Note to self: Stop chugging down Starbucks like a CFM56 engine does Jet A1 because-
1) abate capitalism contribution
2) waistline should be directly proportionate to current operating aircraft’s wingspan (case in point: a flying school cadet versus a Boeing 747 captain)- let midriff not reflect a wide body aircraft pilot; nor a wide body pilot.
It’s mocking me.
Jeering to its hearts content.
The white luminous EFOB (estimated fuel on board) indicates a hefty 9.5T. I welcome fuel like the next pilot. As the saying goes, there are 3 items completely useless to an airwoman (airman): runway behind you, airspace above you, and fuel in the browser.
But this particular blob of fuel, abetted by gravity, adds to our ZFW (zero fuel weight) of 56.6T to arrive at an aggregate sum of 66.1T. That’s a 100kgs over our MLW (maximum landing weight).
Now, (certain) airlines crucify for three great sins. They are, by increasing order of severity: ATC infringements, refusing the hackneyed practice of FDP extensions, and aircraft limitation exceedance (which include, but is not limited to, landing overweight).
Given my limited skill set, flying is my sole rice bowl. And since a girls’ gotta eat, I endeavour to save my job, and simultaneously, my oversized ass.
“We gotta burn this fuel,” I tell my partner of the day (the FO). “Hafta bring the weight down below MLW.”
We request to make an orbit at our present position. Had one too many curry puffs for breakfast. Mind if we do a couple of laps to burn off the weight?
Approved, says the bored ATC controller.
So we gently ease the aircraft into a right hand bank. The PFD display a perfect rate one turn.
Oh, don’t mind us. Just etching circular contrails in the sky to burn liquid gold here.
“Burn, baby, burn,” I mutter under my breath.
Glitter might not be gold, but this liquid gold is unequivocally ka-ching ka-aching!
I watch the white EFOB keenly. 9.4… 9.3…
“Kinabalu, we are ready for approach.”
On an unrelated note, here’s a sunset view from the cockpit, just so I could misquote Shakespeare.
Day before, this flight to Shenzhen was retimed following a harrowing build up of mist. In fact, the aircraft bound for neighbouring Macau was unable to land. So comprehend my relief at the comfortingly short lines of METAR and TAF.
Refer to story below for gravitas justifying my cheer:
A recent flight to Kunming had me shitting my pants (See Note 1 below). At approach minima, the Runway was not in sight. Just as I’m about to drive the thrust levers into TOGA for a go around, the FO verbally gestures down at the approach lights that magically materialised at our hour of need. I click off the autopilot and manually fly the aircraft down, flaring with minimal visual cues, save for the scarce runway centreline lights. Speak of a legally unnerving, unnerving legality.
Hereby documented are the various stages of a pilot’s fear:
Stage 1- f***ing scared/ da** scared
Stage 2- shitting my pants
Stage 3- my balls up here (demonstrated with curled fingers to represent balls, held/bounced along the pilot’s neck region)
Yhprum’s law (Murphy spelt backwards) states that everything that can work, will work. And Old Yhprum is on our side today- if only we’re prepared.
I count four aircraft ahead on the taxiway- discounting the distant tattle of twinkling landing lights on the approach path, we brace for a long wait on ground. In line with that prediction, we delay our second engine start (we taxi with only one engine as part of fuel saving initiatives, which allegedly translate into bigger $ bonuses). So picture our bewilderment when offered an immediate intersection departure, of which we passed on account of an idle Engine no. 2.
We start our engines. Not long later, we are again hurried for an immediate departure, ahead of the approaching aircraft advancing at a chilling rate. But engine starts take time, and mandated post-start time requirements exist. We reject the benevolence with a heavy heart.
Why the hurry to get rid of us? Not that I don’t appreciate this overt change from the typical conspiracy to keep up planted on ground for ages (Note 2).
Note 2: From fear of a piggy-back.
Like a fan girl at a Westlife concert (excuse the reference, for I am, after all, a 90s kid- we lived on boy bands), the nice looking marshaller waves his marshalling torch like glow sticks in an overhead clapping movement.
