Cockpit Chronicles: A farewell to Boston

April was my last month flying from Boston. It was also the month that our company chose to eliminate the last remaining non-stop flights from Santo Domingo and San Juan to New England. These were markets where we’d flown for decades.

Fittingly, on the 2nd and 4th of April, I flew the very last flights from SDQ and SJU-not exactly something worthy of a celebration, but noteworthy, nevertheless.

I made sure to take a group shot of the pilots I worked with on both flights.

The final Santo Domingo to Boston pilots:

And the last San Juan to Boston flight:

We’ve been shrinking the Boston base for the past few years, and while many of my friends took the plunge and went south to New York, I had always planned to be the last one to leave. But facing a commute to Germany for a year, I knew JFK flying would be far more convenient. Lufthansa, Air Berlin, and even Singapore Airlines offer non-stop flights to Germany.

But before leaving Boston, I planned to enjoy two Paris trips and revisit my two most memorable restaurant experiences from the city of lights, and catch one major tourist attraction that I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen.
After ten years of flying to Paris, I knew I needed to look around the inside of the Louvre. I’ve avoided it because I’m really not an art museum aficionado, but I suppose everyone should see the Louvre at some point. To be honest, I was more interested in the building that I’d been photographing for years than in the art to be found inside.

After a quick picnic of cheese and wine next to the Louvre Pyramid, the captain, Pete, and a flight attendant, Michelle and I went inside.

So I suppose a brief review of the Louvre is in order:

There are paintings inside.

And a rather large number of sculptures.

Most of the artwork is huge, except, surprisingly, the Mona Lisa. Perhaps that’s why this painting is so popular. People really love smaller artwork apparently. The 50-foot painting opposite the Da Vinci work was largely ignored, I noted.

Afterward, reservations were made for my favorite restaurant in Paris.

Le Hide” is ‘hidden’ just off of the Arc de Triumph in a little residential neighborhood. It’s full of typical French cuisine such as escargot and pan-seared fois gras appetizers and a main course of salmon and scallops that flake off with a fork. It’s the most flavorful food I’ve found in Paris, and yet it’s reasonably priced at €22 ($32) for a two-course meal and 29 ($42) for three courses. Reasonable, at least, by Paris standards.

The same flight attendant, Michelle, was on another Paris trip with me the next week. I sheepishly suggested we eat at Dans Le Noir, which is the most unusual restaurant in Paris. She immediately knew what I was talking about and said she was thinking about suggesting the same place.

In the past, I had been rather unsuccessful in getting others to join me for what is truly a dining adventure.

When you walk into Dans Le Noir, facing you is a small pub where you place your dinner and drink order. After removing any cell phones, watches and purses and placing them in one of the provided lockers on the right, you’re guided into a pitch black dining room by one of the waiters, who happen to be blind.

The idea is to experience food as a blind person would, to take in the senses and try to identify what you’re eating without any visual cues.

I had been to the restaurant with two pilots when it first opened years earlier. Today there are versions of this same restaurant in New York, London and Barcelona.

There was so much laughing during the first visit, especially when a pilot’s foot became stuck in the table as the blind waitress was guiding us out of the place, which left him alone in the dark wondering just how he was going to find his way out.

The second visit was just as amusing. As I was guided to my seat, I felt what I thought was a wall next to me, and my hand landed directly on ‘the softest part’ of the lady sitting to the left of me. I felt relieved when the flight attendant sitting across from me also put her hand right on the gentleman to her right, who was with the French lady I had inadvertently accosted. Many apologies and giggles later and we were ready to explore our meal.

You don’t really choose your meal, since this would ruin the surprise, so part of the dining experience is to try and determine what exactly you’re eating. The three other flight attendants and two other pilots with me described what was on their plates, which may or may not have been different than our own. We just couldn’t tell for sure.

After an appetizer of cheese and fruit, we were served a steak with potatoes, and vegetables. Pretty safe food, for sure, but it did take some touching and feeling to understand what was on our plates.

On the last trip of the month, we had a spectacular view of the Northern Lights. It was a fitting sendoff that I won’t forget.

I’m going to miss my friends in Boston, but I’ll enjoy seeing the ones who have already gone south to NY, and who have jokingly referred to JFK as “South Boston” since half of Boston is now commuting to the larger base.

I’ll especially enjoy seeing the captain and relief pilot that were ‘featured’ in my 2004 ‘Vertigo’ video that depicted a typical Paris trip from Boston to New York. Both of them are now flying out of NY as well.

Maybe I’ll discover a few other ‘hidden’ spots in Rome, Zurich, Barcelona, Brussels, Budapest, Manchester, Madrid, Milan or even Rio de Janeiro, to talk about in an upcoming Chronicles.

