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B757Guy

Happy New Year, from the Flight Deck

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Happy New Year Amtrak Unlimited. Had some down time, and figured I'd share some experiences from flying over the Arctic.

Climb maintain FL240, for xxx 881 Heavy, came the blast from my headset, as we climbed through some light chop… Thanks to the craziness of Crew Scheduling, and a friend of mine begging to swap trips, so he could be home for his 20th anniversary, I had a rare flight that started in Chicago (ORD), rather than my normal crew base in Newark (EWR). My fiancé, who is also a pilot, but with a different airline is working on this holiday week, so off I go to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

Forgetting the craziness that is O’Hare, with it’s endless taxiways and jammed frequencies, I can finally relax a little. This afternoon, we are a 4 person crew, and the relief crew heads for the bunks, to catch some sleep, before they relive myself and my First Officer in about 3 hours. We will continue this routine of 3 hours on, 3 hours off until we arrive in Japan tomorrow, around 4:30PM, local time.

Flying to japan from the United States is always interesting. Most people think that a flight from the Midwest, or the east coast would head west, possibly passing over San Francisco or LA. But, and much to the dismay of the flat earthers, the shortest distance between two different points on a map is NOT a straight line, but actually an arc across the globe, called a great circle route.

The great circle route from Chicago to Tokyo, curves up into western Canada, and then cuts across Alaska, over Denali National Park. The route then hugs the Russian peninsula of Kamchatka, before we pass over northern Japan, and descend into Tokyo. The route is about 5500nm. However, todays flight also needs to take into account turbulence and the jet stream, and how to either take advantage of it, or avoid it. Today the stream is working to our disadvantage, as it typically does headed west. Therefore, rather than fly into it, and fight a 100+ knot headwind, we will fly north of it, and fly directly over the top of the world, flying what we call a polar route.

Leaving Chicago, and passing 18,000 feet, we take up a course directly north, with a heading of 360 degrees. In a few hours we will over fly Hudson Bay, and the very far northern territory of Nunavut in Canada. At this point, still having flown a 360 degree heading, will we start our turn northwestward, to the very high latitudes of the Artic Ocean. Our route will touch 79 degrees north, before we turn south over Russia.

Within about two hours of take-off, we enter an area where our magnetic compasses become unreliable, swinging wildly, so we use true north as our reference. Looking at our charts, I try and wrap my head around the fact our nearest diversion airport is either Barrow, Alaska, or an airport in Sweden who’s name I still can’t pronounce, both of which are 1,000 miles away to the south, despite being on opposite sides of the planet.

We are about 4 hours into our flight, still heavy with fuel, at FL340 (34,000 feet) zipping along at Mach .83 when a message comes in from our dispatch with our fuel freeze temperature. If the fuel we have on board is allowed to cool to the point it freezes, it would lead to a very bad day for all, so on polar flights, my airline actually takes a sample of the fuel on board, and cools it to determine it’s exact freezing temperature. This number is relayed to us via satellite, while in flight, and inserted into our flight management computer. If the fuels gets within a few degrees of this number, we get an alert. Our options, however, are a limited to warm the fuel. We can either fly faster, or fly lower, both of which can have implications for our carefully planned fuel calculations when we left Chicago.

Our flight today passes through 10 different large ATC sectors called FIRs, or flight information regions. Each of these FIRs has its own rules regarding communication and position reports. The 777 has five different communication systems on board. VHF, HF, something called Controller Pilot Data Link Communications, (CPDLC), along with Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C), both of which are data transmission networks. CPDLC is kinda cool, as it allows us to essentially text message with controllers. We also have SATCOM on board as well.

Each of the ATC sectors we fly into supports some, or all of these comm networks, and we must have at least two available at one time.

Coming down from the high latitudes, we make landfall off the Artic Ocean, over part of Siberia. The view from the flight deck is surreal, with nothing but white vastness, and rugged looking mountains below us. There is literally no sense of human civilization below us, as far as the eye can see. The view stays like this for hours.