Can’t believe that I’m the fool again, I thought, this love would never end… I let the aircraft roll at a meagre 3 knots. Fan boy holds both bats upright and stationary, teasing a stop. Except, as I advance, the bats remain at constant distance from each other- offering me no estimation to my stopping point. Without warning, he crosses the bats in one quick swift motion, and I’m forced into an abrupt stop. “Dahsyat!” my FO remarks, which is a polite alternative to my intended remark.
Here I am, minding my own business, peering out the cockpit window, when HE plods along, dragging 2 heavy wheel chocks behind him.
I rub my tired eyes for clearer vision, then blink twice.
And then I squint, and lean forward…
For I cannot believe my eyes.
Clad in a red shirt under his reflective vest is Wang Lehom!
Or a doppelgänger? Either way, the guy roaming the tarmac is a dead ringer. In fact, the likeness is so distinct, I’m almost certain it IS Wang Lehom. Has he quit singing and acting for a lucrative career in airport ramp management?
I should have requested an autograph!
Our ride home in uneventful, but not un-annoying. I sit with my back against the back rest and the headset firmly clamped over my ears.
Now, a new procedure was introduced where one of the two pilots is required to have the headset on at all times in Chinese airspace (instead of the usual speakers). Being the dutifully submissive cockpit officer that I am, of course I comply (yes, I’ll totally self-incriminate online).
Neglecting the rationale behind that ruling, my ears are, like, clamped- which is only mildly annoying (not that I can’t pull off the Princess Leah look).
“I have bad news,” my assigned partner in crime FO thrust a print-clustered A4 paper before me. “We expect a foggy visibility of 800m in Dhaka, precisely our minimum for the ILS Runway 14”.
I groan, inward and outwardly at my harbinger of gloom.
“First and second alternate weather conditions are flimsily marginal too,” he continues. Hello, incessant bedevilment.
“But fret not, I’m optimistic about our landing chances.” He has a glint in his eye.
I pair my widened sepet eyes with a lopsided grin. “That’s the spirit.” I concur. “Optimism is the grease for our system.”
“Huh?” He’s confused.
“Blah blah blah. Words fail me today.” I pause. “Optimism is the grease that oil our happiness.”
I’m determined to have an uneventful fright. I mean, an uneventful FLIGHT. Gee, my words are a legit flop today.
I utilise the ACARS for constant weather updates throughout the flight- in between dialectics regarding the institute of marriage.
The METAR denotes a current conservative 2500 meters visibility. Sweet!
But the TAF suggest an imminent dip in RVR (runway visual range) to 800m, and eventually 500m. Don’t cry for me, Argentina.
earn your money
“This is Dhaka automatic terminal information India, time 1730… Runway 14 in use… visibility 2400 m...” the automated voice rings clear over our VHF radio. Yes! Hold your tears, Argentina.
We arrive overhead DAC VOR, and make a gradual turn outbound for a full letdown. Fog hug us like an oversized teddy bear, the glare from our exterior lights bounce off the thickening fog like a tennis balls against a practice wall.
Our inbound turn resembles a giant fishing hook. I activate the approach phase in hopes of a tighter bank.
We achieve a sleek curve towards the runway track… and strain our ocular capabilities in search for a passage back to solid ground- the runway.
The NOTAMS indicate that the centreline lights are unserviceable. I spent a fleeting minute worrying about the impact this possible deterioration of airport lighting system might have on the runway visualness.
Lo and behold, my qualms are in vain. Despite the lack of centreline lights, the runway beam at us with the intensity of a pre-election political rally; like well lit Genting Highlands on a cloudless night- impossible to miss.
Landing was uneventful. therefore the takeoff will be a piece of cake, right?
The mist thickens around us at a perceptible pace. Our naked eyes note the air density shift, like God dump a healthy portion of Xanthan gum into the atmosphere.
The air traffic controller confirms our suspicions.
“Current RVR 1200 meters,” he tells some guy.
1200m visibility drop in, like, 15 minutes? Me no likey.
I grunt. “Let’s get the bird out of here.” I said.
Except, I didn’t say “bird”.
at the threshold of runway 14
The white edge lights line the runway’s fringe. We count 16 on each side. With a distance of 60 meters between each light, quick maths indicate nearly 1000 meters of RVR (confession- I used a calculator. My lack of mental arithmetic ability is apparent, in spite of Chinese stereotypes).
I advance the thrust levers and the engines spur to life. The fog envelopes our speeding aircraft as she race down the runway and into the blurry muddle.
