Apr 7, 2008

A Day in the Life (34) Terra Firma Finally!

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 - Final Approach

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 0H01

Suddenly we run out of things to do. Time to relax just a little and check the “big picture.”

“How’re we doing?” F/O Paula asks, glancing quickly at the overhead and forward panels. “Are we all up to date?”

The aircraft is flying squarely on the numbers, all the various electro-beasts working quietly away at what they get paid to do. The wheels are down - that’s a biggie. The flaps are extended, the spoilers are armed. Macdoo is happy with his view of the world.

“Yup,” I answer. “I do believe we’re all done except for one small detail.”

“What’s that?”

“Find earth.”

“I suspect it’ll be just where we left it,” she says.

“Where’s that?”

“Right at the end of the wheels.”

Vancouver ATC interrupts our version of witty repartee with a landing clearance. “GooseAir One Eleven, traffic clearing at Mike 4. You’re cleared to land.” I flip the nose-wheel landing light switch on.

Every pilot invents personal reminders and double checks to help ensure he never misses certain most critical items. I stare directly at the three green "wheels down" lights before acknowledging the landing clearance. That is probably a hangover from the days when Canadian tower controllers were required to include the phrase, "Check gear down" with every landing clearance issued to retractable gear aircraft. And on the few inevitable occasions when controllers mistakenly issued that reminder to a fixed gear aircraft, the reply was something like, "Roger, gear down and welded." We pilots can be a witty bunch, which is why you see so many of us developing second careers as stand-up comedians. Right.

The airport boundary fence is rapidly approaching as we descend through three hundred feet above the ground. “One Hundred Above,” some invisible Genie in the overhead speaker mumbles.

“Roger,” F/O Paula replies.

This is a critical challenge/response if we are descending in clouds. The decision point is rapidly approaching. But even in good weather, we're required to use the procedure in case F/O Paula has quietly checked out without telling me. This is euphemistically termed Pilot Incapacitation.

If she doesn't responded properly, I’d immediately take control and get the heck out of there, then deal with her lifeless corpse before returning for another approach. Not having much storage room in the flight deck, I've always wondered how the passengers would react watching the flight attendants dragging the deceased pilot back and dumping her in the aisle way.

If I were to expire at the controls, F/O Paula, after saving the day, is also expected to get out her seniority list and scratch off my name. One less obstacle keeping her from that left seat job! This is too significant an event to postpone. At least that's the standing joke (see previous comment about pilots and alternative careers.)

But today pilots are functioning on all cylinders.

The boundary fence slides under the nose and I look at the landing gear indicators one last time. Down and locked. The altimeter reaches the magic number and I make the final call: “Minimum, runway in sight.”

“Landing.” F/O Paula replies, disconnecting the autoflight. If we couldn't see the runway at that point, her other choice is “Go Around,” followed by an eruption of activity as we hurriedly distance ourselves from the planet.

Today she eases off the thrust, while raising the nose of the aircraft just a touch. There’s a second or two of anticipation, followed by a soft thump from somewhere deep in the aircraft. The smoothness of floating on air is replaced by the busy rumbling of wheels on asphalt.

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 0H00


Soaring Student said...

Oh hallelujah, and welcome back. I've been checking your blog very regularly wondering when the wheels were going to kiss the earth.

Dogbait said...

Wasn't there a case a few months ago where a F/O threw a religious frothy on the flight deck and they had to handcuff and cart him into the passage. A passenger was later quoted as saying that seeing a pilot dragged out of the cockpit in handcuffs screaming and ranting was the scariest moment of his life! I bet it was!

Chris said...

just googled and found it- click me. Just like you said, the F/O lost it and was tied up in coach screaming about how he was asking for god.
That's gotta be a scary thing to see....