They can write about snakes on an airplane and
depict Denzel Washington flying inverted so
why not write about an aviation geek fluent on the
virtual Airbus A320 capable of landing a real stricken
FYI, spelling is “Americanese.”
I drew a picture of a pair of wings…because I want to fly.
My mother asked me to explain…I said that I would try.
Last night I had a dream of flying…
Song: Dream II, Ken Tobias
“Power loss!” reverberated throughout the flight deck as the crippled airliner labored into the air during rotation on takeoff. Dave instinctively knew what to do as the failed left engine groaned back to zero thrust. The asymmetric thrust caused the airplane to veer from the runway, but a quick rudder input from Dave’s right foot kept it tracking a straight line allowing the heavily laden airplane to climb, escaping catastrophic consequences of plunging into the lurking terrain below. Two engine airliners were certified to climb away on a single engine, but Dave knew one wrong move and it could easily flip over on its back.
A crisp, “positive rate!” echoed seconds later. Finally, at four hundred feet above the ground Dave commands Bob, his first officer, to engage the autopilot and to secure the engine. Bob engages the number one autopilot albeit with an unsteady hand and begins the drill ensuring Dave confirms his actions. With a two-engine airliner at maximum takeoff weight, now is not the time to accidentally shut down the wrong engine.
“Remember Dave, level off at 2000 feet so we can get the flaps up, we don’t need any more drag.” A bead of sweat formed on Bob’s forehead and upper lip. Sweat also infused his pilot shirt with the smell of B.O permeating the closet sized flight deck.
The level off came with a push of a button with a crisp “vertical speed zero” from Dave. The airspeed struggled upward as the disabled airliner wavered in flight like a bird with one wing tied behind its back.
“There’s the speed you need Dave to get the flaps up!” as Bob’s voice shifted to a higher pitch.
Dave glanced over at Bob, realizing Bob was wound up like an eight-day clock. Dave asked himself why he always got paired with Bob, but now clues in as perspiration forms on Bob’s overweight frame. Many didn’t want to fly with Bob. No one is willing to jeopardize their licence with a fair to middling pilot. As one pilot supervisor once told Dave, this company has A to A+ pilots but there are a few Bs and Cs out there. Dave realizes he is flying with one of the “Cs.”
The flaps slowly retract into the wing’s trailing edge. The aerodynamically clean wing is ready to climb to a safe altitude allowing Dave and Bob to collaborate as to their next plan of action. The in-charge had to be briefed along with a full load of wide-eyed freaked-out hysterical passengers. But not before air traffic control was notified of Dave and Bob’s intentions.
Dave, the skipper of this European made Airbus 320, declared an emergency. “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Air Canadian flight 401 has lost an engine on takeoff, we have 146 souls on board, 8 tons of fuel and negative dangerous goods. We want priority vectors back to the airport for an immediate landing!”
“Roger, Air Canadian 401, the weather in Toronto is down to half a mile visibility in fog. I’ll set you up for an ILS on runway 23.”
Bob gets to work plugging data into the computers for the instrument landing, a must in these weather conditions. Dave briefs Bob and they follow vectors to set up for a straight in approach. Dave lets the autopilot perform its magic.
After seeming like an eternity, Bob blared out the word, “minimums!”
Dave immediately responds by calling… “landing!”
The airplane settles onto the runway with thrust reversers promptly selected, enabling the reverse flow from the good engine to aid the airliner to a more efficient stop. The parking brake is set even though it is on the active runway effectively closing it and Dave blurts over the P.A, “remain seated, remain seated!” Dave wanted the crash vehicles, now called rescue vehicles because the word “crash” didn’t bode well with the public, to check the airplane over before he taxis off the runway.
That was enough for Harrison Jones to see. A seasoned deep voice emanated directly behind Dave and Bob, “That’s great guys,” as the simulator retreats to its resting position from the pressurized hydraulic jacks. A beeping is heard as the bridge from the simulator lowers. Described by many pilots as the gang plank to misery, it connected the stilted two-story high hydraulically maneuvered expensive video game to the fixed stairs of the building. The beeping, a familiar sound to all pilots, indicated recurrent training consisting of two days of torture, twice a year for all airline pilots, had come to an end.
To leave out any uncertainty, Harrison made it certain the guys knew they had passed. He didn’t believe in making them wait to hear the verdict in the debriefing room. “Oh, in case you’re wondering, you both passed,” grinned Harrison as he opened the simulator door from the virtual world while picking up his notes made during the ride. “Remember to bring all your stuff: headsets, checklists and charts. Oh yeah, can you guys do a ‘parking checklist’ to make sure we didn’t forget any switches for the guys to follow?” asks Harrison as he exits the stench filled hi-tech simulator.
Harrison, with six months to retirement knew the simulator world would still be with him for several years to come. With an ugly divorce and two little ones from his second marriage, retirement wasn’t an option. Regulations would clip his wings at sixty-five, but Harrison was in great shape and still had aviation ingrained in his blood. Many pilots couldn’t wait for their last flight and yet others wanted to continue into their eighties. Harrison was one of those that would go out kicking. He will be able to teach pilots for years to come but never command an airliner at least in North America. As one pilot said years ago, “Aviation isn’t a passion, it’s a disease.”
Harrison knows the systems of the Airbus 320 inside out. He is a check pilot supervisor (or check airman depending what airline you fly for) who has done sim training for years and is well regarded amongst his peers. That carried a lot of weight as most line pilots thought checkers were dickheads. Checkers were comparable to being army officers at arm’s length from the battlefield and line pilots were the soldiers in the trenches. A line pilot never trusted a checker especially when they smiled. In fact, one supervisor had a smirk on his face as he ripped up a pilot’s licence after a simulator session. No wonder he was known as the “smile’n assassin.”
Left behind are Dave and Bob to gather their belongings needed during the four hours of challenges. “This stuff never gets any easier,” says Dave looking at Bob stuffing his flight bag with out of sequence jumbled up approach charts. Dave knew it would take Bob quite some time to get his charts back in order.
“When are you flying next, Bob?”
Dave wanted to break the ice because Bob seemed more rattled than usual and so the question went unanswered. Finally, Dave shakes hands with Bob and says, “Good ride.” Bob meekly replies with, “Thanks, Dave.”
The trio walked back to the Airbus 320 briefing room. As they walk, the clunking from the hollow floor sent Dave a vivid reminder of the simulator building. The floor boards were easily pried open for the “sim techs’ to access the miles of wires which drove the ten simulators each costing about $20 million – a high price to pay for safety.
Each simulator will be on the go throughout the entire day giving pilots a gamut of failures and scenarios. As Dave walks by the Boeing 777 ‘sim’, the largest airplane Air Canadian has, he wondered what part of the world the crew were in, maybe doing a reject at the Hong Kong airport or contending with a slippery snow covered runway in Montreal.
Harrison debriefed Dave and Bob in the tight quartered briefing room supplied with reference books and a cardboard mock-up of the flight deck. The door was closed to drown out the noise of the fans of the simulators used to cool the ever so real graphics. The sim was so good at replicating the real world; pilots didn’t need to fly the actual airplane to have their licence signed. In fact, the first time they see their airplane is with a full load of passengers.
Protocol was evident in the room. Though it was unnecessary, Dave sat in the left seat and Bob, the right. Harrison starts with Dave.
“Dave, good ride,” says Harrison as he signs Dave’s licence. “One small point - and this is from the checking department. When you declare an emergency, you don’t say, ‘you lost an engine’. An engine didn’t fall off. You should say, ‘we had an engine failure.’ I know it’s a moot point, but I had to say something. Anyway, the ride was to a ‘very high standard’, the highest the company rates flight tests.
