Cockpit Chronicles: Catching a little show in Paris

To refine a popular saying, “The worst day at an air show beats the best day at work.” But what if you’re doing both?

That’s exactly what happened when Grant Martin, the editor of Gadling, told me that he’d be attending the Paris Air Show and wondered if there was any chance I’d be flying from Boston to Paris that week.

As luck would have it, I was scheduled to be the relief pilot (FB) on his flight. Grant immediately picked up two passes from the Paris Air Show administrators so I could attend the event during the middle of the week, a time normally reserved for the press and industry executives.

I showed up at the gate an hour before the flight and met up with Grant. Realizing he’d have no chance to plead with the agent for an upgrade (see Grant Martin’s post on The top 5 myths about getting upgraded) I was at least able to board him early and give him a full tour of the front-end of the airplane.

Grant saw what was involved in the interior preflight as I typed in our co-ordinates for the navigation system and programmed the flight management computer. We checked the overhead panel and set the pressurization, verified the fuel and adjusted the airspeed ‘bugs’ (markers that tell us when we can take off and retract the flaps).

The captain came aboard and suggested we had plenty of time to get a picture of Grant hanging his head out the window of the 767. The co-pilot, Sean, immediately volunteered to snap the shot from the terminal, and Grant and I stood out the window for a silly pose.

It was good enough to make it as last Thursday’s “Photo of the Day” here at Gadling. Coincidently that is the day of the week that I choose the photos.

Grant stepped back to his seat in row 28 while we double-checked the route and finished up the before starting engines checklist.

The flight across the ‘pond’ was almost entirely smooth, a rare occurrence as there’s usually a portion of the flight that requires the seatbelt sign to be flipped on.

The captain gave me part of his break so I could try to get as much sleep as possible. I invited Grant to sit in the open seat next to me in business class. I thought he could use the sleep as well, since we’d be skipping the requisite nap in Paris and heading directly to Le Bourget for the air show.

Grant went back to his seat in the back after my nearly 3-hour break and we vowed to stay awake the next day long enough to report on what’s new in commercial aviation for Gadling.

Sean was nice enough to give up his leg to me so I could do my best to impress my Gadling ‘boss’ with what would have to be a perfect landing in Paris. Giving up a leg to the relief pilot was a very nice gesture on his part.

Once I had a chance to look over the approach into Paris, I clicked off the autopilot to savor rest of the flight. Since we were landing to the east, the activities going on at Le Bourget were visible out the right side of the airplane as we lined up on the final.

I couldn’t help think how cool it would to be fly yourself directly to the show – perhaps in a 787, while we’re dreaming. For now, landing a couple of miles away at Charles de Gaulle in a 767 would have to do.

The captain, Mark, went above and beyond by carrying my bags to the hotel so Grant and I could leave straight from the airport for the show via train.

The normal bus ride to the hotel is two hours, and crews occasionally have to wait in the lobby for another 2 hours to get a room – time that, for us, would be better spent staring bleary-eyed at military and commercial airplanes flying overhead by going straight to the show.

But for Grant and I, just two hours after landing we were walking around the show floor in awe of the size and scope of the booths.

Just about every third party spring, hydraulic actuator or fastener for the newest Boeing and Airbus jets are on display, not to mention the many air-to-air missiles and fighter jets being promoted.

Attending the Paris Air Show during the middle of the week is rather subdued, though. Everyone is dressed in a suit, there were few smiles and the mood is a bit somber. Perhaps everyone was just as tired as we were. Most reports suggested it was the economy, but since I haven’t been before, I can’t really make a comparison to previous shows.

I did run into Les Abend, a columnist for Flying magazine. “It’s not Oshkosh,” he said. I knew just what he meant. It was an observation that hit me as well. Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is packed with people who consider aviation less a business than a passion.

But we were here to report on what’s coming for travelers for Gadling.

Grant and I managed to find out a few details of the high-tech passenger and cockpit windows that PPG has developed for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. We saw the new Sukhoi Superjet 100 fly in its first public display and we were impressed with the Tiger helicopter performing a full aerobatic routine as well as the A380 flying demonstration:

Check out all of our bleary-eyed coverage if you haven’t already.

After a full day at the show, we had dinner at a crêperie in the Latin Quarter, at a restaurant I can rarely talk other crew members into. After we spent 26 euros on a cafeteria lunch at the air show, we both welcomed the cheap ham, egg and cheese crepe.

Four days later, I came back for a second look at the show, this time on a Sunday. The mood is far different, with aviation enthusiasts, families and even baby-strollers making the rounds. The flying display had changed as well, with the vintage Lockheed Constellation, Boeing B-17 and even a Bleriot taking flight.

In hindsight, the Friday through Sunday show is well worth the effort to see, especially if the weather holds out as well as it did this year. By the time I get the chance to do this again, I just wonder: could it ever be in a 787?

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out Plane Answers.