Just one pilot's attempt at taking an interesting picture every trip, often with a story to go with it. Come along for the ride.

For more recent posts, go to my site www.kentwien.com

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Q & A

I finally have a chance to catch up on a few questions from Patrick of Switzerland concerning transatlantic flying. I figured I'd answer here on the 'trip report.'

Patrick asks:

Relief pilots, you call them FB (flight buddy?) have to be Captain-qualified on the specific type of aircraft (e.g. 757/767). Meeting that requirement, can you bid this position (crew schedule) in order to get to more international long-haul destination or is being FB a non-loved duty because you can't log a landing? 

The FB name probably comes from the term First Officer-B. So it's really like a second first officer position. It pays the same as the co-pilot position. The disadvantage is that you usually don't get a landing on your trip. Almost always the FB position goes junior to FO, but they still run a bit more senior than many of the domestic FO's flying narrow body aircraft. It really comes down to what you enjoy flying the most. My brother (also a captain here) prefers domestic flying, even though he's flown a good deal of international in his career. I prefer the layovers in Europe even though they are becoming more and more expensive with the low value of the dollar. It's nice to work at a major where you can choose what kind of flying you'd like to do.

Patrick also asks:

When your aircraft is ADS-B equipped, that means you don't have to make position reports at all, right? CPDLC requires ADS-B but you can flying without CPDLC over the Atlantic with ADS-B on, so you'll have to make only a position report on HF when switching airspaces.

Right. We tested CPDLC (Controller Pilot Data Link) in the 757 when flying through Miami's airspace a few years back. They aren't doing it anymore for some reason. About the only non verbal way we communicate with ATC anymore is by the position report capability built into a few of our 767's and 757's. All of the 777's have this capability.

This makes life much easier when crossing the Atlantic. Currently, every 10 degrees starting at 50 then 40, 30 and 20 degrees, we have to call up either Gander on the Canadian side or Shanwick on the Ireland side of 30 degrees and tell them our flight number, position, altitude, time estimate for our next position, the name of the next point after that and our fuel on board. They will then relay this information to a separate air traffic controller and also to our company who tracks our fuel and position. So it might sound something like this:

"Gander American one four six, position."

"Go ahead American one four six."

"American one four six position five one north, five zero west, 2230, flight level 370, estimating five two north, four zero west at 2315, five two north, three zero west next. Fuel six zero decimal five. (thousand pounds)

That's not so hard, but getting a word in through the extreme static of the HF radios can be a challenge. Some have likened it to talking into a geiger counter. I believe in a few years, these automatic position reports will be standard on all north atlantic crossings. I can't wait.

While we're on the subject of technology, I'm really excited that we've been granted FAA approval to carry 3 of our airplane manual books in digital form on a laptop. This will save a couple of pounds for those of us who regularly carry a computer anyway. We can also access any part of the manual quickly through the search function. We're told this will start on October 15th. Since this results in opening up a significant amount of space in my kitbag, I hope to bring my good digital SLR camera with me occasionally. Maybe someone will invent a smaller kitbag for us as well, although we're still required to carry the Jepps manuals which are between one and two books per trip.

This is just an intermediate step until we get our class three EFB (electronic flight bag) early next year in the 757/767. Once all of the airplanes are converted, I would imagine we will be able to leave almost all of our books at home. I never thought I'd see the day! We'll be telling junior pilots in ten years, "Back when I was a co-pilot, you had to replace hundreds of pages every week in those manuals! You don't know how good you have it, son!" All the while, they'll be thinking, "Geezer. Get out of my left seat."

Speaking of getting out of the seat, it looks like the retirement age for pilots in the U.S. will be going up to 65 years from 60. This will slow down some hiring a bit, but I suspect a number of pilots at AA will be going at 60 anyway. My guess would be 50%, but no one really knows. I know my dad was fully capable of flying well past 60 and he's still flying formation flights in WWII aircraft even today at age 77. But not everyone agrees with the change, especially those around my seniority. I can clearly see both sides of the argument, but most of those who I fly with would prefer no change to the rule. I won't truly know how I feel about it until I put in my 36th year while looking at 5 more.

The ones mostly affected will likely be you guys who are learning to fly right now. I'm hoping it's offset a bit by all the new positions available in the corporate world, which is set to really take off. (Oh, that was a weak pun.)

