Jan 25, 2007

LGA RWY 31 visual arrival on a good day

You descend along the northwest arrival route and with the strong tailwind you work hard to make the 9,000 foot crossing restriction at Bayse. And just nearing the HAARP intersection where the STAR would tell you to turn direct to LGA VOR, they vector you out over the bay, into a spot where they just might give you a sudden right base into 31. So, you have to be prepared for that. But instead they send you direct overhead the VOR and then tell you; "after passing, fly heading (southward along Manhatten/Hudson River)" ... but you have to be prepared because at any moment they may decide there's room to 'dive' you in for a left hand visual approach via the Maspeth Tanks...

Now you are flying south along Manhatten - what a view! - and you have no idea if it will be for 2 miles or 20... but if you have a good TCAS, that shows all the flow of traffic around you, you can usually spot the hole when they'll turn you inbound to follow the 225 degree radial northbound for the published Expressway Visual approach to runway 31. ... So once you get turned around, you make sure to hit the appropriate descent and turning points; configuring the flaps downwind; probably taking the gear just before turning base, depending upon how closely the pattern is turning final. Sometimes there'll be another aircraft on a long straight-in from the east and tower will 'ask' you to keep it in close. And of course somehow through all this you are expected to follow the expressway and park for noise abatement; and you can't help but take a quick look down into Shea stadium as you roll into final and of course the approach should be stable from 500 feet, but you wonder how you are supposed to respect that with this really strong westerly wind blowing you through the turn onto final...

Then you absatively, possatootly must land in the first thousand feet of pavement because the runway is not long, but undershooting here would be deadly because of the earthen dike on the runway approach at the bay's edge; and it becomes a little more challenging when you hit the inevitable turbulence below 200 feet caused by the tumbling airflow swirling between tall buildings around the airport; and you don't dare flare high and get into a long float so you re-attach the airplane to the surface of the earth just a tad more firmly than you'd prefer, but it's on the numbers and you get on the brakes and clear at the first turn-off, which is good because the airplane behind you is looming really large in your windshield when you look over your left shoulder.

And then the game of musical radios begins as you quickly contact ground while deciding if you should pull further ahead and cut off the traffic coming along the outer taxiway, and of course you have to or you'll be leaving your tail inside the active runway zone at this crowded little airport; and the radio is so busy that your FO can't get a word in edge ways, but happily the taxing aircraft is piloted by someone sharp enough to recognize your predicament and has already slowed to let you into the conga line because you both know that that's the only sensible thing that the controller can arrange anyway; and you see your gate is open and the controller is still too busy to get a word in; so you follow the flow and take the same route you've always taken into that gate; and finally the controller gets a chance to talk to you and in typical, no-nonsense, professional style common to LGA, they just say, "good work Goose Air, Call the ramp..."

And your FO does and you maneuver just fast enough to keep from losing momentum so you don't have to add thrust in the close confines of the ramp area (so close here and yet no one ever seems to get hurt - and it makes you laugh again at how in YYZ with three times as much space they make you stop short and wait for a tow-in) ... and of course you keep both engines running for the same reason, to avoid needing more thrust in case it does stall out on you.. and this is the gate where the manual says (not in quite these words) "Don't screw it up, because this is an ancient bridge with no lateral adjustment in the head, so you have to park exactly on the stop line so the door will still open properly", so you pay really close attention to the lead agent who's standing on top of his tractor as he waves you in so you don't lose sight of him under the airplane... And you stop a little suddenly with a bit of a lurch when he snaps you the 'stop' signal.. and the nose of the airplane bob's down and up - not too drastically... and you set the park brake and go into the shutdown routine...

And you do things like this, and even more challenging, several times a day, at all hours in all kinds of weather... and then the next time you're deadheading in your civies, and sitting next to some business class customer who doesn't realize you're a pilot, you have to listen patiently as he tells you about how "It's all done by air traffic controllers who land the plane; and/or the computers..." And you bite your tongue and think "okay -- whatever -- if that thought makes you feel comfortable so you'll keep flying and paying my salary...." but you wish that for once, somehow, someone other than your pilot colleagues could gain just a little appreciation for how hard you work and how challenging it can be -- even on the good days!

3 comments:

arf said...

I just discovered this blog. Lovely writing! Now I have another blog to occupy my time--like I need that. Well done.

I am one of those people in the back who has an "idea" of what goes on up front. I am always telling my wife: "we must be coming into rwy XXL, so why are we still so high?" etc. Of course, most of the time I have only a vague idea of what is really happening, but I imagine it isn't always as straight forward as it seems.

Aviatrix said...

I never understand that bit about how people think we need the air traffic controllers in order to find the airport, or land the airplane.

Aluwings said...

I blame it on the T.V. version of Incredible Hulk (yes, I am that old). After he landed a B747, well it became evident that anyone could do it anytime. It blew our cover!

Then of course the Controller's use language like; "I landed x-many airplanes; then I climbed this guy and descended that guy..."

Then even we pilots Oooh and Aaaah over our our automated 'goodies' and talk in those "Right Stuff" macho cliches - "Aw shucks - fly this lil' ole thing. Why there's nothing to that..." Unfortunately some folks think that's true.

But if it somehow comforts them and keeps 'em flying... so be it.