Then Harrison addressed Bob. Bob’s eyes shifted immediately to the floor, “Bob - not a bad ride.”
Even though Harrison was overly kind on Bob’s overall performance, Harrison knew he could debrief Bob on many facets of the ride, but everything was within limits.
Bob’s face lit up. Bob suffered severely from “ride-itis.” Stressing more than necessary but it’s a tough thing to overcome. It was the equivalent to stage fright for pilots. Harrison knew it and saw the benefit of propping up Bob’s ego. Handshakes were given as Dave asks Harrison, “How long will you be doing this thankless job?”
“Until our little one is in college. Looks like I won’t be golfing much in retirement,” jokes Harrison.
The next two pilots walked by the window of the simulator briefing room with their check airman in tow. There go two more stressed out guys thought Dave.
Chapter One (Pre-flight)
Loud nonstop banter from the morning radio show host came alive early for Dave Madison. The obnoxiously chirpy host had his deep, non-stuttering, authoritative voice honed to perfection. His voice could only come from countless cigarettes and cans of coke for breakfast. Did anyone really talk like that thought Dave as he started coming to? The guy could make some great, “this is your captain speaking” announcements chuckled Dave as he hauled his 54-year old body out of bed.
The radio station promised hot and humid weather for the day with a guaranteed high of 30° C (86° F). The promise came from the station’s so-called meteorologist, but Dave knew most of these weather types were impostors both on the radio and T.V. Image is everything and to have a commentary from a supposedly certified meteorologist was to woo the public. For most, it worked.
His wife mumbled words to the effect, “it’s too early!” and turned over on her side. She liked living the profile of an Air Canadian captain’s wife, but Dave’s days away from home stressed her because she would be the one responsible for getting the kids up and doing the chores. This, she resented, because Dave got away from the grind. Their marriage worked and for the airline business, and much like cops, the divorce rate flirted near 90 percent. Words of wisdom were known to circulate among the senior pilots as far as the best financial move – stay married!
Dave showered and shaved in their large marbled washroom. The house was huge and seemed a bit of a waste since two of their three kids had moved out to university. But image takes precedence over common sense. This is what Dave teased his wife Shelly about.
Dave dressed as the reddened rising summer sun infiltrated their east-facing bedroom. He knew the reasoning behind the weather lore, “red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” but doubted ‘Joe public” knew a pall of cirrus high in the sky causing the red hue meant inclement weather was moving in. He now thinks the make belief radio forecaster might be right as far as temperature, but wondered why no mention of a pending storm.
As he buttoned his gold four-striped epaulettes to his creased white pilot shirt, he thought of the bullshit and the hoops he had to jump through to get his promotion. A smile began to form on his broad face knowing full well the job his trainers had fear mongered him about, turned out to be easier than he thought possible. As one colleague of Dave’s mentioned after he finished the three months of Nazi like training, “Dave, when it’s all over, just hit “Control-Alt-Delete.”
To go to work always in a good mood proved priceless. After all, he now got to call the shots. No more flying with “undesirables.” Before, Dave used to stress some days because of the “rather-nots” he had to be cooped up with, but he always made it a point to judge for himself. Some co-workers slipped him a heads up on a hard ass captain, but Dave judged everyone on his own findings. He remembered one captain had a reputation a mile long for going against the grain, but for some reason the captain took a liking to Dave. Dave knew the only way to get through the three-day pairing was to get this so-called “monster” talking about himself. It worked. Turned out the captain was an accomplished ballroom dancer and he could talk hours about it. They even went out together on their layover in Paris.
He looked at his watch, a Tag Heure knock-off from Hong Kong, and realized he better pick up the pace. No more daydreaming because he had to be there an hour and fifteen minutes before the flight departed. Another thought brought a smirk to Dave’s masculine face. He remembered an adage posted outside a small business on the street sign for people passing in their cars. “He who thinks he has time on his hands - is late.” This tended to be truer than not.
He hoped to beat the traffic although it seemed the nine to fivers were getting up earlier and earlier and multiplying. He couldn’t fathom how most of his neighbors in this high-end subdivision did the commute thing every workday. Having such a regimented life would have killed Dave.
He threw on his hat because he habitually left the house with his entire uniform intact - that way he didn’t forget anything. His passport sat in his left inside tunic pocket and his security pass dangled securely on his tunic lapel. His security pass proved to be his most important document after 9/11 - more important than his pilot licence. No pass. No work! That simple. As MasterCard’s famous line went, “don’t leave home without it.”
He gave Shelly a peck on the cheek. Even though it was a two-day pairing, one leg to San Francisco and return home the next day, he felt obliged to give a farewell kiss. They were approaching 25 years of marriage so things settled had routine years ago.
As a gift to himself, Dave bought a BMW as he trundled through middle age. Shelly ordered him a personalized licence plate for his last birthday. She thought AC PILOT fit the bill. Though they had to explain to their inquisitive neighbor, AC meant Air Canadian not Air Conditioning.
Even though Dave was not a “car guy” he sure appreciated the quality of a Bimmer. Another pilot, who had both a BMW car and motorcycle, straightened Dave out one day on Bimmer and Beamer. Bimmer was the “cool” name for the cars and Beamer for the motorcycle, keeping in mind Beamer can also be spelled Beemer. Dave didn’t care about the semantics; he just knew he wouldn’t be going back to the Japanese models he drove for years. German precision ruled and that same pride was clear in the way Germany’s airline, Lufthansa ran their fleet. Dave never saw such a cleaner fleet.
He slipped in a CD with hits from the seventies so he could tune out the drive. His kids teased him about having songs on his smart phone and to get with it by using Bluetooth. His limited repertoire also included Harry Chapman and Stan Rogers. Dave heard Chapman’s music years ago during his tree planting days as he busted his ass to pay for flying lessons. Stan Rogers, robbed of his prime from a catastrophic airplane fire in Cincinnati, sang Maritime folklore. Roger’s music gave Nova Scotia, Dave’s home province, its aura.
During the drive, Dave usually would practice his emergency drills he had to memorize and use during cockpit preparation, but he figured he’d spare talking to himself and tune into the music. Jeremiah was a Bull Frog popped up first on the CD.
The drive proved uneventful although finding a parking spot in the airport employee parking lot tended to be getting more of a challenge. The parking lot, soon to see a wrecking ball, was unkempt. Many employees waited in their cars near the exits closest to the airport to capitalize on a close-by parking spot. Dave called them TLTWs (Too Lazy to Walks).
He finally found parking on the third level. He tended to park in the same area, but if he didn’t, he wrote it down. He learned his lesson the hard way after a 14-hour Shanghai flight. Certain he parked his car at the far end of the parkade in section 1U, his car was not to be found. Even though he was in a dopey jet-lagged stupor, he quickly deduced his car was stolen. Dave called security and explained his situation with bags of ‘knock off’ shopping from Beijing for his kids, in tow. Finally, after driving every lane on the first floor with security, his unharmed car sat exactly one floor above in section 2U. He reddened with embarrassment and apologized several times to the security officer who heard the same story so many times before from sleep deprived aircrew.
The walk to flight planning still took ten to fifteen minutes. It consisted of moving through the bowels of the airport in the undeveloped parts. Even though Toronto claimed to be the most diverse city in the world one wouldn’t think it when they visited the sterile looking airport. Many likened it to a hospital, unlike the award-winning Vancouver airport where art and tons of restaurants greeted passengers and airport workers. Maybe being neutral and generic was the answer, whatever the thinking from the airport authority tended to be, it still made for a long walk to flight planning.
