Thursday, August 17, 2017

Up and away again..... heading North, a long day and then home.....




At Starbucks in Beirut, thinking about where I'd like us to go away holiday this year
The phone rings.....
"Can we leave today at 6pm for a flight to North Africa...."
"Of course, but I need to check the permits for being allowed to over fly, and also land at the destination"
"Ok find out and let me know"

This is how it goes for a Business jet pilot when you work for the owner of the aircraft.
Snapped back to reality from the thoughts of a quiet Greek island holiday in the autumn,  the heart rate picks up and the planning begins.
We have to make calls to find out about the permits, ground handling fuel, I do an initial flight plan on the computer but hold back on filing until we are given the green light that we are going.
Mental checklist, where's my uniform, (is it at the dry cleaners) is there any food in the fridge that will mutate if I disappear straight away.
I state to get information about the handling costs, I speak with the handling agents of our air craft to give them a heads up that we might be moving in a few hours.
With a jet of this size and performance, 45 tonnes and she's pretty thirsty so we're gonna need to work out the fuel load, find out if there is refuelling down route or if its cheaper to load her up for a return trip.
Its not like jumping in the car, turning the keys and heading out off of the driveway.

Ok its all looking good, the flight plan is pretty straight forward, the plane is all ready to go when we need her.
I'm sitting in the office getting the days plan in my mind and realising I won't be off to the gym this afternoon.
My phone rings and the news isn't good, "it's three days to get a permit to land there...."
"Ah, thats gonna be a problem then"

I head to see the boss and let him know we can't head there today as it takes 3 days to obtain the permit.
"Not to worry",  is the response.
"We've changed our plan, we're going to Eastern Europe, tomorrow instead".
"We will leave at 2pm with 5 passengers."

"Ok, I will start the planning".

The ever changing world of a Private Jet pilot.
I will get to go to the gym after all.......

9am the next morning in the office, the flight is confirmed and the work begins on moving the 45 tonnes of airplane at 47,000ft and 600mph.
The new flight plan is filed.
The handling agents notified and the welcome party at the destination organised.
Permits obtained.

Off to the airport, fire up the APU and get the plane ready. We have a few new pieces of kit onboard for us which to simplify means that the plane can down load via satellite the flight plans, routing and all associated information. It hasn't worked so well up to date but today after the tweaks we made in the week it works like a dream and saves me lots of time loading up the onboard computer.
I still have to check it to make sure its all correct but the fact it works is great news.

Me and the Captain spend an hour or so readying everything , organising the electronic flight bag rather than having all of the bits of paper around the cockpit.

The passengers arrive after a bit of confusion over departure times and before long I am closing the doors, strapping in and requesting taxi clearance.
On this flight I am the pilot monitoring, running the radios, navigation and checklists.

Taxi Checks complete.
Ready for departure, runway 17.
Cleared for take off runway 17, wind calm, contact 119.3 after departure
Cleared for take runway 17......


Thrust set
Airspeed alive
80knots

Postive rate
Gear up

"Cleared to fl180"


And we are off, heading north away from Asia, into Europe.

Negotiations begin with Greece and Turkey for passage and I get us a climb straight on up to 43,000ft.

Before long we are in the cruise and feel like we are above everything .

The owners chef brings us a snack from the onboard kitchen and the thoughts once again turn to holidays in the Autumn. As I realise we are flying pretty near where I'd like to go.

The flight seems to go in a flash really as before I know it we are discussing and planning the arrival and initiating the descent. The weather is great and its a lovely gentle ride in for a straight in approach to runway 36L.

A squeak of the tyres and we are on the ground, unlocking the doors and getting the bags off the plane and it dawns on me that I still have another flight to do.


But this time its in the last seat available to Gatwick in Economy on a 737 for the 3 hours 20 min flight back.
Then a hire car late night drive to home down the M4 and M5........
The contrast between a lovely Bombardier Global Express private jet and the back row of an Eastern European 737 really brings me back to earth with a bump..........
But still I do love flying her and not many people get that chance.



Thoughts for the day:

  • Its been a year today since one of my really good friends, Will Falck, passed away at a ridiculously young age, I miss my friend Will.
  • Will was a pilot with a passion for flying, life, laughter and Aston Villa
  • He had to have laughter and a sense of humour in him being a fellow follower of Aston Villa
  • I think he'd love the fact that I'm taking my wife to her first Villa game this weekend in the seats we used to share, a year after we lost him.
  • I miss going to the football with my friend Will Falck  #holteenderinthesky 








Monday, August 7, 2017

Towering at 45,000ft and back in Beirut

A stop off in Germany was on the cards this week, a nice little provincial town on the French border.
The efficiencies of Germany never cease to amaze me. Whether its the public transport, the restaurant, the hotel or even the way they do their road works. Tidy, clean, efficient and really polite nice people.
Readying her for departure from Germany
I had an overnight stay there so enjoyed a nice walk around the town and some food, which strangely enough I decided to eat Spanish tapas on the warm summer evening and started to think about the flight the following day to Beirut. We are starting to put online some of the paperless systems now, using iPads for recording information instead of pen and paper to stop having to chop down a small rain forest prior to each and every flight.
Towering cumulous clouds
We were given confirmation over breakfast for our departure time so we filed the flight plan and started to get ready
We took delivery of our new uniforms over the weekend as well, so it was the first time to take it out of the wrapping.
Approach for 03 OLBA
We arrived at the aircraft on the apron in good time and started to get her set up, it was nice to be back with her after 10 days away.
Before long the apu was running, I was sorting out some routing clearances down route over Turkey, the bags arrived and were stowed and passengers arrived so it was time to fire up the Rolls Royce engines get our final departure clearance and taxi for runway 03.
The weather was really clear in Germany and it was a pretty simple departure climbing to 4000 feet and a right turn towards Austria.
476 knots in the cruise
All went really well and we were cleared pretty much straight up to 45,000ft. I was quite surprised when we got into the cruise that there were quite a lot of clouds stretching up as far as us. What are called Towering Cumulous clouds which are the most un friendly kind that can be encountered.
They indicate a lot of vertical movement of air and are often accompanied by thunder storms, hail & turbulence .
Decision made we would try to be avoiding those and with the help of air traffic control we did a bit of weaving between them, but it did provide for some nice photos.
Following a straight line over Hungry, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey and we then started the decent and crossing Cyprus with the mountains Beirut poking their heads above the evening mist covering the Lebanese coast line.
Moon rising over the mountains
Unusually for Beirut the wind was from the north so an approach for runway 03 was in order, so a nice turn over the bay saw the full moon coming out as we dropped the landing gear and flaps for the landing.
As we opened the door it was a barmy 31 degrees and very humid......

Thoughts for the day:

  • Its strange that you can build an affinity with a plane, I really like flying this aircraft and almost feel possessive over her
  • How is it possible the Germans are so efficient ?
  • I'm back in Starbucks for internet, I've been away for nearly 2 weeks and the guy behind the counter remembers my name. That's like German efficiency in Beirut
  • I do hope the Humidity drops soon I'm melting



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Up early, Gin clear , GPS and making a movie

The sun comes up
Today was a good day.
The alarm going off at 4am wasn't, but nothing a hot shower and even hotter coffee couldn't sort out.
The uniform was ironed and hanging up, the bags were packed, the hotel bill was all sorted and as I got down to the hotel lobby the driver had been sent for us. (I had taken the uniform off of the hanger and put it on)
It was quite a ride into the airport from the hotel and the sun started to rear its little head as we were enroute.

I discussed with the Captain how we would get the jobs done prior to the owner arriving and as soon as we got there, passed through the terminal we got to work.
I was dealing with getting the plane powered up, then start working on the flight plans, data links etc. Captain was outside getting the fuel on, water on and checking the exterior of the plane.
I've started using the Jeppesson charts on the iPad now to reduce the paper around the cockpit
I got the power up and then the first snag was the flight plan hadn't got through to euro control so a hasty phone call to the United States to see where it had got stuck half way across the Atlantic. They managed to give it a nudge and I spoke with the departures and after some too-ing and fro-ing they found it and I started loading up the flight management system.
The curve of the earth at 47,000 ft

This worked really well this time around, the fuel was onboard, and as per usual the boss and his colleagues were early, so I was hastily asking for an earlier slot. But ummmmmm thats when they pushed our original one back by 15 minutes.
So we got the passengers settled in and took our time and then managed a really slow taxi down to the runway holding point.
Fortunately we were pushed up the order and it was only a 10 minute wait.
I had my new video camera set up in this flight so I took a video of the whole trip which I am pretty pleased with although its really not a pretty sight looking at me, the view outside the window is far more agreeable.
Before long we were hooting it along the runway and lift off, right turn, change frequency and get up into the big blue.
Parked up at the end of the day.......
Cleared after departure up to an initial 43,000ft, the further climb on up to 47,000ft over Poland.
We discussed our approach for the destination and we decided to be adventurous and try out the GPS approach that we don't do that much, but I did a lot of on my training, and had mentioned to the captain so he was game and we went about our business of loading it all up into the system.
Things started to move along pretty quickly, not even much of a chance for a cuppa in the cruise.

We managed to get the descent started, the idea being to have a continuous descent by pre planning and 'negotiating' with air traffic controllers, rather than descend a bit, level off a bit etc, I was really pleased on this occasion as we really managed to nail it and stay ahead of the game.
I received the requested approach into Germany on the RNP GPS Approach, we were cleared onto it and it worked a treat, as we monitored every stage, it was a really nice way to do things.
I set the video camera up as well before things got too busy. I am hoping it has worked and should appear at the bottom of the blog.
We had a bit of weather on the way but nothing serious, some misty rainy grey muck but we popped out of it with about 2000ft to go and there was the runway straight ahead of us.
Another 30 seconds and we were on the ground and taxiing to the private jet terminal.

For me this was only the start of my flying for the day but fortunately the rest is as a passenger as I had to make my way to Stuttgart airport by 3 different trains to then fly to Brussels to catch a flight to Alicante for a few days off.
Thoughts for the day:

  • I can't believe how efficient/clean/friendly the German train system is
  • All 3 trains in Germany were on time to the minute to cross the country 
  • Both flights on German wings airline were on time in peak holiday season
  • All easyJet flights from the same airports were delayed by at least 20 minutes
  • I miss Naomi with bells on its only been about 10 days but feels like months
  • I'm glad Naomi didn't have to do all of the travelling with me yesterday it was pretty mental playing European hopscotch
  • I really enjoyed the flight on the Global Express, it was the first time I felt up to speed throughout the whole flight and am chuffed to bits with the video I managed to do
  • This airplane still makes me smile






Sunday, July 23, 2017

Quite literally the curve of the earth.....and going bananas

The early morning sunrise

An early alarm call this morning and it was a quick shower.
The uniform was pressed last night and its looking good, got my new company tie which the captain and I both have.
The boss has sent one of his drivers to pick me up and we are off to the airport. Only it was a strange Middle Eastern drive this morning. 
The curve of the earth from 47,000 feet
It was like one of the apocalyptic movies where you wake up and there is no one around and no cars on the road. The usual traffic chaos has melted into the background of a sleepy Sunday morning and instead of the blasting of car horns and motorbikes laden with bags, sacks of potatoes and people we are having a quiet Sunday drive to the airport. Its nice and cool in the early morning so no need for air-conditioning in the car, the windows are down the steady warm breeze blowing.
Time to think about all of the things that need to be done this morning before we fly. 
Namely updating the data link system in the plane so that the flight plans load automatically, after we have filed them.
I like the reflection in my glasses, it kind of reminded me of the astronaut picture many years ago in his visor 
Upon arrival at the airport (slightly earlier than expected do to this morning's apocalypse) the captain was already there so we got the plane moved to where the owner will get onboard.
The fuel is ordered, the fresh drinking water organised, which is pumped into the plane's system so now the plane's auxiliary power unit can be started up to get it cooled down with the air-conditioning.
Once the electrical systems come online its time to get the data link set up and the flight planning into the computer boxes.
For once it was was relatively straight forward, these things are rarely completed at the first attempt but, bingo, todays the day.
The coast line of the Black Sea
It was then we were told the passengers had obviously had an apocalyptic morning as well as they were here and the luggage was being put on board.
It was time to call for engine start and taxi, we were off to runway 17. I was pilot monitoring on this flight which means that I control the radio, navigation etc on the flight and the captain was manipulating the control, which also means in the quiet periods I would have a chance to take a few pictures and maybe video a bit.
An enormous salt lake in Turkey
We climbed out and before we knew it I was requesting a further climb, and we were cleared straight up to 47,000ft, mind boggling in anyone's world. Any higher and I would be taking astronaut classes rather than commercial jet ones.
Cleared up to altitude and the skies were quite literally gin clear. I could see for miles, Turkey looked amazing, then I saw the Black Sea approaching, the curve of the earth bending away off into the distance with a rye smile on my face. 
At that moment I had a tap on the shoulder and it was the owner of the plane who had come for a chat. 
He was really pleasant and asked us if we had had enough food on the trip and we thanked him as his chef had brought us some food earlier. 
At that point he produced a banana for me, with a smile on his face and handed it to me telling me I have to keep my protein and potassium levels up.....
It was a lovely touch and a rare one really when you are flying VIP's. 
I seem to smile a lot whilst I am flying this plane.
Its time for potassium
The descent was started and I was finding it a touch tricky to understand the slightly Russian accented controllers on the way in. 
Once again we were given a fairly long final in with vectoring to the approach rather than have to fly the entire arrival procedure. I am getting the impression that this plane has a bit of aviation clout when it comes to getting priority routings. 
Once again I'm smiling.

I managed to make a video on the trip


Thoughts for the day:

  • I like early mornings on a Sunday with less traffic
  • I miss my wife 
  • I like that this plane seems to make me unexpectedly smile a lot 
  • Every day is a school day when flying and thats a good thing
  • Being at the top of the atmosphere is a pretty great place to call work


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Maintaining, running and checking for birds nests


Today has once again been pretty warm and barmy at 33 degrees but there has been a breeze which made it quite nice to be outside at the airport doing some of the weekly maintenance which has to be kept up on an aircraft like this. We run the engines every two weeks at least if it hasn't flown, and we have a list of little jobs that we get through, including checking for wildlife as it seem the birds in this part of the world have expensive tasted for where they want to put their nests.
This involves getting the chaps out with the large luggage conveyor belt that you often see the chaps unloading luggage on commercial jets, me, a torch and a broom. All very high tech I can assure you.
Other jobs that have to be done are checking the fluid levels all over the aircraft, run some of the electrical systems, and also some check on oxygen levels, dates on first aid kits etc etc. 
One of the other top of the list glamour jobs today was getting one of the toilet seats changed.....One the the things about private jets is the costs involved can be quite a lot. For instance a couple of weeks ago a cockpit heated window needed replacing and it cost over $85,ooo. But today I learnt of a new eye popping cost and it involves a toilet seat and surrounding unit. The bill for one of those is a cool $41,500.
I shot a couple of videos whilst I was down there today to try to give a little bit of perspective on the size of the Global Express XRS. 








Monday, July 17, 2017

Testing testing testing 1-2-3

I brought a video camera before I left the UK to try to document some of the flying and the places I get to visit. 
I am really new to the video side to things, especially editing, but I have decided to give it a try. 
I hope to learn and improve as I go along so this one is a bit rough and ready. I have had to edit it in low quality as the internet is so slow for uploading here. 
I decided to take the camera for a test drive yesterday and have an attempt at editing it today. 
There is some lovely scenery on the coast line and as I was walking along the promenade there were a few locals enjoying themselves cliff jumping off of the rocks in the back ground. 
In the distant back ground you can just make out the airport where we fly out of.



video

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Its paper that gets planes in the air, not Jet A fuel

Happy Birthday Naomi Morton 


A massive happy birthday to my rock........ Miss u x
(this will be posted a day late due to power cuts taking out the internet)



The cockpit of the Global Express XRS


Two days in a new place and it's pretty scorchio hot.

It's a bit of a sad day really as it's Naomi's birthday and I'm a few thousand miles away and not able to share it with her. 

Today is a rest day here and to be honest it's what I have been doing. 
Getting things organised in the apartment, I even got to watch by beloved Aston Villa in a pre season friendly online, and the sight of John Terry wearing a Villa shirt is a slightly strange one for me.