Soon, we begin our descent into Tokyo. The sun has never really set on this almost 12 hour, 37 minute flight across the Artic. We have crossed 9 time zones, into tomorrow. Curiously, the sun dipped briefly below the horizon, only to rise again as we left the upper latitudes, east of the International Date Line.

Finally, the runway emerges out from the late afternoon gloom of a rainy day in Tokyo, as my First Officer smoothly lands our 777 onto the 11,000 foot long strip of asphalt in front of us, after almost 13 hours aloft, having flown to the very edges of our planet.

 

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Thanks, B757Guy, for one of the finest post's I've ever had the pleasure to read here on AU!  :cool::hi:

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B757Guy, great post!

As you know I was on UA 48 of the 30th, which got into BOM 31st evening. We aw the last Sunset of 2018 over Turkmenistan. I got to experience the Polaris Pod on the 77W for the first time on this flight and liked it a lot. Our first crew was led by Karen who you might know. All in all it was a nice smooth flight except for some choppiness over Canada when we were being pushed along by 130mph tail wind.

I'll PM you about my return flight and see if you are by chance doing UA49 that day

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Fantastic post. I feel like I've learned something about commercial flying from that. One of these days I would love to go on a polar route. I assume you can see the northern lights depending on the time of the year?

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1 hour ago, Seaboard92 said:

Fantastic post. I feel like I've learned something about commercial flying from that. One of these days I would love to go on a polar route. I assume you can see the northern lights depending on the time of the year?

 

Yep, you sure can. I've been fortunate to see them many times, and it never gets old!

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13 hours ago, B757Guy said:

We will continue this routine of 3 hours on, 3 hours off until we arrive in Japan tomorrow, around 4:30PM, local time. 

Do you find that you're able to rest properly or do you mainly just busy yourself with books, movies, music, etc.

 

13 hours ago, B757Guy said:

Most people think that a flight from the Midwest, or the east coast would head west, possibly passing over San Francisco or LA. But, and much to the dismay of the flat earthers, the shortest distance between two different points on a map is NOT a straight line, but actually an arc across the globe, called a great circle route.

I understand what you're saying but this may be worded in a slightly confusing manner.  On an actual globe the route is a straight line* while on a flat map it appears to be an arc.

Here are some visual examples for the uninitiated.

NaritaVariousGCM.gif.889bfbb2e8975218c0afc318d79527eb.gif

NaritaVariousPolarGCM.gif.51ce1e0ae3309b312f723e415a55e359.gif

 

13 hours ago, B757Guy said:

If the fuels gets within a few degrees of this number, we get an alert. Our options, however, are a limited to warm the fuel. We can either fly faster, or fly lower, both of which can have implications for our carefully planned fuel calculations when we left Chicago.

Speaking of fuel calculations what is your opinion on airlines filing partial route flight plans to unscheduled intermediate destinations followed by en route refiling with the originally scheduled destination?

 

13 hours ago, B757Guy said:

Flying to japan from the United States is always interesting.

I'd imagine it's a lot more fun up front where all the action is, but in the back of the plane it's like a 12+ hour bus ride over a vague bluish blur.

* Excepting factors like traffic corridors, inclement weather, prohibited airspace, runway orientation/maintenance, ETOPS , flyover fees, jet stream movement, etc.

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I would imagine, for the relief crew that rests on the first leg, it would be somewhat difficult to actually 'sleep' after just boarding....:unsure:

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1 hour ago, railiner said:

I would imagine, for the relief crew that rests on the first leg, it would be somewhat difficult to actually 'sleep' after just boarding....:unsure:

 

It is, and we often flip a coin to see who goes first. I try to be a good captain to the crew, but sometimes "fudge" it, so I catch a later break! However, for take-off and landing, it's all hands on deck, and all 4 of us are on the flight deck.

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1 hour ago, Devil's Advocate said:

Do you find that you're able to rest properly or do you mainly just busy yourself with books, movies, music, etc.

