New York, Sunday 6-18-95, 2030 local (Z-4)
Back at JFK in the 5 Towns Hotel, the place Evergreen used to put us in. Got back expecting to go home (I never learn, do I?). Actually, they were intending to release me until a subservice trip for British Airways came in. They just picked the first crew they could find, and all 3 of us were due to go home, so that made us available. Thus tomorrow I'm off for 3 short legs, JFK to Montreal empty, Montreal to Detroit with British Airways passengers, Detroit back to JFK empty...then home? I hope so.
When I put together the message from Athens, I didn't have much time. Just as well, the operating leg from JFK to Amsterdam was a disaster from my standpoint, I wasn't up to talking about it. Fortunately, the operating leg from Athens to Paris enabled me to redeem myself.
The Athens message is missing, probably never archived.
On the JFK to Amsterdam leg I was determined to make it as flawless as possible. Instead I made 3 mistakes, one of them truly embarrassing. The first was just after liftoff. The non-flying pilot (the one doing the radio work) is supposed to call "positive rate" as soon as the aircraft is off the ground and has accelerated to what is called the V2 speed. This alerts the flying pilot to call for "gear up". Just before liftoff a cargo door light came on, indicating one of the cargo doors was not fully closed. I allowed this to distract me and didn't call "positive rate". No real problem, and it's a call that is frequently missed, but I was off to a bad start. The door light was a false indication - it went off in a few seconds.
The second mistake was the embarrassing one. It would take a few paragraphs to explain it, but suffice it to say that I overlaid an INS waypoint while that waypoint was in use. This type of error comes under the heading of "there are those who have and there are those who will." But I have always managed to stay in the "those who will" classification...until now. Physically what happens when you make this error is that the aircraft makes an unscheduled turn. I caught the error immediately, stopped the turn using the proper procedure, and corrected the error. However, as luck would have it (bad luck that is), the captain was back talking to a flight attendant. He, of course, felt the turn start, knew we shouldn't be turning, and returned to the cockpit. By the time he got to his seat, I was well into correcting the problem. He just grinned and said, "I've done that." I'm glad he had, and when I was a captain, I had f.o.'s who made that same error. In fact, when flying as an f.o. I've had captains make the mistake. Still, I was embarrassed and said so.
These were old style navigation systems where you had to keep inserting waypoints as the flight progressed because the system had a maximum of 10 waypoints that you entered using the latitude and longitude. Current systems get their entire flight plan entered before takeoff as there is no practical limit on the number of waypoints, and they won't blindly accept that kind of overlay.
But the day was not over. When we landed at Amsterdam and pulled off the runway, the captain called for flaps 5. I moved the flap lever to flaps 1. The problem here is that some 747 operators are convinced that retracting or extending the flaps while making a turn causes flap track problems. The theory is that, since the flaps and the nose gear steering are both hydraulically powered, using them both at the same time when the engines are at low power (taxi idle) contributes to the 747's history of flap track grief. Not all operators subscribe to this theory. Evergreen didn't, we routinely operated the flaps while turning during taxi. But Tower doesn't. Now the rest of this situation is that the flaps quickly retract from their 25 degree landing position to flaps 5, but it takes about 30 seconds to go from flaps 5 to flaps 1. Thus, what the captain was wanting was to quickly get the flaps up as far as he could before the next taxi turn. When I missed the flaps 5 detent and dropped the lever into the flaps 1 detent, he felt he had to bring the aircraft to a stop until the flaps had completed the transit. He took it well, it's another error that is not uncommon, but Schipol ground control (that's Amsterdam's airport name) saw that we had stopped, and inquired as to whether we knew where we were going. Oh, well, some days things just don't go well.
What I knew but what it was not politically correct to say, was that this particular flap problem had been corrected in all 747s. However, this fact was not reflected in Tower Air procedures.
By the end of the flight, I was convinced I would never survive probation here. I keep wondering if part of my poor performance was due to my having found out that I am, along with all other new hires, required to give the captain a probationary report form at the conclusion of each trip. When I checked my Tower mail file just before the JFK-Amsterdam leg, I found a standard memo detailing the submission of this report form to each captain. Now I know why others in the classes before me (but less than a year with Tower - the probationary period) have been so concerned about surviving probation. Essentially, this procedure makes every leg a check ride for probationary first officers.
That was the bad part. The good part is that the Athens-Paris leg - me flying - was really great, essentially error free and with a real greaser of a landing. Landings that good are largely due to luck. But, even though everyone who flies knows that, when you get that good a landing, you "can really fly."
Actually, things are getting better. On this trip, I didn't have much more trouble understanding the foreign controllers than did the captain. So, tonight I'm feeling fine, even think I might survive probation.
Time for bed. Have to get my 10 hours in preparation for tomorrow and, hopefully, all tomorrow night jumpseating home on UPS.