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Flying

Approach to Dominica

August 27, 2016 — by Casey Allen0

I made this post about Dominica back in 2011 on my aviation blog. Given my recent visit to the island, I thought my former perspective worth sharing. Here is a re-creation the post:

Time: 0815

Position: Approaching Dominica from the west, descending through 15,000 feet MSL.

The Captain and I, along with 2 Flight Attendants and 36 passengers in the back have just started our descent into the small island of Dominica, which is in the Lesser Antilles, smashed between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. If Tortola is the high-class sailing island where Richard Branson hangars his jet, Dominica is the rainforest-covered island where reptiles thought to have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years can still be spotted. Tortola is Jimmy Buffett, Dominica is the Jurassic Park theme song.

This is also my first time in Dominica, and as we descend further and the island comes into better view, I can’t help but wonder what 36 people are doing flying to this prehistoric-looking place. My current theory is that they are all geologists, botanists, biologists, some kind of “ist” coming to study the lush landscape. There are usually even fewer passengers occupying our 64 seat aircraft, but yesterday the flights were all canceled due to weather, so today we are making a special rescue run to accommodate the “ists.” Airlines don’t usually cancel flights for weather unless it’s pretty extreme, but in Dominica the clouds have to be above the mountaintops to land.

IMG_9903The approach goes something like this: descend towards the northeast side of the island, aim for the highest mountain until a small valley presents itself right in the middle of the island. Hook a right into the valley as the passengers become increasingly concerned they are about to fly into a mountain. Follow the valley southbound and look for the Brachiosaurus head poking through the tree canopy. Passing him it’s flaps 30, landing gear down and swing left to line up with the runway on final. Dodge the occasional Pterodactyl gliding past and touch down on the runway 9 numbers. Be quick on the reverse thrust to avoid an unscheduled swimming excursion and it’s a wrap. Video tutorial attached.

Flying

The First, First Officer

August 19, 2016 — by Casey Allen

IMG_9786-960x534.jpg

IMG_9825On August 15, 2011 I (along with Ian) took my first airline job. Almost immediately I felt as though I had been thrust into an unfamiliar world. I already knew how to fly a plane – I had been a licenced pilot for eight years. But the entirety of the “airline world” with its complex and sometimes daunting operations was a complete mystery to me. I remember walking through the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in my uniform after completing my first ever training cycle and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the details. The airlines do an excellent job preparing their new-hires to safely operate an airliner. But there is almost no information exchanged in preparation for how to survive in your new “airline life.” In December of 2011 I was based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, still feeling very new and struggling to adapt and learn the intricacies of my job. I was learning that one large piece of being an airline pilot was waiting around – sometimes in airports or airplanes, other times in crashpads or temporary housing. In my down time I decided to create a blog to document my life as a new First Officer. I wanted to give other new airline pilots some insight into how it felt to be a severely junior pilot at a regional airline. Throughout the years as I gained more experience I often wrote about how both my perspective on and my situation in the airlines changed, and in turn how my lifestyle adapted.

Recently I started a new job at what is now my third airline. I am no longer the industry newbie that I was back in 2011. In the creation of this website, I decided it was time to leave The First, First Officer blog behind. Below is the final post from that blog, which is incidentally a narrative of my last flight at my second airline. If you’d like to check out any of my other writings from 2011 – 2016, here is a link to The First, First Officer.

-Casey

Last Flight

IMG_1422Time: 1730 local
Location: Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

The crew and I have just arrived at the gate from our overnight in Montreal. Today is a special day, one I’ve been looking forward to for a few months – my last flight with JungleJet Airlines!

We arrived to Montreal late last night, after 0100. I wanted to make the most of my last trip so I slept fast and was up at 0700 to go explore. It’s feeling like spring in Montreal, and even the morning temperature was a mild 8 degrees Celsius. I walked uptown to a park that overlooks the city before getting on the metro to meet a friend for breakfast. As we chatted at the restaurant I felt the same feeling I’ve been experiencing the last few weeks: apprehension. I’m excited to be moving on and furthering my career, but my fondness for JungleJet has engendered a bit of sadness to be leaving. It’s the first job I truly enjoyed showing up to work for – leaving feels bittersweet.

At the gate in Montreal the agent advises us that Newark is in a ground stop and our expected departure time isn’t for another 3 hours. I think to myself that it’s kind of a fitting end to being based in Newark! We board the plane and radio the tower to verify the delay. There’s a line of weather just west of New York and it’s blocking arrivals and departures at all 3 of the major NY airports. The controller says an update will come out on the hour. Normally I would be irritated and anxious to get going so I can make my commute, but today I am content to wait a bit longer.

1800. Air traffic control issues the update that the ground stop is cancelled. Clearance gives us a wheels up time at 1830, so we board quickly and and start towards the runway. Things change fast in the NY airspace system and sometimes luck is on your side.

IMG_04661830. Positive rate, gear up. We lift off from runway 24L with a light load of 32 people. The sun has just set on our right, but with altitude the sky brightens and turns a deep orange color as the light is filtered through the shade of stratus clouds. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever tire of these picturesque scenes I am treated to so often.

1845. In cruise the captain and I enjoy easy conversation – something I have truly taken pleasure in throughout my time at JungleJet. Meeting interesting people, both in the cockpit and on overnights, has been an unforeseen benefit of this job. The flight deck becomes host to many interesting conversations – sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes deeply personal, and pretty much everything in between.

1910. I call for the In Range checklist as we descend through 18,000 feet. We reset the altimeters to the local setting and I give an arrival briefing for runway 22L at Newark. The storms have all moved east now and the field is reporting calm winds and VFR conditions. The airspace is relatively quiet and the controller clears us direct to Teterboro airport for the visual approach. The lights of New York City are easy to spot arriving from any direction. I move my gaze a bit closer, finding both the Teterboro and Newark airports before disconnecting the autopilot to hand fly the approach. A few minutes later the controller asks us to slow to 180 knots and I call for Flaps 9 as I bank right to line up with the runway.

1920. The mains touch down on 22L and I click the thrust levers back to deploy the reversers. Leaving the runway I run the after landing flow, thinking how natural these movements have become. After so many hours a plane starts to feel like an extension of your own body. All the levers and buttons are right where you expect them to be.

1935. After the engine shutdown checklist is run I take one more look around the cockpit before gathering my bag, saying goodbye to the crew, and leaving the JungleJet for the last time. I then unceremoniously scramble over to terminal C and catch the last flight back home. Making it home takes precedence, even over nostalgia.

IMG_9739Epilogue

I created this blog (The First, First Officer) in 2011 when I was hired at my first airline job. There were a number of aviation blogs I followed at the time, but none of them were written from the perspective of a beginner in the industry. The bottom of the seniority list as a new-hire First Officer is a scary place to be, and I thought it of value to document the experiences I was having seen through this beginners lens. I know I’m not always the most diligent at updating this blog, but I do hope at least to some extent it has served as a source of both entertainment and information, for any interested reader, but especially for the new First Officer on the very bottom of the seniority list wondering what they’re in for. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in the airline industry for almost 5 years. I can still clearly remember my first days in San Juan flying the ATR – new experiences pouring in at an overwhelming rate. For me, it’s time now to once again be that FO at the very bottom – learning a new aircraft, a new pilot contract, and new routes and destinations. It’s both daunting and exciting, but like most of life, it is best experienced when savored for its uniqueness.