Cockpit Chronicles: Eight ways to slow a jet

One of my first posts on Cockpit Chronicles was an explanation on how to park a 757. At the risk of catering only to people who have recently acquired their own Boeing jets, I’d like to continue with another lesson.

The eight ways to slow a jet

When you’re driving your 5-speed manual transmission car and you exit an offramp, besides just taking your foot off the gas pedal, there are a couple of different ways that you can slow down. Most people probably put on the brakes, but you could also downshift as well.

In an airliner, there are four different ways inflight and four methods on the ground to slow a jet, and often these techniques can be used in conjunction.

Unlike turboprop airplanes, jets are rather difficult to slow down and require a bit of planning in advance to avoid burning too much fuel or ending up too high at the airport for landing.

So let’s start with our Boeing that’s at 33,000 feet. Pilots will use a rough “3 to 1” guide when deciding when they’ll need to start down, adjusting for wind as needed.

To do that, take the 33,000 feet, drop the zeros and multiply it by three. 33 X 3 = 99 miles.

So, for a descent at idle thrust, the pilots will need to start down within 99 miles of the airport. Any later and they’ll be too high and need to add drag to get down, and any sooner and they may need to add power and level off for a while. Either way, more fuel is burned.

A side note: If the engines were to fail, our airplane would likely be able to make it to the runway if it were within that 99 mile point. It’s just going to take some perfect planning on the part of the pilots, as was the case with the Air Transat and Air Canada flights.

Since an airplane burns far less fuel at altitude, it’s best to stay up high until the airplane can descend, ideally at idle thrust, all the way to the final approach segment. That’s our goal, subject to air traffic control requiring something different.

It’s not uncommon, especially in the U.S., for air traffic controllers to leave you at altitude past your normal beginning of descent point. In this case, it’s going to take more than idle thrust to descend quickly enough.Speed Brakes

In this situation, we can use speed brakes, which are the panels on top of the wing that move up equally on both wings to increase the drag on an airplane and reduce the lift.

So they’re the best method to initially increase the rate of descent and/or slow the airplane.

Since there are usually no airspeed limitations when using speed brakes, they can be deployed anytime they’re needed.

Speedbrakes partially deployed on a 757

Flaps

The next method to slow an airplane involves using the flaps. These devices are panels that extend from the leading and trailing edges of the jet to change the shape of the wing to provide more lift. This allows a high-speed wing to quickly transform into a wing that can keep the jet in the air at much lower speeds.

In addition to creating more lift, flaps also create drag, and can slow a jet nicely. Unfortunately, we can’t begin to use the flaps until below 250 knots or so. Each step of the flaps has a different speed limit, above which too much stress will be placed on the flaps and a maintenance inspection would be necessary if that limit were exceeded.

We now have a program called FOQA, or Flight Operations Quality Assurance, that records the exact speed at which the flaps are deployed among many other parameters and sends a report to the company (see my personal experiences with FOQA here). Should the flap speed limits be exceeded, the airplane is taken out of service and given a thorough inspection, sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars in maintenance man-hours to accomplish, not to mention the revenue lost when an airplane isn’t flying.

So let’s say that we’re flying into Miami or Los Angeles which are two airports known for the ‘slam dunking’ that ATC occasionally needs on certain arrivals.

Imagine that you’re now at 230 knots with the first notch of flaps extended and you still aren’t descending at a high enough rate. What can you do? More flaps would add drag, but you’ll need to be below 220 knots before you can go to flaps 5. And you’d better not hit a gust or any turbulence that sends you above 220 with those flaps out.

Flap Handle

Landing Gear

So the next solution is the landing gear. This can be extended at any time you’re showing 270 knots or less of airspeed. They add a similar amount of drag as the spoilers, which are still extended in our scenario.

757 Landing Gear

Pull up, pull up!

Finally, as with any airplane, our 4th method to decelerate is pretty basic; lift the nose up which initially decreases our rate of descent. We adjust the descent to slow the aircraft to bring the flaps out on schedule.

