A New Job, A New Blog

IMG_1878 Before I get to the new blog part, let me give a quick update on my new job. I spent a good chunk of the spring (about two and a half months) in Miami getting a 767 type rating. The training was enjoyable for the most part and despite the aircraft being much larger than what I was used to, I’m finding that these type ratings continue to become less stressful with experience. After training, the next step is called Initial Operating Experience (IOE). Basically I have to fly with a special training captain for a number of hours to bridge the gap between flying in the simulator and line flying in the actual aircraft. Unfortunately/unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), the airline is extremely backed up with all of the hiring that has been going on, and despite finishing training at the end of May, I am yet to be assigned any actual flying. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time off, but do worry that my newly learned skills are becoming a bit rusty. It remains to be seen how much longer it will be before I begin flying, but for now I’ve been keeping myself busy. 

In my free time, I’ve decided to start a new blog with my friend Ian. We have long been wanting a creative outlet and have decided to create a joint website, called Casian Express, that we can both use to post content from our lives. It is likely that I will focus my efforts on the new website rather than continue to update both. In many ways I feel that I have accomplished the mission I set out to do in creating “The First, First Officer” – that is, to give an account of airline flying from a newbie’s perspective. There will be a section of Casian Express dedicated to flying and much of the writings may resemble those I have made on this blog.

Here is a link to Casian Express if you are interested in following along. Thank you for reading my blog and remember:

“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.”

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Last Flight

IMG_1428Time: 1730 local
Location: Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

The crew and I have just arrived at the gate from our overnight in Montreal. Today is a special day, one I’ve been looking forward to for a few months – my last flight with JungleJet Airlines!

We arrived to Montreal late last night, after 0100. I wanted to make the most of my last trip so I slept fast and was up at 0700 to go explore. It’s feeling like spring in Montreal, and even the morning temperature was a mild 8 degrees Celsius. I walked uptown to a park that overlooks the city before getting on the metro to meet a friend for breakfast. As we chatted at the restaurant I felt the same feeling I’ve been experiencing the last few weeks: apprehension. I’m excited to be moving on and furthering my career, but my fondness for JungleJet has engendered a bit of sadness to be leaving. It’s the first job I truly enjoyed showing up to work for – leaving feels bittersweet.

At the gate in Montreal the agent advises us that Newark is in a ground stop and our expected departure time isn’t for another 3 hours. I think to myself that it’s kind of a fitting end to being based in Newark! We board the plane and radio the tower to verify the delay. There’s a line of weather just west of New York and it’s blocking arrivals and departures at all 3 of the major NY airports. The controller says an update will come out on the hour. Normally I would be irritated and anxious to get going so I can make my commute, but today I am content to wait a bit longer.

1800. Air traffic control issues the update that the ground stop is cancelled. Clearance gives us a wheels up time at 1830, so we board quickly and and start towards the runway. Things change fast in the NY airspace system and sometimes luck is on your side.

1830. Positive rate, gear up. We lift off from runway 24L with a light load of 32 people. The sun has just set on our right, but with altitude the sky brightens and turns a deep orange color as the light is filtered through the shade of stratus clouds. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever tire of these picturesque scenes I am treated to so often.

1845. In cruise the captain and I enjoy easy conversation – something I have truly taken pleasure in throughout my time at JungleJet. Meeting interesting people, both in the cockpit and on overnights, has been an unforseen benefit of this job. The flight deck becomes host to many interesting conversations – sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes deeply personal, and pretty much everything in between.

1910. I call for the In Range checklist as we descend through 18,000 feet. We reset the altimeters to the local setting and I give an arrival briefing for runway 22L at Newark. The storms have all moved east now and the field is reporting calm winds and VFR conditions. The airspace is relatively quiet and the controller clears us direct to Teterboro airport for the visual approach. The lights of New York City are easy to spot arriving from any direction. I move my gaze a bit closer, finding both the Teterboro and Newark airports before disconnecting the autopilot to hand fly the approach. A few minutes later the controller asks us to slow to 180 knots and I call for Flaps 9 as I bank right to line up with the runway.

1920. The mains touch down on 22L and I click the thrust levers back to deploy the reversers. Leaving the runway I run the after landing flow, thinking how natural these movements have become. After so many hours a plane starts to feel like an extension of your own body. All the levers and buttons are right where you expect them to be.

1935. After the engine shutdown checklist is run I take one more look around the cockpit before gathering my bag, saying goodbye to the crew, and leaving the JungleJet for the last time. I then unceremoniously scramble over to terminal C and catch the last flight back home. Making it home takes precedence, even over nostalgia.

