Archive for April, 2008

Whoa, Earthquake!

18 April 2008 at 4:08 am
by Berck

I just felt my first earthquake.

It just now showed up on the USGS page.

Looks like preliminarily a 5.4 on the Richter scale, with an epicenter 127 miles from here. I’m currently the farthest-away reporter.

I was about to climb in bed and the bed started shaking a little. I thought the neighbors were shaking the room. Then I realized everything in the room was shaking, and I was shaking, and the curtain rods were swaying back and forth as I went over to the window to look outside. I’d say it lasted about 6 seconds. It was ending when I finally realized that it was an earthquake, since I’d never felt one. I wonder if I’d have noticed if I weren’t on the 5th floor.

As I realized what it was, I got scared. The fifth floor seemed like a bad place to be. No one else seemed to be leaving their rooms, presumably they were all sleeping. I was in my boxers without shoes. I put on some pants and shoes and walked down the hall. At this point, I wondered if I should bother. I didn’t want to go outside, and I started to wonder if I was just imagining things. If I were going to evacuate, it would be dumb to do it in the elevator, and I didn’t feel like walking down stairs. And then I thought about Joanna’s stories of everyone standing around outside in Athens after an earthquake. It was 4:40 am at this point, and I didn’t want to go stand around outside.

So I got on the internet and tried to find it. I first started with Google news. Because, you know, someone was going to write a news story about an earthquake within 5 minutes of it happening, and Google news was clearly going to tell me about it. Yeah. Then I found some promising websites with real time updates, but I didn’t see anything in my area. I figured it must have been something else, after all, the only earth quakes I’ve been in before I’ve slept through. I decided to report it on the website anyway, as the USGS seemed very interested in my report. After I finished filling out the report, the website listed the quake.

Anyway, with that shot of adrenaline, I’m going to try to sleep now.


18 April 2008 at 3:18 am
by Berck

[Editor’s note: The following was written at 4am, and with the intent of getting it down, rather than being terribly high quality writing. I’ll try to clean it up later. I also appreciate that much of it is probably incomprehensible to most of you as it’s highly technical, but I figure it’d give you a feel for what’s going on. It probably makes for an interesting comparison to my stories about learning to fly in the first place.]

I just got to play a $50 million computer game.

We spent the first 1.5 hours just learning how to set the damn thing up and going through on-the-ground checklists. I started out in the left (Captain’s) seat as non-flying pilot since I figured I could program the FMS a bit more quickly than Rob. It felt great to actually push the buttons and flip the switches I’ve only been able to touch on the posters so far.

We started out on 31L at JFK (it seems that Flight Safety hadn’t programmed in a gate for us), so we didn’t do any taxiing. Which is fine with me, because the motion when you taxi isn’t quite right, and it’s very nausea-inducing. Your brain knows what it feels like to move around the ground, but when the sim doesn’t duplicate that correctly, you get a very unpleasant feeling. It’s even worse when the sim is repositioned and the visuals and the motion take a second to realign. Nothing like a visual that says you’re level on the ground while the sim is being righted from a 45 degree bank to level.