As I rotate, we charge into another mass of dense vapour.
And we climb, and we climb…
… and we climb… penetrating the sitting fog, bursting into the clear night sky.
The churning in my tummy picks up pace. The ache is killing my insides. My bowels are begging to explode. I dash- hobble, really- out of the cockpit and into the aircraft lavatory.
Precious seconds are wasted undoing my zipper before I plop down on the seductive throne- oh! Glorious toilet bowl.
I open the act with a fart so loud the echo rings throughout the entire lavatory. The main boom is followed by a squishy undertone and I flinch as the sound waves pulsate through the tiny space.
I slam the tap down, in hopes that flowing water would cover my booming “release”. Thank goodness for handy air freshener sprays. I squirt the clear liquid in a continuous horizontal motion, and then a clockwise gesture just for measures.
I try to ease my rectum’s contents out slowly and silently. Alas, efforts are futile. Chocolate fudge shoot out of my butt hole with crazy velocity. I can literally hear the ringing as shit meets toilet bowl.
My sense of smell is instantly activated. I instinctively hold my breath and release an involuntary cough. My!- the stench is like ten thousand rotting rats soaked in the sewage. The stink renders me noxious. And I thought the fart was bad.
I desperately spritz a generous helping of air freshener- a healthy dose through my thighs into the bowl. Oh, air freshener, my saving grace.
But the spraying is mostly ineffectual- the smell lingers. I deliver another lavish blast of freshener juice. In fact, its abundance cast a misty layer over the lavatory mirror.
In a desperate attempt to rid the smell, I jabbed the flush. My “byproduct” is zapped into no-man’s-land. The loud sucking drowns out the next fart. Killing two birds with one stone, yo!
Until a third fart burst out, its volume putting the first two editions to utter shame. The worst thing is, I really did NOT see it coming.
And when there’s lightning, there is always thunder. The “thunder” splatters into the toilet bowl, an event I vouch for by the thunderous- pun intended- sound. Did I imagine it, or did the bowl just vibrate under my bare butt?
I do another Doctor Strange inspired circular motion with the air freshener.
Spray. Flush. Fart. Shit. Repeat.
My nose is on fire.
My butt hole is on fire!
An anus knows no agony like one that doubles as a fire hose.
I empty 2 cups to hot water down the bowl to clear the sticky residue and give the inner flap a good rub.
Finally, I unlatch the door and take a nice gulp of non-contaminated pressurised aircraft air.
An uncle stands at the front galley with his arms crossed. A smirk is plastered across his face. In point of fact, he grins from ear to ear- like an audience at a comedy show. His eyes latch onto mine, sneer still palpable.
In the collaborated book, Two Sides of the Moon, renowned astronaut and top gun David Scott cited the massive responsibility of a space mission commander. He remarked of the Apollo 15 mission:
I was the one who would have to make the decision to abort the (launch) mission… This was one of the riskiest times of the entire mission and one for which it had been particularly difficult to train… It was a matter of split-second decision making and very precise reflexes under conditions which were often extremely difficult to replicate in a simulator. (Scott & Leonov, 2004, p283)
I recall a paragraph in this book describing the superiors’ concern over the pilots’ inability to make “correct” (by their standards) abort calls during training. I fail to locate this passage, yet remember the skyrocket- pun not intended- cost that follows each aborted launch. Though the quoted figure is buried deep within the 415 pages of the paperback page-turner, space.com reports that “every launch cancelled after fuel tanking has begun can cost as much as $1.2 million dollars”.
Which is, in durian land context, over RM5 million.
Unfortunately, the incurred cost following a rejected Airbus 320 takeoff beats me, though not for lack of effort (dear google, you have failed this clingy dependant).
In retrospect, the financial considerations of an Airbus 320 commander can never outweigh that of a command-service-lunar-module-Saturn V rocket chief. On the other hand, there is no price on human life, despite Patrick J. Adams’ very convincing portrayal on Suits.
Regardless, at 21 years old, this insight gradually gave me an appreciation for the much parroted expression: the weight of the 4 bars.
capt sully: fly by wire & highest duty
When I was a geeky young cadet, the events on the Hudson unfold like the plot of a movie. Captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger- not to be confused with TVB Triumph in The Skies’ Captain BJ Chong- pulled a feat that amazed not just the aviation industry, but the entire world.
