I sat in a 747 cockpit through the landing!

From:         libove@jerry.alf.dec.com (Jay Vassos-Libove)
Date:         16 Dec 93 01:50:27 PST
Organization: Digital Equipment Corporation, Atlanta Customer Support Center
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Names, dates, specific details left out to protect the guilty...
(What rules/laws did this violate anyway?)

Coming home from somewhere not-in-the-USA to some major US
airport recently, I was privileged to sit in the cockpit with
the flight deck crew for an hour or so during the flight, and
then (after the final snack was served) for the last twenty
minutes or so of the flight, including the landing!

The craft was an old 747-100, and the crew were very friendly
and answered any questions that I could think of (including
some after the fact which I mailed directly to the pilot
via his electronic mail account :} ).

The first thing I noticed was that, up there in the clouds,
staring out through those little windows, there just isn't
anything to see!  (Not that I really expected so, but still...)

We had the interesting experience of being radioed by a
British Airways Concorde, requesting radio relay, because
(as I understand it) they had lost an engine (in the sense
of having had to shut it down) and therefore had gone
sub-sonic and dropped altitude to around 25,000 feet,
and were no longer line-of-sight with their point of
origin (so they were unable to directly radio back for
instructions). The craft I was on relayed for them.
(A Lufthansa flight, and another Concorde - from Air
France - also assisted.)

I was really struck by how polite and friendly the flight
crews are up there ... everything was "thank you" "you're
welcome" "good day" "cheers" etc... (No sarcasm here, it
was really a nice change.)

I was also surprised by how little actual "flying" occurred
while we were cruising - everything was done care of the
autopilot (except for throttle control, which, due to a
lacking on that particular model of plane, simply didn't
exist).  The pilot told me (later, in e-mail) that he had
taken over control of the aircraft again at about 40
nautical miles from our destination airport and from there
on followed a radar guided course... does this mean that
another control system (ILS?) took over? Or that he simply
flew according to instructions from the ATC?

I noticed that the flight engineer would occasionally 
run through a sequence of push-buttons on his console,
evidently lighting up certain aspects of the console...
but I couldn't tell exactly what they were for. (They
were most of the way to the right, and close to the bottom,
of the flight engineer's board).

Just like the Boeing book said about pilots needing
training to get used to how high up the nose of that 747
is when you come in for a landing, I was totally unprepared
for the main gear touching down when it did - I could have
sworn that there was a bunch more distance to go down first!
I didn't even feel it, actually. When the nose came down,
though, things got a bit rough - I think mostly because
I was sitting in a cockpit jump seat instead of a heavily
padded passenger seat, and because I was right there watching
the runway in front of us through the windshield... 

The speed was deceptive too, on landing; because I was
watching indicators and seeing the runway, the visual
cues (lies, actually) made it seem that the plane was not
travelling at the ~150 (?) knots that it lands at, but
instead seemed to be going much more slowly.  Also, to
take a swipe at the "so, how useful are thrust reversers"
thread, on that plane on that landing, they were very
useful.  Though I'm sure that the pilot was applying the
toe (wheel) brakes, the brake heat indicators never rose
at all, and the braking effect was much greater while the
thrust reversers were deployed and the throttles pulled
in to the full reverse position than before or after.

It was also interesting to me how many times we switched
from one ATC frequency/person to another, as we got
closer in/lower down/on the ground.  It was almost like
getting map directions once we got on the ground and were
moving slowly enough to start steering on to the taxiways.
(I was quite surprised to find that the ground controller
asks the plane what gate they've been assigned, instead of
knowing it or even assigning it, and then simply directing
the plane to whatever gate the crew says they're supposed
to be at).

I'm sure there's lots more that I noticed, and more
questions that I could ask or answer. Please mail to me or
post a reply you have any thoughts or questions or whatever.

I wish that you all could have been there - it was such an
amazing experience!

--

Jay Vassos-Libove                  libove@alf.dec.com
Digital Equipment Corporation      decwrl!alf.dec.com!libove
Atlanta Customer Support Center    Opinions? They're mine, mine, all mine!
Alpharetta, Georgia                and D.E.C. Can't have 'em!