Saturday, 28 May 2016

A serving airline captain reveals what’s REALLY happening in the cockpit as a plane hurtles down the runway for take-off and comes in for landing

If you were a fly on the wall in the cockpit of your holiday flight to the sun as it hurtles down the runway and takes to the air, these are the words you’d hear from the pilots.

If you’re a nervous flier, hearing ‘V1’ is when your heart would probably leap because, as Captain Richard Brown, CEO of Atlantic Star Airlines, explains, this is ‘take-off decision speed’. Beyond this velocity, the aircraft cannot be safely stopped on the ground and must become airborne.

Captain Brown, a pilot with 20 years’ aviation experience with Boeing 777s, 787s and 747s, came to MailOnline Travel’s headquarters to reveal exactly what happens behind the flight deck door for a series of insider video guides.

In this, the first, he talks about the two most crucial phases of a flight – take-off and landing.

We gave him two flight deck videos to comment on and as they played he provided fascinating insight into exactly what the pilots are doing and thinking and what it feels like to be in the driving seat.

The first was shot on the flight deck of an Airbus A330 flying from Dublin to San Francisco.

As the plane turns onto the runway, Captain Brown, 47, explains: ‘So they’ve got clearance for take-off. The first officer has just set power to an intermediate setting to make sure that the engines are stable and working. He’s now set take off thrust, which they will have calculated before they start.’

The plane heads down the runway, rapidly picking up speed.

The captain, explains Brown, is poised to shut everything down in case the engines malfunction.

He says: ‘He’s now just aiming to stay on the centre line, ready to close the thrust leavers in case of an engine failure.’

The first officer signals that the plane has reached 100 knots (115mph), and a few seconds later she says ‘V1’.

Captain Brown, who lives in Farnham, Surrey, says: ‘That’s take-off decision speed, so at this point they cannot turn back.

‘As we get to V1, you’ll see the captain takes his hands off the thrust levers and that’s the last speed at which the aircraft can be safely stopped on that runway on that day. That depends on where it’s going and how many passengers it’s got on board, how much fuel it’s got on board. So it’s calculated beforehand.

‘So the hand comes off the thrust levers, so that means “we’re definitely going flying now”‘.

The first officer then says ‘rotate’. But she’s not asking her boss to turn towards her.

Captain Brown explains: ‘Rotate is the speed at which he’s [the captain] going to apply elevator control, pull the control column back, and the aircraft starts flying.’

The clip shows the plane smoothly taking to the air and the first officer verifies that all is well. Captain Brown explains how the conversation between the captain and first officer is always wrapped around safety.

He says: ‘The first officer verifies that the aircraft is climbing – she says that it’s a “positive climb” – and he gets the gear up, or he asks for the gear up and she reads that back.

‘And that’s the principal we use for everything we do on the flight deck. One person observes, and states the situation, the other person then asks for the control to be moved.
The other interesting thing about the 747, is that because of the extra elevation – and the same with the A380 – it’s a little bit like landing a block of flats
Captain Richard Brown, CEO of Atlantic Star Airlines

‘That is then read back before the control itself is moved. So the gear doesn’t come up or down unless it’s supposed to, and flaps aren’t moved, unless they’re supposed to.

‘So we make sure there are lots of safety protocols in place, to make sure that things happen at the right time.’

The crew are also extremely careful with how much thrust they apply, as jet engines wear far more rapidly when they’re running at full power.

He continues: ‘We don’t use the engines on full thrust or even take-off thrust any longer than we need to, because the last 10 per cent of engine thrust is where 90 per cent of the wear of the engines is.’

The crew of this aircraft have just taken off, he adds, from one of the friendliest airports.

‘The best thing about Dublin,’ he says, ‘is that whenever you leave, they always say “good luck”. The controllers are really friendly.

‘I always hope luck isn’t going to come into it, but I like that. It’s quite cute.’

Next, while analysing a Boeing 747 landing, Captain Brown explains how the flight deck of a jumbo is noisy and old fashioned in comparison with the very latest jets.

Landing one, he says, is akin to ‘landing a block of flats’.

He says: ‘Even though it’s a very big aeroplane, the flight deck is actually pretty small, because it’s right up above the main part of the fuselage.

‘You can see that they’re flying with a paper map there rather than an iPad, which is how we tend to display our charts these days.

‘It’s also quite noisy, because the airflow comes up over the front of the 74, then comes up over the hump. You tend to have to shout at each other a little bit.

‘It doesn’t have a lot of the modern fly-by-wire systems, so it’s actually quite a handful. Some people refer to it as “a real man’s aeroplane”, in the sense that you’re very much in a physical piloting task.

‘The other interesting thing about the 74, is that because of the extra elevation – and the same with the A380 – it’s a little bit like landing a block of flats.

‘He’s going to be two storeys up as the aircraft touches down, which makes it more challenging but also as an aircraft to fly accurately and well, it’s very satisfying.’