“Severe Ice Detected”

It’s May and I think it’s safe to say the winter is over in the Northern Hemisphere.

However, icing condition still exists frequently, due to the adiabatic cooling in the atmosphere (the higher you go, the cooler it gets). It’s pretty common in spring, as the different air masses interact with each other and the temperature and moisture contents are in the sweet spot for in-flight icing.

Recently I experienced this first hand. It was raining with SC, CU and TCU clouds present around the destination airport.

I was the PF, approaching with Engine Anti-Ice on, as I was expecting to penetrate some clouds during ILS approach in temperatures around 3 degrees Celsius. Around 2000ft, I had a sudden chime and an ECAM message:

“SEVERE ICE DETECTED”

We did a quick ECAM action by turning on the Wing Anti-Ice. and the ECAM message disappeared. I carried on with the approach with WAI and EAI on, as the representative surfaces were clear of ice. I was curious about the Vref additives, as this was Vref15 + 10kts on the 737, but I wasn’t sure of the proper speeds on the Airbus. Since the ice probe and ECAM were clear, I assumed no ill-impact on the flight characteristics. As a precaution I added 5 knots to the approach speed though. The plane handled fine, except for the increased idle thrust, giving us a little bit of increased landing distance.

But I dug into the books in case I missed something today and I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the full details back then. There are two pieces of information that I got to brush up from POM and FCOM today:

  1. SEVERE ICE DETECTED message disappears automatically when you switch on the WAI, regardless of the condition of the lift-generating surfaces and the ice detectors. There could still be residual ice on the critical surfaces when the message disappears. So always respect the min speeds. Also, be sure to check out the representative surface for any evidence of ice. Especially since the Horizontal Stabilizer doesn’t have WAI, assume that the ice is still present if the TAT hasn’t warranted the melting of the ice.
  2. The minimum speeds are:
    1. in Conf Clean: VLS+15kts. in any other Conf: VLS+5kts when WAI is operative and;
    2. VLS+10kts or Green Dot when WAI is inoperative.

As far as I’m aware there were no messages about ice on the Status page once the WAI was switched on. And a RCL button didn’t bring anything back up. I’m thinking maybe it’ll be displayed on the bottom right side of the ECAM, but not sure.

With the reduced flying schedules during COVID it’s hard to find the motivation to keep the knowledge up to date, but there’s no excuses for not studying when it comes to flight safety in your extra spare time.

Cheers,

The ECAM I encountered. This pic seems to be from a flight sim A321, but you get the point.

Mechanical Backup Mode

During the furlough I simulated many emergencies to keep my proficiency up, and sometimes for fun.

This is one of them. I simulated a complete failure of the 5 flight control computers (3 PRIMs and 2 SECs). So I could only control the aircraft with rudder and pitch trim + power settings. It is designed to allow pilots just enough controls to reset the flight computers, but I decided to see if I can land. It was surprisingly difficult – I had to go around once due to a premature flare from a 3 degree glideslope. This time I came in at a lower approach angle and it was easier.

Enjoy!

Vienna, Austria

Hello all,

I apologize for the unexpected break in my posts. With COVID-19, my job security hasn’t really been stable, and I also had to get a surgery, followed by a long recovery and rehab. But I’m happy to announce that I’ve fully recovered and I’ve been recalled back to work after some time off!

This time I’d like to write about my favourite layover so far, Vienna.

It was my longest flight at the time. It took place in November 2019 actually.

The flight quite long but not as boring as flying to Australia. We took off in late afternoon, and crossed Chinese airpace, into Mongolia, then entered the Russian airspace. Then I took a break (it was a 3-pilot flight because of the flight time), and came back just in time for the sunset.

Then to my surprise, as we traveled further west (strictly speaking, southwest) I saw the sun rise again, and then set again. It was truly interesting, but it wasn’t until later that I figured out why this happens. This basically occurs because of the curvature of the earth. The speed of the plane and the southwesterly travel allows us to catch up with the solar rays. I’ll explain this further at another time.