Often times there are points along an arrival where we’ll need to be at a certain speed and altitude. These ‘crossing restrictions’ are very important to meet and add another challenge for the arrival.

White Knuckle Flyer?
Pull Up, Pull Up!

Fortunately we don’t have to rely only on the 3 to 1 calculation to properly meet these targets when planning our descent. We can plug in the speed and altitude we want when flying over a waypoint into the FMS, or Flight Management System, that will calculate the time we should start down, using a function called VNAV, or Vertical Navigation.

Slowing down after landing – Ground Spoilers

Finally when we touch down, ground spoilers will automatically deploy from the top of the wings. This is done by using the same handle which deploy the same panels as the speed brakes, but now a few extra panels that open even further than the speed brakes are included.

These panels not only give us added drag, but when deployed, they add weight to the wheels which dramatically increases the effectiveness of our second method of stopping, the brakes.

Brakes!

All airliner brakes have anti-skid protection and the option to use ‘autobrakes’ for landing. We can preset the brakes before landing to automatically activate soon after we touch down. There are five different levels to choose from, with ‘max auto’ the one to use on slick runways. The same setting on a dry runway would leave a nose print in the setback in front of you, however.

To manually operate the brakes, pressure is applied to the top of the rudder pedals with your toes which, if they were selected, will also kick off the autobrakes. We generally don’t manually apply brakes until we’re below 100 knots. Pilots can even control the right and left brakes independently by pressing the tops of the right or left rudder pedals.

Reverse thrust

The noisiest, and third most effective way to stop an airplane on the ground is to use reverse thrust. This is done by lifting some handles that are in front of the thrust levers (throttles) when they’re at idle. The farther we pull these handles, the more thrust is deflected forwards to slow the jet. If these devices are inoperative, or a specific airport has restrictions on their use during late night hours, only 400 to 600 extra feet are needed for landing.

As we slow through 80 knots, we’ll bring the reverse thrust to idle and coming through 60 knots we are advised to stow the reverse thrust sleeve completely.

Here is a video of the reversers in operation that I caught while mechanics were making adjustments.

All of these methods can be seen in this picture of the center console of a Boeing 757:

Aerodynamic braking

There’s actually a fourth method of slowing an airplane after landing, but it’s generally not effective in the airline world, and more often seen when watching the Space Shuttle land. Aerodynamic braking is when the nose wheel is held high off the ground to use the drag of the airplane as a way to slow down. It’s not really effective, and it delays our ability to use brakes (and reverse thrust on the MD-80) while the nose wheel is still off the ground.

Reflecting on takeoff

To taxi to the gate, the captain will use a combination of throttle and brakes to control the speed, which the FAA says shouldn’t exceed that of a person walking briskly. In reality, five to fifteen knots while taxiing is far more common.


So there you go. Oh, and congratulations on your recent jet acquisition. Or for those of you just worried about an Airport ’75 event occurring on your next flight, this could come in handy.

Either way, stay tuned for some more obscure airline flying tips!

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Talk to him on the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Travel How-to: Road trip through Glacier National Park in the winter

road trip glacier

Here at Gadling, we’re big fans of visiting National Parks in the off-season. There are fewer crowds, less headaches and more chances to enjoy the natural aspects that made these magnificent places so spectacular to begin with. The only trouble is the weather. Generally speaking, many of the United States’ National Parks partially shut down when Old Man Winter shows up, driving away a good deal of would-be tourists and also limiting how much of the park you can see. The famed Tioga Pass through Yosemite National Park is drowned in snow from October to April, and the majority of Yellowstone‘s roadways are closed to automobiles during Wyoming’s lengthy winter. And when it comes to one of America’s true gems — Glacier National Park — the star attraction is completely off limits to even 4WD vehicles for three-quarters of the year.

