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Pilot Trip Report--Day Two

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This is the second installment of Captain Ray Stark's springtime trip report.  To read the first installment, click here.  (To enlarge the photos, click on the picture.) Day Two: Three Legs To Louisville On this day we are blessed with a nifty 737-700. The 700 can fly higher and faster than the older 737-300 and 500 models. Today, both of these attributes will be handy to have in our bag of tricks. The line of weather we will face is clear of one of our destinations but skirting the first two. The weather map with which we are greeted day-2-wx-w.jpg shows weather between us and Houston (HOU). As you can see, the tops of some of these storms already reach into the 48,000 foot range and that is only about an hour after the sun has risen over Texas.  And, you can see by the arrows indicating the direction of movement, these tall storms will be trying to cross our path enroute to HOU. Isolated thunderstorms are pretty easy. They are the tallest variety and show up well on radar. Like trees in your path, you simply go around them. Embedded thunderstorms are a little trickier. Moisture attenuates (weakens) the radar signal going out and coming back to the antenna. That means your ability to discern details in what lays ahead is somewhat harder than when you can paint a crisp image of the thunderstorm on your radar and then back up what you see on the scope by looking out the front window. And, in the Boeing 737-700, the weather radar display overlays on your moving map which shows your route of flight. That makes weather avoidance really easy. Today we are fortunate. The large isolated storms to our south are out of our way. The embedded system to the north of our route is just barely out of our planned route. We end up deviating off the flight planned path for about ten minutes and are then cleared directly to San Antonio to start the arrival into HOU. As we pass the huge weather mass to our left, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) Center frequency we are working on at the time is Ft. Worth Center. We advise them of what we are looking at knowing full well we both know that system is headed their way. The Weather Channel is forecasting one to one and one-half inches of rain later that evening which will most likely cause flooding. We mention to ATC the 90 degree difference between the jet stream at 109 knots and the lower level winds moving northeasterly at 40 knots. Another perfect recipe for tornados. When we switch to Houston Center, we wish the Ft. Worth controller "Good luck tonight." He responds sincerely, "Thanks." Here is what we see bearing down on Dallas. central-tx-wx-w.jpgIt is 7:30 A.M. and the clouds are already above us at 41,000 feet. Wow. As we approach San Antonio, we see two small-diameter storms right over the city. hou-arrival-w.jpgOur route of flight will take us between them but the fit is a little tight for comfort so we ask and are granted clearance to deviate to the south around the two. Also, I call the Flight Attendants and get them busy picking up the cabin because the reports by ATC are that the ride is very bumpy in the latter stages of the descent. Passing these two storms, we are glad we sat everyone down because the ride gets pretty choppy and remains that way until about 12,000 feet. We land in Houston under overcast clouds and pick up the runway three miles out at 1000 feet. Day 2: Leg 2 Houston to St. Louis We check the weather picture for St. Louis (STL) day-2-wx-w.jpgand the line appears to be west of the airport and moving northeast. The latest airport weather for STL is partly cloudy with no rain. The radar summary below shows STL in the clear-for the moment. The climb out of HOU is smooth, unlike the ride on the west side of town. Nearing our cruising altitude, ATC sees a hole in the traffic and sends us direct to the start of the arrival into STL. Also at this time, Scott pulls up the latest weather for STLst-louis-atis-w.jpg and this is what we see: Translation: STL information ZULU indicates winds from 350 degrees at 12 gusting to 16 knots (light winds actually-right down the runway), visibility of one and one-half statute miles, heavy thunderstorms and rain showers (+ TSRA), a few (scattered) clouds at 1,400 feet, overcast above at 4,300 feet above the airport, 17 degrees centigrade (63 degrees F), altimeter 30.21 inches, and we can expect Runway 30R via the ILS (Instrument Landing System) approach. Not the sunny day we had hoped for, but in the two hours it takes us to get there, I am betting it will change. (At least the "+" on the thunderstorm thingie.) In the last hour prior to our arrival into STL, the ATIS (Automated Terminal Information System-the weather screen displayed earlier as ZULU) changes four times due to rapidly changing weather conditions. Normally, it updates at the top of the hour. As we start the arrival over Cape Girardeau, Missouri, we can now paint the rain showers on our radar. The tops of the clouds are fairly low, and that is good because that means less likelihood that there are thunderstorms imbedded in the clouds between us and the runway. Also, though the radar indicates plenty of moisture aloft, stl-30l-radar-picture-w.jpgthe moisture does not appear well defined-the main indication of thunderstorm presence. Thunderstorms appear with well-defined contours starting in green bands, turning to yellow, all surrounding a red core (indicating heavy moisture). As you can see in the picture to the right, the radar picture on approach just beyond the airport is red but very blotchy. The little parallel white lines represent the runways at STL, and you can see the 30L in white lettering as well. Out the windows ahead, we see the picture below. st-louis-30l-visual-w.jpgNotice the darkness in the distance. We break out and sight the runway about five miles out in light rain. On Tower frequency, we can hear planes being cleared for takeoff with instructions for an immediate left turn to avoid the weather. Our planned departure will take us to the right, but that can change, if need be. After we land and pull into the gate, the rain starts to build as another finger of this storm passes over the airport. As for what we face on our departure, we can only wait and see once we taxi out to the runway and look at what the radar shows. Day 2: Leg 3 St. Louis to Louisville  (The last leg) Inbound to STL, we extensively painted the weather in the area. Calling "Mom" (Dispatch in Dallas) for their radar feed would yield little information about the rapidly changing conditions on the field in STL.  