We also had a warning come up because of the extreme cold temperature of the air (and thus the cold fuel in the wing tanks). This warning is based on the freezing point of Jet-A fuel, and we had Jet-A1. Thus we had 7 degrees buffer from this point. We were fine.

BING! *Master Caution Reset*
Fuel. Fuel Lo Temp.
ECAM Action.
Fuel Fz Pt Check. If Jet A: Not the case. If necessary: Not the case. Clear Fuel?
Clear Fuel.
ECAM Action Complete

I had a 4-day layover in Vienna. The flight attendants were super nice on the plane. They even gave me Haagen-Dazs ice cream and kept on trying to chitchat with me every time I passed them on my way to the lavatory. One of them asked me how old I was, (since it’s rare for them to see a longhaul pilot my age), what I intended to do in Vienna and etc. I told them my master plans and told them how I had my 4 days planned out completely. I wanted to tell them that I wanted to travel privately but I forgot. I think they expected me to hang out with them. I think they were disappointed that I did my own thing for 4 days. (I had my reason for that… But not allowed to talk about it here)

It was a busy evening. The STAR structure at Vienna airport is quite complicated to look at if it’s your first time, but with Airbus FMGS database, it linked up nicely with the transition. I can imagine how much of a nightmare this could have been on the Boeing FMS.

Next morning, I headed out bright n early to downtown Vienna. I purchased the Vienna pass for 3 days and a couple of airport train tickets.

First I went to Stephansdom. The big cathedral in the centre of downtown Vienna.

Stephansdom
Stephansdom
Stephansdom
Downtown Vienna

Then I headed off to Hofburg.

I realized that in order to find tourist attractions in Vienna, you just have to follow the smell of horse manure.

Myself in front of the Hofburg

It was late November, and the Christmas markets were set up around basically all the attractions. I look for souvenirs but my layover bag was too small to carry anything really. So I resorted to some apple strudels instead.

Christmas Market

I went to the famous restaurant called figlmuller, but by the time I got there, the line was already over 20m long and I’d have to wait over an hour to get in. I went to the sister restaurant nearby and had a nice schnitzel. (I know I know, it’s not the Figlmuller schnitzel, but it was also good. Besides, I did go to there in February on my second layover there)

Wiener Schnitzel and potato salad
More shopping district

Look at how McD’s blended into the Austrian style building

Next day I went to the History of Arts Museum.

Christmas Market in front of History of Arts Museum
Inside Kunsthistorisches Museum. This was the most beautiful museum I’ve ever been to.
This artifact came from Egypt. Now it’s an integral pillar of the museum.
Hofburg at Night
Gulasch

On the 3rd day, I checked out Belvedere, but my phone battery died in the cold, so I’ve got no pictures of the castle.

And then came the 4th day. It was time to go.

The expat captain was nice enough to give me the controls for this sector. It’s rare for Asian captains to do that on long flights. For some reason they like to think that it’s too much workload for a fresh new FO. But I tell you, not every FO trains the Asian way…

Anyway, the departure out of Vienna is riddled with warnings about noise limits, hotspots, measuring devices and locations. I followed the SID and NADP to the teeth and I did it all manually. Seriously though, with the FD guidance all I really have to do is to reduce the thrust levers to climb detent at the right height. Though, I realized that the Airbus FD is a little bit too aggressive and guides in advance of the maneuver. I initially followed it too quickly and I ended up leading the turns and having to reduce the bank angle on the initial turn.

We had a relaxed evening in the cockpit and I went back to the cabin when the relief captain came in.

Sunrise over Lake Baikal
Over Mongolia

Little did I know, 2020 Christmas won’t be as pretty. I miss Vienna and I’d like to go back when COVID-19 is over.

Delhi, India. VIDP

I’ve heard some (bad) things about flying to India before, but I finally got to experience it first hand.

It’s an animal kingdom here.

The frequencies were so busy we couldn’t get a reply for at least 30 sec after initial contact. I also had go call them 3-4 times each time.

