Thursday, August 30, 2012

Flight Engineer Daze

Boeing 727-100 FE Panel

One sure-fire way to put someone to sleep is to start telling stories from your flight engineer days.  If you don't believe me; try mentioning Essential Power Selector Switch, or CSD Oil Cooler Shutoff Switch, the next time you hold court in the pilot's lounge.  Anyone who was hired after the last Jurassic Jet was put out to pasture will surely react like you are speaking a foreign language.  Be careful.  Too much flight engineer mumbo-jumbo and their eyes will glaze over. 

A quick check of my logbook shows 3,686.9 hours of flight engineer time.  Six years at three different airlines---Eastern Airlines, Pan American World Airways, and Private Jet Expeditions.  Two thirds of that time was spent on the Boeing 727, and the rest on the Airbus A300.  Looking back; I'd say it was about five years and 3,000 hours too long.  One year of flight engineer experience is about all one needs.  Long enough to learn the ropes of airline flight operations, and short enough so you don't loose your instrument scan.  In an ideal world, all of that experience would be at one airline.  Of course none of that matters anymore.  The era of the flight engineer is over---gone the way of the range approach, and VLF/Omega navigation.  As my buddy The Great Barbeau likes to say:  "That's a good thing!"

When I came on the scene in the mid 1980's, the entry level position at most airlines was the Second Officer seat on the Boeing 727.  If you are not familiar; Second Officer means Flight Engineer.  The terms are interchangeable.  I guess the title Second Officer was supposed to make you feel good about making $1,400 a month.

Like most FAA certificates, the FE ticket required written, oral, and practical examinations.  A passing grade on the FE written exam was required before any airline would offer up an interview.  I bought a Flight Engineer Test Prep Guide from Sporty's Pilot Shop and set about memorizing the answers to all of the questions in the test bank.  I didn't care about learning anything.  All I cared about was passing the written exam.  The airlines could teach me how to be a flight engineer after I passed the interview.  It worked!  In the fall of 1985 I took my FE written scores to Eastern Airlines, and they taught me how to be a 727 flight engineer.  It sounds easy, but I can assure you it was not!  Six weeks of training that is best described as drinking from a fire hose, followed by the most sadistic check ride in aviation!

The first part of the fire hose was Basic Indoctrination.  A week that included (among other things) Part 121 regulations, ditching procedures, and security information.  An entire day was devoted to FAA produced hijack videos.  Yes, it was hard staying awake after lunch that day!

Boeing 727 systems ground school was next.  Two weeks of systems, performance, and procedures training, followed by an oral evaluation that could last up to four hours!  The fellow I drew for the oral had the reputation of being a hard nose.  I don't need to tell you I was stressed going into that briefing room!  I guess I knew my stuff.  After an hour of questioning he said:  "Good Job!  I wish everyone was as prepared as you."  Then he said:  "Sorry, but we need to hang out a bit longer.  If I let you go now, folks will think I'm Santa Claus!"  So for the next thirty minutes we chatted about the next step in training, and what I could expect going forward.  Then he called it a day.  Leaving the room I remember thinking:  "Man!  I spent so much time getting ready for this. . .  He didn't ask me ANYTHING!"  I guess he was Santa Claus.

That next step was the simulator.  Two more weeks of systems, performance, and procedures training, but this time in a crew environment.  Here we learned the sobering fact that bad things could (and would) happen in a 727 if you weren't on your game!  A normal session would have two students in the simulator at the same time---one observing while the other sat in the frying pan.  Half way through we would swap seats and do it all over again.  It is amazing what you can learn watching your Sim partner have a bad day!  Generally, things went smoother during the second half of the session.

While we worked through systems problems with our instructor, a training pilot (usually a retired Captain) would fly the simulator.  It was fun to watch.  He would fly around and do whatever he felt like doing---touch and goes (setting his own flaps and landing gear), or whatever; until it was time to work a procedure with us.  Those guys were good!  On more than one occasion I had to remind myself I wasn't there to watch the retired guy fly the 727 solo!

A tremendous amount of time was spent on performance planning.  Even though runway analysis and weight and balance calculations were automated for line operations, Eastern (and the FAA) thought we should know how perform both tasks manually.  Some of those calculations were particularly interesting!  Of course not once in twenty-seven years of airline operations have I had to manually calculate the maximum allowable takeoff weight of a Boeing 727 (or any airplane) in icing conditions, with intermix engines, from a "whatever" pressure altitude runway that had a ten knot tailwind, and one quarter inch of standing water on it's ungrooved surface---but I know how!  On several occasions, however, I did have to calculate the extra fuel required for a tail skid that failed to retract after takeoff.  That one could be a game changer with regards to reaching your destination nonstop.