Just thinking about the options has given me a renewed enthusiasm that’s sure to make the commute from Germany to New York a bit more palatable. Stay tuned.

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.

Cockpit Chronicles: Stunning clouds, a blue tower and a few meetups.

As a pilot, every now and then you’ll have a chance to catch a sight that just burns into your memory. The spire of the Empire State Building piercing a setting sun while approaching New York’s JFK airport, or watching a satellite pass overhead while holding above a thick cloud layer of fog over Anchorage.

But nothing can top the scene witnessed by every airplane crossing the North Atlantic on July 22nd, at around 3 a.m. in whatever time zone we were crossing.

At first, we thought we noticed a faint glow of the northern lights. Pretty soon, the colors became so spectacular that we began calling the flight attendants up to the cockpit to check out the light show.

But these aurora borealis weren’t moving or changing colors. And the colors that were starting to appear, didn’t match the usual green glow I was used to.

It didn’t take long for pilots on 123.45, a VHF channel that’s normally used to report ride conditions and any weather deviations, to start a discussion about what we were seeing.

A British Airways pilot mentioned that these were high altitude noctilucent clouds. After spelling it a number of times, he explained that they were possibly caused by methane gas in the upper atmosphere.

While Captain Mark called in a position report and I captured the glow over the horizon with my Canon Digital Rebel’s wide-angle lens-the only lens I managed to bring along.

These clouds live around 300,000 feet high. From what I’ve read online, scientists aren’t completely sure what causes them. One thing is known, the only time to see them is just before the sun starts to rise, since the clouds aren’t visible unless illuminated from below in the early morning.

I was so thankful I brought my camera. I no longer go to work without it. There were just far too many times where I saw a once–in–a–lifetime scene with no way to capture it.

There’s speculation that these clouds are stronger with every space shuttle flight, which may be causing some of the clouds. A satellite was launched last year by NASA to study the exact reasons behind the formation of these clouds. USA Today is reporting that these same clouds were visible from the international space station this summer.

The month of July was rather busy again, with another six Paris trips. In between all this flying, I had to pack up everything stored in our basement to get ready for our my family’s August 15th house move.

So that’s why you may have noticed a lack of posts to the Cockpit Chronicles lately.

I just can’t let an entire month’s worth of flying pass without mention, so I’d like to cover a few of the more exciting things that went on in Paris.

At the beginning of the month, I met up with Gadling’s senior editor, Grant Martin, who showed me one of his favorite Parisian restaurants along the Champs-Élysées. It’s at the Renault automobile showroom, in fact.

Above the Formula 1 car displays and overlooking Renault’s current line of cars, is a unique and surprisingly inexpensive restaurant. We talked about Gadling over a few beers and a pasta dish that was simply excellent.

After dinner, we decided to work our way to the Latin quarter using the Velib bikes. Grant had a card that would work-for Americans, only an American Express card will work in the Velib kiosks-so we picked up a couple of bikes, and managed to work our way east, stopping before 30 minutes had passed to check in and then check out the bikes, to prevent the excess charges from kicking in. If we were successful in finding kiosks within the 1/2 hour limit, the total Velib charge would only cost 1€.

We stopped at Trocedero to snap a bunch of pictures of the Eiffel Tower that was bathed in blue light. The scene from up there was spectacular and we both managed a few great pictures of this event that was to last only a few more weeks.

We had to work our way around thousands of roller bladers participating in the Pari Roller, a night ride through Paris of over 20km. Here’s a quick video taken that night:

The next trip was with my good friend Captain Dave, who brought his wife and daughter. I knew Nicole, their daughter, would love the evening Fat Tire Bike Tour, so we grabbed a quick sandwich before jumping on bikes again to cover the city.

Three days later, I was back in Paris with Captain Mark. We met up with many of the flight attendants for a picnic in the park, a common and rather inexpensive way to enjoy the great weather over bottle of wine, some cheese, bread and whatever else someone thinks to bring. We still managed to maintain enough of an appetite to eat at La Fresque restaurant in the Marais district.

Once again Mark and I returned to Paris, it was on this trip that we saw the noctilucent clouds on the way over. After the requisite nap, we met up with one of the frequent commenters on Gadling, Thaddeus, who was studying at the Cité University which isn’t far from where we stay.

Thaddeus has used the misguided adventures me
ntioned here as a basis for touring much of the city, and for that, I figured I should probably meet him for a drink while he was still in town. Mark and I joined up with him and learned that when he isn’t traveling, he is an intern at Bloomberg living in New York.

Mark wanted to show us some of the underground that’s been preserved in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. I hadn’t realized that these Roman ruins had been preserved and available for anyone to check out.

By the time we came above ground, we were a bit parched, so we stopped at a cafe for a drink before deciding to eat dinner at Le Hide, my new favorite restaurant in Paris.

