A Whirlwind 5 Days

A simple Friday morning. I am sitting in the dining room, having enjoyed breakfast with my wife. The dogs are slowly waking up and we are messaging our Canadian friends who have recently moved into our village on Lantau Island. It’s hot in Hong Kong. Barely 10am and its already well above 30 degrees, approaching 40 in fact with the humidity. I love it. The quiet morning with my wife, my dogs, the heat, I love all of it.

Brandon and Carrie to no surprise suggest we head to the water fall to help with the heat. We were there the day before in fact, dogs swimming, adults chatting, tanning, and enjoying a cold cocktail or two. We have had a lot of heavy thunderstorms this spring, so the waterfall is in full flow, and all the pools beneath it are full. Perfect for us, and the dogs.

Before we go, I decide to take a quick look at my online schedule. I was to start a reserve block of six days the next morning. When I opened my schedule, I see I have a notification. There must be a trip. Another Anchorage freighter I assume (it is where our 747’s are most used with a Second Officer like myself). But no. It’s a trip that for an SO is as rare as they get. I am to passenger to Mumbai (formerly Bombay, and still coded ad “BOM” on our schedule) on Saturday night. After a 30 hour stay, I will operate a 747-400ERF freighter to Paris. Once there, catch out 777-300ER flight back to Hong Kong in the comfort of business class.

I suppose most of my excitement, despite this being a change from the routine, was that I was going to India, a place I have long wanted to visit, but have yet had the chance. I love Indian food (most food in fact, as was evident at the weigh in during my last medical – fitness training has commenced). But I have a few friends who have visited and really enjoyed the experience. “Eye opening” was a common description of others trips to the sub continent.

So to the waterfall we go. Excited to tell my friends of my trip, and looking forward to cooling off. I soon realize that not only is the trip going to be exciting and new, it is also going to be quite easy. Four day pattern, and I only operate one 8 hour 30 minute flight, wile the rest of my globe trotting will be done in the comfort of business class.

We enjoy our afternoon at the waterfall, and meet some friends, mostly all Scottish, in Hong Kong for dinner that night. Again excited to tell them of my trip the next day, I soon meet a friend of a friend who highly recommends a seafood restaurant in Mumbai. So, “Trishna” is now on my list of to do’s on my short layover.

Saturday afternoon brings another few hours at the waterfall and a beachside lunch with the my wife and Canadian friends. I leave the group before they are done a few more glasses of Sangria to pack and leave for work. To those wondering, despite being just a passenger on the flight, we are under the same rules for drinking before flying, so it was water for me at lunch.

I get to work with about 30 minutes to kill before I check in. I google a few quick things about the area surrounding the hotel, and come up with a plan for the day. As we arrive around midnight Mumbai time, it will be straight to sleep. Wake up, breakfast (probably in the hotel) then spend some time at the pool before heading into downtown Mumbai mid afternoon for some sightseeing and dinner.

Once we get to the plane, I am PX’ing (riding as a passenger on our own flight) with three other pilots. No one booked in first class for this flight, so the cabin crew offer it to us, so we have our own private 9 seat (actually called suites in Cathay First Class) cabin in the nose of the 747. Full service from our lovely crew, soup, fresh bread, I choose the vegetable curry dish to keep with the theme of my Indian weekend. I fall asleep towards the end of a movie, and before I know it, the quick 5 hour flight is over.

The drive to the hotel was the first glimpse of India. In a word, extreme. There is some extreme wealth, and unfortunately, much more extreme poverty. People sleeping on the sidewalks, slums around almost every corner. Dimly lit fruit and snack stands offering what most need in India, a light snack and a cold drink to deal with the heat. Despite it being after midnight at this point it is still well above 30. When we arrive at the hotel, a truly palatial entrance complete with security checking under our crew bus, and all around, I soon realize this is one of our nicer crew hotels. The security of course is a welcome sight, as India is frequented by terrorism and violent crimes. Check in and to the room. More then adequate. Larger bathroom, queen size bed, and a great view of the Indian Ocean and pool.

