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.