There was no QRH (Quick Reference Handbook) on the 727.  The flight engineer was the QRH!  Once the Initial Memory Items for whatever abnormal situation (and there could be many) were completed, the flight engineer would pull out his (or her) Aircraft Manual, and start working the problem---usually with the Captain, since he had the better view of the FE panel.  Eastern's 727 Manual was a rather large affair.  The three inch thick loose leaf binder was stuffed with about four inches of paper.  How well it fit in your flight bag was dependent on how much coffee you spilled on it.  The paper would curl as it dried, and could swell up to an inch after a good dousing!  Coffee was better than orange juice.  Oh, what a mess that was!  But that came later; after we were out on the line.  Liquids were not allowed in the simulator.  Speaking of liquids.  After two weeks in the Sim, the fire hose was almost empty.  It was time to take the check ride. . .

Once again the stress meter was pegged!  Like all check rides, this one started with an oral evaluation.  Not as in depth as that first systems oral, it focused mainly on limitations, memory items, and a review of the exterior preflight slide show.  There was also a performance problem.  As I recall, all of this went fairly smooth.  As we were finishing up, the training pilots assigned to my check ride stopped by to introduce themselves.  The First Officer was new to me, but the Captain, I was happy to see, was the same fellow I had worked with for most of my training.  My stress level went down a notch.

The check ride itself was a somewhat disjointed affair.  It was set up like you were starting out on the first flight of the day.  While the guys up front were taking a break (not that unrealistic), the Flight Engineer conducted the cockpit preflight.  This took anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes, depending on how many "Easter eggs" the Check Engineer had left for you to discover.  With that part complete, the training pilots returned and the Before Start Checklist completed.  If you were lucky, you caught the stuff you missed on the preflight here; rather than on engine start, or worse, sometime after takeoff!  It was a check ride; so there was absolutely zero chance of getting all three engines started without some sort of starting malfunction.  Hot starts, hung starts, and a start valve failing to close after the start switch was released, were just a few of the problems I encountered. 

Once the engines were running the Flight Engineer completed the after start flow.  Here the electrical panel was set so that all three generators were connected to a common bus, and the Essential Power Switch (the power source for the Captain's flight instruments) selected to the number three generator.  Next the galley power switches were selected on, the fuel panel set for taxi (or takeoff), the hydraulic systems checked, the APU bleed switches were closed, both air conditioning pack switches were positioned to on, and the pressurization panel set for takeoff.  Of course any number of malfunctions could occur (and probably did, I just can't remember) during the after start flow.  I do remember that with all of the start malfunctions, it was almost forty-five minutes before we were ready for our simulator departure---an hour and a half if you include the preflight!  The pace quickened once we were airborne.  Normal procedures were followed by various system abnormals, some more complex than others, until it was time for the grand finale:  The two engine inoperative approach and landing

Today's Junior Birdman might ask:  How hard could that be?  My answer:  The landing was easy; the hard part was getting there!  It all started with a V1 cut (engine failure) on takeoff.  The Check Engineer usually failed either the left or the center engine.  The reason for this I'll explain later, but for now just remember the engine driven hydraulic pumps are attached to these engines.  The Flight Engineer's number one priority for any kind of engine, or electrical, problem was to ensure the Captain had power to his flight instruments, and to download the electrical system.  Engine failure means generator failure!  Because it was easy to overload the two remaining generators, the Flight Engineer had an abnormal flow to complete.  Essential Power switch to an operating generator, and both Galley Power switches off.  If the flaps were extended (such as on takeoff), one electric hydraulic pump was switched off, and one air conditioning pack was also switched off---usually the one associated with the failed engine.  The high draw electric pack fans only operated when the flaps were extended.  The flow could be completed in about five seconds.  As the climb out progressed, the savvy Flight Engineer had plenty of time to retrieve his (or her) flight manual, and be standing by for the pilot's call for the After Takeoff and Engine Failure Checklists, once the flaps and slats were retracted.

While the pilots maneuvered for an ILS approach, the Flight Engineer worked through the abnormal checklists.  The Engine Failure Checklist was followed by the One Generator Inoperative Checklist.  This was a backup since most of those items were completed during the abnormal flow immediately following the engine failure.  The landing data card was filled out next, so as to be ready for the One Engine Inoperative Landing Checklist. 