I wake up around 6 am, and play around on my phone as I do for a while. Fall back asleep (kind of) but by 830 I decide the hotel buffet breakfast is in order (as it comes highly recommended by other crew). Breads, pastries, eggs to order, bacon, sausages, potatoes, enough fruit to start a farm, yoghurt, juices, coffee, espresso. There is literally nothing missing. The price, 350 rupees, about 6 dollars US. The service (despite it being a buffet) is remarkable, and I soon realize that India is known for service in these high end hotels. I meet up with a First Officer (also a Canadian, from Toronto – who actually used to work for my uncle at Sky Service) and he recommends the same seafood restaurant my friends did two nights before. He was there last week and really enjoyed it. He also gives me a tip that our hotel has a free car service to its sister hotel, just a short 15 minute walk to Trishna for dinner. So after breakfast I book my car for the afternoon. About an hour drive they tell me, but I am sure to see a lot of Mumbai and its surrounding suburbs.

To the pool, swim, tan, hydrate, repeat. With of course a peach iced tea (again no alcohol as I am starting duty around 2 am that night) and a foot massage from the “pool menu”. The foot massage was performed by a blind man. Another first on this trip for me. I also keep in touch with my wife and friends, as the wifi by the pool is strong. I also check my online schedule to see if I have any changes (common when operating freighters) and discover that once I land in Paris, I will no longer be headed for Hong Kong, but in fact taking British Airways to London where I will enjoy another day off, before flying back (as operating crew) to Hong Kong. I send a note to my childhood friend who lives near our hotel in London, and make plans for dinner.

Once i realize I am soon running our of sunscreen in the intense Indian sun, I head to the room to clean up and get ready for my evening in downtown Mumbai.

The driver picked me up at the front door to the hotel, white glove service with refreshments and a local paper to keep me busy on the one hour ride. I am too fascinated with the world outside to pick up the news paper though. We pass rich areas and poor areas, beaches, a mosque that is set in the middle of a bay and can only be reached during low tide. We also pass a building that is the world’s most expensive private real estate. Two billion US the driver tells me, 28 stories with a helipad on the roof. All for one man, his wife, two kids, and mother in law. The last few blocks to the hotel are some of the wildest traffic I have seen in quite some time. People and cars moving in every direction, and even a few horses.

Once let off at the hotel, I take a deep breathe and head into the crowd. The hotel is right next to one of Mumbai’s well known monuments, the Gateway to India. The crowd surrounding the monument is dense to say the least. I see a woman with her baby on the sidewalk, she points at her baby and gestures to put food in her mouth. I know what she is saying, she needs to feed her baby. But what I also know from doing a quick scan of the crowd, is that there are dozens more like her, and if I offer even a dollar to them all, I would soon be out of money. I move into the monument area, having walked by another woman with her baby. Accept she isn’t holding her baby, she is working the crowd in a small circle around her completely naked child sitting bare on the concrete behind her. I am at a loss for words. I reluctantly decide that I simply don’t have enough for everyone. I complete a lap around the monument, however I can’t get more then a few meters before being hustled by someone to by whatever they are pushing. One man, offers to take my picture in front of the 85 foot 100 year old monument. No thanks. How about a post card he insists. No thank you. Maps, you must need a map. No thanks, the hotel gave me one. Weed? You want some grass? I start to laugh (as I was not expecting that) and say “not day my friend.” Not today, of course, is a common expression in North America and elsewhere, but apparently not in India, as the man looked at me and said, “ok great, come back tomorrow.” I smiled and continued on my way.

Another man hustles me to by his drum, after he followed me for about 20 minutes, I turn and offer him 10 dollars (he was asking 50) and say take it or leave it. Of course he took it, so now not only am I the only western guy in the crowd, no I am the only western guy carrying a drum aka a huge target for everyone else. The next hour was more or less a war. I couldn’t escape the hustling. One man offered to show me where my restaurant was, but only if I visited his friends shop. I did of course and found a silk/cashmere pashmina for my wife, and was again on my way. I walk by another store, and feel the cold rush of the air conditioning burst from the doorway. I decide it looks as good as place as any to escape the heat, as I still had 30 minutes until my dinner reservation. I find a nice set of brass, Indian made cheese knives. As I wait in line at the cash, I see soaps, to which I think, how appropriate to bring home soap from one of the most polluted countries I have visited.

