Come Fly With Me!


The route we took to Shanghai went over the Aleutian Islands and the Kamchatka Pennisula, skirting Japan and down through China. A long flight. When a flight is over 12 hours, we bring three first officers and one captain. We split the flight in half, 2 sleeping right after take off, a switch halfway through when the other 2 go to bed. I’d flown with the other FOs before. Nice guys. Actually, most of the pilots I fly with are good folks. However…sigh…every once in a while you come across someone who’s difficult. This captain, oh boy, he was a piece of work. I’m a professional, we’re all professionals, we deal with the tiresome captains in a safe way. But you know that the mutiny on the Bounty thing? I can understand how something like that could happen. I’d never consider mutiny, don’t get me wrong; I’m just saying is that he got me thinking about Captain Bligh, and months and months with a guy like that on a small ship. I’d probably have jumped overboard and swam to an island, too!

I really enjoy Shanghai. The city is one of contrasts–very cosmopolitan, very modern skyscrapers mixed with dingy apartments and hovels. Besides being the land of fabulous shopping and replica aka knock-off purses & designer clothing, and 6 dollar massages that are to die for, Shanghai is known in my book as a place for fantastic food. I have a little mom & pop type place near the hotel that I like and often bring back takeout from there. This trip I decided to try something new: #14 special, translated as “perch in sweet sauce and pine nuts.” It sounded pretty good. But when I got it back to my room and opened up the styrofoam container, I was shocked to see Mr. Perch’s yawning maw, and all the way down to his little fried tonsils:

And all they supplied with which to consume him was a pair of chop sticks! His fried lips grinned in challenge, daring me to turn away in disgust. You think I wimped out? No way! I was hungry! The first thing I did was groan as I removed his head. (I shoulda been a neurosurgeon) I dropped it in the paper bag the food came in and put it outside in the hallway. Blech. Then I mixed the fish with some steamed rice, trying to avoid obstacles and choking hazards like fins and a tail. Ugh! Next time I want fish, I’ll stick to shrimp!

The next day it was time to go home. Despite knowing it’d mean 10 more hours with Captain Bligh, I was anxious to get going. On the 747 the cockpit is upstairs, forward of the upper deck business class area of seats. Because we are so out of the way, few people ever come to see us. But this time we had a Chinese family come visit– a dad and four children, 2 boys and 2 girls. (Interesting, I’d thought there was a one child rule, but maybe it doesn’t apply to the wealthy and upper middle class–and there really is a true middle class in China now, living in Western style subdivisions with 4000+ square foot homes, SUVs, designer clothes, the whole America dream. They even give the children western names like Isabelle and Emily). Like these two adorable girls who loved sitting in the pilot seat more than their brothers did! THIS is the future of China:

Thanks for coming along with me on my trip to Shanghai. Next week I’ll go to the “Land Down Undah”–Sydney, Australia! And summer time!!! Woo!

Potty Freedom

I was all set to fly to Narita (Tokyo’s International airport that is weirdly nowhere near Tokyo) when the chance to fly a military charter from SFO to Frankfurt in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom opened up. Not only was the trip the same amount of days (3), I’d make more money, would get to fly an airplane load of good-looking Marines, and I’d get to deadhead home (fly as a passenger as opposed to flying the plane). So I traded away my Japan trip.

But no Marines in sight. The airplane we flew over was totally empty! I tell you, it’s almost a little creepy flying a huge 747 with only 7 people inside. Don’t get to see it very often. It must have cost buckets of money to fly an empty 747 all the way from San Fran to Frankfurt (it was going on from Frankfurt with a new crew, also empty, to Kuwait) but the government was paying for it…

I took a pic stranding in the very back and aiming toward the nose.
The front of the plane is soooo distant, it almost fades away–lol:

There were no flight attendants on board, just a fueler and two mechanics, and they certainly weren’t going to cook meals or make us coffee so we did all that ourselves. It was kinda fun, brewing Starbucks in the galley and prepping our “TV dinner” meals by putting them in the ovens. We could leave the cockit whenever we wanted! We could get coffee whenever we wanted! And best of all? I could go potty whenever I needed to!

I think that’s been the most onerous change for us pilots, post-Osama, becoming virtual prisoners in the cockpit behind our barred and locked reinforced doors with lock-out features and a peephole. We can no longer simply pop out of the cockpit to go pee. I’ve heard some say that the incidence of bladder infections and kidney ailments in pilots has skyrocketed. On the 747, we can’t block the lavatories with a food cart, so we have to call a flight attendant–actually 2 FAs, one to stand guard in the cockpit and the other to guard the lav. The flight attendants are busy, so needless to say, it isn’t easy to do this. Calls to the cabin will often go something like this:
Pilot to FA: “Do you mind coming up, we have to use the lav.”
FA: “I’m in the middle of my service.”
Pilot: “But, I have to go.”
FA: (exasperated sigh) “Why didn’t you call twenty minutes ago?”
Pilot: (pressing thighs together and trying not to think of waterfalls) “Um, I didn’t have to go then…I have to go now.”
FA: “I’ll get up there when I can.”