With the Going to the Sun road shut down, is there even a reason to travel to northwest Montana to give this majestic place a look? Without a doubt, yes. It’s true that Glacier, even in her 101st year as a National Park, is most open to exploration in the regrettably short summer season, but there are massive benefits to going in the winter. For one, hardly anyone else is there. You’ll be lucky to see a dozen others exploring the park on a given winter day, giving you ample opportunity to get lost inside this truly gigantic place. But there’s something else that few people consider when pondering a visit to Glacier in the winter: Highway 2. Read on to hear our secrets on making the most of an off-season visit to Montana’s largest National Park.

%Gallery-114793%During the winter months, which usually stretch from October to April depending on snowfall, only ~12.5 miles of the Going to the Sun road is open to motor vehicles. Even those are usually covered with a light layer of snow and ice, so we’d recommend a 4WD vehicle as you head in.

road trip glacier

From the West Glacier entrance ($15 vehicle entry fee required), around 11.5 miles are cleared, taking you from the Visitor’s Center to McDonald Lodge. This route tiptoes around the shoreline of Lake McDonald, the Park’s largest lake at ~10 miles long and ~1.5 miles wide. Thus, you’ll find various opportunities to park your vehicle and walk out to the shoreline, with just you, a vast range of mountains and a few lingering clouds to photograph.

road trip glacier

If you visit on a particularly hazy day (not tough to find in the winter), you’ll usually see loads of grey in the sky. If the clouds hang right, you’ll have friends believing that your shots across the lake are actually of Iceland or somewhere far more exotic than America’s Treasure State. With the snow covered banks, the setting creates a perfect opportunity to tinker with your metering techniques — snowy landscapes are one of the few places where spot metering is actually preferred, and with no crowds pushing you around, you’ll have plenty of time to adjust your settings to get the perfect vibe and tone from your shots.

road trip glacier

About three-quarters of the way to McDonald Lodge, there’s a spectacular view from the lake’s shoreline. It’s roughly halfway between each end of the lake, presenting a golden opportunity to utilize your compact camera’s Panorama mode. Below is a shot that was quickly composed using the inbuilt Panorama mode on Casio’s Exilim EX-H20G. It’s obviously not the high-quality stuff you’d see out of a properly arranged DSLR, but considering that this took about ten seconds to generate, it’s not a bad way to remember just how vast this lake really is. If you’re serious about panoramic shots, we’d recommend bringing along a GigaPan Epic robot, which you can mount your camera on and program to swivel around in a set interval to capture a very high-resolution, high-quality panoramic shot.

road trip glacier

Once you circle out and head back out of the same entrance you came in on, the real fun begins. If you continue on Highway 2 East, you’ll be heading towards East Glacier — the other side of the park. What most tourist fail to realize is that this road actually runs through the southern part of the park, and there’s no fee required here. If you pack snowshoes, you’ll have an unlimited amount of options for stopping and exploring the wilderness around you, and it goes without saying that the views of the surrounding mountains are a photographer’s dream. Highway 2 is rarely “clear” in the winter, so we’d recommend a 4WD vehicle and slowed speeds while traveling. It’s a solid 1.5 hour drive from West to East Glacier, but ever inch of it is jaw-dropping.

road trip glacier

Think you’ve now seen all there is to see of Glacier National Park in the winter? Not so! Once you reach Browning, MT, you’ll want to head north and turn left onto Starr School Rd. This will divert you over to Highway 89 North towards the Alberta border, giving you an incredible view of Glacier’s towering peaks from a distance. It’s an angle that you simply won’t get while driving through the heart of the park on Highway 2, and the snow covered summits provide even more reason to keep your shutter going. The drive northward to Alberta remains gorgeous, and we’d recommend driving on up if you have your passport handy.

road trip glacier

Even the National Park’s website won’t tell you of the surrounding highways to traverse if you’re interested in seeing as much of Glacier National Park in the winter as possible, but now that you’ve got the roads you need to travel, what’s stopping you from renting a 4WD and seeing the other side of this stunning place? Be sure to pack along your camera and brush up on the basics — snowy mountains definitely present unique challenges when shooting, but they also provide the perfect opportunity to finally try out that ‘Manual’ mode you’ve been trying to ignore. And if you’ve got a geotagging dongle or a GPS-enabled compact camera? Make sure to document your trip with locations that correspond to the stops your make along the way!

