Tag Archives: early

Early

It’s 5:45 in the morning and we are hurtling through the clouds, pushed eastward by 80 knots of wind and the thrust of our engines. The FO is flying and I’m trying to remember if I’ve done everything to get us set for landing, while still blinking the sleep out of my eyes. Ahead of us, illuminated by the beam of the landing light, gray clouds whip into view and disappear seconds later as we rock back and forth in light turbulence. I start to feel slightly dizzy and not sure if it’s the early hour, the lack of breakfast or the view out the window I hedge my bets and flip off the exterior lighting. The outside world goes dark and I immediately begin to feel better.

Charlotte Approach turns us on to the downwind for the ILS and I clean up the FMS so it displays the approach. Across the cockpit the FO switches from GSP navigation to short range, ground based navigation to get ready for the approach. The cloud ceiling is at 5000 feet, but we may need the ILS to get below the clouds, and it is nice to have for the autopilot to follow down to the runway. I follow suit on my side and after several seconds the navigation computer correctly identifies the radio beacon by the morse code transmission that piggy backs on the navigation frequency.

In the darkness my mind begins to wander and I realize that my last four Facebook updates have contained the word “early” in them. In my present state I can’t decide if that’s funny or sad. Approach descends us to 3000 feet and turns us on a base leg. On the multi function display a single TCAS target slides along the white line depicting the approach.

We break out of the clouds and the darkened ground comes into view, lit by the millions of scattered lights of Urban America. Out the left window, 6 miles away is the runway and airport, a splotch of darkness across the landscape. Closer in the flashing strobes of the traffic we are follow slides across the ground below. Approach asks if we see the airport and out of the corner of my eye I see the FO nod his head. We get a clearance for the visual approach and are told to switch over to tower.

This is the second morning in a row that we’ve flown this flight. Yesterday it looked liked we’d land before 6am but due to a strong headwind on final touched down at 6:02am. As we turn in towards the runway, still 5 miles away the GPS synced clock is showing 5:51am. The FO points this out as he calls for the landing gear and flaps and points the nose over towards the runway. I have no idea if he is happy or sad about this fact but decide that 1500 feet above the ground and 3 minutes from touchdown is not the time or place to find out. Below us the splatter of ground lighting sliding by slows to a crawl as our airspeed rolls back and the wind swings around from the right side to the nose. Ahead the airplane we are following passes over the runway approach lighting system, momentarily blotting it out.

We are passing through 500 feet when the plane clears the runway. Runway 5 slopes uphill for the first 2/3rds and then drops back down. Beyond the runway, against the dark horizon, the lights of downtown Charlotte burn brightly. As we descend towards the ground the far end of the runway disappears from view behind its crest, making the lighted pavement look like some sort of yellow brick road, leading towards the Emerald City. I shake my head and blink my eyes rapidly, dispelling any such random thoughts and focus on the quickly approaching asphalt.

The GPS clock says 5:58 as our main wheels touchdown and spin up. The wing spoilers pop up automatically and the FO cracks open the thrust reversers. Due to our light load and the up sloping runway, we quickly slow to a taxi speed. I take control from the FO and with the tiller turn off to the right and towards the still mostly empty gates. The fleet is scattered all across the east coast, most planes already airborn and heading this way, while some still sit at gates waiting to get going while several hundred miles to the east the Sun is coming over a slowly lightening horizon, flecking the windswept waters of the Atlantic with gold.

Into The Sunlight

We are blasting our way eastward through the still morning air with the FO driving. I am splitting my attention between watching the slowly shrinking pattern of ground lighting below us and the healthy climb rate the instrumentation is showing. I’m also working the radios but at this early hour there isn’t much happening on that front. Razorback Departure hands us over to Memphis Center and after a brief conversation with the controller sitting in a room a hundred miles away, a room about as dark as the cockpit I’m currently in, I go back to looking out the window.

