. She must have taken over the shift from the original dispatcher. “We’re going to refuel you, then you’ll fly the passengers back to DFW.”

“No,” I said. “That’s a bad idea. We’re both done for the night.”

“We need you to fly these passengers back to DFW.”

“That’s not a good idea, so, no.”

“Are you refusing a direct order from dispatch?”

She must be new, I thought to myself.

“Call it whatever you want,” I said. “We are done and we’re going to the hotel. Don’t call me back—I’ll be in crew rest. We’ll be ready tomorrow after we’ve had a decent night’s sleep.”

Then I hung up the phone. The next morning, I got a call from Doug Anderson, the DFW Chief who’d recommended I try the F-100. He listened carefully, then said he agreed with my decision, even ending the day in Austin, and supported me one hundred percent. That was typical: whether it was Doug, or Zane lemon after him, I never had anything but full support from the DFW Flight Office.

When I mentioned to Doug the shockingly low fuel we had left after landing, he simply said, “I’ve landed with less.”

I rounded up the crew and we ferried the jet back to DFW empty. On the very quiet, short and routine flight home, I added an addendum to Cecil’s “get out of town advice.” There’d be no multiple approaches, at least not without holding for a significant time to allow conditions to improve. Back-to-back Cat 2 or 3s? Right then and from then on, I’d just get the hell out of Dodge.

Look for An Airline Pilot’s Life in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon next month!

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An Airline Pilot’s Life

Posted in air travel, airline, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airlines, airport, aviation with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2020 by Chris Manno

Want to live the airline pilot life from an insider’s view? Here’s your chance: for the past two years, I’ve been writing an insider, no-holds-barred true story from day one in my forty-plus years of airline and Air Force flying.

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It’s over four hundred pages of details and the real-life, true adventures of flying jets for a lifetime, both USAF and at American Airlines for nearly thirty-five years, twenty-nine as captain.

Watch this space for upcoming excerpts, and the official release date in both paperback and Kindle from Dark Horse Books. Now, the manuscript is in its final rewrite stage:

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Soon, very soon, you can have your own copy, and live the life yourself. If you enjoy the stories and adventures that are the JetHead blog, you won’t want to miss this true story.

Stay tuned.

How to Be a Decent Airline Captain

Posted in air travel, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, aviation, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, FoF with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2019 by Chris Manno

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Here’s my perspective after more than 27 years (and counting) as a captain at the world’s largest airline. When you are lucky enough to attain that fourth stripe, your challenge—and it’s a big one—is to transition from a team player copilot to a decent captain. Yes, I said “decent,” because before you can be good or even excellent, you have to be at least decent.

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Here are my Top Six “decent captain” benchmarks:

1.Focus: There’s a wide spectrum of distraction that spills into your purview as the disparate functions that produce your flight, all of which have complications, setbacks and shortcomings, begin to rear their ugly heads. Don’t get into the weeds with the messy details. Hold firm that “when everything’s right, we’ll fly” then stay out of the sausage-making that is the flight dispatch process. Your job isn’t to fix anyone’s problem, but rather, to hold firm that nothing moves until everything is done properly. In fact, I often make myself scarce when there are maintenance or other logistics problems because they really don’t need another voice in the chaos. I just make sure Flight Dispatch has my cell number and tell them “Call me when everything’s ready,” then head for a crew lounge.

2. Go slow. Not, “drag your feet,” but take it slow and steady, especially when everyone else is rushing, as is typical in the process of turning around a jet and launching it off again. Everyone else in the process is urged to maximize the pace to satisfy time constraints. Your focus is to not rush, not let your crew rush, because you’ll answer for whatever mistakes are made if they don’t take adequate time to fulfill all requirements before the wheels move. You be the one not in a hurry, and reassure the crew that they must pace themselves and not rush.

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3. Stay out of the way. That starts in the cockpit: your First Officer knows what he or she is doing, and they have a lot to do. Stay out of their hair and let them work. Ditto the cabin crew and even the agents. That’s not to say “hands off,” because ultimately, you’re in charge of and accountable for everything that goes on with your flight. But the thing is, if you let people do their jobs—silently observing that everything’s in order—your crew will operate more efficiently than if you micromanage. Don’t interfere in the FO’s preflight flow, just observe that everything’s done properly with a minimum of your input, which a competent copilot really doesn’t need.

4. Never argue. Seriously: you’ve already won—you are the captain and have the final say. There’s really nothing to argue about or no confrontation necessary when you say, “When this is done, we’ll leave. And not until.” Then, as in the “focus” step above, be sure Dispatch has your cell phone number and make yourself scarce.

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5. Trust your instincts. Almost ten years ago, the FAA issued a warning circular based on aircraft manufacturer analysis that stated the automation in today’s airliners has exceeded the human capacity to do backup calculations. You must realize that often problems are layers deep and only surface late in the dynamic, real-time process that is flight. It’s not unusual to admit we “don’t know what we don’t know,” so better to trust an instinct that tells you “something’s just not right” and go to Plan B. And that’s key: have a Plan B, and C and D if necessary. Always have a plan, a backup, an out. Ultimately, if something “just doesn’t feel right”–it probably isn’t.

6. Ask the right questions. This is vital in flight. When complications arise as they always do, don’t ask your First Officer “what do you think of my plan?” You really don’t need that answer as much as this one: “What am I not thinking? What am I missing?” The FO can offer critique or support for “your plan,” but you really need to know what your FO is thinking, what you might be missing, and what you might not have considered.

Mike Tyson said, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” Everyone thinks they know how to be an airline captain–until they actually have to do it. That, like a punch in the face, is a reality known only to those who actually wear the fourth stripe and bear the actual responsibility. Life becomes a new kind of serious in the left seat, no matter how it looked from the right seat or anywhere else.

So work on my Top Six, and dedicate yourself to becoming a decent captain. Nothing beyond that is possible until you do, and nothing will work well for you if you don’t. Good luck.

 

My workspace.

My workspace.

 

 

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