The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

American to replace MD-80s at O'Hare

American Airlines, my carrier of choice, will finally replace its fleet of awful MD-80s, many of which it inherited from TWA:

The acquisition of 76 Boeing 737-800s through early 2011 represents a doubling of that airplane model flown by Ft Worth-based American.

All the new planes will be based at O'Hare International Airport.

The move also will lead to the eventual retirement of American's McDonnell Douglas MD-80s--a reliable but noisy aircraft that gulps 35 percent more fuel than the 737-800.

American plans to phase out its 280 MD-80s over about 10 years, said Dan Garton, the carrier's executive vice president of marketing.

"All of the new planes will be based at O'Hare..." Sigh. That makes me so happy.

Oops

Emirates A340-500 came centimeters from crashing on takeoff from Melbourne, Australia over the weekend:

The plane -- carrying up to 215,000 liters of highly flammable aviation fuel -- was less than 70 cm off the ground when it crashed through lights almost 200 m from the end of the runway.

...The fully-laden Airbus A340-500 was believed to have been travelling about 280 km/h when it reached the end of the runway without becoming airborne.

At the last minute, the two pilots "rotated" the plane [too steeply] causing its tail to crash into the end of the runway.

Damage to the $220 million plane is so severe that the airline is considering writing it off rather than repairing it.

... Aviation officials said ... Emirates' pilot training and competency standards are almost identical to those in Australia....

I corrected the penultimate paragraph because the reporter seems to believe that "rotating" is an emergency procedure that involves yanking the yoke back hard enough to bounce the tail off the runway. Actually "rotating" just means rotating the airplane on its horizontal axis so the nose points up. Rotating a Cessna 172, for example, is such a subtle maneuver at takeoff speed that non-pilot passengers often wonder how the plane got airborne. What the Emirates pilots did was to pull back so hard that they caused a tail strike. In other words, they panicked, which compounded the problem because the plane's angle of attack seems to have been too steep to generate sufficient lift to take off.

As you pull back on the yoke, the tail of the aircraft is pushed down, which pushes the nose up. This translates speed into lift. It also increases drag, which means pulling back too far slows the plane too much which causes lift to drop. In an airplane the size of a Cessna 172, this can cause a takeoff stall; with an Airbus 340, the plane is so long that the tail scrapes the runway long before the plane stalls. That causes a different kind of drag, of course, and now you're "in the world of physics" as pilots say and no longer flying.

I hope to read follow-up about this when it's available; in particular, I'm wondering what went on in the cockpit at takeoff.

Note that the photo is not of the accident airplane.

Slow news day

Wow, so I'm out of touch for a few hours, and this happens:

  • The Federal judge in the Ted Stevens corruption trial has ordered a criminal investigation of the prosecutors who tried the case. It may be surprising, but apparently a heavily-politicized Republican Justice Department may have deliberately thrown it. Hmm.
  • The Canadian dude who stole a Cessna yesterday was apparently attempting suicide by fighter jet, but for some reason opted out of suicide by crashing into the ground, and so will now face Federal prosecution.
  • As absentee ballots get counted in Minnesota's (longest-in-history) U.S. Senate race, Democrat Al Franken's lead has opened up to 312. Republican former Senator Norm Coleman has vowed to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where he hopes to get five more votes. His lawyer, by the way, is the same guy who got five extra votes for Dubya in 2000.
  • And, oh yeah, Vermont legalized gay marriage, overriding the governor's veto to do so.

OK, I have about 90 minutes to enjoy (*kaff*) downtown Houston before going to my first Cubs game of the season. Then I'm going to an odd little bar that I discovered when I worked in this fine city back in 2001. In fact, my hotel room looks out over the dazzling, deodorant-stick-shaped building that the client I worked for owned before they went bankrupt spectacularly later in the year. Hmmmm...can't remember their name... I'll have to compare photos of the building to help me remember.

Amazing feat of flying

A pair of F-16 fighters escorted a Cessna 172 stolen from a Canadian flight school all the way from Michigan to Missouri this afternoon:

The plane was reported stolen at about 2:30 p.m. ET and was spotted flying erratically.

At about 5 p.m., the state capital building in Madison, Wis., was evacuated before the plane passed near the region. Police cars cordoned off the streets around the building and officers told people to move away from the area.

What I find amazing: How did the F-16s fly that slowly? I mean, the stall speed in a C172 is around 35 knots with full flaps; I think F-16s move that fast when parked.

And another thing, how amazing is it to find a Canadian that stupid? Or did some American dude sneak over the border and steal the plane?

I hope there's follow-up on this story. It seems improbable.

Landing practice

I got a lucky break yesterday: low winds, clear skies, cool weather, decent landing practice. Not an exciting flight (see the .kml), just up to Waukegan, and one go-around caused by coming in too high and fast, but otherwise a good use of time.

People wonder why I'd go up just to practice landing. Simply put, all landings are mandatory, and one prefers to do them well. The more practice I get landing the less I have to think about during the most difficult (and, again, mandatory) part of a flight, which makes it more enjoyable.

I've booked another plane for mid-month. April usually has better weather than January, so I might even get to fly, and if so, I'll actually go somewhere.

