Part Two: The Trip to Hawaii
By Joe Thompson (19 June 2008)
Painted Up and Ready to Go
We left our TriStar sitting on the flightline at Roswell Industrial Air Center, Roswell, New Mexico. After her ferry flight down from Victorville, California, she was ready for a facelift in the paint shed. Painting an airliner is not like painting a car or a house or anything else for that matter. The environmental differences airliner paint is subjected to are enormous, and it all happens within a matter of minutes. Unlike the auto industry airliners can't be painted using water based paint. Grueling environmental parameters such as temperature changes from +60C to -60C in a matter of minutes, the intense ultra-violet (UV) radiation coupled with actual expansion and contraction of the fuselage due to pressurization and the flexing of the wings all contribute to the complexity in painting an airliner. Then throw in your normal assault by rain, hail, ice, sand, and other abrasives and you can see why painting a modern airliner is a unique skill and technically challenging.
Our TriStar was first treated with a formic acid based stripping agent. Then the aircraft was left for 10-12 hrs to allow the stripper to work on the enamel paint. The old paint was then merely washed off and the bare metal surface was ready to be primed. After a wash primer was added the aircraft was coated with a white base coat. This base coat accentuated the final paint that was to be applied. Then the painters, using special electro statically charged paint guns to prevent paint loss, went to work creating the unique livery scheme that skyLIFT carries on its aircraft. The upper wing surfaces where maintenance personnel are likely to tread were painted with special non-slip enamel and the flaps were coated with a special non-abrasive surface. When she was finally rolled out of the paint shed-sans her paint masking - she truly was a extraordinary sight. Many of the local employees at KROW took time out to walk over to the TriStar and check out the new "work of art."
By this juncture our crew of three had returned to Roswell from their 2 week hiatus back home on Oahu in Hawaii accompanied by other skyLIFT employees. They had carefully inspected the aircraft the day before with several skyLIFT personnel including the Assistant Operations Chief and the Fleet Manager. The paint job was deemed outstanding in all respects and the final paperwork was executed.
It was now time to fly N513SL to her new home in Honolulu. Original plans called for the entire acceptance team to fly back to Hawaii on the TriStar but plans had now changed. The Operations personnel were headed to Washington, D.C. for scheduled meetings with staffers at the Airline Transport Association (ATA) to talk regulatory issues so the crew would be flying an empty aircraft back to the islands.
The crew consisting of the Captain, First Officer (FO) and Second Officer (SO) - Flight Engineer, Engineer or 'Plumber' to you old timers - stood at the counter in the hangar inspecting their Transoceanic Flight Folder. Included where the master Computerized Flight Plan (CFP) and copies for each crew member, Aircraft Weight and Balance Sheet (AWABS), weather and upper winds synopsis sheets, applicable Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), Dispatch Release Form and the Pre Departure Clearance, to list a few. They reviewed each document carefully and the FO prepared a Plotting Sheet to use as a backup on the oceanic portion of the trip. The accuracy of all listed waypoint (WPT) positions, and if applicable, their I.D. and frequency was confirmed. The SO started preparing the Fuel Log. All of this material had come from skyLIFT's Dispatch Center in downtown Honolulu.
The Pre-Departure Clearance looked something like this:
O SKL 513 DEPARTING ROW TRANSPONDER 0554
O EQUIP L1011/5 SKED DEP TIME 1625Z
O FILED FLT LEVEL 390
O -CLEARED AS FILED-
O ROW J65 TCS DCT GBN J2 MZB DCT FICKY R578 DEREC DCT UPP
O JULLE4 HNL
O MAIN 10,000 EXP REQ ALT 10 MIN AFT T/O
This told the crew that their flight plan that had been submitted by the skyLIFT was accepted by the Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) computer. The crews don't plan their routes of flight. These are generated by Dispatch personnel. The Aircraft Dispatcher (does not have to be a pilot), who is certificated by the FAA, has joint responsibility with the captain for the safety and operational control of flights under their guidance. They analyze and evaluate meteorological information to determine potential hazards to safety of flight and to select the most desirable and economic route of flight. They also compute the amount of fuel required for the safe completion of flight according to type of aircraft, distance of flight, maintenance limitations, weather conditions and minimum fuel requirements prescribed by Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR's). Dispatchers also prepare flight plans containing information such as maximum allowable takeoff and landing weights, weather reports, field conditions, NOTAMS and many other informational components required for the safe completion of flight. Major airlines have two groups of dispatchers, those that work only international flights and those that handle domestic ones.
The crew noted that after leaving Roswell they would pick up Airway Juliet 65 that passed through the Chisum (CME) VOR just northwest of the Roswell Airport. They would fly this airway to Truth or Consequences (TCS) VOR then leave established airways and fly direct (DCT) 272 NM to the Gila Bend (GBN) VOR, just southwest of Phoenix. From over GBN they would join airway Juliet 2 and fly this to San Diego. This airway terminates over the Mission Bay (MZB) VOR. From there the TriStar would fly off shore 224 NM to a point named FICKY which lies on the boundary of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and the Oakland Oceanic Control Area (CTA). FICKY is the eastern most reporting point on airway Romeo 578 that would take them to Hawaii. Over this point they would be handed off by Los Angeles Center to Oakland CTA who would monitor their transit along R578 to Hawaii. From FICKY they would fly west southwestward along R578 through report points with names like FOOTS, FEARS, and FONZA and eventually to FITES, which lies 130 NM northeast of Hilo, Hawaii. At FITES they would be handed off by Oakland CTA to Honolulu Center who would control them the remaining 340+ miles to their destination of Honolulu. From FITES they would fly to the western terminus of R578 - intersection DEREC - then direct to the Upolu Point (UPP) VOR on the northwest tip of 'The Big Island', Hawaii. Over UPP they would start their arrival route (Standard Terminal Arrival Route or STAR) procedures that would funnel them along various tracks to position them for their final approach into Honolulu International Airport (PHNL / HNL). From Roswell to FICKY would cover 865 NM. The distance along the R578 Airway within the Oakland CTA would be an additional 1,816 NM and then the remaining 343 miles to Honolulu gave them a total distance to fly of 3,024 NM.