We load up and head out for the runway. As we are cleared into position on the runway, Tower inquires if we are ready to go. We ask for a minute to look at the radar. Below is what we seeout the window: The radar summary we have (see below) shows the line has moved over STL but not by much. We should be able to blast east and get out of the weather in minutes. (Take a look at what has happened to the system sdf-leg-w.jpgwe passed only a few hours earlier in central Texas!!!) Tower asks us if we can fly runway heading into the weather, and based on the radar picture we have, which is nearly identical to the arrival picture, we suggest an immediate right turn would be better, but we can coordinate that with Departure ATC. (In an emergency, we can do what we need to do and coordinate with ATC as time permits.) A previous aircraft has departed that direction and has not complained-yet. Cleared for takeoff, we blast into the rain and are surprised by a very smooth ride and no thunderstorms visible ahead on the radar. In a couple of miles, Departure ATC clears us to turn to the southeast toward Louisville (SDF). Passing 20,000 feet, we are out of the weather and in clear air. The ride is still a little choppy downwind of the weather system. Because of the short nature of the flight (35 minutes), I call the Flight Attendants who are seated because of the potentially bumpy departure and cancel cabin service. The FA's will remain seated. The landing minutes later in SDF is under clear skies and 75 degree temperatures. We give the plane to two Pilots headed toward Tampa, FL. Off we go to the hotel.
26 Comments
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I'm enjoying your posts! It's interesting to read about a "day in the life of a pilot!" :) SWA LUV!
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Yet another great report, Capt'n Ray! Keep them coming!
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Like the others, I too am enjoying this thread. I know I mentioned earlier that a good friend gave me a copy of "This Is Your Captain Speaking". At that time I had just glanced through the book. But now I've read the entire thing and must state again how fascinating this book is. The book cover and reviews make it appear that this book is for people who are scared of flying. Maybe the 'scared of flying' demographic was the original reason for starting the book, but the book has a lot to offer for those who love flying and think turbulence makes for a more interesting and fun flight. Great posts from Captain Ray. A great book from Captain Ray. I hope to get to meet him on a flight someday. West Texas Blog Boy.
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Another great post Ray, looking over both posts reveals that you bid to be up with the roosters rather than the night owls. This time of the year I don't blame you for bidding for the earlier legs of the day. Looks like if I'm going to stand a chance of flying with you I'd better book a 6 something (AM) flight if you overnight here. Continue to keep the red side down.
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Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed trip report Capt. Stark; it's great reading for this ground dweller stuck in cubicleland.
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Now I REALLY hope to get a copy of the book when I go to the Freedom Shop on Thursday! Jedi Blog Master
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It is very interesting to hear the story from the front office. We flew from Orlando to Islip on Sunday night, April 15th, right into the heart of the Nor'easter that was grinding away over Long Island. Earlier in the day our flight, #1715, was cancelled but was then reinstated. Being a private pilot, I have a keen interest in the weather and how it affects flight. Before boarding I called weather and also a friend who flies a corporate jet out of Islip to get a sense of what we were in for. Storm tops were only around 22,000' so we would be over the weather for most of the flight. I prepped my wife by telling her the last 20 minute of the flight would be bumpy in decent and the landing would be 'firm' since we would be greated by gusty crosswinds. Sure enough, about 20 minutes out of Islip the Captain had the FA's in their seats and we had quite a washing machine ride on the way down. Having flown in to Islip many times, I knew what I should see out of the right side as we broke out.....wrong! Our crab angle was much greater than I expected due to much stronger winds. I checked ATIS after landing, we came in on runway 6, winds were steady in the high 20's gusting to 48 from 110 which gave us a 50 degree crosswind component. Not something I can do in my plane!!!! Anyway, as we broke out it was as if we went underwater, the rain was incredible. Touchdown was with authority. Because of the heavy rain there was standing water on the runway, and that combined with the very strong crosswind caused us to hydroplane. We made a few ocsillations back and forth, but the Captain did his dance and got it under control. The folks at Boeing get a big THANKS too, I don't know what the side loads on the main gear were, but they didn't fold up so that says something for that bird. As we left the plane the cockpit door remained closed, so I waited an the gate for a bit so I could shake the flight crew's hand, but my wife was getting impatient so we left. So if the crew of 1715 on April 15 is reading this, GREAT JOB!! I will look forward to Ray's 3rd installment.
