Landing the Boeing 737

“Ladies and Gentlemen, does anyone know how to fly a plane?”

The question they should be asking is, of course, “does anybody know how to LAND a plane?” Flying is easy. Landing is hard. It is every Flight Simulator geek’s dream to be asked into the cockpit to save a pressurised tube full of terrified holidaymakers. But faced with an actual 40-ton flying shard of impending death, could you actually do it?

All of a sudden we were at 700ft with Aberdeen’s now-familiar runway 16 ahead of us. Wind was calm, flaps were down, gear was down and I had a 30 million dollar aircraft and 100 souls in my hands. (In my mind)…

Peter un-paused the sim and I guided the plane down as I had practiced at home. The VSI needle read -750 feet per minute, a nice gentle descent down the glideslope (GS). However, I was used to automated call-outs and this aircraft was designed about 30 years before they were added to aircraft.

I kept the 737 on the centreline, aimed for the touchdown zone (marked by large white rectangles painted on the asphalt) maintained 750ft per minute descent until I guessed we were about 50ft off the ground then I closed the throttles and pulled back on the yoke to soften the landing.

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Flying the Boeing 737

737-200 in Britannia colours. Britannia are now part of the TUI group.

Last weekend I traveled to Harrogate in Yorkshire to try my hand at flying the Boeing 737-200 airliner.

Hidden away in a hangar on the outskirts of the beautiful (and quite historical) town is Real Simulation, a company selling flight simulator experiences in their full-motion 737 and F4 Phantom sims.

Upon arrival (arf arf…), I met Captain Peter, an experienced pilot whose long career started in the Royal Air Force and ended with the airlines ferrying self-loading freight. He told me fascinating stories about the times he learned about the treatment of jet fuel (and how it turns into a gelatinous, frog-spawn-like substance when it isn’t done properly) and the time he got to fly a British Aerospace 146, which was scraping the bottom of the MEL – Minimum Equipment List – across the Irish Sea. The MEL defines the absolute least amount of functioning equipment a plane must carry to be dispatched legally. Peter said, “we had two crew, four engines, and that was about it.”


Dispatching a Boeing 737-200

Peter led myself and two other eager wannabe airline pilots to the simulator. First impressions were that it was quite roomy – behind the instrument panel and flight yokes were the Captain and First Officer’s seats. Behind those was a roomy space in front of two observer chairs. Behind those, a large open space with a whirring computer in the corner. It was about as big as one of my childhood bedrooms. But at one end there was a plane’s cockpit. And this one moved about on hydraulics.  Continue Reading “Flying the Boeing 737”

American Airlines New Livery

As the old bare-metal livery “departs”, the world waits to see what the new one looks like… as it approaches… and lands. Or something. Yay, planes!

American Airlines have announced they will change the polished-bare-metal livery their aircraft have sported since the 1930s. There have been several leaked designs and even a purported photo showing a new Boeing 777 painted in dark grey ready to be the first to receive American Airline’s new livery.

American Airlines’ Old Livery

Being British, and living the entire length of England away from London Heathrow, I don’t get the opportunity to see many American Airlines aircraft, but they always stand out when I do see them. The last one I saw up close was at “MDPC/PJU”, also known as Punta Cana Airport in the Dominican Republic, on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. It was a 757-200 that was doing a trip from Kennedy Airport in New York, and back. It was beautiful. The scorching sun turned the entire fuselage into a massive ball of flaming light. Incredible. Compared to the white Spirit Airlines Airbuses and our First Choice 767-300ER, the AA jet really stole the show.

The bare-metal livery has some advantages. Paint isn’t weightless – and saving 200 kilograms of weight on every flight means you get to carry a couple of passengers for free, compared to the competition.

No paint means no repainting – it saves on maintenance costs over the lifetime of the aircraft too. If you’re wondering if the bare-metal look is more prone to corrosion, a question I first asked when I saw my first American Airlines jet, they kind of are but not in a serious way. Every aircraft gets a clear coat over the entire fuselage anyway, for AA, that clear coat simply goes over the bare aluminium skin. For other aircraft, it goes over the paint layer. One less layer of paint, one less barrier to corrosion. Simples. Continue Reading “American Airlines New Livery”

Red Arrows Landing at Newcastle Airport After Great North Run 2012 Fly-Over

The Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows display team has traditionally opened the Great North Run.

While the world was watching the Great North Run 2012 runners begin their harrowing half marathon from Newcastle to South Shields, those of us with more of an interest in aviation than athletics (despite trying to change that) were watching something else: the skies.


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Celebrating the Lives of Two Hero Pilots

This week saw the tragic passing of two pilots revered throughout the aviation community. Both are regarded as heroes for completely different reasons and you’ll probably have seen both of them on TV at some stage doing their thing. This article is my little contribution to the memory of Dennis Fitch and Arnie Schreder who both succumbed to cancer, aged 69, this week.

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35 Years On: Tenerife Disaster, 1977

35 years ago, two 747s collided at Los Rodeos Airport killing 583 people, making it the deadliest accident in aviation.

On March 27th, 1977, a Pan American 747-100, “Clipper Victor” with registration N736PA, left John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York bound for Gran Canaria Airport at Las Palmas on the Canary Islands. Meanwhile, a KLM 747-200B, “Rijn” (The Rhine) with registration PH-BUF, left Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (AMS) also en route to Gran Canaria Airport.

At 1:15pm a bomb exploded at Gran Canaria Airport by the separatist group Fuerzas Armadas Guanches. They had called in the bomb and as such the airport was closed, the two jumbo jets were diverted to Los Rodeos airport on the island of Tenerife.

Both aircraft were parked at a holding area just next to the opposite end of the runway that they would need to take off from. When the terrorist threat at Gran Canaria Airport had subsided, the KLM and the Pan Am flights were cleared to resume their journeys to their original destination. The KLM flight, Captained by Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten (seen in KLM marketing literature below), was told to taxi the full length of the runway, perform a 180º turn and wait for take off clearance. The Pan Am jet was told to taxi most of the way down the runway behind the KLM plane but leave the runway at taxiway C3. A dense fog had descended on Los Rodeos Airport. Continue Reading “35 Years On: Tenerife Disaster, 1977”