Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Last PC- Day 2

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The Day-2 briefing was the usual stuff. It hasn’t changed much in many years, with the notable exception of VNAV (vertical navigation) non-precision approaches. Using VNAV improves the safety and execution of non-precision approaches by eliminating the old “dive-and-drive” methods.

Day 2 started with a normal takeoff and vectors to intercept the final approach course to the NDB 35L at Colorado Springs. (We never practice procedure turns anymore. I guess the theory is there will never be a radar service outage.) In the days before glass cockpits NDB approaches were dreaded by most. They weren’t too bad though unless you had a crosswind. Then mental gymnastics came into play—“push the head of the needle,” “pull the tail,” etc. (or was it vice versa?).
Now days NDB approaches are too easy. Just punch the LNAV button (Lateral Navigation) and let ‘er go. One pilot is required to monitor the “raw” NDB information, and act as if he knows what he’s looking at. Most major air carrier pilots will never fly an actual NDB approach in their careers.

That went well for both of us and then it was on to the V1 cuts. That’s where the PI fails an engine at the “V1” call, (pilot not-flying calls “V1” at the calculated takeoff commit speed). For captains this calamity happens with 600 feet visibility, so you can only see a few runway stripes coming at you when it happens. When you lift the nose you lose all visual references and go 100% on the gauges.  

The challenge is to stay over the runway. The jet immediately veers toward the side with the dead engine and you have to stop it. The aircraft is only certified to cross the end of the runway at a minimum of 35 feet at max gross weight and one engine standing at attention. If you allow the plane to go off at even a small angle it could strike hangars, towers, and even the tails of other large planes waiting alongside the runway.  But the problem doesn’t end at the runway’s end.

You are only guaranteed to be free of obstacles (hills, buildings, towers, etc.) in a small corridor (I don’t know how wide it is) that extends along the runway centerline. Thus you must continue to track runway centerline until you climb through 1,500 feet above the airport elevation. When you are climbing at only 300 feet per minute, this can take an agonizingly long time. But what if there really is an obstacle out there that prevents you from tracking straight out? Many airports are like this.

In that case you fly the engine-out takeoff profile that is published for that airport. The profile may require you to climb to a higher altitude before acceleration, or command a turn soon after takeoff. At San Francisco, runway 1L and 1R for example, you would turn left a 6 miles to a heading of 300 degrees and hold that heading until you intercept the SFO radial 340, then track that radial. This procedure takes you between two mountains. You’ve got to get it right.

Over the years most of us have been trained to do this task of talking off on one engine to near perfection and I am amazed every time I do it after a year that it happens like clockwork. The co-pilots do the same—flawless, almost every time. Of course we always hear about people who can’t get it right and have to be re-trained every year, but I’ve never seen it go that bad.

The V1 cuts went well. We climbed out and got settled, told Departure Control we had an engine failure and requested radar vectors back around to land. Again we go through the old drill. The pilot not flying runs the emergency checklist. The captain informs the flight attendants what’s happening then makes a PA announcement. (We have some fun with this in the SIM. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain. I suggest you initiate a serious dialogue with your maker because you are about to meet him.”) Then we contact company dispatch, tell them our situation and make sure they notify the destination that we’re coming in on a wing and a prayer.

The flying pilot briefs the approach, including the missed approach, because you can bet the homestead you are either not going to break out of the fog, or a fire truck is going to dart out in front of you just as you are about to land. Now you’re powering out of there on one engine. It’s tricky, but again, I rarely see it screwed up, even on the first attempt.

Then we demonstrated that we can fly an auto-land in zero-zero weather. It’s easy—the plane does all the work—but it’s also un-nerving. You hit the concrete about one second after you see it.

After that the evaluation was done and the PI put us through a set of refreshers. The first was the deep stall recovery. Two days earlier we had seen a film of the Air France crash in the Atlantic in 2009. You remember—their pitot tube froze up in a storm they should have avoided and they chased erroneous airspeed indications that led to a huge climb. The climb led to a stall that they aggravated during their entire 35,000 foot fall to the ocean. The PI duplicated that situation and told us to recover, which we did. We lowered the nose and applied power. It was Private Pilot 101: Hold the nose up and the houses get smaller. Hold it up too much and they get bigger. Fast.

After the deep stall recovery he put us through a series of wind shear recoveries at Denver airport. That went fine, although one recovery went down to less than 100 feet above the ground. 

The last wind shear maneuver terminated on a ten mile final at Denver runway 35L. The PI froze the sim and began shutting it down. “Okay, Guys. Good job. You both passed. Let’s call it a day!”

I was studying the Denver airport, frozen ahead of us in the windshields. “Not yet,” I said.

Both my first officer and the PI looked blankly at me. “Huh?” They were both thinking, this fool wants more of this?

I turned to the PI. “Make it daylight,” I said. He shrugged and pushed a button. Brilliant light appeared in the wind shield and the Denver airport exploded in detail. “Now, let go the sim. I’ve got one last thing to do.”

