Cockpit Chronicles – Practicing takeoff and landings in a 737 (with Video)

Update: Sorry, but we’ve been asked to pull this video from the site.

Ten years ago this month, I had the rare opportunity to take a 737 out for some flying in the Bay Area without passengers. I was finishing up my FO (copilot) training in the 737-800. Usually, this means a pilot would receive a checkride in the simulator and then find themselves out on the line with a check airman on a normal passenger trip.

However, since our company didn’t operate the 737 before, the first 50 crews to go through training were required by the FAA to fly the actual airplane, performing takeoffs and landings, what we call “bounces,” without passengers on board.

These excercises were actually touch and go landings – a maneuver that you’ll almost never see in an airliner, but a rather common practice among smaller airplanes.

We don’t normally allow filming during the sterile cockpit period (below 10,000 feet) but this training flight was a good opportunity to film from the jumpseat a tape that would later be used by check airman when reviewing the procedures for future ‘bounces.’

The instructor briefed us on the procedures we’d be using that night for our flight from San Jose to Sacramento. He emphasized that we would touch down in the first 3,000 feet as we normally do, but we wouldn’t use any reverse thrust or braking. If reverse thrust was used at any point, the touch and go would revert to a ‘full stop’ landing.

In fact, after every landing you’ll hear the instructor call out “Stand ’em up” and then a few moments later, “Push ’em up.” This was a command to advance the thrust levers, which he would give after retracting the flaps from the landing setting to the takeoff setting. We would move these levers to a vertical position until we could be sure the engines spooled up evenly and then ‘push them up’ to the normal takeoff position.

He had us draw a 3-mile circle around the Sacramento airport so we could safely get as many landings in as we could in the hour provided. There was almost no other traffic in the area, so we were free to keep the pattern close to the airport which resulted in ten landings during that hour.

So come along for this 1999 training flight, one of the few chances I’ll ever get to show you what goes on during takeoff and landing. And for us, it was certainly one of the only chances we’ll get to borrow a 737 for a hop around the patch.

It was a bit of a flashback for me. To improve my chances of getting hired at a large airline, I had picked up a 737 type rating in 1992 shortly before landing my current job. The checkride was completed in a Continental 737-200 that rented for $60 a minute back then. Needless to say, I worked hard to make sure it didn’t last more than an hour at the time. So this time it was nice to have someone else footing the bill.

The captain and I finished up our ‘bounces’ in the newer 737, and proceeded back to San Jose, California, just a few minutes from Sacramento. We had been blessed to start flying passengers when the plane came to Boston a few days later.

I thoroughly enjoyed the training in that newer and higher-tech 737, a plane I referred to as “not your father’s 737” – a take off from the Oldsmobile advertisements and an inside joke for me, since my dad flew the 737-200 for many years.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do this again someday. Maybe with the arrival of the Boeing 787 in a few years.
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.

American Airlines updates fleets with new Boeing 737s

With the oldest fleet in the American workforce, it was about time that American Airlines got aggressive with updating their aircraft. This year they’re starting the revamp with delivery of new Boeing 737-800s.

While the 737-800 airframe has been around for ten years now, American is making sure to include all of the modcons to keep passengers happy. Among those tidbits will be new, numerous overhead screens that pump better, streamlined videos, in-seat power in coach and Aircell augmentation — meaning wireless internet will eventually be available on all new aircraft.

These new deliveries will be a fresh breath of air compared against the current, ancient fleet that American flies today. While it’s an impressive accomplishment to keep such an outdated fleet operational, at some point, a new generation of aircraft needs to take hold.

Deliveries of the 737-800 aircraft started this month and will continue throughout the next couple of years. Keep an eye out for the new aircraft, interiors and service. You’ll be impressed.

Photo of the Day (10.16.08)

Let’s face it. Ireland has a lot of grass. But who knew the entire Shannon runway was grass?

RuthannOC captured this head-on shot of a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 at Ireland’s second largest airport. Her timing gives a unique look at the thick vertical stabilizer and the landing lights that were just turned on prior to taking off. (Wouldn’t that make them ‘takeoff lights’?)

Oh, and of course I was just kidding about the grass runway. But it sure would make for smooth landings, wouldn’t it?

Are you a Flickr user who’d like to share a travel related picture or two for our consideration? Submit it to Gadling’s Flickr group right now! We just might use it for our Photo of the Day!

Plane Answers: More takeoff and landing fears

A number of questions came in this week relating to takeoffs and landings, and a few issues that passengers worry about. So, we’ll continue on last week’s Takeoff and Landing theme.

