Continuing the series ‘A view from’ my good friend Dave who piloted Boeing 747’s resumes his three-part part story, ‘A view from the flight deck’, fascinating insights and an incident or two. The average person works 1645 hours a year. Dave’s time on Jumbo Jets equated to 3.95 working years.
Preparing for flight comes in two stages as for any aircraft type – the planning stage in the office where all aspects are considered – weather, passengers, cargo, aircraft technical status, fuel requirements, etc. Once these have been decided each crew member has designated tasks and, once at the aircraft, one person will inspect the aircraft externally, which can take over 20 minutes, and liaise with the engineers, refueller and ground crew. The other crew will carry out the flight deck preparation brief the cabin crew.
The actual flight deck prep takes two people about 30 mins on the older jumbos but only requires one of the pilots on the -400 … much quicker as many of the systems are automated and just required setting up rather than going round testing each one. The remaining time is then devoted to setting up the navigation computers for the proposed flight, dealing with air traffic control and then figuring out how to get out to the runway. Getting around some airports is sometimes much more difficult than actually flying there in the first place, particularly in the USA. Making a wrong turn in a jumbo can be quite embarrassing. Once these basics have been accomplished it’s then time to brief each other and agree a plan.
All that takes about an hour.
View from the cockpit…. Same as any other airplane except that there was a lot more time to take it in and to realize there is a lot of this planet with apparently not much going on.
We used to refer to certain desolate areas as the ‘GAFA’s…
1. The ‘Great Arctic Fuck All’ for the frozen wastes of northern Canada
2. The ‘Great Australian Fuck All’ for a large part of the Aussi mainland….
around four hours of not much at all changing…...and Siberia, en route to Japan, was another case entirely…. eight hours of even less. Always felt sorry for the poor Russian controllers shivering away on the ground below.
A lot of long-haul flights occur at night, so the view was mostly darkness and not much to look out for apart from other aircraft. Particularly so over Africa where there was no effective air traffic control from Algeria to Zimbabwe. We spoke to each other on a special frequency and offset our individual navigation systems to avoid any close encounters.
INCIDENT REPORT I
Shortly after settling down into cruise on a full flight from Jamaica to Gatwick, and the purser came in and told me a passenger was having a fit. Two minutes later his heart had stopped and two nurses were giving him CPR. He then died.
We had no choice but to divert to nearest suitable airport which was in Puerto Rico. Dumped 45 tonnes of fuel into the Caribbean sky and landed in San Juan with 400 people in the middle of the night and no US visas.
The coroner was called to certify the dead man dead* but he was drunk and crashed on the way to the airport. He eventually arrived and we deplaned the young man. (He was a 24 year-old drugs ‘mule’ and the little bags of cocaine had burst in his stomach).
However, having spent four hours on the ground and refuelled, the crew had now run out of duty hours available and we couldn’t get back to UK legally so the only option was to return to Montego Bay. Another 45 tonnes of fuel dumped over the Caribbean.
On disembarking a few of the passengers thanked us for a lovely flight hoped to see us again soon (that day).
INCIDENT REPORT II
On a flight from Heathrow to Beijing we had an escorted Chinese passenger being returned under extradition and handcuffed to two Border Agents but, being a half empty flight, a whole cabin section had been closed off for them. Flying up over the Baltic Sea a young woman had worked out what was happening and decided to free the convict and attacked the border agents.
The cabin crew pulled her off but the captain (a good friend) decided we didn’t need another eight hours of disruption and so we dumped a load of fuel and landed in Helsinki. Two Finnish special forces guys boarded the aircraft at the rear door and I escorted them up to meet the ‘problem’ at which point she turned round and kicked one of them in the veg department. Her feet didn’t touch the floor again but most of the rest of her body did on the way to a black van. She had to make her own way back to UK and her family were charged £25000 for the refueling.