Thanks Patrick for the great questions!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Christoph talks about getting hired by Lufthansa

I got an email from Christoph, who is currently going through Lufthansa's ab initio training program. He's also very much into photography and has his own site as well. I was fascinated to hear how the hiring process worked at Lufthansa, so I asked him if he would fill us all in. Let's let Christoph explain how he landed this highly sought after position as a Lufthansa pilot and the training that followed.

For me, everything started in April, 2006 when I finished my school and applied for the training. First of all, I had to send in all the necessary stuff as for example a curriculum vitae. [Resume] Pretty standard I guess but I also had to include details about my motivation and my intentions why I chose to apply for a pilot career - this would become important later on during the selection process.

After completing this first step, I was invited to the so called BU which stands for "Berufsgrunduntersuchung" and is done in Hamburg. During this phase, all the necessary skills are tested and evaluated. Computer based applications are mainly used to accomplish these tests which require abilities like for example math, physics, multitasking, reaction time and working capacity. English skills are of course tested as well. In general, this step is used to judge if the applicant is qualified for the challenges the job comes with.

When I finally received the letter about the results of this first test, my heart was beating and I started shouting when I read that I had completed it successfully. But actually, this was not the end. The "Firmenqualifikation" was waiting for me. Again, I had to spend two days in Hamburg where I was interviewed and set under pressure again. This time I had to prove that I fit into the Lufthansa company and this is definetely a hard challenge. Every time you say or do anything, you don't know whether it's right or wrong and this makes it the hardest part of the selection process. On the first day, teamwork played the most important role, the second day mainly consisted of flying a simulator and being interviewed by a Lufthansa captain and actually you can be kicked out at any time of these two days. I will never forget the final interview and the moment when "my captain" told me that they wanted me! Unbelievable!

The third and last step was the medical examination which I passed as well. My dream could become true!
The training

The training itself is devided into four parts. The first part is theory which takes place in Bremen, Germany. Pretty uneventful, with some tests, but actually the second part is the most exciting one: The flight training in Phoenix-Goodyear, Arizona. On a Beechcraft Bonanza F33A we learn to handle an airplane correctly and this is what everyone is aiming for. Now that I'm here in Phoenix, I have come to the best part of the training. Flying is just the best thing I can imagine!

But back to the next part: When having completed all the checks in Phoenix, we come back to Bremen where we have to absolve another six months of theory for multi-engine aeroplanes. After that the training is actually completed but to be able to fly the aircrafts in the Lufthansa fleet, flights on the Piper Cheyenne have to be absolved. The last step is the type rating and the line training for the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320. So far... The whole training takes about 2 years with every phase lasting about 6 to 7 months. I hope to be ready by the middle of 2008... We'll see!

Thanks Christoph for the inside look at how Lufthansa hires and trains pilots. Good luck on the rest of your course.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I'm still here...

Every once in a while you can get really lucky on reserve.  September was one of those months for me.  I've managed to fly just one trip, amazingly.  We're still paid a base salary so it works out nicely ever now and then.  The time off gave me plenty of time to rebuild this swing set and enjoy the great weather we're having in New Hampshire.  In fact, I'm so worn out from all the sanding and building that we're now going to take a trip to Ireland.  While I like to keep this blog aviation related, I may slip in a few pictures of Ireland later.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Taking Ruthann down to the Cape

My friend Russ volunteered his airplane and pilotage to take Ruthann down to the Cape where she would meet up with Captain Mike for a visit before heading off on the rest of her U.S. tour.

Here's a quick video I shot with the new HD camera.  I used a cheap little wide angle screw-on lens for the in cockpit shots.  With iMovie '08, I can upload in 4 different sizes with great results.  If you have the bandwidth, take a look at the large version.  It does require Quicktime however.

Ruthann turned out to not be a psycho, and we really enjoyed having her stay here.  She's quite the aviation and computer geek, and she taught me a little more about the Irish culture.  

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ruthann is coming for a visit...

Those of you who follow the comments here and on the old blog may remember Ruthann, who I 'chatted' with via radio when flying over Ireland.  Well, she's doing a whirlwind tour of the U.S. and she just happens to be stopping by for a visit.  It's always a nice idea to invite internet stalkers to your home for a visit.  We might even have her babysit the kids.

Read about her amazing time this summer in the U.S. here.