Dinner time. As warned the waiters know the restaurant is highly acclaimed, and thus think they must be as well. Despite there “lack of give a shit” I have some spring rolls, and garlic ginger prawns. Oh, of course I had naan bread as well. Overall, a very tasty meal, and I would go back if in downtown Mumbai again.

Back to the hotel by 9 pm for a quick 4 hour nap before heading back to the airport and off to Paris. I was particularly looking forward to the flight, as our routing brought us from one end of Iraq, through to the other. Transiting nearly the entire conflict stricken country. When lining up to takeoff on runway 27, it is obvious where the neighboring slums have been relocated to make room for a runway extension project. And when I say neighboring, I mean if the window opened in the 747, I could throw a baseball 5 shacks deep. Once airborne we almost immediately find ourselves over the Indian Ocean, our setting for the first two hours of the journey this morning. A few air mass thunderstorms to avid, but nothing too big to sweat over. Soon we are talking to Muscat control in Oman, and the Persian coast is glowing on the horizon. Muscat to the left, Karachi Pakistan off to the right. It’s important to keep aware of the closest airports, if an emergency takes place, the first thing we do once it has been handled as per the check list, is consider diverting. Thankfully no emergencies to deal with this morning. It’s 430am over Dubai, and the Burj Kahlifa is visible from 50 miles away as the tallest building in the world stands out, even from 33,000 feet. Once talking to UAE control, having been handed off from Muscat, I am greeted with an American voice working the skies. To busy to ask him where he is from, but like me, he is living a long way from home.

Dubai is of course home to Emirates airlines, and we see the fleet climbing up all around us like a squadron off on a bombing mission. Something this part of the world has seen plenty of, however today their mission is delivering 300 passengers at a time to all corners of the world. We soon meet up with a slower 777 and wonder if their on board wifi would reach us 2000 feet below him. We will ask for the password next time. Bahrain is the next airspace we transit, but it only lasts for a few minutes as the country is barely bigger then some large cities. Same goes for Kuwait, and then it’s into Iraq. Not that long ago, and pilot flying where we were that morning, probably had a letter to his loved ones in his pocket in case he/she was shot down. Today I just have my iPhone. Ready to take pictures. It’s over Iraq that the Captain and I begin an early morning discussion about how so much of this earth looks the same from the air. Iraqi desert? Could be Texas, could be Mongolia, could be Sahara. If it’s not that different from up here, how can it be so different a few miles below us?

Once exiting Iraq airspace, it’s into Turkey. It’s here I tell my Captain how my mother in law was given some “turkish towels” by her sister in law after a trip there. And how she now features them in her grocery store in their summer lake community back in Canada. Don’t ask me what a Turkish Towel is, but while I stare down at this muslim nation, those towels are on a cabinet for sale in Clear Lake Manitoba on the other side of the planet in my in laws store.

Time for my rest, 3 pilots break up the flight, so I have worked the first two thirds and can stretch my legs in the bunk for the last two and a half hours or so before landing in Paris. I wake up around 20,000 feet on our approach to Paris, enjoy a quick piece of birthday cake (the first officer was celebrating his birthday) and hop back into the seat. We touch down a little before 9am in the French capital and park at the far end of the airport on the cargo ramp. We set the brake next to an old Lockheed 10-11 Tristar, that I’m told has been sitting in Paris for a number of years with unpaid bills. It’s obvious it hasn’t moved in a while, it could use a bath.

I part ways with the crew, two gentlemen that made the morning fly by (literally). Off to terminal 2A where I catch British Airways flight 309 to Heathrow. It’s an Airbus 320, the smallest plane I have been on in almost two years. Times sure have changed for me. Land in London, clear customs, and hop on the tube conveniently at Heathrow’s terminal 5. The Picadily Line takes me from the airport to Hammersmith station, across the street from our hotel in under 30 minutes. It’s a nice day in the the UK, so I take the time to enjoy the passing scenery and listen to some Led Zeppelin. I was in this hotel just last week, so familiar with the area I am. I decide that as it is 2 pm, I will relax in my room until the evening until I meet my friend.