One good thing which infiltrated the monopolized company that had a stronghold on all the restaurants in the airport- including the airplane catering - was Tim Hortons. This iconic coffee shop ranked second only to hockey for Canadian identity. Seems most Canadians are hooked on it. Dave got wind of its aroma while walking by the Tim Hortons located on the domestic side. This proved to be a strategic spot as people waited to pick up arriving passengers.
He entered a code to flight planning. This place was always in an upgrade mode. Pictures finally were hung on the walls and even a coffee maker was added. The coffee maker sat mostly untouched as most pilots preferred Tim Hortons located just on the other side of security. Dave had to admit the place was looking semi-professional although it still lacked washrooms. The designated washrooms were public washrooms located across the hall with only two urinals and two stalls usually occupied. Just what a pilot needed to see after arriving from New Delhi suffering from “Deli belly” associated with explosive craps. Numerous letters from Air Canadian management were sent to the Toronto based pilots explaining it was out of their control so pilots eventually became impervious to it. Dave sometimes wondered if a call to Human rights complaining about working conditions might have instigated a plumbing miracle. After all, he was certain a group of lawyers or doctors wouldn’t put up with it.
Dave entered flight planning and found a parking spot for his roll-away suitcase and flight bag as the room prior to flight planning was jammed. He then entered a room filled with computers and numerous pilots scrutinizing flight plans and typing on computers. The Toronto base, the company’s largest pilot base, was a domicile for nearly 2000 pilots so knowing a familiar face proved less and less an occurrence. Pilots would look up from their computers and categorize whether you were captain or first officer and guess your seniority. Everyone looked and analyzed each other. The other smaller bases proved friendlier, but Toronto lived up to its reputation as being cold. Dave didn’t mind because it was the land of opportunity and he liked Toronto. For the biggest city in Canada, it sure took a beating from others and that included pilots at Air Canadian. A pilot’s career progressed much faster here than at any other base. Pilots from the other three bases teased Toronto pilots that they lived in the center of the universe and if you looked closely while flying into Toronto, one could see the earth rotate.
Dave checked his file, entered his employee number into the computer and printed his roster for the next two days. Simple – Toronto to San Francisco- layover at the downtown hotel and one leg back…a no brainer.
Dave noticed his first officer had already checked in. Dave knew of Guy Johnson – his reputation exceeded him- so walking around the pilot room asking if they were going to San Francisco was unnecessary. This tended to be a bit of a chore, finding your flying partner amongst the unfamiliar faces.
Guy Johnson, originally from Quebec now resided in the Bahamas. Not just because of the warmth, but to duck paying Canada’s exorbitant amount of income tax. Guy’s parents were from Quebec, his mother French and his father English though from the English side of Quebec. Guy’s father also flew for Air Canadian so he steered and mentored Guy at an early start. It also helped that nepotism proved to be very strong in those days and all it took was a father to walk in with a son’s resume. Guy was tall and a bit of a player, not only with woman, but with life’s situations. He challenged the system. One would say he was good looking, but it was his smooth-talk that was getting him in the sack on his layovers. Guy’s height towered over many of the pilots but recently, years of commuting had added weight and aged him.
You’d ask Guy how commuting was and like most commuters he would say it was a piece of cake - a walk in the park. But as one pilot said, “commuters are liars –they always make it out better than it is. It isn’t a problem.” But if you delved a little deeper you’d find they tended to book off a little more and missed the odd flight. Hundreds of pilots commuted even though the company officially didn’t acknowledge the practice. Dave tried the commute thing. He commuted from the East coast, but soon realized it was not his cup of tea so the family moved back to the “big smoke.”
Like most Air Canadian brats, Guy knew aviation and his job. He was fireproof. He constantly chatted throughout the flight – either telling stories about others or seemingly just making things up. Dave found Guy at a workstation retrieving the flight plan. Guy arrived hours earlier from a flight from New York. There were no direct flights from Nassau that day so he jump seated on American carriers to get to work. One of the many perks as aircrew. Free seats, or next to free, on other carriers.
Dave greeted Guy with a firm handshake and made certain he looked Guy in the eye, something he learned years ago. Back when Dave was a first officer he could tell what the captain would be like based on a handshake and whether the captain shook hands while looking Dave in the eye. Dave remembers what an ex-instructor once said, “a handshake goes a long way in determining personality especially if the handshake is like shaking a wet fish.”
Right away Guy gets into a story about a broad he sat next to on the New York flight. She travelled the eastern seaboard buying clothes for various clothing supply companies. She was paid to shop – a woman’s dream. Guy holds up her business card as if holding a trophy. Guy was married once, but his promiscuity ended the relationship. His ex, a flight attendant with the company, certainly loved to set people straight on Guy Johnson.
Dave and Guy got busy perusing the flight plan. To fly to San Francisco, SFO, the weather dictated they needed an alternate airport. A sort of Plan B in case SFO became mired in fog. And for San Francisco in the summer, the likelihood of it happening proved a meteorological guarantee. For today, the Plan B airport was Los Angeles meaning lots of extra fuel – a pilot’s insurance plan.
Dave and Guy were required to look over the flight plan from head to toe. These flight plans were very accurate as far as fuel burn, ETAs, and even the added weather forecasts although most pilots wouldn’t admit to the weatherman’s accuracy. Dave noticed possible thunderstorms forming over South Dakota coinciding with Guy and Dave’s arrival. Dave picked up the phone to dispatch located off airport.
Flight dispatchers were the second highest paid group next to the pilots and were considered “captains on the ground” on decision making. Their office took up most of the seventh floor with 16 desks working around the clock. Air Canadian’s planes were in the sky all over the world. About 700 flight plans emanated from the hustle and bustle of headquarters. Jamie Howard was working flight 601. He, like all of the on-duty dispatchers, had the task of flight following from the minute the flight pushed back to when the parking brake is set at the destination airport. Jamie has been dispatching for 20 years and his shift just started so he would watch flight 601 from start to end.
Jamie answers the phone, “Dispatch, Desk six.”
“Hi Desk six, it’s the crew doing Flight 601. Wondering if you have any ride reports and we noticed some possible thunderbumpers halfway through our flight over South Dakota.”
Dave thought it was a good practice to check in with flight dispatch. Although it wasn’t a requirement, it sometimes brought up things during the briefing that may have been overlooked.
“You’re spot on” says Jamie. The National Weather service is forecasting these things to top out at 50,000 feet and they should form along the cold front forecasted to sweep the upper Mid-West states. I gave you extra gas to circumnavigate them.” Another added bonus-even more gas- thought Dave.
“There’s also a good chance of turbulence off the Sierra Nevadas as you near San Francisco.”
“Okay” says Dave. “I’ll send you a pilot report once we get going.”
“Thanks Flight 601, I’ll be watching you on my screen which you know is a direct line from Air Traffic Control.”
Dave hangs up and gives Guy a small briefing based on Desk 6’s take on things.
“Are you ready to rock?” asks Dave. “No sense in sticking around here, we might get in trouble with management.” Relations with the pilots and management were at an all-time low because of the merger, cut backs and due to a pending contract renewal.
Guy placed the flight plan in his flight bag as it’s an unwritten rule the F/O carries the paperwork – they’re sort of the flight deck secretary.
As they exit flight planning, beyond earshot of other pilots and management, the conversation flows a little easier. Dave starts by asking, “how is the commuting going?”
Of course, Guy takes the high road on the topic. “It’s a piece of cake.”
Dave immediately thinks to himself, “yeah right.”
Dave waits for Guy’s reciprocal question on where he lived but it doesn’t come, exemplifying Guy’s self-centeredness. The topic of where a pilot lives is high on the list of initial pilot conversations as pilots tend to have many different postal codes.
