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.

Plane Answers: Cockpit jumpseat etiquette and inefficient arrivals

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

David asks:

Hi Kent,

While riding in the jump seat do you ever double check what the PIC and SIC are doing? Have you ever seen something that you would have done differently and pointed it out? I know the cockpit is supposed to be sterile below 10,000 ft but have you ever said something or pointed out a checklist item that might have been overlooked?

When we have jumpseaters we almost always mention to them that if they see anything out of the ordinary, speak up. You’d be surprised at the things you can see sitting further away from the instrument panel. An extra set of eyes are always welcome.

Most of these items aren’t safety related, so I’ll usually stay quiet unless something could pose a problem later. But I wouldn’t hesitate to say something even below 10,000 feet (the sterile period) and I’d hope another jumpseater would feel the same way when sitting behind me.

Anthony asks:

Hi Kent,

I enjoy your blog and try to visit regularly. I have a question about standard arrival procedures (STARs?). They seem to add quite a bit of time to the flight as you go all over the place before finally lining up and landing. I have been told that in the early days of jets, pilots would simply throttle back the engines and descend at a fairly high rate with the engines at idle giving a faster trip.

Given that you often hear of a departure being delayed because of flow control (it even happens on trans-continental flights here in Australia), why can’t the flow control be more precisely devised for quicker arrivals like the old days?

Is this what is being planned with the trials by Air New Zealand, Qantas and United flying from the South Pacific into California?
Hi Anthony,

We often wonder about the reasons for the extended vectors around populated areas at major airports.

They tell us that in order to sequence a number of flights into an airport with multiple runways, it’s becoming necessary to have ‘corner posts’ or other waypoints around the airport that allow for the proper alignment and spacing at an airport.

We still fly to many airports with very little traffic. When flying into Shannon, Ireland or some of the Caribbean airports, we’re often able to descend at the most efficient angle (which, like you described, is done with an idle descent at the latest possible point) resulting in significant fuel savings.

Flying into the New York airports or any other high density terminal areas usually requires an airplane to descend earlier while being ‘vectored’ by ATC to get around departing aircraft from other airports. Prior to that, aircraft are sequenced well in advance to avoid a saturation of arrivals at the same moment.

I’d love to understand more about it, but as pilots, we don’t always have the big picture as it relates to multiple airports with multiple departures and arrivals.

In the U.S. there’s a lot of talk about an ATC program called “NextGen” which promises to allow for more efficient flight plans. Let’s hope so.

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 Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.

Galley Gossip: Laviators unite! (mile high headshots)

Recently I wrote a post, the hottest trend on the airplane since the mile high club, about something disturbing, yet quite intriguing, that was taking place not just on the airplane, but behind the locked lavatory door at 35,000 feet. Passengers, and I’m talking all kinds of passengers, have been photographing themselves in the bathroom. Alone. Doing what, I don’t know. But they look like they’re just standing there. And I wanted to do it, too.

I had written, “Oh you better believe I’ll be taking my own self portrait in the lav on my next flight to New York on Wednesday. Until then, check out these interesting shots.” And then I added a photo gallery I’d put together of passengers I’d found on standing in the lav, camera in hand.

One Gadling reader responded, “Heather, if you do photograph yourself in the lav, please spare us the picture! I think people will lose any respect they have for you.”

Sounds to me like someone needs to lighten up, and they can start by grabbing their camera and joining the club – the laviators club. I did! Yep, that’s me up there in the photo looking not so hot on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. Hey, it was late and I was tired. But I just had to do it. Even though my seat mate did look at me a little funny after he caught me trying to sneak my camera into the front pocket of my pants.

The first thing I did when I got home was download the photo, that photo right up there, onto my personal blog. I had a good laugh and I honestly thought that would be that, end of story. But a few days later I got an email with a photo attached from a Gadling reader. “This one’s for you,” Nate wrote, and that’s all he wrote, and it cracked me up!


The very next day I got another one! Jeff wrote, “I made you a picture.” I clicked the link and thought to myself, Oh. My. God. What have I started?

Next to join the club was one of my favorite flight attendants, Sodwee, also known as Airboy. He works for Emirates. He wrote, “Heather, I was thinking of you from CDG to DBX.”

Airboy wasn’t the only one thinking about me in the lav. Leesa wrote, “My daughter and I flew to LA last week and thought you might want some lav pictures for your collection.”

Well Leesa and her daughter were right! Not only do I have an interesting collection of mile high headshots from readers like you, I want more, more, MORE! So next time you’re on a flight don’t forget to take your camera and make sure to think of me – in the lav. Please, I beg you, join the club – the laviators club. And I’ll add your photo to the gallery above. Hmm…I wonder if Karen Walrond, our own resident photogapher, can give us a few tips?


Life Nomadic: Tynan’s Top Ten Cruise Tips

Ahoy! Here’s a quick followup on my last post about cruising, posted from Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas. I’ve been on a bunch of cruises now, and have come up with a few tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your cruise.

