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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time To Fly!

You have to crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run, and run before you can high jump. My last flight... I took that high jump.

So far I've only flown with pilots who fly the A330 with all the automation engaged until final, then the autopilot comes off.  Last month, I flew with a couple captains who also turn the autothrust off on short final because of a sinker issue. My last flight, I flew with a captain who encouraged me to fly with everything off. He says, "those guys who don't fly her, when they have to, are going to have a problem."

DTW/AMS: My landing. A long night, weather in Amsterdam, and a sunshade the refused to go up... and I got my first slam dunk. Managing the slam dunk was enough fun for me, so automation stay engaged until I disconnected the autopilot on final.

AMS/BOS: The other first officer's landing, and he disengaged everything at top of descent. He loves to fly, and it shows. I sat in the jumpseat, and got the first hand view of how busy he was, but also that the A330 really is just an airplane.

BOS/AMS: The captain's landing and more weather. Autopilot off, autothrust on... I think the winds were 19 gusting to 30.

 Invalid Data... 30 minutes out of Boston

AMS/DTW: My landing. Now or never. Out of 10,000 feet I said, "are you guys ready?" and I disengaged everything. Yes, we were in the weather. But I was thinking ... my captain has 20 years flying glass, 11 years on the Bus, and when would I have another chance to fly with someone who encourages this type of behavior?

What happened next... ATC said, Delta 272 turn left heading 290, descend to 6000, slow to 240, turn further left heading 285.  Delta 272 turn right now 290, descend to 4000. Delta 272, come right to 300. Delta 272, slow to 210. Delta 272... 

The wrath of mother nature tossed us about, the trend vector couldn't make up it's mind which direction to go, and ATC was playing with me. I have never worked so hard in all my life. Once on final, a moment of stability, I said, "Guys, I smell something burning."  My captain said, "I think it's a helmet fire." The other first officer said, "I think it might be Detroit."

At 50 feet the captain said, "From now on, everything is normal." And I landed her like I always did. Then he said, "You know, I was surprised that you kicked off the autothrust with the weather so bad." They were both laughing at Murphy's Law with ATC's overactive intervention, and I laughed the hardest. Of all days...

As we rolled off the runway, that burning odor that I'd smelled presented itself. A pack failure.

Taxing clear of the runway I was supposed to talk to ground...but had difficulty without stumbling over the words. Amazing how an approach that pushes you to your limits, can impact the speech center of your brain. Thanks for a great trip Reg!

Off until October 8th ... 4 days on reserve... then more days off until the 17th.  I intentionally bid this schedule to help my daughter. I'm now wearing my grandma hat, sitting in Santa Clara, babysitting my grandson.

We're planning cleaning up my computer and writing an A330 study guide. The amount accomplished will be directly proportional to his willingness to nap.

Enjoy the Journey!



  1. Okay, reading that just made me even more jealous! I really can't wait to get back in the air and hopefully fly professionally soon after. Thanks for sharing the story! Kinda goes back to the whole 'stick and rudder' idea of flying. With all the automation, we have to make sure we still know how to really fly and not get too complacent.

  2. Thanks for the comment Andrew. That is so true about complacency. Airline accidents are never because of one thing, but multiple events overlapping. I think we owe it to our passengers to make sure that we keep our flying skills sharp. Especially in the most automated aircraft. Don't be'll be back in the air and flying professional before you know it!

  3. Hey, Karlene, that was some landing! Burning smell -- pack failure? What's pack failure? I'm a passenger, and am soooo happy you feel it's important to keep your skills level high! Not knowing how to fly without autopilot sounds like tying your shoes with velcro to me.

  4. Thanks for the comment Linda.
    Pack failure... when we forgot to pack the essentials because we're in a hurry. Ahh... just kidding. Air Conditioning Pack. Important at altitude. We have two. Need one. Simplest explanation... they keep the aircraft pressurized. But burning smell on an aircraft, never a good thing. Best time, is when you're landing and have the runway assured.

    Autopilot... It's not really not 'knowing' how to fly, but not having the skills/ dexterity, to do it because you haven't been practicing.
    Imagine watching yoga for a year, instead of doing it. Then one day you have to stand on one foot, and stick the other over your head, extend your arms and balance with your eyes closed. You did it a year ago. You know how. But you haven't practiced and or done it for a long time... it's not going to be pretty.
    Kind of the same thing.
    Not that we fly on our heads. But... I'll tell you, some of the captains I've flown with could. They're really good pilots.

  5. That's awesome Karlene! I'm so glad you got to fly with someone like that. What an amazing experience! You go girl!

  6. Thanks Heather. It was fun. Made being called out on a very short call worth the pain. :)

  7. With having to share legs with not only the captain but the relief pilots as well, I always wondered how the 330 crews that never flew the mini Airbus adapted. It took me 6 mths to really feel comfortable with the A320.

    Btw, great website, first time here.

    Ret (early) NWA A320CA

  8. Thanks for your comment Jim. You are so right about feeling comfortable. I've been really fortunate to fly with great guys who have been allowing me to always get a landing or two, and a takeoff. That helps. Also, I was a second officer for 12 years and I made it a habit to really pay attention to the guys flying. I'm doing the same when I sit in the relief pilot seat. I'm always thinking how I'd plan the descent, and what I'd do if I were flying. Not quite the same as flying...but it really helps.
    Some say they're not comfortable for at least a year, or two, on the 330.

  9. Your post reminds me of a CFI I once had that strongly promoted stick and rudder skills. While training in my Cirrus with Avidyne R9, he would warn me against letting the screens do "all the work/all the time" Due to his brainwashing, at least once a month, I do it the old fashioned way (NO autopilot) ... But even then I still follow the magenta line ;-)

    No sense in getting lost while working on stick and rudder !

  10. T.J. Excellent! Sometimes a little brainwashing is a good thing. I'm going to make it habit of doing it the old fashioned way too. And... I too am a pilot of the magenta. What did we do without that line? :) Thanks for your comment!

  11. Have you ever flown any visual approaches on the bus?

  12. Tim, I have. But it was unintentional. We had changed runways last minute in New York. I was given the VOR to the short runway... can't remember the number now. But the captain I was flying with inadvertently cleared too many waypoints and I lost the approach. She didn't follow the path when she needed to. We were in visual conditions so... I just clicked everything off and hand flew her to the runway.

  13. Nice, do you like visual approaches in Airbus more than in Boeing?

  14. Tim... that's an easy answer: NO! lol. Actually, I don't do them enough. But I plan on it if I ever get flying again.

  15. what is a slam dunk approach?

  16. Slam dunk... VERY high...for a normal approach.

  17. When you flew from Detroit to Amsterdam, did ATC keep you fast until you were on final approach?

    1. Oh, I wish I could remember. That was 4 months ago. But ATC in Amsterdam pretty much keeps you to the arrivals.


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