Epilogue

I created this blog in 2011 when I was hired at my first airline job. There were a number of aviation blogs I followed at the time, but none of them were written from the perspective of a beginner in the industry. The bottom of the seniority list as a Newhire First Officer is a scary place to be, and I thought it of value to document the experiences I was having seen through this beginners lens. I know I’m not always the most diligent at updating this blog, but I do hope at least to some extent it has served as a source of both entertainment and information, for any interested reader, but especially for the new First Officer on the very bottom of the seniority list wondering what they’re in for. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in the airline industry for almost 5 years. I can still clearly remember my first days in San Juan flying the ATR – new experiences pouring in at an overwhelming rate. For me, it’s time now to once again be that FO at the very bottom – learning a new aircraft, a new pilot contract, and new routes and destinations. It’s both daunting and exciting, but like most of life, it is best experienced when savored for its uniqueness.

I’ll be back in the coming months with more posts about my new job and updates on training. For now, I’ll leave the reader with a few of my favorite pictures from my time at JungleJet Airlines.

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Houston Bush Intergalactic Airport – my base for the first year and a half at JungleJet.

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Sometimes the line between airline pilot and street-walker is a thin one.

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Probably the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Over central Mexico heading towards Houston.

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My Captain and Flight Attendant were both sick on this trip. I was about to go on vacation and was desperately trying to avoid illness.

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A true “crew life” portrait. This was my flight attendant trying to stay warm in the Washington Dulles crew room. The base was closing and they had already turned off the heat.

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My favorite time to fly is early morning just as dawn is breaking. I love the soft colors, the smell of hot coffee in the flight deck, and the clarity of mind that comes with it all.

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Overnights were often fun! This one was in Knoxville, TN and I borrowed a friends motorcycle to go for an afternoon ride.

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Our pod in Newark, NJ. Many crew members loathe Newark, but I found it to have a bit of charm. And the best crews in our system.

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Sometimes the plane feels as frazzled as we do.

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Any airline pilot will tell you that they “have” to work holidays. I at least like to enjoy myself on these occasions. This was Festivus eve 2015 in Norfolk, VA. A sushi restaurant was the only thing open. We made the best of it by participating in some traditional Festivus feats of strength.

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Turning final for 22L into Newark affords a great view of NYC. It’s one I never got tired of.

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This was about a month ago on an evening flight from Chicago to Montreal. A front had just passed and the visibility was outstanding.

 

This Is What It’s Like To Fly An Airplane

One of the side duties of being an airline pilot is answering questions in airports. On pretty much a daily basis, people come up to me and ask questions. The most common are about the location of various things in the airport – their gate, baggage claim, the rental cars, etc. Some also ask questions about what it’s like to be a pilot or to fly the plane. I used to dislike answering these types of questions, mostly because it can get repetitive, but as time has passed I’ve learned to really appreciate that people think my job is cool enough to ask questions about.

One of the most common things people ask about flying the plane is: what does it look like when flying a plane? They want to know if it’s similar to looking out the windshield when driving a car.

I think a couple of pictures could help illustrate some of the things pilots look at when flying. First, I would say that at a basic level, it is similar to driving a car. You’re at the controls of a vehicle and trying to make it go from where you are now to where you want to end up. However, the controls and instruments of a plane are different and more intricate than those in a car.

IMG_6705A big difference is that when flying a plane, the outside references are not as prominent as they are on a road. Much more of a pilots time is spent looking at the instrumentation, especially in a jet flying at high altitudes. The aircraft I fly has five large screens: two primary flight displays (PFDs), two multifunction flight displays (MFDs) and one engine indicating and crew alerting system screen (EICAS). The PFD and MFD are duplicated on each side of the cockpit so that each pilot has their own set of instruments to look at. The PFD gives primary attitude, heading, and speed information. Things like: how fast is the airplane flying and what altitude is it flying at. The MFD on my aircraft has navigation information displayed along with a base map and course line showing where the plane is trying to go. The display can also show the status of various aircraft systems, such as the fuel tanks and how much fuel is onboard. The EICAS has detailed information about aircraft system status and configuration along with a crew alert box where messages pop up if a system has a malfunction. There is a ton of information on these five screens, and learning to decipher it all quickly takes a while, but eventually it becomes second nature.

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These are called cumulus clouds. Flying through them can be a bit bumpy.

The windows up front are much larger than the small round windows that passengers in the back look at. Watching the clouds and scenery pass by while in cruise is always a popular way to pass time. Cloud formations can be beautiful and at the same give useful clues about what is happening in the local atmosphere.

