Archive for airliners

Airline Pilot: Paint Me Another Landing

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2016 by Chris Manno

737 landing crop

Passengers experience the approach from the back of the jet: sinking lower, corrections left and right, a wingtip dipping, maybe the mush of a rudder step against the crosswind. Landing soon. Right?

image

So much more goes on beyond the locked cockpit door: one part land, two parts fly; a side order of go around–and all are acceptable.

You go to school in your head from ten, twenty miles out: what’s the wind doing? How’s the jet responding? What gets us between the final approach fix steady with all of the markers (pitch, power, roll and track) sinking through a thousand feet? And what will change?

image

It’s a moving target: you have to change configuration drastically, but lock in the performance in terms of stable speed and descent rate. Energy management: need to slow AND descend–what’s the best bargain, what drag do you pay out to slow, descend and lock in the 3 degree glide slope?

Time is never your friend. You’d better know how the thousands of pounds of jet fuel on board translate into not only minutes, but miles: where you gonna go, and when, captain? Used to ask new captains I checked out, one hand over the fuel gages (you need to know this stuff, not look for it when I ask), how much time do you have?  When do we need to get the hell out of Dodge, and where will you go?

AIPTEK

Watch the jets ahead. What are they fighting? The widebodies on final and in the traffic pattern are a great visual aid: what are they doing? See those big old, tired pilots step on that rudder; watch the tentative wing-low; go to school–you’ll look smarter through 500 feet because they gave you a cheat sheet.

Think-feel-fly: be the solution, at 180 knots across the ground. Don’t just operate the flight controls–fly the jet.

Never mind the tower-reported winds–look around: smoke? Trees? Ripples on the water? And the living windsock you’re flying in–what does it take? Never mind what it should require, what the reported winds said it would take. Put it where you want it. Have those few extra knots in your pocket, the ones so easily pick-pocketed by faithless winds; carry the big drag (give me 40) in order to carry the big power. Your TOGA “get out of jail free” card is that much more readily cashed in, you’re actually driving through the wind to the runway rather than surfing the gusts.

hud-sample

Match the cross-track to the steady state wind, ignore the gusts heckling to no good end. Believe in what you know, what the jet’s telling you–there’s more power than you’ll ever need hanging on the wings, manage it; just fly smart.

Small correction rates, as big a correction as is necessary–don’t be shy. The jet’s like a horse: she needs to believe you believe in yourself if you’re going to make the jump, to know you can handle the landing.

SNA

It’s a weird conundrum, landings: you’ll never get credit for what you don’t do, never be forgiven for what you do. The answer is simple: perfection, then neither extreme alternative applies.

Taxi-in is the payoff. Silence is best, in my opinion. No need to reflect on what you just accomplished, just own it, bank it, quietly. You’re only as good as you last flight, and the next one’s waiting. Doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but it damn well better be pretty.

Humble up, and let’s go do it again.

image

 

 

Airliners in Weather: What the Hail?

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, aviation weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2015 by Chris Manno

image

Recently, a Boeing 787 and an Airbus 320 made headlines with dramatic photos of hail damage to the radomes and leading edges of the airfoils. That type of news story prompts the question from friends, family and passengers, “Can’t pilots see hail coming?”

My answer is threefold: yes, no, and it’s not that simple. Let’s take each part in order.

image

On a normal flight, the above outside view would be depicted like this on a cockpit nav display:

image

The magenta line is our filed flight path–where Air Traffic Control (ATC) expects us to be. To simplify for the sake of brevity, green areas are precipitation, red, convection, meaning uplifting air.

So yes, we can often see it coming because we know that convection can heave massive amounts of moisture upward with great force, into altitudes where the temperature could easily be -35C or less. This flash-freezes the moisture into ice pellets, with the size determined by variables of speed and temperature. I’ve felt and heard the sizzling sound of such particles impinging on my aircraft at over 40,000 feet–they’re fairly tiny and mostly innocuous at high altitude–not so in the lower, denser air.

Regardless, here’s where the “no” of my tripartite answer comes in. Like the ill-advised New Year’s Eve tradition some gun owners have of celebratory fire, what goes straight up comes back down–but the question is, where?

An enormous volume of hail spewed from the top of a thunderhead will get caught up in the winds aloft and they vary from near zero to over 100 mph. It’s not unusual for wind to blow a hail storm ten or more miles from the core of the thunderhead that lifted the moisture in the first place.

At night, the lightning may be obvious, but storm contours are not.

At night, the lightning may be obvious, but storm contours are not.

Can an you see that on radar? Maybe. Normally, you have the radar looking ahead, not up. What was a clear path, suddenly may be filled with hail, even miles away from the original source.

Which brings me to “it’s not that simple.” Both of the recent hail damage incidents occurred at low altitude, and by that I mean below 20,000 feet, which is a complicated area: jetliners don’t cruise that low, so the airspace is filled with a conflicting mix of climbing and descending aircraft. ATC does a fantastic job of sorting the mix crammed into often constrained airspace. But the problem is, that doesn’t leave much room for deviating around weather.

image

In fact, with so many aircraft being managed on a particular frequency, it’s extremely difficult to even get a course change request to ATC. Add to that a ground speed often between 200 and 300 miles per hour and you have a dilemma: yes, you can see some weather threats, no, you can’t see all of them and avoiding weather and other jets in crowded airspace is simply put, not easy. Things change rapidly, virtually by the minute, and we’ll cover many miles in that time.

I can’t stress enough how versatile and responsive ATC is in managing tight airspace filled with dissimilar aircraft on assorted routes and changing altitudes. But as the mix becomes more dense, this high-speed Rubik’s becomes an outlandishly devilish puzzle.

In the cockpit, know that we’re using every means at our disposal to detect and track weather. We gauge the wind effect out of the top of a storm, we plot a course upwind of effects, we pass along what we’ve found to ATC and other aircraft.  Count on the reality that everyone on the ground and in the air is doing everything possible to avoid or, in the worst case, escape from bad weather.

Even the fact that only two aircraft out of the thousands in flight that day made the news with hail damage is good news in itself: pilots and ATC are pretty good at handling weather. Still, there’s only so much room and little leeway to detect and avoid hail.

image

That’s the real news, and the good news far outweighs the bad: flying to Philly yesterday, I can’t compliment both ATC and the dozens of other pilots in the air for sharing information about clear passages, turbulence and new routings. I don’t know how Center and Approach do it, but the responsiveness and quick reaction is amazing.

I’m especially grateful that my airline has made installation of cutting edge radar technology in my cockpit a priority: yes, it’s expensive, but they want me to have the best, most current weather picture as I approach a front with you on board.

Our newest radar–which I’m glad to have available–displays three dimensions, is linked to our nav system so it always knows exactly where it is and thus screens out ground clutter and geographic features, and displays a predictive movement of hazards. It’s always on, scanning for potential problems and will pop up on cockpit displays if it detects something even if we’ve selected another depiction.

So there you have it. Yes, no, and it’s complicated–those are my answers to the question, “Can’t you see hail from the cockpit?” The big-picture view is that we’re all working together to stay out of the headlines. I’ll be flying to LaGuardia and back tomorrow and the fact that you WON’T read about my flight underscores everything I’ve just said.

image

 

%d bloggers like this: