Please have a look and leave some comments on what you think.
As I approached this idea to write about “a day in the life” I figured it best to take the “average” day. As most of my trips (about 75% of them) have a sign on time in Hong Kong between 10pm and midnight, I will write about one of those days.
One of the most important things when considering starting a flight after 10pm that will last anywhere from 8-14 hours or sometime more, is proper rest. So when I’m going to bed the night before I go to work, I usually set my alarm for around 700am. I find it important to wake up nice and early with some sort of physical activity for the morning. Usually this involved a workout with Impact Fitness of Hong Kong. By the time an intense workout is over at about 930 I return home for yet another important part of the work day. A good breakfast. It can be a very uncomfortable flight if you have eaten large, rich meals all day before going to work late at night. Not only can it be physically uncomfortable, but a full stomach also (for me anyway) really makes me want to go to sleep, especially when its near midnight. So for breakfast, usually a fresh fruit/spinach smoothie, or maybe a couple of eggs, avocado, and a decaf coffee. Decaf is important, along with waking up early for a common reason which I will get too. The next few hours can vary, sometimes we will take the dogs to the beach, or the waterfall, or do some errands in the town center of Mui Wo. Those few hours can also be as simple as taking the dogs for a walk and relaxing at home and catching up on some North American TV. When that comes to an end, I will usually take care of all my “pre-flight” activities. I pack my suitcase, get my uniform ready, and review the route for the evening with our company port pages and route briefings. The port pages are a 4-12 page document that detail everything there is to know about a given airport. Terrain considerations, speed restrictions, Low Visibility Operations capability, even as detailed as to which taxiways our large 747-8 can taxi on (Vancouver as an example has many taxiways that are not certified for a plane of that size). The route briefings are just that, a 8-12 page document that detail ATC requirements, typical weather patters for a given region, communications procedures, and others, so that before heading out on a given flight, between the port pages and route briefings, we can have an excellent understanding of a new route, or a good review of a route we frequent. So with those notes done, and my luggage packed, I will either look at the bus schedule or arrange for a taxi. Generally the ride from my village to the airport is about 40 minutes. Sometimes less, sometimes more, but it usually offers a nice view crossing the mountain range on Lantau Island.
So off to bed. My pre flight nap. The light breakfast/decaf coffee, along with waking up early in the morning and working out, usually yield a little fatigue for me by mid afternoon. This is the perfect scenario. I close the blackout blinds, put in ear plugs and head for bed. I usually set an alarm for 3-4 hours later depending on how tired I am. If I sleep for the whole time, great! If I wake up after 2 hours, well that is just my body telling me I’ve had enough sleep. So when I wake up I am usually greeted with my wife having prepared a nice dinner for me. Again eating lighter foods, and smaller portions are key for me. If I have a big heavy, rich meal, I get to work and just want to crawl into bed. If I have a smaller meal that is healthier, I remain energetic when it comes time to report for work. So after dinner, I will relax with the dogs and my wife. Take the dogs for a walk, and then check the airline’s employee web site for the first version of our Computer Flight Plan. Usually within about 5 hours of the departure time, there will be an initial flight plan generated. Sometimes these plans will change, usually just the Zero Fuel Weight as passenger/cargo loads can change. So once I have downloaded the 60 plus page document onto m iPad, I start with the basics. First things first. Check the aircraft registration, the type (can be one of five different types: 747-400 passenger, 400 freighter, 400 Extended Range Freighter, 400 Boeing Converted freighter, and of course the 747-8F) of which there are three different engine types. So there are some numbers (weights, and engine temperature limits are the most relevant) that need to be reviewed once we know which plane we will be operating.
Next I check the fuel information. I cross check all the numbers with the total fuel required and then add the zero fuel weight to get a ramp weight. These figures are all on the flight plan, but of course we double check them before each flight. From those calculations we can get our takeoff and landing weights to ensure they are within the operating limits. For those interested, the maximum takeoff weight of the 747-8F is 447,695 kgs. Or just under 985,000 pounds. Quite impressive in my opinion.
With all my preflight notes complete, its shower, change, and head to work. I like to arrive about 30-45 minutes before sign on time to make sure I am well prepared, and just in case there are some traffic problems I have a built in buffer.