 

I understand what you're saying but this may be worded in a slightly confusing manner.  On an actual globe the route is a straight line* while on a flat map it appears to be an arc.

Here are some visual examples for the uninitiated.

NaritaVariousGCM.gif.889bfbb2e8975218c0afc318d79527eb.gif

NaritaVariousPolarGCM.gif.51ce1e0ae3309b312f723e415a55e359.gif

 

Speaking of fuel calculations what is your opinion on airlines filing partial route flight plans to unscheduled intermediate destinations followed by en route refiling with the originally scheduled destination?

 

I'd imagine it's a lot more fun up front where all the action is, but in the back of the plane it's like a 12+ hour bus ride over a vague bluish blur.

* Excepting factors like traffic corridors, inclement weather, prohibited airspace, runway orientation/maintenance, ETOPS , flyover fees, jet stream movement, etc.

 

We do tend to bring books and movies to watch, and our bunk area has IFE, too. It can be hard at times to rest, but you usually do at some point, which along with caffeine keeps us going.

 

As to the fuel question, I'm going to pass on an answer, as I don't fly short haul routes any longer, and can't speak fully to the practice. It is however costly for an airline to follow this policy, and obviously not ideal for passengers either. Personally, as a captain, I would decline the aircraft if our operations folks put one of my flights into a situation like that. 

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What varietal 777 did you have; 77-Q or W? What a difference between the two; nobody is four abreast and facing Aft in the latter. On the Q (sooner they are all reconfigured to W, the happier passengers paying 4x Coach will be), I try to have 6-A, as 6-B is not sold. One flight, I had an FO camping out for a while, but promise I respected his need for some winks.

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10 minutes ago, GBNorman said:

What varietal 777 did you have; 77-Q or W? What a difference between the two; nobody is four abreast and facing Aft in the latter. On the Q (sooner they are all reconfigured to W, the happier passengers paying 4x Coach will be), I try to have 6-A, as 6-B is not sold. One flight, I had an FO camping out for a while, but promise I respected his need for some winks.

Hi, this flight was the 777-300ER  (77W)

 

 

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Was there ever a 777-300ER in the United fleet with rear facing seats? I don’t think so. The only rear facing seats on 777s were those horrible Business Class lie flat seats in the ex-United 777-200s. You can’t convert those to Ws by merely changing seat configuration. Or am I misunderstanding something in what GBN is saying?

I believe all United 77Ws came equipped with the Polaris Business Class hard product.

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OK, now that we are no longer "bushing around the beat" regarding what airline is being addressed, the sooner United completes the conversion of the existing overseas fleet to the Polaris product, I'd think the happier any passenger willing to pay 4x more to be "on that side of the curtain" will be about the flight experience. Even if at first glance, the cabin looks like a "cube farm", having "myspace" clearly defined I would think would be a "blessing" to all except for "couples".

But to close on a sour point. Just when United is starting to repair their "tarnished" - even if mainly arising from an incident that occurred on another airline named Republic - United proposes to reduce Attendant staffing to FAA mandated levels rather than that needed to ensure a quality in flight experience for all passengers simply escapes me.

 

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Lol, this may sound funny, but I actually have very limited knowledge of the seats! I can tell you all matter of technical details on the airplane itself, but I actually have limited knowledge of the seat configurations for the cabins. The only thing we typically concern ourselves with is souls on board, and final weight, when it comes to the cabins. :)

Edited by B757Guy

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Well gotta say, I'm "not exactly invited" to have much knowledge of your "workspace".

Back in '57 when I was all of 15yo, I did get to be on the "Flight Deck" of a United DC-7 while in flight. Maybe that's why after all those years, United remains my "go to" airline.

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2 hours ago, GBNorman said:

Just when United is starting to repair their "tarnished" - even if mainly arising from an incident that occurred on another airline named Republic - United proposes to reduce Attendant staffing to FAA mandated levels rather than that needed to ensure a quality in flight experience for all passengers simply escapes me.  Back in '57 when I was all of 15yo, I did get to be on the "Flight Deck" of a United DC-7 while in flight. Maybe that's why after all those years, United remains my "go to" airline.