They pass through security and try to enliven the security guard sitting there bored out of his mind. Finally, a smile comes across the security’s face but quickly diminishes as the two pass through.
“Lots of pilots complain about their job, but when you see others doing their mundane jobs, it sure puts a perspective on things,” says Dave in a thank Christ it’s not me doing that job tone. Dave made it a rule to converse with others on an equal footing and tried to pump them up a little unlike so many captains he flew with when he was first officer.
Some of these skippers thought they sat so high on the pedestal that their shit didn’t stink. They wouldn’t acknowledge the fuelers when they entered the flight deck with the amount of fuel uplift. They would be gruff with the ramp rats checked from down below on the tarmac using the intercom. They would demand coffee from the unsuspecting ‘new on the job’ flight attendant. This always put Dave between a rock and a hard place – trying to put out fires these morons started. Crew resource management didn’t sit well with these dinosaurs. Dave’s philosophy with flight attendants: “don’t bite the hand that feeds ya,” because he often wondered what extra goodies a pissed off flight attendant might add to a pilot’s coffee. Common sense sometimes didn’t prevail with some of these egotistical pilots. They sure gave lots of ammunition for people (mostly flight attendants) who thought airline pilots as pompous.
An old joke circulated the industry and flight attendants loved to tell it. How does a flight attendant know her date with an airline pilot is halfway over? It’s when the pilot says, “enough about me, let’s talk about you, what do YOU think about me.”
It was a classic.
While walking to the airplane was just about the time Dave would ask the first officer as to which leg they wanted to fly. The public had the notion only captains flew but flights were divvied up equally. That was another bone of contention when Dave flew as an F/O. Many captains always took the first leg and never even factored into asking whether the F/O wanted to fly first. Dave believed if this was how the captain carried out his operation then Dave was in for a treat.
So, Dave made it policy to ask the first officer his or her preference. Besides, this also bestowed confidence in the F/O’s flying. Dave was surprised to see just how many would take the first leg. If the F/O wavered as to what to do, Dave would toss a coin and let fate decide. Another impressive gesture thought many F/Os. No wonder Dave was a sought-after captain to fly with. His laid-back demeanor was much appreciated by his co-workers. However, a few overzealous management types thought it could be a detriment.
They next had to find a monitor to find out which gate they were departing from. Some of the keen F/O’s would have all the info ready at their fingertips, but Guy has been around for a while so going the extra mile ended years before.
The flat screen monitor displayed flight 601 to San Fran departing from gate 157. Dave looked at his watch and determined he had time for a Tim Hortons.
“Want a coffee, Guy?” “You always have time for Tim Hortons,” was the coffee’s chain motto and it was one Dave stuck to.
The lineup wasn’t bad considering most Canadians are addicted to it. Many postulated there’s a chemical in the stuff that makes them keep coming back. Dave knew if he didn’t get his daily ration a withdrawal headache would ensue.
Dave bought both coffees, again an unwritten gesture on behalf of the captain. With their flight bag and overnight bag in tow and with their one hand portaging their large coffees, off to the gate they trotted.
A near full load was expected so Dave started to look for contingent passengers requesting the jump seat as he neared the gate. Usually when there is a full load one can rest assured there will be an employee looking for the extra seat in the flight deck and they tend to approach the crew when they neared the gate. Before 911 any Air Canadian employee was privy to the jump seat providing the captain was okay with it. Now that “certain types” changed things forever, Dave couldn’t even have his wife Shelly up in the jump seat. But a new flight attendant that just joined the company was allowed. Most pilots thought this to be ludicrous.
A quick hello to the agent offering the jump seat to pilots and flight attendants was greeted with a grunt from the agent. Most agents loved their job but for others the stress of full loads and stressed out passengers proved too much. This agent a few years ago would have gladly accepted Dave’s offer to the flight deck but boredom with her job and a cut in pay to ward off bankruptcy instilled a “I don’t give a damn attitude.” Just what passengers wanted to see and it was why many travelers thought of the company the way they did.
Strong unions kept these people working but having travelled the world, as David did, he knew many airlines would be short fused and intolerant of this gruff attitude.
Guy keyed in a code to open the door to the jetway. Even though the jetways were new, Dave wondered why windows were not part of the construction. Most jetways around the world created a claustrophobic unwelcoming walk to the airplane -a sort of “gang plank” mentality. One airport came to mind which bucked this trend and that was Vancouver and now, Winnipeg. Many jetways were fully enclosed by glass allowing the passenger to soak up the aviation world. After all, people were going for an airplane ride, and for most, it was a happy experience.
Another unwritten law - the captain entered the plane first. Sort of a respectful gesture stating, this is your ship. Guy obviously didn’t think much about it. Besides, it allowed Guy to get to the cabin and scout out potential flight attendants for the layover.
A broad ear- to- ear smile lit up over Guy’s face as he saw Julie Winter. Julie was the queen bee for today – the in-charge flight attendant. Julie is what most would think a typical ideal flight attendant should be, gorgeous, great body, and a perpetual smile with a heart of gold; a rare find in the industry.
Even though Julie was flirting with fifty she made most pilots stop in their tracks. Jaws dropped from most businessmen as they approached the cabin and saw Julie Winter greeting them. Most frequent flyers wouldn’t give most flight attendants the time of day, but Julie always seemed to manage to get business cards from the frequent flyers, especially married ones. Julie was hired by Forward Air, where their policy was to find attractive girls to taunt businessmen. It worked. Forward Air certainly didn’t hire over the phone unlike what most people thought about how Air Canadian hired. Air Canadian, obligated to hire language-qualified flight attendants, inherently hired many with attitudes. For some, they knew their language was the reason why they were hired so supplying service to passengers tended to be a chore – somewhat beneath them. They would finish their service and bitch in the galley about how hard done by they were. Even their appearance didn’t fit the profile of a stereotypical flight attendant.
Dave introduced himself to Julie with a warm handshake. They determined they must have flown together, probably when Dave flew the jumbos overseas as a copilot. Dave thought Julie was married but a wedding ring seemed to be missing.
Dave and Guy met the other two flight attendants, Robert and Jessica. Robert was a French Canadian with a goatee and permanent tan and he made it a point to say his name as Robert by rolling the “r” and leaving the “t” silent. He kept himself in great shape but Dave knew Guy and himself would not be visiting the same drinking establishments as Robert in the highly disproportionately gay city of San Francisco. Dave had a hunch this was Robert’s regular run and would not be seen until crew pick up the next day.
Jessica, although only 25, was already carrying extra pounds, a victim of the potato chip generation and Starbuck’s enriched syrup drinks. She completed four years of university and spoke Italian, Spanish and French. Her regular routes were either to Milan or on the Spanish routes so she was doing this pairing to top up her hours. Jessica would be working J class and the galley up front. She’d make it clear she was doing this job for only two years – three maximum – and would quit. This is what most of them said, but thirty years later they are still with the company, realizing it’s not such a bad gig.
It would be Jessica and Julie who would have access to the flight deck. Dave suspected they would be begging for a coffee and would have to prompt Jessica in putting their crew meals on. She would have that dumbfounded look, “you guys want to eat?” She’ll probably omit offering leftover cookies and ice cream to the pilots just because it’s not stated anywhere. Going the extra mile was not part of Jessica’s vocabulary, but she could tell you to get stuffed in four languages.
Julie’s co-workers made her stand out even more. She gave justice to her uniform and filled it out perfectly. She even wore the dress version because she could. Her five foot nine frame floated down the aisle unlike heavy hoofed Jessica or light in the loafer Robert.
“What a catch,” thought Dave as he passed the galley to enter the flight deck. Guy lingered behind trying to woo Julie. She read right through Guy, but at least played along with his double meaning gabbing.