So arrival at work. We scan into Cathay City with our crew id cards and head to the storage room next to flight planning where I leave my suitcase until it’s time to head to the plane. The room is quite large, and accommodates several wide body crews (up to 21 of us on a 747-400 passenger flight). Off to the bathroom to quickly get into my uniform shirt. The Hong Kong summers are too hot to make the commute to work in a uniform shirt, so I usually wear a T-shirt and then make the change into a freshly ironed shirt once I am at CX City. With that, it’s onto the briefing tables. Cathay has a nice set up where each flight has it’s own table or counter with our documents bag. In here we find the binders with all relevant port pages and airport charts for the route. We also add a few house keeping items. Ear plugs, sanitary wipes, screen wipes, replacement earmuffs for the headset, and of course, Evian facial spray to help stay moisturized in the dry air of a pressurized airplane. Once “the shopping” is done, I double check that the paperwork matches the online information that I looked at earlier. It is around now when the other crew members arrive and we all introduce ourselves, or catch up with someone we may have flown with before. It is quite common that there will be some changes to the load (passengers or cargo) at this point, or perhaps the aircraft tail number we will be flying, if there has been a maintenance issue with the planned airplane. Once we take note of any changes, the crew decide on a fuel load. If all things are as planned and there are no outstanding contingencies, we will take flight planned fuel. Our flight plan fuel covers virtually all contingencies enroute (weather, traffic, etc.) as well as an additional percentage to cover us in case there are more things to deal with on our flight. Generally speaking flight planned fuel is enough, but occasionally we will increase that fuel if the weather at the arrival end is questionable. Even with an ok forecast at out arrival airport, we can take advantage of other clues to see if the weather will in fact be as advertised. The most common example is returning to Hong Kong, with say Shenzhen as our alternate. Perhaps Hong Kong has some thunderstorms in the forecast, but Shenzhen does not. So using Shenzhen as the alternate is legal, but when you look at Macau, and Guangzhou weather, you see they are both forecasting thunderstorms. All of these airports are within about 20 miles of each other, so it is likely that some extra gas will be needed.
Ok, so fuel is decided. Off to the airplane. We clear customs and security right in our building next to flight planning. We jump on a crew bus and make the 5 minute drive to the airport. Depending on the gate, or cargo position we are parked at, we are usually at the plane within another 5 minutes. Collect our bags, and make our way up the stairs to the main deck. In the freighter we leave our suitcase on the main deck near the L1 door, where cargo handlers will strap them down next to the sidewall in the midst of 100 plus tons of cargo. On a passenger flight, we can check out bags right at Cathay City and they are loaded in the belly just like everyone else’s bags. Up to the cockpit now and we all sort our belongings and start with job number one. The Captain will go through the Log Book. ANy outstanding defects or operational notes we need to consider? Hopefully not. For the most part these “snags” are dealt with whenever the aircraft has some down time between sectors. Of course if there is a serious matter, they are dealt with immediately. When all the information in reviewed in the Log Book, we then start our duties. The pilot flying for the sector will begin initializing the FMC and ACARS, while the monitoring pilot will go do a walk around. Big or small, every plane needs a walk around by one of the flight crew. Me? Well the second officer has the responsibility of a cockpit pre flight check. It is a basic run down of all the equipment on board. From cockpit voice recorders, to life vests, to escape harnesses. The freighter aircraft adds more of the safety equipment that normally falls under the duties of a flight attendant (life rafts, portable oxygen masks, etc). Once that is done, it’s time for the easy part. Make the beds. Both the freighters and passenger 747’s have two beds for in flight crew rest.
When that is done. We all assemble back in the cockpit. I usually start a pot of coffee if I am on a cargo flight, and grab some bottles of water for the Captain and FO. When we are back up front, the cockpit set up is finished. Our final zero fuel weight arrives via ACARS and we enter the current weather information and send for our Take Off Data for the day. We obtain our IFR clearance, enter the data into the CDU for the flight, and then we are ready for pushback and start up. Throughout all that my role as a Second Officer is basically just support and an extra set of eyes.