One item that was easy to loose track of while working through the checklists was fuel balance.  The max allowable fuel imbalance between the left and right wing tanks was 1,000 pounds.  With a burn rate of approximately 3,000 pounds per hour on each engine, an out of balance situation could develop quickly, especially during an engine out cross feed situation.  To help keep track of this issue I penciled in "Check Fuel" in the margins of my engine out checklists. 

On final approach, somewhere between the outer marker and the runway, the instructor would start giving advisories.  This was a "heads up" you might not be landing.  It could be anything---the visibility was deteriorating, or there was a vehicle on the runway, or my personal favorite:  "Eastern go around!  There's a Delta Jet on the runway!"  Sometime during the go around, usually after the flaps were retracted; the left or the center engine fire warning would activate.  There was no mistaking that warning!  A fire shutoff handle (one of three mounted on the glare shield) would illuminate, along with a steady bell that I swear was so loud it could be heard in the next county!  Once again the Flight Engineer would check Essential Power and download the electrical system.  This time in preparation for single generator operation.  By failing both the left and center engines, the Check Engineer had set the scene for the "worst case" scenario on the 727. 

The 727 had three hydraulic systems.  System A, powered by two engine driven hydraulic pumps, System B, powered by two electric hydraulic pumps, and the Standby System, which was also electrically powered.  System A was the big guy, and one of it's many duties was to supply pressure for landing gear operation.  You may recall that earlier in this saga I mentioned the engine driven hydraulic pumps were powered by the left and center engines.  Now that both engines were shut down, there was no System A hydraulic pressure to extend the landing gear.  Lucky for us, Boeing had planned for this situation, and installed an alternate gear extension system.  More about that later.  At this point in the check ride there were more pressing issues at hand---such as trying to keep a jet that normally flies on three engines, in the air on one!

Once again the Flight Engineer was a very busy person!  The Engine Fire Checklist was followed by the Two Generator Inoperative Checklist, which was then followed by the mother of all checklists; the Two Engine Inoperative Landing Checklist.  Embedded within this checklist were checklists for:  Fuel Jettison, Alternate Flap Extension, and Alternate Landing Gear Extension.  Of the three, Fuel Jettison was the most critical.  To remain airborne with only one engine operating, aircraft weight had to be reduced!  Usually, as soon as the Engine Fire Checklist was completed, the Captain would tell the Flight Engineer to start dumping fuel. 

Throughout training, whenever our state of confusion reached a saturation point, our instructors would joke with us and say:  "Don't worry; it will all come together on the check ride!"  Then they would quickly follow up with:  "Just don't try to crank the gear while you are dumping fuel."  Even though the statement was given in jest, it was still good advice.  The dump rate was 2,500 pounds per minute.  With the smallest distraction you could easily bust the 1,000 pound imbalance limitation---but you couldn't just sit there and watch the fuel gauges wind down as you dumped fuel.  There was not enough time for that!  As a technique, I used this time to fill out the Landing Data Card, checking the fuel gauges every 20 seconds, or so, until it was time to close the dump valves and nozzles. 

While the Flight Engineer prepared to manually extend the landing gear, the First Officer extended the leading edge devices, and the trailing edge flaps, with the Alternate Flap Extension System.  The leading edge devices were powered by the electric Standby Hydraulic pump (as was the lower rudder) and the trailing edge flaps were powered by an electric motor.  Once the leading edge devices were extended, they could not be retracted with the Standby System.  As I recall, it took about two minutes to extend the trailing edge flaps to 15 degrees.   By this time we were on final, and the only thing left to do was manually extend the landing gear. . .

The procedure for extending the landing gear manually was relatively simple.  Well; at least by 727 standards.  Three hand-crank receptacles, one for each gear, were located beneath access doors on the cockpit floor.  Operating placards were located on the underside of each door.  The Flight Engineer simply inserted the hand crank (normally stored on the aft cockpit bulkhead) into the receptacle and then followed the instructions on the placards.  For each main gear, turning the hand crank slowly inboard released the gear door locks, and then allowed the landing gear to free fall into position.  The procedure had you pause for five seconds after 2 1/2 turns, and then continue on to the mechanical stop.  During the pause you could usually feel the wheels hit the gear doors as they extended.  The gear was then locked in position by rotating the hand crank in the opposite (outboard) direction.  If the procedure worked as advertised, you were rewarded with a green light on the forward instrument panel.  The gear doors would remain open.

