Archive for July, 2008

What’s that noise?

31 July 2008 at 11:23 am
by Berck

The Captain on my flight to DFW last night informed me that he’d just finished a drug screening, and his first attempt to produce a sample of sufficient quantity had failed, and he’d had to sit around drinking water until he could produce another. As a result, he was well hydrated and was likely to need the lavatory on our flight to Dallas. He was a former Dash 8 pilot, and was brand new to the jet, fresh off of IOE.

On the taxi, we got excited because it looked like we were going to be #4 or so for takeoff. Which is when ground announced that they were switching runways, and we would have to taxi all the way around the airport. JFK has two taxiways around the perimeter of the airport, one runs clockwise and the other counterclockwise. They make a complete circle. We started at about 9 o’clock position, and taxied to the 7 o’clock position… clockwise. Because of the long taxi we shut down the APU and taxied single-engine in order to save fuel.

When it came time to start the engine, the captain called for the “cleared to push/start below the line number one,” which I dutifully ran.

Me: Parking Brake
Captain: Off
Me: Fuel Pumps both on. Engine start, spinning one.

I started the clock for the engine start, selected the #2 engine start switch. Some pneumatic valves opened and closed and the engine core started spinning. I waited for it to get to 20% RPM, verified the temperature was below 120ºC, and moved the left thrust lever up to idle. The engine fired off and the starter cut out. The temperature kept rising though, and got over 700ºC before settling back down. I was afraid I was going to have to abort the start, but fortunately it stayed just shy of the limits. I remarked to the captain that was the hottest start I’d ever seen, and reflected that we must have more of a tailwind than it looked like. He just said, “huh,” not being all that familiar with the plane and not to mention that the captains almost never start the engines.

It wasn’t until today that it suddenly hit me what happened. To start the engines, we need a source of pressurized air to get them spinning. This can come from the APU (auxillary power unit), an external air compressor connected to the plane, the other engine, or if we’re in the air, just the free air stream for the movement of the aircraft. 99% of the time, we start the engines from the APU. But in this case, we’d shut down the APU which meant a crossbleed start using the compressed air from the other engine. My plane is very smart, and when you push the start button it figures out automatically which valves need to be open and closed to start the engine based on where the pressurized air is coming from. The only catch with a crossbleed start is that the engines need 42psi to start, and at idle they only produce about 32 psi. In short, this means that you need to advance the thrust lever on the running engine before pushing the start button on a crossbleed start. Neither I nor the Captain remembered to do this. Me, because I’m so used to starting from the APU and the Captain, because he was so new. So, now I know you can do a crossbleed start with one engine at idle in the CRJ-900 but it’s pretty darned likely that you’ll get a hot start. It’s a good thing we didn’t have to abort the start, because then we would have had to explain why we’re stupid.

The taxi was long, and the Captain really had to pee. After awhile, he gave up and ran to the lavatory while we were stopped. Of course the moment he left the flight deck, ground control wanted the plane to be moved. Since the steering wheel is on his side, I had to tell them that we needed a few minutes.

We eventually managed to get airborne. Right after takeoff I noticed a very loud whining noise. As we got faster and higher, the noise increased in pitch. After getting the gear up and flaps up, the aircraft configured for climb, and then pointing in the right direction I remarked to the captain that the noise was not normal, and I didn’t like it. He agreed that it seemed strange, and suggested I call maintenance. I checked with the flight attendants to see if they could hear anything. They couldn’t, which didn’t surprise me as it seemed to be coming from in front of us. I radioed ARINC, the company that provides air to ground telephone patches for us and asked to be connected to our dispatcher. A short time later, I was connected to the dispatcher who sounded like he was talking to me from the bottom of a well 100 miles away with a kid whistling in the background. I shudder to think what my employer probably pays for such a link. I explained our situation and asked to be patched through to maintenance control. He informed me that he had no way for me to be connected to maintenance. I’m not sure why not; the telephone patch can connect us to any telephone number anywhere. The dispatcher relayed our problem to maintenance and said he’d get back to us in a minute.

About then, I’d decided that the noise is likely a small pressurization leak. It sounds just like a leaky door seal that was all too common while I was a flight attendant. Such leaks generally increase in pitch as you climb and for whatever reason seal themselves and become quiet after the aircraft has reached its normal pressure differential. I took the book of approach plates that was sitting on top of my oxygen masks and put it in my bag in case I needed the mask. I figured that since the noise wasn’t getting worse, and was actually getting quieter it probably wasn’t a big deal.

