Archive for the wind shear Category

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.

airways screenshot

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:


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.



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.

flight 1

“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.


“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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Fear of Flying: Free Kindle March 25-26

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airline seat recline, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, aviation weather, cartoon, fear of flying, flight, flight crew, flight delays, FoF, jet, jet flight, mile high club, passenger bill of rights, passenger compliance, pilot, travel, travel tips, weather, wind shear with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2018 by Chris Manno

If you are a victim of fear of flying, either directly (you are fearful) or indirectly (a friend or loved one won’t fly), here’s a resource, free:

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After the storm: fly home–but not so fast.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight crew, jet, jet flight, night, pilot, weather, wind shear with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2011 by Chris Manno

After the divert to Wichita Falls, time to gas and go: Flight Dispatch says DFW is accepting arrivals. That’s all we needed to hear–we’re refueled and refiled with Air Traffic Control. As soon as we’re released by tower, we’re in the black night and headed south to DFW at 280 knots.

Would be flying faster, but 280 is the best turbulence penetration speed and though the ride’s not overly bumpy, the latticework of cloud to cloud lightning straight ahead promises roughness. We’re making a beeline for one of the four arrival corner posts for DFW at 10,000 feet.

Things will happen fast on a 70 mile flight, and the First Officer is flying: he’s sharp, and that allows you as captain to oversee all of the preparation, the checklists, the navigation and most importantly, the radar. Approaching midnight, we’re now 12 hours into our pilot duty day, but regardless, there is still the same roster of tasks to be accomplished–and they don’t care how tired you are, they must be accomplished correctly.

Getting a good look at the current radar sweep and things look ugly. The cells have broken up and are scattered like mercury all over the place. The DFW airport arrival information is automated: weather, winds, runway–all printed out from the on-board data link printer. The DFW info says landing south–so you set up frequencies, courses and descent altitudes in both sides of the Flight Management System, as well as both pilot panels. While he flies, you brief the approach.

Have to swing wide around storms–request a descent to get below scud blow-off you can’t see on radar, but which you detect because it’s blocking the pattern of ground lights you know should be Denton. As soon as we begin descent, the master caution light glares in front of your face, along with a pressurization clue. A quick glance at the pressurization control panel above the F/Os head shows we’re holding cabin pressure fine, it’s just that we never reached the programmed cruise altitude and the computer is confused.

“Off schedule descent,” you say, punching off the warning light. Reset the cruise altitude to 5,000, which is lower than where you are, to let the computer recalculate and catch up.

“Radar vectors to 35 Center,” says the air traffic controller. Dammit–we set everything up for a south landing per the DFW info.

“ATIS says DFW landing south,” you say, making sure there’s absolutely none of the annoyance you feel in your voice.

Pause, wherein you can imagine the controller saying to someone the ATIS is wrong. “I’ll check on that, but plan north.

Redo the courses, rebrief for the F/O, reinsert the proper approach in the FMS and extend the centerline for intercept. Complete the checklist down to configuration, validate the Heads Up Display Data. Staring at the lights of The Ballpark in Arlington miles south, doing the math on descent rates versus final turn altitude based on a left turn thereabouts. Looking good.

A loud snap as the autothrottles kick off. “I’ve got them back on,” you say, reaching up to reinstate the system. F/O nods, concentrating on flying.

Now ask yourself why they tripped off. No failures annunciated–they wouldn’t have reinstated with an internal failure. And it’s not that choppy. Has to have been a power interruption. Glance up–sure enough, there it is.

The left generator bus source is gone. Is it the generator or the bus that’s failed? Regardless, we’re flying with only one electrical source–the right generator. Not good.

First instinct is to start the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), a small jet engine in the tail that can provide electrical power and pressurization air–but wait.

If the fault is in the left electrical bus, adding the APU generator could either cause a fire, or take down the APU generator. Be patient.

Although you know the right generator has assumed the power load–so the bus must be okay–why take chances?