The air traffic controller gives us unreasonable clearance late in stage. For example doesn’t advise us of a impending hold clearance, but shoots to us straight in a full format (missing things like EFC time. In Canada this would constitute an invalid clearance).

“KE481. Descent FL300. Hold present position left turn 2 min leg outbound”

Or gave us a vector straight into a CB. We were smart about it and we turned really slow to circumnavigate it.

The approach clearance was received as we were flying through the localizer. If the captain hadn’t pressed the approach arm button, we would have blown straight through the final and we would have needed a new intercept heading.

After landing the tower told us to vacate via an exit that was abeam us at 60 knots, to which I said “unable.”

Continue reading “Delhi, India. VIDP”

48 Hours in Saigon

This past week I had the opportunity to fly to Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon.

It’s one of the places I’ve always wanted to visit: It’s famous for Pho rice noodles, it was the capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and The famous Cu Chi Tunnels are nearby.

The weather was good. The flight was pretty fair and square. I flew as the PF.

As usual the South Eastern Asian accent was really hard for me to understand, so I had a lil bit of difficulty finding the waypoints not listed on our flight plan. We were instructed to fly to DALAP, but it took us couple of ‘say agains” to find it.

SGN has a Point-Merge type STAR, so the potential energy would be high when told to fly to the IAF. In our case there were 3 aircraft ahead of us on STAR, so we could track their approach paths, helping us manage our speed and energy.

Airbus FMGS has incorrect vertical guidance on many approaches. This was the case. Our IAF fix altitude was set fairly low, below the 3 degree approach path, so the system indicated that we were high right from the beginning. But I realized after using the Speed Brakes that it was giving us a false guidance, so I resumed the descent thereafter using the v/s mode.

Landing was good. The runway was paved really well for a SE Asian airport. I think I made the softest touchdown on the 330 so far.

To my surprise, I soon learned that a colleague of mine was on a flight that arrived 1 hr before us, and we hung out on the rooftop bar and caught up.

The next morning I got up to a phone call. It was the Captain and he said that he will have to bail on lunch due to a family issue and that he’d be returning back to Seoul and that I’d get a new crew assigned. So I messaged the colleague to grab Pho.

We met up and went to famous Pho Hoa Pasteur and grabbed a delicious bowl of pho.

The colleague said he’ll have to sleep in the afternoon but he wanted to check out a few places in town, so we went over to the War Remnants Museum. It was interesting to see the war stories from the other side of the world. However it was a bit heavy with the gruesome details and propaganda. The artifacts for the most part were enlarged pictures from the war. But for around $2, it wasn’t bad at all.

Next, the infamous Ben Thanh Market. It was basically a big market full of fake brand clothes and bags and etc. Saigon Square was similar but with slightly better quality products.

I really wanted to see the Cu Chi Tunnels but I would’ve needed half a day to do it, so I gave up on the idea. However in the evening I was notified by the hotel that my flight had been postponed by about 15 hours. I went straight to a travel agency and booked myself a ticket for the tour.

I also realized my colleague’s flight was postponed too, so we went out and got some delicious Octopus soup and then grabbed a beer at the Traveler’s street in downtown.

Next morning I was picked up nice and early to go visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. There were many tunnels built by the North Vietnamese soldiers to conduct guerrilla warfare agains the US troops. These were rather tight space for people to crawl into, let alone with weapons. There was also a gun range where you could purchase bullets for many Vietnam war era weapons and shoot. I didn’t go for it, since I had been to the range enough times in my life. But I think it’s a good idea for the Vietnam govt to make money.

I took a 3 hr sleep and then we flew back. During the night flight we heard multiple calls by the Chinese and the US Navy exchanging warning message on our emergency frequency on 121.5. But I think this is a very routine event in this part or the world.

The winds were super gusty at Incheon and the captain decided to conduct an autoland. The Airbus really does a crappy job of maintaining speed in gust, but it does maintain a safe margin for us to avoid stalls. At one point we hit a gust that shot the speed trend way above the flaps placard speed, but it settled a second after. The windshear warning was never triggered, despite the tower saying that there was a 15 kt performance increasing windshear.

Winds were so strong we heard the plane’s doors make howling noise once we started disembarking passengers.

I guess just like this time last year, you do get lucky once in a while!

Slats/Flaps Jammed procedure

Recently I was tasked to fill in the PM job for a Captain’s Type Rating flight test.

Most of the manoeuvres went well except the Slats/Flaps Jammed procedure.

We were approaching Incheon and lowered the flaps to Full when “Ping” Master Caution went off with a Flaps Disagree ECAM message. We cancelled the approach, entered a hold and I worked the related checklist. The slats were extended as set, the flaps were stuck between 3 and Full. This usually means the Wing Tip Brakes stopped the flaps from extending for a number of reasons.

The S/F indication and where my flaps were.

I followed the checklist to the letters and followed the condition: Flaps < 3.

I was convinced the flaps were beyond 3 because the flaps were stuck after selecting Flaps Full, and the flaps indication showed the flaps did extend a little more than 3.

The TR trainee was ok with my decision and we were coming into another approach when “Too Low Flaps” sounded off a little below 1000ft AGL. We went around a second time and investigated the cause.

While Airbus FCOM and QRH weren’t clear on the subject, it seems that if the Flaps 3 position index is within the big Flaps Position box (my case) we can assume the flaps are still in 3. I have yet to consult Airbus engineers about this but I’m convinced that was the reason. Anyways, for the next approach we followed the other case (Flaps 2 <=3 and we were fine) I suppose this is a more conservative approach.

I think that Airbus needs to do a better job of explaining this stuff on the FCOM. I’m glad I had this experience in the simulator because the last thing I want to hear after I finish the checklist is to be told by the aircraft that I’m not configured correctly on short final and troubleshoot a second time.

How far should I fly upwind to land on the centreline

Flying a relatively long aircraft, I realized that there is something else that needs to be considered that I had very little consideration for on the 737.

The aircraft pivots around the Centre of Gravity. Therefore when we decrab, the front end of the aircraft, where I am, will move sideways (also add the factor that the aircraft drifts downwind. But that depends on how quickly we decrab and how much bank was used to cancel the drift. So I won’t discuss that today.) Upon touchdown, we’ll find ourselves somewhere downwind of where we aimed to land.

Since the CofG changes every flight, it’s kind of a hassle to calculate it. I’ll just use the main landing gear as my pivot point for this calculation. The distance from the cockpit to the main gear strut is 97ft for A330-300. My calculation will be exaggerating the distance a little bit, as the actual CofG is always ahead of the main gears. But hopefully this will somewhat offset the downward drift during the flare.

My aircraft, on average, does about 135 knots on approach. That’s 2.25NM/min.

The rule of thumb for calculating the crab angle is Windspeed/GS in NM.

Therefore at crosswinds of 10, 20 and 30 knots, my crab angles (CA) are 4.5, 8.9, 13.3 degrees.

To find the lateral displacement, we use the SOH, therefore O = 97SinCA.

According to my calculations:

At crosswinds of 10 kts, I have to be 7.6ft upwind of the centreline.

At XW of 20 kts, I have to be 15ft upwind.

At XW of 30 kts, I have to be 22.3ft upwind.

What does that mean to us pilots?

The standard runway width at ICAO international airports (outside of the US) is 197ft.

Standard dimensions of Runway Markings

Therefore at crosswinds of 30 knots I have to aim about 2/3 of the distance between the centreline and the touchdown zone marking to land on the centreline.

Since the LOC antenna is in front of the cockpit, I have to actually offset the Localizer on short final to make this happen. I’ve seen as much as a 1/4 dot displacement in the simulator experiment at the windspeeds up to 35 kts.

The end.

Airbus Fly-by-wire system

Modern airliners come with a form of fly-by-wire system. FBW system often augments handling characteristics of the aircraft and it often has built in protections so that pilot can’t easily overstress or lose control of the plane.