Ginny lived down the street from me in Winnipeg with her tow sisters. Her parents and mine have been friends for years, her dad and I sharing many golf carts over the years as well. We go to a nice Italian spot near her house and catch up on our mutual friends, her new niece, and whether or not we get home sick. It was nice to criss cross the globe and find a friend at the other end. We part ways until my next London trip and I head back to the hotel for some sleep.
Another buffet breakfast in the morning (nice, but not Mumbai nice). Shower, pack and back to the airport.

While waiting to take off I manage to snap a pic of an Air India 787, the wing flew on this machine is quite impressive. The flight from London to Hong Kong was as routine as can be, little to no thunderstorms to deal with, and a nice tailwind almost all the way home. The rising sun near Chengdu China does light up some thunderstorms in remarkable colours, thankfully a few miles off our track. Eleven hours later, we are at the gate in hot humid Hong Kong. My dogs and wife awaits, and perhaps another day at the waterfall.

It’s good to be back.



747-8 PIREP

Sitting here in the crew bunk of a 747-8 that was only delivered to the company in August of this year (2012), I am thinking this is as good a time as any to update my blog. It has been a while since my last entry. The month of September involved a mere four hours of work, with my family visiting for 2 weeks. But here I am back to work (it’s been a nice holiday, but I enjoy my job enough that I was really looking forward to flying again.) Last week involved an Anchorage trip that was flown in a 747-400 ERF. In fact on the way to Anchorage, we flew the last production 747-400 Boeing ever built. Of course the only 747’s that Boeing are pushing out of the production hangar doors these days, are the 747-8’s. Both in a freighter and passenger variant (the 747-8i). Cathay does not have any of the passenger model, but as I mentioned, today I find myself in one of our 747-8F’s.
The first noticeable difference when we start a day of work on this type, comes when we get our paperwork. Among the first things checked are fuel, flight time, and weights. Of course we follow this up with an in depth look at enroute weather, winds, NOTAM’s, as well as departure and destination weather. First when it comes to fuel, you might think the bigger 747-8 would burn more. However the opposite is true. General Electric GeNx 2B engines are a relatively new design, and are highly fuel efficient. Noticeably more so then the Rolls Royce or Pratt-Whitney power plants on the 747-400. So when it comes to our flight planning, the fuel burn between typical freighter routes (HKG-ANC) is very little. Quite often the -8 will burn even less than the -400. Fuel burn is of course dependent on gross weight. This is where the big difference comes. The 747-8F has a MTOW (maximum takeoff weight) of slightly more then 447 Tons, or about 985,000 pounds. The -400 tips the scales at a mere 397 Tons, or 875,000 pounds. When fuel burn is near identical, but payload of the -8 being much greater, the 747-8 has a much better fuel used per kilogram of freight travelled, per mile (I hope that makes sense). This is where the -8 variant really shines, with the flying time being about the same (within a few minutes, often faster) the fuel/time/weight battle between the two has a clear winner. After all, Boeing did design the -8 to be a more efficient version of it’s most recognizable design. When I took a look at an LA to HKG flightplan the other day for our 747-8, it showed being in the air for 15.5 hours, with 17 hours endurance. Very impressive fuel figures. What was even more impressive was this was with 140,000 kgs of gas, and room for another 45,000 kgs. Pushing the endurance to past the 20 hour mark. Did I mention there was also room for about 40,000 kgs more cargo? Impressive I know.
Once paper work has been thoroughly looked over, it’s off to the airplane. This is again where we see some big differences. It might be hard to imagine driving up to a 747-8, but I can say there is a definite wow factor. The first noticeable feature is the wing, and what hangs off it. Unlike the -400, the raked wingtip of the -8 has a modern/futuristic look to it. Simply put, it looks fast. The GeNx-2B engines have a distinct trailing edge cowl to them, as well as a larger intake. So the first sight of the -8 offers little confusion as to which model 747 you are approaching. Once inside the main deck L1 door, the cargo hold offers very little if any differences to the -400 freighters. The next obvious difference is climbing into the upper deck. The galley layout is oriented different then the -400, and with new leather seats in the crew rest area, again you realize this is a new machine.
Entering the cockpit. To the naked eye, there is very little differences to the -400. This was a purpose built cockpit, as Boeing could only have so many differences before the -8 became a whole other type rating for pilots to be trained on. Keeping a similar type rating of course offers advantages to the customer airline buying the -8, as training costs are very low when simply converting to the -8 from the -400. The majority of the differences you could say are, “under the hood”.

