Mar 29, 2007

The "Ouch Zone" (continued)

The early A320s had a tendency to make firm landings seem rougher. The gear legs were very stiff. Later mods improved this a little. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

Log Entry 1990 - A320 FO - KORD - Arrival Rwy 22R

Arriving in Chicago from the east we often land on runway 22R. It’s a quick arrival and the only hassle can be the ‘go-down, slow-down’ problem. Jet airplanes are so streamlined that once we intercept the glide slope it is difficult to lose airspeed in a hurry.

So today we’ve been struggling with getting down and slowing down and setting the automation to capture the instrument approach signals, and meanwhile our hands are reaching around the flight deck extending speed-brakes, and flaps and landing gear in a scramble to stay bang-on our assigned speed. The arrival controller slipped us into a tight slot, as usual, and we need to stay here.

Meanwhile a B757 ahead is arcing from the south into final. We have the proper separation for wake turbulence which is important because the fifty-seven is notorious for its strong wake vortices. And meanwhile we can hear the traffic on frequency only 3 miles behind us so we dare not slow below our assigned 180 knots until we get to the FAF.

And there are frequency changes to select and tower communications to establish as we cross over the FAF and I’m flying and the check-captain is PNF-ing and watching me because this is my route indoctrination flight. The training center said I’m “good to go” - now I have to prove it.

To make the day a little more interesting, there’s a gusty crosswind blowing from the west and the ideal taxiway into our ramp is only two-thirds down the 7,500 foot runway, so I don’t want any extra airspeed except what I need to account for the gusts, but the airbus automation keeps our approach speed artificially fast to cover for perceived wind-shear and today I wish it wouldn’t because the Boeing 757 doesn’t have this system and we’re starting to get a little too close for comfort.

I can tell this not because my eyes are so sharp that when I glance out at the airplane-shaped dot ahead I can discern the difference between 4 miles and 3.5 miles. But the tone of the controller’s voice says it clearly when he asks us a second time to confirm that we’ve slowed to our final approach speed. He’s about as unfamiliar with the Airbus as I am and he’s surprised by our higher-than-everyone-else approach speed. What he’s implying is: “Stay back from the five-seven or I’ll have to tag you with a missed approach which none of us wants. We’re all busy enough as it is.”

So I take another 'notch' of flaps earlier than normal to shave five knots more off the approach speed, and feel relief as I see the upper wind shearing out now to match the wind on the airport. The auto-thrust pulls back the speed some more. I quickly look around the flight deck ensuring the wheels are down and all the checklists are completed and I try to recall if the controller ever said “cleared to land” - and I confirm with the captain that yes, I did hear that when we checked onto tower frequency.

And a 737 is rolling through the intersection with runway 32R as we come bouncing and rocking a little over the taller buildings near the airport and the 757 is just clearing his tail off the runway at the next exit past my intended turnoff so it’s closer than I like for runway separation but do-able.

And the captain calls “Minimum, runway in sight.” and I respond “Landing”. Not that visual references are an issue today, but this call and response confirms that I’m alive and hopefully still aware enough to land the plane and I haven’t quietly suffered a brain aneurysm. So he won’t need to fight me for the controls at 200 feet above the runway - at least not today.

And the altimeter calls “Fifty” and I start thinking about the de-crab maneuver coming up. I like to do it during the flare because doing it higher than that just seems awkward, and besides most of the time the wind changes right over the runway anyhow requiring further corrections.

The auto-voice calls, “Thirty, Ten..” and we’re rocking around a bit as I’m closing the thrust levers and thinking, now’s a good time to flare and decrab and just before I begin easing the nose up and pressing the left rudder pedal and tipping the right wing down a tad, I think I hear the sound like the captain sucking air between his teeth and then KABOOM! The airplane judders as the earth reaches up and strikes us on the wheels — way before I'm expecting it.

And the airframe shudders again as the wheels grab the pavement and the nose jerks around to the left and the airplane threatens to tip up on the right side wheel, but the spoilers spring out producing another sinking lurch as whole weight of the craft drops onto the gear legs.