Travel Photo Tips: What is shutter speed, and how does it affect my pictures?

what is shutter speed

Now that you’ve got a grip on ISO, it’s time to talk about shutter speed as it relates to light. What is it, and how can it be tweaked to better the photographs that you’ll take on the run? A great question, and we’re glad you asked. Simply put, shutter speed refers to the length of time that the shutter stays open while snapping a photograph. In general, the longer a shutter remains open, the more light is allowed in. And the more light that is allowed in, the brighter a picture becomes.

There’s a fine line that is walked with shutter speed. If you don’t leave the shutter open long enough, your images will turn out too dark to be useful. Having a shot that’s too dark can spoil an otherwise great vacation memory, and it’s nearly impossible to brighten an overly dark photograph using Photoshop (or a similar editing application) without adding a lot of noise and grain. On the flip side, leaving the shutter open too long can result in a couple of negative outcomes.

We’ll discuss these and walk you through an example after the break, so grab your advanced point-and-shoot, interchangeable lens camera or DSLR and read on get a better feel of how changing the shutter speed can change the outcome of your snapshots.As usual, we’ll try not to dive too deep into aspects that you don’t really need to understand. But there are a few basic things you’ll need to know about shutter speed in order to make quick adjustments as you’re shooting different scenes — assuming you’re not shooting on automatic mode, of course. Your travels won’t always put you in an optimal place for taking shots, leaving you with limited options to control the amount of light that floods into each shot. Adjusting shutter speed is one of the quicker ways to do just that.

Shutter speed is referred to in terms of seconds, or fractions thereof. For example, you may see a “400” on the data monitor of your camera. This means that you’re set to shoot at 1/400 of a second. This is just a small fraction of a second, which means that the shutter will open and close extremely quickly. If you see an “8,” that means you’re set to shoot at 1/8 of a second. In the image below, the “30” signifies that this camera is currently set to shoot at 1/30 of a second.

what is shutter speed

Here are a few general rules to keep in mind while adjusting shutter speed. These won’t apply in every single scenario, but these are good guidelines to keep ingrained in your mind when you’re trying to figure out shutter speed extremes on the fly.

  • If you’re shooting a still subject handheld (without a tripod), it’s generally tough to hold the camera still enough to eliminate blur from a shot at a shutter speed slower than around 1/80 of a second. Sometimes you can get as slow as 1/25 of a second while holding it still, but that’s more the exception than the rule.
  • If your subject is moving at all, and you’re forced to hand-hold the camera, I’d recommend shooting at 1/160 of a second or faster to ensure little-to-no blur is introduced. If you find that 1/160 of a second still isn’t quick enough, a bump to 1/200 or 1/250 of a second should suffice.

Of course, both of these points are assuming you do not want blur in your shots. There are certain scenarios where some amount of blur is desired, such as capturing the beauty in flowing water in a babbling brook. But in those cases, you can start at around 1/100 of a second and move slower. Here’s an important point, though: when you desire a certain amount of blur in a shot, you’ll almost certainly need a tripod. Why? Because you only want a certain portion of the photograph to be blurred (the water, in the previous example), but you wouldn’t want the rocks and surrounding plants to also be blurred.

Let’s look at one simple example to give you a better grasp on how adjusting shutter speed makes a difference in your photographs. You’ll need a camera with a manual mode; most point-and-shoot cameras do not allow users to adjust shutter speed, but a few of the more advanced models will. Essentially all interchangeable lens, Micro Four Thirds and DSLR cameras will, however.

what is shutter speed

Similar to our ISO example, we’ll have you head to a room inside your home. Find a subject — a phone, a coffee mug, any kind of still object — and place it on a table or on a bed. We’ll be shooting this with various shutter speeds. There are a lot of other variables to consider, of course, but this simple example will show you how shutter speed itself directly impacts the outcome. Let’s start with a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second, and disable your flash for the duration of the example. Fix your ISO on 1600 (since you’re indoors in a low-light scenario) and your f/stop number as low as it will go (f/2.8 or f/3.5 if possible). Focus on the subject and shoot. What’s the outcome? Probably a dark shot, but if you can make out any of the subject, you’ll notice that it’s impeccably sharp.

