October 24, 2014 Getting off the Gate

I’ve been getting the first few flights of the day now with several captains. I wonder if there is a strategy to that. Is it a common practice, or only personal preference?

Typical morning flights start with the alarm set for 3am and me automatically waking up at 2:48 to beat it. Hotels generally lay out breakfast bars and mostly nasty coffee for the early crowd, but a few favorite overnites have good coffee and cereal available before we go.

I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and finally have noticed real improvement in knowing what and how to pack. (Flight case; MyGoFlight bag for headset, chargers, and light lunches; TravelPro suitcase). I now have a system down for quickly moving all my gear (including coffee and any food I bring) in and out of airplanes efficiently. I am now able to run through airports to meet a schedule without dropping gear along the way, or abandoning a great cup of coffee needlessly. Getting this right is more difficult than you think, and much more important that you might think. Getting this part right reduces stress and frees up time to work on the things that matter.

The crew van takes us to the airport for sign in at least 45 minutes before departure. The captain signs in the crew and I take my gear out to the airplane. I grab my vest most times, and a flashlight to prepare to do my walk-around. The captain usually opens the gear doors for my inspection, but not all of them do. If not – I hussle up and release the main doors by pulling a T handle in the roof; and the nose gear doors with one on the floor.

If I get the opportunity, I hussle everyone’s bags into the airplane while the captain starts the APU. I check the gear; wings; boots; static wicks; open the hell hole to inspect the control cables; check the props and remove or otherwise account for the inlet plugs. You need to have your hi-vis green vest on; ear protection; and a powerful flashlight. This equipment is stowed in the back pocket of my luggage, so I have to ensure my luggage is in the crew compartment with that pocket accessible. The walk-around is completed before each leg starts.

Inside now, I turn up the lights check my oxygen mask for quantity, general condition, and gas flow. Check circuit breakers, adjust seat height and position, plug in my headset and belt myself in. I dial in the ASOS or ATIS to get weather.  Call clearance at this point, but often have to be creative at 5 in the morning when the tower isn’t open yet. I either call the area departure frequency or use a cell phone to call a clearance number. I still use CRAFT to note my clearance.

Fill out preliminary information on the weight and balance ticket we complete for every flight, and set up the W&B app on the ipad to perform those calculations.  Note and verify the airplane tail number;  Basic Operating Weight; and index (kind of a CG reference index) to make sure the Flight Release correctly identifies the airplane you are in. As passengers get loaded; run the Originating Checklist and follow that immediately with the Before Start checklist.

The Flight Attendant hands me the passenger manifest, and the ramp agent brings up the cargo manifest. That information gets input into the ipad app, and then transcribed on the form. I tear off the white sheet and the captain verifies with a manual method (wiz wheel), while I slide my seat back. Several signed forms we do from the release and W&B get folded together and handed to the gate agent; and I lock and bolt the flight deck door. My seat needs to be full back so I can reach behind me to accomplish this.

Reposition my seat forward again as we wait to hear the FA has closed the cabin door and secured the cabin. Depending on where we are (what airport), the captain may have already started the number two engine (right side). The call comes in and I immediately request a pushback. That gets approved quickly and we get both engines running.  Complete the After Start checklist and I immediately call ramp for permission to taxi. Piedmont 1234 – spot 12, ground point nine tells me that is approved and we start moving.

We are moving at a fast taxi, to I’m expected to call ground as soon as I can get a word in edge-wise, but before we reach spot 12. Hopefully. These spots in Philly are big yellow circles with numbers painted, and in Charlotte they are yellow triangles painted on the ramps. Jepp charts show them; NOS do not.

Communicating is complicated by poor radio reception until you are on top of the spot, and some captains can be down-right impatient. Once connected, be ready for a rapid fire taxi clearance that is even more important than your flight clearance. The captain is often moving as you are writing and reading back. The clearance will include hold short instructions you have to get right, and you have to make sure the captain is aware of.

As a new FO, you will not be smooth with this until you fly into and out of these airports a dozen times or so. Once you memorize frequencies; spot locations; gate locations; taxiway configurations; and typical assignments, you will begin to look like you know what you are doing. This is real pressure for new FOs.

On the way to the runway, the pilot flying (PF) completes the takeoff brief, and then the FO conducts the Taxi Checklist.  Before Takeoff Checklist is next, after I tell the Flight Attendant to remain seated for departure; push the condition levers to max and turn on the Yaw Damper.

Approaching the runway; set tower frequency on the Captains radio; and enter the departure frequency from your clearance in the backup slot. Don’t call the tower – they know you’re there and will call you.  Run the Before TakeOff checklist to the line (half of it).

Cleared onto the runway, complete the Before Takeoff Checklist. When cleared for takeoff, the pilot flying has all the controls and we go fly. Trust me – this is where the easy part starts…..