Only a week late

I've finally gotten around to producing a .kml file from my last flight, on the 14th. I flew Chicago Executive to Waukesha, Wis., thence Milwaukee (where I made two A320s wait for me, but not on purpose), thence Waukegan, Ill., which is the #1 practice-landing destination in the North Suburbs, as far as I can tell.

Good flight, about 2.2 hours total, all logged as cross-country. I haven't seen the bill yet, but the fuel surcharge dropped from $3.20 an hour to 30c, so right there I'm saving...two cups of coffee.

Obligatory airplane-on-little-airport-tarmac photo:

I should explain that it took a week to get this photo onto this blog because I left my camera in the airplane, and only this afternoon had time to go fetch it. That means I was more concerned with safety than, you know, cameras. Right.

Abnerdism

So I'm watching the opening moments of Lost, and my immediate thought is: That little 737-400 can't fly the way from Hawaii to Guam, it's only certified for ETOPS 120! And even if it were, it's only got a range of about 3500 miles at zero weight, and Hurley's on board....

Then my small intestine reaches up to strangle me, and I come to my senses, and think: Ooh, Eve Lilly....

All this proves that once a nerd, always a nerd, in so many ways.

Alternative to renting a car at the airport

All right, this is cool. Instead of worrying about how to get home from the airport, why not just take your car with you?

The Terrafugia Transition, the "roadable aircraft" that's attracted considerable attention at aviation shows in the last year, flew for the first time on March 5, and its makers say they've changed aviation as a result. "This breakthrough changes the world of personal mobility. Travel now becomes a hassle-free integrated land-air experience. It's what aviation enthusiasts have been striving for since 1918," said Carl Dietrich, CEO of Terrafugia. While most "flying car" concepts to date have incorporated detachable or trailerable wings, the Transition has electromechanical folding wings that convert the vehicle in 30 seconds. The company says production models will meet Light Sport specifications and be street legal.

It's important to note that "Light Sport" classification. If the pilot only has a light sport certificate, he or shee will be limited to daytime, VFR flying (though private or higher certificates with IFR endorsements are possible). And light sport aircraft are limited to 120 kts, though as a Cessna 172 pilot I have to say that's not a huge limitation.

Anyway, my first reaction to seeing this was: where can I get one?

Looking for the youtube link

The FAA has pulled a San Diego commercial pilot's certificate for the third time because of what we may charitably call "willful passenger interference:"

The video shows David Keith Martz, a professional pilot with a history of FAA violations, at the controls of his chopper over San Diego while fondling a porn actress, who then performs a sex act on him while he's flying.

The video, shot in 2007, first appeared Feb. 3 on the entertainment website TMZ.com and has gone viral since.

Along with the video, TMZ reported that someone had sent the FAA an e-mail about the episode, including photos of Martz fondling the porn actress – who goes by the name Puma Swede – in flight.

Um. Well. Speaking as a private pilot, I can say that sort of thing doesn't happen in my experience. Maybe I should start flying helicopters.

As to what violation he committed—the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) don't seem to address this particular set of circumstances, after all—"the FAA claims [the video] shows the pilot was blocked from the helicopter's controls by the woman's body" which, I think we have to say, is covered by FAR 91.13, "Careless or Reckless Operation." The moral is, of course, take care not to endanger the life or property of another while operating an aircraft with Puma Swede in the cockpit.

American Airlines partner oddities

I fly frequently, more often as a "revpax" (revenue passenger) than as pilot. And I've mentioned before, given the two full-service options in Chicago (American and United), I long ago chose American as my preferred carrier. I have, in fact, been a member of their frequent-flyer program since 1988.

American is one of the two lynchpins of the oneworld alliance (typography and letter casing theirs), the other being British Airways. Only, they seem to hate each other's customers.

Exhibit: neither's customers can use or earn miles on the other's trans-Atlantic routes. Chicago to London? No choice, if you want your 3,953 elite-qualifying miles each way. Because miles are reedemable for travel and upgrades at up to 2c per (e.g., 25,000 miles for a round-trip domestic ticket that would otherwise cost $500), and elite miles are particularly valuable, BA's fare needs to be almost $100 less, all things equal, to make it worthwhile to fly the other airline.

OK, so I get that there are regulatory issues and other things they're taking into account. But I can hop a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo and earn the same number of miles I can earn on a competing AA flight. So what gives?

It's even more peculiar when you start flying on BA flights on "domestic" European routes. Now it starts to annoy me.

Later this spring I'm flying to a European city to which the only reasonable connection is through Heathrow, and because it's a discount ticket, I'm only earning 25% of the miles flown for the trip. I could, of course, upgrade to a full-fare economy ticket for, oh, £200; but that's really not cost-effective, now, is it? I only discovered this by reading the fine print yesterday.

My conclusion will have to be, avoid BA flights when an alternative routing exists on another oneworld carrier. For example, to the place I'm going this spring, I could have flown American to another major European city and flown on Malév, Finnair, or Iberia, and gotten 100% mileage credit—and more miles to boot, because the routing is farther.

So again, why does British Airways not want American Airlines customers? Or is it American that doesn't want me flying BA?