An interesting weekend (Pics and Video)

Strong storms across the midwest United States made this past weekend fairly interesting. For the most part the trip was very benign, aside from the cloudiness and strong winds at most altitudes throughout the midwest and eastern United States.

Day one

No big deal, really. Except for when you show up to the airplane a bit ahead of schedule and you realize the jetway is not attached and there is no gate agent around. Time for breakfast. Enjoy a quick bite to eat and head back towards the gate to find the gate agent has arrived but is in a deep gossip conversation with a co-worker. In an effort to no disturb their social time, I relax and enjoy a few more sips of my coffee.

After ten minutes have passed I recognize that I would like to get down to my airplane and start working. I hate showing up to the plane, being the first one, and then not having anything done before the other flight crew member arrives. I want to get to my airplane, set up the FMS, get the pre-flight done, and enjoy my seat and coffee while reading the news until the rest of the crew arrives.

Nevertheless, Captain is walking down the jetway while the gate agent is attaching the jetway to the plane. Turns out this guy was put on this assignment so he could get a line check. Awesome.

For the uninitiated, a line check is when a standards pilot sits on the cockpit jumpseat and observes the operation of the flight by the two crewmembers. For the most part a line check is a non-event. Have your manuals current and fly the way the company asks you to fly and you will be fine. Have your manuals out of date by a number of revisions, or missing a number of bulletins, or fly the airplane in an extremely unstandard manner and you may be getting some more training, off without pay, or pulled from your trip without pay until you update your manuals.

Being the professional I am, most of the time, my stuff stays current and I fly the way the company that pays my paycheck asks me to fly their aircraft. It’s really not too difficult.

Nevertheless, easy roundtrip down to TLH and back to ATL complete. Linecheck complete. New crew arrives, the original crew I was suppose to begin the day with. Easy flight up to Montreal and we called it a day.

I spent the rest of my evening going for a run (1.5 miles in 12:08) and finishing a paper for one of my courses and eventually falling asleep.

Day Two

Another simple day. Fly back down to Atlanta and then up to Madison, Wisconsin for the overnight. This morning Atlanta found itself in some extremely low cloud cover and reduced visibility due to fog.

For any major airport any weather that restricts arrival rates means some sort of holding or reduction in enroute speed on arrival aircraft. For us, we received both. First we were warned of potential holding and that we could slow down as much as we wished. The intent here is that if we slow down, we may not need to hold.

We didn’t quite hold, but we did do two 360 degree turns on the arrival…so, I suppose, in a way we held…but not officially over any “holding” fix, or in a standard “holding” pattern. Note the two circles over ERN TN/WRN NC and in NERN GA.

YUL-ATL

Click the image for full view.

Finally on the ground after shooting a CAT II approach with 1200RVR and VV002 (yeah, sorry, I don’t have any video of this one…but feel free to visit YouTube.com and search for CAT II approach) we made our way to our next flight and flew on up to Madison, Wisconsin, where the frontal boundary across the midwest was beginning to intensify.

Madison turned out to be a wet and windy mess, but was still a nice city to call home for a few hours. Wisconsin’s Capitol was quite impressive, inside and out.

Wisconsin Capitol

Day Three

We made our way to the airport and headed out of the mess that was developing across SRN Wisconsin and NRN Illinois. Turns out as we were trying to escape a moderate to extreme thunderstorm was passing over the departure end of Madison’s runway 36. We made the prudent, and patient, decision to wait it out.

After roughly 20 minutes, we escaped and eventually broke out into a beautiful sight – especially with a meteorologist like myself.

severe storms brewing

Maturing towering cumulus. Note the storm tilt, reflecting the strong mid-level winds. This tilt can be an indication of storm intenfication and threat for potential severe weather. Realize to that this photo was taken at roughly 9:30 or 10:00am that morning, well ahead of the severe outbreak across the NRN midwest and upper Ohio valley that afternoon.

classic convection

Looking out ahead during the same time period. You can see a well defined cirrus-shelf / overhang ahead of us with some mature towering cumulus in the foreground. The storms in the distance and to the right, associated with the cirrus-shelf / anvil were over SERN Wisconsin / NERN Illinois, causing significant delays into and out of Chicago O’Hare and Midway airports.

We continued eastbound and finally made it east of the line of weather with another beautiful sight for a meteorologist laying below us. Some basic cumulus clouds laying across Lake Erie…

baby cumulus over Lake Erie

We were originally scheduled to operate a round-trip out of LGA to Pittsburgh and then back to Pittsburg for the overnight, however plans were changed and we were sent back to Madison, WI and called it a day. Enroute to Madison I managed to record some footage of us cruising along at FL360 well above the convection that was causing havoc across the midwest and Ohio valley.

An exciting approach into Madison with winds at 55-60kts at 2,500ft to about 500ft above the ground, safe landing and a quick taxi to the gate and that concluded day three.

Day Four

Day four originally was going to be a Pittsburgh to Cinncinatti to Dallas to Atlanta day. Originally. However, after our third schedule modification, we ended up operating a flight from Madison back to LaGuardia and then catching a flight home to Atlanta to call it a day.

I managed to get a nice shot of lower Manhattan and even JFK airport on the final portions of the arrival into LGA.

Lower Manhattan

And a quick view of JFK, just to the east-southeast of LGA…

JFK

Overall a very enjoyable four-day trip. I am slowly gaining a new found enjoyment for what I do. The challenges this past weekend acted as a rejuvenating element. Far too many challenges for me to detail, much less it would be a diservice to them considering that I think I lack the creative skills to appropriately express their real impact on our operation, our patience as pilots, and the idiosyncracies of Part 121 flying that most passengers – and some non-121 pilots can not relate, much less understand.

Until next time – take care, be safe, and follow!

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