Now, adjust that to 1/250 and shoot again. What’s the outcome? Probably a slightly brighter photograph, and one that’s still sharp. You should get the impression that you’re moving in the right direction. Now, adjust to 1/160 of a second and shoot again. Your image should be even brighter, and if you have a steady hand, still sharp and blur-free. Now, the fun part. Adjust to 1/50 of a second and re-shoot. You probably noticed just how slow the click was. But how about the outcome? It’s probably a very bright image, maybe even too bright, but it will almost definitely have some level of blur to it. Let’s try one last stop: lower the shutter speed to 1/5 of a second and re-shoot. It’s practically impossible to hand-hold this shot and not introduce blur. You’ll probably be happy with how bright the image is, but the amount of blur will likely make the image less than ideal. Below is a brief gallery guide of how changing the shutter speed alone can allow more light in, but also make it easier for handheld shake to introduce blur.

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In a nutshell, you’ve just learned how shutter speed alone can adjust your shot. If you need to let more light in, slowing the shutter solves your problem, to an extent. If you slow it too much, you’ll lose the ability to compose a blur-free image. If you speed it up too much, the image will become too dark. Like we said at the start, it’s a fine line you’ll have to walk. If you try a similar experiment outside, in broad daylight, you’ll notice that you need a much, much faster shutter speed to compose a usable image. If you keep that 1/8 of a second while shooting outdoors, you’ll probably get the polar opposite of a completely dark photograph: a completely white photograph. The solution? Speed that shutter up dramatically –1/500 of a second or faster — and see how it changes things for the better.

what is shutter speed

Keep in mind that this is just a basic explanation of shutter speed to get you started. In future articles, we will cover tips on how to use changes in shutter speed for creative effects in scenarios related to travel. For example, using the shutter speed to help you best capture a flowing waterfall, compose an exploding firework shot, controlling blur, etc. Hopefully with the pointers listed here and in our previous article on ISO, you’ll be two steps closer to understanding your camera’s ‘Manual’ mode.

Let’s recap:

  • Adjusting shutter speed is one of the quickest ways to add more light or restrict light to a photograph
  • Indoors, or in low-light situations, you’ll need to slow the shutter speed dramatically if you don’t have a flash to use, or would rather not use the flash
  • In general, it’s difficult to not introduce blur into a shot while shooting handheld with shutter speeds 1/80 of a second or slower (or 1/160 of a second if your subject is moving)
  • Outdoors, you’ll need very quick shutter speeds (1/500 of a second or faster) in order to avoid having a completely white image, or an image that’s overly bright
  • Having a tripod or a lens with vibration resistance can enable you to have a slower-than-average shutter speed, yet still avoid blur

Stay tuned for more tips on understanding metering, f/stop, white balance and more! Our basic guide to understanding ISO can be seen here.

How not to ride an escalator


How not to ride an escalator.

1. Do not step backward.
2. Do note sit down.
3. Do not, at any point, attempt a triple salchow.

According to MallCop6, who posted this video on YouTube, “The dude didn’t get hurt at all.” Otherwise, this would really be too mean to post. Also, the camera is pulled back far enough that we can’t see who this actually is. If we could identify this man, we would, again, feel it was too mean to post.

However, since he looks like he’s fine and we can’t see who he is, and he totally pulled a 360°, artistically commendable, epic escalator fail? We’re sharing.

This is one example of many ways not to ride an escalator. More rules after the jump.

4. Do not attempt multiple backwards somersaults.

5.Do not ski (keep watching, he rides up the escalator first before the awesomeness kicks in).

Lasty, and perhaps most importantly:
6. Do not wear Crocs. (Ever.)