I come from the B737 background, which has a very conventional flight control system that doesn’t incorporate a FBW. And I’m going into A330, which is one of the most nonconventional aircraft when it comes to the handling characteristics.

By system logic it sounds good. But the problem is that it limits the pilots’ control authority.

As we have seen from the 737 MAX fiasco, limiting the pilot inputs (or making it very difficult for that matter) had often resulted in catastrophic incidents. Many of you have never heard of these but the Qantas 72 and XL Air 888T had erroneous sensors putting the planes into the dive. Machines aren’t perfect and the engineers shouldn’t design systems that limit pilot’s controllability. They should also incorporate a quick intervention system in case the sensors go haywire and act against the pilots’ inputs in critical situations.

I don’t know what the Airbus engineers’ philosophy is, but most modern day pilots from developed countries aren’t that bad at flying the machines. I wish they just gave us the full control authority. We are the people dealing with the system on hand and certainly the engineers behind the simulation can’t always know what we need. I’ve noticed a few characteristics like this while learning the Airbus systems and it’s frustrating.

Mind you, the FBW is very useful in normal day-to-day flying. It makes our job easy. On the Airbus, in the normal mode, it maintains the attitude of the aircraft where you left it. So if you set it well and release the controls, the plane will fly very steadily at the pitch/bank you left it at. This is, in a way, much nicer than the B737, where the plane’s pitch will seek the speed the plane is trimmed for and the bank angle will vary based on the balance of the plane. This can be really good for inexperienced pilots or pilots in developing countries where the training system doesn’t allow pilots to fully develop their manual flying skills before they’re introduced to the line. But is it really necessary?

The A330 doesn’t handle all that bad in direct/alternate law in fact. Direct Law is basically the control logic that makes the A330 like a B737. It’s actually more intuitive to fly it with the FBW protection disabled, since we’re used to flying purely mechanical/hydraulic flight control systems. This is partly because we anticipate the control deflection requirements before we make any input. For example, when I correct my aircraft heading on an ILS approach by banking to the right, I’m already ready to apply the opposite left aileron input because I need to cancel out the rolling moment. And when it’s back on course, I’ll apply another left aileron, followed by a right input to pus the aircraft back on Localizer. In the 330, you don’t have to make such movement because the FBW maintains the bank when you release the stick. I still get puzzled as to why this the Airbus FBW is designed this way. Maybe the engineers had something else in mind, with reference to the special characteristics of the aircraft.

Another problem with the airbus FBW is that there is no way to directly disconnect the FBW’s protection systems. But I dug into this and found a few ways. But it’s kind of off the book procedure and it’s not ideal. The easiest way is to switch off the ADRs. There is no sensor input to the FBW and it wont’t do crazy things. But it does take some time because the ADR is located on the overhead panel behind the Captain’s head. Worse comes to worst, we can switch off all the PRIM computers and the aircraft will revert to the Direct Law. But don’t try this at home, as this is not an Airbus approved procedure.

I still have yet to fully understand the A330 flight control philosophy. I’m a little bit hesitant in criticizing the aircraft just yet, simply because I don’t have that much real world experience in the jet. But I must say that I hope Airbus builds future airplanes that are a little bit more from the pilots’ point of view. I might be one of the rare people who don’t like this kind of flight control logic, but I don’t think Airbus would have designed it this way if pilots were in charge of the designing.

Airbus Transition

Hi all,

I apologize for the lack of updates the last little while. I’ve been undergoing a transition course to my first widebody jet A330.

A lot of concepts are different between Boeing and Airbus. For example, the flight controls fly-by-wire logic that prioritize the aircraft computer output over pilots’ inputs. I’m quite unhappy with this aspect, but there are some good aspects too.

But my overall impression is that Boeing builds planes from pilots’ perspective, while Airbus builds planes from engineers’ perspective. I don’t have enough real-life experience to be judging yet, but I will spend a lengthy amount of time discussing the pros and cons of each design in the future.

Anyways I’d better return to studying, as I have another Cockpit Procedure Trainer session this morning.