Thaddeus hadn’t been to the Arc de Triumph yet, so it was a good opportunity to cover some ground he hadn’t seen. Even so, Thaddeus proved to be the best guide for us, as he had been covering quite a lot of Paris and he was very familiar with the Metro and many of the important destinations in the city.

As we worked our way to the restaurant, we ran into 4 or 5 of the flight attendants. Thaddeus actually recognized at least one of them from reading this blog.

Le Hide turned out to be excellent as usual. Thaddeus went for the Entrecôte, (rib steak), but everyone agreed the escargot appetizer and the sea bass entree were the tastiest. This restaurant is still an amazing value at 22 and 29€ for the two or three course meal.

We passed on the desert, instead hoping to catch something over at the Latin Quarter. As we walked to the metro, we traveled for a while down the Champs-Élysées and I insisted Mark and Thaddeus take a look at the Renault showroom.

We were distracted for a while with a reaction testing machine, which turned out to be a humbling experience for us. This machine was a spider of lights on a wall which would light up one at a time. The object was to press the light after it lit up and to try to get as many in a minute as possible.

We watched someone who no doubt worked at the showroom set a high score. After both Thaddeus and I gave it a try, we were beaten by a girl who happened to walk by. Wisely, Mark elected to skip this test.

Without a doubt, Thaddeus made this a great experience for Mark and me. After a trip to China, Thaddeus has become addicted to travel, but he’s still focused on finishing his senior year of college in New York and landing a good job. Ultimately he wants to be a teacher. Needless to say, Mark and I were really impressed.

Those are some of the highlights of my final full month of Paris trips for the year. For August, I started out with a line of Caracas and Laguardia trips, but I managed to take some time off to move. I finished August with what may be my last Paris trip, which turned out to be memorable. Stay tuned for some even more embarrassing video clips in the next post.

For more pictures from July, including Kelly the co-pilot inside a 767 engine, take a look at the gallery below.


Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston.

Cockpit Chronicles: Take your kid to work day!

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston.

“We’re going to try a new place to eat,” Doug, the captain said as I walked into operations.

While he waited for the dot matrix printer to spit out the twenty feet of paperwork needed for our flight, he filled me in on what was the plan was for Paris.

“Mike (the co-pilot) and I read a review on a New York Times blog about a really small restaurant up near the Arc de Triumph called Le Hide. I figured we’d give it a try.”

Crew members tend to have their own favorite places that they frequent. Sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut and not venture out very far to experience anything different. Not so for Doug. He’s on a quest to try a new restaurant almost every layover.

“This is my step-son, Mack. He’s coming with us tonight,” Doug said, as Mack stepped forward to shake my hand. “Mack has just turned 21 this week, so what better way to celebrate the occasion than to bring him along.”

I was starting to get flashbacks of Michelle’s daughter almost getting bumped from the last trip.

“Are we weight restricted?” I asked.
“Not at all. It’s wide open there and back.” Doug explained.

Doug gave Mack a tour of the cockpit while I did my FB duties, since I was again the relief pilot. I went outside and looked over the nose, landing gear areas including the tire pressures and worked my way clockwise around the airplane. Wings, engines, lights, wheel wells, tail skid, rudder, elevator–it looked like everything was all there, with no leaks or damage.

It’s easy to get complacent after looking at hundreds of airplanes that have nothing wrong with them. I try to challenge myself to catch something out of place, but everything looked fine.

After the obligatory pictures of Mack in the cockpit, I showed him how we set our airspeed bugs manually on the airspeed indicator. Each ‘bug’ represents the point where we can retract our flaps to the next lower level.

So after takeoff and above 1000 feet we nose the airplane over slightly and select climb power, which is a bit less than our takeoff power setting. As the speed accelerates we can then move the flaps, which change the shape of the wing. This allows us to go from a wing that’s optimized for the slow speeds needed at takeoff to a shape that would allow for a cruise speed at MACH .80 or 80% the speed of sound.

Departing at flaps fifteen, we’d then ask for flaps five, then flaps one and finally flaps up. At around 2500 feet above the ground, we’re all ‘cleaned up’ and ready to accelerate to 250 knots, which is the maximum speed the FAA allows below 10,000 feet.

Passing through 10,000 feet we can then accelerate to our climb speed, which would be around 320 knots tonight.

Since Mack already has a few hours under his belt, and he’s even soloed a small airplane, he quickly understood the concept and he even helped me to reach over and set Doug’s bugs. May as well make him useful.

The departure was uneventful, and I did my relief-pilot duty of dividing the flight into three parts of about an hour and fifty minutes each to divide up the breaks.