Once airborne at a weight similar to the MTOW of the -400 we climbed straight away to 36,000 feet. The -400 usually starts the HKG-ANC sector at 31,000 feet. Of course if we were at gross weight, the cruising level would have started out lower. The best thing I could say about the airplane as a flying machine, is quite simply, efficient. It climbs fast, accelerates at heavy weights nicely, and doesn’t want to stop flying once it’s in cruise. On descent we needed the speed brake to slow down, as the ultra efficient wing needed a little help in the distance we had remaining.
The flight across the North Pacific was relatively uneventful. We were higher and faster then virtually all other eastbound crossing traffic, which is always nice for the ego. We also had some spectacular views along the way. Below are just some of those views.
Fly Safe










747-8 Pilot Report – Part 1

Well I have completed the study questions, spent two days doing distance learning on my Macbook, and yesterday finished the technical ground school for the 747-8F. Today we spent 4 hours in the Integrated Procedures Trainer. It is a mock up of the cockpit with several touch screens making up all the panels and displays. Very expensive software allows us to basically fly the airplane as if it were a full motion simulator or the real aircraft, all while sitting in an office chair. This set up however has no flight controls, so all the training is completed in automatic flight.

I will leave the flying for another post (as we have another day of IPT tomorrow, and my actual first flight in a few weeks. I will keep this post to some of the interesting changes in models from the 747-400 to the 747-8.

The 747-8 falls in the same category as the A380 (the only two passenger jets in this category) based on aircraft dimensions. The 747-8 in fact, is the longest airplane in the world. With it’s increased wingspan and length however, it limits the options for airports we can take the -8 into. Macau for example, a typical alternate for Hong Kong, is only 12 miles away, but it cannot handle the 747-8 on its ramp. We can however use this airport on an emergency basis. Thankfully the 747-8 is nowhere near as restrictive as the A380. As I understand it, we can use Ontario California as an alternate for Los Angeles (only about 50 miles away) whereas the A380 can only use San Francisco, several hundred miles away, costing much more to take the extra fuel to do so.

The first big change in the cockpit of the -8, is the TCAS and Weather Radar. The 400 has one of each, giving valuable information regarding other traffic and thunderstorms. The -8, has two of each. Well, to be accurate, one weather radar can provide two separate displays to each pilot, and two TCAS computers can do the same, giving a much better overall picture of potential threats to the aircraft and crew.

The -8 has triple GPS (only 2 in the 400) allowing us to fly precision, ILS type approaches to airports with GBAS (ground based augmentation system) facilities. These facilities send a correction signal to an airplane, creating and even more precise GPS 3D position, allowing us to land in low cloud/visibility, with both lateral and vertical guidance down to the runway threshold. We can even let the autopilot land of such facilities, a feature that used to be reserved for ILS only.

The flight controls of the 747-8 have undergone some upgrades. Through a Yaw Assist program, the -8 can now add spoiler input to help maintain directional control on the runway following an engine failure above 100 kts. An engine failure during takeoff is typically one of the more critical failures, as a runway is only 200 feet wide, and there can be a large direction change as a result of an engine failure. These combine to require pilots to have a quick reaction time in order to keep such a situation under control. Now, we have some help. Thanks Boeing!