And the medium brakes cut in and the nose wheel drops before I’m expecting it and just as it bangs onto the pavement my reflex to prevent this kicks in and it floats momentarily back up as I realize that I’m behind the airplane and release the stick and the nose-wheel drops heavily onto the pavement a second time.

And I fumble for the reversers, but it really doesn’t matter because by the time they’re deployed the auto brakes are threatening to stop us before we’ve even reached the turnoff.

“Better kick the autobrakes off,” the captain warns. As we slow they seem to grab harder throwing me against my shoulder straps and now I have to slide my feet up to the brakes which are at the top of each rudder pedal, but feet don’t slide easily on the non-skid coating. I also have pressure on the left pedal preventing us from swinging into the westerly wind. So I quickly release the rudders for a moment, to lift my feet into the stirrups and tap the pedals which tells “Otto-Brake” to take the rest of the flight ‘off’.

The airplane swerves to the right while I get my feet re-arranged, and the brakes release and suddenly all the deceleration disappears, which makes if feel like we’re surging ahead again.

And the controller is telling us, “No delay clearing at Charlie. Traffic on short final…” And so I add a shot of power to keep the speed up, and move my right hand from the joy-stick to the nose-wheel steering and lurch us around into the taxiway.

The captain calls, “I have control,” and I gladly release these instruments of mayhem that I’ve been flailing with, and get onto the radios to negotiate clearances across the taxiways and into the ramp area.

The captain calls for the after ‘crash’ check with a bit of a chuckle in his voice - which I am truly grateful to hear, and while I work my way over the various panels reconfiguring things, the flight deck door opens and in staggers our purser Razzer Randy, both hands grasping his neck like a brace.

“Take that, Chicago!” he shouts, then breaks into a big laugh and punches me on the shoulder. We’ve flown together many times before and he knows this is my check flight and it was my landing. “Don’t worry chief,” he adds. “I told the passengers you’re a great pilot, just a lousy driver!” He laughs again. “And you owe us lunch in Chicago, we had to restow a half-dozen masks.”

Then he leaves, still laughing.

I turn to the captain and ask if I should log the landing as “heavy” which would require a maintenance inspection before the next flight. He shakes his head, “No. I won’t mention any names, but that wasn’t even the roughest landing I’ve seen on the Bus. You’ll have to drop more masks than that to scare me.”

“But of course you — as in not me,” he continues, “will be saying goodbye to the passengers.” Which of course I did with as big a “Heck, weren’t nothing bad about that” smile I could muster. And I only had to endure a few comments about how I should work on that ‘driving’ technique. And there’s always some who know a bad-landing joke and aren’t afraid to use it.

“Was that a landing or were we shot down?”. Oh, yes. That’s a good one. Never tire of that one. Ha, ha. Thanks for flying with us. You'all come back again as soon as you've recovered. There's more where that came from.


Aviatrix said...

Hahaha! My worst was also on a line check, in a C172. The boss said afterwards, "Well, I've seen you do good landings, so I won't count that against you." And then he laughed and confided that the non-pilot crew member who had been working the flight (it was an aerial work job) didn't realize you could land an airplane that hard without breaking it. He seriously thought we'd crashed. I flared too soon and stalled it on, just out of pure nervousness.

Noella said...

Great story. I think it's amazing that you land those heavy machines as well as you do!

Aluwings, thank you for your kind comments on my blog entry of 2nd February. I couldn't email you, but have now left my response under your comments on my blog.

Chris said...

That was the best story I've read in a long time.

I had my worst landing about 2 weeks ago on a solo check. I thought I was going to have reshape my spine after it.

Anonymous said...

That's a great story. I fly a 150 and every once in a while (thankfully not very often) I get just wee bit nervous checking 121.5 to see if it went off. Those 150's can take a beating I tell you!

Aluwings said...

At least we all have plenty of time to make even worse ones! I'd hate to think that I'd already reached the pinnacle and had no room to "exceed" my current best - er worst.... grin...