“What a babe,” was all Guy could say as he threw his flight bag to the right of his seat in the flight deck.
Dave and Guy went into their drill. Dave turned on the navigation devices driven by laser gyros and checked the aircraft’s log book. He wanted to be sure there were no outstanding snags and whether the pertinent safety checks for the aircraft were carried out. After all, he was pilot in command and everything rested on his shoulders. Guy would be flying this leg, but in a nutshell, was flying on Dave’s licence. Since Guy elected to fly the first leg, he started into the cockpit checks by making sure every switch was where it was supposed to be.
The same basic instruments directly in front of Dave were in front of Guy. When the Airbus 320 came into production, it was ahead of its time. After twenty-five years or so, it still is, although many claim Airbus was built by engineers for engineers whereas Boeing was built by engineers for pilots. There’s an unwritten law, seems like aviation has many of them, whereby a Boeing pilot thinks his airplane is the best and an Airbus pilot thinks Airbus is the only way to fly. They say if a room was filled with both type rated pilots they would go to opposite ends of the room and rarely mingle. Boeing and Airbus compared to oil and water. Dave and Guy determine their instruments were within tolerance and go on to scrutinize their clearance data linked directly to the airplane. Modern technology lessened the work for the airline pilot but as most people say, computers didn’t lessen the paperwork.
Their clearance would take them initially over Canada but quickly enter American airspace. The coded airways were read by Dave and confirmed by Guy. Guy checked in with clearance delivery to confirm their routing and to see if anything changed. Turned out everything was standard that day.
Next, Guy read back the standard instrument departure and the squawk code to be entered into the transponder. The transponder enables air traffic control to interrogate the airplane while in the air to determine its exact position, direction, speed and altitude.
Next, it’s time to load the flight plan but the smell of fuel permeates the flight deck. Dave and Guy simultaneously look back over their shoulders to see the fuel guy standing there with the fuel upload figures. Guy enters 12,555 liters that were loaded for a grand total of 13,000 kilograms. Just what the flight plan suggested. Dave thanks the fueler and he quickly disappears.
“Guy, how would you like to smell like that all day?”
“Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t want to light a match near that guy. He’d go up in flames.”
The intercom chimes from the cabin. Robert from the back is complaining about the stuffy cabin. He suggests in his lispy voice that Dave start the Auxiliary Power Unit to get some fresh air in the cabin.
“Will do,” says Dave in an agreeable voice although he didn’t like the flight attendants calling out of the blue. He preferred they went through the in-charge flight attendant as per procedure. If not, you’d get calls all the time and the sound of an Airbus interphone could wake up the dead.
Guy cracks a joke. “Dave, what’s the difference between a flight attendant and a jet engine?”
Dave heard this joke before, but played along with Guy.
“A jet engine stops whining when it gets to the gate,” Guy immediately let out a howling laugh.
Dave smiled, but Guy’s boisterous laughter attracted Julie standing near the flight deck door welcoming passengers.
Julie asks, “what’s up?” but Guy just turns red.
Julie knew not to go any further on the topic, but did mention there were at least 40 Japanese tourists travelling today and none of them spoke any English. “Should make for an interesting day,” as she smiled in jest.
For most flight attendants, this would up their stress level but Julie knew they tended to be well behaved and left the airplane clean when they disembarked, unlike many groups who trash the airplane. Julie had a flash back of a rugby team travelling out of London, Heathrow where one inebriated player thought he would entertain the airplane with his elephant imitation where he used a certain part of his anatomy as a trunk. The party didn’t subside much while crossing the Atlantic so the team was greeted by police in Toronto. Luckily the captain didn’t divert into Gander or Halifax. The team had been slapped with a huge fine and banned from the airline. “When will people learn?” thought Julie. Travelling by air after 911 has left people less tolerant and more stressed. Don’t be doing anything out of the ordinary on an airplane because you’ll raise eyebrows.
A tap on the right forward cabin door, followed by the door quickly opening, revealed the caterer and his scissor elevated truck.
“You guys are running a little late, today.” Julie points out the obvious, as she thought she’d try breaking the ice. Most caterers tended to be friendly and tried charming the flight attendants but to Judy, this one seemed agitated. He goes to work removing the previous galley and stocking the bins with clean cutlery, J class meals and crew meals. There’s lots of clunking of aluminum containers causing Julie to look back on the caterer now and again to see if everything was kosher.
Even though Air Canadian cut back on food service, longer flights like this one came fully catered. After all, most passengers regarded meal service as a form of entertainment. For those that travel infrequently, they are shocked to hear no meals will be served and they must pay for a sandwich. It’s a tough sell especially if they left their wallet in their checked baggage stowed in the aircraft’s belly. Another caterer from a different truck worked the aft galley with Robert scrutinizing everything.
Most of the passengers were boarded and the catering finally stopped. Ten minutes before push back and out of nowhere the caterer hands Julie a box of chocolates with a large uncharacteristic smile. Julie knew men and their ability to charm since she reached puberty. Even though she thought this was out of character for this unshaven, in a rush caterer she accepted the gift with a “thank you, very much.”
The forward right door closed as fast as it opened with the caterer backing quickly away from the plane. No wonder pilots wear bright fluorescent safety vests while doing their “walk around.” There are lots of vehicles from cargo loaders, lav and fuel trucks, to catering trucks and tractors pulling trollies with bags; all with bustling missions.
“Hey guys,” the caterer left a box of chocolates. I’m watching my weight so I’ll give them a miss, but you guys should have one.” Julie opens the box and sets them between Dave and Guy. Both Dave and Guy knew the rules for pilots as they shouldn’t eat the same thing or at the same time, but that ruling is adhered to as much as the one not allowing newspapers in the flight deck. Dave loved sweets but his blood work from his recent medical indicated his triglycerides were up. The doctor wrote directly on his blood work results, “cut back on the carbs i.e. sweets.”
Guy had little to eat that morning so he dove in first. Like most pilots, his palate was not fussy. A pilot’s stomach had to be made of steel to handle some of the exotic foods they ate from around the world as most pilot hang-outs were not at five star restaurants. In fact, Fodors travel books should hire out a pilot to find what places to eat frugally and where cheap beer could be found. Many envision places like Japan as being extremely expensive culinary wise, but when Dave flew wide bodies he knew where he could get a meal plus a large beer for 15 bucks – taxes in. And that included a tip which didn’t exist in Japanese culture. Tipping was considered insulting thus making most pilots known for their frugalness, happy.
Another trait of a pilot’s eating etiquette - they tended to eat fast. Whether a descent to landing was imminent or some left over meals from business class were there for the taking, most pilots dined in haste. As Guy raced for the first truffle, he did a poor impersonation of Tom Hanks in the movie Forest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Guy lived up to this reputation whereas Dave knew the difference between eating junk but couldn’t resist. After all, a good captain couldn’t let his first officer dine alone.
Dave reached for the chocolate sweet. “They taste like almonds,” said Dave as he watched Guy grab another. “Guy, I’m gonna have to hit the gym in San Francisco,” knowing full well both will be hitting the bar instead.
Julie intervened and said, “easy guys, pace yourself. You have a five-hour flight. I must get back to welcoming our guests. You pilots are all alike.”
Guy tried to retort, but Julie started back to the front cabin door to greet the guests but not before Dave and Guy looked back to check Julie’s rear end. Another trait many thought pilots possessed - constant horniness.
Guy caught Dave not only looking, but pondering deeper thoughts. Julie was classy but Guy’s intervention snapped Dave back to reality.