We know the tale. US Airways Flight 1549 played bumper car with a flock of migrating Canadian geese. The dual engine flameout. The glide. The miracle ditching on the Hudson.
Both engines warped, melted in on themselves and then completely surrendered to gravity. And yet not one life was lost in what could have been one of the worst aircraft failures in modern history. (Langewiesche, 2009)
William Langewiesche- a pilot with 10,000 hours under his belt- details the events with profound meticulousness in his book, Fly By Wire. He dissects every aspect; from geese to aircraft, her flight path, and the aftermath, in a thrilling and vivid depiction.
But what truly fascinates me is Captain Sully’s journey- the deep pool of life experiences that gave him the headspace and skillset of a man that landed on the Hudson river. In fact, I love how he phrased it in his autobiography, Highest Duty– “Flight 1549 wasn’t just a five-minute journey. My entire life led me safely to that river” (Sullenberger, 2009, p16).
On top of superb flying skills (honed primarily by West Point and countless flight time), he possess one attribute essential to his miraculous feat: his appreciation for human life.
I paid only RM10 for Highest Duty during my annual Big Bad Wolf shopping spree- score! Over coffee (too young for anything stronger then), this book gave me front row seats of life through his eyes.
Early in life, Captain Sully lost his father to suicide. Later, his wife Lorrie* suffered from infertility. Then, the brutal murder of 28 years old Kitty Genovese aided his resolve to never be a mere bystander.
*To be absolutely frank, my regard for Lorrie exceeds that of her husband- which speak volumes. That woman is one heck a ball of fire. Like, somebody dipped her in a tub of saturated determination, and that’s all she emits since. She struggled with body image and infertility. But instead of wallowing in a realm of self-pity, she used her experience to empower other women and change lives. Literally, as an outdoors fitness instructor heading a group she calls “Fit and Fabulous… Outdoors!”. She is vocal about her struggles, and definitely not shy with encouragement. Captain Sully says of his wife, “I’ve learned a great deal about the power of optimism and acceptance (from her), and about the responsibilities all of us have to carve a path to our own happiness,” (Sullenberger, 2009, p170). I secretly suspect that Captain Sully would have failed his Hudson plight if not for the major role she played in the man he is.
I pour through tales from his young days. His ambition for the great blue yonder. The military. Civilian life. Marrying Lorrie. Their impasse for kids. Eventualities that shaped his utmost esteem for human life. Events that click his decision into detent on January 15, 2009.
Why did (military) pilots wait too long before ejecting from planes that were about to crash? Why did they spend extra seconds trying to fix the unfixable? The answer is that many doomed pilots feared retribution if they lost multimillion-dollar jets. And so they remained determined to try to save the airplane, often with disastrous results… I know about the concept of “goal sacrificing”… by attempting a water landing, I would sacrifice the “airplane goal” (trying not to destroy an aircraft valued at $60 million) for the goal of saving lives. (Sullenberger, 2009, p229-230)
His stance on human life made me explore my own perspective.
When we were in our late teens, my best friend, Jo’s dad passed away. One day after the funeral, I showed up on her doorstep with a large Winnie The Pooh soft toy- she loves that yellow, pudgy bear- and helium balloons on which I wrote “He cares about the sparrows, what more you?” (with reference to Matthew 10:29).
That was the first, in my young life, when I fully comprehend that death is inevitable.
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to peak Mount Everest alongside Nepalese mountaineer Tenzing Norgay (who is sadly overshadowed by Hillary) is extremely critical of the controversial David Sharp incident, where a climber was left to die in the deeps of cold near Everest’s peak. Hikers passed him by in pursuit of the glorious summit, offering no help to the dying man. Edmund Hillary said “human life is far more important than just getting to the top of the mountain”.
The coveted summit in sight after days of endless torture; a dying man to my side, gasping his last breaths- what would I do?
really, what’s in a command?
The regard for financial incurrence? The appreciation for human life? The reverent respect for flight safety?
Today marks the 44th day since I earned my 4 bars.
At the narcissistically-loaded epaulette donning “ceremony”, the DFO (Director of Flight Ops) emboldened me with these words: make decisions as if your mother sits among the passengers.
-Which is phenomenal advice, if not for its stark contrast to my adopted philosophy: look out for number one.
