A Pilot’s Perspective: Climb

Airplane_takeoff

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Scott Simko, a U.S. Commercial Airline pilot of over 15 years. His views and opinions are his and his alone and do not represent the airline of his employment or Hipmunk.

Our tires have just left the ground. We are airborne. We retract the landing gear and — barring no problems — hold a pretty steep deck angle until we are approximately 1,500 ft. off the ground. The flaps are retracted on an airspeed schedule and we accelerate to 250 kts. until we cross 10,000 ft., at which point we accelerate to our climb profile. (All of these numbers vary by aircraft and airline.)

Once we cross 10,000 ft., you’ll hear a chime indicating that we are out of sterile cockpit and flight attendants can go about their duties as long as we don’t expect turbulence.

“Sterile cockpit” is a time period during which crewmembers are only allowed to talk about crew-related duties. For pilots, it’s while the aircraft is taxiing on the ground until we are above 10,000 ft. (If we stop taxiing, we aren’t officially in sterile, but we don’t go crazy either).

I do my best to be impartial about airlines, but if you are curious and want to listen in, United Airlines offers what they call “Channel 9.” This switch lets the captain broadcast the ATC communications during flight to passengers. Though, it’s entirely at that captain’s discretion. Sometime during climb we engage the autopilot so that we can better focus our attention on navigating and monitoring ATC.

The image above is from Airplane.  I hope no one gets mad at me for using it.

A Pilot’s Perspective: Takeoff

Airplane_3

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Scott Simko, a U.S. Commercial Airline pilot of over 15 years. His views and opinions are his and his alone and do not represent the airline of his employment or Hipmunk.

Following up on my last post, we are getting ready for push back. Before the door is closed we (the pilots) decide who will be flying. There isn’t much of a procedure — it’s really often just a coin toss or just the preference of one pilot for an airport. If the weather forecast is bad (icing, snow, bad crosswinds, thunderstorms, etc.) we consider the experience levels of each pilot in that aircraft, which sometimes means the first officer flies.

After the flight attendants signal that everyone is in their seats and the cabin is secure, we start our push back checklists. Once completed, we coordinate with air traffic control (ATC) for clearance to push back.

This moment is extremely important, as it’s when we start getting paid. We are hourly workers — if you see a pilot he’s not being paid. Although it’s a joke, it’s fair to say that pilots, like most of you, we have felt the economic squeeze since 9/11 (politically, internally, and from outsourcing).

Once we’ve pushed back, the engines start (typically the first officer does this while the captain is speaking with the crew on the ground). After clearance from ATC, we taxi to a specific runway, often on one engine to save fuel. I’ve often felt like a whirling dervish because I had so many things to get accomplished before takeoff.

Most airlines (not all, but most) are still in the process of closing out the flight. Have you ever seen the customer service representative (CSR) frantically going through ticket stubs once the jetway door is closed? They’re doing that to pass along an accurate passenger count. Baggage handlers are doing the same thing, but with the number of bags and cargo. They send this information to load control, which relays data to the pilots, who use it to compare estimated takeoff weights with actual figures and thus obtain final flap, trim, and thrust settings. Without those numbers, we cannot take off.

Granted, not every airline operates this way — I’m sure you’ve been on a regional flight where people are asked to move to other seats. This is in fact to balance the aircraft, and it even happens with larger jets. What’s the difference? Regional airlines have their own procedures and computer systems, since they are subcontractors and 99% outsourced, it’s tough to accomplish before boarding completes.

Once we’re first in line for takeoff, we make sure everyone is seated, and start our flight.

This is one of the better videos available for showing what that looks like from the cockpit. We have a number of call-outs we go through during takeoff, in this order:

  1. “80 knots” - signifies the beginning of the high speed regime; if we experience a problem from this point forward it needs to be serious for us to stop the aircraft.  It’s a statistically rather unsafe maneuver at high speed, but sometimes necessary.
  2. “V1” - a takeoff decision speed. Here we decide if the aircraft is safe to fly.  If a problem occurs after this call-out, we are committed to take the aircraft airborne. 
  3.  “VR” - signals the flying pilot to pitch the aircraft up. 
  4.  “V2” - the speed at which the aircraft can safely fly on one engine.

Off we go!

The image above is from Airplane.  I hope no one gets mad at me for using it.

A Pilot’s Perspective: Pre-flight

Airplane_2

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Scott Simko, a U.S. Commercial Airline pilot of over 15 years. His views and opinions are his and his alone and do not represent the airline of his employment or Hipmunk.

Once the aircraft arrives, we kick it into another gear. Passengers deplane, cockpit and cabin crews swap, workers service the aircraft (cleaned, fueled, stocked with food/drinks) and new passengers board — all in 30 to 40 minutes.

Usually the first officer (co-pilot) heads down to do the walk-around, which is an exterior inspection of the aircraft to see if it’s airworthy. He’s looking to see if anything needs to be serviced (e.g., tire condition and pressure, hydraulic, oil or fuel leaks) or repaired while inspecting the general condition of all parts (windows, metal parts, etc.).

Once all the passengers deplane, the flight attendants (F/As) go through and do their pre-flight checks (they check all the emergency equipment for condition and currency) and we meet as a team if we haven’t done so yet. The captain sets the tone for the flight and briefs the F/As on any MELs (you remember from my earlier post) that might affect them, or weather conditions that might alter the service.

From there, the pilots jump into the cockpit to verify every switch is in the proper position, test every light works, and confirm everything has been serviced (oil, oxygen, hydraulics, fuel). We aren’t the sort to trust anything until we’ve checked it ourselves.

We make sure aircraft maintenance records are in proper order and that the fueler paperwork matches what we requested and what the gauges say. Next we verify our requested route with the clearance we receive from Air Traffic Control (ATC) and load it into the Flight Management Computers (FMCs). And just in case, we get out any maps we’ll need for the flight as a backup for our navigation computers.

At this point, the last passengers are boarding, the CSRs are double-checking we don’t need anything, and we are about to close all the doors.

In my next post, we’ll hopefully be getting airborne. If you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments.

The image above is from the movie Airplane I hope no one gets mad at me for using it.

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