Preflight and Checklist
Time to shove off. With their bags in hand they said good-bye to newly made friends at Roswell and walked out in the morning sunshine to their aircraft. They all mounted the ladder pushed up to the forward left passenger door (L1) and once inside the expansive cabin made their way to the cockpit, where they stowed their personnel gear in the locker provided under the portside jumpseat. At this juncture certain critical switch positions were checked and then as the Captain and FO settled in the SO returned to the tarmac to conduct his exterior preflight walk around. After donning a pair of well worn leather gloves and arming himself with his trusty flashlight he started in the nose wheel well and progressively made his way around the nose of the aircraft, down the forward right fuselage side, around the right wing, then under the wing and inside the right wheel well. From there he continued down the after right fuselage side, around the tail and forward again up the left side of the aircraft repeating the checks he had made on the right side. Once completed he returned to the cockpit.
The Captain and FO had completed their 'nest building' by the time he returned. This ritual is repeated thousands of times daily as crews settle into their flight decks for the first time and arrange their charts, sunglasses, headsets, adjust their seats and rudder pedals, and make the initial setups for their cockpit and, of course, ensure that the ubiquitous cup of coffee was close at hand. The cockpit safety check was done with particular care since the aircraft had been sitting on the ramp, outside the control of skyLIFT personnel for several weeks. Manuals were checked, circuit breaker (CB) positions were reviewed, Fire Pull Handles were checked as well as ensuring the HF radios were OFF and the Master Radio was LATCHED. (One of the idioms about cockpit switch nomenclature on the TriStar is the use of the term LATCHED and UNLATCHED. For brevity in our story the reader should infer that LATCHED means the switch, value, etc. is in the ON or CLOSED position conversely UNLATCHED indicates OFF or an OPEN position). The Gear Handle and Flap/Speedbrake Handles were confirmed down and the Stabilizer Trim was set to Zero. Other checks ensued and eventually the Battery was switched ON from which flowed additional checks. Since ground power was available the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) was not started. And with no Flight Attendants aboard the cabin safety checks would have to be done by the FO and SO. Soon each crewmember began checks on their individual instrument panels. Each started at a designated spot on their panel and then flowed in a standardized pattern checking instruments, switches, caution & warning lights and a whole host of other things.
Before long they had arrived at the beginning to the BEFORE START section of the aircraft checklist. All items prior to this had been accomplished from memory or various crib sheets that are not part of the actual aircraft checklist. The L-1011 checklist is sectioned into the various regimens of a flight from BEFORE START thru to TERMINATION.
Company policy required that the Captain call for all Checklist during ground operations so at this point the Captain announced, "'Before Start' checklist gentlemen." On the checklist each item had a notation to indicate who was responsible for the item, e.g. The checklist also included items in a box with reverse print that indicated they were critical to the Safety of Flight. Other items in a box without the reverse print indicated that those items required a Challenge - by the person reading the checklist - and a verbal Response by the person(s) responsible for that specific item. At skyLIFT the FO normally reads the BEFORE START checklist with the Captain and SO responding to each item as they are read; the entire BEFORE START section is Challenge & Response, so the FO began:
"Exterior / Interior
Preflight".................SO - "Complete"
"Logbook".........................................SO - "Checked"
"Circuit Breakers"...............................SO - "Checked"
When the FO read "Oxygen Mask / Regulators / Interphone" everyone, including the FO, since the item was marked ALL, responded with "Checked."
This challenge and response interrogation went on for several minutes. After the Preliminary items were dispensed with next up was the Overhead Panel starting with the INS MODE SELECTORS. The glareshield was checked next followed by the Captain's and FO's Instrument Panel. Now everyone focused attention on the Center Instrument Panel and after that was the Center Console. The NAVIGATION SYSTEM SETUP was the first item on the center console check and required quite a bit of time to complete. The Captain, who was the PF for this trip, was responsible for the programming of the navigation computers with the navigation and aircraft performance data extracted from the CFP. To ensure the accuracy of this critical preflight setup the PF is responsible for the ground setup of the Flight Management System (FMS) and the #1 and #2 Inertial Navigation System (INS) computers. The SO is responsible for the loading of the data in the #3 INS using the FO's copy of the flight plan. When the set-up is completed by both crewmembers the entire process is then checked by the PNF (the FO in our case) for accuracy. The FO takes the Master CFP and verifies that each NAV data line is correctly entered. As he cycles thru the FMS/INS units performing this task he draws a circle around each waypoint (WPT) signifying that the navigation data associated with that specific WPT has been properly entered and verified.
