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Showtime! Part Two - Golden Route



Showtime! Part Two

By Tony Vallillo (20 August 2007)








Departures from Newark, especially to the south, feature spectacular views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. All of this is lost on us, though, because things happen very quickly on a Newark departure - too quickly to allow me the luxury of gawking! Newark is one of the few places where we start the turn after takeoff at 100 feet AGL, which, for all practical purposes, means right away. The procedure involves an immediate turn to the left, to a heading of 190 degrees. Even before we roll out of this turn, we must contact departure control, all the while remembering to turn right to 220 degrees at 2.5 DME. This can be tricky, because the DME we use for this second turn is not from a VOR, but rather the ILS DME for 22L. Since there are three other ILS's with DME at EWR, it is all too easy to dial in the wrong frequency, which might result in a long or short turn, and some possibly indelicate words from ATC!


We had briefed and checked this before we left the gate, of course, and all is well as we roll back to a 220 heading. In this direction, we can climb to 5000 feet, although that is all the altitude we will get until somewhat later in the departure. Departures from the 04's, on the other hand, have to level off at a mere 2500 feet - great for the passengers to sightsee, but lousy for fuel economy.






As I mentioned in the previous installment, EWR, although the senior New York commercial airport, is the poor stepchild when it comes to airspace allotment! Apparently the other airports cornered the market on the higher altitudes of the New York Class B, and we will maintain 5000 feet until well south of Colts Neck VOR (COL). We thus have plenty of time to spend at a leisurely 250 knots, which we attain after retracting the flaps. Ironically, the 250 knots below 10,000 feet speed limit is a legacy of an accident that took place only a few miles north of COL, back around Christmas of 1960. A DC-8 inbound for JFK had just passed COL when it collided with a Constellation that was inbound to LGA and talking, of course, to a different controller. This was in the days of barber-pole speeds to the outer marker, and it was determined that speeds in excess of 250 knots were just too much for both the primitive ATC radars and the restrictions of the airspace itself.



By the time we climb above 10,000 feet, central New Jersey is passing below us.



We depart the New York Class B just north of COL, and mindful of the potential for VFR traffic on this brilliantly clear morning, I keep a sharp lookout both out the window and on the TCAS. COL is just a bit south of Sandy Hook, an aptly named spit of land at the northern end of the New Jersey shore. This area is often rife with small airplane traffic, even at altitudes higher than our current 5000 feet. Any airplane coming up from the southern reaches of Jersey has two choices to transit the NY area VFR - either fly the Hudson Corridor below the Class B, or fly over the Class B, above its top of 7000 feet. I once did this myself, in the SkySkooter, at 7,500 feet. You don't have to talk to anyone as long as you have a working Mode C. I'm not sure I'd do it again, though, since the spectacle of airliners whizzing by 500 feet overhead gives one a certain pause!


Just north of White intersection, we finally get clearance to climb. No shortcuts, though. Only after White does our course begin to approximate a good heading for points south. As we pass the City of Brotherly Love on the right, we can see USAir rousing itself for another day of flying. Allegheny Airlines, as USAir was once known, has a long history of operations into Philadelphia. We, on the other hand, are relative interlopers on the NY/EWR - MIA run. Prior to deregulation, NY-MIA was the bailiwick of Eastern Airlines.



Philadelphia awakens.



South Florida was not extensively developed until the early years of the 20th century, but once development started, it grew quickly. Railroads offered service first, of course, but airmail routes involving Miami were among the first to be awarded, in the mid to late 1920's. It was not, however, until the early 1930's that Eastern Air Transport, which had evolved from Pitcairn Aviation (a pioneer mail hauler), stitched together two routes - MIA-ATL and ATL-NY to form an airmail route from New York to Miami. Through passenger service began in 1933, using Curtis Condor sleepers on a 12-hour schedule with a number of stops.


Eastern developed this route aggressively over the years, introducing newer, faster and longer range equipment as soon as it became available. Before long, the route became known as the Golden Route, and was probably the biggest moneymaker in the US until the jet age. As late as the 1950's, south Florida was more popular than California, and Eastern's deluxe "Golden Falcon" service set a high standard of luxury. By this time, of course, Eastern no longer had a monopoly on the Golden Route, having been faced with competition first from National Airlines in 1944 and then from Northeast Airlines in the mid '50's.



The southern end of Chesapeake Bay.



Eastern and National kept the newest and best equipment on the Golden Route. Four engine aircraft were the norm after WWII, first the demobilized DC-4 and then the Lockheed Constellation. The Connies brought non-stop service to the market, and were matched shortly thereafter by the Douglas DC-6. Eastern and National utilized the DC-7 when that became available in the mid-1950's, but Eastern beat Ted Baker (the feisty, take-no-prisoners president of National Airlines) to the Lockheed Electra. Baker, never one to be caught napping, trumped everyone by leasing a new 707 from Pan American and capturing the honor of the first pure jet domestic airline service in the USA. Of course, this first flight was on the Golden Route.