P.S.: Spoiler alert for Startrek: Discovery! Spoiler alert!
In Startrek: Discovery’s 4th episode, Michael receives a package that contains the will and final testament of her deceased captain. The smiling figure of Captain Georgiou’s hologram says: “… I imagine you have your own command now, the captain of your own ship…” The Malaysian accent is heavy, missing only the lahs.
“…Keep your eyes and heart open. Always…” She continues.
And finally, “take good care. But more importantly, take good care of those in your care.”
A monumental thank you to the pillars that propped my bare sanity
David Wong (are all tops guns named David?)- the very epitome of a walking and breathing command cheat-sheet. His relentless WhatsApp messages and ever ready guidance are the reasons I survived the ordeal (in every sense of the english word) that is command training.
My family, Jo, Zel, and Gloria for their bountiful prayers and constant words of encouragement.
My SILF (Shoulders I Like French) for playing yellow sun to my wannabe-Supergirl.
My A25 Batch mates who go the extra mile to aid my strive, despite their enigmatic obsession with balls, and all things πr3.
My Heavenly Father for His renewed mercies and unending grace.
Langewiesche, W. (2009). Fly by wire. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Scott, D. & Leonov, A. (2004). Two sides of the moon. London, UK: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.
Sullenberger, C. (2009). Highest Duty. New York, NY: Haper Collins Publishers.
I drown in the vehement roar of the ground power unit (GPU). A pair of tattered earplugs is the final defense between the crashing sound waves and my throbbing ear canal. The tarmac is well lighted. Well manned, too- not an uncommon sight in an Indian Airport, let alone one situated in crowded Kolkata.
I pace idly under the right wing of the Airbus 320.
20 minutes before…
Plop. Darkness envelops the cockpit. The once splashy display units now lack the live it once possessed, its dull surface un-telling of its previous illuminated state. A peep through the ajar cockpit door confirms that a similar fate befell the aircraft cabin.
The auxiliary power unit (APU) bailed on us.
Disembarkation is still in progress. The first officer flicks on the emergency lights in the cabin and I approve, because we pilots are a bunch of pessimistic cynics with a fixation on worst-case scenarios.
I once read that pilots spend most training time prepping for scenarios with meager odds of transpiration. Top that sardonic impulses with the natural tendencies of a control freak, it is a wonder pilots have friends.
But we persist, because flight safety is politically contentious our utmost concern.
I jab at the pushbutton to restart the APU. The APU is resurrected. I can hear the spinning turbine’s creaking motion…
The generators kicks online! The aircraft interior resumes its lighted glory…
… For 5 seconds. And we’re served with blackout 2.0.
10 minutes before…
The ground power unit is finally hitched to our unpowered aircraft. The instrument panels scintillate to life. We successfully resuscitate the APU, but merely for bleed air supply. A quick glance at the Electric page on the system display unit confirms our suspicions; the external power shoulders the bulk of the electrical heavy lifting.
The Pilot Transit Check instruction manual is firmly in my grip. I heed the refueling directive to the letter. Chocks- check. Safety cones- check.
At the refueling truck, stands an Indian Ed Sheeran. He greets me like a waiter at a restaurant. “Refueling?” he asked. Table for one, ma’am?
Ed fills a glass bottle with Jet A-1, empties the contents of a capsule into the translucent liquid and shakes it like a bartender mixing up a cocktail.
Shake shake shake.
The insoluble powder stirs around before it settles at the container’s base. I shine my torchlight at the clumpy bits to verify its color- white.
No water detected in the fuel- good.
I crack open the refueling panel near the belly of the aircraft. At 167 157 cm, I have to tip toe to reach the knobs.
The digital displays buzz to live. I click the TEST switch to LTS and watch the bulbs lit up in unison. The rocker switch is idiot-proof. I enter my desired fuel quantity- 14,000 kilograms.
The figure in the actual-quantity window increases, so I resume my go-to pose: left heel forward with arms folded and stare blankly at the changing numbers.
A fuel truck swap, another round of bartending queries with Ed, and what feels like eternity later, the END light illuminates.
A stack of paper work is thrust under my nose. I oblige, glancing through the prints.
Then, I initial under 3 dazzling words: master of vessel.
