Wednesday, 29 May 2013

I have been told that it is time to tell some more ‘tales’, well after 30 years and having been employed by more than a dozen airlines, oh I’ve never been made redundant or fired, if that’s what you’re thinking, there are many tales to tell!

My life to date means that I have travelled a wee bit further than the end of my road! Having spent a large portion of this time travelling at 6 hundred miles an hour more than 6 miles above this tiny planet of hours and visiting 6 of its Continents……..How many 6’s is that….666? Well, yes at times it has been a ‘Devil’ of a time…….but I wouldn’t have swapped this time for anything!

As per this article’s title, I have travelled around this world of ours, not in 80 days, though at times I have felt like a jet assisted Phileas Fogg…..yes I’ve used this phrase before! A feeling eschewed especially when operating as a Captain on around the world flights on the Boeing 747-400; travelling from South Korea’s Seoul to Anchorage Alaska then on to New York’s JFK airport before heading across the ‘Pond’ to Oslo prior to the last stop in Tashkent Uzbekistan for the return leg to Seoul….fabulous fun and tales I shall tell, I promise!

For this globe-trotting schedule there were only three flight crew members onboard until JFK; then we became two, although a third crew member on a Canarsie Approach to runway 13L with a side step, or late re-clearance to runway 13R at JFK was invaluable.

 This approach, to one of the world’s busiest airports, one where on the ground in wintery conditions I have had to taxi for three hours, is always demanding.

A colleague of mine who had to return to the parking gate three times prior to his flight being cancelled in blizzard conditions…lost his temper with one of his passengers. With this passenger’s flight being ‘postponed’ due to adverse conditions the Captain threw his UK car keys at this passenger who was insisting that they departed and said “You blooming drive it then!”…….Only to realise ten minutes later that he would need these keys on his ‘eventual’ return to the UK……so cap in hand…..

But back to being aloft at JFK on the Canarsie approach, where we would have to follow the ground based lead in lights, peering out from the flight deck of a Boeing 747, whilst trying to turn inside the Aqueduct race-course and roll-out in line with the runway at around 300 feet brought either a smile to your face or language recorded on the CVR which would not be out of place from a booze fuelled night out with the local Dockers! I still reckon that this approach is on par with the old Hong Kong’s Kai-Tak airport, our passengers never realise how ‘interesting/challenging’ some of these major international airports can be……well not until something goes wrong.

I have checked, 7 days on my travels, 35 hours in my log book averaging around 17,500 miles. Not bad considering it is 21,600 miles to circumnavigate the globe along the equator!

So from A to ZEE, when looking through my pilot log books I realised that I have worked my way through the alphabet…..though the letter ‘X’ uses a touch of artistic licence… you will see!

So, starting at the beginning, ‘A’…..we will look at places from Anchorage to Asmara and Amman to Almeria with a few others in-between; so many memories, which have not yet been destroyed by jet-lag, coffee, beer or divorces! Before they are ‘diluted’ I’ll highlight some of them now.

So in no particular order except for alphabetical, I’ll begin…….

Aberdeen, Scotland during the winter of 1984 was my first flight as an ‘Airline Pilot’, on the HS 748. An aircraft type that had two propellers, 48 seats and an auto-flight system which was as sophisticated as a light switch……though not as useful! I was scheduled to fly on G-BEJE a series one version, I didn’t realise it straight away but I was so far out of my depth even on this most basic of aircraft types, that there was a chance that my dreams of being an airline pilot might not come to fruition.


Thirty years ago CRM was a type of breakfast cereal and multi crew training was never a part of any initial training curriculum; Romanian bar staff would probably have had more personnel management training than I had.

With nothing to fall back on, I reverted to ‘type’ and kept calling my Training Captain Sir, which he kept telling me off for……I never went to public school, as such but awe can affect your mind-set… me he was a God and I felt like a lamb to the slaughter.

The HS 748, or as it was initially known, the Avro 748 or ‘Budgie’….which in my humble opinion harped back to the days of ‘Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines’ but without the glamour…….and a film which should be in the top 5 of any aviation enthusiasts…..was fabulous.

One incident on this aircraft had the brake accumulator explode and propel itself from the nose wheel bay, through the flight deck floor, ripping off the co-pilot’s armrest before running out of steam on the ceiling……having it’s lineage traced back to the Avro Lancaster, a World War Two bomber and celebrating this year it’s 70th anniversary of the famous Dambuster’s raid in 1943.

Though thirty years later this ‘incident’ brings a smile to my face and a proud feeling to have flown it …..I’ve always had a great interest in history!

This aircraft had no Level D flight simulators on which you could hone your skills or computer based training aids to learn your craft. Everything had to be done ‘in real time’….onboard. This included shutting down engines and feathering propellers; I would imagine that ‘Health and Safety’ would have something to say about this now and that all procedures would have to be accomplished whilst wearing a fluorescent Hi-Viz!