“We’ve lost the left generator,” you say, reaching for the Quick Response Handbook. “I’ll take care of it. “F/O nods.

The procedure confirms what you deduced. Within a couple minutes, you have the APU running and power restored. Follow the QRH procedure exactly; better to have two electrical sources–if you’re down to one, if it fails, it’s going to get dark and ugly: flying with limited instruments and systems on 30 minutes of battery back up. In the weather, at night. We can do it–but would rather not.

Left base turn from an angling downwind. Mike’s doing a good job–he sees the bad angle and is slowing and calls for dirtying up with flaps and gear. The runway’s coming into view on my side. Good altitude and speed; the intercept of glideslope and course will be fine.

Tower calls the winds “130 at 18.”

Dammit. The limit is 15. With the 50 degree offset, we’re close. Legal, but you don’t like flirting with limits. Even on a long runway.

“Continue,” you say to Mike’s inquiring look–he’s done the math too. But you’re just about decided to abandon the approach. But no need to rush anything. Rushing is never good.

“I’ll rebug you to 40” you say, changing configuration as required by the tailwind, “and brakes 3.” He nods.

At a thousand feet, it’s clear that the tailwind is unstable and variable–you can tell from our ground speed versus the airspeed.

No good. “Let ‘s take it around,” you say. He nods, adds power–the descent stops.

“Here comes flaps 15,” you recite the litany for him,”positive rate, gear coming up. Missed approach altitude set.”

“American 245 is on the go,” you tell the tower.

“Fly runway heading, maintain two thousand,” says the tower.

Fine; nearly there–reset the throttles from N1 to speed, reset both FMC from climb to capture. Reset both course windows and MDA–because we’re going to land south. Reprogram the FMS for the 17s.

“I’m going to teardrop you out to the east, then bring you around for a final to the south,” says the controller. “Can you do that?”

Eyeballing the radar: nastiness to the northeast, but there’s some room.

“Give us five miles,” you answer. No need to rush–make this correct, hit every step. F/O nods. “Then turn us back in.”

Slowing, getting dirty. Left sweeping turn.

“Do you see the runway?” asks tower. You do–you give a thumbs up to Mike. He nods.

“Affirmative,” you answer.

“Cleared visual approach, cleared to land, 17 Right.”

Confirm the Right runway freqs, MDA and courses set. “I’ll bug you back up to 30,” you say, changing configuration again: don’t need a whole lot of drag without the tailwind and with a possible wind shear. Mike nods.

Glideslope is rough. You’re on a hair trigger to go around again–there’s plenty of fuel to hold or go north to Oklahoma City or south to Austin. Be alert, be patient.

Increasing wind; good sign–but it has to stay within controllable limits. Mike’s doing a fine job wrestling the jet onto glidepath. The Boeing is a steady machine–an MD80 would be a bucking bronco in this.

Below 500 feet–you’re call: it’s stable enough, we’re good. If Mike wants to go-around, we sure will, but we’re good.

Over the threshhold, Mike puts it down; speedbrakes deploy, he yanks in full reverse, the jet slows.

“Nice job,” you say, taking over as we slow to 80 knots.

After landing checklists, taxi in. Careful, do the job right all the way to the chocks. Engine shutdown.

Passengers deplaning, our shutdown checklists complete. You’re writing up the left generator in the maintenance logbook, a mechanic is already on the jetbridge waiting.

“You can take off, Mike,” you say, “I’ll finish up here.” Meaning you’ll do the final “after all passengers have deplaned” checklist items to power down the aircraft. That’s a courtesy you do–you’re the captain, you leave last. He did a great job tonight–respect that.

We fist bump, he leaves.

You finish up: packs off, recirc fans off, cockpit power off. Grab your bags. Slip out of the gate area past the 160 passengers who have no idea what transpired between Wichita Falls and their safe landing a few minutes ago. Nor should they–that’s what they pay you for.

