Cockpit Chronicles: An eye-opening walkaround inspection

I’ve never been a morning person, so it was with some reluctance that I traded away an afternoon departure to fly an early morning three-day trip with St. Thomas and Santo Domingo layovers.

The flight departed at 6:40 a.m., which meant an arrival at the airport no later than 5:40 a.m. No matter how hard I try, it’s nearly impossible to get to sleep earlier than my normal 11 p.m. bedtime. Switching from morning to afternoon or evening departures can wear you out. Of course, attending the Macworld conference in San Francisco for three days prior to this trip didn’t help at all.

Fortunately the captain was one of my favorites, Keith the Canadian. He’s a sharp guy who’s always up on the latest airline news and rumors.

The trip is one that’s becoming familiar to us at the base. The first leg is typically to Miami and then we continue on to some destination in the Caribbean for the layover. The next day we pass through Florida again on the way to another warm spot. Finally day three takes us back to Miami and then home to Boston.

We have some four-day trips with this theme as well, which I prefer, only because they depart in the afternoon.

When Keith and I arrived in Miami, we had two hours until our flight to St. Thomas. Just enough time to pick up some lunch. Our flight attendants would be coming from some other flight this time, which is common. Nowadays, we don’t normally work with the same flight attendants for more than two flights in a row.

I put my bags in the cockpit of the next airplane and grabbed my keys and a flashlight to do the walk-around inspection. I looked at the tires and pressures, as well as the general condition of the airplane, trying to catch anything out of place, such as open panels, fuel or hydraulic leaks, or dents and scratches.

Finding something during a walk-around is rather rare. In fact, I can only think of a handful of flights with any issues–typically just a flat tire or open panel. Today however, something caught my eye.
After I finished looking over the left engine, I worked toward the fuselage and noticed a significant scratch on the left side of the airplane. These kind of issues are usually marked with a gray sticker, in the shape of a dot, noting the date and location of the initial discovery which tells us that maintenance found the damage to be within allowable limits and it’s been noted in the logbook.

This time there was no dot, meaning that the damage was either very recent, or the sticker simply came off. Either way, we needed a mechanic to inspect the gouge.

The damage was in a fiberglass fairing ahead of the wing, a part that was of more importance aerodynamically than structurally. But if it were to crack or split, it could still require a costly fix.

I called maintenance and they reviewed the logbook to see if this issue had been previously written up. There wasn’t anything in the aircraft’s history, so they went out to measure it and see what their manuals allowed.

Unfortunately, by the time maintenance had inspected the damage our passengers were already on board. Any delays now would mean more time in their seats, something we like to avoid.

A mechanic took pictures of the groove and maintenance supervisors were determining if it could be temporarily repaired.

Because the scratch was longer than six inches, special approval had to be received and after an hour-and-a-half maintenance was able to fix the problem. Using a roll of ‘speed tape‘, the mark was repaired. This tape is made of aluminum and sells for $35 a roll, I was told.

I took a good look at it after we arrived in St. Thomas and it was still in place.

At this point, it had been an exhausting day that stretched into twelve hours on duty. We were more than ready for the 30 minute van ride to the hotel. If I could just stay awake for a few more hours while we had dinner, I knew I could sleep for ten hours straight through, which was something I really needed to do.

Keith and I met up at a restaurant next to a deserted pool and beach. I ordered a veggie-burger and while it was cooking, I went out to take a few pictures to send back to some friends. Since it was snowing pretty hard in Boston, I thought I’d take the time to remind a few of them what a sandy beach looked like.

Since antagonizing my friends was my only motivation to walk out to the beach, I immediately left after I took a few moonlit photos.

While it sounds great to have a moment away from the long winter, even for just a few hours, the truth is, I’d have preferred to be at home sledding with my daughters.

Keith and I watched half of an NFL playoff game while eating our dinner before heading to bed. I managed to sleep ten hours straight.

The next morning I walked out to the St. Thomas ramp while the captain picked up the paperwork. It was looking like it could rain in a few moments, so I ran my bags up to the cockpit before beginning the walk-around. While inside, the rain hit the airport and drenched the front entrance of the cabin.

I knew it wouldn’t last long, so I grabbed my camera and waited inside for the sun to pass. I was hoping to get a picture with the wet ramp reflecting the airplane above it. Much to my surprise, the scene would be far better than just that.

Unfortunately, I left the camera in a manual setting from a picture I had taken the day before. So the colors and saturation could have been better. I was too busy trying to get the right angle before the rainbow disappeared that I didn’t notice the mistake.

The rest of the trip went smoothly after our encounter with the rainbow. Since then, I’ve flown a few ‘turns’ down to the island and back, always looking for another quick shower to pass so I can get the shot right this time. I may have to wait a long time for that chance, I think.

Finally, I’d like to apologize for the time between these Cockpit Chronicle posts. I’ve recently picked up a new camera and so I’m looking forward to sharing some more pictures with you in the future. Stay tuned.

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.