Enroute Rhodes

It’s been a while! I’ve been busy creating iOS apps – the latest additions being AirScape & Recipe Box.  I’m really enjoying iOS development and I suspect that it will keep me busy for quite a while yet (in addition to the flying)!  I had a great break away in March, and now I’m flying again this month.

The first duty I was rostered for was a flight to the Greek island of Rhodes, which is located in the eastern Aegean Sea, close to Turkey.  The route took us across Europe, passing the Alps, which were still rather snowy, owed to the cold weather we have still been experiencing.

Italian Alps
The Italian Alps. Still covered with snow.

Rhodes was a mild 18C and quite hazy – the first time I’ve seen it so.  I absolutely love the approach into Rhodes.  We approach the island from the west, passing the island of Kos on the way, and also many of the other Greek islands that are dotted around the sea.  The radar controllers then vector the aircraft parallel to the runway , bringing us over the town, which we have to be careful for since we are not supposed to descend below a certain altitude for noise considerations.  Then we are given a final heading to intercept the ILS for our final approach to the runway.  The view is amazing and the water looks absolutely gorgeous – a beautiful aqua colour that just makes you want to dive in after you’ve landed!  What a treat for the passengers!

Greek Islands
Greek Islands

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.

The Dordogne

Dordogne
The Dordogne viewed from 38,000ft passing at over 450mph.

Last week my flights took me to the Dordogne départment of France.  Views over France were stunning thanks to the clear skies and temperatures were mild at just above 20ºC.  As we began our descent the picturesque countryside around the Dordogne region grew closer and closer and looked beautiful as it bathed in the morning sunlight.  This was the first sector of the day out of 4 and the last two sectors took me further south to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France which borders the Pyrenees.  Just as our descent point approached, a view of the Pyrenees materialised in the distance, almost as if it was a mirage…

A day in Dublin & a couple of hops to Palma

This week was interesting – I had the opportunity to fly out of base for just a day, from Dublin.  The last time I went away was in December, to Madrid.  My base has regular flights to Dublin on the network, so it was rather convenient getting there, and it was a relaxed 2 sector day with a flight to Bergamo, Italy.  On the way back to Dublin, as we got to the southern coast of England, we got a nice short-cut and from ATC and flew in a north-westerly direction towards Dublin. This gave us a nice view of the western coast of England and it was a beautiful, clear night and gave me a great view of the coastline of Ireland & UK, and the piece of airspace that I make my short flights through between UK and Dublin, so often.

The next two flights took me to Palma de Mallorca.  On the one day the flight started a little later, and so we began our descent just as the sun set, and on the other day the flight was much earlier, so gave us the chance to enjoy the views in daylight.

 

Pyrenees at Sunset
Just about to descend as the sun sets over the Pyrenees.

 

I quite enjoy the flight path to Palma, it does give some amazing views as we are inbound.  We initially route over Birmingham, towards London and on passing London to our left, we see the Isle of White to our right.  The flight then takes us over France – Brest, Bordeaux and then over the Pyrenees just after passing Toulouse.  If it’s a clear day I will often point out the interesting details of the view en route to the passengers and it was on both of the flights this week.  Once we are over the Pyrenees and well into our descent, we fly over Barcelona and route further south over the coast and the Mediterranean Sea towards Palma. Eventually we see the high terrain and beautiful cliffs on the northern side of the island come into view. The view that the return flight gives is equally as impressive. We took off from the south-westerly facing runway and the standard departure eventually allows us to turn north, which gives us stunning views of the holiday resorts on the island and once again, the cliffs.

Above 10ºC & 1 hour forward

Temperatures around here are finally going above 10ºC, which is definitely welcome and with an hour forward today, longer daylight ours are certainly welcome!  However, I’m not so sure of the 2 hours that were proposed instead of one hour.  My roster is starting to get busier with the Summer arriving and the beginning of the Summer schedule.  We enjoyed a few days of clear skies and, pleasantly mild, temperatures.

Red Sox Jet
A Red Sox Business Jet parked at Liverpool Airport.

My app is doing well – thanks to everyone that’s downloading it and supporting it.  I’ll continue adding features and improving it. Here are a few screenshots:

WX Charts Europe
Home Screen
WX Charts Europe
Chart information view that shows the legend/key of each type of chart.
WX Charts Europe
A list of bookmarked charts that can be all downloaded for offline use.
WX Charts Europe
Chart view, showing the chart with an option to email or save the chart.

I flew to Alicante a couple of days ago and had a chance to get a closer look at the new terminal, which does look rather smart:

Alicante
Alicante's new terminal.

Almost 1.5 years

It’s been almost 1.5 years since I started flying on line, and now have just over a 1000 hours on type!  Over the past few months since my last post, I’ve been kept busy with flying, developing my own iPhone app and also getting back into Web design/development.