After additional items are checked on the center panel, the crew finally arrives at the section devoted to the SO's Panel. The last item on the BEFORE START checklist is the Departure Briefing by the Captain, so using the "WARTS" memory aid he briefs the departure and covers:
W - Weather and Wind Conditions
A - Abnormal Procedures and Abort Considerations
R - Runway Considerations
T - Terrain, Transition Altitude and Taxi Considerations and finally
S - SID (Standard Instrument Departure)
When the Captain was finished the FO stated: "'Before Start' checklist Complete."
The Captain then called for the BEFORE PUSH BACK checklist and the ritual began again. Things happened more rapidly now. The INS Mode Selector switches were placed in the NAV position and the Captain reached to the eyebrow panel just above the top edge of the windshield and pushed in the anticollison light switch. On the top and bottom of the newly painted fuselage, four red lights began to pulsate on and off. The Parking Brake was released and the push began, first straight back a few feet then a ninety degree turn so they would be facing northeast, parallel to the active runway, which was 21. The brake was reset and it was time for engine start.
The SO set the fuel panel and secured PACKS 1 & 3 and placed PACK 2 online.
Then Captain directed, "Start Engine number two." Due to how the various ships systems (hydraulics, electrical, pneumatics, etc.) are supported by the individual engines the preferred starting sequence for the TriStar is engines 2-1-3. If a delayed start is executed the number 1 or 3 engine is the last to be started but since the active runway was only a couple hundred yards away from their ramp position they would start all three engines together this morning.
The Captain reached above his head to the Engine Start sub-panel in the middle of the overhead panel and pushed the ground start switch for engine two. He also started the elapsed timer on his clock at the same time - the time was 1704 Zulu. A few seconds later the SO called, "Oil Pressure" and the corresponding light on the Pilots Annunciator Panel went out. As the engine gained rotational speed the SO saw that the N2 gauge on his engineers panel was rising and he announced, "N2 Rotation", and when the N3 engine instrument indicated 25% the Captain reached to his right, just aft of the throttles, and flipped the center Fuel & Ignition Switch up to the ON position. Less than 10 seconds elapsed before the huge RB211 engine sitting in the tail lit off. The N1 pressure instrument indicated a rise and the Captain called, "N1 Rotation."
The Captain now watched the Ground Start 'Value Open' pushbutton switch on the overhead panel and when the 'Value Open' light went out he declared, "Starter Cut Out." With N3 indicating 55% the Captain called, "Ground Start Release" and as the engine continued to spin up and stabilize the SO latched the HI Pressure Flowbar switch on his panel and checked various gauges to ensure that the engine was operating within acceptable limits. The engine was allowed to stabilize at ground idle and then the entire process was repeated for engine number one and finally number three. Soon the large amounts of smoke that typically follow the starting of the RB211 engines were replaced by the sweet smell of kerosene as it wafted out of the engine exhausts, blurring the space behind each engine with a shimmering cone of heat. People standing on the ramp were seen cupping their ears due to the close proximity of the engine noise. She may have been dubbed 'The Whisperliner' but up close she was plenty loud.
With engine start came the next portion on the checklist which was another Challenge & Response section. The Captain calls "After Start" and then he starts down the appropriate checklist items.
Captain - "Engine Instruments"
...............FO - "Checked"
Captain - "Engine Anti-Ice" .....................FO calls "OFF" and this response is immediately mimicked by the SO too since it was a dual response item.
Captain - "Pitot / Alpha Heat" ..................the FO reaches above his head to the overhead panel and activates the appropriate switches on the Air Data Sensor Heat sub-panel then states "On". This is a dual response item also so the SO confirms the switch positions and echoes "On."
Now the Captain calls for "Windshield Heat" and the FO again reaches up pushes four switches to activate the heat on the front windshield along with the side windows, and indicates, "On." The remainder of the AFTER START checklist was done silently by the SO. At this juncture the ramp attendant saluted the Captain who then called for the TAXI checklist.
With an All Up Weight (AUW - the total weight of the aircraft sitting on the ramp just prior to taxi) of slightly over 354,000 lbs, well below the Max Takeoff Weight of 510,000 lbs, they would use a 'Flaps 14' setting this morning. After testing the Maneuvering Direct Lift Control (MDLC) which is only installed on the Dash 500 models, the FO placed the flap handle on the center pedestal to the "4" degree detent. He noted the Leading Edge (LE) indicator light illuminate indicating that the 14 slats - 3 inboard and 4 outboard on each wing - were deploying and once the light went out and the LE EXT light came on to show they had extended, he then moved the flap handle past the 4 degree detent to its final setting of 14 degrees. He watched the flap indicator tape on the flap gauge inch downward until it read "14" and he declared, "Slats - 14 Degrees - Green Light." The SO monitored the upper right corner of his overhead panel and when all 14 slat lights on the Slat Monitor Gauge illuminated he said, "14 Green."
Now the Captain advanced the throttles of the big jet to a breakaway level and once she started to move forward he retarded the power to sustain a slow taxi to the active, which was not very far away. Roswell Tower had cleared them to the active and in less than two minutes they sat at the approach end of Runway 21. The remainder of the TAXI checklist had been completed with altimeters set and crosschecked, speed bugs and takeoff Engine Pressure Ratio (EPR) bugs slewed to the desire settings, the stabilizer trim set to the appropriate setting for the conditions and finally the flight controls tested from 'Tops' to 'Bottoms.'
The Captain now called for the BEFORE TAKEOFF checklist which is again a Challenge & response operation. Items such as shoulder harnesses, Starter Switch position, Continuous Ignition, Antiskid, annunicator panels and a critical recheck of the Flap/Slat position were all accomplished quickly. They were ready to go.
