Cockpit Chronicles: What’s not to like about the 757? I’ll show you. (Video)

Powerful engines providing stellar performance and short field capabilities are just some of the features that set the Boeing 757 apart from the rest. But there has to be something that pilots dislike on the airplane, right?

Well, there are two features in particular that I don’t care for.

I dream that someday someone from Boeing or Airbus will call me for advice on cockpit ergonomics. Each company does their best to lay out a cockpit to please the end user – the pilot. But sometimes there are just a few quirks that slip through. An item, which an engineer may spend only a day or two thinking about, can have a lasting impact on the pilots that fly the airplane for thousands of hours.

Generally speaking, Boeing takes pilot input into account when designing the pointy-end of their airplanes. The following two items that pertain to the 757 and 767 may seem nit-picky, but I thought I’d share them here anyway, even including a video to highlight my second personal peeve.

To be fair, these airplanes were designed in the late ’70s and went into service in the ’80s. And Boeing has, to some extent, fixed these issues in the 777. But here are my minor gripes, with a video to demonstrate the second annoyance.Chimes

You know the chime that accompanies the seatbelt sign when it cycles on or off? It happens to be my text message alert tone right now-appropriate, I suppose. Well, there’s a slightly more annoying sound in the cockpit that is supposed to represent various different alerts such as:

HF and VHF SELCAL – When air traffic control needs to get a hold of us, they have the option of sending a SELCAL (selective calling) ding that alerts us. Upon hearing the ding, we need to look either on the forward EICAS screen where the engine information is displayed for a clue as to what the ding was, or overhead to see if the SELCAL light is on. Unfortunately, some earlier airplanes didn’t have that EICAS notification feature, so we only have the overhead to differentiate the sounds.

Flight Attendant Call – We aren’t immediately sure if it’s ATC calling with a flight level change or if a flight attendant is checking to see if we need a bathroom break. The look around the cockpit for the various clues to the source can be amusing to someone riding in the jumpseat.

During the preflight, it’s a regular ding-fest. As we request the flight plan data to be uploaded to the airplane, dings come in rapidly (I’ve lost count at eight dings in less than a minute) for these items and more:

Forecasted winds at altitude uplink
Route uplink
Takeoff performance data uplink

Unfortunately, this is a time when the crew-chief on the ground calls us through a headset plugged in at our nose wheel. We may easily think it’s another nuisance ding and not answer him as these flight plan items are coming in.

As we taxi out, we could also miss a flight attendant call when the latest ATIS information is delivered or we get our load closeout information, which includes the number of people on board, the weight of the airplane and our stabilizer trim setting.

Inflight, these dings create a Pavlovian response. Around an hour after takeoff, flight attendants usually call with meal choices for us. Just as your mouth starts to water after hearing the ding, it’s always a letdown to discover that it was just the other guy updating the winds in the FMC.

Years ago, I met two Boeing engineers while I was riding in the back of an MD-80 to Dallas. On my left was an engineer who was the liaison for Boeing to the FAA as they made changes to the cockpit flight computer known as the FMC and to my right was an engineer who did the actual programing of any new features in the box.

They were excited to tell me about the new CPDLC or Controller Pilot Data Link Communication feature they were testing out on one of our 757s. The idea was that an Air Traffic Controller could send us a text message that would tell us to climb, descend, turn or change our speed. The test program would only be for Miami and a few of our 757s. Later this innovative concept expanded to other air traffic facilities for use primarily with the 777 and some newer Airbuses. After the test period, it was deactivated on the 757.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Finally I could give them some input about the ding issue.

“When ATC contacts you via this CPDLC thing, I would imagine there would be a ding?” I asked.

“Yes!” one of them said proudly.

I then prodded them on how we were supposed to differentiate the different dings for different functions, all sounding exactly the same, as they came in.

The engineer asked why we didn’t just look at the EICAS screen as it would either say, CPDLC, FMC, Ground Call, or Flight Attendant.

I explained that this was nice, but that more than half of our 757s didn’t have this EICAS ‘ding alert’ feature.

His partner jumped in, describing the studies Boeing had done that indicated that humans could only differentiate between five different sounds in a cockpit.