Outside is really hot so I decided to be sensible and just go out early for a bit and then this evening have gone for an evening walk.
The airport apron here in Beirut



We are doing some flight planning at the moment for a few possible trips but nothing is booked in so far.
The amount of paperwork involved in the planning of flights is really quite surprising, particularly visa's and over flight permits for some of the places being planned.
Yesterday was the start of my induction line training here, meeting the people in the office and then going to the aircraft meeting all of the handling agents.





The favourite car I've seen here so far the local fruit and veg man


Every month we have to do an update on the plane's navigation systems much like doing an update on a car gps with all relevant information for every airport in the world with any changes in the procedures, routing or anything that can have an affect our flying.
I also got some additional safety training on the doors and emergency equipment that we carry onboard.



The view from the crew lodgings here

The view from the crew lodgings here







Thursday, July 13, 2017

Night flight storms and a dawn chorus after a really short night

I'm sitting here after a long night, but the brain is whirring away and not really able to get off to sleep.
Yesterday saw me called to London to meet up with the aircraft as the owner wanted to fly home to the Middle East.
A longish drive in a hire car, (a smart car !!!) up the M5 and M4 and time to get the plane ready.
Very aware this was going to be the first flight for me with the new boss was the source of a little nerves I have to admit.

The departure was scheduled for 11:30pm local time and was ready well in advance, aircraft fuelled, looking good, the flight plan sorted out and entered into the flight computer. The flight was planned up at 45,000ft and was expected to last between 4 and 4.5 hours.


In what seemed like a blur the owner and his family arrived, I got our clearances and before I knew it we were taxiing out on a pretty quiet airport to runway 04 for departure.
Taxi checks complete, and we were cleared for take off.
This plane does make me smile........ put the throttles forward and the power is amazing. But then thats a Global Express Airplane for you.
The sun starts to come up 
We were making a nice right turn with the only outside light provided by the 3/4moon and we were climbing over the Thames estuary with the bright lights of London out to the right.
Within 15 seconds I was then seeing the ferries going over the channel between Dover and Calais and then the lights of Ostend, we were cleared up to 41,000ft initially and I was talking to a German controller, so we were well on our way.
Cyprus out of the starboard window
In the distance I could start to make out a huge thunder and lightening storm somewhere near Austria and we were cleared to 45,000ft and quite literally flew over it.
What an amazing sight, I tried to video it but an iPhone doesn't do it justice.


Final approach to runway 04

Austria, Hungary and Serbia flew by beneath us as the sun started to come up out of the left window over Bulgaria with Turkey in front of us, it felt like we were waking up with them although we were a few miles up above.
A cup of tea in the cockpit and we were preparing for decent when I came across one of the anomalies of flying in these parts of the world, namely the Turkey & Cyprus politics issues and the small matter of disputed airspace. i.e. each believes they own it and doesn't recognise each other.
The only way of dealing with this is as a pilot to act like a marriage guidance counsellor and talk to each air traffic controller really nicely and negotiate a way through.
This was our top of descent as Cyprus was out of the right side of the window and the mountainous border between The Lebanon and Syria was poking its head out through the early morning mist.
It was this point I realised I had just pulled an all nighter with no sleep and the eyes were burning a touch.
Taxiing in once on the ground 

Descent checks complete and I was talking to the approach controller and we were given really early clearance virtually straight in from 45 miles out.
Time to configure the aircraft, slats and flaps, gear down and a lovely view with a runway straight ahead and the Ocean off to the right.
Gently back on the control column and we were in.....
Taxi clearance to the General Aviation stand, and there was a welcome party of officials, customs and baggage handlers.
The door of the airplane opened, and at 5:35am local time it was already 27 degrees and a gentle breeze......

A bit nicer than the crazy heat of Dubai, mind you that all seems like a distant memory.
First things first though, must text Naomi to let her know I didn't get us lost, get fired or break anything.
Then its time to meet the officials, shake a lot of hands and sort out the paperwork with the passengers disembarked pretty sharpish.

With the paperwork done and having let everything cool down I began the job of putting the plane to bed, putting her covers on, control locks on and pins in place.