Keep you posted.

Manila

Sometimes I get lucky too, I suppose.

Last month I had a chance to spend 2 days in Manila on a layover.

What made the trip even better was that the schedule changed last min and I got to fly as a deadhead crew on the way there. A kickass schedule, I must say.

The Business Class was booked up, so I even got to fly in First Class.

Fast forward to when I arrived in Manila, the Hotel was called The Manila Hotel. It was a massive 5-Star hotel with over 100 years of history. Apparently Gen Douglas McArther stayed there while commanding the Filipino military.

I remembered that one of my favourite beers, San Miguel, comes from this country and went to the hotel bar to grab a couple of pints.

Next morning I got up early, got a massage and went to the Seafood Market. I have a pretty good stomach but the overwhelming smell from the nearby sewage plant killed my appetite. Next I headed to the Mall of Asia. For someone who didn’t have a high expectation, the mall was Massive. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Mall of America in Minnesota, but I think the Mall of Asia dwarfed it in scale. I grabbed a lunch at a Filipino restaurant and then headed took a look around, grabbed some fruits and then headed back to the hotel.

In the evening, I decided to play around in the pool and exercise at the gym. There I ran into the sole male flight attendant that came with me, and we talked about life in general. It’s quite true that a lot of young male pilots are jealous of them because they get to work and travel with pretty female flight attendants. In fact I have a colleague who tries so hard, unsuccessfully, to go on dates (read: harass them) with them, and he’s straight up envious of the male flight attendants. but according to him the truth was quite far from it. Apparently as a minority in a female team environment, it’s pretty hard to get along with coworkers and they end up being isolated from the female group. Just like how he was at the gym.

That evening I had fruits as dinner and I watched the sunset over Manila Baywalk and passed out early so I can do the real tour of the city the next day in the morning and sleep throughout the afternoon for my overnight flight back home.

The next day I took the taxi the first thing in the morning to check out Fort Santiago. I guess my expectation was a bit too high, since I was used to the Canadian and European Citadels.. It was a little disappointing, but the history behind Jose Rizal was interesting.

Next I walked down the street to see the Manila Cathedral and I walked towards the Rizal park, when I felt that I was going to get robbed, so I hailed a taxi and went back to the hotel.

Filipinos are very nice people in general and I generally felt safe in the streets. But the streets of Manila were really really really dirty. I’ve been to quite a few countries in SE Asia, but I think the Philippines is at the bottom of the list for cleanliness. This is a bit strange because I always thought of the Philippines as a reasonably developed country with almost everyone speaking English fluently. Also, most of my Filipino friends in Canada are affluent. But I felt that the country could do a bit better cleaning up and had a lot of potential for improvements. Perhaps I felt that way because I’ve mostly been to the tourist destinations in SE Asia, whereas Manila was the capital of the country not geared towards tourists or vacationers.

That evening, I grabbed some really good seafood dishes at a nearby restaurant (almost lost my appetite again on the way haha) and then napped for the remainder of the evening for the 2am departure out of Manila.

Manila Airport was quite difficult to navigate around as a pilot, due to the inadequate signage and nightly constructions. This is why they had sent a 737 there in the first place. Because of the closure of the main runway, only 737s can take off from the shorter secondary runway at night. Luckily that night, the secondary runway was under repair so they opened the main runway. We took off from there and flew 4 hours back home.

Despite the nap earlier, it was a tiring flight. Usually when you land right before the sunrise at the end of a 4-hr redeye you lose a bit of depth perception so you end up flaring a tad high at Incheon. I became cognizant of that fact beforehand, briefed about human limitations during the landing brief. The winds were relatively calm, so I didn’t have to de-crab. Because I was aware of the visual illusion I was able to flare at the right timing, leading to a soft touchdown.

It was a fun trip, but I think I’d prefer to fly to tourist destinations of the Philippines. But once in a while, layovers in populated cities really help you understand where the majority of the world population live, rather than giving you a false sense of the world based on tourist spots.