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Thanks to all. (Glad someone finds this stuff interesting! 😉 ) Greg -The 737 is a "tank." If you want to get a feel for what the airframes go through during certification, check out http://www.metacafe.com/watch/39256/crosswinds/ Note: These landings are on dry runways. Wet runways are easier as they allow the tires to slip a little before they grab. The Boeing suggeted wet landing procedure is to stick it on pretty firm as that ensures wheel spin up and spoiler deployment. The added weight at touchdown helps get the plane stopped sooner. Hope to see you on a flight soon! Ray
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HOLY ----! Those landings are unreal. I had to watch the video a few times, jaw dropping each time. And - it looks like they are landing at a slight angle to the runway, so a slight overshoot would put them on dirt instead of pavement. WOW!
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These landings are in excess of the Boeing designated crosswind limits. There is not enough rudder left to get the nose aligned with the runway. That allows the manufacturer to demonstrate the structural capabilities of the gear in a high-sink-rate landing with high gear side loads. You can see the plane lean over on a couple of these touchdowns. OUCH!!! Ray
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I can see that I had NOTHING to worry about. Compared to those landings, ours was like landing in Jello.
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I have a few questions. When taking off, how many MPH is the plane going from the time it accelerates to the time it lifts off the runway? How many MPH is it going when it lands? Also, how much of the runway is used from the time the plane accelerates until it actually takes off? Two more: When an aircraft has to reroute while in the air due to, say, thunderstorms, why does it go over the particular city(ies) it does, & how far ahead of time do you know you have to reroute? I can think of at least two or three times of flights I've been on having to reroute while in the air because of storms. If I were a pilot, even though I know the rampers are backing the plane out, I'd want to do just like I do when I drive & turn to look & make sure there are no planes behind me! I'd also want to signal when I'm turning on the runway & when I'm in the air! 🙂
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I forgot two other questions, then I think that will be all (at least for a while!). Anyway, how many miles is the aircraft off the ground when you let the wheels up, & how many miles from the airport are you when you let the landing gear down?
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Seems like you had some fun on your trips. I don't mean to be a stickler and there is no ill intent to to correct the Captain BUUUUUUUUUT as a dispatcher I just wanted to let you know that: +TSRA is not heavy thunderstorms and rain showers but thunderstorms with heavy rain showers. And no worries for that mistake, that's why you captains have us dispatchers on the ground. :-)
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MM, Thanks for the correction! (How can lightning be heavy?" ;) Leah, Takeoff and landing speeds vary constantly due to the varying weight of the plane and outside air temperature. Most takeoffs are in the range of 120-160 knots. Landings are lower due to the additional flaps used during landing combined with the lighter weight of the landing due to fuel burned inflight. -120 to 140 mph. These speeds can get bumped a little due to winds at the airport. Runway used in T/O and LDG varies again due to weight and temperature with light takeoffs in a 700 in winter taking 2000-2500 feet with heavyweight summer takeoffs taking 5000 feet or more. Same with landing. Enroute "deviations" for weather are usually made on the fly by pilots. Sometimes, when arrival and departure corridors to your destination get clogged with weather, ATC can reroute you to get you in another way. That can be done prior to departure or enroute. Wheels up is usually accomplished under 100 feet right after liftoff. Gear down varies on how close the plane is to the airport and how slow the plane must fly. Usually, it goes down about 5 miles out at about 1500 feet. I have though how nice rearview mirrors would be on occasion! ;) Ray
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Leah, You've exceeded your average daily quota of questions! No more free answers -- quit being so cheap and just buy Ray's book so he can make another payment on that sailboat! The answers to your questions are that you'd have to ask more detailed questions. There are many variables that come into play with take-off and landing speeds, including air temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, altitude of the airport, and weight of the plane (fuselage + fuel + pax + cargo + lots of peanuts) just to name a few, although you might prefer to name them Bob and Suzy and Larry and ... Seriously, here are some links that may help answer some of your questions: http://www.boeing.com/commercial/737family/pf/pf_700tech.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeoff and on this page, (http://www.boeing.com/commercial/737family/background.html) please take note of who the "launch customer" (first airline to order) was for the 737-300, the 737-500 and the 737-700. See who has been leading the way with each of those three models? I'll bet you can guess! And yes, based on how you drove with me in the car, I'd say you ARE a conscientious driver, so I'm sure you'd signal each turn on the taxiways IF Boeing had bothered to install turn signals. However, those little details, just like brake lights, seem to have been ignored by the design engineers. A good friend of mine who was a career USAF pilot used to say that flying at night was the easiest time, because all you had to do was keep watch out the right and left sides of the cockpit and just keep flying between the red light and the green light. :) Stay tuned to this channel for an even better answer that is sure to come from Captain Ray, who has written another TERRIFIC chapter in this saga! And by the way, Cap'n, your photography skills seem to rank right up there with your flying and writing skills -- great pictures!! Kim External Blog Boy 🙂
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Thanks so much for the detailed information. As a twice a week flyer for the past two years, I feel like somewhat of a veteran. I have so much confidence in the entire crew, and love to share that confidence with nervous flyers seated near me, especially when we encounter the occasional bumpy ride, or strong landing. I fly twice a week between Baltimore and Ft. Lauderdale, and occasionally to Buffalo, NY. I truly appreciate the professionalism and skills of the Pilots and Flight Attendants. I do have two comments: At times, it is difficult to hear the pilot announcements. I love to hear what is being said. Also, I appreciate the recent change to the 700 series aircraft on the BWI-FLL flight, as opposed to the 300. It really makes a difference in the enjoyment of my flight. Thank you Southwest!