Our 5:35am departure out of Fayetteville, Arkansas made us the first flight to call the tower ready to go. FedEx and UPS had long since headed off to Memphis and Louisville and at the gates other Express aircraft for United, Delta and American were starting to load up to go but we had the taxiway and runway to ourselves. The plane, lightly loaded, was straining skyward by 130 knots and at 145 knots the FO pulled her off the ground and into the dark sky.

The lights of Fayetteville have disappeared behind the wing. To the north Memphis is clearly illuminated despite the early hour. 200 miles off our nose, just over the horizon Nashville is waking up to another day. 25 minutes from now, when we pass over at 33,000 feet the roads will be filled with the start of the morning commute and the first bank of departures will have already taken off from the airport. As we level off, almost 5 miles above the earth, the eastern skyline starts to turn from deep black to dark blue.

The ride is smooth and I turn off the seatbelt sign. I’m guessing most of our 20 odd passengers are sleeping but this way they can get up and move about it they want. With my seat pushed all the way back I stretch my legs out but my toes bump the rudder pedals. The CRJ cockpit was not designed for comfort or calisthenics, although apparently it is much better than some other airplanes flying around out there.

My abbreviated stretching session completed I go back to watching the horizon which is now a light blue with a line of pale yellow starting to show at the bottom. I take a second to dig around in my flight case to find my sunglasses. When the sun comes up, it tends to come up quickly and it helps to have things in place ready to go. The horizon is still uniform in color so it’s hard to tell where exactly the sun will pop up but I take an educated case and place the tinted sun visor on the overhead rail and slide it to where I think the curving disk of the sun will rise in a few minutes.

The horizon is now a pale gold color which stretches upwards 15 or 20 degrees. There is a perceptible switch in the intensity of the light and within the space of a minute the bottom edge of the horizon line goes from gold to orange to red and then the top of the sun, glowing brightly, clears the curve of the earth and daybreak comes as we cross over the top of Nashville. 400 miles away the sun is high in the sky over Charlotte where another day has already started.

Winter’s Back

Yes, I’ve been remiss about updating this. I’ve been busy… doing nothing.

Yesterday I finished up a four day trip which served as an introduction back into winter operations. As was the trip turned out to be pretty easy, but with the weather system moving through it could have been a whole lot worse. All of our flying was confined to the southeast (with one quick trip up to DC and another to Lexington). While we did turns to mostly sunny North and South Carolina other crews fought through a early season Northeastern snow storm. At one point while sitting in the plane on the ramp in sunny Greenville, SC I got a phone call from a friend who was currently grounded in Scanton, PA due to 1/8th of an inch of slush on the runway and windblown snow.

Despite not having to deal with frozen precip (we didn’t even deice the whole trip) we did have pretty gusty winds near the surface and strong winds aloft for the majority of the trip. This manafest itself in bumpy rides down low and increased flight times as we fought against 150mph + headwinds. The worst was a flight from DCA down to Huntsville, AL that normally takes about 1:15 in the air. With the winds as they were it took us 1:54 from the time the wheels came up until my FO managed a nice landing on the 12,000 foot long alternate shuttle landing runway in Alabama.

This was also the first 4 day trip I’d flown in a while, and the shear length of it (I’m used to one and two day trips now) coupled with the early morning show times (6:15am, 4:50am, 6am and 6:15am) made for a long trip. Of course it didn’t help that I got home at 5pm on the last day and had to be back at the airport at 5am the next day to sit hot reserve.

No Sleep ‘Till Dayton

So, I’ve been listening to the Beastie Boys. (hence the title).

Anyhow, yesterday was a rough day. I called in the night before for my reserve time (after being woken up at 5am to go to the airport at 6:30am to sit hot reserve until 3pm) and was given a 5am regular reserve. Excellent. Works for me. Maybe I’ll even get to sleep in. Then, at 9:30 my phone rings it’s wonderful scheduling ringer and for some stupid reason I answer it. Now, understand that once I had my reserve time the next morning I don’t have to talk to scheduling any more until my reserve time starts the next morning. But of course I wasn’t really thinking clearly and I picked up the stupid phone. They reassigned me (illegally of course) at 4:39am show for a day trip down to Charlotte. So, instead of sleeping in (haha) until at least 5am, I now had to get up at 3:15 in order to make it to the airport by 4:39am. Lovely.