I had a similar experience as yours but with AA, and as a little boy they treated me like royalty, but that was ages ago and the people responsible that level of service haven't worked there in decades.  Blaming most of UA's troubles on their feeder subs ignores plenty of mainline mistakes and own-goal mismanagement.  The feeder incident was the last straw for a lot of people, myself included, but it was by no means their only major problem.  If anything I've actually had better service with SkyWest dba UA than when traveling on their mainline metal.

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I was invited to the cockpit of a UA 777 while waiting in the ballpark at JFK on a flight to HKG with engines shutoff, waiting for wheels up time for hitting the entry window into Russian airspace. This was even after 9/11. Spent about ten mins there chatting with the crew while standing behind them. It was interesting.

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Is the flight deck closed to visitor's in flight, a US reg?   The reason I ask is when I had the good fortune to travel aboard BA's Concorde, from LHR to JFK back in 1998, the captain invited everyone on board to take a turn 'visiting' while high over the Atlantic.   I would say about a third of the 100 passenger's accepted that invitation, the rest must have been privileged "regular's", who were too blase to take advantage of that incredible experience.  The highlight was seeing the amazing "panel gap" between the flight engineer's panel, and the wall, which did not exist when the aircraft was on the ground, all due to the high heat and expansion from the supersonic slipstream.:cool:

 

Another flight deck experience, was on UAL DC-8-61 from EWR to DEN, back in the late seventies...we were also delayed at the gate by weather and ATC, and the captain invited us up for a peek, and graciously answered 'tons' of question's, until it was time to pushback.:)

 

And my last flight deck experience was aboard an AE Shorts 360, where I actually got to sit in the jump seat from JFK to PVD.  The non-pressurized boxy fuselage featured a roomy lav that the passenger's on a 737MAX could only dream about using...:P
 

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Is the flight deck closed to visitor's in flight, a US reg?   The reason I ask is when I had the good fortune to travel aboard BA's Concorde, from LHR to JFK back in 1998, the captain invited everyone on board to take a turn 'visiting' while high over the Atlantic.   I would say about a third of the 100 passenger's accepted that invitation, the rest must have been privileged "regular's", who were too blase to take advantage of that incredible experience.  The highlight was seeing the amazing "panel gap" between the flight engineer's panel, and the wall, which did not exist when the aircraft was on the ground, all due to the high heat and expansion from the supersonic slipstream.:cool:
 
Another flight deck experience, was on UAL DC-8-61 from EWR to DEN, back in the late seventies...we were also delayed at the gate by weather and ATC, and the captain invited us up for a peek, and graciously answered 'tons' of question's, until it was time to pushback.
 
And my last flight deck experience was aboard an AE Shorts 360, where I actually got to sit in the jump seat from JFK to PVD.  The non-pressurized boxy fuselage featured a roomy lav that the passenger's on a 737MAX could only dream about using...
 


I also had the opportunity to visit the flight deck on a BA Concorde flight from Heathrow to Dulles. I was impressed by how small it was (felt like I was in a Mercury capsule) and the remarkable view from 70,000 feet. It was awesome and when we were almost abreast of Long Island, the pilot advised me that I would have to return to my seat as we would be landing at Dulles in fifteen minutes.

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11 hours ago, JRR said:

and when we were almost abreast of Long Island, the pilot advised me that I would have to return to my seat as we would be landing at Dulles in fifteen minutes.

 

I’m finding that hard to believe since flight over land had to be sub-sonic.  Perhaps he meant that he had to begin preparations for landing?  The Concorde had its flaws, but it’s sad to see such an iconic plane gone. I will also be sad when the final 747 leaves passenger service.   

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46 minutes ago, VTTrain said:

I’m finding that hard to believe since flight over land had to be sub-sonic.  Perhaps he meant that he had to begin preparations for landing?  The Concorde had its flaws, but it’s sad to see such an iconic plane gone. I will also be sad when the final 747 leaves passenger service.   