Next comes the fun part. Taxiing our for takeoff you get a real sense of the size of the 747, especially when you pass any other airplanes. With the exception of the A380, the 747 dwarfs other airplanes. A large wide body like the A330 doesn’t even compare to the length and height of a 747. It’s a cool feeling considering the last airplane I was a crew member on had a prop clearance of less then 12 inches. Once on the takeoff roll, it doesn’t take long for the mighty 747 to reach takeoff speed. Despite being more then 800,000 pounds, or just shy of a million pounds in the case of the 747-8F, Boeing and GE/Pratt Whitney, and Rolls Royce have teamed up to make an airframe, wing, power plant combination that would defy what the Wright Brothers first envisioned possible when it came to powered flight. Even at the heaviest weights, we reach a cruise altitude of 31,000 feet (typically) in around 20 minutes or less. With an economic cruise speed of around Mach 0.83, the 747 is almost climbing at that speed through the final segment, and rarely needs any time to accelerate. My old metro, at a heavy weight, might be climbing at 140 knots when leveling at 21,000 feet, and would take 10 minutes to reach a cruising speed of 190 knots indicated airspeed.
So with the plane set up in cruise, we have a few house keeping items to take care of. By this time I will have jumped in the right or left hand seat depending on who is ready for sleep first. Fill out a bit of information in the ACARS for the closing report that will come at the end of the flight. Next, enter the step climbs as they appear on the flight plan into the CDU. This gives our FMC (the brain of the airplane) an accurate plan for our flight when it comes to calculating fuel used and time to our arrival airport. Once the house keeping items, the next thing to do is get some enroute weather. When departing for Anchorage, the first airports that we obtain weather for are usually Taipei, Naha (Okinawa), Fukuoka and Osaka. These are basically the major airports on our route at intervals of about 45 minutes to an hour. The reason for checking weather at airports we have no intention of flying to? Well once the ACARS prints out the latest METAR’s we check to see if there would be any reason that we could not land there in the event of an emergency. We also go over the NOTAM’s (which we checked before the flight) for those airports for a quick reminder on the relevant info. So if we know there are no NOTAMS restricting a landing, and the weather is good to support a landing, then we file that in our minds as good to go “in case of”. In case of what? Well a cargo fire is the most time critical situation, and if that occurs, we take immediate action to head to one of these airports. Engine failures and depressurization are also critical situations, but mostly when it comes to fuel. Depressurizing is the most fuel critical situation, as we have to descend to a breathable flight level (FL140) where our engines are less efficient per nautical mile flown. In both these cases however, we more then likely would not divert to the closest airport. It is a very situation specific. If we had a simple engine flameout, we can consider continuing all the way to the destination (especially if the destination is Hong Kong). Once an event has occurred and has been dealt with, we will communicate with the company and then make the best decision for the situation.
Ok, so we are cruising happily along with all the house keeping done, and with good situational awareness as to where to go in the case of an emergency. Here comes the boring part. For the next several hours, the job basically consists of monitoring the radio and making frequency changes as we cross FIR boundaries. Hourly, we make a fuel check to cross check flight planned fuel burn vs actual fuel burn. The 747-8 typically makes gas on a long haul flight. That is, burns less gas then the flight plan predicts so on our arrival, we have “made” more gas to use in the event of a diversion or holding time.
Lets fast forward to the last 90 minutes or so. Prior to the top of descent, we will review the planned arrival into our destination based on the latest ATIS for the airport. Based on our landing weight, we assess our landing performance via a Landing Data request sent via ACARS. A quick review of the aircraft status (in case any systems have failed or downgraded during the flight) and we are ready to descend and make our approach to landing.
By this time, as the Second Officer, I am comfortably in my observer seat, watching the more senior crew do their thing. Again I am an extra set of eyes and ears, and there for support. Once on the ground and parked, its simple again for me as the So, put the documents away, file a bit of paperwork. We leave the plane for customs, and hopefully without too much delay, we are on our way to the hotel. Check in, receive our per diems, and get up to the room.
That is all for this installment.
So on a recent layover in Anchorage i picked up a mountain bike at Walmart to leave in our crew storage room at the hotel. It certainly makes getting around Anchorage a less time consuming task then walking (although I do enjoy going for a walk around town). So this time in ANC I was looking forward to putting some miles on my bike. Unfortunately rain dominated the weather forecast for Anchorage this weekend, but I grabbed my rain gear and threw it into the suitcase before leaving Hong Kong.