The FO keyed his microphone, "Roswell Tower, One Three Sierra Lima ready at runway 21 for departure to the northwest."
"One Three Sierra Lima, wind two seven zero at seven, cleared for takeoff, right turn after departure at pilots discretion".
"One Three Sierra Lima cleared for takeoff, thanks for everything and Aloha!"
The Captain pulled the TriStar onto the active runway and activated the landing lights. He then flipped the small switch located under the nose wheel steering yoke near his left knee to engage the rudder pedal steering and then said, "Here we go" as he advanced the throttles to a vertical position. Engine readings were confirmed by both the FO and SO.
The FO, being the Pilot Not Flying (PNF), then called "Green Light - Power Set - Engine Instruments Checked." 'Green Light' referred to the green ENG 2 FAIL lights on either side of the glareshield panel had illuminated. These lights indicate that the system to detect a failure of the tail mounted engine during takeoff had properly armed during throttle application. This is a 'Safety of Flight' issue and if these lights do not come on the takeoff must be aborted. The Captain continued advancing the throttles to their takeoff target position, retaining his hand position on the tops of the throttles. The huge aircraft gained speed rather rapidly with only the fuel load aboard to weigh her down.
At 80 kts Indicated Airspeed (KIAS) the FO declared, "Airspeed on the Rise."
When the calculated V1 speed was reached the FO called out, "V1." They were now committed to a takeoff. If anything happened after this point in the takeoff roll they would continue the takeoff and deal with the problem once airborne. The Captain now removed his right hand from the throttles and placed it on the control yoke.
The acceleration was now incredibly swift and in a matter of seconds the FO called out "Vr" to signify to the Captain they had reached their computed speed to rotate off the runway. The Captain relaxed the forward pressure he had held on the control yoke to this point and began a smooth continuous backward pull on the control column. The runway forward of the aircraft disappeared from view as the nose pitched skyward. The Captain made sure he didn't exceed 11 degrees of pitch up on the deck angle to avoid striking the tail on the runway and he maintained this attitude until they were airborne.
Then the FO called out "V2" to signify that they had reached the speed necessary to safely climbout in the event they had lost an engine after the V1 speed had been reached.
As the Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) twitched upward indicating a positive rate of climb the FO called out, "Positive Rate" and the Captain commanded for the gear to be retracted. The FO moved the gear handle to the UP detent and watched the indicator lights. After confirming the gear was up and gear doors closed, he moved the lever to the NEUTRAL position and this depressurized the system. The gear now rested on the gear doors, which were being held closed by the door uplocks. The gear retraction process also retracted and stowed the tail skid and aft shock strut. At 1,000 above field elevation (AFE) the Captain called "Latch Vertical Speed 1,000." This signified to the FO to activate the Vertical Speed Mode on the Autopilot/Flight Director System (APFDS) - The Autopilot - on the glareshield to give them 1,000 feet per minute (fpm) climb gradient. At V2 + 10 kts the Captain commanded "Flaps 10." The FO moved the flap handle to the appropriate detent and verified that the flaps retracted to the desired setting. At V2+20 kts the Captain commanded "Flaps 4, Climb Power." Shortly thereafter as they reached V2+60 kts the Flaps were retracted for the last time and the Leading Edge (LE) slats were also stowed. Soon they had accelerated to 250 KIAS and then activated the autopilot's IAS function. They would climb at 250 KIAS until passing thru 10,000 mean sea level (MSL) then once again accelerate to their climb speed schedule which, for our TriStar, is 320 KIAS. Things were happening in rapid succession now. While the Captain placed the aircraft in a very shallow right bank to fly out to the northwest to intercept the outbound airway the FO switched frequencies and was now talking to Albuquerque (ABQ) Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC or simply 'Center'). They cleared N513SL to 18,000 feet and confirmed to the crew they had the aircraft and its transponder code visible on radar.
One thousand feet below their first assigned attitude of 18,000 feet the FO announced "Out of 17 for 18." Less than 10 seconds later ABQ Center instructed them to continue their climb to Flight Level 280. As they passed through FL180 the FO announced "Altimeters set to Two Niner Niner Two." The Captain secured the landing lights which had been kept on until this juncture. Now they would be flying in reference to the standard altimeter setting as would all other aircraft above this 'Transition Altitude' (TA). The TA is the altitude where aircraft no longer uses a local barometric pressure reading but instead use the one for a standard day at sea level. This in turn ensures that everyone above that level will be using the same base unit of measurement or datum above the earth's surface ensuring accurate vertical separation. Up to the TA the altitude is given in thousands of feet. Above the TA the altitude assignments are given as Flight Levels (FL). And to confuse things even more this TA level is different around the world. It varies from 2,000 to 18,000 feet. In the USA it's 18,000. When stating flight levels the last three numbers are generally omitted, so a Flight Level of 28,000, which was what ABQ Center just assigned our TriStar, is given as FL280. In Russia and China however these levels can really get confusing because in their airspace they use meters instead of feet as the reference datum. There you're likely to be assigned flight levels like FL282, FL315, FL348, or FL381.
Soon the Captain commenced a shallow banked turn to the left to intercept the Juliet Sixty Five (J65) Hi Altitude Airway that pointed westward off the Chisum VOR just north of Roswell. The first leg of the trip would be flown using VOR/DME navigation. This would allow the crew sufficient time to compare INS & FMS navigation accuracy prior to engaging the LNAV (Lateral Navigation) function of the autopilot. Once that was done the aircraft would fly the previously inputted flight plan all the way to Hawaii.