I sighed and pleaded for a simple telephone ring for the flight attendant call that comes in on the handset, and then for a few different tones for the rest. If I were to mistake the FMC alert for the HF radio call with these new sounds, how would that be different to what we have now?

I felt bad for them. Pilots love Boeing products so I think they were a bit taken aback. I dropped the subject and stretched out in the middle seat of the MD-80. I certainly wasn’t going to mention my second peeve to them. That is:

Dim and Dimmer

Depending on the airplane and configuration, there are between 32 and 34 different dimming switches and knobs to change the lighting intensity on the 757 and 767 cockpit lights. Of course, I knew you’d think I was exaggerating, so I made a quick video showing each light and dimming knob from a recent flight.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written earlier about how much I love the 757 and these annoyances are amusingly minor in the grand scheme of airplane design. Maybe flying the MD-80 for a while will give me a new level of appreciation for this grand airplane.

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? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Cockpit Chronicles: Hitching a ride to Kentucky in Concorde

Occasionally, when pilots are together, the subject eventually will come around to airplanes. Specifically, just what airplane we’d most like to fly.

While I have a rather long list that includes the Ford Tri-Motor and the Spitfire, solidly at the top of the heap lies Concorde. An airplane so special, you’re not even allowed to put ‘the’ in front of its name.

Since there was no possibility of ever flying this airplane at my airline, I knew I had to do the closest thing. Even though my wife and I were very recently hired at our respective airlines, we both agreed that we’d have to pay for a non-revenue (slang for employee reduced-rate) flight in Concorde before it was retired. This was in the mid ’90s and the one-way tickets were still a relatively steep $600 per employee.

At the time, my wife was a flight attendant for United, based in Newark. She was working in the aft galley when a gentleman came back for something. He happened to mention that he worked for British Airways at JFK as the director of Concorde charters.

My wife told him of our plans to purchase a pass on the airplane for a flight to London in the future, just for the experience.

“Don’t do that.” He said. “We have a charter flight from New York to Cincinnati in two weeks. Come along on then. No charge.”

He even extended the offer to the other flight attendants riding that day, but they all passed on the opportunity.

Two weeks later, Linda and I arrived at the Concorde lounge early enough to watch the inbound supersonic jet taxi to the gate. There was a tremendous amount of activity by the staff, with everyone even more frantic than what would be typical for agents eager to ‘turn-around’ an airplane quickly.

We soon discovered what was happening.Princess Diana was arriving on the airplane to sell some dresses for charity in New York. The Princess of Wales was escorted off the jet and down to a waiting car on the ramp, and unfortunately we never actually saw her. But soon afterward, our hero, the director of Concorde charters, came upstairs carrying a large plaque featuring the princess with a warm thank you message written on it given to him by Diana. Needless to say, he was beaming.

While waiting to board, I spotted the co-pilot in the lounge making his way to the gate. I approached him and mentioned that we’d be one of the 14 passengers that day to fly with him to Cincinnati. I explained that I was currently flying the 727 and showed him my ID, hoping that just maybe he would invite me up to the cockpit at some point.

“Let me check with the captain, maybe we can get you the jumpseat.” He said, taking my I.D. and license with him.

As we stepped on board the airplane I took a quick picture of my wife in front of the Concorde sign.

The co-pilot came back to where we were sitting and asked my wife if she would be upset if I rode in the jumpseat. I turned to her with my most buoyant look.

“No, not at all!” She said, as a flight attendant handed her a pre-departure champagne.

Concorde, just like many airplanes of the ’60s and ’70s had a cockpit where the major systems were operated by a flight engineer. At the time, I was an FE on the 727, so I was rather interested in this panel aboard Concorde.

The flight engineer panel on Concorde

The flight engineer showed me the jumpseat, but I was amazed that my perch was well behind the captain. It wouldn’t even be possible to see out the front from that far back, I thought.

As I began to sit down, the FE explained, “No, no, no. The seat slides up forward.”

Sure enough, in what had to be the most unusual cockpit seat, I found my place just behind the captain with the chair locked into place.

The cockpit jumpseat is tucked in just behind the captain seat.

We taxied out with the nose drooped down for better visibility looking forward. As we lined up on runway 31L at JFK, the co-pilot said that this was the lightest he’d ever flown the airplane.

