Sao Paulo, Tuesday 7-4-95 1000 local (Z-3)
I feel good now (yes, I know, "good" is an adjective and should not be used to modify "well", but it's one of those cases where that sounds better than "feel well"). I slept 15 hours straight and just returned from breakfast.
We left Sunday night from the hotel at Houston Intercontinental, takeoff was actually 0100 local Monday morning. I flew the first leg, to Port of Spain, Trinidad. Things went well. C.J., my new headphones worked well; I had less trouble communicating than either the captain or the flight engineer. I don't think, though, that I can attribute all of the improvement to the new headphones, although they do cut down on the noise considerably and that is a great help. The only problem with them is that they tend to want to fall off when I look down at too much of an angle, but I'll work that out somehow. If I had more hair up there for them to settle into, that would help. <g>
The approach at Piarco Pport of Spain's airport) was in heavy rain and low stratus. The previous aircraft had missed the approach and been forced to go around, so we were prepared for the possibility of having to do the same and then either hold or go to our alternate (Barbados). However, I was having a good day, had things nailed even though I was hand flying, and we broke out right at minimums. The only problem was that when I pulled the power at 50 feet, the plane sunk like a rock. I caught the sink with heavy back pressure, and as luck would have it stopped the descent just as the wheels touched. Couldn't have worked out better. The captain later apologized for not warning me that this particular airplane (I hadn't been in it before) had a tendency to drop out of the sky when you pull the power.
During the approach, I don't think I had ever heard the sound of rain on a 747 windshield come through so loudly. That windshield is multiple layers and about 4 inches thick, but the sound was deafening. These tropical rains are really heavy. One nice thing about them is that a lot of water on the runway also helps give a smooth touchdown. Sure doesn't help you get stopped though. Anyway, it was a good leg, and we were treated just a hour prior to the approach to a beautiful sunrise over the Carribean. You may recall seeing paintings where the sun is just below the horizon and casting "rays" upward? This sunrise actually had "rays", and it was made all the more beautiful by individual buildups that punched above our level and formed numerous narrow columns all along the horizon. With a little imagination you could make all sorts of caricatures out of them. One of them in particular looked like a young man with a 60's style haircut and with his arms outstretched.
What little I saw of Trinidad wasn't impressive. The temperature was surprisingly cool, in the 60s, and it was raining the whole time. The captain I was with said they used to have a good national income here from oil but that it had been depleted and everybody was back to being poor. Apparently tourism is not a big thing here either. The ground handlers seemed a little confused and more than a little inept. I suspect they don't see many 747s at Piarco. Ours was just a refueling stop. This was a cargo flight, and the airplane was an old 747-100, which means it's limited to 734,000 pounds max takeoff weight. Put 200,000+ pounds of cargo on it, and you've only got enough room left for about 125,000 pounds of fuel for the flight - not enough to get from Houston to Sao Paulo.
The big difference between passenger and cargo flights is the weight of the load. Full passengers and baggage only weigh about 100,000 pounds. Cargo flight payloads are typically 200,000+ pounds. That also means that you're heavy when you land. Passenger flights are light at landing. A light aircraft can descend steeply, less potential energy to dissipate. I called for the descent in plenty of time, but their ATC held us high until the last minute. We wound up having to capture the glideslope from above, something you would not normally do in the States, especially not in a 747, but it is a different and much more laid back world down here. No problem, you can fly a 747 just like it was a light aircraft if you need to, and it's actually quite a bit of fun to do so.
The leg from Piarco to Campinas (50 miles from Sao Paulo) was in daylight. The northern part of the Amazon rain forest along our route was covered by clouds, but by the time we got to the Amazon itself, the clouds were broken, and I did get so see the river - BIG river, and we were 500 miles from it's mouth. The farther south we got the fewer the clouds. There are still vast, uncut areas, so that gave me some consolation when I started seeing the huge clearcuts. At one point there was a space of 100 miles diameter or so visible through the clouds that had no sign of human habitation save for one lone airstrip carved out of the middle.
The hotel at Campinas was full, a fact which we didn't find out until we had been driven there and unloaded our baggage. That meant we had to drive to Sao Paulo immediately rather than in the morning. So, dead tired we endured the 1.5 hour trip here. Freeway all the way (3 lanes each way), but the roughest roadbed I have experienced on a freeway. I had some concerns about how this laptop was handling the jolting, but it seems to have survived it. However, I think I'll put in some more padding. My flight bag (laptop inside) was sitting on the van floor where I couldn't get to it. After some particularly hard jolts, I almost asked the van driver to stop so I could move the flight bag up onto a seat.
The poverty visible along the freeway is appalling - equally as bad as that I've seen in India. The captain I'm flying with has been flying South America for years and years. He feels the only solution for the continent is to use nuclear devices on all the major cities. He's spent a lot of time in all of them, and he claims they're all beyond hope. Here in Sao Paulo, he was the victim of a pickpocketing attempt. The procedure used was for one teenager to "accidentally" spill milk on him in a fast food place. Another teenager conveniently had a towel with him to help sponge the milk off his clothes. However, as a veteran South American traveller, he realized what was happening and managed to pull away as they were going for his pockets. Most of the crews never leave the hotel while they're here. There's a 10 foot concrete wall around the hotel, and it's topped by 3 strands of electrified wire. Nice, huh?
Well, have to button this up. My wakeup call just came, the alert for our departure one hour from now. We're commercialling to Buenos Aires, which according to the captain is one of the least objectionable of the major South American cities. Sometime tomorrow we're scheduled to operate out of there to Santiago, another stop after that (can't remember where), and then back to Miami.
By the way, it's winter down here. I've lost summer again.