Accurate trim is essential to reduce drag and to minimize fuel consumption. It is normally accomplished once during the climb and then immediately after reaching cruise altitude and as needed as the fuel is burned off. The Captain now checked for thrust symmetry and the SO confirmed fuel balance. Now the Captain flicked the stabilizer trim wheel located on the top of the right horn of his control yoke. As he trimmed using this thumbwheel, the large manual trim wheels located on both sides of the center pedestal by the inboard knees of the two pilots ratcheted in sync with the Captain's inputs. Then the Captain zeroed out the aileron and rudder trim and ensured the wings were level on the Attitude Direction Indicator (ADI). At this point he noted any tendency for the aircraft to turn and then zeroed out the aileron and rudder trim. The TriStar was now in perfect trim as she climbed ever higher. (This procedure is repeated upon reaching cruise altitude also. After the aircraft is accelerated to its cruise speed, the autopilot is disconnected, the aircraft re-trimmed, and the autopilot reengaged).
Twenty minutes after engine start they were passing thru FL260, 26 NM north of Holloman Air Force Base, located in the south central portion of the famous White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). The FO jerked his right thumb in a gesture towards his side window and said, "Trinity Site is over there." Trinity Site is the location of the first atomic bomb test shot that was conducted in July of 1945. This site lies in the northern edge of the WSMR. Less than 10 minutes later they passed over their first navigation waypoint - the Truth or Consequences, New Mexico VOR (TCS). The Captain made the necessary heading change and then the LNAV switch on the autopilot was latched. The autopilot coupled to the INS and FMS would now fly the aircraft, but the crew would continue to crosscheck the navigation to ensure that the automation was doing what it was suppose to be doing. More than one flight crew has been rudely awakened by circumstances when they have placed all their trust in the computers and failed to detect a errant navigation system.
From TCS they had filed and been approved for a direct (DCT) routing to their next waypoint which was the Gila Bend VOR located 46 NM southwest of Phoenix. This segment was 272 NM long. Now at their cruise altitude of FL390 they got a call from ABQ Center to alert them to a Delta MD-80 on the same track but below their altitude. They had the contrail in sight and soon overtook the 'Mad Dog' and left him behind as they flew westward.
Not long after Phoenix was off their right wing tip. The TriStar over flew GBN at 1808Z and the INS/FMS commanded the aircraft to its new heading that corresponded to airway Juliet Two (J2). They would follow this airway 231 NM westward, skirting the US-Mexico border all the way to their Mission Bay VOR waypoint just north of Lindbergh Field in San Diego, California. Thirty-two miles east of Yuma, ABQ Center passed control of the TriStar off to Los Angles (LAX) Center. Twenty four minutes after joining the J2 airway they flew almost directly over the Marine Corp Air Station (MCAS) at Yuma, Arizona. The Captain glanced down out of his side window and remarked, "Damn, I sure pity those poor Jarheads down there. It's like living in an oven all the time." The Captain had made a couple fuel stops there in the course of his Navy career and he was familiar with how stifling hot the place could get. No one remarked. After a crew has flown together for quite a while, which this crew had, conversation is infrequent during lulls at cruise. They knew each others families and had discussed most of the normal stuff during other long-hauls to far away places. The most 'talkative' guy was the FO who was responsible for communications as the PNF. He would respond to the controlling centers call for a frequency change as they passed from the control of one sector controller to another within the same center's area of responsibility. When someone got up to go to the galley they would naturally ask the others if they wanted anything. (The Dash 500 model has the galleys located on the main deck instead of on the cargo hold level like all previous models. This allowed for the expansion of the cargo space on the short-fuselage Dash 500's.)
There's a lot of water down there!
As they passed over San Diego the greenery of Balboa Park was clearly visible as was Lindbergh Field and the Coronado Bridge that spans San Diego Bay. Naval Air Station (NAS) North Island was prominent on the north end of Coronado. At 1839Z they passed over the Mission Bay VOR (MZB) and crossed the beach and headed out over the Pacific Ocean.
Additional navigation cross checks were completed while in range of ground based navigation aids because once off shore the navigation would be strictly up to the Inertial Navigation System. At 1902Z they were 210 NM off shore and rapidly approaching FICKY, the reporting point that marked where they would be passed to their oceanic controller. Four routes angle to the southwest from FICKY. They take you to places like Tahiti, Rarotonga, Pago Pago and Nandi. The fifth route that angles to the west southwest is R578 and would take them all the way to Hawaii. It was at this point that the LAX Center called for the last time and advised the crew that they were leaving LAX airspace and radar coverage and entering the oceanic airspace. They were told to Squawk 2000 on their transponder and report their position to San Francisco radio.
The FO dialed in the new frequency and called, "San Francisco Radio, One Three Sierra Lima. Position on one three one decimal niner five."
The oceanic controller replied, "One Three Sierra Lima, San Francisco Radio. Go ahead."
"One Three Sierra Lima is position FICKY at one niner zero five, Flight Level three niner zero, estimating FOOTS at one niner two one, FEARS next. Mach decimal eight four, ground speed four one four, over."
The TriStar had just joined the transoceanic route system and had told the controller where they were and at what time, the name of the next compulsory reporting point and when they estimated to be there, the compulsory reporting point that would follow their next report, their speed as a Mach number and their ground speed. All this data would allow the controller to maintain a manual track on the aircraft even without radar coverage and would ensure proper lateral separation of all aircraft on the same route.