Six Tips to Stay Awake on Road Trips

Driving when tired is no fun at all. In fact, some studies have shown that a drowsy driver can be as dangerous as a drunk driver. Here are six tips to keep you awake and feeling fresh on your next road trip. Remember, though — if you’re feeling tired, there’s no shame in pulling over and napping. This is the single most important thing you can do when driving for long periods of time. Stay safe out there!

Ingesting highly-caffeinated substances is the obvious, most well-worn method used to keep millions of dreary drivers awake. My personal favorite is dark, black coffee of the been-on-the-burner-for-12-hours, gas station variety. It tastes like roasted trash, but it’s strong like an ox and does the job. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll reach for a Starbucks DoubleShot (it even has its own Web site!). They’re extremely expensive for what little you get, but the caffeine content is high, and they’re mighty tasty. There’s also the caffeine pill option: No-Doze, Vivarin, and a billion other brightly-labeled brands found on the checkout counters at gas stations. If you go this route, use them sparingly and drink a lot of water.

If you’re traveling with someone, make them talk to you. This might seem obvious, but it’s the easiest and cheapest way to keep awake when driving. If you’re on the road for long periods of time, and switching off between drivers, this can be a problem — especially if there are only two people in the car. One person drives, the other sleeps, rotate every few hours; you can see how this could be problematic. How can someone sleep and talk to you at the same time? Good question. When I’m on a road trip, I typically stay awake anytime the car is moving — whether I’m driving or not. This is good for two reasons: 1) Both people are awake at all times, and 2) there are two people gauging tiredness. If the passenger is feeling ultra-tired, chances are the driver is too. Time to pull over and rest!

Use an electronic device to alert you of your tiredness. In recent years, many companies have come out with these little battery-operated devices that attach to your ear — similar to one of those ultra-dorky Bluetooth headsets — and let out a screech when you nod off. These are great in theory, but if you’re at the point of nodding off while driving, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Even so, the extra precaution wouldn’t hurt. Here’s an idea: those Bluetooth headsets everyone is wearing nowadays should have this built into them.

Make frequent, short stops to rest and/or stretch. Make it a ritual — every 100 miles or so, find a gas station, truck stop, or rest area and pull over. Stretch your legs, take a quick nap, get some fresh air, shoot a deer; do whatever it takes to revive you for the next 100 miles. Most Wal-Marts will allow you to park in their lot for a quick nap (they sell rifles too!), so take advantage of this when applicable. For reference, here’s an updated-daily list of Wal-Marts that DO NOT allow over-night parking. It’s amazing what even a 15-minute nap can do for your stamina, so don’t hesitate to take a regularly scheduled break.

Stock up on audio media to keep you entertained, interested, and alive. The only time I’ve ever listened to an audiobook was on a solo road trip. Bill Bryson taught me a little bit of everything I need to know about our universe in the audio version of A Short History of Nearly Everything, and it kept me alert the entire time. Make sure you switch it up, though. Too much of one thing can hypnotize you into a dreary sleep, so I always switch between music and “talking” media every few hours. Podcasts are a good, free (most times) alternative to audiobooks, and you don’t necessarily have to have an iPod or other MP3 player. Most podcasts give you the option of downloading the raw .MP3 file (instead of streaming it) which can easily be converted to .WAV and burned to a CD using any major burning utility.

Bring along road-friendly snacks to munch on. My favorite is sunflower seeds. Not only are they tasty, but they give me something to do while breaking the monotony of the open road. I have a routine when it comes to prying those little suckers out of their shells, and it goes a little something like this (to the tune of that one Daft Punk song): suck it, bite it, split it, remove it, separate it, chew it, spit it, repeat! Or you can kill two birds with one stone by munching on SumSeeds: Caffeinated Sunflower Seeds! Other snacks that have worked for me are sour, hard confectioneries that take some time to finish. Remember Warheads, those super-sour candies that contort your face into a perpetual, invisible-straw-sucking mask? Those things are S-O-U-R! There’s absolutely no way you’d fall asleep with one in your mouth. If you’re a health nut, apples also work well.

sources (1, 2, 3)

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