The wing of the -8 was redesigned to be a super critical wing. The wing has become so efficient that the service ceiling of the plane had to be reduced from 43,100 feet, to 42,100 feet. This was because during flight testing, the -8 could not execute a rapid descent fast enough from 43,100 to breathable altitudes. The wing just wants to keep flying. It is designed to fly fast and high, and it almost does that too well. (I found this very interesting) The ailerons have an added feature, they droop when flaps are selected to 10 or more. This of course adds lift during takeoff and landing. (The outboard ailerons retract back up during landing while the inboard ailerons remain extended).

The engines of course are noticeably new design from the 400. The GEnx-B-67 have a trademark “chevron” design to the rear cowl, which lower noise emissions substantially I’m told. The -8 engines also have an auto start feature (available on late model 400’s) that protect the engine from potential start faults. The engine is sophisticated enough that it will manage any start fault, and try up to 3 re start attempts, all the while requiring no input from the crew. In flight, the engine will detect a flameout, and apply both ignitors in an an “auto-relight” attempt as well. When I told my sister about this, she asked why the -8 even needs pilots!

One of the biggest changes in the flight deck is the Electronic Checklist. The ECL is something that has existed in the 777 for years, but it now integrated into the newest 747. It is a very nice feature indeed. It makes normal checklists a breeze, with many completed actions (such as arming the speed brakes prior to landing) already checked off when the Descent Checklist is called. It reduces the workload and allows for fewer “oversights” you could say. It also prompts automatically to the next available checklist. Paper checklists have been around for decades, and for the most part, have been with very few faults. The ECL however adds an extra layer of protection in the realm of human error. Of course when non-normal checklists need to be accomplished, the ECL presents the information in a much clearer format, allowing items to be disregarded automatically (based on a simple yes/no question) again reducing the chance of human error (i.e.. continuing to a non applicable checklist).

I could go on (to the tune of the 40 pages of notes I have made over the last week) about the changes Boeing has put into the 747-8. But in the interest of boring people to death, I will leave Part 1 of my pilot report at this. To be continued of course with some real world, flying experience on the 747-8 in early September. I am hoping to get some pictures up close both inside and out of this great airplane to share with you all. Until then, fly safe. Paris for me on Monday for 3 days…



NOCAL and how!

Well it has been a few months since I have been in North America, and this upcoming San Francisco trip had me excited. I have only flown the Pacific route once here at Cathay, so the change in scenery and Northern California scenery at the other end had me really looking forward to a 48 hour layover.

First things first, head to the airport for a refreshing 12:55 PM check in as opposed to the usual midnight European check ins. After a quick look at the usual pre flight package (weather, NOTAMS, and the flight plan) it looks like an easy crossing of the Pacific today. Our route took us south of Taiwan and south of yet another Tropical Storm in the region, crossing the Pacific at no further north then 50 degrees North Latitude. My rest schedule for the flight meant for the first 6 hours I would be free from any cockpit duties. I chose to use our business class seat to watch a movie or maybe read. But after our In Flight Service manager needed to switch a passengers seat, I found myself in our first class. After the flight I would learn that I was sitting behind Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield of the latest Spiderman movie. They must have been on a promotional tour in Hong Kong, but I didn’t have the chance to ask them, found myself taking a 4 hour nap before I knew it.

Anyways, back to the interesting stuff. I jumped in the seat around the international date line. Crossing the Pacific these days entails very little work as far as a pilot is concerned. ADS-B surveillance, and CPDLC auto reporting more or less means we only had to make one radio call on HF at 150 degrees west. Then of course re-establishing VHF communications once in line of sight from the west coast of the USA. The weather for my half of the flight was as close to perfect as you could get, a nice 50 knot tail wind, and the only clouds were several thousand feet below us. Nothing but clear sailing all the way into SFO.

The first thing I had in mind for this layover was walking across the street from our Hilton hotel at Union Square to one of my favorite restaurant chains in the US, Chipotle. My brother in law spent a year playing hockey in Phoenix and got hooked on this food. My wife and I tried it a few years ago in Palm Springs, and really enjoyed the mexican food they have to offer. So needless to say, after dropping off my bags, and getting out of the uniform I spent the last 18 hours in, I made for Chipotle. I had been battling a bit of a cold for the last few days, so after a post lunch nap, I found myself feeling pretty bad. I had to bail on dinner and drinks with the two pilots on the layover with me and decided to get some more sleep.