After landing at about 5pm and having dinner, I managed to get some sleep for a few hours despite it being 2pm Hong Kong time. Sleep is always important when you fly long haul, and the easiest way I have been able to fight fatigue, is to just sleep when I’m tired. The trick to to be sure you are not tired when you are reporting for work and about to sit in the seat of a jumbo jet with 400 people on board. This usually means fighting through a little fatigue in the hotel/on a layover to be sure you can get the right amount of sleep when you really need it most. So I wake up at the crack of 2am Anchorage time and do the usual shuffle between watching tv or maybe some movies on Netflix. By the time morning comes, I head to Walmart at 6 am. I am in the market for the biggest gas BBQ I can find, and North America is much cheaper then Hong Kong. I find the one I want, but soon realize I grossly under estimated the size of the box. No way I can handle this thing with my usual load of a suitcase and flight bag. So I decide to put it on hold until the next trip and bring an empty large suitcase. I will unpack the box in the hotel and then repack it into something that rolls. Too bad I didn’t think of that a few days ago. I waste some time wandering around the near empty store and stumble onto a hiking book for the Anchorage Area. Perfect. Between my mountain bike and my hiking shoes, I hope to cover more then a few trails while I have the chance on these trips.
Back to the hotel to find myself tired after some breakfast. It’s raining still, and the local forecast calls for clearing skies in the afternoon. So what better time to get a few more hours sleep.
I wake up at 3pm and eagerly get ready to get on my mountain bike as some blue sky creeps through the hotel window. I read the trail guide for the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The trail starts in downtown Anchorage just a few minutes ride away from my hotel and leads all the way to Kincaid Park on the other side of Ted Stevens International Airport (PANC). It’s a 22 mile round trip that is sure to offer some great scenery and maybe a little wild life. The guide cautions for bear and moose encounters and offers the standard “what to do if” so I make sure to read that twice. As the trail leads me by the airport, I make sure to bring my camera’s in hopes of catching a few planes passing over top. The first few miles of the trail take me along the mud flats of Bootlegger Cove. The smell of the pine forrest the trail cuts through is reminiscent of Canada, and certainly nothing like the smells of Hong Kong. It is a crisp 12 degrees in Anchorage today, coupled with the humid air, I can see my breathe for the first time since last winter here, as I puff along the 11 mile trail. The first point of interest is Earthquake Park. In 1964 the largest earthquake in the history of North America (and second largest in worldwide recorded history) struck the Anchorage and surrounding areas. This park used to be home to residents of Anchorage, but after dropping almost 40 feet during the quake, it has since been turned into a park. After a few more miles I realize I am getting close to the airport. I do a quick lap to the end of the trail and then back to a great spotting location at the departure end of runway 33 at PANC. There is a 150 foot bluff just behind me over looking downtown Anchorage and Cook Inlet, a spectacular view for those willing to venture close to the edge.
As I park my bike, drink some water and get my camera’s out of my bag, I take a moment and smile as I realize I flew a 747, 4700 miles across the Pacific, then biked another 11 miles only to sit and watch planes takeoff and land. I used to skip class in University and do the same thing about 12 years ago in Winnipeg. Even while flying at Perimeter in Northern Manitoba, I would often run outside our passenger lounges to see the occasional C-46 or DC-3 takeoff after having dropped off a load of freight for one of the communities. So here I am sitting under the runway when after only a minute or two I hear the roar of four Pratt Whitney R-2800 Super Charged Radial engines lifting the 100,000 pound Douglas Airliner first built in 1946 into the sky. It’s a sound I have always loved. It’s a sound that reminds me of what my grandfather heard every time he pushed forward the throttles of his airliners of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s before entering the world of turbo props and jetliners. This particular DC-6 belongs to Everts Air Cargo. Everts specializes in cargo delivery to the most remote parts of Alaska (and the world) in some of the most vintage airplanes still flying today. There fleet includes DC-6’s, C-46’s and DC-9’s, among some newer turbo props they use on passenger runs. I have been in touch with the company and will hopefully have a jump seat ride or two arranged for my next visit at the end of the month. As the DC-6 disappears on the horizon, Fed Ex is next in line for departure. There MD-11 lifts off on the Anchorage 6 departure, which calls for a left turn 30 degrees at 600 feet. There is something very pretty about a heavy jet, gently banking in the evening sun as it heads for a part of the planet where English is foreign, the food is different, and the street signs confusing. Simple, but beautiful. The next departure is the one I have been waiting for. Cathay Pacific flight 074 (CX074) departing for Miami Florida. It is the continuation of the same flight I operated the day before from Hong Kong to Anchorage. I manage to get what I think (you can judge for yourself once I have uploaded the photo’s) are some very nice shots of our “Hong Kong Trader” Boeing 747-8F. It is much quieter then the older MD-11 it followed, as the General Electric GENx-67B engines are a much more modern design with a higher bypass ratio, thus reducing the noise.
