Jan 7, 2008

A Day in the Life (31) Dive, Dive!

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and return - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does. (check left hand column for series index).

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - Descent

Note: The STARs for YVR have been modified since the flight I’m describing. It used to be almost a “straight in” arrival compared to the updated version which introduces a downwind leg (scroll down the page to find a pdf doc for YVR CANUCK STAR):

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 0H06

I key the mic. It’s time to engage Vancouver Arrival in negotiations. When the controller responds to my call, I offer him the choice:

“GooseAir One Eleven. We may be unable to comply with the restriction at GONIR. Do you prefer us to make the airspeed or the altitude restriction first? Or do you need something else completely?”

A short pause.

“GooseAir One Eleven. Get the speed back for me right now and do the best you can with the altitude. There may be a short delay fitting you into my sequence and I may need to turn you here shortly anyway.”

I acknowledge and a quick glance towards my colleague assures me she got the message.

“Well,” she says, “let’s try this…” She sits up just a little straighter, then hits the red button on her joystick. A short calvary charge bleep, bleep sounds as amber cautionary messages appear on the ECAM displays. “Autopilot disconnected," F/O Paula announces. Since Flight 401 crashed into the everglades many years ago partly due to an unnoticed autopilot mode change communications regarding autoflight status have become much more forceful.

There’s a slight increase in the airframe burbling as our speedbrake panels now deflect fully against the airstream. The autoflight system only commnads up to fifty percent of the speedbrake deployment. I suppose it’s a way of limiting aerodynamic changes to stay within the capabilities of the autopilot. But we carbon-based units are trusted to deal with greater force imbalances.

F/O Paula smoothly pressures the nose over to maintain the required airspeed and the vertical descent indicators nudge downwards.

I’m watching the outside air temperatures closely. The clouds are thinning now and the rime ice on the windshield wiper nuts is almost gone. As we descend through seven thousand feet, we begin to see glimpses of the ground. I twist my body around to look back at the leading edge of the wing. The A320 is one of the few airliners where the flight deck window geometry allows the pilots to view of most of the wings from tip to engine. I see the gleam of clear aluminum.

“The wing looks good and clean. How ‘bout we get rid of the wing anti-ice now?” F/O Paula concurs and I stab the appropriate overhead pushbuttons, watch the annunciators change, and detect a small drop in engine rpms and airconditioning noises. The VSI responds again with a small shift downwards. Minus 2,500 feet per minute...

F/O Paula is getting her groove back…

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 0H05

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