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Hey Capt. "N" Stark....Looks like you continue to be busy. Y'know a good friend of mine gave me a special copy of your book "This Is Your Capt. Speaking". I, too, have read it and it sits proudly on my shelf. Perhaps you should bid a little West Coast flying and avoid those trouble areas....say perhaps a SMF trip. Take care....be safe...keep your nose up! T.N.
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Kim, Somehow Usair got the first 300 delivered. How could you let that happen? Outstanding in the field. Ding! boy Joe
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Thanks, Ray! That helps-it really does. :) Ha, ha Kim! 🙂 I seriously should buy his book. I LUV to read; in fact, I've read my book Nuts! so much that some of the pages have fallen out. I still have the book, along with the pages that came out. I need to tape them back again!
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ATTENTION SACRAMENTO CUSTOMERS!!! Terri is one of our Ops Agents in SMF and I have to say, after nearly 20 years of watching Operations people serve our customers needs during boarding, Terri is in the top two or three individuals in this entire company. Every day she brings to work a sense of humor and a sincere desire to make our travelers trip as easy as it can be. She usually has the passengers laughing and smiling during the boarding process, prodding them with some hilarious comment or remark. People who have the pleasure of coming in contact with Terri during their travel come away with the feeling that this person really loves what she is doing. And we love having her in our company. Terri is truly a unique and memorable person. Next time through Sacramento, ask if Terri is working. You will see what I mean. 😉
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This is a great blog, and these 'Trip Report' entries are especially interesting. I just discovered the Blog, so I need to go back through the past year...which I happily will! I live near MHT in New Hampshire, so hopefully there are some Trip Reports that pass through our little airport. I co-wrote a book called "Manchester's Airport: Flying Through Time." I also founded the Manchester Airport Yahoo! Group in 1999. In the book we devote a full chapter to the arrival of Southwest Airlines to Manchester in 1998. We're very proud to have them here, and perhaps the most interesting observation I've seen is that an airline called 'Southwest' does a phenomenal job flying through the worst that the 'northeast' has to offer. I frequently check FlightAware.com when weather is bad. More often than not, Southwest's 737s get in and get out without problem. And what about snow? They handle it marvelously!
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Joe, SWA was supposed to get the first one, but when Brian went to pick it up, his titanium AmEx card was rejected because he had gone over his credit limit at some store called Candy Corn World. That's why they started sending Sunny to get 'em after that.... (see http://www.blogsouthwest.com/2006/09/05/can-we-bottle-that-smell/ ) By the way, you shouldn't be outstanding in your field this time of year; there is always the threat of those spring tornado events. Kim 🙂
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Kim, That slogan is from a nice little plastic compartment that construction workers like to see on a job site. Go here if you have time and look at how fancy they can get. We never get the fancy ones. http://www.toilets.com/ Now caffeine free Ding! boy Joe Friedmann
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Hello Capt "N" Stark, I have just finished reading your blog and it certainly makes me wonder why I don't fly. You have too much fun. "If you love what you do, you will NEVER work a day in your life." You are right about Terri-SMF she certainly is a shining light to anyone she comes in contact with. By the way, I read your book more than she does. Stay safe! No lawn darts. SMF's door is always open. R.N. (the lucky one)
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I just read MSN Money's article "25 Companies where customers come first" I would like to commend you for the things you have done to rank where you did in this article. I fly out of Jax, FL on another carrier quite often, but based on the article I am considering a change. Sonny