Upon joining the route they also tuned a VHF radio to 128.95 which was the frequency used in Pacific Remote and Oceanic areas for Air to Air communication between aircraft. So now they were listening to the active Oceanic Control frequency, the Air-Air frequency and the VHF emergency guard frequency of 121.5. And thus began the long, monotonous transit along R578 to their final destination. And even though the aircraft was under the guidance of the INS and the FMS, with electronic screens displaying all necessary navigational information in real-time, they backed all this up with paper enroute and NAV plotting charts. On the center pedestal was a folded Jeppesen 3&4P (H/L) Pacific Ocean High/Low Enroute Chart. On one side was a chart covering the pacific route system from the Canadian/US border south to the northern California Baja Peninsula and all the way westward to Hawaii. On the back was the route system around the Hawaiian Islands.
Also unfolded for use was a Mid Pacific - North Pacific Plotting Chart. One side of this chart had the west coast to Hawaii route system displayed and the flip side covered the North Pacific route system from Alaska to Japan. Ten minutes after passing each waypoint along the track the crew would dutifully plot the latitude and longitude from the INS that was actually navigating the aircraft (in the case of multi-unit INS equipped aircraft). This task is known as the Post Position Plot (P.P.P.) and though it may seem to be a useless exercise given the automation of navigation systems available, it actually serves a critical purpose. It confirms that the aircraft is traveling along the cleared track, first and foremost. After each P.P.P. the PF, in our case the Captain, confirms that the aircraft is on the cleared track, that the distance and time computation to the next Waypoint (WPT) agree with the Computerized Flight Plan, confirms the coordinates of the active "TO" waypoint on the INS Control Display Unit (CDU), and confirms that the autopilot is tracking correctly. Remember that Flight Plan we used in the BEFORE START checklist to setup the navigation computers in Roswell? If you'll recall the FO checked all the data entries the Captain and SO had made he circled each WPT to indicate the data was entered correctly. That Flight Plan is then used to manually indicate which WPTs have been crossed and which one is next. The circle around the WPT that the aircraft is currently flying "TO" is notated with a single diagonal line thru the circle. Once that WPT is crossed a second diagonal line is scribed thru the circle to form an "X" - this shows the WPT has been crossed. The next WPT on the Flight Plan is then immediately marked with a single diagonal slash to show that it's the next WPT they are flying "TO."
When a Post Position Plot places the aircraft an unacceptable distance off the intended track then the crew must determine why and take corrective action. The first, and relatively simply explanation for why a fix does not fall on the intended track line is the track line is incorrectly drawn on the chart. In a dimly lit cockpit it's easy to misread the tiny Latitude and Longitude tick marks on a plotting chart. A secondary explanation for the error may be that the track points were accurately laid down according to the WPTs used, but the waypoints were incorrectly written down. But the third reason is the most sinister. The correct WPTs were used, the trackline was drawn on the chart correctly but you aren't where you think you are. Obviously the aircraft is not navigating along the track as it should be, but why? It then becomes the mission of the crew to determine what is causing the error and correct it. It can be a whole host of problems such as an incorrectly entered waypoint coordinate(s) in the computer, the autopilot is in HEADING instead of NAV mode, the autopilot is cross-coupled; i.e. the Captain is using the "A" channel and the FO the "B" channel and they are receiving different inputs thru the two channels. In a triple INS equipped aircraft as our L-1011-500 is, the INS in use might be in manual waypoint change instead of auto. And even though there are detailed and thorough setups and checks in place when the navigation system is initially programmed on the ramp we are dealing with humans and humans do make mistakes. Therefore the paper plot is the last resort backup to ferret out any previous 'screw-up's' by the crew.
Most people take for granted the ability of modern aircraft to whisk them easily from place to place such as the west coast of the US to Hawaii; they never think about the actual route itself not to mention the overall complexity of the air route system that spider webs across the Pacific Ocean. The Central Eastern Pacific (CEP) Composite Route System (CRS) covers the area from the west coast of the US to Hawaii. This route system is arguably the longest oceanic routes in the world that are over open water with no diversion points available either left or right of the tracks. The North Atlantic Track (NAT) system has several diversion opportunities should something go wrong: Iceland, Greenland, Canada, etc. Mid Atlantic transits have Bermuda or the Azores. Very long flights across the Pacific from Australia and SE Asia have a plethora of islands available in the western Pacific and North Pacific (NORPAC) routes offer various airfields in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and even Siberia for emergency diversion. Even long hauls from South Africa to the US have relatively short diversion options to either the African continent or South America should the need arise. However, nothing lies between the US west coast and Hawaii except water.
If something should happen you either continue to Hawaii or return to the US or worse. Naturally these 'issues' are mitigated by the extremely high reliability of today's jet engines with twin engined aircraft now routinely fly extremely long legged routes. But contrary to common thinking the critical factor is not the loss of an engine and the aircraft not being able to maintain altitude but the loss of pressurization. In that case the aircraft must descend to a much lower altitude which in turn means that the fuel burn will be far greater than anticipated and that's when your problems really begin.