The dispatcher came back and said that maintenance thinks we probably have an open com panel on the outside of the aircraft. There’s a little hatch that allows the ground crew to plug up a headset and talk to us. Unfortunately, the ground crew in JFK is too lazy to plug up a headset and so we have to rely on hand signals instead. So it didn’t make sense that they’d leave that door open since there was no reason for them to open it in the first place. I’ve heard of that door being left open though and supposedly you hear it banging around, and I didn’t hear it banging at all.

Dispatch asked if we wanted to divert or not. Since that’s a Captain decision, I went ahead and took over the flight controls and the job of talking to ATC while the captain talked to dispatch. They eventually decided to divert to Dulles, but this involved a lengthy discussion. The big issue is that we were overweight for landing, and it seemed to be prudent to burn off fuel until we were down to landing weight before landing in Dulles. Because DFW is our longest flight, we’d taken off with nearly full fuel. Anyway the back and forth between the Captain and dispatcher took a good long while, probably more than 20 minutes. During that time I had to fly single pilot which meant things were busy for me, especially since I had to enter a hold and explain our situation to ATC all by myself. I got us in a hold, and after it turned out we were going to divert to Dulles I got a new clearance for Dulles. My captain programmed the FMS while I flew, and fortunately I caught him entering DCA instead of IAD as our new destination into the computer. That would have been bad.

I was flying with the autopilot in heading mode which just means that it will point the plane in whichever direction I tell it to. I had it pointing to the first fix on our new route. Unfortunately I forgot that it wasn’t in navigation mode, which is an easy thing to do, because I’d pointed it in the right direction so it’s not obvious that the plane doesn’t know it’s not going in the right direction. I noticed it after we got about 10 miles past our fix and the plane hadn’t turned to follow the route like it was supposed to. I got it turning in the right direction about the time ATC asked me what the heck was up. Since she knew we were busy she mostly seemed amused rather than upset which is good. They asked us repeatedly if we were declaring an emergency and we reiterated that we were not. In the whole thing, I was very impressed with how much ATC worked with us and how helpful they were, even without us declaring an emergency.

We eventually got the plane back on the ground in DC. Mechanics met us at the gate, and sure enough there was a panel open, but not the one we thought it was. It was for the connection for external AC power, and the ramp crew in JFK had failed to close the door before the aircraft departed. Such a simple mistake cost tends of thousands of dollars. And it could have been worse: had the door come detached from the aircraft and been ingested by an engine (not a terribly unlikely scenario), then we could have had a serious emergency. While everyone makes mistakes (especially me!) it drives me crazy that there are so many people working on the ramp at airports around the country that don’t seem to take their jobs at all seriously.

Delta Business Class Food

31 July 2008 at 11:17 am
by Berck

The best food in business class is something which I think they call an egg quesadilla. It’s not, but it’s good. It comes with sausage and salsa. The only other breakfast choice lately is corn flakes, fruit and yogurt. The fruit tends to be cut fancily, but generally isn’t that good. Well, the strawberries are okay, but the melons are lacking.

If you’ve got the choice between the “beef short ribs” and the “red pasta”, I think the “beef short ribs” are better. I have no idea why they call it “beef short ribs” because it’s not. It’s basically pot roast and mashed potatoes. I’m not sure what the cut of meat is, but if it’s short rib, it’s not like any other short ribs I’ve ever had. While pasta on Delta is often good, the pasta offered against the short ribs isn’t all that good.

There seem to be several different sandwiches which vary wildly in quality. Most of them aren’t very good and are on somewhat stale, dry bread. These usually come with some sort of honey mustard sauce which helps. Other sandwiches are much better. The oval shaped ones tend to be better than the circular shaped ones.

Always open any sealed container carefully. (Salad dressing, yougurt, sandwich spread…) Either open it so that the part you’re opening is facing down, or poke a small hole in it with your fork first. It’s packed for sea level, and lower cabin pressure will result in whatever it is being sprayed all over you and probably the pilot in uniform next to you.


31 July 2008 at 11:11 am
by Berck

If a pilot ever offers to let your cat ride in the cockpit, you should thank him. We had a very full flight to Chicago a few days ago; during boarding the flight attendants told me that a woman brought a cat in a box that was too big to fit under the seat in front of her. I told them to tell her that the cat had to ride in the cargo compartment. The woman apparently agreed, and I noticed the ramp crew was being very disagreeable about stowing the cat. I walked down the steps to figure out what the problem was and the ground crew told me that there was no room in the aft cargo compartment for the cat. We have two other cargo compartments and while they are pressurized, they aren’t heated. It’s about -60ºC at altitude. That’s pretty cold for a cat without heat. I told him he would have to move some bags from the aft to the forward cargo compartment to make room for the cat. “They’re all full. I can make room for the cat, but only if I pull someone’s bag.”

