Month: August 2011

Over the Pyrenees!

The Pyrenees
Over the Pyrenees on a clear day.

We witnessed amazing views over the Pyrenees last week on our way to Barcelona.  The day was particularly clear with little haze.  The flight only took us around 2 hours and we were in clear skies and temperatures nearing 30C – a stark change from the weather back in UK!

We flew to Kaunas the next day, and as usual, on this route, we got a direct routing, saving us some fuel and time.  Just towards the end of our landing roll, I saw, what appeared to be a fawn, or baby deer, cross the runway! I had to look again to check that I wasn’t imagining it.  I let the tower know about it and told them that it had now happily trotted off into the woods.  I’ve seen cats, dogs and rabbits crossing the runway, but this is a first!

It was my turn to fly to Alicante, and so I experienced flying a 20 degree offset VOR approach to Runway 28.  We were initially given a direct routing to the initial approach fix, where we had slowed down and began configuring for the approach.  The 20 degree offset meant that we approached the runway from the right-side, or slightly from the north-east rather than directly from the east (facing west) completely aligned with the runway as we usually are.  I’ve done offset approaches before, but the most I have been is 8 degrees in Murcia, which doesn’t look too far away from the extended centre-line.  At the start of the approach, we spotted the runway and it was positioned to the left relative to us rather than straight ahead, and as we got closer, the gap closed.  I decided to configure slightly earlier in order to reduce the workload later on, and so that I could concentrate on flying manually and aligning the aircraft with the runway early on, to ensure and establish a stabilised approach.  It turned out to be much easier than I thought it would have been and it was good fun!  In addition, the views on the approach were amazing, since it took us over the sea facing south-west initially, and then we turned towards a more westerly heading, facing the land.

Type Rated for 2 Years

It’s now 2 years since I completed my Boeing 737 300-900 type rating at OAA, Stockholm, and the time has gone by fast!  I completed and passed my LST (line skills test) on 11 August 2009.  Since then I have gained almost 1500 hours of experience on type and I am aiming to unfreeze my fATPL soon.  At the end of this month, it will have been 3 years since I graduated from flight school – so this month is full of anniversaries!

I had the opportunity of being a safety pilot again this week, for a new cadet.  We flew to Alicante, and it was a rather blustery day, at Liverpool and Alicante!  He landed on both sectors and did quite well.  There wasn’t much that I had to do since the cadet was at a rather good standard already.  By the time I had arrived at the crew room, he was already there and had all the paperwork ready – he was there almost an hour and 15 minutes ahead of the report time!  I politely asked him if he needed any help and then read over, checked and signed the paperwork.  I let the Training Captain brief the cadet, as I quietly listened, in order to give the cadet some space!  The day was quite uneventful, and the cadet did quite well, and I helped out where I could with tasks such as getting the weather, helping with re-fueling supervising and walkarounds.

As much as I enjoy being a safety pilot, as it also gives me an opportunity to watch and learn, I much prefer to fly the aircraft myself!  So I was glad to be back in the right-hand seat the next day, flying to Palma de Mallorca.  We flew over France, which was cloudy in parts, and as soon as we crossed over the Pyrenees, it was completely clear.  It was amazing to see how the mountain range forms a barrier against the clouds.

Pyrenees
The Pyrenees, with cloud to the North and completely clear to the South!

Palma’s always an interesting and busy airport and we have to be quite careful because they do sometimes sequence you in tightly behind other aircraft.  Furthermore, we always include a slightly more comprehensive briefing before decent and talk about a possible side-step maneuver that ATC may impose on us without much notice, so that we are prepared in the event. A side-step maneuver is when you approach one runway and then visually maneuver to a parallel runway and land on the parallel runway.  It was 26C and rather humid when we got there.  We had beautiful views of Barcelona and the coastline on the way there and out of Palma.  It’s a rather large city, and I managed to spot Barcelona airport from the window on my side.