But deregulation brought an end to all airline monopolies, and even tri-opolies! South Florida's fortunes had also begun to decline by the late '60's, and the Golden Route was no longer so golden. Eastern's fortunes declined in lockstep. Unable to react fast enough to the new forces of competition unleashed by deregulation, Eastern would eventually fold, followed later by both of its Golden rivals, by now mostly united under the Delta logo by a convoluted series of acquisitions and bankruptcies.



One of our Super 80's is also heading south this morning.



But routes to Florida from the Northeast, while perhaps not Golden anymore, have still played an important role in the airline landscape post deregulation. Service from NY to Florida has been the fodder of a number of new entrant airlines, including People Express and its latter day imitator Jet Blue. Long gone, though, and probably never to return, is the luxury of the Golden Falcon.


I often think about the fortunes of my own career, in more pensive moments like this. My logbook now bears many notations of flights like this one, to places that, at the dawn of my employment, I had no expectation of ever seeing as a crewmember - places like ATL, MIA, SEA, HNL, to say nothing of anywhere in Europe and South America. At the same time, many of my old friends have had their careers cut short. I'm no better a pilot than any of them, so I guess I'm just lucky. Who knew, back in 1977, what a great role luck would play in an airline career, or that I would be working for the one airline that, at this point at least, is still more or less intact.



Nothing but water to the east!



All of this historical reminiscing has brought us nearly to Norfolk. Now I can look down, from this lofty perch, on an airport that I used to frequent long years ago. Norfolk Naval Air Station, KNGU, was the onload point for many of the C-141A flights I made as an Air Force pilot in the early and mid 1970's. NGU was an interesting place, if for no other reason than that it taxed severely the outstanding performance of the original short version C-141A. Short runways in those days (since lengthened) and a forest of ship's masts and other close-in obstructions made for load limited takeoffs on nearly every outbound trip. The flight engineers had their work cut out for them, since they had to manually perform the calculations for the takeoff data and load limits. Fortunately, our F/E's were experienced sergeants, old hands at that sort of thing. Never even had a close call out of NGU, thanks to those guys!






South of Norfolk, there are two general routes to get to Florida. If one is flying a non-overwater airplane, there is the coastal route, which is somewhat longer and thus less desirable unless mandated by equipment or weather. The other route strikes out from Dixon NDB, near Wilmington North Carolina, directly over the water, eventually paralleling the Florida coast until just offshore of Miami Beach. This will be our route today, along one of the so-called Atlantic Routes, or AR routes.


About this time, breakfast is served. Nowadays, breakfast is cereal and yogurt on all but the really long international flights, which may still feature an omelet of sorts. Still, it is sustenance, although at 2 1/2 hours this flight does not constitute a gastronomical survival situation! And of course we are still better fed than the coach passengers, who, unless they have had the foresight to fend for themselves, are privy to nothing more than a cup of coffee or a glass of juice! No matter, for the savvy road warrior has long since figured out how to attend to his own larder on flights long and short. The smarter of them are probably eating better right now, back there, than I am up here -- courtesy of their own ingenuity!



A playful self portrait in the sunshade!



Except for breakfast, nothing of interest is going on, which is just as we like it! It is amusing to contemplate how much more must have been involved flying a DC-7 or a Constellation on this same route years ago. The really busy person would have been the flight engineer, what with keeping the logs, tending to the fuel system, and keeping track of oil consumption. The turbo-compound engines consumed oil almost as fast as they consumed fuel, and many a transcontinental "non-stop" flight had to make an unscheduled landing enroute not for fuel, but for oil! That would have been less of a problem on a shorter run such as this, but still cause for close monitoring.


The pilots of those old recips would not have been completely idle, though. Navigation would have involved considerable checking of VOR cross radials and/or NDB cross bearings, to determine the intersections for position reporting. If LORAN was involved the copilot (unless a navigator was aboard, which was unlikely) would have had his head buried in the "Chinese Television" for much of the time, matching sine wave lines on the scope to determine just where on the unbelievably complex and cluttered LORAN chart the airplane was. Not a chore for the neophyte or the faint of heart, to be sure.



Southwest is everywhere - even in the southeast!



Not until inertial navigation became commonplace, which was to say not until the widebody jet era, could the autopilot be engaged and expected to track a flight plan from start to finish. Today, of course, the FMC/autoflight combination can take over from just after takeoff until rollout, although human intervention would be required to couple all three autopilots for the landing and lower the gear and flaps. Absent human intervention, the FMC would take the autopilot right through the approach to the missed approach holding pattern, where the airplane would blithely circle until the fuel ran out, just like what happened over in Greece a few years ago.


