Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Favorite Things: As 'Scene' from the Flight Deck

Flying over Chicago: The Sears Tower

We were approaching Chicago one morning. I was working in the back of a 727 and the high-low chime sounded. I picked up the phone; it was the captain requesting that I come to the cockpit. Being fresh out of training, my heart skipped a beat. The captain calls crew to the cockpit to advise of trouble. When I arrived, I immediately noticed the field of white clouds below us. The captain welcomed me and pointed to his right. Below was the top of the Sears Tower sticking up through the area's low lying clouds. I rushed back to the cabin and grabbed my camera, happy it was no emergency, but the chance to see a view not privy to many.

I was in a 757 flying a red eye to Boston one winter. The passengers were sleeping and I was staying awake on the jumpseat in first class. The pilots called for a lav break and as I entered the cockpit, the first officer mentioned that the aurora was visible. I entered the flight deck and the captain turned down the lights. There, I got to see the Northern Lights dancing in the skies to the north. I nearly melted. I'd never seen them from 36,000 feet and they were truly breath-taking.

I took this shot from the flight deck.

Since I was a little child, I've always loved thunderstorms. The flash of light, the anticipation of the clash. The rolling thunder and the crash, that would shake the house. My grandmother would comment, “Donner!”, as she had heard from her mother, who immigrated from Germany.

I love to watch lightning and to see it from the air is fantastical. From the ground, you lose so much perspective of just how much lightning is flashing in the storm. From cruise altitude, you can see the whole storm, with flashes hither and yon. The whole storm can be many miles wide and very high into the sky and there are flashes of lightning every few seconds. Perhaps you've seen a good storm out the side of an aircraft at night. But in the cockpit, the view is so much more spectacular.

In the days before 9-11, I used to spend a lot of time in the cockpit. Flight attendant staffing was such that I was not missed if I spent half an hour or so visiting with the pilots. It was also easier to access the flight deck. Back then, all it took was a knock. Now, it requires a whole sequence of events to get up there; it takes numerous people, and Mother Airline staffs the planes with fewer of us, so being gone makes a big difference to the rest of the crew.

Creative shot of the instrument panel.

One of the things I love is having a cross wind affect the direction the nose is pointing. There are times the plane starts crabbing, which means the nose may be pointing at noon, but we are moving towards 10 o'clock. The first time I got to observe this was during my cockpit observational ride during training. We approached the DFW airport in Texas. As we were heading towards the end of the runway, the nose of the plane was pointed more towards Ft. Worth than it was Dallas.

Spotting a plane from the Captain's seat.
With the time I've spent in the cockpit over the years, I've learned a lot about the instruments and how to read things. I can spot planes on the radar and then search the huge sky to find them in the air. One of my favorite things is seeing other planes from the cockpit. The best is seeing one go directly over or under you, in the opposite direction. It's simply fascinating!

Without doubt, the most thrilling part of the job for me is the chance to be in the cockpit during flight. Ever since I was a little boy, the buttons, knobs, switches and fuses have been a thing of wonder. There's nothing like standing between the two pilots and having the whole world stretched out below. Or the heavens above during a full moon at night. Yep, being in the cockpit in flight...it's my favorite.

A view after sunset while the first officer is out of the cockpit.