Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ice, Ice, Baby!

I had the unique experience of flying into and out of JFK after last week’s ice storm, and witnessing the aftermath. Carumba! Many of you have probably heard about Jet Blue’s operational woes during this time. I am not a Jet Blue employee and I am unfamiliar with their operational policies. I do know some of their pilots and FlyGuy has total respect for the Jet Blue pilots’ professionalism and skill. I really felt sorry for what they must have been going through with passenger frustration and rage at the maximum limit. We pilots are always along for the same ride you are, except we are ultimately responsible for your safety and comfort. When the managers of an airline operation make mistakes, we along with you suffer. The entire airport at JFK was a mess. I landed there on Friday night under clear skies with a temperature of 25 degrees. The ice that had formed on Wednesday was still there, frozen solid, and days away from melting. The runways had been scraped clear and deiced along with some of the taxiways. There were many turnoffs, taxiways, and intersections that had not been cleared and were impassable to any aircraft. I had to be very careful as to what surface I chose to taxi on and all movement on that surface, especially the turns. As we taxied back after one landing we saw a Boeing 747 taking off on the runway we just landed on. We were on a taxiway next to the runway. The 747s’ jet blast was throwing chunks of ice the size of a newspaper 50 feet into the air along with ice crystals, water, and snow. The icy mist engulfed the entire jet until the nose lifted off. A person standing by the runway would have been shredded by the fast flying pieces of sharp ice. The mist lingered in the air and slowly settled. As we approached our ramp area where there are about 15 gates, I was surprised by what I saw. The entire surface was a solid sheet of ice. It had a milky white sheen to it. There were two big jets in the ramp area slowly maneuvering to their respective gates. We were cleared in and I taxied very slowly, maybe 2 miles an hour. I kept both engines running as I was unsure as to how much power I would need to make my final turn to the gate. As I started to make my turn a large plow drove into my path. I was not moving very fast and I stopped immediately. The plow had a scraping blade about 15 feet long on its front. It was lowered to the ground and scraping absolutely nothing off the surface of the ice. The copilot said, “What’s he doing, polishing the ice”? I completed my turn and stopped on the red guidance light. After we shut the engines down I noticed a ground crew at the next gate working around the wheels of a jet. They were trying to free the tires that were frozen to the ground! They had been working for 3 hours just trying to get it free enough to move it. Apparently this was a problem all around the airport. Ground vehicles suffered the same fate. The tugs used to push the jets back had huge snow chains on all 4 tires. At my company alone there were delays all through the weekend, many of them hours long. The photos I have attached tell it all. Be Safe, FlyGuy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Saint Elmos Fire

One of the oddest events you can observe in flight is Saint Elmo’s fire. The phenomenon occurs when the atmosphere becomes charged and an electrical potential strong enough to cause a discharge is created between an object and the air around it. The amount of electricity involved is not great enough to be dangerous. Check out this video of Saint Elmo’s Fire taken by a pilot in Iraq at This is very typical of what it looks like. Sometimes you can see a shaft of plasma form in front of the nose. I have been told by other pilots that they have seen a ball of undulating plasma spinning just off the nose of their aircraft. Earlier in the year I was flying a redeye to the east coast. During the cruise portion of our flight we started to encounter Saint Elmo's fire. Frying pan size electrostatic spider webs started to move across our front windows. It was a fair amount of Saint Elmo’s fire. I called the lead flight attendant and asked if he had ever seen Saint Elmo’s fire. He said he had not and would like to come up to see it. Once in the flight deck he was shocked to see so much electrical discharge and even more shocked that it was moving all over the windows. After about 5 minutes he had seen enough and left. We then got a call from the cabin and it was another flight attendant who wanted to see the Saint Elmo’s fire. She came into the flight deck and was also surprised at what she saw. To observe it better she squatted down to about half her height. After a couple of minutes she asked me what exactly is Saint Elmo’s fire. I turned to look at her about two feet away and started to give her an answer. I looked as serious as I could and as I did so I placed my hand on the window. Although Saint Elmo’s fire looks impressive, you cannot feel it in any way. As I was explaining to her what it was she was seeing a large discharge occurred on the window my hand was on. Just as it went across where my hand was I screamed and shook violently as though I was being electrocuted. She screamed a mighty scream as she thought the pilot was being electrocuted, fell backwards, and hit her head against the cockpit door. The copilot started laughing and I followed him. She realized I had tricked her and she started laughing as well. She left the flight deck and we continued on. The Saint Elmo’s fire died away and we cruised into clear skies. It might be a while before I see Saint Elmo’s fire again but this last time I will remember for a long time. Be Safe, FlyGuy

Friday, February 02, 2007

That was way too easy!

Sometimes we get to fly the painless trip. That is when nothing goes wrong and everything else happens so easily and simply. I picked up a two day trip, one leg LAX to JFK, 24 hours off, and one leg back. Easy! The leg out was a redeye. We taxied out of our alley to see a clear path to the takeoff runway. Nobody was in front of us. We had just leveled off when we were asked if we wanted to go direct somewhere down the road. I had noticed in the dispatchers’ remarks in my flight plan that the winds were favorable for “directs”. We accepted and were given a direct to a point about 150 miles east of JFK, about 2000 miles. Sweet! Taking advantage of the tailwinds we arrived about 45 minutes early. After we taxied in and shut down the engines I looked at my copilot and said, “That was too easy”. We came back 24 hours later to good weather, a jet that was ready to go with cargo and fuel on board, a friendly gate agent, and all the paper work ready. The passengers were boarded and we pushed back early. We were told to expect to takeoff at a runway intersection directly in front of us and that we were number one. We actually had to wait 45 seconds for our engines to warm up the required minimum amount of time. We were scheduled for 50 minutes of taxi time and we only used 8. We flew back to LAX at 38000 feet with mostly clear skies. Our route took us north through New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Albuquerque centers airspace. We arrived 40 minutes early in LAX. At the gate in LAX, I told the copilot he must be charmed because I never have things go that well. What was different about this flight is that from New York to the western part of the Grand Canyon there was a continuous layer of snow covering the ground for as far as we could see. Were talking 1500 miles or more of just snow. The picture here was taken at 38000 feet north of Lincoln Nebraska, heading west. I do not think I have ever seen that much continuous snow, ever. Be Safe, FlyGuy