Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's a Small World After All

After a month in classrooms and simulators, I've finally finished my
training on the B-757/767. The best part of training is getting back
in a real airplane and doing what I love - flying.

The culmination of ground school is a check-ride in the simulator
where the examiner puts you and the other pilot through a series of
normal and non-normal situations to see how well you handle them. Once you've passed your check-ride you are required to fly at least 25 hours in the real airplane on real flights with a check-airman whose job it is to give you instruction on normal, day to day flying. This is called Initial Operating Experience, or IOE. My IOE was scheduled for two trips, the first was Newark-Paris, and the second was Newark-Athens.

I flew out to Newark a couple days before my first flight to take care
of some re-current ground school. After I finished ground school I
headed into the city to meet an old friend that I don't get to see
very often. After dinner and people watching in New York, I headed
back to my hotel around mid-night. I stayed up until 3 AM hoping to
sleep as long as I could the next day, since I'd be staying up all
night flying to Paris.

After sleeping until noon, I took advantage of the nice workout room,
then headed over to the airport. I met up with my instructor a couple
hours before departure time to go over the flight papers.

Something new to me is the planning that goes into flying over the
ocean. Flying over land is kind of a no-brainer when it comes to an
emergency, you land at the nearest suitable airport which is generally
pretty close. Over the ocean however, we plan for the worst possible
situation - an engine failure and de-pressurization at the same time
right over the middle of the ocean. We plot where this critical point
is, where we're going to go if an emergency occurs and how much gas
it's going to take to get there at 10,000 feet with one engine shut-
down. Sounds pretty scary, but to have all that happen at once would
be highly unlikely - it's nice to know that we're prepared for that

After looking over paperwork, we headed out to the B-757 we were going to fly to Paris. The instructor and I headed outside to do my first pre-flight. The instructor was pointing out things like brake wear-pin indicators, oxygen blow-out discs, anti-ice vents, air conditioning exhaust, etc. I looked at him with a smile on my face and said "It's really big!" He laughed and said, "Just wait until you get on the 767, it's a lot bigger than this."

We headed back inside, set up the cockpit and before I knew it we were getting ready to push back. Before we did that however, one of the flight attendants asked if we had a chance to look at the menu yet. That was another one of the new parts of flying international, the pilots actually get menus - not leftovers.

We took off and headed up the Hudson River. As I looked out the
window, it was almost like a ride at Disney World - the city looked
like a painting, a beautiful clear night with the buildings reflecting
against the water and the streets bustling with cars.

We headed out over the Atlantic, watched a full moon rise over the
water and a few hours later, the flight attendants brought us our
meals. After about 6 hours of flying we arrived into Paris. The farm
fields looked like those of the ones in Minnesota but there was one
landmark in the distance that made me realize we had found the right city - the Eiffel Tower!

After a successful landing - which means everyone walked away and
nothing got bent - we headed to the hotel. A few flight attendants and I met in the crew lounge for celebratory champagne. I wanted to stay up and see the city so I went to the avenue des Champs-Élysées with a flight attendant. We saw the Arc de Triomphe and of course the Eiffel Tower (which was actually about a block from our hotel).

A handful of pilots (from all three Newark-Paris flights) and I headed
to dinner at a great place my captain knew of. On the menu was lots of wine, salmon, steak, french fries, and crème brûlée for dessert. After a wonderful dinner and great conversation, we headed back to the hotel for some more wine in the crew lounge.

About mid-night (Paris time) I was feeling pretty tired. Actually, to
say I was tired is to say the Atlantic Ocean is damp - I was
exhausted! No wonder why, I had been up for over 30 hours!

The next day we headed back to Newark except this time we had an
International Relief Officer (IRO) because the flight was scheduled to
be over eight hours. The nice thing about having an IRO is they do the walk-around, pre-flight the cockpit, get your drinks, and give you a couple hour break during the flight so you can go sleep in Business First. So basically you show up - and just fly.

When I showed up for the Athens flight, everything was very similar
except this time I was flying a B-767. I did the walk-around and my
first instructor was right, this airplane was huge! There are
certainly other airplanes out there that are bigger than this one, but
it is quite the sight when you walk around the outside of one. At take-off, the airplane weighed about 400,000 pounds! That's 400 times heavier than the first Cessna I ever flew back when I was 14 years old.

Our trip to Athens was about nine and one half hours so we had an IRO to give us a break during the flight. During the last part of the flight we were over the Mediterranean Sea (or "Med" as we call it). A clear day provided for some great views of the Italian, Albanian, and Yugoslavian Coast. We even saw the island where they filmed Captain Corelli's Mandolin - simply beautiful!

Once we got there, I decided a nap might be a better way to spend my first couple hours. After I woke up, the IRO and I headed over to the Acropolis to learn a small bit of Athens history. Later, we had dinner on a rooftop restaurant overlooking Athens. We finished the night on the roof of our hotel having a drink by the pool. Not a bad way to spend a day at work.

Our flight home was delayed about four hours due to a hydraulic leak
the in-bound crew found before they left Newark. After flying the
longest flight I've ever worked, we arrived 10 hours and 26 minutes
later, just in time for me to catch the last flight home to
Minneapolis for some well deserved days off.

This new type of flying will be something to get used to but great
crews, exciting destinations, and a new airplane should make for some wonderful adventures. I guess this new airplane is like Disney World, it's a small world after all.

Standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe

The view from my hotel room in Paris