July 16, 2010

Just a Typical Trip: Part II

You can set your watch by the flurry of activity that occurs about five minutes before departure. The gate agents and crew chief on the ramp are very much in tune with the clock and the implications to them personally if we leave even one minute late. Our “out” times are registered electronically and one minute late is still late. If you’ve ever walked up to the gate five minutes to departure time with the jet sitting there in plain sight and tried to convince a gate agent to open the door and let you on, then you know. Good luck.

The Captain and I were strapped in ready to go as we completed the “before starting engines” checklist and the last of the cargo doors were closed by the ground crew. A ramper tapped on the side of the airplane near my seat to get my attention…he needed me to turn on the right hydraulic pump so he could raise the aft stair door. About five minutes before scheduled departure time, the gate agent stepped into the cockpit and asked if we were ready. “We’re ready as long as the flight attendants are“ is the typical response. The ladies in the back were scurrying around finishing up their last minute duties…overheads closed, everyone seated…I’ll never understand why people wait until they’re on the plane to use the bathroom. What have they been doing in the terminal for the last hour? It’s time to go!

The agent stepped out onto the jet bridge and closed the door and the flight attendant armed the emergency slide on her door then advised that the cabin was ready. The push crew called the Captain and advised “walk around and FOD check complete, cleared to release brakes.”


“Ramp 1180, A26 pushback” was my first radio call of the day. ATIS (Automated Terminal Information System) and en-route clearance information was printed out earlier using ACARS (pictured) and didn’t require a radio call. We pushed back from the gate, started engines and requested taxi clearance from ramp control who cleared us to spot 15 where we would wait to be called by ground control. No need to call ground…they see you sitting there and call when time permits. Also, they have new ground based radar that reads our transponder code, so they know who we are and where we’re going before we tell them. “Spot 15?” was the query from ground inviting us to identify ourselves. I responded with “American 1180, information B” and we were cleared to taxi. “American 1180 taxi 17 right, Juliet, Echo-Gulf.”

We pulled out onto taxiway Juliet and headed for the runway, completing taxi and take-off checklists as we went. Closeout information began printing out of the ACARS printer. While sitting at the gate, we entered preliminary weight and balance information into the FMS and set the planned CG and trim settings accordingly. As we taxied to the runway, we received the final weight and balance information via ACARS printout. Once the final numbers were imputed and checklists were complete, we would be ready for departure.


As we approached runway 17 right, I dialed 126.55, DFW tower, into the number one radio and we waited for our turn. We were number two for takeoff and as the aircraft ahead of us began his takeoff roll we received our clearance…”American 1180, runway 17R, position and hold.” We completed a couple last minute checklist items as we taxied onto the runway. “American 1180, RNAV NAVYE, runway 17R cleared for takeoff.” It was the Captain’s leg, so he pushed the throttles up and commanded “auto throttle on” as the airspeed indicator came alive. “Power set”…“80 knots”…V1 occurred at 137 knots accompanied by my standard callouts “V1“…“Rotate”…”V2”…”V2 + 10.” As we rotated, the Captain commanded “positive rate, gear up” and we were on our way. We engaged NAV at 400 feet and captured the RNAV track for our assigned departure and contacted departure on 118.55. Retracting the flaps on schedule, leaving the slats extended for the turn ahead., we crossed NAVYE intersection as we began a turn to the east following the magenta line on the NAV display…crossing JGIRL above 5000 at 240 knots as required by the TRISS3 RNAV procedure. After JGIRL we accelerated to 250 knots and leveled off momentarily at 10,000 for traffic at 11,000 on the arrival before we were cleared to 17,000 ft. Climbing through 10,000 we accelerated to 310 knots and received clearance to FL230 followed shortly by a hand-off to Ft. Worth Center and a clearance to a final cruise altitude of FL330.