I managed to get in bed by 10:30 but didn’t fall asleep until I turned on the air conditioning at 11:30. Then, for what ever reason I woke up at 2am and couldn’t go back to sleep so I just got up at 3am. Yep, that gave me a massive 2 hours and 30 minutes of sleep, after being up since 5am the morning before. Anyhow, I somehow managed to drag myself to the airport and once there I started to wake up pretty quickly. I was on the plane by 4:45 and we were loaded up and ready to go by 5:20.

The flight down to Charlotte was my FO’s leg and I actually was feeling pretty good. About halfway down the sun started rising and it was looking like it was going to be a nice day. Of course at that point ATC told us the planes were going missed in Charlotte because of the fog down there and to expect holding shortly. A quick look at our fuel showed that that wouldn’t work out too well for us, so I started playing the what if game.

Basically we need to be landing with 3000 pounds of fuel in the CRJ700. (We work in pounds, not gallons, and it works out to about 6 pounds per gallon so you do the math). That gives us 45 minutes before the engines suck the fuel tanks dry. 45 minutes may sound like a long time, but in reality, it’s not much when you are up in the air and at the 45 minute mark you no longer will be. When the put us in holding we had 5000 pounds of fuel on board. I did some quick math, backed up by the flight management computer and decided that Greer, South Carolina, about 50 miles to our south looked like the best place to go if we got low on fuel. It was about 50 miles away and at our current fuel burn it would take about 300 pounds of fuel to get there. I doubled it for my spider plant at home (most people use their wife/kids/goldfish, but I have none of those so my plant has to do) and then added another 100 just because. That meant at 3700 pounds of fuel remaining we would have to head over to Greer. It worked out that it would take 3800 pounds to get to Charlotte, so at 3800 we would head over to Greer anyways. That meant we had 1200 pounds of “play fuel” or at our current burn rate about 30 minutes to spin circles in the sky.

I called back to the FAs to let them know what was going on and they told me most everybody in the back was awake so I made a PA. If the majority had been sleeping I wouldn’t have bothered seeing as how ignorance is bliss and all. It ended up working out pretty well. By the time we had done one turn in the hold the weather was up enough that they were letting planes back into Charlotte. We turned back inbound and were cleared to continue on our route after holding for only 5 minutes. The rest of the approach was straight forward and we broke out of the fog at about 900 feet. After landing it was a quick taxi in to the gate where they actually plug in ground power and air making me feel like I worked at a “real” airline.

45 minutes later we were loaded up and pushing back to had over to Wilmington. Despite my lack of sleep I was still doing pretty well and managed to make one of my nicest 700 landings there. It’s on tape so I may upload it later. We had 45 minutes in ILM so I ran in and got a cranberry muffin for breakfast. It wasn’t as good as the last time, but when it comes to sugar filled baked goods I’m not picky. We then loaded up 40 more passengers and blasted off west bound to Charlotte. Despite some haze we made it in no problem (see picture below) and headed to the gate to start our 3 hour and 59 minute break.

Yeah, you read that right. Almost 4 hours of sitting and doing nothing. Fortunately a guy from my new hire and upgrade class was sitting hot reserve so we hung out for a while and then got lunch at Chili’s. That killed almost 3 hours so by then I was able to head down to the gate and get on the plane. Despite being 10 minutes late off the gate because our ramp crew took a mini vacation we got right out to the runway with no waiting and headed northwest towards Dayton and home. As we leveled off at 28,000 my exhaustion started catching up with me. A couple hits of O2 woke me back up enough to managed an ok crosswind landing in Dayton and then taxi in to the gate.

The drive home was mostly a blur, and then I was done and able to finally go to sleep. Of course I didn’t though. I was home by 5:30pm but I forced myself to stay awake until 9:30 so I wouldn’t wake up at 4am and not be able to go back to sleep. As was I got up this morning at 9am feeling mostly much better. Today is my last day of reserve and as of now it looks like they won’t be using me so I think I’ve survived the week.