Palma Airport
A Spanair Airbus A320 taking off from Runway 24R. They were using 24L exclusively for landings and 24R for takeoffs.

Yesterday, I flew to Murcia and we landed there just before sunset.  The routing took us through France and the Pyrenees again and during our descent we passed over Alicante.  En route the weather was smooth and only during climb did we experience some windshear and turbulence.  As we climbed above 30,000ft we gained a tailwind of around 100kts and it then stabilised around 85kts as we passed 35,000ft and then suddenly just after 37,500ft it suddenly dropped to just under 50kts.  This gave the aircraft a sudden input of energy, giving us a higher than usual climb rate.  We made sure to decrease the climb rate to avoid any TCAS alerts or warnings and to smooth the shear.  TCAS is a traffic collision and avoidance system that we have on board the aircraft and it uses the equipment on board to look for other aircraft in the vicinity and alert us if we are too close to them or on a collision course.  It gives us alerts, warnings and guidance on how to maneuver the aircraft in the event of an imminent collision.  High climb rates can sometimes set the system off, since in RVSM airspace, the vertical separation between aircraft may only be 1000ft.  We had initially requested 39,000ft for our cruise altitude, however after considering the drop in the tailwind, we elected to go back down to 37,000ft to take advantage of the higher tailwind, giving us a more economical fuel burn.

Anvil
Looks like the remnant of a thunderstorm - the anvil.

The weather in Murcia was fantastic, so we chose to fly a visual approach.  Once the airfield was in sight, we took a turn to take us downwind of Runway 05R, partly over the sea and then turned back in towards the runway once we were configured and had slowed down.  It was a lovely day to do a visual, and I really enjoyed it.

Greece

I have been kept busy by flying for the past few months, and lately I’ve had the pleasure of flying to the Greek Islands of Kos & Rhodes.  These are the new routes, that were launched this year. I’ve also passed another simulator check, which clears me for another 6 months!  I’ve also been busy with iOS programming and have released another program called WX Brief.  I’ve been releasing updates to WX Charts Europe as well to improve it and add features.  WX Brief gives you access to the latest METARs and TAFs for airports worldwide, also presents them in a friendly format, and gives you access to statistics, such as the variation of temperature over the past 12 hours.

Greek Islands
En route to the Greek Island of Kos, one of the many Greek Islands.

The flight to the Greek Island of Kos takes just over 4 hours, but it seems to feel less than the routes that we do to the Canary Islands due to the interesting terrain and countries we fly over.  The route initially takes us past London, towards Amsterdam and into Germany.  We pass the Alps as we fly over Austria, and then into Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.  It is quite a beautiful view en route with the mountains to the south and beautiful lakes and green vegetation to the north.  The routing takes us close to the coast of Croatia, through Macedonia and finally overhead Greece.  We fly over Thessaloniki, over the Aegean Sea and finally begin our decent to Kos.  Kos is a small Island, just south of Izmir, Turkey – quite close to Turkey.

Greek Island
Beautiful sea with a spray of Greek Islands.

There are many islands spread around the Aegean Sea, some small and others larger.  Many coast lines around these islands have beautiful beaches with an inviting turquoise shade in the water.  The view during decent is simply stunning.  I’ve flown to Kos a couple of times now, and the approach is procedural there, without radar.  The controllers can be a little more unpredictable than usual and with the language barrier, it’s important to have a heightened sense of situational awareness and try to communicate as clearly as possible.  Rhodes is slightly easier in the sense that it is a radar vectored, ILS approach – which means that the controller guides you in towards the runway to land.  Rhodes airport is situated just on the edge of the coast line, which makes the views on approach absolutely amazing.  I flew to Rhodes a few days ago, and we were first vectored downwind, which was parallel to the coast, with the view to my right.  We were then eventually given headings to intercept the final approach course and fly towards the runway and land.  On the approach, we flew over the city and as we got closer to the runway, I had a great view of the coast and the beautiful turquoise-shaded sea.