For me, my evening at the departure end of runway 33 will not get much better then that. So I pack up my gear and head for Lake Hood Seaplane Base. Lake Hood, the world’s busiest seaplane aerodrome, is located immediately adjacent to Anchorage Airport. We share the airspace with the small float planes, as they often pass underneath us while we are on final approach to landing as they position for landing at Lake Hood. I pedal my bike past the two terminal buildings, around the corner to the first of several parking apron’s of Lake Hood. There is also a gravel strip which services the wheel aircraft here so there are plenty of bush planes to see. As I scan the ramp, I can see so many of the planes I have flown in the past. Cessna 152’s, 172’s, and 182’s. Cessna 185’s, there are even a metro or two on the other side of the fence. I stop and try and recount all the different planes I have been checked out on. Here is the list I could come up with:
Cessna 172 (Land and Seaplane versions)
Cessna 177 RG
Beechcraft King Air 100
Fairchild Metro’s (SW2, SW3, SW4, SW5)
DeHavilland Dash 8
and of course the Boeing 747 (-400, 400F, 400 BCF, 400 ERF, and -8F)
As I notice the Era Alaska Dash 8-100 takeoff, I realize that almost all of those airplanes I just listed can be found at this airport. I have recently started calling Anchorage “my home away from home, away from home” and this is another reason why!
Now I start pedaling again and head for the largest concentration of seaplanes in the world. I park my bike next to the 3 foot chain link fence and get lucky with my timing. There are two Dehavilland DHC-2 Beavers taxiing for takeoff, as well as a Cessna 185 (an aircraft I have a few hours of seaplane time in) and two Beaver’s on approach to land. Five planes will land and takeoff in the matter of a few minutes. Luck is on my side. I get some pictures and videos of the movements at Lake Hood. There is something romantic about float flying. I got my seaplane rating in the summer of 1999 while I was 16, and flew a total of about 50 hours mostly on a Cessna 172, and a few hours in a Cessna 185F. It is still the most fun I have had flying, even though I did little more then take the plane to a friends cottage and go fishing every other weekend for a summer. I guess the idea of landing anywhere there is water gives the typical seaplane pilot a huge sense of freedom that you just don’t get when you are forced to land on a runway that was built for planes. Lakes, rivers, inlets and the like weren’t built for anything, they are just there for seaplane pilots to use. To fish, to hunt, to canoe or mine, whatever the purpose, they are just there for enjoyment one way or another. As the evening rush at Lake Hood appears to be winding down, I snap one more picture of our 747-400 lifting off in the distance destined for New York. With that, I start pedaling the 11 miles back to the hotel. I really hope I can arrange that jump seat ride with Everts next trip, and I just may have to see about a ride in a seaplane for old times sake. A ride, into wild Alaska.
Here I am yet again sitting in an airplane crossing the Pacific. Sapporo Japan to our left, Russia to the right, and Hong Kong ahead. Unlike the last year and a half of these crossings, today I am riding as a passenger. Seat 50H (thanks for the emergency exit row to the Air Canada gate agent in Vancouver) on board a 777-300ER. Not Cathay Pacific, our flight was too full. But rather Air Canada. Appropriate I figure, as I am on the return leg of my first trip back to Canada in almost 20 months.
It’s a long time to be away from something you know so well. And it’s a long time to be away from so many people you love so much. That is what this trip was about for my wife and I. We got married before I left for initial training in Adelaide Australia, in a small ceremony in my parents living room. Just a few family was there. So this trip meant a lot to us both, to get to spend some time with those loved ones who weren’t there that day.
Before leaving on the trip I had many mixed emotions. The easiest one to explain would be sadness over leaving my two young dogs at home (well looked after I might add) as this would be the longest we would leave them to date. Of course the next emotion was excitement. Mostly to see my grandmother. With her age (95), this trip would mean a lot to my wife and I. So far her health hasn’t failed her, and the way she is going she will be around for a while yet. But she was still by far, top on my list. We had many other relatives to visit, and stay with. Some of which my wife hasn’t met in person yet. This led to creeping feelings of not wanting to go at all, too much to do in such a short time. Why not just stay home? We would never obviously, and as things would turn out, the zig zagging trip across Canada would prove among the most rewarding of my life.