That left only one place for the cat. I went up and asked my Captain if he minded if the cat rode with us. He didn’t seem to like the idea. I told him it was in a box, and I’m sure it wouldn’t bother us. He eventually consented, and I walked back down the steps. “The cat’s riding with me,” I said as I grabbed the cat carrier and stowed it in the cockpit. “Meow,” said the cat. Repeatedly. I assured the Captain we wouldn’t be able to hear it with our headsets on. “Meow,” added the cat. I was wrong. I could hear the cat very clearly during the entire taxi out and the takeoff roll. “80 knots. Checked. Meow. V1. VR. Meow. V2. Meow. Positive Rate. Meow. Gear up, speed mode. Meow.” And so on. In cruise, the cat was mostly quiet, but decided to let us know he was still there every time we encountered even the slightest turbulence.

I assured myself that it was worth it, because the passenger would be content that her cat was riding safely in cockpit and not the cargo compartment, and I try to do what I can for the passengers. When the flight was over and the passengers were getting off, all she said was, “I’ll take my cat now.” Not even a thank you. I can tell you where I’m going to stick the next cat…

White people ride the F.

27 July 2008 at 10:16 pm
by Berck

[Editors note: For some reason this post has no stylistic value whatsoever, despite the grandeur the author imagined in his head before engaging in a spastic typing frenzy. The text is jumpy, the transitions are nonexistent, and perhaps the author should reconsider writing. In general. But it’s what you get for tonight.]

Since Jonah couldn’t get here to visit, I had to entertain myself. Yesterday, I managed to convince Sydney to brunch with me at Miriam’s, which has excellent Israeli breakfasts, but after coming home she passed out in front of After consulting the internets, I discovered that She & Him was playing in Manhattan. Tickets were $25, though, and that’s just more than I’m generally willing to spend to go see a band. $15 is generally my limit, but I would only be buying one ticket, so I considered it. I also discovered that the Celebrate Brooklyn festival was going on. The Ani DiFranco concert we went to last year was part of the same festival. There were three free bands playing in Prospect Park, so I decided to head down there. Had I realized the chick from Lavender Diamond is singing backup vocals on the She & Him tour, I might have reconsidered. But I didn’t realize that until today.

I considered waking Sydney from her baseball slumber to see if she’d join me, but it looked to be a hopeless cause. I knew enough to actually study a map of Prospect Park before setting off this time, since the only way we found the bandshell last time was by following the lesbians. Lesbians will always lead you to an Ani concert, but no such luck with the fans of The Jealous Girlfriends. There may be a progression there, though…

I took the Prospect Park shuttle to, well, Prospect Park. It deposited me on the wrong side of prospect park, but I knew how to get to the other side from the map in my head. The map only included the roads, though, not all the crazy little walking paths, so I had to stick to the major roads, which was pretty close to the shortest way through the park anyway. It’s not like there were cars to worry about, just mad bicyclists.

I found the bandshell, presented my driver license at an “ID station” for the privilege of having a green paper band attached to my wrist. The beer choices were the same as last year: Bud flavors or Red Hook. Red Hook is too bitter, but I’ll take it over Budweiser. I found a seat off to one side and engaged in some random texting while waiting for the music to start.

The Jealous Girlfriends are fronted by a chick who rocks, and as I’ve mentioned before, I like chicks who rock. There was no bass guitar, so the keyboardist (who had two keyboards) played the bass line. At one point, I was surprised at how much the keyboard sounded like a bass guitar, and only then did I stop staring at the chick who rocked long enough to notice that the keyboardist had wholly abandoned his keyboards and had picked up a bass guitar. Then the chick who rocked put down her guitar and played the keyboard for awhile. I’m not sure what the Indie rock fascination is for strange sounding vocals. On one of the songs, the chick who rocked put down her guitar and played keyboard. While hardly uncommon, I like it when bands switch. I think the Jealous Girlfriends could use a full time bass, though.

After the Jealous Girlfriends came Ghostland Observatory, which turned out to be a really annoying electro-hip-hop. From Austin. Not even from Brooklyn, so I don’t know what they were doing there. Fortunately, Anjeanette texted me back about this time to let me know that she was drinking at a particular intersection in Brooklyn.