During any flight, but especially over vast expanses of water, the prudent pilot must know at any given moment what airfield he would divert to if the need arises. To assist the pilot in this determination on oceanic routes is a point along the track known as the Equal Time Point (ETP). The ETP is just as it sounds - it's that point on the route where you are equal flying time ahead or behind you to a suitable airport (not necessarily your departure or destination; in our flight it's San Diego and Hilo, Hawaii) to land in case something goes wrong - and it's the point where the fuel expenditure to either field is also the same. In a no-wind condition it would be the exact halfway point between these two airfields but naturally that never happens. If you have a head wind then this imaginary point will be moved forward along your track and backward for a tailwind component. The operative word to keep in mind is TIME! The ETP calculated by the skyLIFT dispatcher had been clearly marked on the plotting chart by the crew but they had to adjust this point when and if they encountered winds aloft that were different from those used by dispatch in the initial calculations. There was a lot going on here and it was critical to the safety of the flight.
Some of the WPTs on the CEP Composite Route System between the North American West Coast and Hawaii are non-compulsory. These are depicted on the charts as open-triangles. Compulsory WPTs are shaded triangles. When the skyLIFT Computerized Flight Plan was generated it listed both compulsory and non-compulsory WPTs. The Captain however had the discretion to load all or only the compulsory points into the INS. He chose the latter so all the WPTs on the CFP were loaded and circled however the aircraft would only make voice position reports to the oceanic controller over compulsory points. So as they passed each compulsory reporting point the FO would call the Oceanic controller and file a position report.
Three hours and fifty-four minutes later the TriStar found herself over reporting point FANTO. At this point control of One Three Sierra Lima was passed from the Oakland Oceanic Controller to Honolulu Center. As they neared FITES their VOR receivers swung into action. One pointed off the right nose and indicated that their first Hawaii based navigation aid on their flight plan, Upolu Point (UPP) VOR on the northern most tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, was 190 NM away. They had another VOR tuned as a cross check to the Hilo (ITO) VOR located on the eastern coast of Hawaii. The DME readout showed 150 NM to this station and it was dead ahead.
Upon reaching UPP they turned northwest and soon were descending to meet their only crossing restriction on the approach. The controller directed them to cross intersection Julle, 29 NM southeast of Honolulu, at or below 12,000' (it is normally 14,000'). As usual the active runways were 08 Right and Left. They were told to expect vectors to a visual approach to 08R which is known as the Reef Runway because it is built on a reef to seaward of the airport. This would require that they fly offshore in a westerly direction towards the Barbers Point area (southwestern tip of the island of Oahu), then get turned to the north, then back eastward towards Honolulu and the airport.
Arriving at FL180, the Transition Altitude, they reset their altimeters to the pressure setting provided by the Honolulu controller. They flew between the islands of Hawaii and Maui and when southwest of Kahoolawe turned to the northwest, and continuing descending. Passing Maui the SO thought about his wife and home at Wailuku on Maui. One of the great 'perks' of airline flying, not to mention the travel and pay, is the ability with seniority and schedules, to live just about anywhere and 'commute' to your home hub. The crew of our TriStar were all very senior crewmembers, with the Captain and FO both in their mid-50's and the SO, who was actually a Professional Flight Engineer (crewmember who holds an FE rating and an airframe and powerplant mechanic (A&P) certificate but is not a pilot) was in his late 60's. He had flown side-saddle on various aircraft for nearly 40 years. The Captain and FO both lived on Oahu; the Captain on the leeward side of the island near Kaneohe Bay and the FO in Waikiki but the Second Officer had chosen the peace and rural tranquility available on Maui. And even though he lived on another island his commute was relatively easy with an abundance of regional commuters that flew between the islands. But there was too much going on to be thinking about home and hearth. He'd be home in a couple hours anyhow.
The DESCENT Checklist required silent items by the SO and additional Challenge and Response items such as:
"Seat Belt Light ....................On"
"HSI Heading Switch .............MAG"
"Pilot's Annunicator Panel......Recall"
"Continuous Ignition ..............On"
"Exterior Lights .....................Set"
"Altimeters ..........................Three Zero Zero Five & Crosschecked"
"Airspeed / EPR Bugs...........Speed One Two Seven - EPR Six Two Two & Cross Checked"
Before long they had been vectored downwind, turned towards the beach and eventually found themselves established on a visual approach to runway 08R. With the gear extended, 33° of flaps and the LE slats set and the BEFORE LANDING checklist completed they rode One Three Sierra Lima down towards the runway. The SO had positioned his seat between his engineer panel and the back of the center pedestal to monitor the approach.
One thousand feet AFE the FO called, "One thousand reset, Cleared to Land."
As they passed thru 100' AFE the SO made his assigned callout, "100."
The Captain deftly maintained the sink rate and pitch attitude so as to pass over the threshold 50 feet above the runway surface.
Starting at 70' AFE the SO continued his descent calls in ten foot increments: "70" - "60" - "50" - "40"..."10" followed almost instantaneously with the gentle screech of the main gear wheels settling onto the tarmac.
As the Captain lowered the nose to the runway he applied reverse thrust but did not exceed idle thrust until the nosewheel was on the runway. At this point he increased the thrust and the aircraft slowed rapidly. He started to reduce reverse thrust and by the time the aircraft had slowed to 70 kts the thrust had been returned to idle. Turn off was accomplished and the AFTER LANDING checklist was called for.