So off we went to Canada. After a long night of flying from Paris to Hong Kong for me, I arrived at home to finish some laundry and packing. We took our dogs to our courtyard for a play (and a cold beer for my wife and I) before heading to the airport. The local shop near our house that sells the beer is run by a family that has a young boy (7 or 8 maybe). He is our unofficial Cantonese tutor, and has been friendly with us and our dogs for a while. This time we are in for a nice treat. He has convinced his mother to invite us in for dinner. With only a little English from the boy, we aren’t quite sure what we are getting into, but my wife and I enter their home with a smile on our face. The mother points to the chair and hands us a plate. First on the menu? Duck feet. Okay, what the hell. We start chewing and gnawing at this mix of skin and cartilage (literally nothing else). It doesn’t taste that bad, but there is not much to digest. The family smiles when I say “ho may do” (delicious in Cantonese), they clearly can tell I am being polite. Next up, some fresh clams from our Silvermine Bay. Garlic, spring onion, steamed to perfection. I can’t slide enough of these slippery little guys into my mouth. But as we finish our beer, and our meal, it’s time to get into the shower and head to the airport. As we collect our now exhausted puppies, and head for home, we decide that we will bring this family a gift from Canada on our return.
The usual ensues next, say goodbye to the dogs, taxi to the airport and check in for the full flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. We get a seat but not together, less then ideal, but a seat nonetheless. A few hours into the flight my wife taps my head to wake me and invites me to the back of the plane to chat. We kill an hour and a half doing that, then back to the seats. Halfway across the Pacific now I can feel the excitement building. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone. As the flight comes to an end, we approach Vancouver and my first “forgotten gem” if you will, about Canada. It’s about 9pm local time, and the sun is still out in BC. In Hong Kong the sun is gone by around 7pm almost everyday of the year. I forgot what it was like to see the late twilight of the north. After collecting our bags and checking in for our connecting flight, we are off to Calgary. We order a few Molson Canadian beers for the short flight across the rockies. Starting to feel Canadian again. Landing there at about 130am, we are met by my uncle in law. We always have a good time in Calgary, and the next two days are no exception. Joining up with my wife’s great Aunt next, we tour Canmore and have dinner in Banff before a quick sleep and off to Winnipeg for my grandmother’s 95th birthday surprise party. It goes off without a hitch and the old gal was as shocked as ever. All but two cousins made the trip, so it was nice to have near the entire family with her that day. Next order of business the following morning is to help my in laws pack up the last of the boxes as the movers show up to complete the move from their Winnipeg home. They have officially moved to the lake where they own and operate a general store. After some dinner with my brother in law, the four of us head out to Clear Lake. I get another rush of Canadiana as I sip my Tim Horton’s coffee while cruising the Trans Canada Highway. The first thing I smell getting out of the car is something I haven’t experienced for a while, the smell of Canadian wilderness. Pine trees, a breeze off the lake carries the smell of the water, and of course, outboard motor exhaust. It’s a nice feeling breathing it all in again. In no time the next morning I am behind the deli counter slicing and pricing cold cuts at the store. Some baking, and butcher shop duties round out my experience there. I must say if I wasn’t a pilot, running a general store (despite the long hard hours) is very rewarding and would make a great career. After working at the shop everyday I take a swim in the lake to cool off before dinner. I am feeling more and more Canadian. We can’t stay at the lake for very long though as we have to drive back into Winnipeg for my cousins wedding after 3 days in cottage country. A great night the wedding was, and another great chance to catch up with some relatives. When the bar closes, we head back to my parents house for another short sleep before hitting the highway for Saskatoon in the morning. Three sets of grandparents to visit over the next few days. Twenty four hours in Saskatoon, then off to Jackfish lake where another set of grandparents await. We spend time visiting and catching up, and make some time to visit the local golf course where the owner keeps his Cessna 185 on floats in a hangar. A bush plane? That I used to fly? Now I am REALLY back in Canada. After another couple of nights back in Saskatoon with the final set of grandparents, we are headed for Regina, where my wife’s Aunt, Uncle, and cousins await. This will be my last stop of the trip before jumping on Air Canada to Vancouver, and then Hong Kong. As we did in all of our other stops, we spend the days visiting the family, doing a little shopping, and the nights grilling on the cue outside and drinking cold Canadian beer. I miss Canadian beer. The beer in Hong Kong is cheap, but it just isn’t the same.