After what seemed like eternity we got a takeoff clearance. I thought were never going to get to actually fly. I flipped on all the lights (there’s a lot of them) and waited for Rob (my sim partner) to turn the transponder on to his side and set the fuel crossflow to manual. I called for the before takeoff check below the line and when it was done, transferred the flight controls to Rob. He pushed the thrust levers up to climb power and said, “Set thrust.” I pushed the thrust levers up into the “TOGA” detent, waited for the N1 indication to match the FADEC-calculated N1 setting and called, “Thrust set.” I kept my eyes inside and watched the airspeed tape. I called out 80 knots, and Rob responded with “checked.” “V1, VR… V2.” As Rob rotated the runway got smaller, but the altimeter still read zero. It also said “NEG”. I’d previously assumed that it was just barely below zero, which with the 20 ft field elevation of JFK, that seemed within limits. But as we hurtled away from the ground the altitude tape wasn’t changing. But, since we were obviously off the ground, and the VSI said +1.1 and climbing, I called out “Positive rate.” “Gear up, speed mode,” Rob replied. We’ve been waiting a long time to say these things at the right time and it seemed so weird that there were actually actions to accompany these calls. I flipped up the gear handle, and selected speed mode on the Flight Control Panel. The Flight Mode Annunciator responded with “CLB 168”, and I called out “Climb 168.” Rob asked for Nav mode and autopilot on, and I selected it for him. The radar altimeter showed we were climbing though 2,000 feet, but still nothing on the altitude tape. About then it finally came alive. I asked the sim instructor what was going on altimeter, and he had no idea, so we just pressed on. He pointed out that we were above acceleration altitude anyway, and told Rob to dial the speed up to to 250 knots. He did, and the plane started to level out for a bit as it accelerated. “V2 plus 12,” to which Rob responded, “Flaps 1.” I spent awhile futzing with the flap lever trying to figure out how to work it. It wouldn’t budge. The one on my poster always did exactly what I wanted it to do, this one was being recalcitrant. I finally figured out that you have to push down on it to get it to go up past flaps 8, and got the flaps up 1, called out, “VT minus 15,” “Flaps up,” and I got the flaps up.

As we were barreling through 4,000 feet, the instructor gave us a clearance to level off at 5,000, then told me to shut up and told Rob to just push the following buttons and think about them later. We were already at 4,500 and screaming upwards. I figured there was no way we weren’t going to blow through it. “Pull the thrust levers to idle, push ALT, preselect 5,000, push speed mode.” We were going through about 4,700 as Rob hit the ALT button which caused the plane to do its best to level off at 4,700. Given the climb rate it gave us a pretty vigorous level-off which I’m sure would have resulted in a very light feeling had we actually been flying, but the sim can’t really simulate negative G very well. As it was still trying to level off, it was already being told to climb to 5,000 at the current the speed and it went to ALTS CAP mode, and leveled off beautifully. It flies itself a lot better than I can fly it.

Instructor: Freedom Air 5961, there’s a bomb threat at DFW and the airport is closed. State your intentions.

Me: Freedom Air 5961 would like to return to JFK. (Since I knew that we weren’t going anywhere other than JFK, this seemed the logical choice.)

Instructor: Uhh, no. Tell ATC to standby and you ask Rob what he wants to do, the flying pilot calls the shots.

Me: Standby. Rob, what do you want to do?

Instructor: Okay, Rob, you want him to call dispatch.

Rob: Call company and ask them what they want us to do.

Instructor: No, have him call dispatch, not “company”.

Rob: Call dispatch and ask them what they want us to do.

Instructor: How do you want him to call dispatch?

Rob: Uh, we’re below 18,000 feet. I want him to call Ops and have them relay the call.

Me: What’s the ops frequency?

Instructor: 127.10

I tuned it in on the COM 2 radio, told Rob I’d be off 1.

Me: Kennedy ops, Freedom Air 5961.

Instructor: Freedom 5961 you’re transmitting Kennedy Departure.

Stupid mistake, something my cadets did all the time. I flipped the frequency into the active and tried again…

We eventually got the plane headed back around for an ILS approach to the same runway we departed from. I felt like an idiot because I suck at instruments, and didn’t really understand the fact that the DME listed on the approach was from the VOR and not the Localizer. The instructor showed us how to make the radios do DME from a different frequency other than the one tuned.

On approach, nothing seemed right, we intercepted the glideslope way early, and at minimum altitudes we hadn’t broken out of the clouds yet. This didn’t make any sense because the radar altimeter wasn’t registering, and so at about this point it was becoming obvious that where our altimeter said we were and where we actually were wasn’t coinciding. I asked the instructor if the weather was wrong, and he said it wasn’t. He turned off the clouds, and we were way out over the water, with the runway way off in the distance. So, he paused the sim, repositioned us on final, which disconnected the autopilot, and Rob hand-flew the approach in for a landing.

After a quick break, we swapped seats and was my turn. It was pretty much the same in reverse, and the altitude problem was still there until about halfway through my flight, the instructor figured out what the problem was and fixed it. At which point my altimeter magically jumped up about 2,500 feet which caused the autopilot to overshoot the altitude, but it recovered nicely.

