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Weekly Flight Assignment
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The year was 1959, and Boeing was riding high on 707 orders. Airline customers saw the 707 as an international/long range aircraft, needing long runways, runways that many national airports just didn’t have. As the 707 was rolled out, the company designers were already looking at an aircraft for the shorter segments. Borrowing heavily on the 707 technology, Boeing created the slightly smaller 720/720B. With the same engines, the 720 was definitely a rocket machine, but initial operations showed it to be nearly as expensive as the 707 to operate. Plus, it needed ground carts for starting and stairways wherever it went.
Designers at Boeing spent some time working with De Havilland of Britain, examining their Trident design. The 727 went through many early design changes. United wanted four engines for its high-altitude airports like Denver. Eastern wanted three for its Caribbean routes, where FAA regulations prohibited twins from flying more than sixty minutes from land. American wanted an efficient two engine type. Designers eventually went with three engines, for it eliminated the off-shore limitations, and gave superior performance while being 25% more fuel efficient than the 707/720 designs. An APU was provided for air conditioning, electrical power and engine starting, eliminating ground equipment expense. An integral stairway in the tail eliminated the need for stairways, making the 727 completely self-sufficient. Initially it was designed to use a Rolls Royce jet engine, but United said they like the P&W JT8D design better, and so yet another change was made.
Learning from the Trident’s faults, Boeing made sure the 727 was both as fast as their 707 and capable of landing on shorter runways too. When the first aircraft rolled off the assembly line, Boeing still didn’t have the required 200 orders needed to break even. Test flights were very encouraging however, and test pilots praised it’s handling characteristics. They sent the airplane on an around-the-world flight, showing it to customers everywhere, putting many a Chief Pilot into the pilot seat. Soon, orders flooded in and the new trijet entered service with Eastern Airlines in February 1964, one year after it’s first flight. Three accidents in 1965 (with 131 fatalities) almost ruined the 727, but Boeing and the FAA encouraged the airlines to provide more air crew training in the new complex jet, especially the need for early stabilized approaches. Airlines were still using prop planes on their regional and national routes, and the 727 quickly began to replace them. Already an improved design was in progress, resulting in the 727-200 and 200 Advanced series in 1967. Altogether, 1832 727’s were built between 1964 and 1984. While Boeing had always struggled with the airliner market before, including the early 307 Stratoliner and 337 Stratocruiser. The 707 made them a contender again, and the 727, their first aircraft not created from a modified military design, showed they were in the airliner business for good.
Airport Spotlight: Leonardo de Vinci-Fiumicino International Airport
Back in the 1950's, Rome was fast outgrowing their current airport, Ciampino. Plans were made and construction began on the new Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino International Airport. Construction delayed for a while when the remains of a very large barge were uncovered, dating back to 37AD.
Official opening was January 15, 1961 with two long runways designed to handle any long range airliner. Alitalia Airlines called the airport their home base and spent millions developing the airport with hangars and maintenance facilities. Soon, a third runway was added.
Improvements have kept the airport as a leader in efficiency and also environmentally friendly.Their baggage-handling system is state of the art.
Leonardo da Vinci International serves hundred of flights to many destinations. The most popular destinations in Europe are Paris, London and Amsterdam. Internationally, the top flights are New York, followed by several Middle East destinations.
So, what was the coolest airplane you ever flew? Which did you like the best? The worst? These are the kind of questions a pilot will ask another pilot. I asked a friend once, a former TWA pilot, what was the best plane he ever flew. He said without hesitation, "The Tristar, the L1011. That was a beautiful machine." A Northwest DC-10 pilot once told me "The 747. You can fill up the cargo hold, with every seat empty, and still make money. Fully loaded, it would fly all the way to Tokyo with plenty of reserves." Another friend, who's in the Air Force Reserve answered, "The F-16. I have been at 3000' and 250 knots, pulled it up with the afterburner on, and went through 31,000' still doing 250 knots indicated. And with an external fuel tank, too." Now that's a cool airplane.
Different airplanes meant different things to me. The Cessna 402C and I had a special relationship. When I held that plane in my hands it felt like it was a part of me, it would speak to me. I could fly it with my fingertips. Landings were almost always beautiful. We were just very much in synch. The Beechcraft Baron was also like that. Though I didn't fly it nearly as much, it flew like it was on ball bearings. Flying either one always put a smile on my face.
The Saab 340. It was big and flew like a big heavy machine, but it was in a word, stable. It always did just exactly what you expected it to do. A rock-solid machine that was dependable and never had any surprises. Plus, it had a cockpit door, a bathroom in the back and a young flight attendant to bring you hot coffee, so it was pretty much a dream. I love to taxi, and the Saab was fun to taxi; you could even taxi on one engine. It was a good place to earn a living. The Beechcraft KingAir is just like a Saab, only smaller. Rock steady, dependable (usually). With hot coffee, a cockpit door and a bathroom (kinda).
The SA227 Metro IV. This I flew quite recently, and it was a love-hate relationship. It is, in a word, demanding. You must respect it and fly it with precision, or it will very quickly turn around and kill you if you let it. It uses a lot of runway for both landing and takeoff and has no anti-skid. Oh, it'll haul a big load alright, and can fly non-stop from Seattle to St Louis, or San Juan to South America, but the autopilot only holds heading and altitude (sometimes, if it’s feeling like it). The radar is green and black, right out of 1968, and there is no GPS. It is old school all the way. My hand flying skills have never been better. It takes forever to slow down though, thanks to Fairchild's fascination with flush riveting. On an approach, you set up early and it'll fly quite nicely. It is possible to roll it on the runway too, in the touchdown zone. I know, my First Officer did it today. But only if you fly it precisely and are established and stabilized early. It demands respect, and after a good flight you feel like you really earned its respect back. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment.
The DC-3. I loved that plane. They flew them at PBA and I rode the jumpseat every chance I could. One night we were to fly home from Nantucket to New Bedford empty, and two instructor pilots were flying. They asked if I wanted to fly it (I was slated for DC-3 Captain class soon). No need to ask me twice! Takes off is at a ridiculously slow airspeed, it lumbered along like an elephant, but was smooth in its handling. It was summer so I had the side window cranked open, flying at 1500' over the Sound to New Bedford, with those beautiful Pratt & Whitney's making that hypnotic sound just a few feet behind me. I looked out at the lights on the shore, without a glass window between me and just being out there. As we approached New Bedford I flew it toward a left base entry to the runway, figuring when he took it back, I'd have him in a good position. Then, he leaned over and shouted "After we land, don't touch the brakes!" Oh my God, he was going to let me land it. I flew as nice a pattern as I could. The controls took a lot of movement to make anything happen, but it was actually happening. We crossed the end, landing gear down and flaps set to full, right at 95 knots. I closed the throttles and eased back on the wheel. With a bit of a sigh she just sat down on those two big, fat tires nice as could be. He took over and I let the sounds of those engines and the squeaking brakes just flow right through me. The best 45 minutes of my life. Never did get the Captain class, they made all us 402 drivers stay where we were.
Rockwell Sabreliner 60. Only got about 60 hours in the right seat, but what a rocket machine. It climbs like crazy and would go up to FL410 as easily as you walk to your mailbox. Except at ludicrously fast speeds, like M.72 in the climb. It made contrails, landed easy, handled beautifully. First landing I did, the Captain was all nervous. Guess he felt turboprop pilots don't know how to fly jets. He wasn't making me nervous though. I was too busy flying it around the pattern with a giant grin on my face. Felt like I was handed the reigns to a thoroughbred race horse.
The worst airplane? None of them. There's no such thing as a bad airplane. Just bad pilots.
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