In a scene reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica, we blasted down the runway and rotated far sooner than I expected.

The captain reached over and flipped a three inch switch under the glareshield that raised the nose. As the nose sealed into place, I was shocked to see just how bad the visibility was. It was like looking through two sides of a humid greenhouse. It seemed like the first pane of glass, in front of the pilots, was a full ten feet from the retracted windshield that maintained the smooth, needle like appearance of Concorde.

Jumpseating is usually just a method for pilots to get to and from work or where they needed to go. But that day, it was how I confirmed my supposition that the Concorde would be the ultimate airplane to fly.

Climbing through 10,000 feet, I couldn’t hold my enthusiasm any longer. “Guys, you don’t fly an airplane. You fly a rocket!” I gasped.

They explained that even on a lightly loaded airplane they still used ‘reheat’ or what us Yanks call ‘afterburners,’ which essentially injected fuel downstream of the turbine section of the engine for added thrust, producing a glow on the four Olympus engines that could be seen for miles.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t fly supersonic over the continental United States as sonic booms are generally considered annoying for groundlings. Still, flying at .95 Mach, or 95% of the speed of sound may have set a commercial speed record between New York and Cincinnati. (The CVG airport is actually located in northern Kentucky).

Interestingly, six years later the same airplane, G-BOAG, received special permission to fly supersonic over land to set a commercial speed record while flying from New York to Seattle on November 5th, 2003 for its last flight.

It’s fitting that today G-BOAG is now on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, since Seattle is where I met the exchange student while I was in high school who would later become my wife who landed me this rare experience.

If you have the chance, check out the museum. It’s a must see for any aviation geek.

Special thanks to the director at British Airways who made it all happen for us. I only wish I had remembered his name.

And thanks to Ruthann O’Connor for the photos.

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 the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

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.

Plane Answers: How common are go-arounds and how can I sit in the jumpseat?

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!

Jason asks:

Hi Kent,

I enjoy your articles, keep up the good work.

I travel frequently for business and also drive past a major international airport every day on my way to and from work.

The other day while passing the airport I saw a plane abort the landing, pull up the gear and go around. It reminded me of a similar experience I had flying a few years ago, as well as several aborted take-offs I have had!

So I was wondering, how common an event are they? And what is the most common cause for an aborted landing?

Thanks Jason.

Aborted landings, or ‘missed-approaches’ as we call them in the states, are somewhat common. When I flew the 737-800, I was amused by the number of missed approaches we had to fly. Since the airplane was rather fast on final approach, controllers who sequenced us in behind slower airplanes with less than three miles were often surprised to see how much faster the airplane was than the older 737s. If we came within 2 1/2 miles on final, a go-around would often be called for by ATC. This happened five times in the three years I flew the 737.

This hasn’t been an issue at all in the 757 I’m currently flying.

We occasionally have to go-around when an airplane hasn’t cleared the runway, or hasn’t taken off yet as we’re descending through a few hundred feet.

Also, if we don’t see the runway on an instrument approach that’s not being flown as a Category III autoland approach, we’ll have to go around and try it again or fly to our alternate airport.

Finally, if we just happen to be too fast or too high or both, a missed approach is called for. The FAA has been very concerned with unstabilized approaches, and now that we have a reporting system that records and sends all the parameters associated with the black box aboard the airplane to the company, pilots are encouraged to go-around if the airplane isn’t on speed and on the glide path with the final flaps selected by 1000 feet above the ground.

At our company, we have a ‘no-fault’ go-around policy. If it doesn’t look right, it’s much smarter to come back and give it another try. No one at the company will question the decision to go-around in that case.

Aborted takeoffs are much more rare. I’ve yet to experience one in the past 19 years of commercial flying, other than in the simulator during recurrent training.

Dwight asks:

Hi I’m not a pilot yet but I’m going to be attending the Delta Connection Academy this July. I was wondering what do you have to do to get the “Jumpseat” and can regular people request the jumpseat.

And a second question: After the pilots arrive at the gate and shut down the plane what does he/she do after leaving the plane? Do they go to another flight if he/se has one or do they usually just go home?

There are two types of jumpseats on an airplane. The flight attendant jumpseats, which are reserved for flight attendants generally, or the cockpit jumpseat. Neither jumpseat is available to the public, though.

