The trip started with a late arrival of our airplane. We waited at the gate patiently. Once onboard, mechanics were busy in the flight deck, so we wandered outside for our walk-around demonstration. Yes…it was an airplane and I believe that my thousands of 747 exterior preflights will come in handy. The Princess sure is pretty (photos to come)
Our departure included a 30 minute delay. Maintenance had MEL’d the flight attendant rest area, meaning…they couldn’t use it. So they blocked seats for them, which would interfere with their normal rest sequence, they weren’t happy. Fueling complete, performance data received… there was so much to do in so little time, the pressure was on and we were pressing our release time…if we weren’t off within 5 minutes, we would lose our clearance!
We made it to the runway and I performed my first departure. She felt good on rotation, like a real airplane.
During a normal flight, one pilot is the ‘Pilot Flying’ and the other is the ‘Pilot Monitoring’ throughout the entire flight. However, during my OE I not only get to be the pilot flying on departure and landing, but also the pilot monitoring during the enroute phase. Pilot monitoring does all the work enroute.
We climbed out, and were enroute on what we thought would be a ‘normal’ flight, and then the excitement began.
All other flights were experiencing turbulence, and we needed and wanted to climb higher. However, there was another plane in front of us, at our desired altitude, blocking our plan. We were behind on our fuel, down a couple thousand pounds right at the start. Not to worry… we just needed to monitor the trend…we had plenty of gas.
Unfortunately when we received our oceanic clearance, they not only gave us a lower altitude than requested, they gave us a reroute. Reroute was not the problem…just a good exercise for me, but we needed our altitude, and we needed it bad… not only for our fuel burn but for our passenger comfort. With a little negotiation we managed to get FL360, but with yet another reroute.
Just as we were approaching our Oceanic Entry Point, one of the flight attendants called up front to tell us that a woman was on her second bottle of oxygen and she was having difficulty breathing, but now was resting fine. We needed more information to determine if we should continue over the ocean or not. With her status in hand, we called dispatch to update them on our patient who apparently had asthma, and was also suffering stress from a recent break-in at which time she was held at knife point… and to provide them with our new routing.
Side note… every time we were on the radios with dispatch, or ATC, the flight attendants would call adding to the confusion. Murphy’s law. And it continued the entire flight.
22 feet of paper soon came spewing out of the printer with our new flight plan and fuel burns. And just went we thought it was done… more came.
Every flight ahead was reporting light chop over the ocean, but we were stable at FL360. Captain and I finally took a two hour break, four hours out of New York. During which time we experienced light to moderate turbulence. When I returned to the flight deck, we were at FL400. The Airbus A330 service ceiling is FL410.
Climbing back into the seat, the action began. Approaching our Oceanic Exit Point, ATC was broadcasting Moderate turbulence all sectors, all altitudes, with FL330 being the best. We requested and descended to 330 and found a smoother ride. During which time we discovered that a doctor had been called. But this time, for a sick infant. The woman who couldn’t breathe was doing okay, but connecting to San Francisco. The captain called dispatch to update them, and request paramedics meet the flight to determine if she were okay to continue her travels.
Approaching New York, the runway was dry, winds were blowing, and they were landing with VOR approaches to 13L and 22L. No ILS! We had two augmented pilots, and the pilot in the cockpit who has been on the airplane for four years, said, “I have never flown a non-precision in this plane.”
13L had a 10,000 foot runway, and 22L was 8400 feet. We were planning 13L… until we noticed they were landing on a closed runway. Requesting a second ATIS…they updated and corrected their mistake, 13L was not closed, but the VASI was out of service. Note…this approach and runway is the exact approach and runway in the prologue of my novel, the outcome wasn’t good.
I programmed the Canarsie 13L approach, at which time we entered the clouds and our icing warning came on. Engine heat selected, I briefed the approach. And then ATC changed us to 22L, we programmed that approach, and briefed. Moments later they told us to expect the ILS to 22L. More changes, programming and briefing.
An 8400 foot wet runway for anyone is a challenge. For my first landing… lets just say I was at my max at the end of this 11 hour flight. Short, wet runway, and we needed medium autobrakes. The captain warned me that medium autobrakes would grab hard, and the tendency would be to pull the nose down and slam it onto the runway. Comforting thought. He also said that most people have a tendency to go high the last two hundred feet…unforgiving on a short runway.
Final approach, wipers on so I can see, autopilot disconnected, and I continue. I land and we taxi off, hold short of an active runway. We have a 20 minute wait while someone is in our gate. As we pull in, the police drive up to the plane with lights flashing. Apparently a police escort is procedure when paramedics are called. I had envisioned some strong young guys waiting at the gate to meet with our passenger. My vision was not the reality, and excitement in the cabin was our disembarking entertainment.
After we got off the plane, one of the flight attendants told me that I got a sitting ovation. Apparently they liked my landing. We’re all good for one now and then… I guess I got mine out of the way early.
Tomorrow… off to Rome!