Fresh air feels good, outside waiting for the employee bus to the parking lot. Nearly 1am, got to get home and get some rest–flying again tomorrow.

From Sea Level to 737 Captain: Judgment Day.

Posted in airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, flight training, jet, pilot, wind shear with tags , , , , , , on November 13, 2010 by Chris Manno

NOTE: This is part of a series that examines firsthand what it’s like for an airline pilot

to transition to a new airliner. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.


Judgment Day: this is what it all leads up to: the FAA rating ride. That is, another aircraft “type” rating–that means that the FAA grants you the privilege of flying a specific aircraft type.

It’s mainly a captain thing. First Officers usually don’t get the Type Rating, although on our 737 fleet they do. Our airline decided that since the 737 fleet flies internationally –including south America and the Caribbean–they’d type all the F/Os to have complete versatility manning both the International and Domestic divisions.

And a rating ride is usually done by a designated airline examiner, meaning an airline pilot Check Airman (you were one yourself on the MD-80 fleet) is designated as the FAA certifying official. But for you? Sorry, it’s not your lucky day.

The Check Airman giving you your “polish work”–endless landings with ever increasing crosswinds, engine failures at lift off–casually mentioned, “By the way, the FAA Principal Operations Inspector will be observing you on your  rating ride.

Say what?!!

Like a rating ride isn’t enough: let’s add the feds, the guy who can revoke your pilot certificate with the stroke of a pen based solely on what he observes in your check.

“But don’t worry,” he added quickly, “he’s a really nice guy.” Yeah, with small fingers, right? And a set of beady little eyes watching everything you do for four hours, judging you. Judgment day.

Your luck is really lousy, isn’t it? You are so screwed.

But you’re getting ahead of yourself. Let’s revisit the last week. Here’s the plan:

Simulator Day 1 through Day 5 are with a simulator instructor: procedures, basic maneuvers, procedural flows. The sim instructor spends about two hours before each sim period going over the complex computer work we’ll doing with the Flight Management Computers (FMCs) in order to effect the performance and navigation we need to accomplish.

And it’s truly Byzantine in the complexity and layering of systems interaction that must be managed while flying the jet at the same time. The FMCs manage both vertical and lateral navigation, but there’s a catch: you have to program it properly and command the correct mode. Not so easy.

The hands-on is better, being something you can understand. And the neighborhood is becoming more familiar, too. You can find the switches and knobs and grouped systems you need to operate the jet.

But it’s one thing to DO the programming, and quite another to call for it while you’re hand flying. Kind of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach. The process is, programming the FMC, commanding change through one of six modes, monitoring the implementation of  the change on the Mode Control Panel lights, verify that with the proper annunciation on the primary flight display then the performance instruments, and then ultimately, the seat of the pants: is that enough power? Pitch? Roll?

Now see how that plays out on the Nav display: are we intercepting the lateral course? Will the wind shift the lead point past a mandatory fly-over  point? And vertically, will we make the assigned crossing restriction at the correct speed?

For you, the answers must be squared away with your cyborg-vision: the trick of the HUD, besides deciphering all of the data, is looking THROUGH it. Meaning, seeing the target through the HUD while gathering the data peripherally, not fixating on the ghostly green  glowing data stream itself.

When you’re rocketing down the runway, near take-off speed you’re traveling at over 200 feet PER SECOND. You cover a football field in the blink of an eye in the nosecone of a seventy ton missile of metal, fuel, bone and blood. You have a nanosecond to decide from the data before you–aural, visual and tactile–not only should we stop, but can we?

So we practice constantly in the simulator. Blasting down a wet runway, you keep the diamond shaped speed bug at 80 knots in your awareness. Any abort after that is only for the big four: fire, failure, fear or shear.

Two of these bad boys slung under the wings put out a combined 54,000 pounds of thrust.