The departure procedure took us up over TXK (Texarkana) where we joined J42 to MOL (Montebello) J24 to FAK (Flat Rock) then direct to the airport while speaking to Center controllers in Ft. Worth., Memphis, Indianapolis and Washington. Our descent began with an early clearance to FL240, probably to get us under arrival traffic to another city. After some time at FL240, we were cleared to cross 15 miles west of FAK at 9000 to get us into the proper arrival corridor for Richmond. The rule of thumb for planning a descent is altitude to lose times 3. In this case we were cruising at FL240 and needed to plan a descent to 9000...15,000 feet to lose times 3 or 45 miles. We had a 20 knot tailwind…add 2 miles, 1 knot for every 10 knots of tailwind…and we needed to slow from 310 knots to 250 at 10,000 feet before descending to 9000...add 1 mile for every 10 knots or 6 miles in this case. All said, we needed 53 miles to get down. The FMS provides this information, but as with any computer, put junk in, get junk out. Doing the math in your head is always a good backup to the FMS.


At the top of descent, I began running the “descent” and “before landing” checklists in preparation for our approach and landing. We received multiple step downs as we were vectored for an approach at Richmond….the weather was good , so we briefed a visual approach to runway 34 backed up with the ILS (Instrument Landing System). We were initially told to expect runway 2, but since that runway is 3000 feet shorter than runway 34, we requested and received clearance for the longer runway. As we approached the airport the Captain began to slow and configure the aircraft for landing. “below 280, slats extend” as we approach the min maneuver speed for a clean aircraft. As we continued to slow he commanded flaps 11 then flaps 15 as we slowed well below the maximum speed for those flap settings. With the airport in sight, the approach controller cleared us for the visual approach to runway 34 and handed us off to the tower. We were turning final about 5 miles from the runway at that point descending through 2000 feet, indicating around 180 knots with flaps 15. “Tower, American 1180, visual runway 34” followed immediately by clearance to land…“American 1180, wind 360 at 13, runway 34, cleared to land.” “Gear down” “below 220 flaps 23” were my instructions from the Captain as we continued to configure for landing. “Below 195, flaps 28...below 195, flaps 40” and I completed the landing checklist. We passed 1000 ft. on speed, established on the glide slope with the power stabilized at about 1.3 EPR…a pretty normal power setting for a fairly heavy MD80 with a slight headwind and continued the approach to a smooth landing, touching down at 130 knots. I announced “deployed” after touchdown, referring to the spoilers and called out “100 knots, 80 knots, 60 knots” as we slowed and exited the runway onto taxiway Charlie. We contacted ground as we cleaned up and performed the “after landing” checklist and were cleared to “cross runway 2, taxi to park.”

After arriving at the gate, we concluded the flight with the “parking checklist,” opened the door and thanked our passengers for their business on their way onto the jet bridge. Success. Another one behind us without a call from the FAA or the Chief Pilot’s office. After a 40 minute sit, we returned to DFW and continued on to Colorado Springs for the night. Pretty good day…good Captain, three good flight attendants…operated on time…seemed to keep most everyone happy. Day two went much the same, departing COS around 1pm and continuing to Orlando, Florida after a short stop at DFW. Day three would not be as successful. Stay tuned for Part III.


  1. Nice. I understood the proceedures, but didn't know the call outs. Gave me more insight into what happens at the pointy end. And I learned something useful for me too.

    So in my C23, if I want to loose 5,000 ft (usually to cross BYP at 4,000), using 120 kts and 500 ft/min, it would take 10 minutes and 20 miles - 4x (round numbers to make the math easy). You must be assuming some certain descent rate and standard airspeed to get the 3x - what do you use?

    I enjoy flying UAL because they often have radio comms on channel 9, which makes the flight much more enjoyable for someone who wants to know what the pilots are doing - has AAL every considered the same?

  2. Round numbers would make this easier, but this is just a rule of thumb. The TAS on an MD80 is about 460 knots depending on how fast we're filed to fly. Descend at 2500 fpm and the multiple would be a little over 3, but it's close enough since there are other variables involved anyway. We typically descend at idle power which yields around 2500 fpm in the descent, depending on how clean or dirty the jet is. You'd be surprised how much clean, idle power descent rates vary. Idle power on one jet may yield 2200 and 2700 on another.

    AAL used to have a channel like you describe, I remember DAL having the same thing when I was a kid. I don't know why AAL stopped. My guess...some lawyer thought it was a bad idea. I wonder if NWA had one when they were overflying MSP last year?