Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fear of Flying

Are you afraid to fly...or know someone who is? It's not all that uncommon. Why in the world would someone be afraid to fly on an airliner? After all, statistically it is far safer than the ride on the freeway to the airport!

Usually it has a couple of components: a loss of control and an ignorance of all the sounds, vibrations, and motions associated with an airplane. Of course, all is this is exacerbated by the press any aviation accident receives.

Here's what I have seen done when we are aware of the problem. We ask the scared person to be boarded first and for him to come to the cockpit. We give him a tour and answer any and all questions. We talk about our experience (typically, there are upwards of six or seven decades of flying experience between the two of us). We discuss pitch and bank angles...they often feel much larger than they are because the inner ear feeds you false information that can't be counteracted by what you see. That sort of thing typically takes care of the ignorance side of the equation. The loss of control side is harder, for there is nothing he can do to affect what about to happen on the flight. The person simply has to trust that we will do our best to take him safely to his destination. That trust is harder to come by.

So we remind him of the bottom line: We want to go home to our families after the trip; and if we are going home, then our passengers are on their way to their destinations as well. Oh...and don't forget...Pilots are always the first people to the crash site! (Actually, that choice of words doesn't do much to calm a nervous flier's nerves!!) But it is true, and therefore, we will be doing everything in our power to operate the flight as safely as possible.

Oh...and for anyone who is deathly afraid of flying, most airlines have a program to help you overcome that fear (at least ours used to). Just call and ask about it before booking your flight.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Crop Circles?

Last week as we descended into San Jose, California, we had a beautiful view of El Capitan, Half-Dome, and the whole Yosemite Valley from a mid-altitude of about 22,000 feet. The captain made a point to bring it to the attention of the passengers. Needless to say, we expected a few comments from the deplaning passengers about the fantastic view. But instead the only comment was from a woman whose accent betrayed that she was probably from the British Isles. She was very concerned and puzzled about the "very large circles on the ground about an hour before landing."

What she had seen were the irrigation circles that many farmers use today. They are large and green (thus standing out from the surrounding desert), so from the air, they do attract your attention. And apparently, they don't have them in Europe....

So I guess the score is:

Crop Circles: 1
Yosemite: 0

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

When You Can See Forever...

For each of the past two days, I've flown out to southern California and back...and both trips have been the kind you dream about: crystal clear weather with no bumps! The visibility was well over 200 miles. The Rockies have snow to what looks like about the 9000-foot level. Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park were spectacular (although not as spectacular as from a car on the road above the tree-line). We tracked the Colorado River all the way through Lake Powell to the Grand Canyon which was...well...grand! From there through Lake Mead and down the Arizona/California border by Lake Havasu City (Why does anyone live there? Aside from the lake, it's desolate...and 115 degrees in the shade in the summer!).

As we were flying along, we also encountered a lot of other airplanes. I once read that at any given time, there are approximately 60,000 people in the air over the United States! That's a small city! Anyway, these planes occasionally meet us head-on...but at a vertical distance of 1000 feet. But at closure rates of 1000 mph, 1000 feet isn't much! So how does that work? How do we keep from getting too close to another plane? Basically it involves that vertical separation. Planes flying 360 degrees (north) through 179 degrees (1 degree from south) fly at odd altitudes. Planes flying from south (180 degrees) through 359 degrees (1 degree from north) fly at even altitudes. Yes, there are some tricky ones where you are flying north or south, but the controllers take care of that.

Monday, September 25, 2006


One of the things you learn very quickly in aviation is that acronyms are everywhere! What's an acronym? It's a "word" that is formed from the actual title of an object. For instance, FADEC (pronounced, "fay'-dek") stands for Full Authority Digital Engine Control. So, acronyms make a lot of sense. Having to say "Full Authority Digital Engine Control" every time you want to refer to the computer that controls the engine would be more of a mouthful than most would care to speak. FADEC is so much easier! Acronyms aren't always pronouncable (if that's a word!), so you may have to just say the letters. For instance, pb (not "peanut butter"...but rather "pushbutton") or PFD (Primary Flight Display). On the Airbus, there is an acronym for just about everything. In fact, there are several pages of acronyms and their definitions in the manual.

What typically happens with acronyms is they take on a meaning of their own. Many times you forget what they even stand for, but you know what they are. ECAMs are the two displays in the center of the cockpit that show all the systems and engine information. Do I care what ECAM stands for? Not really. OK...for those who can't stand it... it's Engine Condition and Monitoring.

Of course, it can get a little nuts: "When column two of the FMA on the PFD is showing V/S, then your VVI should be the same as what you set in the window of the FCU." But that is sure easier than saying, "When column two of the Flight Management Annunciator on the Primary Flight Display is showing Vertical Speed, then your Vertical Velocity Indicator should be the same as what you set in the window of the Flight Control Unit."

And of course, they aren't limited to just specific airplanes. Sometimes you get pilots using them as aviation slang when they make those announcements. Of course, they are assuming everyone knows what it is they are talking about. Yeah, right...

So...since this is aimed at people who have an interest in the world of flying airliners, I'll try to keep the jargon...and a minimum, or at least try to explain it when I use it. If not...leave a comment and ask what in the world I am talking about!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blue Side Up???

As I read over my initial post, I remembered that my intended audience includes a lot of people with limited access to flying and thus limited understanding of the vocabulary and illustrations that are bandied about among those who fly. As such, you probably scratched your head at the sign-off of "keep the blue side up."'s what it means: all airliners (and most small planes) have an attitude indicator. This instrument is connected to a gyroscope of some kind that allows the display of the attitude of the plane, even when you can't see the ground. By "attitude," I don't mean cranky, happy, sad, or melancholy...but rather the relationship between the nose of the plane and the wings of the plane to the horizon. You can see where the nose is pointed relative to the horizon and you can see the bank angle of the wings. This allows you to know the attitude of your plane in the weather and at night. Without it, you cannot ascertain the attitude because your normal senses lie to you. This can have disastrous consequences...just as JFK, Jr learned too late; he had the instrument, but didn't know how to use it properly.

Anyway, typically the "sky" portion of the instrument is colored blue and the "ground" portion of the instrument is colored brown. Thus, if the brown side is "up"...then you are upside down! That's not a bad thing in a plane designed for aerobatics and it's done intentionally; but it's really not a good thing in an airliner! So we endeavor at all times to keep the blue side up. That makes for happy passengers and fewer lawsuits! "keep the blue side up" means to "keep things aright."

Keep the blue side up!!!

Why This Blog?

Every time I meet someone and they find out what I do for a living, the questions immediately fly as to what it is like to pilot an airliner, what the lifestyle is like, what a trip is like, what it's like to have an emergency, and on and on and on. It's a job unlike almost any other and many people have fantasized about doing it since they were children. As such it always generates questions.

Others have asked that I start a blog to post my experiences, my thoughts, my observations on my particular trips so they can gain an insight into what it's like to actually be in the pointy end of the plane...the one with the good seats and nice windows. Thus this blog.

I hope that as I post, it will educate and inspire you for the next time you ride on a plane. Maybe you will have a better idea about the professionalism and qualifications of those who are taking you to your destination, as well as a better comprehension about some of the issues and circumstances that we deal with on a daily basis.

Enjoy...and Keep the Blue Side Up!!!