1. If you’re really into safety, go to the “mandatory” lifeboat safety drill. If you’ve been to one before or think that you can handle following the green arrows and putting on your life vest, stay inside your cabin. They don’t actually check names or your cabin to make sure you go.

2. Never go on official shore excursions. If you just walk off the ship you’ll find lines of touts waiting to give you the same thing for half the price, usually with more flexibility if you want something slightly different. Walk past the touts and you’ll usually find stores offering the same tours for 25-30% of the cruise line quoted price.

3. When choosing your cabin, choose one near the stairwells and elevators. You’ll be making that walk many times every day.

4. At dinner you can order as many things off the menu as you want, not just one appetizer, salad, and entree. My record is 31 plates divided between a friend and I.5. You can also have meals customized based on your dietary needs. Contacting the cruise line in advance will get more promises than actual actions, but if you talk to the Maitre’D the first night, he’ll make sure you get what you want.

6. Don’t eat your meals at the buffets or informal dining rooms. The food quality in the main dining rooms is ten times better. If you’re hungry before or after your assigned dinner time, go to the other seating and eat two dinners.

7. Insist on carrying your own bags up to your room when you check in. If you give them to the porters you’ll end up waiting in your cabin for a few hours for your stuff, and you’ll have to tip them. It’s a short walk to carry them yourself and you’ll be able to explore the ship as soon as you get in.

8. On long cruises, don’t buy an internet package until the first sea day. The daily newspaper will usually have a 50% off sale, and you can use the minutes you buy for the rest of the cruise.

9. Make friends early. A good way to do this is to enter contests or sing karaoke on the first day there. People will recognize you and start conversations. If you have a choice of what size table to sit at, pick the biggest one possible.

10. You will be assigned a checkout time for the last day of the cruise. The cheaper your cabin, generally, the earlier it will be. Do like I do and ignore the time. Pack up the night before and sleep in until the maid comes knocking to clean your room for the next group. I’ve been the last person off the ship every single time.

Bonus tip: Make friends with the staff. They’re from all different countries and have all sorts of stories. They also know the ins and outs of each port and might even invite you to the staff parties, which are a lot crazier than the passenger parties.

Life Nomadic: Luxury Cruise Ships at Hostel Prices

When I was a kid, my breakfast cereal of choice was Kellog’s Corn Flakes. The back of the box, which I relied on for breakfast-time entertainmant, sometimes had contests to win cruises on Carnival Cruise lines. I guess advertising works, because since then I had always wanted to go on a cruise.

I had no idea how much cruises cost. I never saw prices advertised, so I assumed that they were like first class air travel – too expensive to actually consider.

As I found out many years later, cruises aren’t expensive at all. In fact, if you know what you’re doing, you can stay and eat on a luxury cruise ship for less than a hostel.The one notable downside to cruise travel is that you only visit each place for one or two days at most. On the other hand, you don’t have to worry about meals, you don’t have to pack and unpack between spots, and the ship is a destination itself.

Before I became a nomad I focused on round trip cruises. Leave out of Houston, cruise around the Caribbean and Central America for a week, and end up back in Houston. Now I use cruises as transportation whenever possible, seeking out one way tickets. That means that the price of the cruise is counting against the plane ticket, meals, and lodging I would have paid otherwise.

The gold standard for a good deal in cruising is fifty dollars a day, including taxes and port charges. Except for a transatlantic on the Queen Mary II, I’ve never paid more than that. You will also have to tip $10 per day total to the waiters, maids, and cabin stewards.

The first place I look for cruise deals is the Cruise Sales on Travelzoo, particularly the exotic cruise section. Exotic is a euphemism for cruises with strange, long, and usually one way routes. This is exactly what I want, but such strange itineraries usualy don’t fit into the standard weeklong vacations that most people go on, so they get seriously discounted.

The next step, once you find the cruise you want, is to go over to Cruise Compete and put in a request. Cruise Compete is an amazing site where cruise agents fight for your business by offering private quotes. These quotes are always cheaper than you’ll find anywhere else, often times by half.

For example, I put in a request today for a 23 day cruise from China through Japan and Alaska to Vancouver. The advertised price on Travelzoo was $1149, but I got a quote for $647. That’s $28 per day, including all fees, for a room, all meals, and entertainment. This particular cruise also happens to be on Princess, which is one of the best cruise lines.

Some of the very best deals can be had during repositioning cruises. Cruise ships tend to migrate, usually across the Atlantic, every fall and spring, and offer very low prices to passengers who want to go on a long cruise with a lot of days at sea. In fact, I’m on a fourteen day from the Dominican Republic to London as you read this.

If you can get past the slightly overdone tackiness on most cruise ships, you’ll really enjoy your time on them. For the partying types there are clubs and bars all over the place, as well as half a dozen pools and hot tubs. Many newer ships have attractions like miniature golf, rock climbing, and even ice skating rinks. I like these things, but my favorite part of being on a ship is getting away from the distractions of cell phones and constant internet access, and finding some peace and quiet to get work done or stare out at the sea and do some thinking.

My next post will be ten tips on getting the most out of your cruise, so start looking for the right one now!