Steering...........Off" (The Captain flipped the switch on
the nose wheel steering yoke to turn off the rudder pedal
"Air Data Sensor Heat.............Off"
"Windshield Heat....................Idle & Off"
In a matter of seconds the checklist was completed. The engineer asked about engine shutdown and the Captain told him to that they would secure No. 3, which was the engine with the least impact on ship systems. They turned off the active runway onto taxiway Romeo Golf and the Ground Controller asked, "One three Sierra Lima where are we headed this afternoon?" The FO told the ground controller Gate 36 which was what the skyLIFT dispatcher had told them on the company frequency when they had passed their 'In Range' report. "Roger. Taxi to Gate 36 via 'Romeo Alpha' - 'Romeo Tango' - 'Foxtrot' - 'Echo' - 'Zulu' - 'Golf'." On the taxi in after the No. 3 engine had stabilized at ground idle RPM and temperature for 1 minute the SO secured the engine. As they approached runway 8L from taxiway Echo they were held short as an Air Force C-17 Globemaster took-off. Once the Air Force aircraft had cleared, they were on their way again and in less than two minutes they were turning onto Taxiway Golf. Then brakes were set, the engines secured, exterior lighting switched off and it was all over.
The skyLIFT TriStar blocked in at the gate at 2340Z (1340L). Total time enroute had been 7 hours and 18 minutes. They were tired but glad to be home. Through the windshield they could see quite a commotion in the terminal at their gate as a couple TV crews jostled for an advantageous position for their cameras. Several dozen skyLIFT officials and employees along with the Mayor of Honolulu and his staff had made the trip down to welcome the new aircraft to Hawaii. It looked like they would be involved in a press dog-and-pony show for a while. So much for getting home quickly!
After the throngs of greeters dispersed the skyLIFT ramp and cabin servicing personnel descended on the TriStar in full force. Her final fitting out; food carts, safety bulletins, seatback literature, and other company germane items were loaded aboard and she was prepped for her first revenue departure which was scheduled for the very next day. She would head to Maui, the 'Big Island,' and then Las Vegas. Ironically our SO would be driving by the Kahului Airport on Maui the very next day enjoying his three days off and he'd witness her landing. Even with all his years in a cockpit, and given that he had just flown this very aircraft to Hawaii the day before he still pulled his car off to the side of the road and watched intently as she settled gently on the runway.
"Damn, that's one beautiful piece of machinery!" he said aloud to himself as he drove off. The pure awe of aviation had not diminished for him after over four decades.
The TriStar had a new lease on life, a new home, and now it was time for her to Return to Service!
As always I enjoy hearing from the readers. I invite any and all comments regarding this or previous stories I have authored.
Credits & Reference Links
Lockheed L-1011 by Erick Cantu / Vistaliners available at http://www.eastern-va.com/vistaliners/downloads2.htm
Though the story features a short-bodied L-1011-500 model the author used a Dash 100 model to "fly" the story. The L-1011 used in the story is an offering by Eric Cantu on his Vistaliners web site. And even though this model is only a beta version, in the opinion of the author, it is the best quality TriStar model currently offered for flight simulation. The author did however modify the aircraft CFG parameters to more closely replicate a Dash 500 model.
Model Note: This is a BETA model. A livery repaint for the Vistaliner model in the colors of the last Delta L-1011 N728DA 'Delta Belle' which is mentioned in the story, is available at FlightSim.Com. Search for file n728dav2.zip and n728dafx.zip. Jim Campisi of Vistaliners did the original textures of this package and Joe DeGregorio modified them to provide the Delta Belle paint scheme.)
Repaints - Delta 'Storage', 'Primed" and 'Skylift' repaints by the author.
Panel modifications by the author.
RB211-524 Sound Set (author unlisted) available at FlightSim.Com. File name: l1011snd.zip.
Honolulu International by Bill Melichar available at FlightSim.Com. File name: honov5.zip.
(You may want to try one or all of the photoreal Hawaiian enhancements available at FlightSim.Com by Gottfried Razek.)
Honolulu AFCAD2 by Karl Hannestad available at FlightSim.Com, file name: phnlbm2.zip.
Hickam AFB by Derek and Brendan Webb available at FlightSim.Com, file name: dbwhk04.zip
Pearl Harbor by Derek and Brendan Webb available at FlightSim.Com, file name: dbwprl04.zip
(Additional Hawaiian Island enhancements available at http://walhalla.mine.nu/fs2004/hawaii.php
Victorville by William Morgan/FRF Studios available at FlightSim.Com, file name: kvcv.zip
Roswell Maintenance Hangars by Kyle Ramsey available at Zia Cargo, file name: http://ziacargo.com/main/scenery/kyleramsey/ziamaint.zip.
Roswell Ramp AI Scenery by the author using various AI models and flight plans.
(A unique installer by Johan de Vries for the water textures is also highly recommended and available at FlightSim.Com, file name: ofx20sa.zip.) Terrain Mesh converted and compiled by Stephen Rothlisberger available at http://www.simviation.com/fsdterrainsrtm.htm
I'd like to thank Mr. Scott Goodwin for his wonder magazine article entitled, "Trans Atlantic Airlines" published in Airliners magazine, Mar/Apr 2007 edition. His piece was the inspiration for me to tackle this project.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
"A Field Guide to Aircraft Boneyards" by John Weeks - http://www.johnweeks.com/boneyard/index.html#SITEH
"Portuguese Lockheed L-1011 TriStar Information Center" - http://www.tristar500.net/specifications.htm
"End of an Era: Delta L-1011 Farewell" - http://flytristar.tripod.com/article/art07.html
L-1011 Manual Excerpts - http://www.eucomairlines.de/manual/manual.html