THIS is good news for those of you learning to fly right now...

It's always nice to see this kind of report while you're slaving away trying to get your commercial ratings...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Holly says it better than I could...

Holly Hegeman of PlaneBuzz.com said it best today.  

In addition to remembering what happened on September 11th, I can never stop thinking of the co-workers at AA and UA that my wife and I knew.  

I flew with Amy Sweeney three months prior and took this picture of her and the captain.  We invited her to go with us on the Boeing tour in Renton, Washington, but she decided she'd stay in Seattle at the very nice hotel where we were laying over.  This was back when we were flying the 737 out of Boston to Seattle.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Punta Cana. It's not Brussels.

I've mentioned that September is a month where I'm back on reserve, covering trips that someone either calls in sick for, or were left unfilled in the original bid run. Just as I was getting ready to go out and spread some mulch in the front yard, I got a call from crew scheduling asking if I could make it to the airport in 2 1/2 hours. No problem, I said. "Great. But you're really not going to like this trip," Camille said. I was to deadhead from Boston to Washington National, and then hop in a van and go to Baltimore. Then the next day I would fly from Baltimore to Miami, then on to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and back to Miami where we would lay over. The third day had us flying from Miami to Dallas and then I would deadhead (ride in the back of the plane) home to Boston.

"Ugh, I said. I'm not sure if I could have made up an uglier trip." Camille jokes around a lot. So I was sure she was joking when she said, "You should have taken that Brussels trip."

"Wha, what? What are you talking about?" I stammered.

"You passed on the Brussels trip we offered last night."

"No! I live for trips like that!" I cried (literally, I cried)

After further investigation on Camille's part, it turns out that I had entered a computer code a while back that told crew schedule if there were someone junior to me that I could pass a 4 day trip to, then don't even call me, just pass the trip down to them. I had put that code in back when we were flying some pretty long Caribbean 4 day trip. I now realize just how dumb that was. I mean, what if they needed me to fly a Chicago to Anchorage trip that took 4 days? I would have missed out on a trip I've ALWAYS wanted to fly. Brussels is nearly in that category.

Oh, well. Never again. I pulled that reserve preference out immediately.

Things don't always go smoothly when deadheading on Eagle. Couple that with a surface deadhead (a van) to Baltimore, well, I was expecting the worst. But it went amazingly smooth. I spent the night there updating my Dallas charts, since I fly to Dallas probably once ever two or three years. To help distract me from the mundane task of updating these Jeppesen charts, I watched some college football that I recorded at home, through my laptop using a device called a
SlingBox, which allows for you to watch anything on your Tivo or whatever you have at home. It really comes in handy when you're trying to catch a live NFL game while you're in Europe.

The next morning I managed to find the BWI operations where I would meet up with my captain, Tom. Tom is a young looking but very senior Captain who is about to build his 3rd house using some really efficient techniques, possibly including solar. I love picking the brains of people who are well versed in so many areas.

Even though we had Hurricane Felix a few hundred miles south of the Dominican Republic, our weather was just fine all the way. I had never been to Punta Cana before, so that was something to look forward to, even though we'd be there for just an hour. I managed to take some pictures of the unique airport terminal.

The flight back to Miami was uneventful and while we were waiting for the van to go to the hotel, Tom and I ran into a mutual acquaintance who was also staying at the same crew hotel we were. So we got together near the pool and socialized for a while before dinner. Tom and I were absolutely beat, so we called it an early night.

Under one of those umbrellas down there, we enjoyed the $1 beer and some conversation in Miami:

The flight to DFW was painless, even though I fly there rather infrequently and I wouldn't mind keeping it that way. I couldn't help but check the weather in Brussels throughout the trip. (Partly cloudy and 65 degrees)

Finally, deadheading home I caught up on a few episodes of
"Mile High" the 2003 to 2005 raunchy British TV show about an airline called Fresh Air. I'm embarrassed to say that it hooked me in. This show makes Desperate Housewives look like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  I put them on the iPhone and now I'm about half way through the 39 episodes.

I have no idea when or where I'll fly next, but you'll be the first to know when I get back from whatever trip it is.  Here's hoping for a Brussels someday.  Thanks for checking in!

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Exeter, New Hampshire, United States
Grew up in Alaska, went to high school and college in Washington State. Commercial pilot since 1990.

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