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.












Typhoon’s and Flying

Well it’s 10:54 PM here in Hong Kong and I’ve been listening to the wind rattle the windows for most of the evening. The day started out like any other, except we knew there was a typhoon to contend with at some point. There was a level one warning on Saturday night, which we had to consider as we had plan’s for Shawna’s birthday downtown. Intense typhoon’s shut down the inter-island ferries here in Hong Kong, and we were not going to risk being stranded downtown with our two young puppies at home. But after a quick check of the surface analysis charts, and with the typhoon centered more then 500 kilometers away, off to the W hotel we went. But we couldn’t avoid our first typhoon for long.

So after most of the day being nothing more then a windy rainy day, I decided a quick bike ride into town would be doable, but not for long. We needed milk after all. Rolling into town I noticed quickly that virtually everything was shut down. The two local grocery stores and McDonalds were the only businesses that remained open. Everything else, including the ferry to Hong Kong island was closed. Now at level 8, this Typhoon means business.

So back to the house with no milk (sold out). The wind has done nothing but increase for the last few hours, peak gusts reported at 125 kms/hr. Which has resulted in most everything on our roof top being rearranged by the wind, despite my efforts to store everything. The dogs sure don’t like all the noise. They have a hard time peeing on the roof with nothing in its original place and rain coming from all directions. But after four trips to the roof, finally comfortable enough to take care of business.

After a quick search online, it appears most flights are delayed at least an hour, and in some cases much more. Typhoon’s can create several hazards to flying that result in such delays. So I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at them.

Here I am the next morning now, the aftermath of the Typhoon. Last night saw the Typhoon warning increase to level 10, and peak winds reaching 180kms/hr. The airport reported gusts as high as 66 knots. The airport was shut down for several hours last night, with several flights effected for most of today and tomorrow as well. Locally in our village, many trees have blown over, but thankfully, no damage or leaks in our village house.

So back to the point of this post, the hazards to flying. Typhoons typically bring a few major hazards to the pilot faced with flying near them.

One, the wind. With the above mentioned wind speeds, its not hard to imagine that these winds can create conditions outside many aircraft’s operating limits very quickly. Even with a cross wind 30 degrees off the runway, it’s not long before a 60 knot total wind velocity has created a crosswind component out of limits, both landing and taking off. Wind such as what I have attached below also creates wind shear, which is basically large sustained changes in wind direction or speed. This can be both performance enhancing (wind shifting from a tailwind to headwind) or performance degrading (a shift from a headwind to a tailwind). The latter is generally of most concern to us as pilots. Our aircraft here at Cathay Pacific, as well as the Hong Kong International Airport have sophisticated equipment to predict and report wind shear. However, wind comes and goes faster then most weather phenomena and this is where the hazard exists. Sometime we do not get a predictive wind shear warning (that is a wind shear ahead type of warning) and we can be faced with actual wind shear warnings. These situations call for a disregard to all ATC instructions, and even TCAS avoidance measures, and require a prompt, and swift reaction to the wind shear. I find most of the aircraft I have flown, from the Metro, to the 747, we are taught to establish maximum available power, and a maximum nose up attitude (often just below a stall pitch angle) and to leave the aircraft in the configuration it is in until a positive climb is established. That is to say, flaps are not to be retracted until a safe airspeed and climb has been established (flaps of course assisting in lift), while the gear remain down until a climb has been established as well. The idea being that a “bounce” off the ground is better then a scrape (in very general terms here). In most cases with wind shear in a forecast or reported, pilots elect to hold if fuel permits, or simply divert to a nearby airport.

Which brings us to a second hazard. Diverting to an alternate is a regular occurrence in the airline world, however when facing a typhoon, alternates may be up to several hours away. Typical flights into Hong Kong use Macau or Shenzen as alternates. But as this typhoon last night, and virtually all others have adverse weather affecting area for several hundred miles in all directions from the center of these phenomena, finding a suitable alternate can be difficult. The nice thing about this type of weather is that they are well forecasted, so generally hours before a crew even wakes up in Europe to fly to Hong Kong, dispatchers have determined suitable alternates for such a flight. This however will never replace the responsibility the pilot has to double check all he weather information available prior to a flight, and to continue with weather updates while enroute. Fortunately through datalink systems in the 747(and most modern airlines) we are only a few simple key strokes from receiving all the weather we need when in the air. It looks like (via our company web site) that most flights were using Kaohsiung, on the island of Taiwan as an alternate. This is about an hour away, much further then Schenzen and Macau, which are both less then 20 miles from Hong Kong. Flights were also generally given at least 30 minutes additional fuel for potential holding. This of course can be supplemented with a more economical fuel burn through flying slower, as well as f course adding additional fuel if payload permits. My policy is generally you can only have to much fuel if you’re on fire. Pilots in situations like these are generally more comfortable looking at lots fuel in the tanks, more fuel means more options.

The final major hazard to consider is the rain. Rain produces lower visibilities, and damp or wet runways degrade aircraft braking performance. Hydroplaning is also a concern for aircraft if the conditions are right. Certain techniques can help with hydroplaning, but poor braking can rarely be avoided until a runway dries up. The poor visibility as a result of heavy rain is a concern for obvious reasons. However the 747 like most modern airliners can land with very low forward visibility. Rain on a windshield can also produce an optical illusion that we are higher then we actually are, due to the way light refracts through water. This of course can lead to hard landings, but wipers and rain repellent assist with this hazard.

So as I have thought of everything I can regarding typhoons and flying, and now that I have re arranged our roof top patio furniture, I leave you with some pictures of the last 24 hours.

Enjoy, and fly safe, or at least have someone fly safe for you 🙂

Back to Amsterdam Thursday!