Along the way we have made a few purchases for our home in Hong Kong that we think will remind us of Canada. Molson Canadian beach towels, a Saskatchewan Rough Riders flag, a Trans Canada Highway sign, and several others that will be a daily reminder of what this trip was. A great time with great family, in a great country. I must say looking back on the trip, every moment of it was special. Almost every day someone would ask us what we miss the most. The answer is simple. The people that made Canada our home for so many years. Moms, Dads, Sisters, Brothers, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, and cousins. Canada is great, it always will be. The smells, the prairie skies, the northern lights. But those won’t be the things I remember when I’m sitting on my rooftop in Hong Kong. It will be the people that I experienced those things with. They are, and will always be what count the most. Otherwise the rest is meaningless. We spent 18 days, in 9 different homes, with 47 different relatives, a wedding, a 95th birthday, and a shit load of Canadian beer. And despite the short nights, and long days, it was worth every minute.
With that, I am excited to be home with my dogs in a few more hours. My wife will join me at home in Hong Kong after a few more days of time with her parents at the store. I have to work 2 trips back to back (San Francisco and Anchorage) the first of which will be my annual line check. So a few days of reviewing the study notes I prepared back in April and I should be up to speed for the check. Then with the next two weeks off after those trips, it’s off to Kata Beach in Phuket Thailand with my wife to refresh after a busy trip to Canada.
More posts/story telling to come. Stay tuned and fly safe.
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.
There is a lot to be said for living in one of the largest, most densely populated, well known major cities in the world. There is also a lot to be said for living a quick 30 minute boat ride from said metropolis. Village life is definitely not for everyone, but I would say we are built for it. Our village of Mui Wo has a population of less then 10,000 people, and it offers some unique opportunities that people just can’t get anywhere else.
1.) Ditch the cars and grab your bikes. Virtually every hour of the day here in Mui Wo, including rush hour, we can ride our bicycles down what is the only main road in Mui Wo and rarely run into other traffic. The occasional bus, sure, other cyclists on their way home from the ferry, or the grocery store, and perhaps the usual crowd of ferrel cattle making their way to another field for grazing. You can’t last more then a few seconds in the middle of most Hong Kong streets without a mini bus or Ferrari running you down, except perhaps in the wee hours of the morning.
2.) Leash? What leash? We have two puppies, and within a few short weeks they were more then happy to trot along side us on a walk or bike ride. Here in Mui Wo you can let your dogs run free, the local walking paths, the beach, the hiking trails, are all suited for the dog life. Even around the main 4 blocks of “downtown” Mui Wo we can leave our dogs to run free from our patio, meet other dogs, play with the kids, or just wander and smell every garbage can and restaurant kitchen.
3.) Outdoor playground. There are plenty of outdoor activities to participate in here in the Hong Kong area, but most of the city dwellers come to this island to partake. Here we are just a few minutes away from a waterfall, beach, hiking trails, walking paths, mountain biking trails, the South China Sea (kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding etc…) and even hang gliding.
4.) Pants optional… well kind of. The nice thing about the “social scene” here in the village, is that it only entails making friends. No one really cares about how expensive your jeans are, or what boutique your shirt is from. More often then not people gather at the China Bear (our local waterfront pub) in not much more then a bathing suit and a t-shirt. Don’t get me wrong, we love to get dressed up for a night out, but it is nice during this intense summer heat that for the most part, we are all just interested in staying comfortable and cool, rather then showing off our new threads.
5.) A quick boat ride to the rest of the world. With 32 daily ferry departures (the ferry terminal is a quick 5 minute bike ride away) to Hong Kong’s Central Ferry Terminal, right outside the Central MTR station, virtually every corner of Hong Kong is a short hop away. Hong Kong is known for one of the best public transit networks. The ferries, subway (MTR), buses, mini buses, and trams are more then enough to cover the city and outlying islands are more then enough to cover the city and its outlying islands, and for a low price. Of course, if time is of utmost importance, taxis are quick, and very affordable. All of this makes heading to downtown Hong Kong for a movie, dinner, shopping, the horse races, or just visiting friends an absolute breeze.
Before my wife an I moved to Hong Kong, we had no idea what our living situation would be, or where it would be. But I must say we are villagers. We love our small community, and love that we can have that big city life after a beer or two on the ferry downtown. You could say we have the best of both worlds. At least in our eyes we do. And of course if we really need a change, we can head over to Hong Kong International Airport and hop on a flight to virtually any corner of the world.
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.