After consulting Sydney’s Street-wise Brooklyn which I’d thoughtfully tucked into my shorts pocket, [A side note: Street-Wise maps rock. I highly recommend them if you plan to attempt on-foot navigation of any city in the world. They produce the only map of Rome I’ve ever thought was any good. Jonah and I buy them for any major city we plan to be walking around. They’re available at most bookstores.] I was able to successfully walk to the specified intersection.

I was under the impression that there was a bar. There was no bar. There was a hardware store. Anjeanette appeared from the other side of the street and escorted my inside. I met all sorts of people I didn’t know, and eventually came to understand that I was at a birthday party for someone I didn’t know.

It turned out to be fun anyway. Eventually, I walked out into the back ‘yard’, where a girl yelled my name. Turned out to be Anjeanette’s friend Jan, who also went to UD, but I was totally incapable of remembering her at all, presumably because I’m just that bad at social interaction. She was unable to specify where and how she’d met me, though it’s been determined that she was at several “parties” at my apartment. Very strange to be recognized by a strange girl in a strange city.

After some interesting discussions about Oklahoma, arranged marriage, the natural unsuitability of humanity to monogamy, middle-school Facebook friends and shin-kicking; as well as some healthy consumption of alcohol, I decided to head back to Sydney’s apartment. I managed to find a westbound F train which took me to an eastbound A train which took me there. There being south of where I started.

New York, despite all its claims to diversity is astoundingly segregated. Brooklyn is mostly segregating along north/south lines because the trains run east/west. Manhattan is segregated into poorly defined clumps. It’s not obvious looking at a map where Little Italy stops and Chinatown starts, but when you’re walking down the street and all the signs are in Chinese, it’s a bit more obvious.

I fly again tomorrow. It’s the beginning of my “line”. This means I’m not on reserve any longer. The company can, theoretically, only make me fly flights that it told me about a good while in advance. My schedule, through most of August, is now on Facebook. When I get my next line award, there will be more schedule up there.

I nearly didn’t get to work on Thursday. I was originally scheduled for a reserve shift that started at 11am on Thursday, followed by a flight to Houston that departed at 7:30pm. Realizing that they mostly needed me for the Houston flight and that the reserve period was a “just in case” addition to my schedule which existed merely because they could, I thought I’d call and ask a favor. I requested that they shift my reserve period to 2pm, because that would allow me to take the 8am flight to work and give me an additional day at home. Shockingly, the request was approved.

On Wednesday, though, I discovered endless problems with the weather in the Northeast. My mother didn’t get on the direct flight to Minneapolis that she’d wanted to get on, but did get on a later flight to Cincinnati. Which canceled after taxiing around for 3 hours.

Recognizing this might affect me, I started looking at the flight from JFK-DEN that night, because it was the plane I’d be taking out in the morning. If it came in substantially late, I knew that 14 CFR §121.471 specifies that a crew needs at least 8 hours of rest in the 24 hours prior to the completion of any scheduled flight in order for the flight to depart. Basically, I knew the flight was going to be late. Maybe even canceled.

So I decided to take the JetBlue that leaves at 12:55am. The JetBlue site said it was delayed an hour, so I packed and then checked it again before I got dressed to leave. It was canceled.

So I called crew tracking and confessed my problem. They told me to do the best I could do, and listed me on the flight out of Denver. The one I was going to try to take, but which was likely going to be too late.

When I got up Thursday morning I discovered that the flight was indeed canceled. I went to the airport for the 7:30am United flight. I was the 5th pilot waiting for the Jumpseat, and the flight was oversold. I obviously didn’t get on. I didn’t get on the next flight either, but somehow I managed to get on the next flight to LGA. I ran into another Freedom pilot who was also trying to get to JFK. We split a discount cab from LGA-JFK so it only cost each of us $10.

I got to JFK at about 5:30pm for my 2:00pm reserve time. Fortunately, I was in time for my scheduled flight, so no one seemed too upset.

I can’t wait to find out how bad the flights are in the winter.


26 July 2008 at 1:20 pm
by Jonah

Well, I got up at 4:30 this morning and drove to Denver. I didn’t get on the Delta flight to JFK at 8, and then I didn’t get on the 11:10 flight to Cincinnati. Berck said I had a good chance of getting on the next flight to Cincinnati this afternoon that would get me into LGA late tonight, but he’d also said that about the other flights. All I wanted to do was go home and crawl back in bed, so I gave up.