By now we can see the Florida coast, off to the right basking in the sun. There was obviously no space activity going on at the Cape this morning, for if there had been we would have been routed inland. It has never been my privilege to see a space shot go off from an airborne vantage point, but many have, and it is said to be spectacular, especially at night.


The arrival into KMIA from this direction leads us to a point a few miles offshore of Fort Lauderdale. From here we usually get vectors, which if they are landing to the east as they are this morning, lead to a high downwind leg that runs between Hialeah race track and the Opa Locka airport. Departure routes necessitate keeping the arrivals high, usually around 8000 feet and often until abeam the airport itself. If the place is busy, this is no problem since the base leg may be located 15 or more miles from the 08L threshold. Today, though, we have apparently slipped into a lull in the arrivals, because approach asks if we can handle a short base leg. Yes, we can, although it will take a bit of getting down! The 757, even with speedbrakes deployed, is possessed of a rather leisurely rate of descent at 250 knots. But the landing gear can be extended at speeds much higher than 250 knots, and the combination of gear and speedbrakes yields a more respectable descent angle, one that will allow us to take advantage of the situation! These visual approaches are fun, and they represent what may well be the last opportunity to do some real seat-of-the-pants flying in the airline business. It is the seat of the F/O's pants, of course, that are providing the sensory inputs this morning, and since the airport lies off to the left, somewhat out of his line of sight, I give him updates on our progress.






Few are needed. His long experience (many of today's F/O's were Captains, at least for a time) coupled with the excellent situational awareness provided by the Nav Display and the ILS result in a picture perfect roll out on final approach, just over 5 miles from the runway. By now the sun is high enough that it is not right in our eyes, so that excuse is off the table! Not to worry - he flies a perfect approach to a really good landing. So good, in fact, that I will be hard pressed to duplicate it later at SXM.



The Gold Coast of Florida lies beneath the ever-present cumulus clusters.



Here at MIA, just like EWR and a number of other places, we must wait to cross the takeoff runway (08R). After having a front row seat to watch several departures, we finally get clearance to cross, and trundle on over to our vast terminal. When we first started to fly out of MIA, just after deregulation in 1979, we were shoehorned into a single gate, way over on the south side of the terminal. What a difference today! Since the demise of Eastern, we have pretty much taken over MIA, at least on the north side. A brand new extension of terminal D has just come into service in the last year or so, and we now occupy the entire north side of the main terminal complex. Today we are headed for a gate on the inside of the D terminal, in the "alley" between terminal D and terminal E. There are three taxi lines into this alley, the outer two of which can only be used by 757 or smaller aircraft. Ramp control assigns us the northerly of these three lines, since there is a 737 outbound which can pass us on the southerly line.



Gulfstream racetrack near Hollywood - the other one, in Florida! We're getting close now!



The alley taxiway is alive with ground vehicles as well as airplanes. This part of the trip is perhaps the trickiest, since any lack of attention here could result in a wingtip hitting something. This, of course, is frowned upon, and although I might escape the rap if the nosewheel is right on the taxi line, it is still important to keep a close and wary eye on the vehicles, and to be prepared to stop on the proverbial dime. Fortunately, we make it to the lead-in line without mishap, and coast the final furlong or so to the point at which the guideman crosses his wands over his head. Brakes parked! One down, three to go!


Our passengers waste no time deplaning, scurrying onto the jetbridge like suddenly released ants. They all have connections, of course, and some of their outbound flights may be a good distance away. Like many airports that were not designed from scratch in the last several decades as hubs, MIA is not always easy to get around in. And the ramp "alleys" between the terminals are sources of constant congestion for the airplanes as well, both inbound and outbound. The connection times here have to be a bit longer than other hubs, such as DFW, although longer connection times are becoming the norm everywhere. It has finally dawned on the powers that be that it does no good to attract a passenger to your flight if you lose him to a heart attack during the connection!



Miami Beach and Biscayne Bay. Just about time to turn downwind.



We, of course, have the luxury of keeping the same airplane. And even if we have to go from one gate to another in the course of a trip, we have a big advantage over even the most battle-hardened road warrior - the airplane isn't going anywhere until we get there! This is another aspect of flying that I'm really going to miss when I retire!


We have just about an hour until we leave on the next leg. Time enough time to get the flight plan from the computer at the gate (I have no desire to walk the several hundred yards to operations here!) and even grab a more palatable cup of coffee at the concourse D food court. And time enough for you to grab a bite of something as well, because we will continue our journey in the next thrilling episode:


Anthony Vallillo

Showtime Series

Showtime! Part One - Dawn Patrol

Showtime! Part Two - Golden Route

Showtime! Part Three - I'm Ready For My Close-up

Showtime! Part Four - Maho Madness!

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