“Easy Dave,” joked Guy. You know the cardinal rule amongst us pilots. “The best financial advice for a pilot is to stay married.”
Dave knew Guy was right, but his guard lately was not as standoffish as it used to be. He knew he would be an easy pushover. Dave assumed it was a middle age crisis thing.
Dave kept himself in good shape trying to ward off middle age.
Many pilots let themselves go and Dave wondered how some of them kept their medical validation. Dave, at six foot and slim, wouldn’t turn heads while walking down the street but once a woman got to know him, they’d soon realize he was a catch. Dave’s resume would include being well rounded, easy going, laid back, witty and educated. He played many sports and was a very capable handyman. Because of his time off and ability to do many things around the house, it caused grief amongst many couples in the neighborhood. Wives referred to what Dave did or what he was doing, and for most overworked, stressed out husbands, exhausted when they got home, Dave’s name got to be unwelcomed. Heck, Dave even liked to house paint, something most males detested.
Guy went into another short rant. “I once worked for a boss that detested pilots. When we went on strike, he told the media that pilots were nothing but oversexed glorified bus drivers.” Guy then lets out a loud chortle - “…and his point being…?”
Both Guy and Dave looked at their watches. Fifteen minutes until push back, time to get going. Since Guy was to fly to San Francisco, Guy would dictate as to what to enter in the computers and Dave would input it. “Here’s the clipboard Guy, I guess, “you gab, I jab.”
Dave punches data into the main interface called the flight management guidance computer. The starting airport and destination airport is entered as CYYZ for Toronto and KSFO for San Francisco. These were specific codes dictated by a system which covered thousands of airports around the world. Next the alternate of Los Angeles was entered. The flight plan had already computed time and fuel burns, but Dave and Guy compared what the airplane computers claimed. Both the high-powered software that produced the flight plan and the airplane agreed. Temperature and winds were also entered to get a more accurate reading. The entire routing was inputted from the takeoff runway and the approach and landing into San Fran. “Last week, I did the Quiet Bridge approach onto 28 Right” commented Guy. Seems San Francisco used this approach a lot.
“I did the same approach about a month ago, says Dave. Things got very busy. ATC had an airplane directly above us at a thousand feet crossing over to the parallel runway. The traffic collision system told us to descend to avoid hitting the guy. I didn’t because I had the airplane in sight. I know it goes against our training but when you see the guy directly above I didn’t want to make any rash maneuvers.”
They both agreed it’s a busy airport no matter what time of the day. ATC had to move the aluminum. But like most busy airports, one hiccup and everything falls off the rails.
“The weather when we arrive will be too low as far as cloud height and visibility. The Flight plan has us doing the ILS on 28 Right and I agree, we won’t have the option of shooting the approach visually,” said Dave.
“Ground to flight deck, communication check, brakes set?” came a voice heard over Dave and Guy’s headset. Plugged into the aircraft with a wire near the front of the airplane was the ‘lead rampie’ checking to ensure his headset was working.
“Flight deck to ground, good morning. Communications okay and the brakes are set,” responded Dave.
“Okay to pull the external power?” queried the lead.
The airplane was being supplied with electrical power and conditioned air from the APU. To save on fuel the company didn’t want pilots to start the third jet engine located in the tail any earlier than necessary, but Dave frequently stated to his first officers, if the CEO’s office is air conditioned then so should ours.
“Cleared to disconnect,” Dave stated in standard phraseology.
Guy intervenes by saying, “Dave, the guy downstairs wants to pull your wire” Another loud chuckle emanates from the flight deck piquing Julie’s attention.
Julie pokes her nose just pass the Kevlar self-locking flight deck made mandatory after 9/11. “You guys are having too much of a good time in there.” That set Dave into another thought of having a good time with Julie but was again interrupted with a fast appearing rampie handing Dave a wrinkled sheet of paper confirming dangerous goods were boarded in the belly.
“What do we have today?” asked Dave while scrutinizing the sheet for identification of the goods.
“Nuclear isotopes for medical reasons,” came the rampie’s quick reply.
Guy again adds the well-used pilot line, “looks like we will be glowing all the way to the West coast.
Five minutes to push back and things are starting to happen fast. The last of the passengers have boarded with Julie and the other two working on the passengers to take their seats and get their seat belt on. Commissary is gone along with the fueler. Dave scans a CRT strategically located in the center of the console showing the last cargo door had closed. A sure sign things are going as planned.
“Guy, you owe me a takeoff briefing.” Guy goes into his spiel only to cause Dave to glaze over as he’s heard it a thousand times before. So many things are mentioned, but the company wanted it to be recorded in the flight deck recorder so that’s the way they are to do it. Since the company has been around for over 60 years, it was hard to implement changes in some of the procedures. Once Dave realizes Guy had finished his speech, Dave replies with a not so sincere, “I understand.”
“Listen Guy, since you and I never flew together and this is our first leg, we should go over our standard three emergency briefings. I’m just got out of the “box” three days ago so I’m up on everything,” grinned Dave. After two days of emergencies it will be nice to take off with everything working.”
Guy couldn’t argue with procedures so both Dave and Guy go into their respective roles dictating what each would do in case of a reject on the runway, engine failure or fire just after takeoff and what they would do if a pressurization problem at altitude should occur. Both Dave and Guy glaze over as they give their responses, but again, it was because Big Brother was listening and recording via the cockpit voice recorder. As one wise captain told Dave many years ago, “Dave, these lines and actions are great to memorize. However, it’s like a play - everyone must know and remember his or her lines. If you stutter or forget a line, things go to hell in a hand basket quickly.”
“Ground to flight deck, we are ready to go down here.”
“Do you mind if I release the parking brake?”
“Go for it!” said the lead.
By releasing the parking brake, it sent a ‘time out’ to operations and, since everyone at the company was paid a bonus predicated on time performance, the parking brake got released sometimes prematurely.
“Guy, ‘Before start checklist’ please”
Guy reads from a mechanical checklist located on the glare shield closing each small plastic louver door as Dave acknowledges or actions the item. Everything in the flight deck is actioned by checklists and procedures. No wonder it’s known to be the most regimented industry in the world. As with all checklists, they must be acknowledged complete by saying “checklist complete.”
“Before checklist complete,” Guy states. “Ready for pushback?” asks Guy without missing a beat.
Dave nods okay.
“Apron, good morning. Pushback and start for Air Canadian 601 at gate 157.”
Guy’s voice sounded very smooth and professional on the radios. Some pilots dislike talking on the radios, and it shows, but for Guy his gift of the gab didn’t stop with ATC.
“Air Canadian 601, cleared to push from gate 157 after the Embraer behind you taxis.”
Air Canadian received a shitload of Embraers from Brazil. It carried less than a hundred passengers, but passengers liked it for the in-flight movies. There were only two seats abreast with relatively large windows to look out if they had time to look outside. But most were glued to the screens in front of them like a wide-eyed raccoon blinded in the middle of the road by a car’s oncoming headlights.
Dave then keys the mike to the lead, hooked up below sitting in the tug, ready to push the fully loaded Airbus.
“Flight Deck to ground, brakes are off, you are cleared to push after the Embraer behind us taxis, I’m delaying engine start until advised.”
“Roger captain, I have the ‘Embryo’ in sight.” The lead refers to it what most pilots call it because Embraer doesn’t slide off the lips as easy. “Commencing push back, you are cleared to start engines two and one on the push.”
“Roger, starting engines two and one” repeats Dave.
Unlike a car, starting the engines of a jetliner is a selection of switches. Before, an engineer on airplanes of yesteryear had to move bulky levers and monitor countless gauges to get the fuel-guzzling engines up and running. Constant chatter progressed as the engine groaned during start-up as the norm. For modern airliners, it required one small lever to go to the start position. The engine parameters were monitored with no talking out loud required. This European built beauty even tells the pilot what to do if the engine start encountered a problem.