The nose gear really was simple.  The hand crank was rotated clockwise 2 1/3 turns to the stop, and then back the other direction to lock the gear into position.  The doors were mechanically linked to the nose gear, so they opened and closed with the falling gear.  Seriously; that's all there was to it.  Once you had three green lights, you could sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the check ride---after reading the Before Landing Checklist, of course.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wings Over Wine Country 2012


In early July I received a text message from my good friend "The Exotic Guy" Captain Duncan Flett.  "Hey there Big Guy!  You wouldn't be interested in being my extra Flight Line Safety guy for the PCAM Air Show August 18 & 19th?"  My response was almost instantaneous!  "I'm In!"

Three years ago Jim Abell, Ramp Boss for the Pacific Coast Air Museum's Wings Over Wine Country Air Show, and fellow United Airlines pilot, asked Duncan if he would like to join the air show ramp crew as an Assistant Flight Line Safety Advisor.  Duncan had just finished a Masters Degree in Safety Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and thought it would be nice to put some of that training to work.  Things went well and they invited him back for the 2011 air show.  Last year's Flight Line Safety head-honcho was promoted to Air Show Site Manager for the 2012 show.  Duncan moved up to his position.  Since every head-honcho needs a sidekick/fall guy, Duncan put the word out that he needed an assistant.  To sweeten the deal he promised a free hat and T-shirt to the first sucker/volunteer that replied to his message.  That person, apparently, was me!

The theme for this year's air show was 100 years of Marine Corps aviation.  As one would expect, the Marines were well represented.  There were two AV-8B Harrier Jump Jets and one F-18E Super Hornet in attendance.  Nice jets---but (in my opinion) all they really do is make a lot of noise.  The cool Marine Corps offering was the pristine Grumman Duck from the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California.

Before I get too far along, I guess I should say a few words about the photos accompanying this story.  With a few exceptions, all of the photos are static.  There are two reasons for this.  First; I was using my iPhone camera and the zoom function is fairly limited.  Second; and more important, it is considered "Bad Form" for the Flight Line Safety guy to be taking pictures when he should be monitoring ramp operations. . .  All photos were taken either before or after the day's aerial events---or when there was no movement on the ramp.

This was the site plan Friday afternoon at 1500 PDT.  By 1900 it had all changed. . .

Tradition dictates that the Flight Line Crew gather at the Starbucks down the street from the Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport at 0700 Saturday and Sunday mornings.  The scene above was from Saturday.  Jim Abell (yellow shirt) was telling us that the ramp layout had changed.  Semper Gumby!  (Always Flexible!)

Air Show Schedule.

The ramp was open to the public from 0900 to 1000 each morning.  The B-25 always drew a crowd.

Way better than an iPhone!

The two Safety Guys in their Gilligan outfits in front of the B-25, Old Glory.

On the inside of Old Glory's bombay!

Hawker Sea Fury Argonaut.

There were four CJ-6's.  Photo courtesy of Harry Strouse.

I called this one the China Clipper. . .

There were eight P-51's on hand.

Nose art on Red Dog XII.

I found this on the right side of Red Dog's rudder!

It's a pretty exclusive club. . .  Steve Hinton from The Planes of Fame Museum is in the black shirt.  Nice fellow.  He told Duncan that after the air show it would take 1:15 to get back to Chino from Santa Rosa.  Wee Willy II is a nice ride!

One of two airplanes sponsored by Jelly Belly. . .

The other airplane was a Stearman.

The Air Show is planned around Horizon Airlines' schedule.  Julie Clark's T-34 is in the background.

It was foggy early Sunday morning.

Before the ramp opened, Duncan and I got to speak with Craig Schulz, Charles M.'s son.  He has a newly restored P-40, that except for the paperwork, is ready to fly.  He said it should be part of next year's air show.  I hope so.  It's the nicest looking P-40 I believe I have ever seen!


It was on static display.

Great artwork!  Which is fitting, of course.

There was one on each blade. . .

The museum had some of their static display aircraft open for business.  When was the last time you sat in a F-4?

Johnny Mullis would give me all kinds of grief if I left out the NAVY!  This was Sunday morning, after the fog lifted.

This is Gary Greenough, Deputy Ramp Boss and retired Navy guy.  He donned his flight deck gear for the C-1 starts.  Gary has a KISS (Rock Band) Tribute Harley-Davidson Motorcycle that he uses to raise money for the Wounded Warriors charity.  All four band members signed the gas tank at a recent concert.  Gary was still pumped about the whole deal!  A good man for a good cause.  I'm looking forward to working with him again next year.

Sorry Johnny, this was the best I could do.  Jelly Belly was trying to run me over with his Stearman. . .  I'm kidding, of course!