The Concorde flew subsonic at a higher speed - roughly mach .90, and also did not have the same sped restrictions below 10,000 feet that most other aircraft have, so it is possible, depending on where over Long Island they were, that they could cover that distance quickly, but probably not 15 minutes, given the various things needed to slow her down for landing config.

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On 1/5/2019 at 12:15 PM, railiner said:

Is the flight deck closed to visitor's in flight, a US reg?   The reason I ask is when I had the good fortune to travel aboard BA's Concorde, from LHR to JFK back in 1998, the captain invited everyone on board to take a turn 'visiting' while high over the Atlantic.   I would say about a third of the 100 passenger's accepted that invitation, the rest must have been privileged "regular's", who were too blase to take advantage of that incredible experience.  The highlight was seeing the amazing "panel gap" between the flight engineer's panel, and the wall, which did not exist when the aircraft was on the ground, all due to the high heat and expansion from the supersonic slipstream.:cool:

 

Another flight deck experience, was on UAL DC-8-61 from EWR to DEN, back in the late seventies...we were also delayed at the gate by weather and ATC, and the captain invited us up for a peek, and graciously answered 'tons' of question's, until it was time to pushback.:)

 

And my last flight deck experience was aboard an AE Shorts 360, where I actually got to sit in the jump seat from JFK to PVD.  The non-pressurized boxy fuselage featured a roomy lav that the passenger's on a 737MAX could only dream about using...:P
 

 

SHORTS 360!!! I have about 200 hours in one. Loved every minute of it!One of the neat things, both the CA and FO had their own door to the flight deck.

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57 minutes ago, B757Guy said:

The Concorde flew subsonic at a higher speed - roughly mach .90, and also did not have the same sped restrictions below 10,000 feet that most other aircraft have, so it is possible, depending on where over Long Island they were, 

Interesting.  I did not know about the Concorde's different speed restriction below 10,000 feet.  

That said, 15 minutes is still seems unlikely.  At 10,000 feet the speed of sound is roughly 735 miles per hour (making some assumptions about temperature, etc.).  This equates to 661.5 miles per hour at mach 0.9.  At that speed, the plane would cover 165 miles every 15 minutes.  Islip to Dulles is 264 miles.  Even JFK to IAD is 228 miles.  And of course it is impossible for the plane to travel at mach 0.9 straight into the runway.  It gets a little more complicated because the speed of sound increases by about 27 mph at sea level, but I highly doubt that they were traveling at mach 0.9 the entire time that they were below 10,000 feet.  

And of course I may have this all wrong since I am definitely out of my league here.

 

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On 1/5/2019 at 11:15 AM, railiner said:

Is the flight deck closed to visitor's in flight, a US reg?

Access to the flight deck is handled through a combination of overlapping rules and regulations involving both the airline and the regulatory authority.  There are different rules for various situations and stages of flight, but in most cases an unqualified passenger will not be allowed access on a scheduled commercial flight operated by a US airline and/or traveling to/from a US airport.  That being said, these restrictions can technically be overridden by the PIC.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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18 minutes ago, Devil's Advocate said:

Access to the flight deck is handled through a combination of overlapping rules and regulations involving both the airline and the regulatory authority.  There are different rules for various situations and stages of flight, but in most cases an unqualified passenger will not be allowed access on a scheduled commercial flight operated by a US airline and/or traveling to/from a US airport.  That being said, these restrictions can technically be overridden by the PIC.

No, they can not be overridden by a PIC. The rules are very explicit. Unless you are authorized, once any US based airliner pushes from the gate, any non-authorized individuals must not be on the flight deck.  Even a flight attendant is prohibited from sitting in the jump seat as a passenger. Having said that, on an aircraft with just two pilots, and no authorized jump seaters, the FA is required to stand behind the CA or FO while the other is using the bathroom. 

While at the gate, with the parking break engaged, we are happy to have a visitor pop in, provided our work load is light.

Edited by B757Guy

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