The PI began chuckling. He guessed it. He let us go and the motion resumed. I pushed the throttles up and dumped the nose. The airspeed quickly built to 350 knots. The GPWS began screaming, “TERRAIN, PULL-UP! TERRAIN, PULL-UP!” We heard the noise of the wind building. I took the sim across the "teepee" terminal as fast as I could get it and as low as I dared, aiming just to the right of the tower. We flashed by the tower at eye level and I hauled back on the yoke.

“He’s gonna do it!” the PI yelled. “He’s gonna roll us!”

I got the nose about 30 degrees up and threw the yoke full right, fed in right rudder and pushed forward as we went inverted. The sim lurched and rocked on its hydraulic lifters. I managed to roll it through without crashing.

It was a fitting to end the last simulator in my career.


Giulia said...

LOL! Awesome!!! :)

Frank Van Haste said...


Somewhere, the ghost of Tex Johnston is smiling...nay, grinning his a$$ off!

A elegant finis, sir.


Dave W said...

Way to Go!!

No glass of water on the glareshield a la Bob Hoover??

Laugh out loud is an overrated expression but I was certainly chuckling at my desk this morning

All the best

Dave W

Wayne Conrad said...


D.B. said...

Good one!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Another great post...I hope that once your airline flying days are over you'll continue to share stories with us! I love hearing about your adventures, past and present!

Anonymous said...

Great ending! Now what is left is to repeat it next year on your last flight hahaha. Btw, I read some comment on an older post about missing comments due to captcha etc, simply copy (ctrl+a, ctrl+c) your comment and if it's gone missed, just paste it back (ctrl+v)

Mike said...

Quite fitting, Alan! Love the previous comment of Tex Johnson grinning his a$$ off!!


"Sorry Goose, but it's time to buzz the tower!"

"Two of your snot-nosed fly jockeys just buzzed my tower at over 400 knots!"

Frank Van Haste said...


Yep, me again. I gotta ask: when you put the sim through an aileron roll what the heck does the motion logic do? I'd expect it to track as far into the roll as the hydraulics/mechanism will permit and then stay maxed out while the visual continued to track the roll.

But what happens when you come back into motion range on the other side? Does it stay maxed in the initial roll direction? Does it snap over to the other side to meet you? Does it gently arrive back in sync as you regain level flight?

It has to be some weird artifact of the code - the programmer couldn't have actually planned for it...could she?


Dave W said...

I'm glad Frank asked that - I was thinking the same thing!


Anonymous said...

that left me with a big smile. great way to leave a sim session!

Alan Cockrell said...

Hmmm. What indeed do those hydraulic actuators do when you roll a sim? I think Frank has it partially if not entirely correct. Rolling right they obviously throw the cab into a right bank, and surely it stays there until the visuals begin to indicate a rollout. I believe it simply rights itself, with maybe a touch of opposite roll to enhance the sensation, then back to upright. I have watched sims from the floor on a number of occasions and you would be surprised at how subtle the movements are. I once saw an aborted takeoff. The cab tipped up at about a 30 degree angle to throw the crew forward giving them the sensation of an emergency stop.

Squatch said...

That's just Awesome! Now don't get any ideas just because you can do it in the sim. Lol. You Rock Alan.


Cedarglen said...

Thanks for another great post Alan. I'd guess that the PI saw you coming and that he's had similar, if different requests before. For you last visit, ,why the heck not?
As for what the SIM actually does, after physically rolling to maximum, I suspect that the visuals keep going. If it is a proper 0g roll, that's probably enough to make it 'feel' real. As powerful as the SIN's computer are, I wonder if they have the horse power to keep up with a full roll. What did it look like from the inside. And, I'm sure "Tex" was watching. -C.

Alan Cockrell said...

Yes, the visuals showed a complete roll. I regretted not giving my phone to the PI and asking him to video it from his console in back. It's rare for anybody to roll the sim, especially at low altitude. Tex would have done it in the real thing.

Rick Steele said...

Alan, I always enjoy your stories. I retired from UAL 6 years ago and live in Den. I was often on reserve and so did a lot of PC fill ins. I used to consider it my payback to play at the end of the session. I liked to do rolls or land on the carrier in PHL or go under the Golden Gate Bridge depending on where we ended up.

Alan Cockrell said...

The carrier in the Philly Navy yard that you go over on final to PHL? Outstanding idea. If I get a PC fill-in I'm going to do that.

jsterner said...

Great post Captain, heckuva way to end your last PC.


Scott said...

Now that you've been checked out rolling that beast you'll need to practice it on your final flight which needs to be somewhere tropical and one way. I would buy a 1st class ticket to that ride.

Great post as always dad

Pete Templin said...

You could always pull the GPWS circuit breaker and avoid the noise...I think you know where it's located, and you should have captain's authority... ;)

On the topic of sim motion, I think the sim has a way of gently nulling out the motion in such a way that if you could see both the view inside and a view of the sim, you'd be horribly confused. In other words, the attitude on the windscreen doesn't match the attitude of the sim housing.