Archive for 737-800

Pilot Report: 737-Next Gen Heads Up Display.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by Chris Manno

hud aaFirst Officers love to derisively grumble about the captain being a HUD cripple–meaning he can’t make a decent landing without the “HUD”–Heads Up Display.” Fine–count me in: I swear by the device.

HUDs are standard now on the Boeing 787 and I’ll bet there’s less grumbling from F/O’s for one good reason: now there’s a HUD on their side as well in the 787. On the 737-800, the HUD is only on the captain’s side.

I’ll admit that I had my doubts too when I first started the transition from MD-80 captain to 737 captain. How could Flight Management computers, ILS antennas GPS and symbol generators reliably synthesize a runway display before my eyes despite clouds and weather obscuration? Worse, without any ground-based approach aids, how could the jet’s computers and satellite receivers pinpoint our position close enough to allow for safe descent and approach–completely in the blind?

I’ll also admit, like everyone else learning to use the HUD, I was swimming in symbology and information at first. Add to that the transition from traditional round dial displays on the MD-80 to the more advanced flat-panel displays on the Boeing Next Gen jets and you have a real spaghetti bowl of information swirling in front of you and in the case of the HUD, it’s all in ghostly monochromatic green, compared to the color-sorted original display on the instrument panel that is reproduced in the HUD:


But eventually, two things happen. First, you stop swimming in the symbology. Second, you learn after dozens of approaches in the clear as well as in the blind in weather that the system is reliable.

The first part, stopping the swimming is not as easy as it sounds but the trick is this: you have to embrace the theory of the flat panel display above that gives you a symmetry of information: airspeed tape on the left side, altitude tape on the right. Compare the two readouts between the photo of the information on the photo above, then on the HUD display above that. Note the markers indicating speed limits–we call it the “chain,” showing max speeds for configuration. That shifts as you change configuration–say, add or remove flaps.

night cockpit

On the instrument panel, you see the chain in a different color–up top on the HUD, it’s all ghostly green. So two things have to happen. First, you stop looking at colors and discipline yourself to see and heed shapes–but that’s not all. Second, you learn to not look at the side  displays, but rather, incorporate shapes into your peripheral awareness. That is key: peripheral sense. keep both tapes, airspeed and altitude in your indirect awareness, alert for the shapes on each giving you cues to the restrictions. In the case of speed, it’s minimums and maximums (the “chains” counterpart on the low end is the “hook,” or stick shaker limit). In the case of altitude, same thing: level off or descent minimums, or climb level off points, or clean-up altitudes.

You don’t look “at” the HUD information, you look through it but incorporate the information as you go. I once counted all of the possible display symbology and counted nearly 60 pieces of information displayed. You could get lost trying to follow every piece of information, but the key is to just absorb whatever you can from the periphery as things change. Let’s put this into motion on an approach:

(note: the above is an embedded YouTube video. If your browser won’t animate it, just click here to watch)

Notice the slowly decreasing altitude on the righthand tape while the airspeed on the left remains stable. The radio altitude  is counting down near the center–obviously that’s important and so that information is near center of your focus and incidentally, near the touchdown point. The compass rose below the display shows the course track, but the only thing you care about is alignment–again, you’re simply maintaining symmetry by keeping that peripheral information lined up.

This video is slightly different from the 737-800 I fly in that there’s no “flare” cue in this depiction: that’s simply the word “flare” that anunciate above a line that appears indicating where to put the nose for a smooth touchdown. Also, the word “idle” annunciates to suggest when to remove power as the autothrottles pull back for touchdown.

The Flight Management System data-links in the runway data so the HUD target the touchdown accurately.

The Flight Management System data-links in the runway data so the HUD target the touchdown accurately.

The dot in the center of the aircraft symbol is the desired path, the symbol surrounding it–if you’re successful at keeping them aligned–is the “flight path vector,” a symbol indicating where the aircraft is aimed despite the apparent orientation. That is, in a crosswind, you may be canted 20 to 30 degrees to one side or the other, but the FPV shows where you’re actually headed.

This video stops at touchdown, but the HUD does not: when you select detail level 2 or 3 and the ILS antenna supports it, the HUD gives you a runway remaining countdown and centerline steering information–which can be very useful in low-visibility landings and take-offs :


At my airline, we fly the HUD to the lowest minimum certified, as opposed to other Cat 3 certified aircraft that “autoland.” We never autoland–rather, with the aid of the HUD, the captain hand-flys every minimum visibility approach. Now that I have over a thousand hours in the 737-800 left seat, yes, I’m a “HUD cripple”–and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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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.

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