That is, engine fire, engine failure, “fear” or your split second judgment that something has made the jet un-air worthy, or “shear,” which is wind shear. And that’s always the captain’s decision, and he’d better get it right because on the line, no “do overs.” It’s for keeps.

So rolling down the runway, near max abort speed, yellow caution light comes on; “continue” you announce correctly. Another time, at 120 knots, a fire bell. “Abort!” and you grab the controls, yank both engines into full reverse then through the most accurate gage–the seat of your pants–determine if the Autobrake system is handling the deceleration properly. If not–you must.

Actually, face it: every day, every flight, is judgment day. And you’d better be right.

Which is why everything’s accompanied by a specific and often tedious litany, but that’s what it takes to get the complex job done exactly every time. If it was easy, anyone could do it, right? And oh by the way, the FAA will decide if you’re doing it right.

. . . and do all this--perfectly--at over a hundred miles an hour in thick fog.

Anyway, you move on to the final simulator phase, and the Check Airman takes over. You did that job yourself for years on the MD-80 so you know the drill: now we marry up the instruction with real-world scenarios and applications.

Finally getting good, solid line-oriented advice fro a guy with a couple thousand hours in the jet: hold the power in till thirty feet, don’t float, a little opposite rudder and wing low. Ah, flying stuff–now THAT makes sense.

The hours are wearying: two hour brief, four hour sim; sometimes coming out of the box at midnight; sometimes going in at 5:30 am. Still, that’s just like the airline pilot job: some nights a tough approach in Seattle after midnight body time, often it’s a buttcrack of dawn take-off on the east coast.

Now, though, as we near the end of the syllabus, like the runway end rushing up at us, you have to make a judgment: are you ready? Are we as a crew ready? Like every decision you must correctly make in flight, there’s no easy answer.

But like in flight, you make the call. “You guys ready for your check?” he asks on the last training day.

That’s every bit as much a judgment call as you’ll ever make on the end of a runway or at decision height on an approach. No easy answer. Some things still feel rough. Most is okay, with a herculean effort. The First Officer? Solid as a rock, excellent pilot. But we’re both in the “new jet” phase with this beast. And the FAA will be in the front row, on board, second guessing you every step of the way. With the authority to ground you if you fail.

“Yes,” I assure the Check Airman. “Bring it on.”

Judgment Day? Yeah, every single one of ’em is that.  But if it was easy, everyone would do it, right?

Coming up next, the final hurdle: the maneuvers validation check (MV) and the line check (LOE). An eight hour four axis, full-visual simulator examination of everything from single engine approaches to minimum ceiling and visibility to complex navigation.

And the payoff for all of the work . . . the first flight in the real aircraft.

Airline pilots are overpaid–or maybe not.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, wind shear with tags , , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by Chris Manno

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

None of my passengers yesterday had any idea that on landing, they were speeding down the flooded runway with no brakes, which is fine with me.

I mean the part about “nobody had any idea.” I’m a big fan of braking, especially when it comes to a sixty-ton jet on a rain-slicked runway.

They all deplaned a few moments later, none the wiser, which is also fine with me. I wanted to make a phone call and grab a bite between flights and I only had a few minutes to do it.

If you prefer to have “no idea” what goes on in the cockpit, click here.  If you you want to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, here we go.

Twenty-some miles out of Raleigh-Durham Airport at 5,000 feet and about 200mph. The wind is a direct tailwind at 69 knots. The ceiling at the airport is between 300 and 500 feet. That means we won’t break out of the clouds until we get below 300 feet. But the minimum we can descend to without a determination that the landing is safe is 200 feet. That means we’ll have about 5 seconds from when we see the runway to decide if we can land–and make the necessary control inputs to position the jet for a safe landing and oh by the way, the approach lights aren’t working today. With me so far?