Day 2 in SFO, I woke up at 530am. Relaxing in the room, with the current USA today, I went for a Starbucks start to the day. Next on my SFO to do list, head to Safeway for some North American food we just can’t find in Hong Kong. Kraft Dinner (10 boxes) Rotelle Tomatoes (13 cans) and Lipton soup mix (7 boxes) and some other odds and ends. After lugging the groceries back to the room, I realize its 8am, and breakfast time. A tradition I hope to continue is visiting a Triple D’s restaurant. Chef Guy Fieri has a show called Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (Triple D’s) featuring family run, home cooking, feel good food. After visiting “Schooner or Later” in Long Beach a few years ago, it was time to hit up “Dottie’s True Blue Cafe” just a short walk from the hotel. A basic scrambled egg breakfast comes with the house specialty, a spicy cheddar corn bread. Delicious I must say, and well worth the 45 minute wait to get in. Next, shopping for board games. Shawna and I love having board games around the house, just for us, or when guests are over, but unfortunately finding them in English has proven to be a bit of a challenge. I grabbed Rolling Stones Monopoly, and Apples to Apples on this trip. Starting to run out of room in my suitcase. Good thing I brought the big one. Of course I had to grab a San Francisco 49ers, and LA Dodgers hat while in California. So that was it for shopping. Back to the hotel about noon to drop off the bags, and hike over the hill to fishermans wharf. Plenty of things to see and do here, but I decided to spend 15 dollars on a boat tour of the bay area, around Alcatraz, and under the Golden Gate bridge. Well worth it. After wandering around the wharf for a few hours and grabbing a bite at In and Out Burger (another American favorite of mine) I decided to hike back over the hill to the hotel for an early night. Or so I thought.

When bored in a hotel, I often find myself wasting several minutes on facebook. However tonight it wasn’t a waste. I saw that my cousin, and Airbus Captain with Air Canada had just checked in to the Hyatt at fisherman’s wharf. I called him immediately and put off an early sleep to catch up with Dean. He lived a block away from my parents, and we played on the same hockey team for years, so he was definitely one of my closer cousins. Such a small world that we run into each other thousands of miles from our homes. And thanks to facebook, as I would have had no idea Dean was 10 blocks away. And and even bigger coincidence that his flight to Montreal was parked next to my flight to Hong Kong the next day!

Dean was flying with a First Officer I also played a lot of hockey with. So Dean, Warren and I met for a few beers, and a late dinner (clam chowder at fishermans wharf, in a bread bowl of course). There was lots to catch up on as we hadn’t seen each other since last October, one of the last times I played hockey back in Winnipeg. We sure did have fun though. Dean wanted to hear all about Cathay and Hong Kong, and I wanted the latest on his family, and Air Canada. I returned back to the hotel around 11PM exhausted from a long day, but very satisfied with everything I accomplished. North American shopping, sight seeing, catching up with family, and of course, good food.

Our flight the next day didn’t leave until 2PM so I had a great rest and spent most of the morning relaxing in the hotel, and trying to cram all my things back into my now full suitcase. Im pretty sure if I was a paying passenger I would have been paying for over weight charges on this one. One last thing to buy was some Ghirardelli chocolates for Shawna.