We had some significant glitches on the way in. When I went green needles, I said that something wasn’t right, and tried to figure out what it was. I compared the frequency on the NAV radio to the one on my chart and it was the same, and the instructor told me that there wasn’t anything wrong. A little while later, he pointed out that we had the wrong frequency. Rob had transposed a couple of numbers, and despite checking it a half-dozen times, I had missed it too. Dumb mistakes.

I got us configured and on speed very easily. The speed trend vector on the speed tape is amazing. It tells you exactly where the speed is going to be in 10 seconds given the current situation. As you change power settings, it moves around. It made it cake for me to fly a specific speed.

I took the autopilot off at about 500 feet so I could get a feel for what the controls were like. Right about then Rob announced that he had the runway in sight, and so I stated that I was going visual. The instructor told me to “Watch the flight director!” In 5 seconds I’d managed to already get quite a bit high from where I should have been. I split my attention between the instruments and the runway. Suddenly, I realized I was trying to fly an airliner like a DA-20 and it wasn’t working. I was too far nose down. It looked like we were doing Warp 8 across the runway. 145 knots is awfully fast when you’re used to something that comes in at 55 knots. I hauled back on the yoke and the instructor told me to chop power. I complied and we thunked on to the runway. It was nowhere near as hard as I thought it was going to be, and I figured I’d bounced us. I was a million miles above the runway and I was sure the next landing was going to be harder. But nothing was happening, I was just screaming down the runway a million miles above it in a nose-high attitude. Finally I remembered that with ground lift dumping, the plane wasn’t going to bounce, and I was rolling down the runway with the mains on the ground and the nose in the air. There I am, 30 feet over the runway, yet the wheels were on the ground. This was going to take a lot of getting used to. I lowered the nose onto the runway as I deployed the thrust reversers. After what seemed like forever, I realized that I should probably use the brakes too. As Rob called out 80 knots, I stowed the thrust reversers, and gave him the controls at 60 knots.

The instructor said we did great for Day 1. While overwhelming, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, though the hard stuff comes later. I managed to blank on stuff that I knew 30 seconds earlier. “Okay, flaps down to 45º when I intercept the glide slope.” Then 30 seconds later, the instructor is saying, “Glideslope intercept… Glideslope intercept, what do you do?” “Flaps 45, bug V approach, before landing checklist.”

The overwhelming feeling I get is that this is not flying an airplane. Rob said it felt like office management. I’m much more reminded me more of a theatrical performance. We’ve memorized our lines, we’re barely off-book, and we’re just now starting to understand the blocking. But it’s not flying, it’s just bad, rote acting. Even when we’ve got the autopilot off and and we’re flying it, it’s hard to associate what’s going on with an airplane. Instead it feels like I’m learning to play a giant video game.

Rob and I were both grinning as we walked across the retractable plank. Finally, after well over 6 months of employment we finally got to fly. For the first time in a long time, I’ve started to remember why I wanted this job in the first place.


17 April 2008 at 12:57 pm
by Berck

So, I ate fries at Rally’s yesterday. When I saw the name on Google maps, I had no idea what it was, and figured I’d check it out. As soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was.

This got me curious as to how Checker’s and Rally’s became the same thing with a different name, so of course I consulted Wikipedia which has the answers to all of these Hellman’s/Best Food questions.

I was surprised to learn that Checker’s was founded in Mobile of all places. Also surprised to learn that there’s apparently some frustrated people because Checker’s won’t say what’s in their food. There’s apparently some concern about meat products being used in their fries. Perhaps that would explain why they’re so yummy.

It’s a meat process.

Snow Day

17 April 2008 at 9:32 am
by Jonah

Yesterday it was sunny and very windy. The weather service promised heavy snow in the afternoon, but it sure didn’t look like it. By the time I left work, it had been snowing for an hour and was sticking to everything but the roads, thank goodness. This morning I woke up to this.

Monday it hit 80 degrees.


17 April 2008 at 9:25 am
by Jonah