Posts Tagged ‘Boeing’

Asking for help

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Pilots tend to have egos. We don’t like to admit that we need help, but the truth is that we need it more often that we want to admit. This is especially true when we’re learning something fairly new, or have not spent a lot of time in an aircraft. It might be something as simple as how to program a new fix in the avionics, and it might be something as complicated as…programming a new fix in the avionics.

I’m still learning the ins and outs of the 737, which I’ve been flying now for almost two years. I spend most of my time on reserve, as I am fairly junior in my base, so I don’t fly as much as I’d like. My flight time tends to occur in spurts where I’m flying a lot, and then sitting at home a lot. The result is that I often need to brush up on a few items before I go fly a trip. It’s also not uncommon for me to just forget a few things here and there.

The need for help was driven home recently while talking to a friend of mine who has made the transition from one career to another, having left behind a field she spent 30 years in (finance) for one that is brand new to her (flight attendant). For as much time as I’ve been in the airlines, I must confess that I knew precious little about the training that the cabin crews go through. That’s changed, because my friend, who was hired by a major airline, spent five pretty intense weeks tackling an enormous amount of material, all of which was new to her.

One of the things that quickly became apparent was that she wasn’t going to make it through training on her own. I had forewarned her about that before she left, but I’m not sure that she fully appreciated it until she got into class and got hit with the full brunt of all the information she needed to master. This carried over to the airplane as well, and it was a bit of a surprise to me to hear just how much she relied on her crew mates as she got her feet wet.

It reminded me of my own experiences in the cockpit. Pilots tend to think that flying is flying, and it doesn’t matter what airplane it is. That’s true…to a point. But each airplane is different, and each one has its own challenges. Throw in learning the way a new company does things, and it’s even more complex.

I spent 16 years with my first airline, and moving to the second one involved a lot of “unlearning,” and it’s not easy. I had to ask for help, not only on the basic information about how new equipment worked, but on how to simply fit in. I’m on my third airline now, and I’m still asking for help. Sometimes, it seems like I am asking for help on something that is so simple I should be embarrassed, but I learned a long time ago—usually the hard way—that these are the times when I absolutely must ask for help. Life experience is a great teacher in that respect.

As my friend the FA has said, she asks for help for two reasons. One, she might genuinely need it. Two, it’s often just a way to reinforce what she knows or even just thinks she knows. It’s a confidence- builder. And that alone is enough.—Chip Wright

When is 200 feet not 200 feet?

Monday, October 1st, 2012

This is probably something that you have not given a lot of thought, but think about this: When you fly a Cessna 172 at pattern altitude, say 1,000 feet, how high are you? What if you were flying in a Boeing 747? How high would you be if your altimeter in a 747 read 1,000 feet? Clearly, the entire airplane is not at that altitude, especially considering that the tail alone sits more than 60 feet off the ground when the airplane is parked.

If you are an instrument-rated pilot, or thinking about becoming one, one of the topics you will become familiar with is decision height or minimum descent altitude on an instrument approach. Considering that a standard ILS uses a published DH of 200 feet agl, which part of the airplane are they referring to? Does the pilot of one airplane have an advantage “over” another?

In transport category aircraft—that is, airliners—as well as most business aircraft, there is a radio altimeter that is essentially a radar for determining the height of the airplane over the ground. The crew needs to know exactly what is being referenced so that they can make an informed decision about executing a go-around.

The fact is that in larger airplanes, the radio altimeter computes the height above ground with reference to the wheels. This makes sense. Even on narrow-body airliners like the B-737 or the A-320, the crew might be sitting such that their heads—eyes—are 16 feet or so over the ground, which means that they are well over 200 feet agl at the lowest published altitude of the approach. For a 747, the pilot flying would be sitting even higher.

It only makes sense that all the required measurements are based on the height of the wheels. After all, it is the wheels that ultimately must cross the airport fence in order to assure a safe arrival of the plane. If you don’t believe me, just watch any one of the videos on YouTube of 747s crossing the beach and fence in St. Maarten (in fact, there is a great YouTube video that is filmed from the cockpit of a KLM 747 landing at St. Maarten).

As for who has the advantage? I’d say the 172 pilot does, for the simple reason that when a 172 pilot breaks out of a low cloud ceiling, the airplane does too. A 747 crew might well be still enveloped in a cloud while the wheels or even the lower row of passengers is in the clear. In reality, this will rarely matter if the airplane has a working auto-land system. But if it doesn’t, and the crew is forced to fly a standard Category I ILS, they might not see the runway, whereas the CRJ or even the 172 behind them does.

How about that…one-upping a Whale! Who’d a thunk it?—Chip Wright