Archive for windshear

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.


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

A2PL new cvr F - Amazon blurb w border


From Amazon Books–just CLICK HERE.

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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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