Closing her up and putting her to bed

Finally we lock her up and head into the terminal, her job is done and so is mine. Now I can't quite work out if I need to go to bed or I need a beer........


Confused and still thinking it feels like it should be last night but its 5am local time



A short 15 minute taxi ride through the city, and I get my first impressions of a place I'm going to be spending quite a bit of time and then we arrive at my new digs on the 9th floor of an apartment block
right in the city centre

.

Thoughts for the day:

  • Never accept a Smart car as a hire car, they are rubbish on the motorway when lorries drive past
  • I wish I could have brought Naomi along for this flight too, not sure she'd have liked the lightening show though
  • It all feels pretty real now
  • Its strange not knowing what the next few days will bring
  • Its annoying being in a place that has power cuts that knock the Internet out as it means I have to write my blog twice three times !!!!



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Up up and away and I'm here.

I managed to get home safe and sound and the brain has finally relaxed from a very busy month on a steep learning curve.
The flight home via Bahrain was pretty uneventful which is all you can ask for and then it was lovely to see my smiling wife waiting for me at the train station when I had got back through the fine Devon countryside.
A cooler temperature, a happy wife, a happy dog and an even happier pilot all was well in the world and time for a long walk in the woods.
Yesterday (Monday) I had to head up to Stansted airport to meet my new aircraft and meet up once again with my new flying colleague who will be my new boss on the Global Express XRS which is a private operation.
Due to the nature of Private aviation I won't really be able to write who is on the aircraft, where we are or where we are going.
The object of yesterday was for me to have a familiarisation flight on the real thing and learn about the quirks and systems of our particular model of Global Express.
The bonus of it was I was able to take my wife Naomi along too to see what I would now be flying and meet the new team.
It was nice for me as well to meet up with the new work team, the aircraft Captain, Andy, who took me through a walk around the exterior of the aircraft and I was then able to start up the engines. The idea being to go for a short flight in the local area around London Stansted, get into the cruise and then bring it in for my first landing in the new plane.
Not so surprisingly the cockpit was exactly as the simulator had been, the only difference really was the outside looked very real now.
We taxied out for runway 22 at Stansted sandwiched in between two Ryan Air jets. I have to admit at this point this felt pretty exhilarating .
We were cleared for take off Runway 22, I had control of the plane and it was time to engage the throttles push them in the direction of the firewall and feel those 2 Rolls Royce jet engines fire up and we were being pushed down the runway and time for the standard call outs.

"Check Thrust"
"Thrust Set"
"Airspeed Alive"
"80 Knots"
"Check"
"V1"
"Rotate"
And we were off the ground
"Positive Rate"
"Gear Up"
"400 ft"
"Engage Autopilot and flight level change"

In a matter of seconds we were at 4000 feet levelling of on the Instrument departure from Stansted.
What went by in a blur over half an hour, I was being vectored for the ILS approach 22 for stansted.
We popped out of the clouds at 2500 feet and the boss told me I could hand fly as much as I wanted.
Game on, autopilot out and I was looking at the runway off in the distance, the hands slightly sweating.
A cursory glance over to the boss and he had a smile on his face, he could see I was enjoying getting to know my new steed.
Before I knew it she was calling out to me 100, 50, 30 as the runway got ever nearer.
I gently eased back on the controls to flare at 30 feet and there was the comforting feeling of rubber on runway and I was in. I was chuffed to bits with a nice landing.
Cheekliy with smile, Andy turned to me to say " I'm sure that was more by luck than judgement" with a wink.
I'm going to enjoy flying with Andy.

A quick taxi back to the Hangar and it was checklists and shut down.
Andy got out of his seat to sort out opening the door and I sat and took a moment to my self.
My legs were a little like jelly and I was smiling the smile of a man who's won the lottery.
"I'm here" I said out loud.

The thoughts of the stresses and strains of the last month of training were deposited firmly and deeply in the back of my brain.
Its time to enjoy the flying and enjoy the flying I really will.





Up and away again..... heading North, a long day and then home.....

At Starbucks in Beirut, thinking about where I'd like us to go away holiday this year The phone rings..... "Can we leave to...