Other pilots are afforded the opportunity to ride in the cockpit jumpseat for free when trying to get to or from work or when traveling somewhere for pleasure. There are a number of layers of security, especially after 9/11, which verify that the pilot really is employed by the company they say they are. The jumpseat is also available to FAA inspectors who regularly ride in the cockpit to check up on an airlines compliance with procedures.

After you finish your Delta Connection training and you’re on the line, you’ll find yourself in plenty of jumpseats, I’m sure. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to share the view from the pointy end on Cockpit Chronicles and through the photos and video on my site.

At the end of a flight, a pilot will either race off to catch another flight departing at a different gate, or they’ll go to the hotel before continuing their trip the next morning or, if it happens to be the end of their trip, they’ll go home.

Often times, home isn’t at the city where they’re based, and the pilot will have to ride on a jumpseat or in the cabin home to the city where they live. A good percentage of pilots commute to all parts of the country. I have friends who have commuted from Anchorage to Chicago, New York or Miami, in fact.

Personally, I prefer to live within an hour driving distance from my home base of Boston.

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: Why business class is the most junior position on the airplane (Plus a chance to win the book The Go-Giver)

I like working in business class. What I like even more are the other flight attendants who enjoy working in business. Call me crazy, but I even like business class passengers. I do!

What I find interesting about business class passengers is that the majority of them find it hard to believe that the cabin they prefer to sit in is the cabin that goes the most junior when it comes to company seniority at my airline. Which tells you a little something about business class, or shall I say the passenger who sits in business class, as well as the business class flight attendant.

Sure there are only thirty passengers seated in business class on the 767 (three class aircraft), but haven’t you noticed just how much harder the flight attendants in that cabin work compared to the flight attendants in coach and first class during the five hour flight from New York to whatever west coast city you’re flying to? Take a look next time. It’s unbelievable. Just ask those poor passengers who got stuck sitting next to the business class galley where we park our drink carts and salad carts and meal carts and dessert carts. The service is long and elaborate and the passengers can be just a tad bit difficult at times, making that never ending service take even longer than it should. There’s nothing like seeing your fellow crew members relaxing on their jump seats when you’re just pulling up the cart to the front of the cabin to begin the salad service.

After thirteen years of flying, not only do I get stuck working the most junior cabin, I hold the most junior position in the junior cabin on the 767. Okay now face the cockpit and look at the aisle on the left hand side of the airplane, and that’s where you’ll find me. Don’t tell me you’ve never noticed that the flight attendant working on the left hand side (ME!) is much slower than the one on the right?

Here’s why…

1. Boarding. What flight attendant doesn’t appreciate a smooth boarding? Remember, boarding is the most hectic time of the flight for a flight attendant, especially a business class flight attendant who has to hang up all those black and blue coats in that teeny tiny closet. When working on an aircraft with two aisles, passengers tend to use the first aisle they come to when trying to get to their seat. Unless there’s a good “greeter” standing at the aircraft door directing the passengers to correct side of the airplane, all those passengers coming down that same aisle make it difficult for the flight attendant working on the left side to hang those coats the business class passengers are impatiently holding up. Forget about re-seating passengers, delivering pre-departure drinks, helping with luggage, and answering questions about connecting flights until everyone is seated and the aircraft is about to back away from the gate. And no, Sir, I can not swim upstream to hang that coat you are still shaking at me. Sorry, you’re just going to sit down and wait!

2. Jumpseat – The lucky flight attendant working on the left hand side of business class gets to sit smack dab in the middle of the aisle surrounded by passengers, passengers who are not usually very happy to be there, while strapped into an uncomfortable foldout jumpseat on takeoff. Trust me when I tell you that this is not where you want to be for any length of time, especially if there is turbulence in the forecast and the Captain has asked the flight attendants to stay seated a little while longer until we find that smooth and comfortable cruising altitude. Because when turbulance happens, all eyes are on me, and those bugged out eyes are analyzing my every move, which makes me a little nervous, which is why I just end up staring at the floor. That’s how I know that carpet is filthy, so if I were you I’d put those shoes back on!