Eric asks this timely question:

I would like to know what purpose the wing flaps play in take off and in landing?

With the recent Spanair accident in Madrid, some reporters focused on whether or not the MD-80’s flaps and slats were extended for takeoff.

These devices, moveable panels on the back and front of the wings respectively, are used only for takeoff and landing.

A jet’s wing is designed to be at it’s most efficient while at altitude and at it’s design cruise speed. This same wing isn’t capable of flying slow enough to takeoff or land on a conventional runway.

So flaps were designed for most airplanes to increase the lift a wing can carry at these slower speeds. When the flaps are extended, the wing is essentially converted from a high-speed wing to a slow-speed wing, depending on the flap setting used.

Flaps are gradually extended based on the speed of the airplane, with the first set of flaps on an airliner usually extended when the airplane is slower than 250 knots.

For takeoff, the optimum flap setting is based mostly on the runway length. Using just the right flap setting improves efficiency and performance once the airplane is in the air. Airlines have a system for calculating that flap setting either manually in the cockpit, or through a computer print out sent via ACARS.

On the MD-80, the leading edge slats are extended and the trailing edge flaps are ‘dialed in’ to the required setting.

Taking off without any flaps extended isn’t possible for most airliners without an exceedingly long runway, maximum power set and some very careful handling by the pilot. This is why there are multiple checks prior to take off to ensure the flaps are properly set.

There’s also a loud warning horn that sounds if the throttles are advanced with the flaps not in the proper configuration for take off. Checklists, however, will likely prevent the need for the horn.

The last accident where flaps weren’t set for takeoff was a Northwest flight 255 departing from Detroit in 1987, and this might be why there has been some initial focus on the flaps as a possible cause behind last week’s Spanair crash.

It’ll be interesting to hear what happened to the Spanair flight, so we can learn from the accident. The media is rarely held accountable for the mistakes made when speculating as to a reason for an accident.

I wouldn’t hesitate to fly on an MD-80. In fact, it’s listed as the second safest airplane flying.

Dave brings up a takeoff related question:

I’m curious, if you have a severe engine problem after liftoff that you can’t recover from or go around, what is the procedure for finding a place to put down. I understand if there is a nice plowed field ahead that’s great, but what if you are in a congested area?

All airliners are required to demonstrate that they can safely operate after an engine failure at liftoff.

I suppose it’s conceivable that a dual-engine failure could happen (on a twin-engine aircraft), so in that case, the only possibility would be to land straight ahead, doing everything you can to avoid any congested areas.

Finally, Sandra asks a three-part question:

I am what I describe as a nervous flyer… I am curious to know why does the prep for landing alway feels so, well ominous?

Lights dimmed, and unless this is just my imagination…there is just something so dooming…

Some airlines require the lights to be dimmed to improve a flight attendant’s ability to see outside when on the ground. Part of their job is to assess the situation on the ground if an engine fire or other such problem were to occur and an evacuation became necessary.

Interestingly, not all airlines have that procedure.

Also, the last time I flew southwest, on final approach, the wings seemed to be dipping from left to right, right to left.

And then I flew the same airline again, and that landing was so smooth–I actually had to look out of the window to see that we were on the ground.

Ahh, yes. You’ve noticed the differences in pilot technique. Some pilots do get into what we call ‘pilot-induced oscillations,’ which are a bit annoying. You’ve had experiences with a bus driver or cab driver who wasn’t very smooth before, I’m sure. Well, you’ve just found the pilot equivalent of that driver.

What amount is attributable to the skill of the pilot, and how good a pilot is, with respect to landings??

Landings are a bit like golf. (Although I don’t play, I just had to take a swing at that analogy-no pun)

You can really feel like you have the landings perfected in a particular airplane, and then, sure enough, you can’t get a good one for weeks at a time. It’s kind of rare though to have an earth shatteringly hard landing after you’ve been flying a particular airplane for more than 6 months.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Friday’s Plane Answers feature.

Boeing 737 Stuck on Busy Mumbai Road

Just when you thought Mumbai couldn’t get any more hectic, someone comes along and leaves a Boeing 737 sitting in the middle of a busy road. BBC reports, “The decommissioned aircraft was being driven through the city at the weekend when the driver got lost and then abandoned the plane.”

Is this for real? Seriously, how can you put one person in charge of transporting a 737? Never mind the fact that he didn’t know his way around the city very well. It’s no wonder Road Junky listed Bombay as one of the 10 worst cities to visit (even though I completely disagree, Bombay is great — even with the lost plane). Bizarre, but true.

[Via WorldHum]