Back to the fun stuff. Again Pacific Ocean weather was near perfect, and crossing around 39 degrees north, we had a rather unusual tail wind on our west bound flight for most of the 13 hours. I worked first, and again had very little to do other then hourly fuel checks, and chatting with the American captain. One HF radio call once again, and we were set up to cross the great big blue ocean that covers most of the globe. It really is something crossing an ocean that large. Our diversion airports that we plan in case of depressurization, or multiple engine failures were spread all over the map. Portland Oregon and Comox BC on the west coast. Honolulu, Midway, and Guam in the Pacific, Anchorage, Cold Bay, and Shemya in Alaska, and finally Osaka Japan. Depressurization is the most critical of failures, as we need to descend to a low enough altitude that every one on board can breathe. At lower altitudes, jet airliners burn more gas, in some cases, much more gas, per nautical mile flown. Quite often going across the Pacific we can have much more gas on board then is needed to fly from say San Francisco to Hong Kong, the extra gas being for diversions at low altitudes for what could be 3-5 hours. Of course the biggest concern when the nearest airport is 1000 miles away is a cargo/cabin fire. Stats show that if a fire inside the aircraft cannot be controlled, hull loss takes place in an average of 15 minutes. Un-nerving to think about ditching and floating in the Ocean for hours until a rescue can take place. But the likelihood of such an event is so low that I chose to dismiss the grim thoughts, and just enjoy the view over the Pacific.

Again around the international date line we switch crews, and I’m off to the bunk for a 5 hour nap before getting home for dinner with Shawna. I must say I enjoy the US every time I get to fly there. I am already looking forward to my next visit. In the meantime, some 747-8 training later this month, and a 53 hour Paris layover. More posts to follow on both.

Fly Safe.












Where does it end?

So its been a busy few weeks since I was a part of jethead’s interview and podcast. I have just finished my line check with my new airline and can start to settle into the routine of flying the 747. There has been something I have wanted to write about for several weeks now, which I unfortunately had to put on the back burner until the check was out of the way. So here it is. I recently read an article online (linked below) about a Boeing test plane powered by Hydrogen. Have a quick read.


When I read this the first question that came to mind was, where will technology take us by the time I retire? Then I asked, how far have we come since my grandfather took to the skies in the 1930’s?

The first airplane my grandfather flew for Trans Canada Airlines in 1937 was the Lockheed 10A Electra. It weighed a mere 12,500 pounds. The same airplane Amelia Earhart attempted to fly around the world in. It held 10 passengers and could fly for no more then a couple hours at barely 150 miles per hour. I recall my grandmother telling me several times it used to take him a day to fly to Toronto from Winnipeg, with three fuel stops in Northern Ontario. A day to rest, and another day to fly home. Ironically I am on the same type of patters today, except I am traveling from South East Asia to Europe.

The equipment in these old piston airliners of the 30’s was not much more then a morse code signal being broadcast with poor range, and based on the letter you heard, you would know which side of the intended airway you were on. When my grandfather retired in the jet age he was flying the classic Douglas DC-9. He was able to fly to Toronto in the morning and be home for lunch. With much better equipment on board.

My dad entered the airline world on the first turboprop aircraft ever put into airline service, the Vickers Viscount. For it’s day, a terrific airplane with good range, carrying 44 passengers and great engines in the Rolls Royce “Dart”. The viscount flew about 275 miles an hour. The equipment was more modern, cockpits remained cluttered with hundreds of guages. But fast forward 40 years and retire on the 747-400. Glass cockpit, ultra long haul range with 400 plus people weighing 875,000 pounds.

Today I fly the same plane, as our airline approaches retiring this fleet that is almost 25 years old. I think, if all we have done is get bigger, and fly further and faster, what will I retire on? Safe to say The world is much different then it was. We seem to be shifting away from “bigger is better” (despite the advent of the super jumbo A380). The majority of aircraft orders are for twin engine fuel efficient aircraft with excellent range.

That’s where the article caught my attention. Hydrogen powered aircraft. The exhaust of which is water vapour. When you stop and think about this, its truly unbelievable. The list is long of the damages vehicle exhaust has done to our planet and our atmosphere. But imagine a world where the biggest concern vehicle exhaust is higher relative humidity! Now I am sure the environmental effects of that much water vapour being poured into our atmosphere are huge, and I’m also sure people smarter then me have been researching this for years now.

When I look back again at what my grandfather flew in the 30’s and where aviation was then, it was more or less a time when a jet engine was still an idea. It wasn’t until the German’s in late WW2 finally flew a jet powered aircraft. So if my grandfather lived through all of those technological changes, what will I live through? It is a very interesting thing to consider, that perhaps my last flight will be in an airplane that will only leave a trail of water vapour behind it.