Both engines purred in harmony and a “brakes set” was heard from below.
Dave looks on his left to make sure the airplane wasn’t moving. He didn’t want Julie in the back to go ass over tea kettle. He sets the parking brake and calls down to below stating it’s been set and asking the lead to confirm when the nose wheel steering pin, used to override the steering system in case of an incident, was removed.
“Pins removed,” is heard from the lead.
“Roger, pins removed, revert to hand signals and have a nice day,” says Captain Dave.
“You too” says the lead as a small clunking is heard as he closes the door under the belly.
Dave and Guy watch the tug reverse with the tow bar in sight and Dave gives the ‘rampie’ a thumbs up. A ‘clear to proceed’ is given by the rampie holding florescent wands. The enthusiasm was not like one would see on an aircraft carrier but the message was passed. Dave thought back to his days doing the Japan flights. The entire ramp crew would stand in line and salute, and would continue to do so until the airplane taxied, even in the pouring rain.
“Request taxi,” was the next step in procedures.
Guy keys the mike asking for taxi instructions from the controller working the large ramp filled with multimillion dollar aircraft. Apron control operated in a separate control just a little smaller in height to the main control tower, to monitor and control the numerous aircraft maneuvers of Canada’s largest airport.
As Dave waves good bye to the ‘bored with their job’ rampies and begins to taxi the aircraft away from the gate, Guy’s stomach begins to churn.
Chapter Two (After Takeoff)
The ground controller was mired in constant chatter. An arriving Aeroflot flight direct from Moscow was having a hard time with his taxi instructions to the gate. After a ten-hour flight to an airport where possibly the two pilots may never have flown to, coupled with English as their second or third language, things got a bit heated. It didn’t help with the controller’s voice elevating a few octaves in frustration. Finally, the taxi instructions were read back well enough to satisfy the short-fused controller. Sometimes Dave thought these controllers should take a ‘fam’ (familiarization) flight to airports around the world where most pilots and controllers speak English as their second language.
Guy waits for a cue to butt in to request taxi instructions. “Ground, good morning, taxi instructions for Air Canadian 601 approaching Alpha Kilo.” Alpha Kilo was one of the exit points from the ramp. From here on, controllers located 65 meters above the tarmac in Canada’s busiest control tower would look after Flight 601.
The controller, happy to hear perfect English, turns from Dr. Jekyl to Mr. Hyde in a heartbeat. “Air Canadian 601, good morning, altimeter setting is 30.00 inches, information ‘Bravo’ is current, turn right on taxiway alpha and right on hotel and contact tower on 118.7 and have a nice day.”
Guy reads back the taxi instructions and Dave looks for the large letters denoting specific taxiways. These large standard letters adhered to the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) code. Dave flew into the world’s top ten busiest airports with most of them adhering to these standards. However, some airports, especially ones located in the sunny destinations of the Caribbean, had a long way to go. Many lights would be burnt out, lopsided or just didn’t exist. Dave remembered during one approach to landing that he had noticed a large iguana resting on the lighting system to guide the aircraft to the ground at a specific angle.
Dave does a brake check and, while on taxiway alpha with no turns up ahead, requests a ‘before takeoff checklist’. Dave and Guy did a flight control check, reviewed their take off data and readied the aircraft for the takeoff mode.
About ten aircraft ahead of them were in the queue. Heavy jet engine exhaust fumes were evident with heat beginning to emanate from the asphalt below. Things were indeed shaping up to be a hot one.
Company procedures preferred pilots to taxi out with an engine shut down to save on fuel. Realistically, the only pilots that did were the check and line indoctrination pilots trying to convey company policy. Dave, along with most line pilots, liked to have both engines up and running. This was a very busy phase and he didn’t like complicating things by starting engines just prior to takeoff. Plus, he wanted to make sure both engines were operating at 100 percent before he would, “pour the coals to them.”
Meanwhile, Julie in the back was bombarding the passengers with safety demos in both official languages. These demos, mandated by Transport Canada, fell mostly on deaf ears. Frequent flyers tuned them out by reading the newspaper. Julie was certain her Japanese group didn’t understand a word she said, but probably would have gotten the gist had they looked up. For the ‘fear of flying’ flyers and for those rare people who never saw the inside of an airplane, their minds were elsewhere. This bombardment of safety issues just annoyed most. When Dave commuted, this was one of the things he couldn’t stand. Especially when some of the in-charges thought they worked as a radio disc jockey. Long windedness drove Dave nuts even if he tried to override things by doing a crossword or Sudoku.
“Air Canadian 601 contact tower 118.7 on taxiway hotel and have a good one.”
“118…7 and YOU too,” repeated Guy. During every phase of flight both pilots have their specific duties. Working the radios on the ground was first officer Guy’s responsibility. Sometimes if something was not being conveyed correctly or if the captain wanted to show authority, they would come on the radio. This pissed Dave off when he was a first officer and avoided doing it as captain.
As soon as Guy switched to tower frequency, the controller was already asking if they were ready to go. There was an airplane on short final and they had to move quickly, otherwise they would have to wait.
Guy, looks at Dave to get the okay, and Dave flashes him a thumbs up. A few more checks are actioned to complete the checklist which includes a quick P.A to the back.
Guy reaches for the P.A – another first officer duty on the ground – and says, “flight attendants take your seats for takeoff, thank you.”
Both simultaneously hit the timer to ensure one minute will transpire before the thrust levers were advanced for takeoff so the flight attendants had a chance to be seated and belted. Both pilot’s heart rates begin to escalate as the most crucial phase of flight is imminent.
“Air Canadian 601, you’re cleared for an immediate takeoff on runway 23, there’s traffic three miles back, contact departure on 128.8 when airborne, have a nice day.” Dave thought the controllers were out-of-character nice - must have been the java.
Dave taxis the airplane on the centerline –the captain’s job- with Guy giving a quick briefing on the takeoff speeds and the altitude they will be initially climbing to. Dave turns on the high powered take off lights and says, “Guy, you have control!”
“Roger, I have control.”
Guy smoothly advances the thrust levers – called throttles on most other airplanes- simultaneously grabbing the joystick with his right hand. The joystick- like that found with many computer games - differentiated Airbus from other airliners.
The winds were down the runway so steering with the rudder pedals was hardly needed.
As the power spools up to takeoff thrust and the Airbus 320 accelerates down the runway, Guy calls out the mandatory calls inherent to Airbus technology, “Max Flex, SRS, Runway, Autothrust,” Everything is normal.
Runway 23 had imbedded centerline lights so a quick successive thump, thump, thump was heard and felt from the nose wheel riding over the lights.
Dave sets his right hand on the thrust levers because the captain is responsible if conditions dictate an aborted takeoff. Dave scrutinizes the engines with both Dave and Guy, both seasoned pilots, listening for noises not quite right or irregular movements. By this time, they are so pumped up that anything irregular would be dealt with at lightning speed.
The 32,000 pounds of thrust from each engine pushes passengers back into their seats. As speed builds, so does momentum, making a rejected take off more and more of a critical event.
Dave calls, “100.” This check tells the other pilot to check that their airspeed jives and to be certain the other pilot is not incapacitated. Even something in a pilot’s eye or a large sneeze could bring about a hairy takeoff.
Dave then calls, “V1.” This is a decision speed similar to a yellow light. For a driver, it means, “do I stop or do I continue.” V1 is also a decision speed for a pilot. If sometimes goes awry then a reject is executed, if everything is hunky dorey then the takeoff is executed. There’s no turning back.