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I enjoy watching towns and cities as they pass, slowly becoming familiar with the entire country from above. This is the Newark Liberty Airport, and New York City can be seen in the background as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the Cold Front

Location: Savannah Airport (KSAV)
Time: 0600 local

There’s still no hint of light in the eastern sky as the hotel van driver drops my crew and I off at the terminal in Savannah. It’s day three of a four day trip and today we’re headed to Williston, North Dakota via Houston.

0650 Positive rate, gear up. Our wheels lift off of runway 10 and we make a right turn on course to a westerly heading. In front of us the sky is a dull grey and the airways are quiet as we climb, taking a radio handoff to Jacksonville Center. The captain and I have already discussed the weather during the van ride to the airport. There is a cold front, one of the first of the season, sweeping the country between us and Houston. The band of thunderstorms ahead of the frontal boundary looks formidable with no sizable gaps to penetrate through the line. Thunderstorms associated with cold fronts can reach as high as 60,000 feet, over 20,000 feet higher than our plane is certified to fly. With those types of storms, the only option is to go around them. Although the weather is good at both our departure and destination airport, the dispatcher has given us some extra fuel in anticipation of having to do some course deviation.

IMG_81010710 Over Montgomery, Alabama. From our elevated position the sun has just crested the horizon, although unseen by us on our westerly heading. As it rises, over only a matter of minutes, the ominous cumulonimbus clouds ahead are revealed. Their color turns from a dark grey to a brilliant orange as they are illuminated by the morning sun. A few moments later the entire sky is transformed and we are enveloped by the sunrise. I pick up my phone and decide to snap a few photos.

0750. We watch the approaching storms, both visually outside and on our radar screens. The center controller has advised us of a path that a few earlier flights have taken to penetrate the line, and we decide to follow their lead. As expected, the tops of the clouds are well above our altitude, so we change course 20 degrees to the right and aim for a gap. The turbulence from the disturbed air begins, and I have already warned the passengers of the bumpy ride ahead. Occasional flashes of lightning illuminate the contours of the massive clouds and we can now see the sheets of heavy precipitation flowing down from their bases.

0810. The line of weather is thin, and before long we emerge on the back side of high-pressure, back side of the front. The ride is once again smooth so I turn the seatbelt sign and the radar display off and recline my seat to relax. The sky is clear ahead all the way to Houston. Out with the old air mass, in with the new. I request the arrival weather in Houston from the ACARS system and see that it’s a cool 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

Newark Kind of Night

img_6209Location: Newark Liberty International Airport – KEWR

Time: 2120 Local

It’s Saturday night in the greater New York area and we’re in queue to depart runway 4R. Number 26 in line to be exact. Newark is down to using only one runway because of construction on the other parallel. With departures and arrivals both using 4R, the airport is resembling more of a large parking lot. Ground control is getting creative by making aircraft-snakes that zigzag through the taxiways leading up to the runway.

The ceiling is low tonight and the orange lights of New York City reflect off of the clouds to the east giving the sky an orange, almost sunset-like appearance. The ATIS reports the visibility at 3 statute miles and a cloud layer extending down to 600 feet. As we progress through the departure line I watch the planes descend out of the overcast towards the runway with long vapor trails extending from their wings. It’s amazing that each plane exiting the cloud layer comes out at exactly the same spot.

Tonight we are operating the last flight of the evening to Portland, Maine. It’s a short 280 nautical mile trip straight up the eastern seaboard, and if we can just make it off of the tarmac we’ll be there in about an hour. For being as busy as it is, the airport seems relatively calm. I guess this late at night the objective is just to get the job done and go to bed. It takes the better part of an hour, but we finally make our way up to runway 4R and are told to “line up and wait.” Tower gives us the takeoff clearance and a wind reading of 090 at 6 knots. As we lift off the runway I point the nose up towards the orange clouds. The cloud layer turns out to be thin and climbing through 1,500 feet we’re on top and in clear, clean air.

New York departure gives us a climb to 10,000 feet and a vectored heading to join our course towards Portland. To the east I can see the source of the orange glow – New York City. The cloud layer covers all of the buildings with the exception of the One World Trade Center, which pokes out giving it the appearance of being the only structure in the city. I call for “autopilot on” so I can take in the sight.  Even under a cloud layer the enormity of the Empire City is stunning. Over eight million people down there, all living their own version of Saturday night. I wonder, as I often do, if any of the passengers in the back are appreciating the view. Sometimes it seems they are oblivious to these visual treats; or perhaps the novelty has just worn off and jet travel just isn’t as impressive as it used to be. I hope I never become this jaded.

Without leveling off, the departure controller gives us a further climb to our final altitude of FL260. The lights of New York slide away underneath us now as the jet gains altitude quickly. I close my leather Jepp binder containing the Newark charts and fish around my flight case for Portland.