Give Me…. Sleep!

I have a wonderful “early” show tomorrow. I put early in quotes because at 6:40am it’s really not that early. It could be much worse. Like the next morning, at 5am. Either way, the trick is getting to sleep early the night before and at least pretending to get a somewhat normal amount of sleep before getting up early. The problem with that is that it can be difficult to move a sleep schedule in just one day. Normally I try to slide my schedule forward or backwards as I approach a set of early or late shows. I’ve been planning all week to go to bed earlier and earlier each night as I got closer to this evening, and force my self to get up earlier and earlier.

Unfortunately it didn’t exactly work out that way. The *plan* was to go to bed around 10pm last night and get up at 7am, giving myself my normal 9 hours of sleep. And then tonight I would go to sleep at 9pm and get up at 5am, which would still give me 8 hours. So here it is 9:35pm and I’m typing this and not 34 minutes into my first sleep cycle. So what happened?

Well, I actually did get into bed only 45 minutes later then I wanted to last night. The problem is, the heat kept me up. I tossed and turned from 10:45 until almost midnight. At that point I gave up and turned on the air conditioning. It took about 20 minutes for my apartment to cool down and I eventually fell asleep. Because of that I ended up sleeping in until almost 9am. That means of course I’m not really tired right now.

Wonderful how it all works out huh? I’m playing it smart tonight and the AC came on 15 minutes ago. Hopefully it will be cool enough when I do go to sleep in a few minutes here that I’ll actually be able to fall asleep for real. Even if I do, 5am is going to seem REALLY early tomorrow morning.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. A late night arrival into Chattanooga, TN late last month.

The Big 1K

When I was logging the last trip I did I realized I hit 1000 hours on Thursday. Looking at the actual legs times it looks like I crossed the great divide while waiting for some PHL rampers to walk over and get the plane to the gate. There’s some irony huh? It doesn’t feel much different being on the other side. I guess the next big one is 1500 so I can get my ATP and actually be qualified for the other seat (in pure hours, not experience!)

I got off of a 4 day on Thursday night. It wasn’t a bad trip over all, except we had 5am shows every day. A little on the early side for me, but at least two of the days we were done before 3pm. Trip highlight? The Mount Vernon Visual into DCA with a circle to 33. Nothing like yanking and banking at ref plus 10 at 300 AGL. It was actually a nice landing too which is always an added benefit. I undid any feeling of accomplishment I may have had by completly botching the last landing of the trip back into Dayton. I’ll blame it on the fact I was tired. Yeah, that’s it.

I spent about 4 hours yesterday getting my license, plates and title switched to OH. I guess I am really a resident of OH now. Good stuff. Or not. The process sucks. I had to go to the BMV and get an out of state inspections (where they charge you $3.50 to verify your VIN. Then I had to drive 15 minutes to an Echeck station for the emissions checking. No problem except they don’t take plastic so I had to go back home to get my checkbook. Back to Echeck and then back to the Title Office next to the BMV to switch the title to an OH one. Then I went back to the testing center in BMV to take the written test. You need 30/40 to pass. I was happy to only have to see 30 questions to finish it. (What color is a caution sign in a construction area? Hmmm.) Took a quick vision test and then went and stood in line for about an hour to hand in my MA license and the results of the written test. Fortunately they also took the title and the echeck there as well so I didn’t have to go into another line. So, after 4 hours I had a new license (which is good because the picture on my other one is from my learner’s permit when I was 16) and two new plates. I’ve got to go put them on the jeep today and then Fedex the Mass plates to my old insurance company so they will cancel my old policy. What a hassle.

I’m catching a 4:55 flight down to CLT to pick up a trip tonight. It’s open time so it is in addition to my monthly hours. A quick flight to Memphis, a long overnight and then a return to CLT. I should be back in Dayton by 9:00 tomorrow night. We’ll see.

Two pictures from my last trip

>Power Plant near Charlie West.

Downtown New York on the way to Burlington.