The tower reports the surface wind to be a direct crosswind. So we know the wind will shift 90 degrees somewhere between 5,000 and touchdown, plus decrease in velocity by nearly half. Also, the temperature at our altitude is about 50 degrees, but it’s 33 on the ground with freezing drizzle. Besides the fact that the jet, like a galloping horse, wants to point it’s own head and go where it’s pointed–into the crosswind, which isn’t unfortunately the way the runway’s pointed–the shifting airmass we’re riding in is bumpy as a logging trail. I call back and warn the cabin  crew,

“Hang on–she’s gonna buck.” They’re Dallas-based as well. They get it. Lightens the mood–okay my mood–a little to joke around.

My F/O is one of the best. She’s an Air Force Academy grad, and like me, a former Air Force pilot. “Takes 4,000 pounds of fuel to get to Norfolk,” she offers, thinking of our alternate. We have 12,000 pounds at the moment.”If we don’t land, you put clearance on request to Norfolk and we’ll be there in twenty minutes. The winds are lighter there.”

This ain’t my first rodeo, I know how this goes: I’ll have a couple seconds tops between when we break out of the clouds and she calls “minimums,” which means if we’re not in the slot–on airspeed, fully configured, power stable–we’re going to Norfolk. Also, I know that when the jet’s done bucking around, her nose better be pointing down the runway (that’s what rudder’s for, but there’s not always enough throw) and I’ll need to delicately put the upwind wingtip lower, touching down right main gear first, then left, then the nose. Then stop the beast on what I know is a slick runway.

We break out of the clouds but into heavy rain at 300 feet. I take a “one-Mississippi” breath to size up the picture, kick in the correct rudder, lower the wing, and see if my correction will hold. It does–we can land, if nothing else changes.

This is actually my watch. No nerdy-pilot clunker here.

“Minimums,” Nora calls. “Landing,” I announce. I keep a hair-trigger on the go-around throttle toggles, ready till the last few feet to rocket us back into the air if the bronco starts to get the better of me in this wild ride. One deliberate bump from the heel of my throttle hand and the fuel controls 140 feet behind me will dump a torrent of jet fuel into both burner cans, then we’ll stand it on it’s tail riding 50,000 pounds of thrust, getting the hell out of Dodge.

I wrestle the controls; I win. We touch down softer than I meant to, but with the blustery winds, my main goal is to make it a controlled gear-by-gear touchdown without dragging a wingtip.It’s a smart jet. On touchdown, when a computer senses that the main wheels are turning, the spoilers on top of the wing automatically pop up to kill the wing’s lift and thereby put more weight on the wheels and make our braking more effective.

The spoilers didn’t deploy. That’s because the wheels weren’t spinning: we were hydroplaning at about 145 miles per hour.

As I said, this ain’t my first rodeo. I know that hydroplaning occurs most readily at nine times the square root of the tire pressure. Our main tires are at over 200 psi, so the square root is around 15; multiplied by 9 equals 135 or so. After which, we’ll get traction and braking. Lesson of the day: if your car’s tires are at 36 psi, your hydroplane vulnerability is around 50 mph. Don’t panic! Stay with it, decelerate carefully and you WILL regain traction.

My excellent First Officer called out, “No spoilers” and manually deployed them. I kept the nose straight with aerodynamic controls until the brakes became effective, slowing our sixty-ton sled to taxi speed, skidding nonetheless four or five times more over pooled water from the heavy rain.

We warned the Southwest jet on final ten miles behind us. Then taxiied to the gate.

The jet emptied, the passengers went safely on their way, and I stopped at my favorite barbeque place before turning the jet around and launching back into the rainy gloom.

Just another day at the office. I couldn’t do anything without the teamwork of the fantastic first officers we have.  And you couldn’t get where you’re going in one piece without all of us on both sides of the cockpit door.

Nonetheless, we still hear all too often that airline pilots are overpaid. Click on the video below, and think that over.


Meet your congress!

Well, at least one famous member. Here’s the “Larry Craig Toilet” in the Minneapolis Airport:

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