It’s like being back in first grade and you wanted your parents to stop the car so you could go pee in the gas station.

Once we got to Frankfurt, I could have laid-over for 31 hours before heading home as a passenger in Business Class. But I just wanted to go home, so I got permission to forfeit the layover and head home right away, which meant getting right back on a flight to SFO. So 10 something hours over, and 11 something hours back, nearly 24 solid hours on a plane in the air. Granted, althoughI got a First Class seat on the way home, a delicious sleeper seat, wonderful food and wine, followed by my 3 hours car drive home, walking in the house only one day after I left, I was wiped out after spending almost a solid day traveling nearly non-stop. All I can say is: Don’t Try This At Home.

Next stop: Shanghai. I’ll report in next week with the latest in Chinese shopping bargains. (wink)

Flyerdreamer's Rules for Flying Survival

Okay, wrote 5 pages today. Not enough, but it is a start. I like my interstellar assassin hero.

Since this is basically from an e-mail I wrote a friend, I thought I could post it with little time-suck penalties. Next entry will be next week from Tokyo. Until then, ciao! (actually, sayonara)

After over a quarter-century of flying jets, I’ve accumulated a few rules. A recent trip from Frankfurt to San Francisco reminded me of Rules 13 and 14:

13. avoid emergency landings at airports with names you can’t pronounce
14. avoid landing anywhere with the words “only in a dire emergency” in the notes.

When flying from Europe to the west coast of the US, the hop over the “pond” (the Atlantic Ocean) is quite short, only a few hours. But after you leave the shores of Scotland behind, there’s not a whole lot in front of you but ice–and Iceland, a very pretty place judging from the quick glimpses I’ve had on the few time I’ve flown over it where it wasn’t overcast–and a bleak, desolate place called Greenland. Unlike the GINORMOUS mass of land we’re used to seeing on the flat distorted depictions of the world map, Greenland is little. It takes about an hour to fly over and that’s it.

After crossing Greenland, you’re into northern Canada, where there are lots more places to land if you have an emergency. But for those couple hours over the far north Atlantic when you’re past Iceland and not yet to Canada there ain’t a lot of options should you have to put the airplane down Right Now. (a rare situation, but one we have to be ready for nonetheless)

When we fly over Greenland, we have our books out and ready because there are pages of rules on what to do and how to do it should the airplane experience the sort of emergency where you have to descend immediately, like for a major fire or depressurization, which is, like i said VERY rare. But you always have to be prepared anyway. Everyone I fly with treats this seriously. I can’t speak for the other airlines, but I’m extremely proud of United pilots for being so well-trained, and us international pilots in particular.

The problem with descending over Greenland is that peaks over 12,000 feet are as common as SUVs in suburbia. If we have to land somewhere in Greenland, likely we’d go to Thule, a military base with a nice long runway. But the thing is, our route takes us right over Kangerlussuaq, on the west coast of Greenland, whereas Thule AB is well north of our usual route, 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Our books say: “Diversion to Kangerlussuaq should only be attempted in a dire emergency. There are no medical or passenger handling facilities. At night or in IMC, the dangerous terrain is not visible. The approaches are non-precision and for runway 10 only. The approach to runway 10 is along the north side of a steep-walled fjord. The VASI provides less than standard obstacle clearance. There is high terrain in all quadrants. Significant wind shear can be expected.”

Okay, translated:
1. There’s no Starbucks
2. You can’t see %$*#
3. the approach could lead you in as much as 30 degrees angled off the runway centerline and that’d be considered “okay”
4. When established on said approach, the rocks below are VERY close–both below you and on the sides (the fjord)
5. You’re $%&# out of luck if the wind is from the wrong direction.
6. And if all that isn’t bad enough, the final notes inform me that I can’t use the autopilot or usual approach guidance in the very-high-tech 747 because the airport is not converted to WGS-84 standard (Google it) and we have to fly the approach using what is basically WWII technology!!!

No. Thanks. Really.

The best pix I have of Greenland are on my cell phone and I don’t know how to get them off of there but here are a couple taken with my digital camera on past trips:

A rare sunny summer day at the Greenland shore:

Sunset and the moon over Greenland:

Want to see for yourself? Have you tried this yet? My son showed it to me. You can type in a place or an address anywhere in the world and it zooms in. I told him to type in Kangerlussuaq. When he asked me how to spell it, I had to go look it up. (reference Rule 13) And when I saw the place…needless to say, I’m sticking to Sue’s Rules 13 and 14. In other words, I will not be landing at Kangerlussuaq anytime soon.

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