One of my more memorable weeks was the one that I spent in Madrid, in December 2010.  It was challenging, but also enjoyable.  I was on the late shift, which gave me the opportunity to relax in the morning, enjoy the hotel facilities and explore the local area.  This was my first time flying from a major hub and parallel runway operations for 5 days.  Madrid has four runways – two of which are used for take off and the other two for landing.  The taxy times were often longer than what I was used to: around 15 – 20 minutes depending on how far the parking stand was from the runway and the traffic on the ground.  I have flown into Madrid before, from Marseille, so it wasn’t completely new to me.

Madrid Barajas
Madrid Barajas - view from our parking stand. Was a rather stormy day.

 

I flew to domestic destinations such as Alicante, Santander, Santiago, Valencia – three of which I flew to on the first day, a rather ‘straight into the deep-end’ introduction to Madrid!  The next few days were more relaxed with longer sectors and I flew to Oujda (Morocco), Rome, Charleroi (Brussels), and Bergamo (near Milan).  I do fly to some of these destinations from my base, however I found the different routing interesting and gave me different views on descent and approach.  For example, we approached Rome from the West, giving us a fantastic view of the coast, rather than the North, where we would be flying over the Alps.

Oujda, Morocco
Oujda, Morocco - was rather warm here in December!

Madrid gave me a fair share of experiences and the weather was rather varied – the week started out rather stormy and rainy, foggy at nights, which covered Madrid in rather dense fog one night requiring an automatic landing, and it ended with sunny and clear skies.  I took the opportunity to go into Madrid city centre whilst I was there and visited the Royal Palace and various other museums and attractions.  The temperature was much warmer so it was a welcome change to be in 15C after coming in from sub-zero temperatures from UK!

The Winter period is always quieter than Summer, which gave me some spare time to spend on projects that I have always been interested in.  I taught myself how to develop iPhone apps and created WX Charts Europe. This app displays various weather charts, allows you to save/download them for offline viewing, email them and have a favourites list as well.

VIPs

The week started with what was going to be a short day – just a couple of flights to Ireland.  At Dublin we picked up a VIP, with the whole entourage of cars, men with ear pieces (bit like it is in an episode of Prison Break) and a security detail.  Then, just as we were shutting the aircraft down, we were told that we were given an extra two flights to Derry and back – such is aviation and so there’s a need for a degree of flexibility to accommodate anything that can change!

The contrail of an aircraft that just passed us by overhead.

The next day, I flew to Lanzarote with a Captain who’s South African.  It was interesting to know his story and ask about his experience flying different type of aircraft and in different airlines around the world.  He mentioned that he flew the 747, 727, 737 classic amongst other myriad of aircraft.  I asked him some questions about the handling qualities of the other aircraft types in the Boeing range in comparison to the 737-800 and as most people have told me, the other aircraft have better handling qualities, or at least are more stable.  We also had a chat about South Africa, as I also have family there.

I flew to Wroclaw & Szczecin for the first time, and still astounded by how warm the Summers are in Poland!  I’ve only been to Poland in Winter previously, and they’re bitterly cold!

Flying through orange clouds…!

We’ve had some great weather the last couple of weeks, and I hope it continues!  It’s given me nice views of UK as I’ve been flying South towards my destinations during the day, which other than recently is often shrouded by clouds.  The sunsets have been amazing, with different colours in different layers of cloud and levels of the atmosphere.  Many times the views have resembled surreal paintings.

The Southern coast of England and the Isle of Wight in view.

Coming into Malaga was amazing as usual, and the sun was setting just as we were about to leave for UK. Malaga is the new Ryanair base, which opened just a few days ago.  A friend of mine was greeted by a welcome party with full festivities, musical instruments and the press on the day it opened – which was to their surprise, as they didn’t expect it!  As we were taxying towards the runway, we passed the 4 aircraft that are now based in Malaga parked on the stand.  Quite a few new bases have opened since I’ve joined, and the newest one is Barcelona El Prat – now we have 3 airports serving the Barcelona area.

The aircraft parked at the gate with the sun setting behind us.

I did my first SRA this week when returning from Palma –  to aid in controller training.  We were happy to do this, as we fully briefed it and we were fully visual as well, without a cloud in sight! A SRA (surveillance radar approach) is where the controller gives us headings, tells us when to start descending to the MDA (minimum descent altitude) and gives us advice on what altitude we should be at certain points of the approach.  I think if I were to do this in IMC conditions, I would be a little nervous as I’m putting faith into the controller whilst I am quite close to the ground on headings to steer and when to descend! Palma was unusually quiet again, and luckily we had no slots to delay us this time!  The views coming in are amazing, as we got closer, the cliffs and mountains on the northern side of the island began to materialise.  Once we passed them, we were given a right turn for a straight in ILS approach onto 24L – one of the westerly facing runways.  The view on departure is also amazing – we can see the resorts, the beautiful blue/turquoise lagoons and beaches….!

Sunset over the Alps.

The next day, we set off for Bergamo and we began descent just as the sun was setting over the Alps. Needless to say, but the view was just magical!  The clouds turned bright orange & pink and almost looked as if they were on fire.  I have never gone through an orange cloud before then!

About to go through an orange cloud as the sun sets over the Alps.

I’ve got another busy week next week involving destinations in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Poland & Portugal.