Most people bring home a My Best Friend Frolicked on A Phuket Beach and All I Get is This Lousy T-Shirt pullover. Jo? She brought me a jumping dick. (Check out the action in video above!)
Her sun-kissed nose against my pontianak-white own, we shovel down bacon and eggs at Crave Cafe, Oasis Square with a healthy dose of coffee. (Me, the coffee part. Because, quote “I don’t drink coffee on weekends”)
T minus 22 hours
Chomp chomp chomp chomp chomp. Mr Dick sync his hops to my thumping heart. I’m a solid package of jitters. With THE simulator session creeping nearer by the minute, the butterflies in my stomach stomp with purpose.
As of recent times, every company commander under training is required to undergo an evaluation simulator check. If the twice annually base checks were not enough, these sessions are like Chili’s nachos: bottomless. Anything and everything could be hurled your way at the pleasure of the CPTS (Chief Pilot Training and Standards).
CLEAR. Clarify problem. Look for options. Evaluate the situation. Actions. Review. The airline lay down helpful guidelines to aid our decision making. I gauge the problem: my wrecked nerves. Clarification not required.
I mentally run through the unreliable airspeed procedure for the 104th time. The examiners have an acute liking for this particular failure. It’s popularity lead an instructor (like my Form 5 physics teacher about formulas) to jokingly suggest I burn a written copy of the procedure, mix the ashes in water, and channel it down my digestive track in one huge gulp.
But the only drink I’ve indulged is wine. (A glass of wine a day, keeps the doctor away. What? You’ve never heard that saying?)
T minus 48 hours
I drown my stress in a cross-city culinary odyssey.
What began as a stand alone dim sum brunch (so much pork) graduate into a full blown food expedition.
“You MUST try this siew yuk,” my friend says.
Oxygen mask on, seat belts sign on, emergency descent initiate, speed brakes full… I silently revise the emergency descend memory items.
Yikes. What if both engines fail during the emergency descent. I’m doing my usual visualise-the-worst-case-scenario ritual. On good days, I emerge with confidence one notch up. Otherwise, hello throbbing headache.
“This siew yuk,” he pause for emphasis, “will change your perspective of life.”
“Fine, I’ll go.” My consciousness still present in that cockpit plunging down at 6000ft per minute, the cabin pressure blinking in scarlet red (when a decompression happens, the cabin pressure rises, and oxygen masks fall from the compartments overhead the passengers, and we dive down for our lives).
Which is how I end up in Pudu, waiting 45 minutes for RM75 siew yuk. Every table is occupied, a waiting line has developed, and not a single table has been served yet.
But for me, a 45 minutes wait equals 45 minutes of jabbing at my Use Before Flight app. In my previous post, I’ve got engine failures coming out of my ears…, I humoured myself with a game of kiss, marry, kill the hydraulics. My verdict was to kiss yellow, marry green, and kill blue.
Then comes the perverted version of kill, kill, marry. And the choice is easy: I’ll kill blue, kill yellow, marry green. That way, I maintain normal law and control over my landing gear, flaps and slats. Not to mention the normal braking system.
I’m burried deep in the app recycling hydraulic pumps when my friend leaves the growing line, plastic bag in hand, grinning like a victor at the Olympic Games.
He opens the box, and every eye is glued to the pieces of skin-meat-fats combo.
Granted, you pay for quality. Each bite melts in the warmth of my amylase, the thick flavour omnipresent across my tongue. The crispy skin snaps under my bite. I sigh.
But did my perspective of life change? Well, I’m still shitting my panties over the evaluation sim.
A few slices of molten swine is inadequate (the box above was split between 7 mouths), so we adjourn for more pork.
I find it fitting to mention that my family has little regard for pork. No, we don’t abstain from pork. We simply opt for choices more inline with health as our best interest (withstanding the exceptions. Pork is not unnecessarily unhealthy).
At this point, I start to develop excessive-pork-syndrome. My armpits stink but I’m distracted by the master warning blaring my iPad off.
Emergency electrical configuration. Now, that’s a failure I do NOT want a first hand taste of.
And speaking of taste, the eating never stops.
T minus 2 hours
I tame my frizzy hair with an extra dose of oil.
Not. Nervous. At. All.
On an unrelated note, I need to pee.
moment of truth
I anticipate a failure at every bent. Literally.