I was fortunate to be back in the cockpit during Mike, the copilot’s break, when we passed just south of Ireland as the sun was rising. I couldn’t help thinking how Lindbergh may have hit this exact part of Ireland, near the Dingle Peninsula, on his solo flight across the Atlantic.

I also thought of Ruthann,, who lives in a tiny village in Western Ireland. She’s been reading my blog almost since the beginning and she’s the one responsible for editing and proofreading everything I’ve written since coming over to Gadling.

Since the age of eleven, Ruthann has gone to sleep while listening on a VHF radio to Shanwick Air Traffic Control give out clearances to airplanes passing just above her house.

She still catches our flight every now and then, using a VHF or HF radio. I suppose you could say she’s an aviation nut–just take one look at her flickr pictures to get an idea. She plans to start flight training this fall in Florida.

After arriving in Paris, we went down the stairs near the top of the jetbridge and down to the waiting bus. After swinging around to pick up Doug’s step-son at the front of the terminal, we were on our way to the hotel.

The Saturday morning van ride took only 35 minutes–a far shorter ride than the hour and forty-five minute ride that’s common on weekdays.

Since this was the first trip of three 3-day Paris trips in a row, I figured I’d catch up on some sleep, so I arranged to meet Doug and Mack at a pub after a nice five hour ‘nap.’

Doug and Mack toured all over Paris, going all the way up to Montmartre, north of the city and finally ending up at a wine tasting event that’s held at the Dernier Goute, a wine store in the Latin Quarter.

I worked my way toward the pub where we’d meet up, stopping at my favorite creperie for a crepe Nutella. For me, it’s not an official Paris trip without a crepe Nutella.

Doug found a nice Irish pub right off the Seine called “Le Galway.” Since we both have GSM cell phones that work in Europe, he was able to send me text messages to let me know exactly how to find this pub.

Mike managed to find the meeting point as well, so we worked our way to the metro station where we’d eventually come out in front of the Arc de Triumph.

Doug had read some great reviews about a restaurant that was moderately priced, especially considering the quality. Le Hide is described by Alexander Lobrano of Gourmet magazine as “a fantastic new bistro run by genial Japanese chef Hide Kobayashi. I left looking forward to my next meal here, and since I’m not alone, make sure to reserve, since word is getting around on this one.

We chose our appetizers and entrées, and left the desert choice for later. The prix fix meal was 29 Euros, which was great for such a prime location. As I’ve mentioned before, a pr
ix fix menu is made up of your choice of one of the starters, one main course and often a dessert.

I played it safe and ordered the Lyonnaise sausage over mashed potatoes, while Mike and Mack went for the escargot. Doug’s appetizer was the pan fried foie gras.

Doug and Mike insisted that I try their appetizers. I may have made a mistake in playing it safe, since I sampled a bit of Mike’s escargot and Doug’s foie gras, which were both out of this world.

For the main course, I had the pan-fried fillet of sole, and the others had either saute of chicken or veal chops in a butter sauce. That was all I needed to officially crown the French as having the best food in the world.

And we hadn’t even had desert by then.

Unfortunately, the battery in my camera died during our time in the city. Luckily Mack came to the rescue with some nice shots along the way. Thanks, Mack.

The next day, Mack came up to the cockpit once again during boarding to pose with Doug and Mike. I was busy doing the preflight, of course. I think he had a great time on his second trip to Paris with Doug.

Doug bought enough supplies to have a Parisian picnic in the cockpit on the way home, sans wine of course. We enjoyed some baguette and cheese, and some deli meat that had to be eaten before we arrived in Boston since the U.S. agricultural department doesn’t allow these kind of food items into the country.

We usually end up racing Air France flight 332 into Boston at the end of the leg. We generally beat them into Logan, which is important because U.S. customs occasionally prevents our passengers from deplaning until the crowd of people from other flights has cleared the customs area.

But this time, AF332, was just passing 2000 feet overhead as we prepared for our descent. Even though they managed to get a few miles ahead of us, Boston center decided that they’d give the Air France flight a 30 degree heading change to properly space the arrivals. That meant we’d be in the lead.

As I went to get my camera and take a picture of the second-place Air France jet, it slipped into the melted bucket of water that was once full of ice. I immediately yanked out the battery to prevent anything from shorting out.

Perhaps it’s just payback for taking the lead away from the faster Air France flight. But I’m happy to report that after drying out for 24 hours, the camera works fine.

Anytime you can take a family member or close friend on one of your trips, it hardly feels like work. I’m sure Doug was excited to bring Mack along. It was fun for all of us to experience the city through his eyes. I’m hoping that Mack continues flying, as I’d love to have him as my co-pilot someday.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston. For the months of May through July, he’ll focus on Paris almost exclusively. If you have any good suggestions for Parisian activities, feel free to leave your tips in the comments.