Speaking of Jelly Belly.  He also flies the Reno racer, Steadfast.

Which is more photogenic from this side, don't you think?  I suspect there are more tattoos in this photo, than there ever were on all the pilots who ever flew this airplane. . .

Most of the Flight Line Crew from the 2012 Wings Over Wine Country Air Show.  Photo courtesy of Harry Strouse.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Museum Piece


Monday morning the EG (UAL Captain Duncan Flett, AKA The Exotic Guy) and I stopped in at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California.  It was a nice way to unwind after two and a half days of working Flight Line Safety at the Wings Over Wine Country Air Show.  As a wannabe cartoonist, the museum has been on my "To Do" list for quite some time.  I was not disappointed! 

As we wandered around, I realized that I had finally made the grade---one of my drawings was now in a museum!  At least temporarily. . .  The EG was wearing his Royal Air Fletterhozen T-Shirt.  On his back was my version of a De Havilland DH-60 Moth.  I know it's a stretch, but I'll take what I can get.  Thank you Duncan.  You made my day!

Here is the drawing I used for the T-Shirt.  Like Snoopy, I tend to daydream.  Those daydreams morph in to drawings that sometimes end up in your mailbox.  It was interesting to see that even Charles Schulz was prone to the occasional spelling error.  I noticed correction tape on several original Peanuts story panels.  I understand the frustration!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Friday Evening at JFK

"Emirates 201 Heavy, give way to the jet ski rider crossing Taxiway Bravo, then taxi Bravo, Mike-Alpha to the gate."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Runway Change

On Friday, August 3, 2012, the USA TODAY ran a story about a "loss of separation" between three regional jets at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in Washington, DC.  The "miscue" occurred July 31st, when thunderstorms south of the airfield shut off the northbound arrivals---forcing a runway change. . . 

This story was old news to the Brethren.  It had been making the rounds on the "Reply to All" email posts for at least 24 hours by the time I saw it in the newspaper.  Eddie Price, the Airport Manager at Pond Branch Airfield, started the thread with a link to a TV news video about Tuesday's "dire incident."  Brother Price is a member of several discussion groups.  He sent the link to the Citadel Roundtable, his group of Citadel buddies from back in the day.  One of the members of the Roundtable is Robert Kahle, who happens to be a retired Air Traffic Controller.  The runways and airlines used are just examples, but this is what Robert had to say about the story:

The video says it was during a runway change due to a thunderstorm. Well, a Tstorm is a major pain when it is busy because airline pilots will not fly into all. They are scared of them, for good reason. Lightning, micro bursts, etc. ugly stuff. So the normal flow of traffic goes out the window and it becomes a coordination nightmare. You are in a controller's ear waiting for him to stop talking so you can ask if he can take US Air at 4000, which will put him a little bit more down the tubes but he knows you have nowhere to put him because of a line of thunder boomers and he's coordinating with someone else to put a plane where he should not be and the Tower is calling down to switch runways because of a wind shift and everybody is yelling and the tension is at a maximum. All the planes want to land before the storm hits but now they can't land with a tailwind and controllers are changing the maps on their scopes for an opposite direction runway operation and planes are in a state of chaos and everyone is thinking, "Don't let em hit.". So, the last plane landing on runway 27 has been cleared for approach. The runway gets switched. The Tower has lined everyone up for runway 9 and they launch 2. Someone in the radar room forgets to switch the Delta that was cleared to 27 and they think Tower is separating them and the Tower thinks radar is taking him to runway 9 and they swish and the Tower is calling down to see who is talking to Delta and Delta is saying,"We were cleared at the river."

Now, it is called a near miss and it looks scary as hell, but they were still 1.7 miles from the first departure and 2.8 from number two. No paint scraped. Just a little lack of coordination.

They will sit down for days listening to tapes to figure out who exactly dropped the ball and they will decertify him for a few days and give him remedial training, like that is going to make any difference in the world because you could never re create that screwed up scenario in a training session. It all happens very fast even with all the jets slowed down to 170. With all the chaos and coordination and yelling and weird vectors and pilots refusing vectors and a runway change, which can be very complicated even when you are not busy, they were lucky they just whiffed two of them.

Been there. Probably done that.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

New Hire First Officer

Eddie Price, the Chief Pilot at Pond Branch Airways, has hired a new co-pilot.  This is Giddy, a Jack Russell Dachshund mix.  As you can see, he's already rolling his eyes at his Captain.  Typical co-pilot reaction. . . 

And. . .   Three words the First Officer never wants to hear from his Captain:  "HEY, WATCH THIS!"