I’m on high alert, constantly scanning my instruments and the System Display Unit. But nada. Big fat zero. Did I miss something?
The takeoff is uneventful, to my pleasant surprise. Awww.. you shouldn’t have.
I rotate into blue yonder. Just as I transfer from visual to instruments, I spot the downward speed trend arrow before it smacks me in the face.
“WINDSHEAR, WINDSHEAR” cries the aural synthetic voice.
“Windshear, TOGA,” I spit and shove the thrust levers into the TOGA detent. The FD bars dance around like fireflies in Kuala Selangor. I maintain the runway heading and persevere till the speed trend hakuna their tatas.
One down, how many to go?
The remaining climb is peaceful, not. I spot 2 diamonds on my navigational display (traffic). I try to out climb them at first. But although I can run, I can’t hide. Soon, I’m cornered. My pleas for an escape heading are denied by ATC (the examiner), so I draw a deep breath and ready myself.
“Descend, descend…” screams the synthetic voice again. I clicked my autopilot off and prod the side stick forward to chase the green column on my vertical speed indicator.
Two down, wipe that frown. Three four, knock that door.
Before I recollect, an ECAM caution wrestles my attention. Engine E.I.U. fault, it says. Bye, bye,auto-thrust, I murmur under my breath.
But the worst is yet to come. During the days leading up to this moment, I figured an ADR fault is well within the realm of possibilities. Two ADRs fault? We’ll be in alternate law without automation, but I’ll survive.
Nah, I won’t lose all 3 ADRs, I said.
And then I lost all 3 ADRs.
The ECAM actions take us on a merry-go-round ride, as predicted. The computers registers the failures in pairs: 1 and 2, 2 and 3, 1 and 3.
“Ask your daddy,” says mummy; “ask mummy,” says daddy. Ever get caught in that loop?
My airspeed indicator and altimeter are replaced by blank grey strips while the standby mocks me with error.
The standby gives me enough to guess my altitude, but not the speed and our supposing saving grace- the pitch and power tables are helpless. No surprise though, since the simulator and QRH (quick reference handbook) are based on a different engine configuration.
My support FO reads quotes me an attitude and thrust setting that’s supposed to keep me in level flight at a given speed. Instead, the aircraft spring upwards in a steady climb. Doesn’t take long before I realise baby, you’re on your own. I figure out a pitch and thrust setting that seems to work.
Hallelujah! Except I need to decelerate now.
I somehow figure my way through, but keep my N1 planted firmly above 50%. Without my indicated airspeed, I don’t want to risk a stall. Better fast than stall, I reason.
The (virtual) landing gear locks down, and the aircraft goes into direct law. It takes me a few tries, but I finally plant this baby onto the runway.
But the party isn’t over. My brakes fail me. I run through the motions. Reversers max, anti-skid nosewheel steering off…
The loud bang pierce my eardrums with the ferocity of my sister’s workout jams.
The apparent yaw is evident. I ram my right leg into the rudder pedal with enough force to plausibly tear a muscle.
“STOP!” I whoop… in the name of the blaring chimes and flashing bulbs raining down on us like Dataran Merdeka every 31st August.
Instinctively, I twitch a finger muscle, blinked twice, and cursed under my breath. The aircraft miraculously stops on the runway, the ECAM overflowing with more red than a Chinese wedding (1).
“Altruism rules our nation”… Wait…
It’s “attention crew at station” (2). Although the concept of a nation stemmed from selfless inclinations is a pleasant and welcomed concept.
“Red cap 5352, your engines are on fire,” the controller spits urgently. The glaring engine fire indication light nags me into my next course of action: evacuation.
I comply with the “golden words”: find the nipple, 2 buttons left (tips for finding the evacuation button in the dark). A loud horn cracks the tension.
“Okay, end of exercise,” the instructor says.
Phew. One down, a thousand more simulator exercises to go.
Switching fleet translates into a series of relentless simulator sessions, survived on caffeine mode. If the nature of these “torture boxes” isn’t enough to budge one into zombie zone, the ungodly hours seals the deal with a mighty shove.
I’ve flown more raw data (3) in the past two weeks, than I have in 7 years on line. More manual flying hits me per session, than an entire year of actual flying (thank you, luxury of automation). Park the bird and kill the arrow (4), they say. More like, park your attitude and kill the brain cells.