3. Trash compartment. Flight attendants pick up a lot of trash onboard the aircraft. When there’s a lot of trash, you need a place to stow the trash, and that place in business class happens to be on the right side of the galley. This means the flight attendant working on the left side often times gets stuck holding the trash, trying to figure out how, exactly, to get across to the other side of the galley when there are two flight attendants busy working in the confined space. Have you seen how small that galley is? And yes, that is the exact reason why you’re still waiting on your drink, because I’m still holding your trash.

4. Oven. The oven is located on the left hand side of the galley, so the flight attendant working that side is blocked by a hot oven door that swings open and shut constantly throughout the flight. That is another reason why the flight attendant is still standing in the aisle with a silver tray piled high with dirty glasses, patiently waiting to get into the busy galley where everything is located, as the flight attendant on the other side runs up and down the aisle collecting trash, replenishing drinks, and handing out meals, while the passengers on the left side watch the flight attendant on the right side and think to themselves, where’s that lazy flight attendant on my side, I need a drink!

The first month I held coach on a widebody I thought it was a fluke. But oh how I took full advantage of that fluke, enjoying every single relaxing minute of it. The second month I held coach I chalked it up to summer travel. Our senior flight attendants have a tendency to take the summer off. And then something strange happened. I held coach for a third consecutive month, not a summer month, and while I was glad to be able to hold it (for dropping purposes), I had begun to get a little bored. I know, even I couldn’t believe it. But I actually found myself missing the hustle and bustle of business class as I sat on the jumpseat in the back of coach after a quick and easy beverage service.

There’s something to be said of being proud of your job, which is directly related to the kind of service you provide. At least I think so. Years ago when I flew international routes, I felt proud to be a flight attendant. There are times I even feel proud when I work in business class on the domestic trips. However, I don’t feel so proud when I run out of food in coach, which causes me to constantly apologize because we don’t have this and we don’t have that to a flight full of miserably cramped passengers. It’s not my fault!

Also, there’s something kind of nice about actually getting to know the passengers I serve, even the demanding ones, which is something that does not happen very often in coach. I don’t know why. I try. All of this made me wonder, am I a “Go-Giver”? I’ve been reading The Go Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea, a book about how to achieve success by changing your focus from getting to giving, by putting others interests first, which ultimately leads to unexpected returns that lead to a successful and filled life.

According to the book, there are the five laws of stratospheric success…

  1. The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.
  2. The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
  3. The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.
  4. The Law of Authenticity: The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
  5. The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.

The five laws of stratospheric success actually describes just about every flight attendant I know, but it especially describes the flight attendants who actually enjoy working in the premium cabins. What a lot of people don’t know is just how successful a lot of flight attendants truly are. Sure most of the time they’re just serving drinks on the airplane, but ask them what they do when they’re not standing behind the two hundred pound beverage cart and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Just last week I flew with a flight attendant who only flies on the weekends because during the week he’s a psychiatrist at a hospital in New York. Though I’ve never met the man, there’s a doctor, a general practitioner, who works part time as a flight attendant when he’s not dealing with the sick on the ground. I know (and love) a flight attendant who owns a very successful event planning company, planning parties for well known celebrities. And what better place to find fantastic help for those parties than on the airplane? Of course we have tons of cops and nurses, as well as a few actors and published authors, and a couple musicians, and quite a few jewelry designers. I could go on and on. So the next time you’re on a flight and feeling a little bored, try getting to know your flight attendant. We’re actually a very interesting group.

Do you know a Go-Giver? I’d love to hear all about it.

Post a comment (any comment) by Friday, November 17, by 5pm and you’ll have a chance to win a copy of the book The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea, by Bob Burg and John David Mann. Two winners will be chosen. Regardless of who you are and what you do to earn money, there is something for everyone to learn in this book. The principles taught will not only move you forward in business, but also in your personal life. Good Luck!

  • To enter, simply leave a comment below.
  • The comment must be left before Friday, November 14, 2008 at 5pm Eastern time
  • You may enter only once.
  • Two winners will be selected in a random drawing.
  • Two Grand Prize Winners will receive a free copy of The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea, by Bob Burg and John David Mann.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • Book is valued at $13.57
  • Click here for complete Official Rules.

Photo courtesy of: (passengers seated in business) Garyhymes, (flight attendant in the galley) Irishflyguy, (flight attendants on the jumpseat) Re-ality