Almost immediately after Dave calls V1, “rotate” is bellowed out in the flight deck.
Guy, begins rearward motion on the joystick causing the elevator in the back of the airplane to point the nose upward. The plane breaks away from the surly bounds of the earth’s grip and becomes one large aluminum bird. As they leap away from the runway into a positive climb towards the sky a “positive rate” is called by Dave.
“Gear up!” says Guy.
Dave reaches for the handle with a wheel at the end of it and selects the lever up. Some 3000 pounds per square inch of hydraulic pressure tucks the heavy landing gear into the plane’s tummy and maneuvers the gear doors to close. A thump is felt and heard as the gear enters its resting place for flight.
Dave checks in with Toronto departure on frequency 128.8. “Toronto Departure, it’s Air Canadian 601 with you through 2600 feet for 5000 feet, we are off runway 23.”
“Roger, Air Canadian 601, you are radar identified and after noise abatement you are cleared to Oakville, then flight planned route, cleared to maintain 7000 feet.”
Dave reads back the clearance as all clearances must be read back for clarification.
As the Airbus’s speed picks up Guy calls, “flaps zero.”
Dave selects the flap lever, shaped like a flap, to the zero detent and monitors the indicator to ensure the flaps are retracting to zero.
“Gear is up, flaps zero,” says Dave with authority and says to Guy, “I bet you thought I was going to miss that call, because most guys do.”
Guy normally would have joked along with Dave but instead had a look of consternation then reached for the gasper to get some air flow. Passing of wind in the flight deck is a taboo, but all Guy sheepishly said was, “sorry.” Dave got a whiff of Guy’s fart and to put Guy at ease joked by saying, “you keep that up and I’ll have to use the oxygen masks.”
“Dave, I don’t know where that came from but my stomach is feeling a little queasy. Must have been that burger I bought in La Guardia. The restaurant claims they have the best burgers in the world, but right now I beg to differ.”
Through 10,000 feet Guy calls “10,000 for flight level 350” the altitude they were cleared to. Things are not going well for Guy as excruciating pain is ripping through his abdomen. Dave turns off the landings lights as well as the seat belt sign. As he reached for the switch on the overhead panel a jab of pain erupted on his side. Calling from the back, Julie asked the guys if they needed anything before she started the service. Dave looked over to Guy only to see him grimacing in pain. A cold sweat ensued over Dave’s face and his words were spoken in pain as his diaphragm contracted in fits. Immediately Julie sensed things were not normal.
“Air Canadian 601 over to Cleveland center on 135.3”
Dave misses the call and within 15 seconds Cleveland repeated their request. Dave read backs the frequency but took two times to get it right.
“Cleveland Centre it’s Air Canadian 601 with you through flight level 230 for 350.”
“Air Canadian 601 roger. You are radar identified.”
The Airbus 320 continued to climb to 35,000 feet with no input required. It would level off and reduce the thrust accordingly and follow the flight plan Dave and Guy inputted on the ground in Toronto. It would fly to San Francisco until the last waypoint in the flight plan. Manual input would be required for the aircraft to land in San Francisco. If not, it would resort to a heading after it overflew the last waypoint and then fly itself out over the Pacific Ocean. Its remaining fuel would take it to about 400 miles offshore where the engines would slowly spool down due to fuel starvation or go missing as the US military decides whether it is deemed a risk and eliminate it with missiles from two dispatched F-18s.
Spencer Jacob is in seat 16F sitting beside his mother gaming on the entertainment screens. He knows this aircraft well from Microsoft X, a realistic simulation downloaded on his home computer. He knew all about the MCDU, the control interface for the Airbus. He could program his simulator with all the necessary data to get an Airbus A320 airborne and take him to the multitude of airports found in the Microsoft’s X database, and land the airplane. In fact, kids much younger than Spencer had the expertise to do so. They have all been brought up on the computer and flying the Airbus was no big deal.
Jacob didn’t miss a beat. While giving the airline’s supplied games on the PTVs a work out he kept an eye on where he was on the moving map. He flew this very route taking him over Minneapolis, Denver, over LAS (Vegas) and then doing the Modesto 5 arrival via OAL (Coaldale). He liked doing the visual approach onto 28 Right while flying over the Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges, but could easily land the Airbus in thick fog by shooting the ILS approach on the 28s.
Chapter 3 (Incapacitation)
Incapacitation, defined by the company regulations and governing aviation authorities, is “a pilot not able to respond intelligently to two consecutive verbal challenges.” Dave was on his fifth challenge with Guy now slumped over in his seat and drooling from his mouth in an incoherent state. It was time to request the aid of Julie. Procedures for immediate communication with the in-charge flight attendant were to make a call over the P.A, “will the in-charge flight attendant report to the flight deck.” But he didn’t have the energy so he chimed her by pressing the flight attendant button. Julie, looked back over her shoulder, to see the “contact the captain” light illuminated. She thought this odd, but also assumed Guy would be a “high maintenance” pilot and probably wanted one of five coffees for the flight.
Julie calls the flight deck and Dave whimpers out a “hello.” “Dave, I can hardly hear you. This handheld mike must be on its way out.”
But Julie sensed something and typed in the code for the flight deck door. Chiming was heard then stopped with Dave moving the toggle to open the flight deck door as sweat dripped from his forehead. Julie’s cheerful demeanor quickly changed to major duress as she witnessed Guy slumped over with Dave appearing white as a ghost and obviously in severe pain.
“Julie, Guy is unconscious and I am not doing well. Can you get Guy out of his seat? This procedure of removing an incapacitated pilot was practiced but this was for real. The pilot was supposed to be locked into the seat using shoulder straps, the seat moved back and the rudder pedals moved away from the pilot’s feet. Easier said than done as Guy’s frame measured six foot two and over 220 pounds.
Dave quickly summarized the situation for Julie by saying he thinks Guy and himself have some sort of food poisoning.
“But I didn’t give you guys anything” with her voice escalating a few octaves.
Dave knew he was not far behind as he came and went into unconsciousness.”
Dave did broadcast, “Cleveland Center, Cleveland Center, Mayday, Mayday Mayday, Air Canada 601 has two sick pilots. The first officer is unconscious and I am unable to command the airplane.”
The constant banter on the airwaves stopped. Scores of aircraft heard the transmission. But silence ensued. Then the controller’s voice returned, somewhat hesitant as to what to say and do next. The on-floor supervisor overheard the Mayday and approached the controller’s desk. A call quickly ensued to the national guard, the FAA, homeland security and the pentagon. Calls then went out to two jet fighters stationed in Kansas City, Missouri. These aircraft, capable of getting airborne within minutes were trained to pluck out hostile aircraft from the sky as soon as they received the green light. When they dispatched it usually meant destruction and/or pending death.
ATC is consulted along the way. The decision whether to shoot the A320 out of the sky or let it land in SFO is carefully considered because of Air Canadian’s recent incident in San Francisco. Finally Air Canadian is given permission to land in SFO by flying the ILS 28R.
Every “wannabe pilot” fantasizes about it, a sort of “aviation sensuality.” A Hollywood induced dream of being summoned to the flight deck to safely land an aircraft in a perilous situation. Over the years, Hollywood has recreated the scenario tons of times with a “John Wayne” personna coming to the rescue. But today, that far-fetched fantasy will be a skinny teenage, Spencer Jacobs, sitting in economy and fluent in Microsoft X…
If you are a publisher wanting the rights to a million-dollar bestseller or a movie producer like Netflix thirsty for a thriller, then look no further. Autoland is it! After all, they based films on a snake infested airliner or Denzel Washington flying an airliner inverted to save the day.