In fact, I’ve experienced so many engine failures, they now gush out of my ears like pee from a full bladder.
Two nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “pull up TOGA!”(5). Okay, not really. True story though: my husband once muttered “full up, full down, neutral” in his sleep. I responded: “rudder”. To my absolute amusement, he retorts with “full left, full right, neutral” (6). Oh, a tale as old as time.
Most sessions end on a saturated note, my brain on the verge of a fukushima-like explosion.
To retain sanity, I indulge in the occasional game of kiss, marry, kill. Of the Airbus 320’s 3 hydraulics: green, blue and yellow; I’ll kiss yellow, marry green and kill blue. Yellow is a flirt, his absence break hearts but tolerable. Green is the guy you hate to need, but know you do: landing gear, monopoly of the high lift devices, and like, gazillion other systems. Blue, you hold my emer gen (7), I’m sorry I have to kill your zen.
Game gets trickier when evolved into kill, kill, marry.
I pour over the dual hydraulic failure QRH summary in haste; two killed, married to one. I crank the landing gear gravity extension handle thrice and murmur…
Roger Murtaugh, I hear you…
(1) Truth: nothing miraculous about stopping a metal tube hurling down the runway at excess of 100 nautical miles per hour (think max reversers and crazy braking). Watch these guys pull the stunt.
(2) A cockpit command. Translation: standby, shit might potentially get real.
(3) No GPS, no modern technology- fly like the cavemen did.
(4) The flight path vector, also known as the bird, is a flying reference. The speed trend resembles an arrow when accelerating or decelerating. Sometimes, I wish I can strangle the bird.
(5) Standard call out in response to the ground proximity warning system. “Don’t die! Don’t die!”
(6) Flight control check call outs. Man, I wish I caught him on film!
(7) Emergency generator. I take it back. I need you!
The taxiway glisters from where I’m seated in the observer’s seat, the tell tale sign of a wet taxiway.
Who is that aircraft I see, staring straight back at me? I humor myself.
Another night, another graveyard shift. This time, I’m the cruise relief pilot. Or should I say the “dentist pilot”- unwanted yet necessary. You dread dentist visits, but you know they are vital to oral health. At least, that’s how the company views my role.
What it means, is that long flight time require an additional pilot to comply with flight duty period (FDP) regulations. My job is to relief whomever is managing their fatigue. Typically, we divide the rest time into half. Captain and the operating First Officer take turns resting at Premium Class, while I sit in to fill their roles.
I usually offer them my own rest time, because I figure that since they do the bulk of the heavy lifting, they earned the right to a prolonged rest. Or so I say. Truth is, the snoring in premium drives me nuts. Invest in some nasal strips, people.
I silently weigh the pros and cons of my role as cruise relief pilot. Money- good. Left seat rating- good. Workload is relatively OK. But on the other hand: an endless bout of insufferable ennui and boredom.
Win some, lose some; that’s what makes life not tiresome.
Bolts of light spill into the night sky. We sit idly at the holding point of Runway 33 in Kuala Lumpur, patiently awaiting line up clearance. Our sister company’s Airbus 320 announces her presence. Her landing lights must be new, captain observes. The brightness is glaring. Rare, if I may conclude.
“Lumpur tower, request to roll to Y2.”
Y2 is located towards the end of our 3960m runway. An Airbus 320 at its maximum landing weight has no trouble vacating Y4 or Y5. Our buddies clearly seek convenience.
Nah, Lumpur Tower will never agree, I tell myself. Not with us sitting here, like a ticking time bomb on their watch.
“Approved.” I raise my eyebrows and bite back my surprise.
“I object,” captain spits. I second his sentiments. We shrug.
“Xanadu 206, cleared to line up, Runway 33 via Y9.” It’s high time, I groan.
Working on pure muscle memory, I depress both pack pushbuttons for more thrust and better fuel savings. The white light illuminates. Most people click their chrono at this time, to adhere with the 20 seconds between packs off and take off rule. But I let it slide. Over time, I observed that a line up on an Airbus 330 takes way more than 20 seconds. A delayed packs off action might warrant the timer, but not today.
Captain advances the thrust levers as our engines roar to life.
“Thrust set,” I declare.
The runway centreline lights shines like “diamonds in the sky”, our beacon into the night sky.